Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Don't Mess With Egyptian Women!

 I have time for a quick Christmas present from the women of Abu Sir to the rest of us before I scamper to get my Christmas lunch organised. Yesterday I was out for a ride with a friend and stopped by one of my neighbour farms just to say hello and chat briefly. He had a story that almost had me falling off my horse in laughter. The women of my area have my deep and abiding respect. They care for farms, families and homes in pretty tough conditions but never fail to have a smile, a greeting and to lend a hand to others. They are the steel of their families. While this is a very traditional part of the country and one of strong religious conviction, these women are also very accepting and friendly and have always been a source of laughter and joy for me, a very nontraditional aging Canadian. I've been hearing from many of my neighbours that they are very unhappy with the mismanagement from the Muslim Brotherhood and the meddling ways of the Salafis for some time. One neighbour told me how when buses came to shuttle protesters into Heliopolis for the demonstration at the presidential palace that turned so bloody a couple of weeks ago, quite a few of the mothers around me informed their sons that if anyone wanted to take the bus into town, they were welcome to do so but not to bother to come back.

So apparently a group of Takfir wal Higra moved into our area to help our local population behave in a more "proper" manner. They were seen walking along the roads in their short galabeyas and had taken a mosque for preaching and an office in Abu Sir for organising.  A week or so ago, eight of the men went into the main souq of Abu Sir and as they were entering noticed one woman sitting by her produce with a little bit of leg showing from her galabeya. Very rudely kicking at her leg, they told her to cover up and be decent. This was a monumental mistake. As it happened, this woman was the head woman for the souq and a member of a very populous clan in the area that number in the thousands. She and the other women in the market attacked the eight men and beat them so severely that they had to go to the hospital. When the men tried to file a report with the police about the attack, the police refused to take the report, saying that they weren't going against these women as well...were the men crazy? So now the youth of Abu Sir are using the office as a tea room and the mosque is no longer being used for their fundamentalist sermons and no one has seen the Takfir group for some time.

If anyone is wondering who to support to get rid of Islamists in Egypt, here is your answer. The women of Egypt are some of the strongest women I've ever seen.

copyright 2012 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Shaken Not Stirred

 What's it like living in a country that is still in the middle of a revolution? It's actually a lot like living in a lot of countries these days, just a bit more dramatic. Almost everywhere I look I see change occurring at a phenomenal rate, partly brought along by the changes in communication that this blog exemplifies. When I began blogging in 2003, people were much more reliant on the main stream media for information about events whether at home or abroad. In the almost ten years since then, events have taken on an immediacy never anticipated through media such as Twitter, Facebook and Storify. Where once I felt I was happy to be able to go online to read commentary on events from a wide-ranging collection of news sources via the internet, now I go online and check the comment on Twitter from their correspondents in our ever-boiling part of the world to see what happened overnight before it even appears in the media.  One of the results of this increase in media availability has been an increased sense in the instability of our world. I'm not sure how more unstable it is, but I am sure that we are more aware of it. I also am very aware of the fact that I am one small cog in this huge global information machine.

When the Egyptian revolution started in January 2011, my children in the US contacted me to see if I wanted to go visit them for the duration...but they weren't terribly surprised to hear that it wasn't in my plans. I chose the location of my farm with care, knowing my neighbours and the social structure into which I wanted to fit. It is probably as safe for an older woman who lives alone with an unholy amount of dogs as anywhere can be. Once they'd assured themselves that I was still the stubborn old lady that they knew and loved, they did lay down some ground rules. With the outcome of the revolution very much in the air, I was NOT to post anything at all on my blogs. The few times I did, I was the recipient of immediate angry feedback from my offspring. But it's really hard for someone who naturally resorts to writing not to write, especially when the country around her is almost literally boiling. So we came to a compromise. I was allowed to post other people's articles about events in Egypt on my Facebook page which became a defacto news service. Writing by proxy saved my sanity. I've tried to keep a fairly balanced viewpoint about events, although clearly my feelings could not be denied. Over the past couple of years, my Facebook page has become less a personal account of my activities and more a forum for my friends all over the world to read news, blogs, and snippets from Twitter and to comment on or argue over them among themselves. I've likened it to the old fashioned literary salons of the 19th century at times. I love watching the discussions although often I don't take part in them if a couple of people are really into a topic. When life gets REALLY interesting in our neighbourhood, like it is now, I find that I really have to make the time to sit and write my own words because there is so much out there that others are saying.  So far worries about retribution for what ideas we are putting out on the internet are relatively small, since to worry about a little old lady on a farm in Giza who never shows up on TV or at a protest would appear to be a waste of time when half of Egypt is online complaining about one thing or another.

