Salaama Ahmed Salaama Translation

April 26, 2009

Check out my translation of Salaama Ahmed Salaama’s piece “Barren American Policies” on the FPA Egypt blog here.

Lend for Peace

March 3, 2009

I want to second Friday in Cairo’s shout out and support for the Lend for Peace micro-financing program in the West Bank (also full disclosure, one of the founders is a friend of mine).

Check out Friday in Cairo’s blog post about it here, and here is the direct link to the site,

“Revive la resistance”

January 4, 2009

Here’s an interesting article by Nathan Field discussing what is going on in Gaza right now and its implications for Egypt and the region. I think  in regards to Egypt it is especially interesting to note the differences between what the Egyptian government does i.e. Hamas and Israel, how the Egyptian people feel about it, and what the Arab media is saying about it.

Seeds of Peace Alumni Video

December 29, 2008

Despite what is going on in Israel and Gaza right now, I recently came across this video by an Egyptian graduate of Seeds of Peace, a wonderful and important program of which I had the fortune to be able to be a part. It’s always nice to have a little bit of hope.

DAM Concert

November 10, 2008

I went to see the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM this past weekend at the Sawy Cultural Center in Cairo. A really good Egyptian hip-hop group opened for them, rapping in mostly English and some Arabic. The beats were really good. I was impressed. The Egyptian group, called The Pharaohs, gave it up for their main inspiration, Tupac. I remember reading an article in the one sociology class I took in undergrad about the transnational nature of hip-hop and hip-hop culture. How teenagers in Japan, for example, were rapping, wearing baggy clothing, and listening to American hip-hop groups. It explained how they used hip-hop as an outlet for their societal frustration, for expressing themselves when there wasn’t always another available medium.

I know of the DAM guys first and foremost through a friend, Sameh, “the Arabic beatbox,” who often collaborates with them. Sameh stayed at my house for a weekend when I was in high school with a program called Friends of Open House. I haven’t really kept up with the friendships I made in the program or with the program itself, but the idea is to bring together Israeli and Palestinian children who live in Ramle, a mixed Israeli-Arab town in Israel, to talk about the issues.

Anyway, the concert was great and there was a lot of energy. Of course, DAM is a political group and politics are part of their songs and their concerts. I cringed during one of their most famous songs called “Who is a Terrorist? (Min Irhabi?).” The chorus goes like this:

Who’s a terrorist?
I’m a terrorist?
How I am a terrorist
When you’ve taken my land?!
Who’s a terrorist?
You’re the terrorist!
You’ve taken everything I own
While I’m living in my homeland

This is a very strong message. But I think it is important to hear what people are saying and try to understand what they are feeling. They called Bush a terrorist, and they called “the occupation” a terrorist. I thought that was interesting. Instead of saying Israel is a terrorist state or the Jews are terrorists, they attacked the occupation. I think that says something. At the end of the show, they lifted their arms and made the peace sign. The group has collaborated with Israeli artists in order to bridge the gaps between Israeli and Palestinian youth through music.

I may not like or agree with everything these guys say, and their message is not always the most positive, but instead of blowing themselves up, instead of firing rockets, they are rapping and making music.

Here is another interesting article on DAM and their relationship with Israeli rapper Subliminal.

Opinions in the Classroom

November 6, 2008

There is a lot of talk about biases, allegiances, expressing opinions, etc. in the academic world, especially in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Many on the pro-Israel side accuse Middle East studies professors, associations, and students in American and other academic circles as being one-sided, too pro-Palestinian, or anti-Israel. There is a lot of truth to these accusations. However, the issue is not black and white and there are differences between being pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, less supportive of Israel than your neighbor, anti-Semitic, left-wing, etc. It is not useful to paint everyone with the same brush, nor is it useful to attack people solely because their opinions are different than your own. There are lines, and when these lines are crossed, people should be held accountable. However, for example, people need to understand that just because someone does not support Israel to the same extent as they do, that does not necessarily make that person anti-Israel.

On that note, and the real reason I began writing this post, is because I wanted to share something that happened in the classroom today. I hope to write more on this later, but of course Obama talk is very prevalent at AUC and around Cairo these days, and my professor was asking us if we were happy that Obama was elected. Of course the class was unanimously thrilled. However, one student, who is a very nice woman though she and I disagree on a lot of things, decided to add “yes, but he offered Rahm Emanuel the job of chief of staff, and he is a little too Zionist, so that is not good.”

Now, now. We are all entitled to our opinions. However, I was upset by this comment. First of all, I found it ironic that this same woman who was literally jumping up and down with excitement the day of the election in anticipation of Obama’s win, who did not come to school the day after because she stayed up all night watching the results, who told me that anyone who would vote for McCain is “retarded,” is already criticizing Obama’s decision making skills. I thought he was supposed to be perfect? I support Obama, but I was never under the illusion (or delusion) that he is perfect or that once he was elected, all of America’s problems were going to just disappear into thin air.

More importantly, the discussion of Rahm Emanuel’s politics, history regarding Israel, his father, etc, and being upset about these things I have no problem with. However, to me, the comment made in class served no purpose and was out of context of the discussion, unnecessary, and inciting. Personally, I try not make comments that I think could be inciting or might offend other people even if such a sentiment might be warranted based on my opinion. Especially in a classroom, especially when we are not really talking about politics, and especially when I know there are other people around who might disagree with it and/or find it offensive.

