Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ibn Yaaqub @ Blogspot is now Ibn Yaaqub @ Wordpress

I am transferring my blog to wordpress. Same time, same Ibn Yaaqub, new dot..

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Foreign Policy Association Egypt Blog

I am going to be doing some blogging for the Foreign Policy Association's Egypt Blog.

This is the url: My first post is titled : Egypt's Exporting of Gas to Israel not Likely to Change.

Gulf Arabs in Egypt

We were just sitting chatting with Mohammed the barber when I remembered that I saw him sitting with a Yemeni man the other day is new to the neighborhood. Mohammed told me that the man was here on vacation and was renting an apartment for a few weeks because it is cheaper than a room in a hotel.

Gulf Arabs come to vacation in Egypt quite often, and I have yet to hear an explanation of this phenomenon other than the one I am about to share. Mohammed told me that Gulf Arabs, especially the more convervative Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, come to Egypt to "go out with women." This means everything from just speaking to women to sleeping with them. In these countries, Mohammed explained, the women are all covered, most often wearing niqab. I wanted to question this stereoptype as I hear it often and I think it's generally useful to do so, so I asked Mohammed if he was sure that this was really the reason people from the Gulf come to Egypt. He said, "well yesterday when I was speaking with him he asked me the best place to fine women in Cairo, so yes, I am sure."

He added that to Gulf Arabs, Egypt is known as "أمريكا العرب." "The America of the Arabs."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Right Smack in the Face

One of my roommates teaches English once a week to a Somali living here in Egypt. The student's name is Mohammed and he is 18 years old. I have met him a couple of times and he is very nice, and he told my roommate today he has never gone to see a movie and would like to come with us next time we go.

I was curious about Mohammed's socio-economic status, as I do not know much about Somalia and was interested to know what type of family Mohammed comes from. My roommate said from what he understood, Mohammed is from a "middle class" Somali family, whatever that means. Not dirt poor but not wealthy on any level, either. So I asked what Mohammed's parents do for work. Guess what? His whole family is dead. His mother, his father, and his brothers and sisters. Killed in the current conflict in Somalia. Mohammed is here alone studying English, Arabic, and Islam, and shares an apartment with a few other guys living in Cairo.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More of the Same Old…Suzanne Tamim and Sexual Harassment

Today my program met with an Egyptian lawyer. She was very nice and told us a bit about the kinds of cases she deals with, which range from business to family law. Someone asked her to comment on the Suzanne Tamim case, something I have not been paying much attention to but I understand as follows: A wealthy Egyptian businessman and member of Egypt's Shura Council, Hisham Taalat Moustafa, ordered a hit on his estranged lover, Ms. Tamim, a well known Lebanese singer who was apparently engaged in a number of "relationships" with various men.

During the discussion, the lawyer offered her personal opinion on the case. She said that Suzanne Tamim deserved what she got for behaving in such an immoral manner. Yes, that she deserved to be murdered and have her throat slit because she was sleeping around. She said that a Muslim, Arab, proper girl should not behave this way. It was really that simple. The lawyer emphasized that this was her personal opinion and not that of the law.

My Egyptian professors were just as astonished as my classmates and I were, and I would not say this is representative of Egyptians as a whole, but this type of thinking certainly does exist here. And to be fair, I am sure there are people in the US who would feel the same way. In addition, how does this impact the effectiveness of the law? How do lawyers and judges who are mandated to uphold the law no matter their personal opinions deal with cases like this? This is probably a question for my uncle…

As usual, we also discussed the issue of sexual harassment in Egypt, which I know I talk a lot about but is hard to avoid when I constantly hear stories from my classmates about being harassed. This woman is an Egyptian, educated lawyer, and she flat out told us that she has never seen someone being sexually harassed in Egypt and that she does not consider it to be a problem. Furthermore, she explained that when it does happen, it is because the individual who commits the act cannot make a proper moral decision about what is right and wrong. That is, she does not think that sexual harassment is a societal problem but rather that it happens on a case by case basis involving people who just do not know any better. By that logic then, she is claiming that two-thirds of the male population in Egypt cannot figure out that you should not grab women’s private parts on the street. I don’t buy that. In my opinion, she is trying to place the blame on the individual in an attempt to deny that there are real problems in Egypt’s sexual culture.

I have heard all of this before and frankly I am getting a little sick of it. We have these meetings with prominent, influential Egyptians who are educated and who are doing good for their country, and for some reason, whether it is because they don’t want to paint a bad picture of Egypt in front of foreigners, or they actually think that there are no real problems here, they just keep feeding us bullshit.

I spoke with my professor about this later and she a made a good point which is that I should not get too upset or be so surprised when someone does not deliver the response I expect from them. Just because this woman is a lawyer, etc. does not mean that I should expect certain ideas or opinions from her. And vice versa, I might be surprised to hear what a less educated person has to say, as well.

And for the record, we have plenty of societal and cultural problems in America, too, so don’t think that I am picking on anybody. I just happened to be living in and studying Egyptian society and culture.

Patriotism For the First Time

This is a bit of a late post, but I never got a chance to publish it.

I have heard a lot of people say (and seen a lot of Facebook status messages) that they are "proud to be American for the first time" now that Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States. I understand that people have been incredibly unhappy the past eight years under the Bush administration, but does that mean one still cannot be proud to be American? I was proud when firefighters rushed into the burning World Trade Centers, knowingly giving their lives for their country and their countrymen. I was proud of the US olympic team while watching from a restaurant in Morocco. And I was proud to see Americans stand up and make their voices heard, regardless of the result.