Egypt: First Presidential Elections

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this is a pure image of Egyptian revolution. Cannot recall where I took this picture from.

Results of local elections are pretty disturbing. The leading candidates of the semi-finals are: Ahmed Shafiq and Mohammed Morsi. Egyptians remember Mr. Shafiq as a former Mubarak’s minister and a “butcher” who did not do much to stop the bloody Battle of the Camels that lasted for 16 hours on Tahrir Square. Mr. Morsi is a prominent leader of the Muslim Brotherhood ORganization. People found themselves between a rock and a hard place: what to do and whom to vote for?

But why all of that happened?

Various candidates participated in the elections: socialists, liberals, religious leaders, etc. the question is: why Mr. Shafiq a pro-Mubarak person was allowed to participate in it? It clearly seems that all the efforts and sacrifices of the revolution were useless. Liberals had various candidates and no unity. They are highly disintegrated and fragmented; they did not nominate one person and voted for him, but had many leaders. This turned out to be their biggest mistake. Votes of intellectuals were divided and spread all over the place: no one got the biggest chunk. This situation is not unique: unfortunately it happens all over the world. Liberal opposition has no uniting idea and no common candidate: one and for all.

While majority of the population remains uneducated and illiterate, the possibilities for manipulation remain widely available. Imagine if someone in the mosque would tell these people to vote for a particular candidate and go to heaven or vote for any other candidate and go to hell. What do you think is going to happen? Or imagine a poor village with people barely making their ends meet, all of a sudden they receive a lot of cooking oil, pasta and rice. Who do you think they will vote for? Or let’s take Coptic Christians who voted for Shaffiq as they were scared of the Muslim rule in the country. I believe no one can blame them for that.

So I look at it and understand that Russia is not very different from Egypt: the same methods of bribery (you can basically get a vote with a bag of rice, flour, sugar (underline) in Egypt, 500 rubles in Russia) and methods of mass manipulation and intimidation during the elections. Also don’t forget about the ubiquitous propaganda and lies on television in Russia.

However, there is one good thing: people here really can not vote more than once because a finger of each and every single person is dipped in ink before the voting, and you cannot get rid of this ink for a week or so. I think this innovative method should be implemented in Russia, otherwise some individuals have a chance (and get paid for it) to vote for United Russia several times.

So the country voted. Who wins remains a mystery, but we are all doomed so far…

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Random

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Cairo street scenes, By Ed Yourdon

Cairo street scenes, By Ed Yourdon

Yesterday I went to sleep at 1 am, I don’t do it often as I have to wake up at 6.30 to go to work. The reason why I did not go to sleep early is simple: the kids were shouting and playing ball at 12.30 am on my street.

 

So imagine me completely furious and wearing a tank top, getting on my balcony and yelling at them. They did not notice me at first – a crazy half naked lady. But they could not ignore me either. So they stared at me and I am sure they did not understand a single word that I was saying. So I yelled: “Yalla! Go home to sleep.” All these words were accompanied by my active gestures. The kids started walking away looking back, I was standing on the balcony just to make sure they left. When they reached the corner one boy turned around and yelled: “Fuck You!” Well, well, education, education …

 

I know it is summer, I know there is no school. But I will never be able to comprehend why parents allow their kids to walk around playing ball after midnight? No one really cares? I have noticed that parents take their children to restaurants and stay up late; they take children to watch a movie at midnight, so that the children scream and make a lot of noise annoying everyone around them. I have seen parents walking on the streets of Cairo with infants late at night. Imagine: cars running around, pollution and noise and little babies sleeping. I just cannot get it: why they do this to their children?  I know that not everyone is like this in here, but I have never seen such a thing in Europe or Russia. I know there are a lot of rude and misbehaved kids all over the world. But right now here, in Cairo I am a bit confused.

 

And then they say: Different culture and different traditions. Well, it is kind of the same as saying: “different culture, that’s why women here have to do this and that.” Cultural relativism all over again … To the contrary, it has nothing to do with the culture: if you check the modern pictures of Egypt and compare them to the pictures of Egypt form the 50s, you will see a significant difference. And then you will wonder: how did the country manage to bounce back so bad? Back in the 50s women wore short skirts on the streets and were not massively veiled like today. And then they say that harassing women on the streets is in their culture, oh, really?

 

Culture can sometimes be a great tool to camouflage ugly things in a nice way.

 

Here is an old Egyptian Coca Cola ad from 1950s. check out women outfits and hair.

 

 

On Egyptian Presidential Elections

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Egypt presidential elections posters and billboards.By gr33ndata

Egypt presidential elections posters and billboards.By gr33ndata

The country is facing the approaching elections dilemma. The first presidential elections in god-knows how long. People have doubts and yet are excited about this event. Some of the people I know have already prepared their ways out and are ready to pack their suitcases if the shit hits the fan. [meaning: the wrong candidate will take over and Revolution 2.0 will be on]

There are a lot of candidates running for the office, they are all different from each other and have polarized opinions on the country’s future. Among the participants of the race one might find extremely religious Salafi leader, socialist leader, moderate liberals and an ex Muslim Brotherhood chameleon [so some people believe that this candidate will turn back to the Brotherhood if elected]. Salafis are not very known for their knowledge on economy and stuff like that, yet they would like to impose Sharia laws and force veils on every woman [the biggest fear of the liberals here]. However, let’s not forget that Egypt is not Saudi Arabia and Egypt has no oil, so even if they try to impose Sharia law on everyone economic development and growth will be in question. I believe politicians cannot just outlaw the tourism as this industry brings some profit to the country’s budget.

Some other people fear that alcohol and bikinis will be banned in the country. Well, it also seems unlikely since all local alcohol producers are already in politics and their businesses are closely tightened to the political elites. So it will be highly problematic to separate the two.

Many candidates promise a lot of positive things for the society, but they don’t offer a real strategy in achieving these goals. How are they going to help the poor and make everyone equal? the answer remains silent.

Well, in the meantime, the poor are getting poorer, women rights are in question [parliament does not have that many women, Female Genital Mutilation might get legal [!] again] and Copts fear the Muslim rule in the country.

And here is a useful web site for the elections: http://www.qomra.org/en

It has some info in English and a poll on the presidential race, however, the sample is too small: only 71 people voted so far.

I might be wrong in my conclusions but this is how it all seems to me so far.

love-hate relationship Cairo

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No Harassment By Gigi Ibrahim

No Harassment By Gigi Ibrahim

My life is like a swing here: major ups and major downs. It is a strong love-hate relationship between me and Cairo. I am getting more and more annoyed by the levels of street harassment. When I came here in September I tended not to notice this and everything seemed so fresh and new. Right now I am incredibly annoyed by that.

I feel like I lost my ability to move around on my own: I cannot really use public transportation since there is no convenient system of public transportation. Metro lines are limited and are highly filled with people and sexual harassers. Once some group of guys were taking videos of me standing in the metro. Well those men were also cowards not to look back when I noticed them and they preferred to pretend that they did nothing and nothing was going on.

At the same time, I can have a great time in Cairo: by the pool in some nice club or having shesha at night in a nice restaurant. I believe I would enjoy this country more if men behaved in a better way and I would not need to restrain myself from going out.

I still cannot figure out how this nation came to such an incredible amount of sexual harassment. And it has nothing to do with religion, as Islam does not tell them to go and yell all these ugly things they say to women on streets. To the contrary Islam encourages a nice treatment of women. How come these men grow up and their mothers never tell them that it is wrong to harass women on the streets? How come other men pass by me as I get harassed and say nothing? What is wrong with you people?

What do you think? Why it happens here and how to make it stop? I became a member of a group trying to prevent sexual harassment, but I honestly don’t think it is possible as the population remains incredibly uneducated.

Exploring Egypt: ugliness and beauty combined

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Me at the Nilometer. The day when I wore a skirt in the local metro

Me at the Nilometer. The day when I wore a skirt in the local metro

 

Cairo keeps amusing me every day. Almost every day I get harassed on the streets of the city and it does not really matter what I wear and how I look like. Once I went to the local metro wearing a skirt. It was boiling hot, no air conditioner inside and everyone was sweating. My knee-long skirt attracted everyone’s attention and brought some judgmental looks. But I learnt one thing: I have my way and will wear what I want.

 

Some people might say that it is not a good strategy in a foreign country and that I should respect their traditions and be more culture sensitive. Well, I will say that cultures do matter but no one should revoke fundamental issues of human rights and dignity. Country with high rate of illegal Female Genital Mutilation should not say that it is in its culture, therefore it is ok; it is never OK and never fine. Cultural relativism should not be used as an excuse for something like that.

 

One day I took a cab and it was too late when I noticed that there was no meter in it. So I expected a long fight over the price and already wrote my price on a piece of paper as I don’t really speak Arabic. On our way the driver was nice enough to offer me a cigarette and asked if I did not mind him smoking. How sweet of him. Yet, I would imagine the same taxi driver harassing me on the streets of Cairo. Paradox.

 

At the end of the ride he claimed he had no change. Such a liar! He worked all day and had no change? No way!!!! We asked a security guard by my house to translate the whole issue from/to Arabic as we could not agree on the price. This security guard helped me out with 5 pounds [that I was missing] to pay the ride as the driver had no change. I did not even know the guy! But he helped me out just like that! That’s what I love about Cairo: friendly people willing to offer their help.

Work in the Developing Market: Lack of Higher Education or Abuse of Power by Employers?

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I could not agree less that “the developing world has the potential for major economic growth, but first it must prepare its young people for the burgeoning jobs market.” Lack of proper education is a common problem for developing countries. Will a higher level of education solve the problems of development and economic growth? Is proper education the key to all the issues? I believe not. The issue of job creation in developing countries is much deeper and broader as it also involves irresponsible behavior on the part of employers.

Hard work. Anthony Burrill poster. Photo by wetwebwork

Hard work. Anthony Burrill poster. Photo by wetwebwork

The essence of the problem is not only the lack of education, but also the lack of professionalism and work ethics on the part of both employers and employees. The concept of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” work behavior varies from country to country; cultural and national differences play a crucial role in it.

At the same time, employers exploit the skills of local people and gain large benefits by underpaying them. In this situation young people are not motivated to obtain a proper education, since their salary will remain the same. A young doctor in Cairo, for instance, has to work for the state for several years after graduation. A young specialist has to survive on 150 – 400 Egyptian pounds (25- 66 USD) a month as a sort of a payback for their education. This money is clearly not enough to cover living expenses. Young doctors heldprotests in 2009 and 2011 asking for better salaries, but their demands were not met, they were simply ignored.

Most young people live with their parents and don’t need to pay rent or buy food. This is why they can quit their jobs easily and rely on their families. This creates an asymmetrical situation when an employer invests in the employee’s education, yet does not appreciate the work that people do, while the employee sees no incentive to be efficient at the workplace and work harder for certain benefits, as such benefits do not exist.

I believe that employers should have a simple sense of social responsibility and subscribe to the principles of fairness. With the market economy in its present state, however, this is most unlikely to happen. The majority of call centers in Europe and all over the world are moving to countries where the labor force is cheaper: Hungary, India and Egypt are some of these places. Factories churning out toxic waste and textile factories are located all over East Asia. This is not due to low levels of education, but rather to cheap labor and lack of human and civil rights in the developing world. At the same time people in the developing world have scant protection from unemployment; trade unions are generally weak and employers can fire anyone on the spot.

Russia might be considered a developing country with its rich capital city and rather poor provinces. There are significant differences in salaries for the same-entry level position between Moscow and any remote town in Russia. The majority of people work illegally and employers frequently neither pay taxes nor provide contracts. Such conditions have caused a brain-drain situation where educated and ambitious young people move to Moscow in their arduous search for better jobs.

The population is growing at an incredible pace which makes finding a job a challenge and increases competition on the job market. Young people frequently find jobs through contact with family friends; in such cases a proper education counts for very little.

So it’s not about the number of jobs to be created for the developing world, but rather about changing the mentality of employers who should provide adequate salaries for people in line with their educational attainment. Just because a multinational company has a branch in the developing world does not mean that the company needs to abandon internationally accepted human rights standards and keep on exploiting its employees. Employees, on the other hand, should show more incentive and higher professionalism. This is a two-sided issue, and even if increasing numbers of people had a university degree, this does not mean it would be solved.

This article was published on Future Challenges web site. You can find it here

Metro in Cairo

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Cairo Metro at St. George Church, Cairo Author: Andrew A. Shenouda (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Cairo Metro at St. George Church, Cairo
Author: Andrew A. Shenouda (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

When I first came to Cairo I had a lot of courage and desire to explore the city. I was hungry for new experience and opportunities.

Later on people around me made me feel that this city is unsafe, that using metro might be dangerous and walking on the streets by my own is not safe either. I listened to them and hated my life at some point – I missed beautiful parks of Budapest and late evening walks with a bottle of wine.

Eventually I started taking metro. The first ride on my own was rather stressful, not because something ugly happened to me while in metro, but because I was sitting on a couch in my living room all stressed out just by an idea of taking metro. I was overly stressed and talked myself into it.

Local metro is not as sophisticated as let’s say in Moscow, but it reminds me of the one in Budapest as it also has only three metro lines that does not cover all the city.

There are two types of subway cars: for women and for everyone else. You would think that it is discriminatory and this is sexist from. Well, I have mixed emotions about that. First of all, women’s cart is not as nice as one might imagine. Veiled women give judgmental looks for foreigners that are dressed “inappropriately,” the cart is extremely stinky in summer, as some of the women are not very familiar with the rules of hygiene. Women are extremely aggressive and pushy when they try getting out/ in the cart. Situation in the mixed cart is not violent at all. Yes, there are curious horny Egyptian guys, BUT there are also nice men that give up their seats to you or ask people standing ahead of you if they are taking off the next stop. This never happened to me in any other metro I’ve been to, in any country. Sure thing, any foreign woman will receive a lot of male/female attention here, just because she is a foreigner.

There are also a lot of sellers cruising from one cart to another trying to sell tissues/fake jewelry/fake perfumes/chewing gums/candies and some other things. They just throw their goodies on your lap and walk around waiting for anyone to buy it. The level of randomness and contrast is insane.

I cannot imagine what would happen to me in summer when I start wearing t-shirts…