Saturday, 25 June 2011

End Sexual Harassment #EndSH

Nazra for Feminist Studies' session last Tuesday in collaboration with HarassMap on sexual harassment and gender violence, which had started off as a blogger and tweeting event the day before encouraging people to post their thoughts and experiences, underlined one of the issues facing women in Egypt today,  the fear of harassment. 

A woman from the working class segment once told me, veiling invites respect and is likely to ward off transgression. She put the onus of responsibility against harassment on women. 

But I think the onus for change, should be put on society as a whole. Women should feel free to walk the streets.

During Tuesday's session some women talked about the need for women to act less passively. There was talk of the need to respond back verbally or physically. One woman felt violence leading to violence was not a solution.

It's a complex matter, but a first step is an acknowledgement of the issue through discussions like the one hosted by Nazra.

Some people feel the blogosphere has narrow reach. According to a stat that I found on the internet, 21% of Egypt's population is on the internet. This might seem like limited reach, but it's a start and I observed that a number of TV channels were at Tuesday's event, therefore helping raise awareness. 

Blogging in English might seem limited, but I think collectively these individual conversations can lead to a raising of consciousness.

Some people claim now is not the time to raise this issue as the country faces more pertinent challenges. But as one woman said, we didn't change society in 18 days and now is the time to rebuild Egyptian society with better values. She said, the personal is politics and society doesn't improve through laws and political parties alone.

A blogger wrote: "Blogging and tweeting about it is a start but more importantly it should be discussed offline too. With the neighbours, shop-owners, taxi-drivers and the random person you chat with in the street.  Convincing 1 person every day and things will change. Start today." 

I'd also hope to see the day where schools, places of work and worship would embrace the concept of no harassment to help raise awareness on a wider scale.

If this becomes part of the national dialogue, it will help build a society where harassment is no longer accepted as a normalised part of life.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Gates to the Lion's Den

So here I am in Cairo, a few months after Mubarak's demise realising that I haven't got the "no fear" fortification that many Egyptians have built in recent months.

It's led to self-censorship. Hearing of journalists' arrests hasn't helped.

In a way, I've parachuted myself into a situation without the required antibodies. I might feel a heightened sense of fear, in some situations.

The first test was presented to me a few days ago. I found out on Twitter about a protest that was being organised in solidarity with journalist Rasha Azab on Monday 20th of June. Rasha Azab had been summoned for questioning by the Military Prosecutor, accused of publishing false information. A group of activists decided to stand with her in solidarity. I wasn't sure if I'd go.

After much indecision, I decided to go. I felt like I was planning to go towards the gates to the lion's den.

I arrived at around midday to find a small protest of less than 50 or so people gathered outside the Military Court of the 10th District of Nasr City, a suburb in Cairo. Activists, journalists, television crew, pedestrians and a man with a cart selling termis (lupins), were gathered outside the gates to the Court. Another small detail I noticed, a man drinking water from an ulla (clay vessel) from the cart. Things looked fine.

I recognised some of the faces. People I didn't know personally, but who I'd seen on the international news or on the blog circuit. I felt less on my own.

As I started filming, I was approached by a man who had an army like shirt on. He advised me not to point the camera in the direction of the court. Apparently an officer had come out earlier to the gathered group and advised them of this protocol. Something I had missed. The man's attire led me to believe he was an officer reprimanding me. My fear had blinded me. He was in fact a journalist. In my eagerness to film an "establishing shot," I realised how clumsy I'd been.

I stayed on for a couple of hours, interviewed a couple of people and left home pleased that I hadn't missed this event and I felt like I'd built a bit of strength.

Meanwhile the journalist in question was released. For further detail, see Al-Masry Al-Youm article.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Post Revolution Hangover

Since last visiting Egypt in February shortly after Mubarak's resignation, I have noticed a shift in people's attitudes. This is by no means supposed to be a generalisation. Just an attempt to document some of my  conversations.

Last time I was here, people were jubilant. Intoxicated with freedom, people were excited and enthusiastic about their futures. There was optimism in the air. Mubarak had stolen their voices. The revolution had given it back to them.

It gave people back the right to dream.

Now, a few months later, I feel there has been a shift. When before people seemed to be drunk with freedom, it seems to me that they are now experiencing a hangover.

I think part of it has to with the fact that after a few months of intoxication, sobriety is now kicking in. And with that sobriety comes reality. The revolution was not a lottery ticket to instant social justice.

Yes, Mubarak's in detention. Some of his key cronies have been arrested and some are on the run. But the question on some people's mind, will that money ever come back? A cleaning lady said to me today: "Why would Switzerland want to part with this money?" Come to think of it she has a point.

If all the stolen dreams that were deposited in Swiss bank accounts by corrupt leaders around the world, were returned, Switzerland would probably go bankrupt.

A hotel owner in downtown Cairo said to me yesterday, the revolution was like a woman that you were courting when you were in love. You bought her gifts and flowers. But then you got married and the excitement waned.

Maybe the daily grind is kicking in. Maybe some people are tired. But as long the revolution's spirit continues, as I witnessed in today's performance of Tahrir Monologues, (a theatre piece showcasing a series of testimonies from the 18 day uprising), I feel optimistic.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Moderate Voices

Last Thursday I spoke to an Egyptian woman, veiled and in her 40s. She lives in Gisr El Suez and works as a beautician in Heliopolis. She's a typical working class Egyptian, who I felt could offer an interesting perspective on the September elections. Only a few days before, on the 6th of June to be exact, the following headline had grabbed my attention in an oppositional newspaper called El Fagr: 60% for the Muslim Brotherhood. 25% for the Salafists. 15% for the Infidels. A headline, that suggested the majority of Egyptians would opt for conservative Islamic governance. The paper had a sensational tone to it, raising questions around the credibility of this prognosis.

But, the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood in the next parliamentary elections is a question not only on my mind. So what do Egyptians in the street think? I decided to ask the beautician what she thought of the Muslim Brotherhood. I've probably got an in-built stereotype about the type of woman that would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Unexpectedly, she told me if the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, everything would be haram (forbidden). They'd impose a strict dress code on women and men and everything would be forbidden. This would be haram and that would be haram. To my surprise, she wasn't in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It turns out she represented a moderate Egyptian voice and I was rash in my assumptions. But only time will tell which direction the moderate Egyptian voices will take Egypt.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Post Revolution Street Art in El Korba, Heliopolis

Ramses Riots: True or not that is the question

Speaking to some of my friends yesterday, it turns out the bus driver was not killed in police custody. The story I wrote about a few days ago around the Ramses Riots turns out the other way around. Apparently the micro-bus driver got into an argument with a high ranking police officer who'd asked the driver for his papers. The driver didn't oblige. After being asked to come out of his bus, the driver slapped the officer. Apparently it was the crowds of people that attacked the driver enraged with his behaviour.

Every story has another side to it and while we're in between calm and chaos here, it seems wiser not to take every story at face value. This also applies to reports in the media.

A new day a new lesson.

Monday, 6 June 2011

What does the future hold for Egypt after El Makhloo3?

The discovery that Egyptians no longer refer to Mubarak by his name, was telling. He's become the unmentionable referred to as El Makhloo3 (the Ousted). A young Egyptian communist who I met at yesterday's final day of the Solidarity with Arab Revolutions leftist conference explained to me: Mubarak is more hated than Pinochet and Ceausescu. But what does the future hold for Egypt after the hated ousted one?

I learnt at the conference that the socialist movement aims to overthrow the imperialist neoliberal structures of the region to create a fairer society. Three days of conceptual discussions took place around this theme, that I found inspiring, but I would have also liked to have left the conference with a set of practical solutions. Solutions that could engage the street around the socialist aims of social justice.

It seems to me the key advantage that the Muslim Brotherhood has over the leftist movement of Egypt is  its ability to reach out to the man or woman of the street. That and of course the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood owns the emotional religious higher ground. I left the conference feeling energised on the one hand, but more pessimistic about the September elections. 

I filmed around 5 hours. I got carried away. Today's and tomorrow's task: edit a sequence that represents the conference in the best achievable way. I'll aim for a 2-3 minute sequence. What a chore. If I continue at this rate, I'll have finished all my tape stock within a week. But I can't blame myself. There's so much going on here.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Riots in Ramses

I just got back from the inauguration of the Solidarity with Arabs Revolution forum at the Commercial Club near Ramses. I captured a couple of very interesting speakers on my flip. Passion for the Egyptian revolution amongst the international delegates was infectious.

I left at around 9.30 p.m. planning to walk to Ramses when I found out that a riot was going on there. I was told by someone standing outside the conference hall that it was related to a bus driver who'd apparently died in police custody. It triggered a riot. I saw security forces dressed in riot gear rush to the scene. I was surprised to see them, but apparently they're back. I could feel tension and excitement mount in the air. A couple of freelance journalists tried to run closer to the scene to get some shots. I sensed the riot was going to spread, so I decided to leave. My battery had run out and I felt it would be a mistake to walk into a situation like that without proper precautions. The other thing was, this was the first time I'd experienced a riot in Egypt. I hadn't been here during the 18 day uprising and I hadn't built the kind of immunity that Egyptians would have built by now.

I walked to the metro station, paid LE 1 for my ticket and decided to get into the women's only compartment. As I stood there, the only unveiled woman in the compartment, I felt like Cairo had really changed since I last used  the metro over 15 years ago.

I also felt like this was going to be an eventful summer.

Shooting Ratio Dilemma

I'm attending the Solidarity with Arab Revolutions forum today at the Commercial Club, a three day conference, which I think will give me a good overview of the current situation in Egypt, but while planning what to film (it's a three day conference), I was faced with the dilemma of not wanting to film too much, but at the same time wanting to capture the more interesting moments.

I'm planning to shoot this sequence observational style. But having planned not to go beyond a certain shooting ratio for my film (I've planned a ratio of 20:1), I realise the temptation is always there to go beyond that and to end up over-shooting. But I made a pact with myself to stick to my plan. I'm planning a 30 minute documentary and I think 600 minutes of tape, plus additional digital footage on my flip camera, will be more than enough.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Check in to cairo

I checked in at Heathrow airport with relief that I hadn't exceeded my maximum baggage allowance. So far so good. I think it might be a good omen. Going to Egypt for 4 months and I wonder what I've let myself into. It must be the nerves kicking in like pre-wedding jitters or something. As I sip my late at Prets typing away, I curse the idea of blogging on my BB. I'll be blind bt the time I'm done with this. But in an attempt to save the pennies, I'm embarking on a documentary on a shoe-string budget after all... I opted to blog  free  on my BB. Next blog from Cairo!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

One day to go to Cairo

Bags packed and I'm ready to go. Camera ready. Radio kit and tripod ready. I'll hopefully have no problems entering with my gear. I'm excited and worried at the same time. Big project ahead of me. Fingers crossed to myself.