The Shoe Incident

December 15, 2008

Most of the Egyptians I have spoken with today, despite the fact that they either strongly dislike or hate President Bush, did not think what happened at the press conference yesterday was appropriate. In fact, the majority of them said it was “ayb,” or shameful that an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at the President.

In Egyptian and other Middle Eastern cultures, the bottom of one’s shoe is an extremely dirty thing. No pun intended. Showing the bottom of one’s shoe is considered insulting, so people here do not often cross their legs lest they show the bottom of their shoes. Slapping or hitting someone on the back of the neck is also a very nasty insult, and likely to lead to a serious streetfight. But the worse is probably hitting someone on the back of the neck with one’ shoe, or throwing one’s shoe at someone, which is kind of a combination of the two because one is not only attacking someone else, but with one’s shoe, no less.

I found this interesting because I would not have been surprised had a lot of people supported the reporter’s actions. I get the sense that people here appreciate when someone stands up to the US, especially to President Bush, even if it is just symbolically (or even if they miss). Not necessarily because they hate the US, but because from the other side, it probably seems like the US is a bit of a bully sometimes.

So the fact that this cultural norm overrode this common feeling I thought was interesting. I think most people saw through the pettiness of that action, despite what they think about the American President or the War in Iraq.

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The Same 20 Questions

November 19, 2008

If you were an American wandering the streets of Cairo these days, you might be asked the following questions upon meeting Egyptians:

1. Where are you from?
2. What is your religion?
3. What is your name?
4. What do you think of Obama?
5. What do you think of Israel?
6. What do you think of Bush?
7. What do you think about the invasion of Iraq?
8. Can you teach me English?


Saddam and America

September 17, 2008

I’ve just bought a copy of a book that has been prominently displayed at my local bookshop for the past few weeks. Because it has a free video CD that comes with it, I just couldn’t resist. The book is titled “Saddam was Not Executed,” and it is by an Egyptian author named Anis Al-Deghidy. The book is in Arabic, but here is a picture of its English cover:


I don’t know anything about the book yet other than the fact that the guy in the store told me it is very popular. I asked him if he thought Saddam was still alive, and when I asked where he thought he might be, he gave me an answer along the lines of “Saddam surrendered Iraq to America…he is under American protection.”

I then went next door to buy my food staples, which by the way include whole wheat bread, cheddar cheese, orange juice, Ritz crackers, ice cream, and bad Egytian potato chips. I also make salad sometimes, so don’t worry.

I showed the cashier my newly purchased literary masterpiece and he said “yes, Saddam was not killed. Saddam is good. America made Saddam, and then he stood up to them.” He wouldn’t really get into it any further than that, but as I walked outside, my roommate was finishing a conversation which apparently began with one of the grocery store workers telling my roommate that he had a German-Jewish friend. Neither of us are sure where that information came from, but regardless it led to him telling us how all people are the same, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jew, and that we all go through the same things in life. For example, America was nothing, and now it is powerful. Egypt, too, was nothing, and then it was powerful, and now it is nothing again. He was very nice, and we couldn’t really disagree with him, and despite the fact that I sometimes wonder how genuine these kumbaya street discussions are, it left me with a good feeling. We wished him a happy Ramadan and walked home.