So, what is Egypt like in the middle of a revolution? Because that is where we are, in the middle, in a process that no one knows the ending of. I think everyone in Egypt has been anxious in the past few weeks with many people going down to Tahrir and gathering in other squares in other cities to protest the actions of our fairly recently elected president and with the knowledge that the Muslim Brotherhood and the supporters of said president were planning to have their own protest in support of the president. One of the main, not always unspoken, fears was that somehow the two groups would simply explode if put in contact, like a match to a stick of dynamite. A while back the Ikhwan bussed in supporters from outside of Cairo to come to Cairo University to support Morsi as he prepared to announce the acceptance of a draft constitution for a public referendum. The fact that the committee drafting the constitution did not contain any constitutional experts in any general sense was extremely worrying to many people. After all, a constitution of a nation isn't exactly a set of rules for a children's backyard club. It is supposed to protect the rights of all the members of the nation and with limited representation by minority groups and women, there has been an enormous amount of concern with what the output would be. On Thursday an Arabic version of the draft was released, which has been the topic of enormous amounts of discussion. I've printed up copies of it for my staff to read and think about. An English translation of it was published by Egypt Independent which I have been reading as well. Late in the evening yesterday, Morsi announced that this would be either approved or disapproved in a referendum on December 15, giving voters only two weeks to consider the issues.  I'm not sure that more time would necessarily lead to more clarity of thought on the subject, but it's fairly sure that only having two weeks to find, read, and discuss the draft does make it harder for people to object to it. Most referendums in Egypt have ended in a "yes" vote out of inertia. And in the end, this referendum was no different.

Does this signal the end of the process? By no means, and not the least of the reasons is Morsi himself. He's put people who even many Muslims and revolutionary types can't approve of on the Shura Council (the upper house of parliament) like generals and members of the Islamic Jihad. There is such a thing as appropriate, really Dr. Morsi. Virtually everything he has done, while he may have words to say that it has been expedient or for the good of the country, simply screams authoritarian Islam. And this is wildly offensive to Egyptians of all varieties who were thrilled to get rid of Mubarak. We are nowhere near the end of the tunnel and no one is sure what those dancing lights are. They could be Salafi cigarettes (soon to be taxed at much higher rates!), the steam engine of economic collapse, fireflies, fairies, or, heaven forbid, the end of the tunnel. My personal bet at this time is not the last, but the fairies or fireflies sound good to me.

So am I packing up for what might be the stability of the US or Canada? Not at all. First, I'm not all that sure of the stability of either state, to be honest. Both are awash in political and religious conservatism themselves, albeit both Canada and the US are so much larger than Egypt physically that the effect is diluted, and both are facing serious domestic political issues. Gun control in the US is vital, although many people are extremely vocal against it. My personal cynical view of the gun issue is that given the US is the world's largest manufacturer and seller of weapons and ammunition, the gun enthusiasm has been created in the same way that other consumer appetites have been and that no one is going to try to control the selling of guns for fear of damaging an important part of the economy, just like all the calls for cutting back on the "aid" for Egypt is going to lead to nothing because that "aid" is actually a government subsidy for the arms industry in the US and the money goes directly to the companies producing weapons and ammunition and to those servicing such weapons. What happens to them later is irrelevant to the US government or those industries, but the sooner they are used or blown up the better because that simply creates a new demand.

Canada, aside from the environmentally wasteful behaviour of the current government, is facing a deeper and perhaps more dangerous domestic issue that could easily splash over the border to the south. Both countries were created by wave after wave of immigrants primarily from Europe over the past three hundred years or so...a brief second compared to the history of Egypt. These immigrants, having now the positions of power in a land that they essentially invaded and confiscated (no wonder that both their governments are fairly staunch supporters of Israel, the most modern European colonial power) are crying now about how new waves of immigration are threatening their life style. Oddly enough, the indigenous peoples of North America, who for the most part live in poverty and on marginal properties to which they were pushed by the immigrants of their times, are getting rather fed up. A movement that started in Canada with a tribal chief Therese Spence, who is on a hunger strike for assistance for her people, Idle No More, is gaining support from other indigenous people's groups worldwide. At some point, the urge for justice that seems so keen in many semi-European countries in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Africa is going to have to thrust itself inwards to examine the morality of how those countries came to be in the first place. This is going to be intensely painful for many people. On the other hand, they could try to ignore it like they have in the past, but with the character of communication in our societies these days, that simply isn't so easy.

All things considered, I'll stick with my Egyptian revolution which for the most part is relatively straightforward even if we haven't the foggiest where the path is taking us tomorrow. I see shudders of change running through countries all over the globe and I don't think that anywhere is going to be immune. All the patterns I see forming are indicating that with information becoming so much more readily available and so much more easily placed in the public eye, many profound changes in human society will be seen in the relatively near future. My analysis is, of course, done very much by eyeballing events and getting a vague sense of movement. There is nothing scientific about it and I'm sure that some of the things I suspect will happen will not come to pass, but of this I am sure: Change is inevitable and will be faster than expected. It will likely make many people unhappy.

copyright 2012 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani