Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Losing A Voice of Reason in Egypt

 A young man died yesterday who by any reasoning should still be here with us. Bassem Sabry was a writer, analyst, activist of the highest ethical standards whom I first encountered online during the winter of 2011. At times, reading the discussions on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, I was struck by his strong wisdom and innate kindness. When he published this on his blog I was stunned to realise how young he was, only 31 at this death, and how wise he was beyond his years. I posted many things that he wrote because he did it so much better than I did. I would urge everyone to take a moment to read this post from last May and think on it. If we all learned as much as he did in his thirty years, surely this world would be much better.

copyright 2014 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

 Revolutions are interesting things. While they can be quite exciting, frightening, exhilarating, and hopeful at the beginning, as we saw in 2011, they tend to drag on as a society tries to readjust and recalibrate...a process that is draining, frustrating, and often very boring. When it became quite apparent that the uprising in Egypt in 2011 was having a severely adverse effect on tourism which had been the main source of income for my staff at the farm, I began looking around for ways to keep a staff that was used to escorting tourists around our area busy with new activities. One of the things that I did was to sign some of my grooms up for a donkey care course that was being given by The Society for The Protection Of Donkeys and Mules In Egypt (a local branch of the international Donkey Sanctuary). They weren't thrilled at first since donkey care is held in much lower esteem here than horse care, but they came back from their classes lit up with the new skills and ideas that they were being taught. It was terrific to see the eyes open again after months of mind-numbing boredom. The routines of caring for horses and gardens at the farm really wasn't very stimulating.

One of the things that happened in 2011 was a number of newpaper articles here and abroad bemoaning the fact that the horses at the pyramids in Giza, horses who have always been a source of concern and dismay to visiting horsemen as well as the local variety because even in "good" times they've always been abused, were "starving" to death due to a lack of income for tourism. The situation was infinitely more complex than that, but local and international charities rushed out there to help the starving horses of Giza by distributing large bags of corn to people who often showed up with well-fed horses who I even saw being fed pastry as the owners waited to get their corn. Not only is corn NOT a good feed for starving horses having way too much simple sugars, but the wrong people for the most part were getting the corn, parceling out the grain into smaller bags and selling it in the markets at a very nice price. Most of it was not going to starving horses but no one was sticking around to find out.

Into this fertile ground fell some visitors to Egypt who realised that animal rescue was becoming a growth industry. Two separate young women set up "horse rescues" in Nazlet Semman soliciting funds through Facebook accounts to care for horses in Egypt during late 2011 and early 2012. Both of these charities touched the soft spots of animal lovers all over the world and collected significant funding, mostly from abroad, to care for the Giza horses, but unfortunately neither of them are either registered charities in Egypt and neither of them are precisely transparent in their financial dealings, leading one of them, the more successful, to block their page (Prince Fluffy Kareem) locally, meaning that anyone using Facebook from Egypt cannot even access their page. After having some problems with the Egyptian authorities over the fact that they are an unregistered charity, they opted to become invisible in Egypt. While there are questions about some treatments and account transparency, in their favour, they do help to feed the horses of at least some of the stables in Giza. The other charity, The Egypt Horse Project, has not done so well with its track record of care here and seems to be undergoing a metamorphosis of some sort lately. It is too early to see what is really happening and they have their own very serious issues of accountability.

About a year ago, having watched all the hullabaloo over the horses in Giza, I decided that the knowledge gained by my staff with the Donkey Sanctuary vets should be put to use in our neighbourhood to benefit the farmers. Before the revolution there had been vets employed by the Ministry of Agriculture who would travel around the countryside giving bird flu innoculations to the flocks of small farmers, giving vaccinations for cows, sheep, buffalo and goats to prevent brucellosis (a disease that can pass on infection through milk to humans), Foot and Mouth disease, Rift Valley Fever and a fairly intimidating array of other diseases, both zoonotic and veterinary. In an emergency, the farmers could call one of these vets to come and treat a sick or injured animal, who often represented a huge investment and was the major producer of disposable income for the family.

Since 2011, frankly, most of these vets have not been seen and I was concerned that the situation for the farmers was becoming much worse than that of the tourism horses in Giza, so I contacted a local vet who was working with and Egyptian animal charity, Egyptian Society of Animal Friends, and he and I began finding a way to help the farm animals in our neighbourhood without cost to the farmers. We started a Facebook page called the Rural Wellness Initiative Egypt to tell people about the work and to invite people to learn more about rural Egypt. At first ESAF helped to sponsor the work with the donation of the vet's time, but when he got a job at The Brooke, we had to find a new vet to work with us, which happily we were able to do. Our focus has always been on preventative maintenence such as worming, hoof care, feeding instruction (we weigh donkeys and let farmers know when they gain and lose weight so that they can learn to feed the proper amounts), and wound care.

It isn't flashy and the necessary medications have for the most part been bought by myself and a neighbour. We registered the charity here in Egypt this fall and have managed to pick up a corporate sponsor for our work to relieve the financial pressure on myself and the neighbour, so we've been very happy. Our vet is paid on a daily basis, but the work itself is done by volunteers, mostly my staff who have become extremely proficient in the technical support part of veterinary work, learning how to clear the blocked tear ducts of donkeys and horses, and being trained in basic dental work by the Donkey Sanctuary. We aren't doing the required government inoculations as we don't want to step on bureaucratic toes, but we would like to expand to do rabies shots for the farm dogs. We go out weekly with our donkey cart to one of five treatment stations where the farmers can bring their animals for treatment and the farmers know that they can come to the farm for treatment if needed. If it is something other than a hoof trim or wound care, we call in a vet immediately. Happily, there are vets in the area who are willing to help.

 Yesterday was one of our usual treatment visits to a small village not far from the farm. We treated donkeys, water buffalo, cows, a horse, and lots of poultry, rabbits and goats, as the women take care of those animals at home while the men are working in the fields. It was a fairly busy clinic but nothing overwhelming, and after lunch my staff asked to sit down with me for a discussion. What I heard from them initially knocked me off my feet, but on reflection it is sad but not surprising. Apparently farmers who don't read local papers or visit Giza ever are not unaware of the business aspects of animal rescue and they had been asking some rather pointed and at time quite rude questions about how much money my staff were making from this work. Since we don't charge for our work, I was initially puzzled but the questions were in fact aimed at the idea that no one helps other people without profiting from it, so there must be some form of profit for myself and my staff. Incorrect, but in this very profit-driven world the logic is undeniable.

Since the people that we are working with are the friends, neighbours and families of my staff, these questions and insinuations were very hurtful. One of the things that had pleased me so much about this charity work was the fact that it had given my staff a sense of pride in their work and a community spirit that they could help others. It has opened them up to a joy of learning, an appreciation of intellectual growth and a curiosity about animal care where there was simply rote training before. We are often joined by visitors on our clinic days, visiting vets and vet students, photographers and filmmakers wanting to document village life, and adults and children from our expat community who want to help, so their knowledge of other cultures and habits is increasing dramatically. Next week we have two Italian farriers and an Italian vet coming to help out and to give classes to improve the hoof care knowledge for my staff and local farriers. We have no farrier schools here in Egypt, so this is their only real chance to learn.

We were all quite depressed after yesterday's conversation about the incorrect assumptions of the villagers regarding the financing of our project. I value my staff greatly and the fact that this work could be causing them problems is troubling. I'm not sure how we will handle it but I truly am extremely irritated at all the faux animal rescues that are giving charitable work a bad name. I knew that there was a good reason that I've always referred to my farm as a retirement home for nice horses and dogs rather than a "rescue", even though friends and family laugh at me and tell me to call it what it really is. But if an "animal rescue" is a way to make money by pretending to help animals, I can't call it that. A major part of our work at RWI is educational, trying to make the farmers better animal keepers because healthy animals help to keep the families healthy. It is a sad puzzle.

copyright 2014 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Power of One

Tomorrow we will be driving downtown to Sednaoui hospital with my housekeeper's son Ali and a friend of mine here who works as a groom and has a son with cerebral palsy so bad that he has fallen over many times and broken his chin. We are going to consult with my friend Dr. Mostafa Shokry, who is one of the best orthopedic surgeons I know (he's reconstructed one of my shoulders and replaced both my knees) and also the administrator of Sednaoui hospital, one of the  dreaded governmental hospitals...but one that he is transforming into a real hospital.  For some odd reason, an orthopedic surgeon has always been one of the first doctors that our family would have to find when we moved somewhere.

Ali was kicked by one of my horses over a year ago, an accident that broke his upper arm in about 5 places. It was in the evening and I had clients about to go out, so I splinted it carefully and sent him off to a local doctor who xrayed it and put it in a cast. The next day we xrayed it again and it was clear that the initial cast was NOT going to suffice so I sent a photo of the xray to Dr. Mostafa. He had us bring Ali to Rabaa Adaweya hospital for the initial surgery to put a titanium plate in his arm to keep all the pieces in place while they healed. We did the surgery to remove the plate at Sednaoui about ten days ago and now we will remove the stitches and that will be that.  Khamis is bringing Omar for an assessment of what they can do to help the repeated injuries to his chin. Caring for a disabled child in the villages is a really tough job but Khamis and his wife have done their best.

Government hospitals in Egypt have a well deserved horrific reputation. They are underfunded, understaffed, have had almost no security since the revolution 2011when the Ministry of the Interior decided essentially to go on strike.  One of my first experiences in Egypt when we moved here in 1988 was with the government hospital in Alexandria whose ICU was the only place we could get the correct medication for my husband who had suffered a heart attack. It was all I could do not to run out of the place screaming because it was like my worst nightmares of Dickens. He was there for two weeks and survived, but it certainly wasn't because of the hospital. So when we were going to Sednaoui I was apprehensive to say the least. What I found was a real surprise.

Once we got Ali settled in his room to wait for his day surgery, Dr. Mostafa took me to see what he's been doing at Sednaoui. Since he's very important to the maintenance of my arthritic old body, I hadn't been all that thrilled when they'd named him hospital administrator, and I'd sympathised with his stories of frustration and exhaustion as he first undertook the task, taking courses in hospital administration at the American University in Cairo as well as working all day at the hospital and evenings in his clinic with his private practice. We had chats about how to  encourage more active participation by staff members in the process of improvement as I was working on changing my staff from labourers to real partners at my farm. It has been a very tough year for him.

The first place that we noticed a difference was in the room that Ali was assigned. It wasn't large or fancy, but it was very clean and bright. I've had much worse rooms at some private hospitals in Cairo. In fact the first time Dr. Mostafa had to do surgery to reconstruct one of my shoulders after a fall, we were in a private hospital that was so horrible that we all agreed to get me out of there absolutely as quickly as possible. The nursing in my home would certainly be better than at St. Peter's in Heliopolis, and the premises were a thousand times cleaner. As we walked around the hospital I could see that our conversations about staff motivation had paid off at Sednaoui. All of the staff from the doctors to the men doing the renovations were welcome to speak to Dr. Mostafa and clearly respected and liked him.  Well, from my point of view, of course they would since he is a terrific person.

One of the initial things that the hospital had to do when Dr. Mostafa was trying to upgrade it was to improve security. Since 2011 there had been many incidents of people attacking doctors and nurses either in frustration at a lack of service or, sadly, to acquire the drugs available at hospitals. There is a security company working at Sednaoui now that is responsible for maintaining security at the gate. One of the more difficult day to day problems is the fact that if a poor Egyptian (Most of the users of government hospitals fall into this category.) is in hospital, vast numbers of his family and friends will come to see and want to stay with him. Unfortunately dealing with more than one companion in a hospital is not conducive to effective work, so the numbers have to be restricted. As well, since we all know that hospital food is boring at best, most people bring home cooking, which can wreak havoc on a prescriptive diet. A major part of the security staff's job is trying to thin out the visitors. Unfortunately, last summer Sednaoui was the receiving point for many people killed and injured in protests at Fath mosque near Ramses and the courtyard became a triage stage to try to facilitate treatment. Dr. Mostafa's usually cheerful face went a bit grey at the memory. Orthopedic surgeons, pretty much by definition, don't generally have to deal with people who are dying of wounds.

One of the things that I was very impressed with was the way that the hospital working areas were being redesigned. The doctors' offices have examination areas and computers, along with a small room with a cot for the residents whoh have to stay at the hospital at nights.

A long sunny room that is currently being used as a cafeteria for the staff will be a waiting area for families of cancer patients who are visiting to receive chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
The bathrooms were in serious need of renovation. New tiles, fixtures and doors have been installed. This isn't luxurious, but it is clean and functional, which is what one needs in a hospital after all. On the public wings where treatment is free, if not extremely in expensive, there are these joint bathrooms. On the private wing, where two patients may share a room, they also share a bathroom.

The old design for the ward bathrooms had very little or no privacy. These are being torn out for renovations.

The nurses' station prior to renovation, kept the nurses away from the patients and their families, tucked away behind glass windows, but for nurses to be effective they need to be aware of what is going on around them and accessible to the patients.

The newly renovated nurses' station is  open and the nurses are accessible to the patients and their families. Not that the nurses' dress is  very neat and clean. Government hospital nurses are not generally known for this.

This is a shot of one of the wards after renovation. It could be any private hospital.

We look around Egypt and we see problems and difficulties in every direction. It is incredibly easy to feel that bringing things around to the way they need to be is a hopeless task. To do everything at once is a hopeless task really, but seeing what one intelligent, caring, hospital administrator/doctor can accomplish gives us all hope. We just have to keep working one step at a time.

copyright 2014 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Another Year Another Anniversary

 It's 6 am and I find myself awake on this Jan 25 without any apparent reason. The older I get, the more anniversaries of different events I have crowding my life. I remember well the Police Day three years ago. I had one of my daughter's friends staying with me at the farm and neither of us had any real intimation that the day was going to be so momentous. We'd heard rumours of marches and such being planned but no one really had any idea what would be started that day and we still don't know how it will end. Today I will be staying out here in the countryside with my animals and staff. It looks like a lovely winter day in Egypt, but I'm hoping that I won't be following timelines of pain and damage online as I check Twitter and Facebook feeds. The one thing that changed for me forever that January 25 three years ago was my connection to current events through social media. It was the only way to keep track of what was going on here during those 18 days, and I developed an addiction to knowing what was happening in Egypt without having to wait for events to pass through the innumerable filters that are the ordinary media in the world.

Yesterday I, like everyone else in Egypt and probably in the world, was shocked by the news of the explosion in front of the Islamic Museum early in the morning. A friend who had been planning to bring her daughter out to the farm texted me at about 8 am saying that they'd felt/heard the explosion all the way out in New Cairo. The shockwaves must not have traveled so well through the Nile, because I had to admit that I'd slept well and soundly without disturbance.  The bomb that went off in a car parked in front of the police headquarters in downtown Cairo was aimed at the police, not the newly renovated Islamic Museum...the museum was simply collateral damage, but that is the problem with car bombs. They really don't aim well. The fact that it went off at 6:30 am on a Friday morning was a real blessing, since no self-respecting Egyptian would be out and about at that hour on a Friday (This is the only day off for many, so a lie in is essential!) and the street by the police building was essentially empty. I wonder why this is a detail that most news reports fail to mention. Had it gone off even three or four hours later, the death toll would have been much, much greater.

Following Twitter, the subsequent bomb at a Metro station (again near a police station) in Dokki, an apparently ineffective bomb at the police station across from the Mena House at Giza (somehow that seems fitting since my experience with that particular place of social "justice" has shown it to be dubious at best) and then another bomb attack on a police official in Giza filled the day with ever increasing amounts of concern. Maybe I've lived too long in the Middle East, or maybe I've just lived too long period, but from my angle we were blessed with either some incredibly inept bombers yesterday or they were people who really didn't want to hurt that many people. Who, at this point in time, is to say what the truth of the situation is.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I had some women come out for a ride in the countryside, I did my grocery shopping in the village of Abu Sir, and I spent some time in the afternoon with some very lovely Italian Egyptologists who had been visiting the pyramids of Abu Sir and the Sun Temple just across the road from us. Overall, the contrast between my Twitter feed that was full of anger, fear and lots of finger-pointing and the relatively idyllic afternoon in the garden couldn't have been more stark. The government press has done a brilliant job of cranking up anti-Muslim Brotherhood anger since the end of June, a job that honestly didn't need much amplification since by the end of June most people in Egypt were well and truly fed up with them, their incompetence, their unwillingness to negotiate anything or to cooperate with anyone and the general sense of depression at the thought of having to spend more precious time in this particular funk. We have had enough free-floating anxiety, fear, and worry, thank you.

Reports of groups chanting against the MB floated across the news feeds along with some reports of clashes where anti-MB types were actually prevented by police from taking out their anger on some hapless bearded person. This was not the sort of scenes that I like hearing about. A mob is dangerous, no matter what it's orientation. By evening, I'd had it with what was being called reality beyond my bubble and I turned off my computer to watch a Coen Brothers film, but not before I got a concerned message from my son in New York.  He was only seeing the filtered, amplified "Cairo Is Burning" news reports on the mainsteam media, so of course he wanted to know how I was.  I reassured him that nothing at all was blowing up out among the water buffalo, that all the targets for the bombs seemed to be the security/police forces, and that he had to remember I've been through all that before here in the 90's when the world was screaming about terrorists in Egypt, while what was actually happening was that there was a pretty focused battle going on between various groups and, again, the police/security forces. Back then, we kept an eye out on where the security/police people were and simply made sure that we were somewhere else. While life in Egypt is not all that it could be, it was certainly also not at all what it was being portrayed as being.  And at the end of the day, the security people could certainly be trusted to follow through on these bombs....after all the prosecutor general was investigating Pepsi ads that were supposed to be inciting demonstrations. Some things in Egypt don't change.

copyright 2014 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Safe Havens

"How are you?" 'Are you safe?" The questions come in emails, in phone messages, on Facebook....heavens, even verbally. On these long hot summer days when there seems to be so much going on in the media, but when reality seems to be stuck in a  puddle of tar on a melting road, it's hard to know what to answer. We are in the midst of strong currents that push us in directions we don't want to go. The hope and vision that we saw in the winter of 2011 is darkness and worry in the heat of the summer of 2013.

My staff came to me today to talk to me about their annual raises. This is a topic that usually comes up in June but when it did this year, I told them that I couldn't do any raise at the present time, but we could talk at the end of the summer...and we are now at the end of the summer. But my funds are limited and while they are sufficient to pay salaries and the feed bills at the farm,  they are not going to be sufficient to pay increases without income from clients. I explained this to them and told them that we simply had to be able to get by on what we have for the time being. This is hard. We have good land on the farm where we are growing vegetables that the staff can use to help feed their families, but they are used to the idea that things get better, and right now they are NOT getting better.  They have good salaries and I help them with their medical bills and other things, but no one has ever taught economics or even accounting in Egyptian schools. It isn't very easy to explain that we just can't do raises.

Developments in Egypt are disturbing. The Ministry of the Interior has posted a notice showing two symbols that are being used as avatars on Twitter and Facebook in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is asking that people turn in friends as terrorists. This is a very bad sign, and in connection with the fact that the Ministry of the Interior has raided Human Rights Watch and is asking for a number of 2011 activists to appear for questioning.

We are under curfew, which is less than any kind of problem for me since I never go out anyway, but this is meaning terrible losses in an economy that is already crashing for most businesses. During the summer heat, most Egyptians are nocturnal and do most of their socialising and shopping in the cooler evenings. For the past week everyone in most places in Egypt has had to be home by 7 pm, although today they announced that the hour has been extended to 9 pm every day except Fridays. With all the businesses not making any money, how can everyone survive?

I've loved my life in this country and I still  have no wish to be living anywhere else. I look to the US where I lived during my childhood, but I see huge problems there. Most of the Middle East is  a crashing disaster. Europe is having major climate problems and its own share of political unrest. There simply seems to be no safe haven these days.

copyright 2013 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Monday, July 29, 2013

Laugh In The Dark

A couple of little old ladies (ok, one of them was me so maybe the "ladies" part is an exaggeration) were having lunch yesterday at the new Lebanese place on Road 9 in Maadi. (Al Balad is nice food, a little pricey, but good.) Anyway, we were talking and my companion told me that at every single shop where she'd stopped that morning the workers within were bursting to talk to her about all the advice Egypt seems to be getting from governments abroad. The gist of each outburst was "But none of those people have been here! None of them has seen their businesses go under because there's no power/gas/clients/money! None of them have had to listen to the crazy religious jabber of people who think that the age at which a girl marries is more important than the security of our hospitals!" There were variations on the theme, but essentially that was what she was hearing, and being a nice woman originally from Pennsylvania but also a 25 yr resident in Egypt, they really wanted to understand where all this was coming from.

The problem was that my companion felt the same way. As she put it, how could Pakistan, for heaven sake, where people get killed in horrible sectarian violence all the time, stand with a straight face and criticise the "coup/revolution/junta"? Neither of us are happy with the situation as it stands, especially since if people start running down streets away from mobs or CSF forces, us little old ladies aren't very fast. We make terrible revolutionaries.  Over olives and bread, I had a thought and it was that as much as what Egypt is doing in terms of our social/political growth (hopefully) and change (certainly) scares us Egyptians, it is TERRIFYING most of the rest of the world.

In my search for thought-provoking articles for my Facebook page, I follow people who comment on events worldwide, and one of the remarkable things I've noticed is that the general discontent level worldwide is rising. This is accompanied by a rise in conservative-unto-fascist thinking as many people retreat in the face of their worry and confusion (which is a whole other topic but it is feeding into the general divisiveness in Egyptian society), but many governments around the world must be really worried that if crazy, chaotic Egypt can get a ton of people (and I will not get into the question of just how many but it was a hell of a lot) into the streets, what would happen if THEIR people did it! This is a very sobering thought because no matter what form of government is concerned, the fact is that no army or police can really deal with a situation if literally millions of people simply walk into the streets and refuse to leave. So far, most places have not been driven to the point of distraction that Egypt was, so it hasn't happened, but the fact that we've done it means that it can be done. I'm quite sure that this is a lesson every government is hoping that their people don't notice or learn.

I think that, while being aware of others' opinions is not a Bad Thing, being overly concerned with them is debilitating, especially when the ship of state is sailing uncharted waters. Please forgive the nautical metaphors but having spent some years helping to skipper a sailboat around the Mediterranean, the image is the best I know.  The reality is that we don't know what is going to happen here. The MB seem to be digging in their heels and refusing to accept the political world that the majority of Egyptians are currently willing to be living in, which means that the military goal of clearing Raba'a and Nahda is going to be very difficult to achieve. And the recent allowing of "emergency" powers to the military AGAIN! is troubling to many of us who remember all too well that the military have kept a subtle but firm hand on our government throughout all since 2011, much to the detriment of the people. Will Tamerod be able to pull off another coup/revolution/whatever against the military should everyone realise that we are being steered back to 1990...or will the threat be enough to keep the military somewhat in line until we have some sort of real  opposition party? We simply don't know but we can't stand still. We must move on.

Friends in the US and Canada who read alarmist headlines contact me constantly about possibly returning to the lands of sanity (in their minds, but not mine), but I'm here for the long haul. Life these days reminds me of a carnival ride I went on when I was about seven in San Diego. It was called Laugh In The Dark and you sat in a small car that went through dark tunnels where skeletons and the like would pop out at you around corners or fall almost into your lap. It was terrifying and I believe I went on it three times that day. This is all utterly mad, but I wouldn't miss it for the world.

copyright 2013 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Redefining Political Realities

I haven't written anything in my blog for a very long time. To be honest, life in Egypt has had a fluidity lately that most people only encounter while white water rafting.  It's pretty hard to comment on something that is changed the very next day. But the past few days have been amazing. The demonstrations called by Tamarod surpassed everyone's expectations and the political response has been no less astonishing than the events of 2011. To be quite honest, I did not expect the popular outpouring that brought millions of Egyptians out into the streets. In my old, jaded mind set, a petition is something someone does to make him/herself feel better about something that they aren't really going to do anything about. Egyptians have redefined the concept of petition, very  largely because they don't generally use them and felt free to define it in a new way.

I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past couple of days. I get notices, often a half dozen a day, on FB and in email, to sign this petition or that one to save the spotted orangutan that is being hunted to extinction in Afghanistan or to tell politicians that Americans really don't want ground plastic in their corn flakes and some of them I take the trouble to sign and pass on and others I don't. Have I ever really had the sense that a petition would change my world? Not really. Maybe someone would read it but most likely not.

But in Egypt, we just removed a president who was delusional, irresponsible, unresponsive, and incompetent (pretty good reasons to get rid of him) by petition. Yes, it wasn't an army coup that did it, it was a petition. Over 20 million Egyptians signed a petition saying that they could not tolerate Mohamed Morsi any more. The army came in only to say to Morsi's followers, many of whom are just as delusional as he is, that the people REALLY have spoken and we will NOT have a blood bath here. The issues of whether or not this was a military coup are, in my mind, secondary and complicated and they don't really speak to what has happened. They may, in fact probably will, be very important in the days to come as the military and the people try to build a constitution and a means of ensuring both political change and stability that doesn't necessarily mean bringing millions of Egyptians out into the streets. But right now I want to talk about what happened here because I think too many people are seeing it through the lenses of predetermined labels and thought.

When I was a little girl, I clearly remember dreaming that if I were walking along a sidewalk in San Diego I could fly simply by picking one foot off the ground, and then picking the other foot up at the same time. I would then float along the sidewalk at roughly the same speed as if I were walking and at the same altitude. I must have been afraid of heights even then because I don't remember any soaring above clouds or anything. Then one night in my dream I was doing this and someone walked up to me, I can't recall who, looked at me flying along the sidewalk and said, "Don't you know that you can't do that?" and BOOM, I was on the sidewalk and never flew in my dreams the same way. I could only do it until someone told me it was impossible. I never forgot that dream because I always had a sneaky feeling that if I could convince myself that I could fly it would work again. So far, in sixty years, it hasn't so perhaps some real innocence is what is needed and this innocence speaks volumes in understanding Egyptians' approach to politics.

Egyptians don't really use petitions. Tamarod was the first real grassroots petition I've seen here. Upper class Egyptians are prone to the same petition signing online, but "normal" working class Egyptians haven't really been exposed to petitions. When I first heard of Tamarod, I was intrigued but not impressed. I thought, terrific for the minority who understand petitions, but what about all the poor, the farmers, the workers? As the Tamarod movement grew, these kids who were running it did the smart thing. They moved the petitions into cigarette kiosks, small grocery stores, and Egyptians by the millions who had been allowed no other voice suddenly found an outlet for their frustrations and they signed it in droves....and they passed the petition on. And, even more important, having taken this massive step of actually signing a piece of paper saying that they wanted a voice in their government, they came out at the end of June to back that statement up with the presence of their bodies in the streets. I'm willing to bet that at least 80% of the people who signed Tamarod came out into the streets at one point...and remember that there were 22 million of them.

Do you think it would work in France, the US or China? I don't know but I think that my dream speaks to that. In 2011, thousands of Egyptians went out to protest police brutality on Police Day. They encountered police brutality, which didn't surprise them, in a really brutal form, which did surprise and anger them, and they basically decided that it was ENOUGH!  No one went out in January to bring down the Mubarak regime and everyone was quite astonished when they did. It was probably the first time in Egyptian history (hieroglyphics don't have much to say about popular uprisings) that the Egyptian people brought down a government by simple force of will (combined to be sure with some Machiavellian maneuvering on the part of the Egyptian military). We and the rest of the world were stunned and like a dog that has finally caught a car after chasing it for so long, frankly we didn't know what to do with the country.  Reality in the form of referendums, elections and the incompetence of the people elected who had no experience at all with the nuts and bolts of governance, set in. Expectations that the Muslim Brothers who had always been the first on hand with help for the poor or disaster-struck would be able to handle governing were pretty much shot down by the time the presidential elections came around and Morsi squeaked in more by virtue of people NOT voting for his opponent than by anything else. Many Egyptians boycotted the elections hoping that large numbers of people NOT voting would be noticed....but they weren't really. People don't notice something that should happen but doesn't. What they notice is something that shouldn't happen but does.

So when Tamarod was organised and the more worldly of us sort of looked at it and thought "Cute. Nice try, kids. A petition never changed anything." the rest of Egypt was learning to fly because no one had ever told them that it wouldn't work. This was one of those things that had never been done, so why wouldn't it work? And it did work. It worked because the signers put their heart, souls and bodies into their action. And this morning, whether we see peace or fighting, whether the army deals with us honestly or not, whether Mubarak's weasels try taking over the government or not, this morning is the result.

At this point, I suspect that there are a lot of governmental types all over the world viewing Egypt very suspiciously. A country that has a terrible literacy rate, has one of the worst school systems in the world, has carefully taught its population to follow orders, that has a huge population of poor people who barely manage to survive, and that has no experience in that exalted form of political activity, democracy, has toppled two leaders in two years. Doing it once can be dismissed as a fluke, but doing it twice could mean that these people have actually figured something important out. I think that Egypt's complete inexperience in political matters has actually worked to its advantage because there are young people out there who come up with a simple idea like Tamarod and try it, not knowing that it isn't supposed to work. And as long as no one believes that it isn't supposed to will work. Ignorance can be bliss.

copyright 2013 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani