Saturday, August 27, 2011

Muslim Brotherhood opens education centres

This was yesterday’s online news from Youm7.

Egyptian households spend an average of one third of their spending on education for private lessons and another third on private tuition. Together with the expenses on transportation, 80% of their spending for education accounts for benefits that are already provided by the state.  One may draw one’s own conclusions about this.

The Muslim Brotherhood made a clever move by opening their own education centres in all governorates: low income families will be financially relieved and gratefully accept this offer. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood can spread their philosophy disguised as a social act.

New Road Signs

New Road Signs! Yesterday morning I was rather amazed at a crane standing in the middle of the road. The double-tracked road was closed, an alternative route was not indicated. That was no problem for me on my racing bicycle. Car drivers from outside, however, first stood still in irritation, then crossed the central reservation and drove on the contrary lane onwards and from there, they entered the roundabout correctly. Proof: alternative routes are not compulsory.

old and new in harmony

To be honest, I wish that other circumstances would be renewed than simple road signs – however professional and metropolitan they might appear.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


What has happened during the last two days in Sinai between Egypt and Israel reminds me – without playing down the consequences of these incidents – of a boomerang.

Whoever shot the Egyptian front officers (Israel or terrorists) – it’s Egypt that has the problem. The poor safety situation all over the country, especially on Sinai, virtually invites terrorists and thugs to settle down and pursue their businesses. It has been all over town for months already, that terrorists, al-Qaida branches and “regular” thugs are staying in Sinai. The Bedouins living there are not very well-disposed to the Egyptian state as well, because they have been neglected. There is hardly any infrastructure, no industry, just a fistful of jobs in the diving business. Has Sinai served as a rampart for Egypt only?

Now it takes its revenge manifold for the neglect of the Sinai Peninsula: the peace treaty is at risk, a fact that has shaken up the Western political world. In addition to all its huge problems, Egypt has to attend to this unsteady peace treaty directly. And at the same time, it has to stand firm that the safety all over the country is in danger and needs serious efforts to be re-established.

The Egyptian people have never backed this peace agreement with Israel – because of Palestine – and have now every reason to protest again against Israel; what they unmistakably are doing at present. Egypt itself has added fuel to the fire!

Egypt, it’s burning on several places! Hurry up, otherwise the boomerang hits you back!

Friday, August 19, 2011

The gatherer

It’s not hot yet; the sun sends its rays from hardly above the horizon. Most of the people are still asleep.

The lad is maybe 10 or 12 years old. Probably younger. He isn’t tall but lean. His sun-bleached long hair is mazily hanging down to his chin. He is wearing a shabby dark blue sweater and baggy, torn trousers that once might have been green. Or grey. Or blue. His eyes are wandering in the early morning shade over the ground, into hollows, ditches and construction sites. His right hand is pulling a huge, white, tear-resistant bag alongside him while his feet are gliding swiftly over the bumps left over by the consumer society.  Broken bricks, crushed cans, cardboard shreds, bottle caps, glass splinters, cigarette packages, plastic pipes, fruit juice packages, plastic bottles, aglets… and last but not least sand and stones.

The lad disappears between walls, knows where to find what he is looking for, what makes him get valuable cash from the recyclers.

One and half an hour later, a white, round monster is moving on the sideway in the direction towards the gate where a donkey carriage is waiting in the shadow. The lad can hardly be discerned: his hands are holding tight the collected goods above his head, his back is heavily bent so that his head is on the same level with his knees. His looks are concentrating on the next 50 centimetres of bitumen. The load is heavy, he is almost crawling on all fours which he would, if he didn’t need his hands to clutch his load. Only a couple of meters are left, but he tumbles down, remains laying on the hot bitumen to rest and breath. Then he picks himself up, carries his load further on towards his dad who is waiting in the shadow of the donkey carriage.

Monday, August 15, 2011

No TV spectacle any more

The trial against ex-president Hosni Mubarak and his sons was continued today – and immediately adjourned. That's how it will go on...

The hearing was once more held in front of live cameras – for the last time. The humiliating spectacle has come to an end, the judge decided it so.

That’s right, if right will be applied.

Yet it is less right, that another activist has been summoned to the military because she allegedly expressed herself negatively about the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. She was released on bail. During the last couple of months, activists have repeatedly been detained on exactly this pretext. Censorship is still alive, freedom of expression is still not granted in Egypt.

Update August 19: the charges against the activist of having insulted the army were droped. No reasons were given...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Language and what is happening to it

The friendly young man opposite me plans to enter a private college and that’s why he wants to brush up his English.

To make him talk, I ask him about his hobbies. As so many young people nowadays he answers „chatting with friends in internet.“ I want to know if he uses English for chatting. He answers with a distorted smile, that he uses „Franco-Arab.“ I knew what he meant but I didn’t know the expression.

When using „Franco-Arab“ or „Arabish“, Latin letters are being used, yet the writer expresses himself in Arabic. In doing so, some phonetics, that are not existing in any Latin language, are of course missing (e.g.: ع). These phonetics have to be expressed with cyphers (e.g.: 3). For non-Arabic speakers this looks rather strange (e.g.: ana raye7 el gam3a el sa3a 3 el 3asr; origin: Wikipedia). Frequently, one or several words are even written in English, mixed with the transliterated Arabic. Something similar is happening on Egyptian TV: performers switch in the middle of a sentence between English and Arabic.

Egyptians were of course once more the first ones to make a virtue out of necessity. The originally Western technology for internet and mobile phone communication was not applicable for any other characters than those of the Latin languages. That means that first Arabic, Farsi, Hindi etc. were excluded from this invention.

On the one hand, I think this is a clever development. It shows how inventive people can be and that they are able to help themselves. It also shows that languages are lively and are developing themselves continuously.
On the other hand: what happens when we do not use our original language anymore? Do we unlearn it? In doing so, do we not also lose our identity?
That might be different in Western Europe from the Arabic speaking world. I grew up with books: as a child, I carefully tore page by page from old books to my Mum’s horror. Later, I dreamt with picture books and eventually I made it for reading – and never ever stopped again. Soon, my love for writing was added. However, this was not really difficult because my parents read and I grew up among mountains of books.

On the contrary, reading books has been neglected for decades in the Arabic speaking world (generally spoken and with the exception of the Qur’an). Arabic is a tremendously difficult language and to teach and to learn it needs a lot of energy and devotion. In addition, people here grow up with a dialect – so why by all means should they learn classical Arabic? Arabic poetry and literature is among the most beautiful that exist. Is it still being read? Only from few, because it dates from earlier times and is not compatible with our modern times.

Slowly, however, this seems to be changing and efforts are made to pitch reading books to the young people. Young authors are attracting attention and their books are translated into other languages.

Meanwhile, chatting is also possible in Arabic, the technology has been further developed. Yet, using it might be uncool for the youngsters. Somehow, we seem to sit in a uniform pulp: all over the world people drink coke, swallow fast-food and communicate in a slang riddled with English. Do we change our identity with it like a coat or do we just get adapted to new facts? What do you think about it?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The sun

Just sun. Blue sky, wind, sun. Nothing else. No clouds, no fog, no rain, no temperature drop.

This is how it is here. Every day.

After a month’s holiday in my home country I realised once more how very important the sun is for our humour, our well-being, for me. The second half of my holiday was soaked with rain, grey and resembled late autumn rather than summer. People around me became more and more frustrated and me too, of course.

One may wrinkle one’s nose about Egypt because little is as perfectly organised and styled as it is in the first world. Not everything suits me as well. For example, parts of Hurghada suffered these days from power cuts that lasted several hours (I was miraculously spared from it). That’s not really great fun with temperatures close to 40°C in the shadow. It is impossible to stay in the flat, to sleep and food in the fridge and freezer can be destroyed.

But: to get up in the morning… and it’s sunny outside with a spotlessly blue sky! Imagine! That’s good. That’s real well-being.

I send to all of you who are missing the sun a bit, lots of

from my heart!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Egypt‘s Ramadan 2011

It is my fourth Ramadan in Egypt, I figured out today. Every year, shallow programs are being broadcasted on TV.

Yet this year, a much more exciting program is on: ex-president Hosni Mubarak, two of his sons, the former Minister of Interior Al Adly and others are together on trial. The hearing is being broadcasted live on TV!

In Hurghada as well as all over Egypt, people are sitting in front of their televisions as if the two football teams Zamalek and Ahly played against each other; those who cannot watch TV are listening to the radio. In Cairo, the happening can be followed live on large screens. Incredible!

To be honest, I didn’t believe until yesterday evening that Mubarak would be transferred to Cairo and that this hearing would ever take place. It has been postponed several times. Yesterday, the motorway between Cairo and Sharm El Sheik was blocked and in Cairo pro and anti-Mubarak supporters scuffled with each other. Yet, right now, this spectacle is going on on TV; millions dreamt of it and hoped and wished for it. However, what a disgraceful sight: ex-president Mubarak on a stretcher, aged and declined, his pale-faced sons dressed in white prison uniforms are standing in front of his father, protecting him from gaping into the cage. Yes, in the cage! Like animals … or like felons …

These pictures remind me of those about Saddam Hussein’s trial and this is exactly what many pro-Mubarak supporters wished to avoid.

I also remember those many hours I spent watching TV at the End of January and in February and all the terrible news broadcasted about this country since then. At that time, a huge wave of energy shook the country up – six months later, it is economically in a sorry state, is still fighting against remnants of the old regime and only slowly takes to cleaning up. That this trial is happening is to my opinion a huge, historical step for Egypt. Nile TV titles the live broadcasting “trial of the century”. I think Egyptians will never ever forget this Ramadan.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Marhaban – Welcome

The hot wind is embracing me, swirling my hair, and naughtily lifting up my pleated skirt. Around me is desert, the mountain chain in the back can only be guessed through the shimmering, sandy air. The heavy smell of sand and sea is reaching my nose, a smell that puzzles whenever I come back to the Red Sea coast, be it only from the river Nile.

I am back to Hurghada. This time, it was hard for me to leave my home country – the time was too short to do everything I wanted to do and too short to see all my friends. Yet, Hurghada made it easy for me; it gave me a warm welcome.

My flat was intact – no burglary, no water damage or other adversities. The air condition is functioning bravely; tepid water is running from the taps and from the shower. At the airport, I realised already: Hurghada is full of tourists, busy, chaotic, a bit bustling as always… or to put it right: as it should be and as it hasn’t been for a couple of months. Cairo and its demonstrations are far and show themselves externally only on TV, internet and in the newspapers.

Today is the first day of Ramadan and somehow the atmosphere leaves a ceremonious impression on me. At night, streets, mosques and buildings are decorated with garlands and thousands of lights. People wish each other Ramadan kariim (generous Ramadan) and gifts are distributed to the poor and needy.

By means of one of my ardently beloved minibuses I go to the market to get fresh fruit and vegetables. On the way, the driver stops in order to see why a group of men is gathering at the roadside: there is a man lying on the street. After having watched for a couple of minutes, the driver continuous the ride through the chaotic evening traffic. No passenger complained – for sure this would have been rather different in Switzerland. The market is loaded with mangoes and grapes, melons and other juicy fruits – amidst the well-known low hygienic standard and the bothersome pushing and shoving from other customers and the all drowning shouting of the sellers.

Yes I see, I’m back to Egypt.