Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Banking in Egypt and disappearing foreign currency reserves

I read and heard about it but I was not fully aware of the consequences for myself. I mean, a bit of course… As I do with so many problems – Egypt has taught me this – I wanted to wait and take things as they come, trusting that there is always a solution.

My rental payment is due at the beginning of February. Progressive-minded as I am I wanted to transfer the rent from my Egyptian bank account by E-Banking. Before, I wanted to change some Euro – in the same bank – into Egyptian Pounds to provide enough funds. Since I divined the consequences already a bit before, I did not change my Euros in December since a fast devaluation of the Egyptian Pound was looming. I’m almost a bit proud that I haven’t transferred more hard currency to Egypt. They would be blocked right now!

My bank kindly informed me that according to the Egyptian Central Bank’s provisions, customers are not allowed to change their foreign currencies into Egyptian Pounds by E-Banking! No access to the strong Euros, US Dollars and other stable currencies that are lying in the mouldering country. So what do business people do? These provisions make business lifes even more difficult in addition to all other problems and deficiencies.

I just remember one of my „students“ telling me before my departure about the payment moral: for credits of several hundreds of pounds due he obtains now and then a cheque of five thousand Pounds… Actually, it’s a miracle that everybody somehow still keeps afloat. Yet for how long will they?

For sure there is a solution for my small problem. I sent a message to the bank and explained my desire; maybe the transfer will be permitted. If not, I’ll find another way. Probably this is the way for business people, too: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Port Said for the second time

More than 70 football fans died last year in Port Said’s stadium. They were pushed down from the gallery (!), stabbed with knives, and found exits barred and were trampled over.

On Saturday, the „culprits“ were convicted: 21 people got death sentence. They’re football fans, young people. The real masterminds of the massacre were not sentenced. This is why people in Port Said took to the streets and demonstrated. They tried to free their relatives from prison. They torched municipality buildings, and they tried to get under control the power station and other strategic objects. Police ran away and the Army was deployed.

Who are „they“? Are they football fans? Are they again paid thugs that mingle with demonstrators? Are they again paid thugs in uniforms of the Central Security Forces who do the dirty jobs?

Yesterday, dozens of people lost their lives and today, during the funeral procession, more people died.

It’s awful. The readiness to use violence is horrible. Yet, the one who watches the videos in the internet discovers more atrocities: There are snipers standing on roof tops aiming at people! There are CSF members running through streets damaging parked cars of civilians! People are shot from near behind.

Who are „they“? Who is behind these killings?

Why does the government allow this? Or maybe I should rephrase the question: why is the government doing this? Is it its goal to sow more turmoil and chaos in order to facilitate a military coup? What are the MB’s rewards from such a scenario? Whose reward is it anyway?
Or has the „Murshid“ (ruler of the Muslim Brothers) lost control and there is another power behind those terrible crimes? Moursy however, was brilliant: he offered his condolences late after midnight by Twitter (sic!)!!!!

In spite of all the atrocities: the method is not new. Many times was it seen, many times civilians got executed or shot into their eye. Again and again although everybody knows meanwhile that people film these scenes and publish them in internet. Evidences exist in great numbers. Some of these witnesses were detained today while filming from balconies and roof tops. They have to fear the worst: hour long interrogations, torture, rape, detainment without accusation, no lawyer admitted.

Egypt’s leaders have their people killed in front of the world. In order to come to grips with the situation, once more the emergency law has been proclaimed (anybody can be detained anytime without any reason) and a curfew has been imposed. History repeats itself. Unfortunately.

Photos show the bearded next to the snipers, next to the police… It has been assumed for a long time that the Muslim Brothers are behind the camel battle and other massacres…

Thursday, January 24, 2013

25 January 2013 – 2nd anniversary

From far away, I’m anxiously waiting for the 25 January. A demonstration from three different meeting points will be held in Hurghada, in the rest of Egypt anyway. Activists invoke for demonstrations. But will this be sufficient?

Wouldn’t it be better they’d go out into the villages, into the poor districts and quarters and finally tell the people there what it is all about? Wouldn’t it be better to listen to those people out there and take their everyday problems seriously? It’s still the Muslim Brothers and the Salafists that approach the people and “pester” them. The activists, the seculars, yes, the complete opposition hides behind Twitter, Facebook and TV instead of addressing the people in Cairo’s slums, in the Delta’s shanty towns and in Upper Egypt.

The opposition has a golden chance: the people are tired and fed up of the Muslim Brotherhoods‘ lies and of the worsening living conditions. Yet, instead of uniting and building up a heavy weight opposition to the Islamists ahead of the parliamentary elections, they quarrel… Are they so egoistic? Or do they still not understand where Egypt is standing? What a keen disappointment!
If there won’t be any surprise by the workers, the poor or the Ahly Ultras, 25 January 2013 will just be a ceremony, nothing more.

Change has to come from inside, not from Twitter, Internet or TV. When is the day?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Deadly train crash – one of so many

“Have you heard the news?” my student asked with a serious look. No, I answered, I haven’t had the time yet to read the news. “There was again a train accident. Children in a school bus, more than 50 dead!”

This accident happened on 17 November, a couple of days before Moursy brokered the cease fire between Hamas and Israel and then announced his constituency decree. The school bus crossed an unsecured railroad crossing and was caught by the approaching train. The barrier was up, the security guard was not at his place. Last Monday, another train accident happened, this time with conscripts from Upper Egypt and for sure, it won’t be the last one.

The terrible accident in Assyut back in November reflects Egypt’s state of affairs in many fields and this is why I want to write about it here.

The six to eight year old children were squeezed in an overcrowded bus on their way to an Islam school where they never arrived. There are families who lost all their children in this accident; in the town of Mandara there is no family that was not hit by this disaster since a typical Egyptian family is big…

The attendant’s hut is tiny and uncomfortable; there he receives information about coming trains in order close the barrier. He frequently leaves the narrow stuffy place and has a chat and a smoke with his colleagues nearby. Over there, he neither hears the important phone calls nor overlookds the rails; hence, the barrier remains open in spite of coming trains. Many very sad accidents repeatedly happened here. Again and again, the people have demonstrated and demanded the removal of this dangerous train crossing. Yet, in vain.

On 17 November they searched in the ruins of the squashed bus for the remains of their children: a scrap of fabric, an exercise book, a shoe, a drawing, a school bag. The ambulance arrived poorly equipped at the place of accident: they collected the remains of the children’s bodies and put them into garbage bags that had to be emptied beforehand. Those still alive were brought to the local hospital in Manfalout where not even the most urgent equipment was available. So the children were transported to the University hospital in Assyut. But there as well, the hospital staff was unable to cope with the situation and could hardly administer first aid due to the lack of dressing and medications. A young doctor once told me how these public hospitals are managed: young graduates have to practise there for 300 pounds without supervision or help of senior doctors. Those are up to something else: they work in private clinics because the salary is better. Yet, I’ll write about this another time.

Only hours later did the police arrive at the place of accident. As always, it was promised that there would be an investigation and the violators be punished. As always, ministers promised to eradicate this unacceptable situation. As always, Moursy (sorry, I just can’t call him “President”) promised to indemnify the troubled families. Following last week’s accident, it was even promised to renovate 900 railway crossings all over Egypt. Immediately!

Three days later, almost another train accident happened in Mandara, when a train passed the open railway crossing… I’m sure that the situation remains unchanged.

Some culprits have been found. Negligence of the railway authority, no maintenance or renewal of the rails for more than 10 years, 15 rail workers were brought to court. I doubt that they are the real culprits.

By chance I’ve read today in “Egypt Independent“ that only a quarter of the allocated budget of USD 270 Mio. in 2009 and USD 330 Mio. In 2011 was used for railway maintenance. According to the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, the bigger share was squandered by members of the government. [sic!]

330‘000‘000 USD Dollars is a pretty penny. The families that lost a child in this horrible accident were initially offered 1’000 pounds (around 150 USD) as indemnity and it was later increased to 50’000 pounds. I dare doubt that any of them will ever see a penny. They can’t revive their children and they can’t turn their back on this scruffy state with this little money.

Negligence, failure, wealth grab = corruption. This is Egypt in every field: health, infrastructure, education, environment and so on. Egypt is a wealthy country. Yet only few get their share.

And the Western governments continue to send their money…

Monday, January 14, 2013

Muslim Brothers are liars

While having breakfast, I see this picture on facebook (from the group 6th April Hurghada) and I have to laugh:

The white board on the right says "Muslim Brothers are liars". The location: directly on the other side of the street of the Muslim Brother's office (second balcony, in the middle), in Nassr street, a much frequented main road between Hurghada and Dahar! Those who set up the sign prove wit and humour.

I wish everybody a happy Monday! 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reduced presence

My dear readers,

During the coming weeks, I will not be able to put my thoughts, views and experiences in words as I wish I could. There is a lot of material that is piled up in my mind and about which some scarce notes exist, but I lack time. I accepted to take over some responsibility back in my home country that will keep me busy until spring. Meanwhile, I try of course to keep myself updated with the events in Egypt and every time when I get surprised by some news, I want to sit down and write… I miss it.

Yet, this has to wait (especially the English translations). I hope you understand. Thank you.

El Qamar

Why don’t you get up and fight?

Why don’t you get up and fight for your right? It’s this question that I’ve been asking again and again since my second visit to Egypt.

My first and my second stay in Egypt are worlds apart. Worlds of knowledge, quasi. Upon my first visit, contrary to what I usually do, I came unprepared and ignorant to a country which was completely strange to me. Yet what I observed inside and outside the hotel resort at that time fuelled my intellectual curiosity and I searched answers for the many “whys”. When Saddam Hussein was executed shortly after Christmas 2006, I dearly wanted to know what the Egyptian newspapers wrote and what the people thought. I got into a conversation with a jeweller and he replied: ”Egypt has other problems than Saddam Hussein.” As if he wanted to stress these words, he waved a French passport around. I will never forget that moment; I felt embarrassed and realised that I did not know anything about Egypt.

Hardly had I returned back home, did I stock up on information from internet and the library about the country and its economy. The more I read, the more I wanted to know and the more questions popped up inside me.

Four months later, I went back to Egypt, travelled around, asked and watched. I asked everybody that came across my way and to whom I could make myself understood, I let them talk and listened patiently. I heard amazing, distressing, unbelievable and incomprehensible things. It was about broken relations, financial distress, work problems, tribes, existing and broken dreams. Of course, I also wanted to know more about politics but many of my interlocutors shirked, whispered or looked asquint to the left and to the right before they answered at all.

„Why don’t you get up, stand up and fight for your rights?“ [Jimmy Cliff]

How can one live in such misery? How can one put up with the daily harassment of the police at each corner of the street, at numerous checkpoints, the dictation and the random arrests? How can one live with a tight censorship and lopsided information of the state media? How can one live day by day with an all pervasive corruption? How can a young person plan his life that leads straight forward into a cul-de-sac and that does not permit any vision? How can an elderly person put up with this cul-de-sac and experience a continual degradation of the living conditions since the 50ies?

One of the answers was: „Because Mubarak holds all the powers: military, police, justice and parliament”. Another one was: “We have opposition; we have got some Muslim Brothers in parliament.” Or: “There is no opposition abroad.” But also: “We have internet, we know how it is outside.”

All this did not satisfy me. I grew up in a liberal country and was brought up and educated with liberal ideas. My mind cannot accept such resignation and passivity.

Thus, I searched for reasons and soon found some:

Egyptians are lazy
I mean: without any initiative, without any idea, without any fighting spirit, passive, indulgent. Don’t they prefer to sit in coffee shops, smoke shisha, watch football games or try to cheat tourists? I wasn’t completely wrong with this answer but it was too superficial.

On the course of further stays in this wide, varied and incomprehensible country, I uncovered lay after lay of the surface and gradually started to understand better. There are many reasons for the seemingly or real passivity.

The political system
Just imagine: the one year old boy who tries his first clumsy steps with his baby legs, sees Mubarak. The same boy who plays football with his comrades day after day on a dry sandy court and most probably dreams of a football career with Ahly, sees the “father of the nation” Mubarak on TV. The teenager, who sends sneaky looks at girls, only knows Mubarak, the “father of the nation”, praising his good deeds on his daily TV speech. The young man who is about to marry his young bride doesn’t know anything else than Mubarak, the National Democratic Party, a rigorous police state and no freedom. The young father, who fights every day to feed his family, hears and sees only Mubarak…

About 50 % of the Egyptian population doesn’t know any other state system than Mubarak’s dictatorship. How should a human being, who has never ever during all his life – 30 or 40 years – experienced anything else should be able to imagine another political system? I don’t mean to say that Egyptians are too stupid to do this, please, do not misunderstand. No! I want to say that the majority of those who are between 30 or 40 years old have never known anything else and therefore, cannot imagine a different political system. The freedom that we in Europe live and take for granted, does not exist in Egypt and is unknown to many.

The Egyptian educational system does not train up independent thinking human beings. Pupils have to learn by heart in order to obtain a certain number of marks. According to the points achieved, different Universities or ways of education can be pursued. Those who don’t get the highest marks, simply study law, teaching or anything else instead of becoming a doctor or an engineer. Children neither learn how to learn nor to use their brain to find for example alternatives, scrutinize facts, to criticise or to analyse. Teachers work for a pittance und therefore usually have another job to make ends meet. Only the one who can afford private lessons or go to a private school can make progress. The others learn by heart, repeat, obey and do what they are told to do. There is no place for personal development, creativity or even revolt.

How should anybody become initiative in such a system?

Culture, tradition and religion
I’m unable to separate these three values; for me, they are entangled, inter-dependent and tightly linked. Same as the religion demands obedience, such does the family that recognizes and respects the father (and later the eldest son) as family patriarch. Everything is done for the family; there is no way against the family (respectively the patriarch) except one risks the thorough and final breach with the family. In a wider circle, it’s the same within the tribes.

Furthermore, Egyptians are pacific and full of zest for life. Revolt is something that others do.

Obedience towards the superior (family, teacher, employer, police, and president) is entrenched and every time when I am a silent onlooker, I get startled. However, this is Egypt.

I cannot say that I „grasp“ now why this people doesn’t get up and fight all together, however, I understand much better. They just have another hard disk in their head that is built, programmed and loaded with different data – this is what I sometimes think.

Nevertheless, there was this uproar, this revolution that continues, that is pasty like cold honey and that comes in half-heartedly. I keep on asking my interlocutor “Why don’t you get up and fight?” and frequently the answer is “What can we do?”

This helpless sentence is a stich into my mind and into my heart as well. It makes me aware that a lot of time still has to go by until something really changes in the land of the Nile. Meanwhile, those who can, emigrate and the others somehow huddle through having faith in Allah to support them.