Sunday, 25 December 2011

Season's Greetings

It was a tragic day when a country's people shed blood, when women were beaten and humiliated and when a country's history was burnt down to the its own people, gone for generations past and future. Let's pray for freedom, change, dignity and social justice for the sake of all that was lost. Let's hope that Egypt's new history will be written in the dawn of democracy and that all that was lost was not lost in vain.  

Season's Greetings with hope for more peace and love in 2012. 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Egypt's Girls are a Red Line

A heart warming march by women in Tahrir in response to some of the recent violence against protesting women. 
Men formed a protective cordon around the women what seemed like a symbolic gesture to me.

Translation of Women's Chants:
The revolution's daughter is not stripped. Egypt's daughter is not stripped. Egypt's daughter is not stripped. Egypt's girls are a red line. Egypt's girls are a red line. Down with the ruling military. Down with the ruling military. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Why I didn't boycott the elections

Some people decided to boycott the elections, insinuating that voting was equal to selling out Tahrir while giving legitimacy to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), the ruling military. While I was torn for a moment, I decided to vote in the end. This post attempts to explain why I decided to vote and why one does not have to come at the expense of the other.

I voted because I wanted to participate in this historic moment. Like many Egyptians, I was excited to take part in this process and I wanted to give my preferred candidate the chance to get into parliament. By voting, I could play a small role in shaping the future of Egypt.

By being inside parliament, you have your ears to the ground. You have access to decision makers and you can monitor what is going on. By excluding yourself from this process, you give all the cards to the opposition. Whoever boycotted the process, boycotted the possibility of influence inside parliament, no matter how limited that influence might be. I understand the process is not perfect and that parliament will lack the power to make much change, but it's a first step towards exercising my right as a citizen. 

The road to democracy is a long journey ahead and where would we be without hope and optimism? Let's recall for a moment that advanced democracies did not get there over night. And they're not ideal examples either. The occupy movement proves it. 

So while the naysayers were boycotting the elections, and dampening the experience of those that decided to vote, I was looking at it differently. For the first time in 60 years, Egyptians were happy to have a say in the future of their country, as they cued for endless hours outside polling stations, optimistically looking towards a new future. And there was a merit in participating. People were consciously engaging with their rights as citizens, a further step towards citizenship in a democracy. 

So while some people look sceptically at those that voted and while those that voted think Tahrir should pack up and go home, I say, why can't the two work together? A healthy democracy should encourage participation in a variety of ways. The street is one way. Parliament is another way. Why does one have to exclude the other? Surely both voices are legitimate. Why can't both voices unite to ensure we don't fall back into old habits, paving the way for new dictatorships along the way?

Tahrir and parliament should work together in an ideal democracy, so that people continue to feel empowered. A friend of mine once said, Tahrir is like a platform that can hold the government accountable. It's also a place where people experience the meaning of democracy. Let's take a moment to remember, we got here thanks to Tahrir.  

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Although I'd been to Tahrir numerous times over the course of the summer, this time round Tahrir was a different place to contend with. There are certain images that will stay in my mind forever. They're not the kind of graphic images that we have become accustomed to through countless YouTube postings and news reports, but the kind that inspire humanity

The first image was that of the countless volunteer doctors helping the wounded in Tahrir. Working in makeshift hospitals on pavements around the square, they cared for their patients in the dark with little more than flashlights to guide them.

The second memory was that of the volunteer motorcycle drivers, transporting the injured with a high sense of urgency through the crowds from Mohamed Mahmoud Street to the makeshift hospitals.

But one image will last forever. It's the image of those enthusiastic youths, with hearts of lions, prepared to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Egypt's freedom.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Freedom from Fear

A blog post called: "Why do we care about Alaa more than Maikel,"  spurred me to write this entry as I've been following the case of Maikel Nabil Sanad often wondering why his case did not garner the same type of support locally that the international scene afforded him. This was even more evident when he was locked up in a mental institution and even then, I did not see a large outcry for his freedom.

To understand Maikel Nabil's case better I read some excerpts from his blog entries and as in the above post, I too concluded that reluctant support for him might be down to the fact that he had voiced opinions too controversial for some to accept (loosely in his pro Israel stance, his campaign against compulsory military conscription and finally his vociferous critique of the army). 

But while the crux of the problem probably lies in some people's inability to accept other views in the context of free expression, I would add another factor to the mix that might explain the sensitivity around Maikel Nabil's case. I would argue that fear is another factor.

The freedom to express one's opinions without fear of retribution by those in power, is not to be underestimated. It's a truth I have sometimes felt. Maikel Nabil was imprisonned for three years by a military court, sending out a strong signal that if a red line is crossed, the price might be one's freedom. It's a precarious situation that might explain why people are disengaged. 

If Maikel Nabil is not set free, it will set a dangerous precedent. For after that, who will guarantee that the next voice is not silenced and the next and the next? If a climate of fear is harboured as a result of it, where does that leave freedom? 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The little face of Panda in a window sill

After spending the summer looking for Panda around the city and with a little help, I found out that my Panda treasure hunt was made possible by an artist called Sad Panda (unknown to the artist). Click here to see Sad Panda's work. 

I'd always thought of Panda as an Egyptian revolutionary, saddened by some of the events going on around him.
Artist unconfirmed. Shot taken on 24 September 2011 in El Horriya Cafe 

I was looking through some of my photographs today when I discovered this shot here of Panda that I'd taken over the summer. It's the little face of Panda in the window sill of a cafe called El Horriya in downtown Cairo. The slogan next to Panda's face says: And then what? I'm not a hundred percent sure if this is by Sad Panda, but it resembles some of the artist's work I've come across.

I first discovered Panda in Tahrir on one of the walls of the Mogama3. Smitten by Panda and following a few more sightings, I decided to make it my mission to locate Panda around the city and to document its whereabouts around Cairo. Please get in touch if you've seen any more sightings of Panda. Thank you.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Cow Calls Out...We're Falling Asleep

Artist unknown. Photo taken on 31st October 2011 on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, near Tahrir Square. 

The Cow calls out:
Ha Ha
 And says: My children
Ha Ha
And children of the stick
Ha Ha
We're  falling asleep
Ha Ha

Yosri Fouda and Self-Censorship

 Artist unknown. Photo taken on 31st October 2011 on a wall on Mohamed Mahmoud Street

I discovered this street art portrait of Egyptian journalist Yosri Fouda a week ago who has become a symbol of censorship.

Yosri Fouda, had cancelled his ONTV show Akhir Kalam (The Final Word) scheduled on October 20th. Along with other guests, Fouda's show was planned to analyse an interview conducted on satellite channel Dream with two generals from the ruling military council. Fouda said he cancelled the show in protest against subtle pressure exerted against him prior to the planned airing of his show.

"This is my form of self-censorhsip. I have the choice between saying the truth or nothing at all," Fouda said in a statement on October 21st.

Fouda defended his position in a tough interview with Stephen Sackur on BBC's Hard Talk.

Artist unknown. Photo taken on 31st October 2011 on a wall on Mohamed Mahmoud Street

Monday, 31 October 2011

See No Evil Hear No Evil

Artist unknown. Photo taken on taken on 31st October 2011 in Qasr El Aini Street, near AUC,

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Caged Bird Sings of Freedom

Caged Bird
by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream   
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A case of institutionalised sectarianism?

A week ago I remember thinking, why did they clear away the sit-in? This was a chance for the Coptic community to express its grievances. A few days later, a follow-up protest was organised by the Coptic community resulting in the tragic event of Sunday, a dark day in Egypt's new history.

But as a country in mourning faces a crisis, symptomatic of a deeper running problem, a positive dimension is transpiring. The issue of the unequal treatment of the Coptic community in Egypt is unquestionably becoming a part of the national debate and psyche.