Not to mention the fact the Emanuel is the fourth ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, and by that logic is qualified for the job. Israel is not the only issue he will be dealing with and hence should not be qualified or disqualified for the job solely based on that criteria.

Anyway, these are the types of comments I hear often in Middle East studies academic circles.

Al-Jazeera and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

October 19, 2008

I just had a nice conversation with a cab driver which started somehow with us discussing TV and how most TV programs and channels are a waste of time. I listed a few that were good, however, like History Channel, Discovery Channel, and yes, HBO. I mentioned that news programs were generally good as well, as long as they were mostly news. He then said to me, “can I ask you a personal question, and if you don’t mind, could you answer me honestly?” I said sure, of course.

He asked what I thought of Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I gave him my usual spiel, and noted that what I object to about Al-Jazeera in this regard is that they give mostly favorable coverage to the Palestinian side and have mostly stories covering the plight of the Palestinians, while ignoring those Palestinians and Palestinian groups which commit wanton acts of violence, terrorism, and are actively trying to stop any peace process. In addition, I think Al-Jazeera only covers Israeli news which relates to the conflict, and if it is supposed to be a “Middle East focused” news station, it should treat Israel in this regard like it does all other countries in the Middle East.

In any case, he told me that I have to see Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the conflict in a context of occupation and resistance. This of course is a prevailing notion here among others explaining causation for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which I agree is part of the issue but not all of it. I told him that in that context I understand, from the Palestinian side, that when someone kills an Israeli soldier in the West Bank, that is seen as “resistance.” Fine. Obviously, I am very upset when that happens, but if you are going to try to understand the other side, this is a point of view which can be backed up by logical arguments about occupation and resistance. However, I explained, when Palestinians shoot rockets from Gaza into Israel proper, or when suicide bombers blow themselves up on buses or gunman shoot students in schools, this is not resistance. This is terrorism. And when Al-Jazeera does not make that clear, and calls the people who commit these acts “martyrs,” that is completely unacceptable.

At that point I was ready to get out, and he either did not have a response or had had enough. Regardless, it was a very friendly conversation, and we both parted with smiles on our faces.


September 2, 2008

I had another interesting conversation in the Weider Gym today with the Captain and some of his friends. I had been trying to hide my water-drinking from them out of respect for the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan, which began last Monday, and during which Muslims fast during the day, among other things.

I asked the Captain and his friends how they are able to lift weights without drinking any water, and he responded by saying “because Islam is strong.” “Good answer,” I thought to myself. They then preceded to speak in Arabic (Egyptian dialect, or “amiyya” to be exact) which I am supposed to be able to understand, but since these guys are not the most educated of sorts their Arabic is hard to comprehend, especially when they are speaking fast, and not to me. I picked up that they were continuing their discussion of the topic and I heard “American” and “Israel” in the mix. I asked what they were discussing and one of them responded by asking “Why is America always with Israel (these are loose translations, mind you)?” I responded by saying (and yes this is not a direct answer) by saying that America is with Israel just like it is with the Palestinians and other Arabs (and yes, there is a difference, but you will see where I took it in a minute). I said that the US gives Israel money, yes, but it gives Palestinians and other Arab countries like Egypt plenty of money as well. And I did not even go into the Saudi thing.

The Captain’s friend said that the Egyptian people do not see any of this money, and that they don’t need it and don’t want it. There wasn’t much I can say to this because frankly, he was right. I asked him, “whose fault is it that Egyptians don’t see any of this money? Isn’t it because of the Egyptian government?” He responded yes, and because of America, too. Fair enough.

I asked the Captain that if the Israelis and Palestinians make an agreement that they both think is fair, would that be acceptable in his opinion? He pretty much said that the problem will never end and it will never be acceptable, and that Israel really has to go. I asked him why Israel has to go. He said “Do you like blood?” I responded “no,” and he said “then Israel has to go.” That doesn’t make much sense to me.

The conversation continued with another gym goer who told me that one of the problems with Israel is that it was built on a Palestinian state. Yes, he used the term “dawla,” so in my mind that means “state.” I corrected by telling him that there has never been a Palestinian state and that the Palestinians historically considered themselves to be part of what was called “Greater Syria,” which includes what is now Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. For the record, this to me does not mean that Palestinians are not a unique people with a shared identity and do not deserve to have a state. However, Palestinian Arab nationalism is a relatively new concept and should not be treated as if it has been around since the beginning of time. So I understand his argument (and have heard it before and I think that it is a valid one,. Yes, there were Arab Palestinians living in what is now Israel and the Territories before Israel was created, and yes, there were more of them living there than there were Jews) but I reminded him that the UN did vote to create a State of Israel and a Palestinian state (which the Arabs, as a whole, rejected) and that although the situation was unfortunate for the Palestinians and should be reconciled in some way, no one is ever going to be 100% pleased.

I asked him who was in Egypt before the Muslims and the Arabs, and he said with a smile, “the Ancient Egyptians,” and I added “and the Copts (who are still here and who have had some issues, to say the least, with the Muslim population. A movie called “Hassan and Marqos starring two of the most famous Egyptian actors, Omar Shariff and Adel Imam, talks about Christian-Muslim tensions in Egypt). After that, he turned around and said “who started this discussion anyway?” and walked away, which I thought was funny. Actually, he said literally in Arabic “who opened this topic?”

So there is me engaging with Egyptians on salient political issues.