Thursday, March 19, 2009

Calling Out

One of the things that I miss the most when I travel is the call to prayer that I hear five times a day here. After over twenty years of marking the days I find that, like the villagers around me, I have begun to tell time by the call to prayer. Due to the advent of electronics, the times of prayer have had their problems. I recall our first rented house in Alexandria that turned into a tunnel of sound every Friday. My dear husband had rented it before we arrived and he hadn't checked to see that there was a small mosque next to each of the four walls of the garden so we got the full benefit of the calls to prayer and during the Friday sermons the cacophony was unbearable as each sheikh vied with the other to make himself heard over the loudspeakers. Luckily, we were usually out on Friday afternoons.

The next house that we rented had a major mosque only a few blocks away and not too many rivals nearby. The three years we spent there were a joy as the muezzin (the man who called out for the prayers) had a marvelous voice and it was a real pleasure to hear. Lately, as the article from the New York Times (that you can reach if you click the title here) mentions the government has decided that the way to eliminate the competing mosques is to broadcast the call to prayer from a central location and eliminate the local muezzins.

The play produced in Germany about the muezzins talks about this rather unknown job and the men who do it. It certainly isn't a path to fame and fortune, but a good muezzin is worth his weight in gold, in my humble opinion, having lived near a great one for three years. I'd much rather see the government ban the loudspeakers on the mosques and take the entire experience back to a more personal one. When the power happens to fail at the time of the call to prayer and you hear the intermingling of the various voices in the neighbourhood without the dubious benefit of loudspeakers, it is a lovely event.
copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Spot of Politics

I have a quick scan each morning of the online papers that mention Egypt, Giza, and Cairo just to see what's being covered and every so often something strikes my fancy. This morning Andrew Sullivan wrote about Egypt's military importance to the US:

"1) Egypt controls the Suez Canal, which makes it considerably easier to control traffic of ships between the Red Sea and Mediterranean and was crucial for the buildup in both US-led Iraq wars; 2) Egypt is a key counter-terrorism ally and played a major role in the Clinton-Bush rendition program; 3) Egyptian air bases play an important logistical role in the ongoing occupation of Iraq; 4) Egypt has played a crucial diplomatic role supporting US efforts in various recent regional crises. If anything, Washington is getting a great bargain for its $1.3bn a year, and those who are paying the real price are the Egyptian people who are seeing the Mubarak dictatorship maintained by America.

Finally, the military aid program to Egypt is also a subsidy for the US defense industry and a mechanism to grease the palms of the corrupt Egyptian military establishment, whose senior officers get kickbacks on the weapons deals."

My late husband used AID funding to help to purchase equipment for some of his companies and I'm always astonished at how little the American people understand about how this works. In the first place, most AID funding is in the form of low-interest loans that must be used to purchase US-made goods. No one is GIVEN anything. If you qualify, you can get better interest rates for the purchase of equipment or whatever, but the money must be spent in the US. This is of enormous benefit to the US producers who might otherwise not be picked to supply the equipment. When Egypt is given aid to buy military equipment, the same stricture holds true. The equipment, the maintenance, and the training all come from the US, providing employment and sales for US suppliers. Whether the aid comes in the form of low interest loans or outright gift, I don't know in the case of military aid, but people should understand that this "assistance" is not without its payoffs for the giver as well as the receiver.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani