Sunday, August 18, 2013

Egypt; A brief history

To make it clear from the start, this piece will not cover the current events in any detail. I'm writing this in an attempt to help explain the history of the major players in the current situation in Egypt and why the situation is so polarized. I am neither a journalist nor a historian, so please forgive any errors (if you could point them out, politely, and explain where I went wrong please do so in the comments). I will try to be as impartial as possible.

The first thing to understand is that both the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood are deeply embedded in Egypt's modern history and social conscious.

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928 by school teacher Hasan Al Bana, with the aim of returning to a Caliphite stretching from Spain to Indonesia, taking the Quraan and Sunnah (sharia law) as the guide to politics and society. For most of its history the brotherhood has been officially banned from politics and outlawed as an organisation. The first time came after the assassination of the Egyptian Prime Minister and the second under President Nasser after an attempt on his life. Despite having supported the 1952 revolution that removed the monarchy from power, they disagreed with the secular goals of the new regime.

The organization has gained support manly through charitable work ( especially in the form of food and healthcare to the needy) and because they were the most prominent form of opposition. This may help explain the loyalty at a grass roots level that the Brotherhood has amongst people, especially the poor. Where state institutions failed them, especially on an economic level, they were there to help cover bills and provide help. And of course, there's no one so willing to join an organization in opposition than those already on the fringes of society where it provides a sense of belonging and importance.

At the beginning of the uprising in 2011, their leaders asked their members not to join any of the protests, however as the movement became more popular and it looked like the police might retreat they joined in. This was enough to give their candidate the edge in the elections; despite having said that they would not be putting forward a candidate.

People have always been incredibly distrustful of them, despite this enough people decided to give Morsi a chance over Ahmed Shafiq who had been PM under Mubarak, to give him a slim margin to win the elections despite an incredibly low voter turnout in the second round.

Then came all the broken promises: a Copt as Vice President, plenty of cabinet positions for women, cracking down on the interior ministry and police brutality, to name a few. Instead more members of the Brotherhood and islamist parties were placed in key ministerial positions.The Brotherhood's political wing The Freedom and Justice Party ( FJP) then flooded the ballots ( along with more extreme "Islamists"). All their campaigns around poorer neighbourhoods involved bags of basic food stuffs and they were everywhere.

Parliament was elected and promptly set to work, their primary concerns seemed to be lowering the legal marriage age (to 12!), overturning the ban on female gentile mutilation and not teaching foreign languages in schools as they are 'corrupt'. Nothing about increasing wages, manufacture or any plan for the economy apart from trying to secure an IMF loan.

Then came the constitutional declaration in November which gave the President sweeping powers and was full of enough holes that even someone,like me, who struggles with legal jargon could see problems down the road. That lead to protests and a sit in at the presidential Palace which was forcibly broken up and people died ( not by the security forces but by supporters of the President) to no official condemnation.

That's not counting the things that made daily life, if not unbearable for all, then certainly inconvenient, daily power cuts and water shortages, garbage in the streets.

The police weren't exactly helping during all this time, as a kind of unofficial protest to having some of their powers curtailed and their torture brought to a wider light, they stopped doing their jobs. Crime rates escalated.

So, when a group of people decided to start the 'Tamarod' or Rebel campaign to call for early elections they ended up gathering more signatures than Morsi had votes to win the election (the movement claims at least 20 million signatures). Security forces saw this as a chance to gain back their previous positions of power and get the all important public opinion on their side and they promised to do whatever the people wanted and that they would protect the anti-Morsi demonstrations on June 30.

Egyptians love their Armed Forces. This dates back to 1952 when the Free Officers Movement lead a coup to overthrow the king- unlike recent events the king willingly abdicated to prevent bloodshed. Because of the British occupation, it was also a liberation from foreign rule and lead to a surge of patriotism and nationalism. The two main leaders were Mohamed Naguib and Gammal Abd El Nasser and while the latter is the most famous, Naguib was actually Egypt's first president, who due to disagreements with Nasser has been relegated to the footnotes of Egyptian history (if included at all).
Nasser on the other hand, is not a figure history can ignore. Love him or hate him, he was a charismatic leader and a gifted orator whose humble backgrounds meant the majority of Egyptians found him relatable. With proclaimed socialist leanings he insured that 50% of parliament seats went to workers and farmers as well as distributing farm land to those who worked it. He nationalised the Suez Canal which lead to the retaliatory invasion of the Sinai peninsula by Britain, France and Israel. After stepping down following the Six Day Way in 1964, he was reinstated by popular demand.

After his death came Anwar El Sadat who opened up the economy through trade agreements and signed the Camp David agreement. It was during this time that mass migration of the rural poor to the cities began (devastating the agricultural sector) and immigration to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

For centuries Egyptians of all religions had lived peacefully side by side with neighbours celebrating religious and secular holidays together. There was a thriving and vital Jewish community. There was vibrant art scene and nightlife and through it all, Egyptians held fast to their faiths. Many claim that this began to change once people who had been working in Saudi Arabia began to return to Egypt with money and spreading the more conservative and fundamental Whabi form of Islam practiced there. Starting with the assassination of President Sadat in 1981, there began a crackdown on various armed islamist groups (several of which were off shoots of the Muslim Brotherhood). The 90s in particular were a violent time in Egypt, with bombs on government facilities, civilians and tourists all common. The perpetrators were the Islamists who looked 'different' and who seemed to be speaking of a different Islam than that which the majority of Egyptians practiced. It sought to reshape the country and it's people. They threatened security and the economy and so people supported any steps taken against them.

This may go some way to explain Egyptians' love and loyalty to the Armed Forces. They see them as having restored national pride and dignity to the people after decades of foreign rule. The police state whose end was called for in 2011 grew out of people's readiness to put down the enemies of the military and those they see as threatening Egypt's national identity and security.

What you see happening now is an -almost inevitable- implosion of the supporters of these two decade old foes.

Many of those opposed to Morsi's rule and who are supporting the current crackdown feel let down by the West, especially the media. For years Muslims around the world have been screaming that not all Muslim are like Al Qaeda and are trying to bring down Western civilization. The way they see it, is that what the security forces are doing now is clamping down on an organization that has bred terrorists who have effected the lives of millions around the world. They resent being told by the Brotherhood supporters that they are not 'true Muslims' for not wanting to live under their rule as they have always practiced the Muslim faith diligently. They feel that they are responding to what we hear so many Western politicians say whenever a Muslim commits a crime in the name of Islam; standing up to the extremists.

I hope that this has in some way improved your understanding of the current situation and why each side is as passionate as they are. Please also remember that your own democracies have been around for much longer and have already gone through most of these teething problems.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I've Done It!

   Today I attended the ceremony to celebrate completing my Masters degree in Education. Although I have to wait until October to receive the fancy-shmansy certificate, I can officially add some more letters after my name! I am now Nora ------- BSc MEd.
   It's taken just over 3 years of hard work, great colleagues, too little sleep and too much food to earn this baby, and I'm so happy it's done!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Watching My Weight

   Just under 2 months ago some of  the ladies in the teacher's lounge at work decided to start following Weight Watchers. After some initial scepticism, I decided to take the plunge and I signed up and paid a 3 month subscription, I know myself well enough to know that the only way I'd stick to it would be knowing I'd paid for it!

  According to my online plan manager I'm on my 7th week-I'm not really counting the first week as I was writing report cards and constantly snacking. So far I've lost 2.5 Kg and as of last week have started working out for 30 minutes 3 times a week. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Checking in

Hello readers,

I can't believe it's been over a month since I've blogged, I actually thought it was longer. Since completing my masters and getting back from my Christmas break visiting my brother in London, I seem to have acquired one of those "life" things. Amazing! 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Review of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit I picked this book up in the shop because I thought it was gorgeous. I'm so glad I'm shallow because I really, really enjoyed it. I started reading it just before I got on my flight back to Cairo from London and was about a 1/4 of the way through by the time I landed.

The descriptions of the Night Circus (Circus de Reve) are wonderfully vivid and really set the tone for a feeling of otherworldliness (with a hint of steampunk). The characters are well drawn and detailed and although at times it feels like the circus is more animated, the importance of this becomes clear as the story progresses.

The book explores the concept of free will within a life that has been pre-determined. The two protagonists are bound to each other and their respective mentors wishes as children and spend the book attempting to make sense of their positions.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy, historical fiction or romance; there's enough of each to please the fans of any of those genres.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: A Review

     Well, it's not likely to be a year anyone will forget. All around the world events, whether natural or man-made have affected the lives of millions. In fact, billions is probably more accurate as in 2011 the world population hit 7,000,000,000 that's BILLION.

       Let's go back to the beginning shall we. 2011 started with a bomb attack on 2 churches in Alexandria during New Year services, shocking Egyptians and laying the groundwork for what was to begin a mere 24 days later. The desperate actions of a single man in a small city in Tunisia became the spark that was needed to make millions in the Arab world shake off decades of apathy and stand up to their leaders. How this will all pan out is yet to be seen, but I'm so glad that I'm here to see it instead of reading about it in a history book. For better or worse I can tell my children and grandchildren (presuming I ever have any) all about it. 

      The economic crisis focused on Europe and spread. The Occupy movement started with Occupy Wall Street and expanded to include cities and economic landmarks around the world.

       The UK in general and London in particular made international headlines twice in 2011, the first time in April for the Royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton (now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and then again in August because of the riots which swept from London to include several major UK cities. The riots surprised and horrified some, while others seemed surprised that they hadn't happened before. Either way, everyone agreed that the grief of one man certainly helped bring them to an end. Tariq Jahan lost his son Haroon during the riots in Birmingham, Haroon and two others (brothers) were killed in a hit and run in what appeared to be an anti-Muslim crime by members of an Afro-Caribbean gang. Jahan had tried desperately to revive his son himself. This is what he had to say; "I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, Whites - we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home - please."

   Osama Bin Laden was killed a decade after the 9/11 attacks. US forces pulled out of Iraq.

    Natural disasters included earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan. The Japanese earthquake in March was followed by a devastating tsunami. The most dangerous and worrying effect of which was the meltdown it caused at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The area is still contaminated and people have yet to be allowed to return after they were evacuated.

    There were floods in Asia and droughts in Africa. Again.

     2011 started with several dictators in place: Ben Ali (Tunisia), Mubarak (Egypt), Gaddafi (Libya), Saleh (Yemen), Kim Jung Il (N.Korea) and Mugabe (Zimbabwe). With 2 days till 2012, Mugabe is the only one left in power.

     On a personal note, I finished my Masters degree in education (woohoo me!) and started teaching full time and I voted in my first ever elections. My love life has remained uneventful, which considering everything that's been going on, is a relief. There was no time for romance during a revolution!

      What does 2012 have in store for us? The Olympics in London, Presidential elections in Egypt and the USA and if the Mayans are to be believed; the end of the world. Whatever's coming, it will be memorable!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Review of The Fry Chronicles

The Fry ChroniclesThe Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with a vast majority of Britain, I love Stephen Fry. His various Blackadder characters (especially the brown-nosing Melchett of Blackadder II), the school master in Gormenghast, the idiotic detective in Gosford Park. Not counting his sketches in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Jeeves in Jeeves and Wooster (also with Hugh Laurie)and many many more. More recently QI and Twitter have been my source of all things Fryesque, not to mention the various documentaries he has produced and presented (the most recent being the fabulous Planet Word, a must see for any anglophone).

I have not-yet-read his first autobiography chronicling his early life; Moab Is My Washpot, but I grabbed at this one with both hands as soon as I saw it. My only regret is that I waited so long to actually read it.

I loved the whole thing from start to finish, his writing style is effortless (he would probably argue this) and makes for very easing reading. He pulls no punches when it comes to describing his weaknesses, and through this he becomes more human. The man behind the voice and brain is revealed and he is full of faults, racked with self-doubts and infinitely more likeable than his on-screen persona.

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