When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

The Egyptian Today is the country's flagship independent newspaper. Founded in 2004, the daily is published in Arabic in print and online, and has a sister website in English called Egypt Independent.
Two Years Of Tragedy in Syria
Virginie Nguyen

In Syria, Is There A Place For Honest Crime-Fighting?

ALEPPO — The atmosphere was tense in Bustan al-Qasr after a Friday protest turned into a fight between two groups, one calling for an Islamic state after President Bashar al-Assad’s fall and the other demanding a free and liberal future for Syria.

The shabiha -- pro-government militias or spies in civilian clothing -- were spotted at the demonstration, which only served to heighten tensions among protesters.

In one of the small streets around Bustan, some of those who had taken part in the protest gathered in front of a primary school that had been closed for a while. The classrooms were being used as offices as well as a prison run by the local civilian police.

At the back of the courtyard was a room with a Free Syria flag hanging above the desk. Inside sat a young man with a Kalashnikov rifle, waiting.

Khaled is 20 years old. He defected from Assad’s official army in central Aleppo to join the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and become part of a group called the Security Revolution.

“I want to hunt shabiha,” says Khaled.

Citizen patrol

The Security Revolution in central Aleppo is led by local civilians policing the area. Facing an increase in crime levels, Ryhan, acting as chief of the police station, decided with 20 other Bustan residents to tackle the increasing security vacuum by forming a unit of civilian police.

“There were too many robberies and people being kidnapped in the streets. We had to do something so people could feel more secure. We are not the FSA; we are just civilians who want to protect our goods and our people,” says Ryhan.

He says they asked some FSA members to join them because they have weapons.

“After six months, our team is now made up of 35 people,” he says. “It was created by the civilian council that organizes activities in the area, and some of the members are soldiers who defected from Assad’s army.”

Rebels have been fighting against Assad’s regime for more than 20 months now, and the conflict has undoubtedly changed the face of daily life for citizens all over the country.

Recently, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the death toll may now have reached 90,000, citing figures given to him by his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal, according to the AFP. That figure is higher than United Nations estimates, which put the toll at about 70,000.

The UN estimates more than 750,000 people have fled the country, while a further 2.5 million are internally displaced.

Amidst the chaos, the shortage of basic supplies, the displaced families and the constant threat of being caught in the crossfire, the daily lives of citizens are further stressed by the lack of a proper security structure. As both sides fight each other, security in residential areas is sparse, and the void is infested with increasing levels of crime.

To fill this gaping security vacuum, concerned citizens in these areas have taken up the daunting task themselves, organizing to form a civilian police force that is now quite formal in structure, despite being haphazard at first.

The Bustan security forces are not the only civilian police in Aleppo. There are five main offices, all of which share information and collaborate in their policing efforts.

At first, the main crime they fought was a number of robberies of local shops, but this is minor compared to the issues Ryhan has been facing in the past few months.

“We now have serious complaints about members of the Free Syrian Army. Some of them are stealing cars to move around. Other groups are ejecting families from their homes in order to be closer to the front,” says Ryhan. “I’m paying close attention to this because people are losing trust in them.”

Their efforts are welcomed by local residents who have grown tired of some FSA members having free reign to do whatever they want.

“If we catch a FSA member stealing, he gets the same treatment as anyone else, except that first I organize a meeting with the leader of his battalion to inform him of the situation and also to make sure the stolen goods are returned to the owner,” he explains.

He was once asked to join an FSA battalion for 150US$ a month, but refused.

“I don’t have anything against the FSA, but we are living with seven different battalions in this area, and some of the fighters are doing bad things to civilians, who get so fed up sometimes that they report FSA members to the shabiha,”he says.

When someone is arrested, Ryhan and his team write out a report as would happen in any other police station around the world. They are now looking at working with lawyers to investigate cases and determine proper sentencing.

Several checkpoints are set up around Bustan as civilian police officers walk the streets to deal with any problems that arise. At night, two cars drive around and question anyone who seems suspicious.

“We are also responsible for helping residents in case of sudden shelling, and we help transport the injured and bodies from the ruins,” he says.

The shabiha

One of the revolution’s main goals is to catch shabiha, who are seen as thugs and are accused of killing and beating people who attend protests. They also reportedly carry out campaigns of intimidation that involve executions, drive-by shootings and sectarian attacks.

Shabiha are known as pro-regime militiamen hailing from Assad’s minority Alawi sect, which dominates the government and security forces, as well as the military.

Ryhan says the shabiha attack people during protests as well as spy on members of the FSA. Most of the time, people will call out the shabiha during protests, and then they are arrested by local security forces.

But for Ryhan, the accusations need to be backed by proof.

“When someone is being accused of being a shabiha member, we try to have videos or pictures of the reported incident or have eyewitnesses,” says Ryhan.

Since they can’t file charges against every single person possessing a gun, Security Revolution members check to make sure the person has a license to carry a weapon.

“Anyone who has a new gun has to declare it to the Security Revolution and get a document stating so to avoid any trouble in the future. People who owned a gun before the revolution usually already have a license for it. Anyone in possession of a gun that doesn’t have one of the two documents is considered a shabiha,” Ryhan says.

On the other side of Ryhan’s office, a small room is kept closed. Inside are 10 men aged between 16 and 40. All of them have been charged with different crimes and are waiting for lawyers and the Security Revolution to look into their cases.

Among them is 16-year-old Mohamed Abdel Wahba, who has been accused of spying on the FSA in central Aleppo.

“I would walk around in the public garden in central Aleppo and observe what FSA members were doing. After, I would go to Jab al-Jabria area, where the regime is in control and report what I’ve seen and heard,” he says.

At first, he claims to have done this for a small fee he received from the regime. A few minutes later, however, he tells Egypt Independent that in fact, one of his friends was captured by the regime, and the soldier threatened to kill him if Abdel Wahba did not spy on the FSA.

“I’ve been in custody for 10 days. My family comes to visit me sometimes, but now I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he says.

Ryhan says his young age will be taken into consideration during investigations.

Copts demonstrating
Tamer Wagih

The Dark Side Of The Revolution For Egypt's Coptic Christians


CAIRO - Copts are being persecuted in Egypt. So, what’s new about that? This has been the norm in our “beloved homeland” since at least the 1970s.

But in fact, there is something new: sectarianism against Copts and many other minorities -- including Shias, Bahais, and Bedouins -- intensified after the beginning of the January 2011 revolution.

The romantic dream of social unity and tranquility between all sects and religions was dashed a few weeks after 11 February 2011, when Salafi Muslims started to ignite sectarian strife against Christians accusing them of cooperating with the secularists who wanted to transform Egypt into an anti-Islamist state.

Why did this happen? Why did a revolution that succeeded in overthrowing a deeply entrenched dictatorship, precisely because it united all Egyptians behind its banners, result in further persecution of Copts and other minorities? Why did hope turn into despair?

A simple and straightforward answer might be because of the ugly and reactionary politics of the Islamists. This is true, but only partly. It begs the question of how Islamists succeeded in convincing hundreds of thousands, even millions, of ordinary Muslims to follow in the footsteps of their sectarianism. Why did ordinary citizens enthusiastically demolish churches and kill Copts, for just being Copts?

To solve this riddle, we have to look wider and deeper.

The revolution broke out in a society already mired in racism against minorities, especially Copts. Sectarianism and hatred of “the others” had been seeping deep into the minds and souls of Egyptians long before January 2011.

This was partly the result of the 1967 defeat in the war with Israel, combined with the rise of neo liberalism disguised in the form of infitah -- former President Anwar Sadat’s “open-door” economic policy. The ruling classes and the Islamists, each in their own way, invested in this apocalyptic atmosphere to blow the winds of hatred.

When hopes of liberation, through popular resistance from below, were lost after the defeat of the January 1977 uprising, sectarianism started to fill the vacuum with a vengeance.

The January 2011 uprising brought Egyptians back together. It revived hope in unity as it dealt a strong blow to vertical divisions between equally exploited and oppressed citizens.

But revolutions are not magic. Yes, they can start a new path but they cannot miraculously bury all the old grievances in one stroke.

The new beginnings needed to be nurtured in order to blossom but this did not happen. The united Egyptians — Copts, Sunnis, Shias, Bahais, Nubians and Bedouins — toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, yet the following day they found themselves lacking a united strategy for the future.

The spontaneous unity of the progressive masses, forged by hatred of a filthy regime, did not translate itself into a conscious unity to build a new society.

The lack of unity among the revolutionary strata of the population allowed the Islamists and the military junta to exploit the inert layers — the village dwellers and sections of the so-called marginalized — in a series of frontal assaults against the revolution, from the 19 March constitutional referendum in which the Islamists mobilized these backward classes to win a “yes” vote, to the attacks by “honest citizens” on mass rallies in Tahrir Square and Abbasseya.

Hence, the failure of the progressive mass movement to enforce itself and dictate its will, due to the lack of an organized, truly libertarian force rooted in the movement and capable of providing a sense of direction. This led the revolution to the labyrinth of unfulfilled promises and sunken hopes under military and Muslim Brotherhood rule. And here, the very old law of human despair reigned: When anger is not combined with hope, it will necessarily be coupled with hatred.

Revolutionary despair is much more dangerous than ordinary despair. In their normal, routine life, people grow accustomed to their misery and hopelessness.

The problem of revolution is that it resurrects hope. Now the genie is out of the bottle and it is unbelievably difficult to put it back there. And hence, if not fulfilled, it will metamorphose into uncontainable despair.

The energy that was once directed against a hated regime might in one second be redirected against fellow subalterns.

Evil reactionary forces — in our case, reactionary Islamists — step in exactly at this moment. If not challenged, they might win the day.

The only way to fight reactionary Islamists, the only way to fight rising sectarianism, is to restore hope in the united mass movement from below.

Assalah beach north of Dahab
Rana Khaled

The Polluted Beaches Of Discord Between Egypt And Israel

CAIRO - Rafah and other cities on the Sinai peninsula’s north coast have been suffering from pollution of the Mediterranean Sea and its underground water reservoir, which has caused serious environmental and health issues for the local population, experts argue.

Some blame Israel for the pollution, while others attribute it to domestic sources.

The National Commission for the Protection of the Environment in North Sinai, which accuses Israel of disregarding international agreements by dumping sewage water into the Mediterranean and letting harmful heavy metals seep in the groundwater reservoir, tried to file a lawsuit against the country earlier this week.

Abdallah al-Hijawy, head of the commission, says the Egyptian court told him it was not able to file lawsuits between countries, and recommended he contact an international court.

“This is what I’m going to do, and I am going to get international NGOs and environment protection associations on board,” Hijawy says.

He accuses Israel of discharging 180,000 cubic meters of raw and treated sewage water into the sea on a daily basis, and says the Gaza Strip disposes another 160,000 cubic meters into the Mediterranean. “Israel is responsible for the service sector in the occupied territories,” he says.

Since it withdrew from Gaza, explains Hijawi, Israel has removed major water pumps that used to transfer huge amounts of sewage. As a consequence, Palestinians now dispose of their sewage in the Gaza Valley, which pollutes both the underground water reservoir shared by Egypt and Gaza, and the Mediterranean.

According to Hijawy, piles of organic waste now litter Sinai’s north coast and large flocks of seagulls feast on the waste. “Even the color of the water has changed and the smell is terrible,” he says.

Chemical and dye factories located on the Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian borders all dispose of their industrial waste and drainage by discharging it into the Mediterranean, making the situation even worse.

Organic waste pollutes the seawater, which shows growing rates of biological contamination to marine life, particularly fish and corals. Piles of organic waste cover the beaches on the Egyptian border, ruining this once pristine environment.

The mix of wastewater and industrial drainage discharged into the sea has multiplied pathogens there, which can lead to the spread of serious diseases like typhoid, kidney failure and various types of cancers.

To make matters worse, north Sinai residents are heavily exposed to these infectious diseases, as desalinated seawater is their main source of potable water for drinking and irrigation purposes.

“There are two main types of water contamination,” explains Al-Khateeb Yousry Jafar, a hydrobiology researcher at Egypt’s National Research Center. “The first is microbial and bacterial contamination, which results from the mixing of water with human feces, which can have very serious health implications.”

He says the second type, however, caused by heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury, as well as radioactive materials, is even more worrying.

“Seawater is used to cool off Israel’s nuclear reactors, which results in nuclear particles being released into the Mediterranean,” says Jafar.

These various heavy metal particles accumulate inside the bodies of the living organisms fish feed on, causing cases of secondary poisoning to the fish, which could later be eaten by humans and potentially cause different types of cancers. As humans who have accumulated dangerous levels of particles are buried, these hazardous chemicals return to the ground, accumulate in plants and begin a new life cycle, potentially threatening future generations.

“Over the years, the Mediterranean has become a hub for pollution because most countries located along its borders dump their waste into the sea,” adds Jafar.

As a result, the fish population has decreased, which negatively impacts the communities of fishermen who rely on it as their main source of income. Adapting to the pollution, some Egyptian fishermen have decided to avoid these areas and are fishing closer to Yemen – which is illegal.

[rebelmouse-image 27086692 alt="""" original_size="483x600" expand=1]

Map of Sinai - University of Texas Libraries, Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

Drinking sewage water

“The Egyptian state must take a strong stance and issue laws very soon to stop this pollution, as well as find evidence that proves that part of the pollution comes directly from Israel,” says Jafar.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, issued in 1982, defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment and the management of marine natural resources.

As part of this convention, countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea must enact laws to protect the seawater from all contamination sources, such as sewage, industrial waste, ships and harbors.

“Israel is not a signatory of this convention and has not issued any regulations to protect the Mediterranean Sea,” says Hijawy.

A new water desalination station is being established in the Egyptian Rafah to provide citizens with fresh drinking water. As the plant would be located 300 meters away from the Palestinian Rafah, Hijawy says this is not a proper location for a desalination plant, as large amounts of sewage and waste pile up in the plant’s vicinity.

According to him, desalination plants are not able to perform well when the seawater is polluted with oil and sewage: “Solid molecules insert themselves between the liquid molecules, and the desalination process is not able to efficiently separate them,” explains Hijawi.

As a result, he says, Egyptian citizens of Rafah drink the sewage water of the Gaza Strip.

“We intend to file another lawsuit against the Egyptian government asking them to remove the desalination station from this inappropriate place,” says Hijawy.

He believes filing a lawsuit is the best way to attract officials’ attention.

“When I tried to complain about the situation, an official threatened me, but I’m not afraid and I won’t be silent anymore,” he says. “I have no political affiliation. I base my views solely on scientific evidence.”

However, engineer Mohamed Moussa, a geologist at the Water Resources Research Institute in Sinai, rejects Hijawy’s accusations.

“The problem has nothing to do with water pollutants coming from Gaza or Israel, as some claim,” he says.

According to Moussa, the pollution in Sinai is domestic, and results mainly from the excessive usage of chemical fertilizers, heavy metals and pesticides, which farmers depend on for agriculture. When they are mixed with irrigation water or rain, they seep into underground aquifers, causing serious contamination.

The engineer sees different solutions to this problem: depending more on Nile water, establishing water desalination stations for purifying seawater, or building wells with embedded purification systems located away from the coasts to serve the community.

“Instead of wasting time complaining about Israel, we must focus on internal problems. Our newly established water desalination stations in Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed have proven their capacity to desalinate seawater according to international standards,” Moussa says.

But Gamal Helmy, head of environmental affairs in north Sinai, says the conflict between Egypt and Israel over pollution started during former Israeli Prime Minister’s Ariel Sharon’s time.

“Samples taken from the Mediterranean before Israel withdrew from Gaza proved that raw sewage was dumped directly into the seawater,” claims Helmy. “However, no samples show that Rafah beaches suffer from similar problems today.”

The National Commission for the Protection of the Environment in north Sinai says it has found a solution to partially treat the sewage water coming from Gaza. A specific bacterium can decompose organic materials and prevent their anaerobic fermentation.

Impromptu live music performances
Maha ElNabawi

Post-Revolution, Street Music Brings Solace To Alexandria

ALEXANDRIA — Misr Station in downtown Alexandria is not much to look at by the standards of the fading, crumbling glories that prevail in Egypt’s second-largest city. On any given weekday, thousands of commuters flock to the disheveled station, passing through on their way to and from work.

Much of the time, their faces are stiff; eyes focused straight ahead as their bodies move hurriedly through the crowds.

But, for the better part of a year now, commuters, pedestrians, conductors and drivers have something more to look forward to than the broken streets around them.

Since April last year, impromptu live music performances have been popping up in crowded squares and stations throughout the seaside town. Known as Mini Mobile Concerts, the initiative seeks to start and develop an “art in the street” movement.

“In our daily life, the time we spend together as a society in the streets and within transportation, unfortunately, lacks expressive art, beauty and music. Instead, we are bombarded by abrasive noise or poor music,” explains Ramez Ashraf, the initiative’s founder.

“Through our pop-up street performances, we aim to not only change that, but also to have artists become part of the daily routine for those interacting with the streets,” he adds.

Ashraf plays a multitude of instruments ranging from drums, bass guitar and piano. Since 2005, he has also been a leading member of the Alexandrian-based Station Band, known for its innovative music, which fuses local, Oriental sounds with various world music cultures.

“The idea of playing in the street was always there. But before the revolution, it was not very easy to do so, mostly because of fear of the police,” he explains.

After the Jan. 25 Egyptian revolution, however, it became clear that local artists and musicians had to reach out to their audiences, rather than wait for them at cultural spaces.

“While these new cultural spaces do an excellent job, they are still limited to an audience of a certain socioeconomic class,” says Ashraf. “We want to branch out and go to the people where they live or work. We need to break down the walls between socioeconomic classes, meet halfway and see from there what the reactions are.”

Taking back the streets

The project debuted a year ago, when Ashraf began the test phase at Raml Station in Alexandria. Using a small battery-operated speaker, he played the music of Iraqi musician Mounir Bashir from his mobile phone.

He realized that much of the public had formed an allergy to street politics; at first, many approached him to ask about his political affiliation, or find out what his agenda was. He explained that he had no other agenda than to bring music to the streets.

After the initial test phase, he received a grant from the British Council to further develop his project.

Having a background in both music and software development, Ashraf then built a mobile container that could contain all the equipment necessary for pop-up performances: a mixer, a battery, transformer and speakers.

He believes it is very important that the performances are executed self-sufficiently, relying on a battery-operated power source rather than stealing or borrowing electricity.

The Mini Mobile Concert kicked off its first official live show last spring in Mandara Square, about 25 kilometers away from the cultural buzz of downtown Alexandria.

“We wanted to reach an audience that typically does not have access to these types of live performance or art,” explains Ashraf. “The neighborhood we chose is considered to be rougher, more troubled. The residents rarely get exposed to culture like this. Needless to say, they were quite surprised by our show.”

The band included Wael al-Sayed on the accordion, Nader al-Shaer on the kawala and percussionist Mizo Eka3.

Ashraf says people gathered around them the moment they started playing. They played with no difficulties for nearly an hour, stopping only to respect the call to prayer.

Over the past year, the Mini Mobile Concert has successfully produced more than 15 live performances on the streets of Alexandria and one in Aswan.

Thus far, the project has worked with the help of close to 13 performers hailing from different musical backgrounds, including Hossam Ghaleb from Puzzle Band, which is known for its Sufi-inspired, reggae-infused experimental music; Yasmine El Baramawy on oud; Khaled Kaddal, who plays guitar and produces electronic music; and Ayman Asfour, who plays Oriental violin.

“I have several goals with this project: One is to test and prove that we can actually play music on the streets and remove this barrier of fear we have all been operating under. Because as soon as you see one musician playing on the street, others will follow suit,” says Ashraf.

The second goal is social, he says.

“I believe we lack music and beautiful aesthetics on our streets. This drives people to become more frustrated and intolerant,” he explains. “But if we have some music in our lives, and not just all these eyesores we see on every street corner, then we will be much calmer and more peaceful to one another.”

The Mini Mobile Concert pops up around town, featuring different performance combinations each time. It usually starts with nostalgic older music that the majority of passers-by can relate to, and, as the set continues, starts introducing original music to expand the audience’s frames of reference.

The performances are done guerilla-style: They avoid getting permits, use their own power sources and, most importantly, they clean up after themselves.

One surprising element Ashraf has encountered has been the positive feedback and interaction with the police.

“Once, I saw a policeman from a distance. Instead of waiting for him to approach us, I went to him to explain what we were doing,” he says. “Within moments, he gave us a big smile and offered to provide us with electricity or anything else we needed.”

Kaddal, who has performed twice with Mobile Mini Concerts, says the reactions have been “incredible.”

“At first people thought we were foreigners but when they found out we were Egyptian, you could see the pride in their faces.”

In one of the shows, Kaddal performed live electronic music from his laptop alongside Baramawy, who was playing oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument. He says many people gathered around and interacted positively with the performance.

In fact, one audience member even joined them and started singing poems over the music, adding a level of improvisation to the show.

For Baramawy, the success of the project is proof that the Egyptian people have begun taking back their streets.

“We are in a major battle over our streets these days in Egypt. There has been a great upsurge of violence on our streets, whether government organized or individually motivated, which means that we have to find a way to neutralize the negativity,” she says. “Music is such a positive thing — it helps to reduce the negativity.”

She says that before the revolution, people felt scared to interact with their streets like this.

“But the revolution gave us endless possibilities, particularly in the realms of expression,” Baramawy explains. “I believe it is our role as artists to help promote this type of expression, because, sometimes, all it takes is one song to change a person’s mind from doing something bad, to hopefully doing something good.”

St. Mark Church, Rashid, Egypt
food / travel
Jahd Khalil

Postcards From Rosetta - Where The Nile Meets The Sea

RASHID - Rosetta is not the town it once was, nor does it attract visitors in the same way it once did. It is somewhat surprising, considering that the town is located where the world’s longest river empties into the sea, and where the key to understanding that river’s greatest civilization was discovered – the Rosetta Stone.

Getting to Rashid, Rosetta’s name in Arabic, is somewhat of a hike. Travelers used to make it there by boat through the Atfeh Canal – or by train, which stopped periodically to pick up goods, making the trip much longer.

Today there is no direct route to the town, but it’s only an hour by minibus from Alexandria, and about five hours from Cairo. Much of the road is barren, but on the approach into the town, palm trees and irrigation canals line the road being used by tuk tuks, and the smell of the burning trash outside the town is replaced by jasmine, which wafts in the sea breeze.

The town’s current incarnation is much more modest than previous ones. The traffic consists mostly of sky blue-trimmed Lada taxis, reminiscent of Alexandria, and horse carts. The mix gives the sleepy town a feel somewhere between the Beheira countryside and Alexandria, the port city that eventually replaced the booming version of Rosetta that rose to prominence exporting coffee during the 17th century.

Rosetta, in its heyday, was the town that kept the Turkish Ottoman elite’s pockets — and coffee cups — full. Victorian travelers made their way from Alexandria to see the spectacle of the port and the pulverized mocha beans it sent abroad.

In 1825, one Londoner wrote back to the Morning Post explaining how three men pounded coffee using “enormous pestles, each as large as a man can raise,” as a young boy rhythmically stirred the pounded beans, removing his hand between falls of the pestle in time with song.

These days, Rosetta’s ahwas (coffee houses) are instead supplied by roasters in Alexandria.

The man who runs the ahwa most frequented by locals, Abaza, 80-year-old Ibrahim Mahmoud Fouda, says he remembers when the last roaster in the area, closed down some 40 years ago.

Abaza is a dimly lit ahwa, but is somewhat unremarkable other than the view it provides of a Ottoman-era merchant home. Abdel Moneim Minshawy, 50, has worked there for 25 years.

During all those years, Abu Salaam, 59, a truck driver, has sat in the same spot after he finishes work to have shisha and tea. He now only takes half a teaspoon of sugar rather than the four he had in his 20s. He says he likes Abaza more than the rival ahwa, Asmar, which lies closer to the Nile, saying it is cleaner and has more to offer.

The border guards tell another story

Other merchant houses line the main fish market, seemingly designed to face away from the common people, with no visible facade and mashrabiyas (windows with carved latticework) to prevent unwelcome eyes from peering in. These houses were built by the coffee and rice moguls of the time. Those that aren’t accessible due to renovations can be visited before 4 p.m.

The merchant nature of the city merited some defense of the town and its port, pushing Sultan Qait Bey to build a fortress along the Nile. The sultan’s engineers brought stone from elsewhere to lay foundations for the modest fortress, and in the process they buried the Rosetta Stone under the south tower.

It wasn’t excavated until 1799, when French soldiers that had captured the city looked to reinforce its defenses.

When the fortress was renovated again, this time in 1985 by the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry, the original brick was covered by smoother stone. Brick factories still line the Nile, the red smokestacks and piles of blocks contrasting with the bright blue and green fishing boats as they shuttle between the sea and the fisheries that supply the fish markets and the fish restaurants along the coastal road.

The boats don’t only shuttle fish. Villages near Rosetta are sometimes also the staging point for illegal immigration out of Egypt.

Rather than marking the spot where two great bodies of water meet, the Egyptian government has erected another fortress — this time a three-story home to Egyptian border guards with binoculars to watch for movement of ships carrying migrants or contraband.

A few hundred meters inland lies a Navy factory for building jetties to prevent erosion, perhaps in preparation for impeding climate change that threatens the town. It’s possible to visit the spot, and photography is prohibited since it’s a military area, although Egyptian soldiers in flip-flops are sometimes eager to pose with visitors.

The border post lies about five kilometers north of the town, on alluvial soil that made its way down the river from the Nile basin. In the time of Herodotus, the town itself is where the river met the sea, a testament to how much sands can shift in Rosetta.

An initiative called “Transportation that respects women” was launched in Cairo
Heba Helmy

Will Woman-Only Transport Solve Egypt's Sexual Harassment Problem?

Some say, in the long run, segregating bus and tram lines will actually make it worse.

NASR CITY - “Women only,” a driver’s assistant calls out loudly, while expertly hanging out the door of a microbus on the corner of Abbas al-Aqqad Street, in the upper-middle class neighborhood of Nasr City, on the outskirts of Cairo.

As he repeats the call, women start piling up to board the microbus, labeled with a bright orange banner reading: “Transportation for women only, by the Strong Egypt Party.”

In January, the moderate Islamist party led by former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh launched an initiative called “Transportation that respects women,” in an effort to alleviate the problems many women face daily on public transport.

Female commuters have a very tough time traveling safely, says Fatma Badr, the woman behind the initiative, who is one of the party’s founders.

“We have to squeeze our way through a crowd, particularly in rush hour,” Badr says. “Otherwise, we’d be waiting around for hours trying to find vacant seats.”

Hence the idea of women-only transport.

Women-only minibuses offer an alternative to a public transport system that is failing to provide a basic, respectable method of transport which meets women’s needs,” she says.

Pressed against

Sexual harassment has escalated in Egypt in recent years. According to a government study at Cairo and Monufiya universities, female passengers constitute a vulnerable segment of the population, with 68% of the women questioned saying they had been subjected to either verbal or physical harassment.