Last Monday, I was watching an interview on ONTV featuring a seasoned journalist called Gamal El-Ghitani, in which he raised critical points. Why did we get to this? What is the problem with building a thousand churches? Why is it that some 600 years or so of Coptic history are not mentioned in Egyptian school books? Why is it that Copts can't reach certain positions in sensitive areas?

They're all questions which point at a structural problem in the system and lead me to ask if Egypt is suffering from institutionalised sectarianism against Copts. While I believe most Egyptians are tolerant and respectful of each other's faiths, the system is somehow enabling the unfair treatment of Copts. The issue can no longer be ignored.

As the political and intellectual elite of Egypt discuss the current crisis and status quo of the Coptic community, I have hope that the matter will seep down further to the masses resulting in a raising of consciousness. I also hope that it will lead to a conclusion where all Egyptians are treated fairly and with dignity in their country of birth, no matter what their religious beliefs. It's a principle that puts some of the fundamental values of Jan 25 to the test.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

No to Emergency Law

Protesters were demanding an end to the recently activated emergency law in a protest called in Tahrir on Sep 16th, 2011.

'No to Emergency'

'No to Emergency'

Boy with Body Paint

Sunday, 25 September 2011

McDonald's and Revolution Street Art

On a wall near a Downtown street Cafe on 24 September 2011

Take a closer look and you'll notice the aircraft at the end of the arches. 
SCAF is the acronym for the Supreme Council of Armed Forces

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Panda near the AUC

Artist unknown. Photo taken on 12 August 2011, on a wall near the American University in Cairo  (AUC)

I first discovered Panda in Tahrir on one of the walls of the Mogama3. Smitten by Panda and following a few more sightings, I decided to make it my mission to locate Panda around the city. 

If you have seen Panda, please post a comment with a location, so that I can take more pictures and document its whereabouts around Cairo. Thank you.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Voices speak out for Freedom

"We the people are the thin red line,
We the people are the thin red line,
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid,
We hate the silent voice,
We hate the silent voice,
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid,
We hate the silent voice"

A Peaceful march was held from Tahrir to the Cabient of Ministers on Sep 19, 2011. 
The sign held by crowd reads: No to Emergency, No to Military Trials, No to Law Criminalising Strikes

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

No Comment

Democracy is the Assertion of Sovereignty by the People

Outside the Cabinet during Tahrir March on 19th Sep 2011 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

To those who dare to dream

This song is dedicated to those who dare to dream. Long live Jan 25.
The crowd sings: Bread, Freedom, Social Justice!
Man: Thank you. Thank you youths!
Crowd: Thank you. Thank you youths!

Tahrir Sep 16 2011

Friday, 16 September 2011

Can Egyptians unite to save their own Revolution?

A couple of days before the last millionia (a million protest) took place, I was feeling pessimistic.

With groups popularly known as: We're Sorry Mr. President and the Children of Mubarak taking a confident stand, talk of an ominous counter revolution, a violent clash between Ultra football fans and the police during a match and what seemed to me like more of a shift in public opinion against ever more protesting in Tahrir, it seemed to me that more Egyptians were turning against their own revolution.

A decision by the Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF) that week, banning new satellite licenses and the tightening rules around protesting didn't help. For the first time, I was sceptical that the protest day in Tahrir would really make a difference.

But against all odds, Sep 9 occurred and suddenly hope reappeared on the horizon. It was a day organisers called the day of "Correcting the Path" of the revolution. I interpreted that as a protest to reinvigorate the revolution's aims.

I was away that weekend, but the impression I got from televised interviews was that Tahrir was peaceful. I felt optimistic again.

It was a day I think, that could have swayed some of the doubters back in favour of the revolution. But far from that, it was regrettably a day that ended with a dark cloud over the revolution.

The attack on the Israeli embassy much later that day, successfully derailed the revolution. Whatever the motivation behind the attack, I disagreed with it. Beyond that, the revolution suffered a major setback. The emergency law was reactivated, and a further enquiry into existing satellite channels in Egypt, suggested a further tightening grip on freedom, one of the revolution's main pillars.

People later claimed the attack was a plot to destabilise the revolution. Thanks to the actions of a minority, the majority would have to suffer the consequences.

If the attack on the embassy achieved one thing, it was that it successfully drew attention away from the revolution's aims. Meanwhile more anti-revolution voices could be heard, casting a dark shadow over it.

While all this was going on, I kept wondering and what about the revolution's demands? What about "Bread, Freedom and Social Justice?" And more importantly, would Egyptians find a united way back to save the revolution?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Panda under the Tree

Artist unknown. Photo taken on Fri 26 August 2011 on Mohamed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir Square

I first discovered Panda in Tahrir on one of the walls of the Mogama3. Smitten by Panda and following a few more sightings, I decided to make it my mission to locate Panda around the city. 

If you have seen Panda, please post a comment with a location, so that I can take more pictures and document its whereabouts around Cairo. Thank you.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Flagman the Superhero who loved Egypt

The Amazing Flagman by Carlos Latuff
This is the story of the Amazing Flagman. It's the story of a man called Ahmed Shehat whose action I feel came to represent more than a symbol of protest.

Flagman is a superhero who stood opposite the face of despair. He took a stand and in doing so ignited a feeling of hope again.

A young Egyptian told me: Flagman showed us if Egyptians set their mind to something they can achieve it.

Flagman's like the heroic child of Jan 25 which stood up for Egypt's dignity. 

Flagman put a smile on people's faces again.

Give peace a chance

Jan 25 gave Egyptians the right to express oppressed sentiments freely. 

The Sinai incident provoked a deserved public outcry. Unquestionably Egypt and its people deserve dignity. 

But as Egypt works to become a modern democratic state and as it takes a dignified stand in international and regional affairs, I ask of Egypt to always start with the premise of peace. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Panda: Under the Bridge

Fri 12 August 2011, under the bridge near El Ahly Club 

Fri 12 August 2011, under the bridge near El Ahly Club

Thanks Divadalliaa for helping me find Panda. This sighting was under the bridge near El Ahly Club.

I first discovered Panda in Tahrir on one of the walls of the Mogama3. Smitten by Panda and following a few more sightings, I decided to make it my mission to locate Panda around the city. 

If you have seen Panda, please post a comment with a location, so that I can take more pictures and document its whereabouts around Cairo. Thank you.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Mubarak's Trial

Like every Egyptian, I didn't believe Mubarak's trial would actually take place.

I arrived at the Police Academy, where the trial was being held, at around 8.45 a.m. on August 3rd. I didn't have a permit to go into the court, but instead I found myself among countless other international media outlets, following proceedings on a large screen.

The question on my mind: Was Mubarak really going to be trialled?

It was only until we saw his helicopter arrive, of which I got a long shot, that it seemed I was about to witness an unforgettable moment in Egypt's post Jan 25 history.

Seeing Mubarak lying on a hospital stretcher, in a cage along with his two sons Alaa and Gamal, the former Interior Minister Habib El Adly and a few other accused, seemed surreal. The trial seemed like a play set in a Greek arena. Many Egyptians commented on the theatricality of it all. I was waiting for vegetables to be hurled at the cage.

Seeing Mubarak on a stretcher aroused my sympathy. I felt the process did't show humanity, if it required the disposed president to be wheeled in on a stretcher. I'm 100% for this trial, but I feel it needs to be handled humanely, regardless of 30 years of inhumanity under Mubarak.

Post Jan 25 should espouse universal human rights regardless who is on trial. A friend later remarked that the stretcher was probably part of an act to arouse people's sympathy. Maybe I was manipulated by the conditions surrounding the trial, but that did not change my opinion that Mubarak should be tried.

On a philosophical level, aside from all of his crimes, as I said before, Mubarak robbed millions of their right to dream.

I talked to some of the mothers' of martyrs, a heart breaking experience. At one point, I felt like I was crossing the line into a very private moment, thanks to my camera.

At another point, stones were thrown at us from somewhere. Things just blew up in an instance. People started running to the other side of the road, taking shelter until the attack had ended. Someone claimed the stones were being thrown at us from inside the Police Academy. But I wasn't sure if this was true. The commotion had started so suddenly, it was hard to trace it back to its source.

Pro Mubarak supporters were sitting in an area that was cordoned off. I managed to interview two supporters and it seemed like a psychedelic experience. An Egyptian producer later told me, they were most likely paid supporters, which judging by what they said, seemed very feasible.

I was conducting an interview with someone, when the crowd flared up again. This time it seemed more serious. Apparently Pro Mubarak supporters and Mubarak opponents were fighting. Stones flying in the air. Again I couldn't determine how it all happened, as things ignited in less than a minute.

I ran to a sheltered area filming some of what was going on and I watched, from a distance, riot police move in to disperse the fighting crowd. Things calmed down eventually.

I decided to go home at that point. Job done. Another eventful day on this journey.

Next act: August 15th.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Twitter, Islamists and Stereotypes

The Islamists Cometh was the original headline to this blog entry, as my first draft was set against a backdrop of rage. 

Before going to Tahrir's last Millionia (a million protest) on Jul 29, I did a quick hashtag search of the word Tahrir on Twitter, to get the latest updates from activists and journalists on the ground. 

As I read some of the #Tahrir messages, I came across a specific tweet, that prompted this blog entry. It was by a (female) journalist who tweeted: 

"Interesting that salafis apparently wanted their voice heard today, yet many of those I approached refused to talk to me." 

After reading this tweet, I went to the square expecting to encounter the same type of brush off, but my experience of Tahrir was very different to that of the journalist in question. Every Islamist I approached, spoke to me. 

I was angry that a single tweet had sent out to the world, a presumptuous message that reconfirmed one of many negative stereotypes associated with Islam these days. In defence of the journalist, I have no idea of the surrounding circumstances that led to her opinion. 

But the point I'm trying to make is about Twitter and its power to exaggerate the truth. One tweet can be equaled to one pixel. One tweet can impossibly tell a complete story, just as one pixel can impossibly provide a full image. 

As I arrived in Tahrir, I watched Islamist groups flex their muscles in a show of strength, vis-à-vis the secular political groups, who suddenly seemed to disappear like a speck of sand in a large arena. I was angry at that.

Although I arrived in the early evening when the Millionia was no longer in full throttle, I saw a Tahrir I no longer recognised. It conjured an image of an Islamic fundamentalist state that I didn't identify with. 

The representation of Islam as an absolutist political ideology had successfully added to the pool of negative imagery surrounding Islam in the media. I was angry at that.

Tension was in the air and it felt like a classic "us" versus "them."

After overcoming my rage, I acknowledged that I didn't want to fall into the trappings of Islamist typecasting; Islamic fundamentalist groups like the Salafis of Egypt are portrayed as evil. 

I also dislike the term Islamist, as it is dangerously generalist.

As I began approaching salafis, I realised the action of talking to each woman and man individually helped breakdown a wall, brick by brick. I also recognised this process would require more than a single afternoon in Tahrir.

My final encounter was with a young Salafi doctor in his 20s/30s, who left an impression on me. He was mild spoken and eloquent. He belonged to the Salafyo Costa movement, a group of young Salafis keen on breaking down some of the prejudices against them. Salafis drink cappuccinos too.

If I had the right to stand in Tahrir, so did they. If I had the right to express my opinion, so did they. But the question left on my mind was, if Islamic fundamentalists were in power, would they tolerate my right to stand there too?

Friday, 5 August 2011

Where is Panda?

Panda on El Horreya Cafe
My second sighting of Panda was on one of the outside walls of El Horreya (Freedom) Café in downtown Cairo, on the 22nd of July 2011. 

I first discovered Panda in Tahrir on one of the walls of the Mogama3. Smitten by Panda and following this second sighting, I decided to make it my mission to locate Panda around the city. 

If you have seen Panda, please post a comment with a location, so that I can take more pictures and document its whereabouts around Cairo. Thank you.