Sunday, May 27, 2012

After the shock

Hope dies last – it’s a nice saying. The first shock about the election results has settled down a bit (at least with me).

However, not yet among the Egyptians. But the situation does not look as completely black as it did 48 hours ago. Egypt is always good for any kind of surprises, and so it will be in this deadlock situation. Why?

I never expected the presidential elections to be honest and correct. But now there is a concentrated charge of accusations and indictments regarding vote rigging that is astonishing. For example, about eight (others say five) millions of more voters are listed compared to the parliamentary elections in November 2011. Egypt seems to have suffered (or enjoyed?) from a tremendous population explosion between November 2011 and May 2012! Then, results are going round that show that Ahmed Shafiq received 900’000 votes less than Hamdeen Sabbahi – this would place Sabbahi as second. Furthermore, ballot cards have again been found on the street. And ballot boxes have been discovered that had already contained ballot cards for Mohamed Mursi before the official start of the elections.

The losing candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa have filed an application to suspend the elections because of alleged vote rigging and irregularities, and until it has been settled if Ahmed Shafiq is eligible at all. This is not definitely clear yet. In addition, an application for corruption and profiteering is on the way against Ahmed Shafiq.

A member of the parliament demanded Mohamed Mursi to step back as a presidential candidate in order to save the revolution and to let Hamdeen Sabbahi pass to the run-offs. This is an exciting idea but the Muslim brothers would never act as honourable as that – their greed for power is their agenda.

These are just a few examples about what has happened since the first results appeared. The lawfulness of the election results can be challenged until tonight. By every news line coming in, I’m getting more and more confident that there will be a surprising way out of this deadlock. The situation remains exciting… and very hot.

The election commission has decided that Ahmed Shafiq and Mohamed Mursi will stand in the run-offs in Mid-June.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A shock

There’s no other word: the preliminary results of the elections since last midnight are really a shock.

After the vote counting of 25 out of 27 governorates, Mohamed Mursi is the front runner, followed by Ahmed Shafiq. How is this possible?

Mursi, the Muslim brother’s „spare tire“ – this expression was created by the Egyptians – has entered the presidential race only five weeks ago. The perfectly tuned campaign machinery of the MBs was at full speed: vote buying for 50 pounds and food packages for the needy included.

Nevertheless: many Egyptians said that they had been disappointed by the MBs work in parliament and they would not give them a second chance. Yet in spite of this, the MBs candidate got the highest share of the votes?

But the worse is still to come: Ahmed Shafiq is alledgedly on the second place. That means that there will be a run-off between the two of them in Mid-June. He is a “feloul”, a strongman from the old regime, has entered the presidential race also only recently, well knowing that he would be supported by well experienced fellows.

What a choice is this now: someone that wants to implement sharia and whose party is known meanwhile to be inapt regarding politics and to be liars against someone who personifies the old regime? Poor Egypt – what a shock!

Hamdeen Sabbahi, however, did surprisingly well; he is placed third. Intellectuals and the middle class voted for him. Losers are Abu El Fatouh, the ex-Muslim brother who could unite some Salafis in his favour, and Amr Moussa, the statesman and ex-President of the Arab Ligue.

It’s a strange result for me. But it seems as the final result will be as I’ve been supposing or fearing for some time already: Shafiq (or should I say straight forward “SCAF”?) will win in the end. I don’t see another way. When I push the shock away a bit, I can see clearer: it’s again a ringing slap in to the face, looks like revenge to the insubordinate Egyptian people. It looks like a hard punishment: now you can see what your revolution has brought to you: either a religious state or we continue as before. Egypt is obviously able to do the impossible: it starts a revolution, topples a dictator, pays with hundreds of deaths and an economic collapse only in order to elect a representative of the same dictatorship as their new president.

Activists, revolutionaries and liberals have understood meanwhile that they didn’t work well enough during the past 15 months. They will learn from their mistakes.

Those who hold the power and cling to it will also learn. What a disaster. What a long way to go for Egypt to reach self-determination, liberty and democracy.

The shock is deep, not as much with me, but more with the people around me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Election Day

Today, it’s hot. Very hot. At nine in the morning, there were already 33° C in the shadow. And it will get hotter today, also in the figurative sense.

Today is the first of two election days, on which Egyptians vote for a president without knowing in advance who will be the one elected. Yet the majority can’t make up its mind who to choose. I asked some of my acquaintances.

S. goes to Alexandria since this is where he is registered and this is where he has to vote. He will make up his mind when driving all the way to Alexandra. It’s a nine hours trip.

M.R. has travelled to Ismaijlia (on the Suez Canal). He’s a very conservative traditionally thinking man and therefore very religious. Will he vote for a Muslim? No, by all means: he describes the long bearded Salafis and Muslim brothers and means that despite their long beards they were all liars. What’s written outside is not necessarily inside as well.

Our security, M., an elderly polite Sir who loves to chat with me has decided to vote for Amr Moussa, after having contemplated a lot. He sticks to established methods.

M.A., a surprisingly broad-minded man tends to vote for Hamdi Sabbahi, a nationalist and nasserist. Sabbahi has increased his popularity these days according to the polls. He seems to be the lesser evel. But M.A. can’t go to his home governorate – so no way to go to the polls.

A politically very versed radical, well-educated young man, S.K., is not going to vote at all. He has not been convinced by any of the candidates or their programs.

“And who are you going to vote for, tomorrow“, I asked a friend last night. “I can’t vote. I’m registered in Alexandria and am unable to go there now.” He’s annoyed about the fact, that Egyptians living abroad may vote, but he as well as hundreds of thousands can’t vote although he’s living in Egypt. Injustice!

Not only living beings are on the electoral lists, but also dead, soldiers and police men who actually are not allowed to vote. Why are they listed? They support those candidates that are pre-elected or should be or ought to be…

In case the Islamists lose the presidential race, they will make waves and go out to Tahrir, S.K. is predicting. And how should the SCAF react in this case? With violence? Given the actual density of weapons circulating in Egypt and given the Islamists being prone to violence could this be very dangerous.

It’s noon and there are 39° C. It’s extremely hot. It will even be hotter on the coming days – in every sense.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Presidential elections coming soon (II)

What is it about in the candidates’ campaigns?
At first sight: about religion.
At second sight: about religion.

It seems that Egypt is going to elect its next religious leader next week. This is at least my impression and I am not the only one. It only seems to be important, whether a candidate is very religious or moderately religious. There are secular candidates, but they don’t have a chance.

Besides, it’s about: is he a representative of the old regime, yes or no? It seems to be of little importance at the moment, however, it is not and we will soon know better.

The campaigns are about religion, about the veil, about the sharia, at first. And then about Israel: the peace treaty and the gas delivery should be re-negotiated.

This vote catching results in strange constellations:
The ultraorthodox Salafists support the moderate Abu El Fatouh (ex-Muslim brother; perhaps the Salafists want to score off the Muslim brothers). At the same time, Abu El Fathouh is also trying to gain the liberals’ votes. How?
The Muslim brothers’ candidate, Mohamed Morsi, wants to adopt the sharia although the MBs always pretended to be moderate.

Hardly anything is heard about how the country’s real problems should be faced. Education, infrastructure, jobs, unemployment, security, poverty and women’s rights seem to be unimportant. Ostensibly, it’s about the religion and the much hated Israel.

And hardly anyone realizes this.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What have mushrooms and plants got to do with democracy?

While looking back on what has happened in Egypt since January 25, 2011, the same picture repeatedly comes into my mind:

Mushrooms: growing fast, tiny, chaotic, all haywire, faster, higher, stronger, crushing others, suffocating them. As do white mushrooms in the spring. They turn up quickly and disappear quickly.

This is not how democracy develops. Especially not under the bad circumstances provided.

It would be so much wiser: taking good care of the delicate, vulnerable little plant, watering it and nourishing it, protecting it from too much sun and too much cold and by all means: giving it a lot of love and patience. Lots of patience.

Presidential elections coming soon (I)

My Arabic homework was: write about the most important thing that happened to you this week.

So I did.

In return, my Arabic teacher told me, what the strangest thing is for her at the moment. She is getting asked: “Madam, who are you going to vote for?”

I do not consider it really as a strange question because I suppose that mainly ordinary, uneducated people expect advice from the teacher. Yet no! Oh no, she says, even very educated, high ranking persons ask this question. I have to add that my Arabic teacher has always been politically active.

She’s shocked about the fact how hard it is for her fellow citizens to choose one of the thirteen candidates.

Is this really a surprise? Thirty (30!!!!!) years under the same political system. For thirty years, nobody had to care about a constitution, about human rights, about political rights and duties, about laws, about a parliament, about elections and about politics. For thirty years, it was beyond all questions: there was one party, one president. They had at their command all the power and those who were not with them, were outside. Outside means: in jail, in exile, in the underground or too poor to bother about anything else than the question: what would fill their stomachs the following day. Thirty years is a whole generation. More than 30% of Egypt’s population is younger than 14 years, that means, about 50% of the population never ever knew another system. Imagine!

And who is she going to elect? I didn’t ask, since this is of no importance. What’s the use of a president without a constitution? What are his rights? Without a constitution he will be a puppet like the present parliament. We agree about that.

We also agree about who will be the next president. And then? Then Egypt will be very dark, she says. Upon these words, I have again this strange feeling in my stomach that appears every time when I discuss the present situation with my students.


What’s this: it’s sweltering, the view is only two hundred meters and everything  I touch feels as it has been lying on the beach? And I say to myself: fortunately, I haven’t had time!

No time for cleaning, is what I mean.

Correct: it’s another sandstorm. Tomorrow, I play it again: washing, cleaning, mopping… grrrr…

Friday, May 11, 2012

Kitchner’s* Island Aswan – Botanical Garden

Ten minutes by motorboat and finally there it was: the „island of plants” - جزيرة النباتات باسوان  - that I wanted to visit already in January 2011.

Of course, I had to bargain for the ferry trip. Of course, the ferryman lied to me. But I soon forgot about this…

Very old trees rise up into the sky, their leaves and palm fronds swish smoothly in the light breeze, provide comfortable shade and protect from the torrid African sun. Tree trunks, thin and thick, smooth and rough, rising straight into the sky like pillars or crosswise – all are carefully labelled with their Latin, English and some also with their Arabic names as well as their country of origin. They are from Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar, India, Australia and and and…

Some show off with fascinating, colourful, luscious blossoms and others, however, show delicate, subtle, aromatic blossoms, whose miraculous beauty may be discovered only from very close.

I am drifting across the neatly cultivated alleys, I let myself get bewitched by the whispering of the leaves and the fragrance of the blossoms carries me away, enjoying the green and the colourful fauna that I’ve been missing for so long. Benches invite to gaze at the Nile and the opposite shores, to follow the boats with the eye, to linger, to dream…

At the very end of the island there is a greenhouse. A gardener leads me to young mimosas and lemon grass, to papyrus and other plants and herbs whose name I neither understand nor know but whose fragrance I inhale.

The island is a place of calmness and a place to replenish. The small museum at the entrance exhibits numerous plants, seeds and fruit together with their description – botanists will be amazed.

Much too fast does reality catch up with me: bargaining with the ferryman brings me back to the Egyptian daily life. Never the less: it was good for me.

Here are some pictures:


*Lord Horatio Kitchner (1850-1916) received the island in 1890 for his services to Egypt during the British colonial time. He was general governor and in fact ruled Egypt. Having a passion for horticulture, he imported plants from exotic countries and turned the island into a botanical garden.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Aswan in spring 2012

I sat on a concrete bench and ate a Hawaushi (kind of a pancake filled with spicy meat) watching a shop owner who scolded a boy that had thrown an empty bottle on the street. He demanded the boy to pick the garbage up. And in fact: everything was clean. No paper, no butts, no plastic bottles.

That was in January 2011 in the Souq. About three weeks before the outbrake of the famous revolution on 25 January 2011.

“Aswan, ia gamila, hassal eh?“ Aswan, my beauty, what has happened??

16 months later, Aswan looks like all places in Egypt. It lost its denotation of the cleanest city in Egypt. In the Souq, cobblestones have been removed and not replaced, holes have not been filled up, garbage is carelessly discarded everywhere. Many shops are shut. The thick dust from the previous storm makes everything look even more bleakly. Two days before, the bazaar owners and shop assistants demonstrated: the tour guides prefer to bring the tourists to the big souvenir shops in direction of the airport because there, they get a higher commission.

The huge Nile cruisers are lying dark and ghastly ashore. The coachmen are waiting in vain for customers. A fistful of feluccas is on the Nile. My hotel in a gorgeous garden is almost empty – there are only 15 guests. Hardly any tourists find their way to Aswan. Utter misery.

Thereby, this beautiful landscape is always attractive with its charming enchantment, its location a treasure. Historical sights are almost empty and can be admired in peace and calm. The golden hills, the blue Nile and the green Islands form an ever ancient unit, spread calm and serenity. Endlessly, reliable, ignoring the course of the events. Fatalistic like its people?

Aswan, my beauty, what has become of you? Egypt, with your history of thousands of years, how deep further do you want to tumble?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vanish and immerse

Hurghada - Luxor

I am going to Aswan. The place that I fell in love with and that had the reputation of being the cleanest in all Egypt.
Four hours by bus to Luxor. Sandstorm in the mountains and in the desert, a view of 200 m.
Relief in Luxor.
Just a moment only.
Jostling and pushing of taxi drivers in the bus entrance „Taxi Madam?“ One step later, heat and storm are overwhelming me.

I am battling my way through the taxi drivers towards the boot, pick up my luggage and shove myself through the “Taxi Madam?”-men towards the train station.
Just 150 m. They stick on me like flies, dart on me as attracted by a magnet, jump up from chairs and stairs like an elastic spring, and emerge between cars and coaches. “Taxi Madam?”

It’s cool inside the station concourse. I am ignoring the “Where do you go?”-calls and walk firmly towards the left luggage room. The platform is overflowing with waiting passengers; I squeeze through them as well. My luggage is left in a seventy years old wooden box for two pounds fifty. On my way out, I hear many times what time the train to Aswan is supposed to leave; they are expecting some tips for this oh dearly helpful yet unasked information. Outside the train station and while crossing the street, I feel again like a magnet for all landlords, taxi and limousine drivers, tour guides and coachmen. Unwilling to hire any of them, I must hear: “f* you!”

Sipping at a cup of coffee some meters in front of Luxor temple that can hardly be discerned in the sandstorm. What a sad aspect. The sandstorm reflects somehow the desperate condition of this country. What next?
How to go to Aswan? The train does not leave because there is a demonstration in Sohag. Once more, the only railway line Cairo – Aswan falls prey to the people’s resentment. They have my sympathy – but their action does neither improve tourism nor the country.