Wednesday, October 17, 2012

They are all the same, all these different people...

Lately I've been asked by friends in both Egypt and the Netherlands what I think about what's happening in the Islamic world. And I am commenting a lot on the same topic when I see postings on the Internet about excesses in the Islamic world.

First of all, all these different people are all the same and I probably are one of them. What I mean is that they are all generalizing 'other people'. I think I do the same, but I make it an effort not to do so.

Recently there is a lot to do about Islamism again. And what I feel is that this is primarily to do with that in Islamic countries some weird shit is happening. US embassies being attacked, 10 year old girls shot in the head because they want an education and stuff like that. The point is that these excesses are all happening in Islamic countries and by whack-jobs that are easily mistaken for human beings. Well actually in many cases they are referred to as Muslim extremists and the media play a big part in this.

I've blogged before about the media and that I'm not really impressed by their fact-checking. But more importantly they're very much only concentrating on the shit that's happening and love to refrain from anything that's positive about what the general public considers bad. In western countries the baddies are Muslims, here in the region, the baddies are westernes. Americans are the worst. Really.

The interesting part is that more and more you see that especially the media treat whole groups as one person. Generalizing the whole group to the extent that what one members says or does is said or done by every member. Preferably the bad stuff, because bad stuff sells commercials, gets the laughs when you sarcastically criticizes it.

Sometime it really pisses me off that this happens. Why? Because often this results in more intolerance, misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Nowadays I have to say that my friends here in Egypt are more tolerant towards other ideas and beliefs than my friends in the Netherlands. Which I think has everything to do with the massive amount of information we're used to get in the Netherlands and the idea that it is impartial, to an extent and fairly accurate. Although there is the option to get yourself well informed, you have to do it yourself in Holland. And we don't have time to do so it seems.
Here in Egypt, it's different all together. Information is limited and definitely not impartial at all, but this is known and most of my friends here are really taking an effort in getting their information from different sources, making it more impartial than we in the west do, nowadays.

Let's move on to an example; you must have heard about this Pakistani girl Malala who was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan just a few days ago. This girl is about 10 years old and a symbol of anti-Taliban in her country and the rest of the world. She was shot in the head because she is fighting for the right of girls in Pakistan to receive proper education. I'm sorry to say but I consider the person or persons involved to be total whack-jobs. This is just something you don't do. You don't shoot girls in the head, for any reason.

What I'm saying is not, I repeat: NOT, that this person's motives are whack, I'm saying he was a whack-job.

But that's besides the point of this post. The point of this post is that every time something excessive happens in an Islamic country, there are everywhere in the media stories about it that fuel the public paranoia against Muslims, or that further numb the public's ability to make up it's own mind. A friend of mine made me aware of a text on a website that he quoted which literally translates into; Shooting a 10 year old in the head is fine, but offending a certain religion is the worst. Of course this is referring to the recent events of the shooting and the anti-Islam movie posted on YouTube.
The sad part in this is that the Mullahs in Pakistan publicly opposed the actions of the Taliban and stated that girls have as much the right for education as boys.
The issue here is that media are positioning the Taliban as a religious bunch of people first and terrorists second. I would argue that a large amount of members of the Taliban are not the religious fanatics media would like us to believe, but are merely survivalists that have no alternative. But they are still terrorists.

Another example is about a previous post I did.

But back to Egypt, as this is my blog about living in Egypt and not about my frustrations with media.
So what about Egypt in all of this? How does Egypt fit into all of this. Well that is twofold.

Firstly, as my friends outside of Egypt are wondering how I'm still alive in this revolutionary country, my friends in Egypt are asking me how the people in Holland are looking at the developments in Egypt. Of course they only know what they see on tv and read on the Internet. And they're seeing that vast amounts of tourists are no longer flying into Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada. Their view on westerners are also based on what the media are saying and showing. Feeling that tourists are staying away because of the increasing power of the Muslim Brotherhood by means of the new president. Some of my friends and colleagues here feel that the western world is terrified of everything that's Islamic.
It's perfectly human to generalize, it makes the world easier to understand.

Secondly, I said Egypt's fit into this post is twofold, of course is that Egypt is not only a predominantly Islamic country, but there is also a vast amount of Coptic Christians in Egypt and their neighbor is Israel, which is predominantly Jewish. They're all living side by side with almost no quarrels between them. Yes there are incidents, most of the, rather bloody I must say. Lets forget about the incidents in the Sinai. These are not religious in nature, I'm sure. Lets focus on the issues between Muslims and Christians. The massacres in churches. Again, these are beyond my comprehension, but because they happen doesn't mean that entering a church in Cairo will get you killed. In fact, a friend of a friend of mine is a Muslim and he's an expert in Cairo's religious history. He organizes for those who're interested guided tours through Cairo focussing on mosques or churches. And his audience is a mixture of Muslims, Christians and other religions. And I have witnessed with my own eyes that a group of Muslims entered a Coptic church without starting to shoot the people inside, they didn't even had C4 in a belt around their body. A complete lack of violence. I was amazed... Not really.

One of the things that I noticed here in Cairo is that every time an incident of religious nature happened in Egypt, the religious authorities publicly condemned the incident, stating that the wackos are not at all acting on religious grounds are mislead by the idea that they would enter paradise. And this usually wasn't a marketing act towards other countries and media, but a real manner to 'teaching' the public in Egypt that these actions are plain wrong. This I hardly ever see in the Netherlands for example.

Hmmm, while reading this post again, I feel that it has become more of a rant than a cohesive story. Probably because I felt more like ranting about people's ignorance than I felt about posting about some weird stuff I experienced in Cairo. That I'll leave for my next post.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Two weeks into 3 and how that seems long but is too short - part trois

This is the third and last installment of my trilogy about this year's

By now, if you've read the other two posts, you have a pretty good idea
about how we spend our vacation in the USA this year. In case you haven't
read those posts but would like to, here're links to those posts:Part 1 and Part 2

We spend some good quality time with each other this summer and it was
great. We had like 2 days before our flight to the US and a few days after
our trip together in Holland. Especially the boys really felt that daddy
was back with them.
This was most apparent when I was leaving for Cairo again. Especially
considering I was going to spend two weeks in Cairo instead of just one.

But first our days back in Holland. Especially Jay was suffering from the
difference in time. He wouldn't catch sleep untill midnight. His internal
clock was completely screwed up and it took quite a while before it was
back from EST to CET. Of course that caused quite a bit of frustration with
him. Ray was adjusting a lot better, but he as well was not back into the
normal Almere day routine immediately. We're still happy we came back days
before school would start, otherwise it would've been a disaster.

In the weeks I was in Cairo, it became really clear how intense our
vacation had been in terms of spending time together. Not being together in
this period was hard on everybody. Like going cold turkey on them.
I guess it just means that our family dynamics are pretty good. Taking a
positive view on matters.

Well, considering our time in the US, the time in Holland was really
uneventful, so I won't waste your time any further.

As always, thanks for sticking with the post until the end.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pretty sure the Koran doesn' say...

...That you should violently kill everybody who says something about the Prophet you don't like hearing.

Okay, if you don't know what I'm referring to; it's nice to see you crawled from under your rock. Let me give you a little rundown. Recently some people from the US made this really low quality movie about the prophet Mohamed. Portraying him as a killer, rapist, child mollester and every other kind of villain you can think of. I have to admit, I haven't seen the movie myself, but on the news they showed some clips. And boy, is this one badly made movie. It was published on YouTube.
There's been a lot of commotion about the movie, nobody knew who made it, no motive for as why it was made. And I am wondering why these actors would actually want to be in such an extremely badly produced piece of (f)art.
There were all kinds of rumors ranging from the conspirational "Muslim extremists made it to evoke violent actions in the US" to "Some kids wanted to make some prank and get as many hits on YouTube to make a lot of ad-words money". As it seems to turn out, some nutcase who was denied any internet activity in the past made the movie and his motives are still unclear, as far as I know.
Needles to say that all over the world there were violent uprisings of Muslims, roaming the streets killing everybody who even remotely looked American. Or so CNN and the likes would like you to believe.

Okay, first of all I am completely convinced that there has been a significant amount of Muslims who felt offended by the way their religious icon was portrayed. Pretty much the same way Christians were offended by the Hollywood blockbuster "The Last Temptation of Christ" and recently there is a controversy about Paul Verhoeven's initiative to turn his biography on Jesus Christ into a biopic. I think you agree with me that it makes perfect sense that people find it offending when their religion and religious icons are ridiculed.
There's always freedom of speach and freedom of press as well. And when you're opinion is that some icon is a whack-job, you have the freedom to express this opinion. When you state something as a fact, you should be able to substantiate this as well, IMHO.

Where was I going? Oh yes, Muslims killing all Americans because an American made a movie about the prophet Mohamed being a villain. First thing that springs to mind is what about Americans that are Muslim? You see, there is a very distinct group of Muslims that you can depict as Muslim by just looking at them. And this group was not on display in the clips on the news about people violently attacking US embassies all over the world. There were also no interviews with members of these mobs to ask them if they were devoted Muslims. So no way in telling these violent people were Muslim at all. Thank you international press to check your facts.

Ah, you see, I'm in Cairo and on TV there were riots in front of American buildings and I live close to a large compound with only Americans I have let to believe. So of course I was fearing for my life. I could be violently killed any moment. To prevent this, I started speaking English with a thick Dutch accent. Pro-actively taking away any idea that I am American. My survival instinct kicked in and I started mimicking the way Egyptians walk and behave in the streets. Say 'jani' every other word,
gesturing with my hands all the time and act like a jerk while in a car and extremely friendly and considered while not in a car. Then I realized, Cairo is a city of 20 million population, on the news there where maybe 200 riotters. Take any Dutch footbal (soccer) match and you'll have about
10,000 fans out of which 500 will start riotting and attacking the fans of the other team when one of them says something bad about the opposing team's star player. Just to put stuff in perspective. And these people are clearly football fans as they are wearing team colors.

But just to be sure, I went onto the streets wearing orange clothes, the Dutch flag as a cape and using my Dutch accent big time when speaking and I asked my Muslim friends whether or not they were going on a killing spree in the night when they were not praying or smoking shisha because that is
what Muslims do when you offend the Prophet because it's what the Koran says you have to do as a devoted Muslim. Guess what, it's not in the Koran. Yup, I was as surprised as you are right now. So I asked these same friends of mine, with less of a Dutch accept, dropping my cape, why these mobs were on the streets of Cairo killing every Westerner crossing their paths. Their answer; these are most likely ignorant under privileged men and women that are considering the West as the reason for their misery and now have a reason to express their grudge. They have no clue as to who to address in the first place but now they can with the excuse of that YouTube movie go on a violent parade through Cairo.
Huh? You didn't mention Muslim or Islam at all? I asked. Nope, that most likely has nothing to do with it. Maybe they're all Muslim, but about 85% of the Egyptians is Muslim.
Aha, just like football hooligans are mainly Christians, their violent acts during the matches have nothing to do with all the cursing that comes with the match. Interesting.

You see, the point is that it's so easy to just generalize and the media help us in this. Not all Americans are Islamofobes or think that Mohamed is a villain, I would dare to say that the majority doesn't and is quite the opposite. Not all Muslims are violent rioters that go and kill everybody as soon as you say something bad about their religious icons. Actually again I would dare to say that the majority is quite the opposite.
And because somebody belongs to a specific group, their actions are defined by this group. Typically most people belong to different groups, demographics. In many cases media are not taking their responsibility to inform the public correctly, they're always biased and violence, just like sex, sells. A public that is in fear wants to stay informed and the media will have a larger public. The biggest downside to this is that we, as the public, are not enticed to learn and understand more about 'the others', instead we fear them, want to stay away from them. Want to make them stay away from us. And in a day and age where information has no boundaries anymore and is there in abundance, it is even more important that we want to learn and understand more about each other, only then we can live side by side in relative harmony. After all we are all humans, predators and killers by nature. We only started collecting later in time.

I hope you agree with me that we should try to love one another, it is so easy to hate each other. Let's challenge ourselves, shall we.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two weeks into 3 and how that seems long but is too short - part deux

Here's the rest of the story of our trip to the US. As you know this is intended to be a trilogy and we only spend 2 weeks in the US.

Let me first tell you that I love the States, I often refer to the US as the "Promised Land". I've never been to the US and did not like it, I always loved it. But then again, I have always been fortunate enough not having to worry about money. The States are brilliant when you have a great job that pays well and when you don't things go south pretty fast.

So after a week in Orlando we flew to our friends in Waltham. Yes, I know, I've been telling people I went to Boston, but Waltham is this little town close to Boston that most people I know don't know.
There's another little town I've spend a lot of time, Allentown, PA. And strangely enough a lot of people know Allentown. Really remarkable. But I'm digressing.
So we flew into Boston Logan and were picked up by my buddy. A short drive later and we were at his home where his wife and 2 daughters were waiting for us. Now our friends are from India and my wife and I love Indian food, just so you know. And our friends know this as well... A full week of Indian food, almost everyday 3 times a day. Heaven.

The whole week we were doing fun stuff, ranging from driving bumper-boats and eating delicious ice-creams to shopping till we were dropping. From the Boston Aquarium to the Atlantic to see whales in the wild. From a day relaxing at home to a full day in Boston visiting Boston Commons.
My buddy knows an aweful lot about Boston and the whole area. Amazing. We saw the house where J.F.  Kennedy was born and it struck me that Americans are really celebrating their heroes, they put them on a peddestal and keep them there, at all costs it seems. I think that's kinda cool.
Another thing that was really cool was that we went to this really old warship, the USS Constitution, one of those with sails and front loading guns. And the best part was that we got there late in the afternoon and they were just closing up, but we still got a private tour. That was really nice and interesting.

The best part of the whole week was to be with our friends. We hadn't seen them in 3 years or so. You should know that I worked with my buddy for like 3 days or something. That was way back in 2000, when we first met. But we became best friends right there and then. Well lucky me.

Something about this week I haven't written down yet is that my friend's youngest daughter had her birthday that week and there was a pool party at the local YMCA. Our first pool party ever.

So now you know how I spend my vacation in the US. Only one post left to make this a trilogy.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Two weeks into 3 and how that seems long but is too short


Yes I know, I say this every time, but it has been a while since I created a post.

This post will be divided over 3 parts, you're reading part 1 of these 3.

Recently I took my annual vacation. My sons had their summer vacation and of course that means that as a family we had to spend time.
Late last year we bought a little place at the beach in Turkey and my wife and kids spend some time there. Instead of spending the whole summer there. They stayed in our place at the Akbuk'ian beach for about 2 and a half weeks, during which I was working full time in Cairo. No need for me to fly to Holland. Although I have nice neighbors in Almere, I have nice friends in Cairo and a weekend in the Egyptian sun is nice as well.

On a side note, it was Ramadan and this year Ramadan was brutal. Days were long, hot and humid. I tried to fast for a day and decided that being divine-agnostic (that's how Facebook puts it) has its benefits. Nevertheless, the catering at the office was totally geared towards Ramadan, close to not existing is what that means.

We decided to fly to the USA and visits our very close friends in Waltham, MA. It's close to Boston. The week in Boston was preceded by a week in Orlando, FL.
My main reason to go to Orlando was to go to Florida and show the boys alligators in the Everglades on an airboat. The reason we went to Orlando instead of Miami was a matter of logistics. The trip would be Amsterdam, Florida, Boston and finally Amsterdam again and the best schedule was through KLM/Delta airlines. And since I've got KLM gold status and so does my wife we went through the airports smoothly and swiftly.
A couple of days before we went on vacation I arrived in Holland and the next day the family returned from Turkey. 3 days later we went to Orlando.
The journey took close to 13 hours as we had a transfer in Atlanta. No direct flights by any of the Sky Team airlines from Amsterdam to Orlando.
Jay, our oldest, pretty much was done with the whole traveling when we arrived in Atlanta. Fortunately the flight to Orlando from Atlanta took only an hour.
We collected our luggage, 3 suitcases, one filled with presents, and I got the rental car from Dollar. A Ford Taurus, nice car. It's the last time I rent a car from Dollar. "Why?", you ask me? Because their prices on the web are totally misleading. Although in the end not more or less expensive than the competition, the other car rentals prices online were way more accurate. Lesson Learned.
Thanks to my pretty good memory and my Nokia Lumia 800 we were at the hotel without any problems. Well, dusk had set in and I couldn't find the switch for the headights until my wife looked it up in the manual. Nevertheless the driving in the US is kind of different from what you experience in Cairo. The lanes on the roads are as wide if not wider than in Cairo, but the biggest difference is that in the US there is only one car per lane. This is quite refreshing. Of course, in the Netherlands this is the same, but it feels more relaxed in the US.
Our hotel, Wyndham Grand Orlando, was perfect. Not The Atlantic Palm Dubai perfect. But perfect nonetheless. I'm still happy I went for a luxury hotel.
Very friendly staff, swift service and excellent spacy room. The boys slept on bunk-beds and a comfortable bed was set for my wife and myself. All in a single room, but still with enough privacy as needed for a family of 4.
The little cafe in the hotel lobby was actually a Starbucks affiliate, so Starbucks espresso. Very nice indeed. The restaurant in the lower lobby (LL on the elevator button) was very pleasant and very much tailored for kids. And OMG, the Man vs. Dog hotdog at the pool side. Gosh, that was some mean hotdog. Foot long with cheese and jalapeno's and sauerkraut and all kinds of other stuff. I finished it twice.

I won't bore you to sleep with every little detail of the hotel.

This first week of our vacation in the US was spend between Disney parks and the hotel pool. The swimming pool and the pool table in the De kids loved it, especially Jay. He'd rather play pool than go swimming. The Disney parks were very nice and big. But admission was a matter of big bucks as well. Would I say "but worth every penny"? Nope. I think they were over priced. But we had fun.... Until I got my AmEx bill obviously.
The highlight of this week in Orlando was actually not the Disney parks and we enjoyed it our last day in Florida. It was the airboat ride we did at Wild Florida in Kenansville, about 45 min drive from Orlando. We booked a private tour, meaning just the 4 of us and our guide were on the boat for an hour. My reasoning behind paying a little more was that
whenever the guide explained something we could translate it for the kids. Without other tourists that didn't want to wait for translations and go on with the tour. It was awesome, on the boat across the swamps of the Northern Everglades. Looking for gators and we saw some. Not the big ones, but small ones, still 1.2 m (4 ft) nonetheless. And we saw an American Bold Eagle. In hindsight we should've done the night tour, that's when the big gators are hunting. But since it was our last day...
We did see the big ones though. There was a small park as well, very nice setup, with a large pont that had like 6 big gators, by big I mean about 4-5 m (12-15 ft) long.
Whenever you go to Orlando, this is what you must do. Forget about all the parks. They're fun, but you should go to Wild Florida.
The trip to Wild Florida marked our last day in Florida. Next day we flew to Boston to visit our friends in Waltham. That I'll cover in my next post. I thank you for getting this far.

Enjoy the remainder of your day or good night,


Thursday, June 21, 2012

The start of a challenging journey... ?


According to many of my friends and colleagues here in Egypt, it is a critical day today as today there will be the official results of the elections announced. And they tell me, actually some warn me, that there is a very high chance for significant disturbances. That there will be new demonstrations on Tahrir square today, protest marches and even violence in the streets.
Some have given me the advice to bring my travel stuff to the office, such that I can go straight to the airport if need be.

I find this sort of hard to believe as I really have a hard time imagining the Egyptian people to be violent and rioterish. Of course there are some individuals who are just that, but I feel the masses are these friendly, helpful, not aggressive at all kind people.

We'll see today and for what it's wort, I wish my friends, colleagues and the rest of Egypt that today is the true start of their journey towards a better future, however that needs to be implemented.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Yes! a new president... almost.


Traffic is pretty bad today, so I have some time to create another blog post.

Last weekend we had the second round of the presidential elections. Only two candidates left out of the 13 or so that were in the 1st round.
Basically what they did was that they created a short-list, numbers 1 and 2 of the first round and now the Egyptian people could vote on either one of them.

There's a lot to do about these elections. All kinds of theories that the 1st round was rigged. That the army had manipulated the proceedings such that their candidate would be in the final round. I don't want to speculate whether this is correct or not.
Meanwhile the parliament has been dissolved as they've been established in an unconstitutional manner and the constitution also has been determined to be unconstitutional. So now there's a new president but no parliament nor a constitution. How weird is that? In my humble opinion, this renders the president more or less powerless. But chances are I am wrong.

I think that there's another aspect to all of this. This is that I'm not really convinced that what Egypt needs right now is a democracy.
If you look at what is wrong in this country, from a very limited view from an expat, is a lack of education and proper schools. Healthcare is pretty bad, as is social security and general welfare. I would argue that Egypt needs this to be fixed more than becoming a democracy. Anyway, democracy is largely overrated anyway. Look at the mess in Europe. Belgium still has no proper government, the Dutch government had to step down, Greece is going to the voting docks on regular basis. Furthermore, democracy and swift action don't seem to go side-by-side. The problem with democracy is that it rules a country by consensus, which rules out fast decisions.
Typically I'm wrong when it comes to politics and macro economics, but I think I'm pretty close to being right when I say that when 60% of a country's population is living below the poverty line, that's not a good thing and needs to be addressed. And when 40+% of the population is illiterate, that's bad as well and needs to be addressed.
Was Egypt better of with the old regime? Definitely not, it was 30 years in power and Egypt is in its current state because or despite of the Mubarak regime. I would say that Egypt needs a benevolent ruler that has all the best for his or her people.

But benevolent rulers are hard to find.

There's another important aspect that makes me believe that Egypt is not ready for democracy just yet. It's the fact that its culture is very hierarchical. I can see it everywhere. Managers refer to their team members as subordinates, hierarchical status in organizations is key for most people I've met. I see it around me a lot. People higher up in the hierarchy are not open to discuss matters with 'lower' people. The culture here in Egypt as I experience it is very totalitarian. People are not used to question their managers or even themselves. Orders are followed blindly it seems at times, which I believe has to do with that when you're not doing as told you're punished, even though your way of doing it is more beneficial. Coming from Holland, where consensus is key, everybody seems to have the right to veto and the first thing you do when given an assignment is to question its validity this seems very unnatural and illogical. I don't agree with the Dutch stance either, there needs to be a boss, but it does motivate people to think along and the enterprise benefits from this greatly as it leverages the collective mind of its employees.
But I'm digressing, in a democracy, you need people that think for themselves, that show initiative and that are part of an environment where this is allowed, even promoted. This takes time and it takes educated people.

Anyway, I truly wish that Egypt will become a better place for its people. Very rarely I've come across a people that across the board are so nice and friendly. And I think it is a shame that the masses have been treated to badly over the years, unnecessarily so. The country is not a poor country, it has so much to offer to all. And if not anything else, the revolution has opened the door to the opportunity to change all of this. For all Egyptians, and I hope that the next government doesn't succumb to the temptations of power and money.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What strikes me still


What still strikes me as out of this world is how culture, tradition, religion and the western world come together here in Egypt.

Just now I was passing the Starbucks in Maadi and while waiting for traffic, a lady in a BURKA, completely covered, walks out of the Starbucks zipping her Cafe Latte, Cappuccino or whatever she ordered. Elegantly lifting her face covering veil.

Egypt is fairly liberal when it comes to religion and the Islam in particular. Compared to the rest of the region that is. So you don't see women in BURKA that often. Althpugh you still see them regularly.

Women with their heads covered by a veil are very common though, and it is always funny to see them use that very same veil to hold their mobile phone, sort of a Blue Toothless handsfree set. Granted, I've seen this in the Netherlands as well, but it stays funny.

Some time ago I was on a tour in one of the older parts in Cairo, visiting a few of the Coptic churches. A very worthwhile experience. While stroling around I saw this Coptic priest, all in black, long beard. Talking into his iPhone 4.

The interesting part of all this is that in the western world, typically, in my experience we're no longer that traditional. We're moving with the waves of fashion, technology and change accordingly. We don't adopt new things that much while holding on to what we value from the past, instead we evolve into the new, whereas here in Egypt, I see this strong hold of the past on the population. The new is meshed with the old, but the old prevails in many if not most cases. Which one is the better I can't say, whatever makes people happy I'd say. But it does make for an interesting experience and of course another blog post.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

In my own comfortzone


As usual, it has been a while since I last posted a blog. And yes, as usual I will try to post more regularly.

About 2 weeks ago my family and I were on vacation in Turkey. We bought our own little villa there last winter and this was the first time for us to see it. Until then all we knew about it was from photo's and my in-laws. It turned out to be even nicer in real life than on photo's.

Anyway, having spend a big part of my life abroad, out of the Netherlands that is, I was surprised how out of place I felt in Turkey. Especially compared to Egypt. But today, while listening to the radio, I realized that for the first time in my life I moved to a country where I wasn't able to make out anything from what I heard unless it was English. Arabic is so different from European languages, that you're never tempted to assume you understand. Before moving to Cairo, I've been to countries where peopke spoke western languages, even Pakistan, where English seemed to be the native language, which it isn't by the way.
After more than 2 years in Egypt, I've grown accustomed to hear people talk and not know what they're saying. Arabic turned into background noise, something that's there but my brain gave up trying to understand what it means.
Now in Turkey, it was a completely different story. My brain kept on trying to make something out of these seemingly random noises.
Important to mention that my wife is Turkish and when she's with her family, she tyically speaks a mixture of Dutch and Turkish, so I usually can make something out of it. But on Turkey there was no Dutch or even English to give me some hints on what the discussions are all about. But my mind has not reached a state where it would dismiss it to be just background noise, instead it kept on trying to understand. And since Turkish is a completely different language not based on
either Latin or German...

Bottomline, after 2 years of not understanding (almost) any Arabic, I'm pretty comfortable abput not knowing what's going on. Something that I need to get at when in Turkey.


Monday, January 23, 2012

May I have more votes please?


A bit later than initially promised, here's some more on the whole
voting thing here in Egypt.
Disclaimer: since they didn't want to have my vote, I didn't bother to vote
at all. So most of it today is what I got from talking to Egyptian
friends and colleagues.
The voting here in Cairo (and Giza) took 6 days, all in all. It
started in Cairo, 2 days of voting. Then 2 weeks later there would be
voting in Giza, again for 2 days. Just because the schools and other
public places where people could cast their vote had to be secured. And then it was all over, more or less.
An important fact to keep in mind is that for many people this was the first time to vote ever. For most because they never bothered to vote because they felt the elections were rigged anyway. So a true democratic process was key to be proven. Now think about this; there were 2 weeks between the voting in Cairo and Giza, enough time to 'update' some of the votes in Cairo to predict the outcome of the elections. So what happened, the votes from the 1st round were already counted and published. The Brotherhood turned out to be the big winners, but a big chunk of the votes was still out there. Publishing the outcome can be considered a way of manipulating the second round. Although this is realistic, I would say it is more realistic in the Western world. Why? Because here in Egypt a big part of the population didn't even know how to vie in the first place. People at the voting stations, of course affiliated with one of the parties, where available to 'help' those that were not able to understand how to cast their vote. And if somebody tells you to just select the little triangle when you consider yourself a good Muslim... You can imagine the rest. Again, I got all this information from talking to friends and colleagues.

Now there is one thing I want to share which I believe is really awesome. I will try not to be speculative on this. One thing I learned is that in the rural areas, owners of the large farms and other companies actually hired busses to take their employees to the voting office to be able to cast their vote. How about that for facilitating democracy? I could be cynical and assume that during the bus ride the propaganda engine was blasting away, but that would be cynical and highly speculative as nobody I talked to hinted in that direction at all.

In the end it turned out that the majority of the votes has gone to the Brotherhood and that is no surprise. The Brotherhood insists that they are not proponents of an Islamic government but time will truly tell. For now, I still think that the army is still the party that is really wielding any power. There is still a lot at stake for them and the presidential elections still need to take place.
Still, the first steps are taken and the elections passed by relatively peaceful, although we shouldn't forget the massacre a few weeks ago after the soccer match. According to many instigated by Mubarak followers and a group of rich people that have much to loose when the army looses their grip on every day life and the economy.

In any case, democracy in Egypt still has a long way to go. But then again, when you look at the Netherlands, it took more than a century to get to where democracy in the Netherlands is today.

"This is true: the world is better off with some people gone. Our lives are
not all interconnected. That theory is a crock. Some people truly do not
need to be here." from American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Monday, January 9, 2012

May I have your votes please?

Hi there, happy New Year,

You might have been wondering where my blogposts went and why nothing about the elections in Egypt. Well the answer is not that simple. Let me explain; As you might know by now, Egypt is a big country, most of it is inhabitable desert. The majority of the population lives along the Nile and around the Red Sea, for obvious reasons. That population by the way consists of about 80,000,000 people, about 5 times the Dutch
population. Most of them living in the greater Cairo area. This is one of the tidbits I recently learned; Cairo is not just one city, it's a few cities together, or governerates they call them I believe (sorry, didn't do too much research). The main two governerates are Cairo and Giza. I live in Cairo and work in Giza. I guess that it compares with the Randstad in the Netherlands. There are about 20 mln people living in this area, commonly referred to as Cairo.

Back to the elections.

In the last bit of 2011 there were the elections in Egypt. These were about the parliament, the new parliament after the revolution. The weeks prior to the elections were full of disturbances again and
Tahrir square was the arena for fights between revolutionairiess and the army.
But even before that, it was decided that there would be several days with some time in between to do the elections! Or rather the voting. This because the government couldn't guarantee safety for all voters at all voting centers, which were schools and other public facilities. The voting was rather uneventful but than again, there were a lot of soldiers on the streets. Although I also think that in general the Egyptian people are not that 'riotish' in the first place.
So, once the first round was done, which took 2 days, there was a period of 2 weeks during which the army relocated and another 2 days of voting was done. First Cairo, than Giza. To me this was very odd, unprecedented in fact. But understandable.

Was this the better solution? Were there alternatives? Are these elections really democratic? Will the new parliament bring stability? Read about my view on things later this week.