“It’s very irritating to be pressed against strangers for hours but I have no other choice. I can’t afford to spend my entire salary on exorbitant taxi fares,” says Yasmine Moawad, 36, who travels two hours every day from her home in Nasr City to her job in 6th of October City, a city on the outskirts of Cairo.

Azza Lotfy, a first-year college student, says that being sandwiched between two men can be particularly difficult, rather than sitting by a window, for example, where she would be seated next to just one man.

For her, women-only minibuses are a much better option.

“They are far more comfortable and safer than mixed minibuses,” she says.

Though taking a minibus is a little safer than a public bus, where harassers can hide behind anonymity, the risk of a woman experiencing any form of harassment remains still high.

“I have been subjected to groping more than once in minibuses. Sometimes, I don’t have the guts to scream out loud or beat the harasser because I don’t want to make a scene,” says a fourth-year student, Mona. “I just scold him and get off the minibus, but this doesn’t satisfy me because I haven’t taken disciplinary action against him.”

In an attempt to avoid getting molested in crowded conditions, Mona has stopped using mixed transportation and now prefers to take women-only minibuses or metro trains travelling to and from her working-class neighborhood of Bulaq al-Dakrur.

Lamia Abdel Hakim, another college student, agrees, calling for more public and private bus routes offering women-only services.

“We are in dire need of implementing this system in public buses, as we do in metro trains,” says Abdel Hakim, who adds that she sometimes experiences harassment on her way back home at peak hours.

Gender segregation

While the party’s idea is still in the experimental phase, the system has started on a small scale in front of Cairo University, where hundreds of students spill out into the streets after finishing their lectures.

On all Cairo metro trains, the middle two cars — the fourth and the fifth — are allocated to women, as a way of confronting sexual harassment. However, women are still allowed to share other train cars with men.

The Egyptian Railway Authority followed in the footsteps of the metro last February by providing women-only train cars. However, the policy failed due to a lack of control and monitoring.

Some rights and women’s groups, however, have criticized the idea of women-only transport, citing concerns about gender segregation.

In 2008, a court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two lawyers demanding the cancellation of women-only cars on the grounds that such segregation constituted a violation of gender equality.

The court ruled that reserving cars for women did not fall under its jurisdiction, adding that Islamic law puts an emphasis on respecting women, which requires the state to secure them.

Caged and moving

Nehad Aboul Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, strongly criticizes the segregated transport plan, describing it as “moving cages for women.”

“The women-only transport concept paves the way for the marginalization of women in society and is detrimental to the recent progress Egyptian women have been striving to achieve,” Komsan says.

The rights advocate and lawyer points out that a shortsighted implementation of women-only public transport ultimately creates a deepening, long-term social issue.

“The exclusion of men from public transport cars provides a superficial solution and does not address the fundamental problem we are confronting,” Komsan explains.

She lists a number of ways to eliminate, or at least lessen, the problem.

“Monitoring committees should be formed to dig down and look at where the budget allocated to the development of public transport is spent by the Public Transport Authority and Transportation Ministry,” she says.

“If the government provided more buses to citizens across governorates and imposed severe penalties on harassers, women would no longer be vulnerable to sub-human treatment,” she adds.

Social researcher Ali Azab agrees that the women-only concept is dragging the country backward.

“It’s a clumsy idea,” Azab asserts. “Egypt has a high female population so, logically, we cannot end up isolating all women from men to allegedly protect them,” he says.

He believes the best way to fight the mounting sexual harassment problem is by raising awareness about violence against women through public education and media, in creative and simple ways that could easily convey the message to everyone.

Streets of Cairo
Sabrina Ghazal

Egypt Asks, Does Poisoning Stray Dogs Violate Sharia Law?

MOQATTAM - After stray dogs violently attacked two children in Moqattam last month, their families pressured the local veterinary council to put an end to the problem by poisoning the animals with strychnine — a deadly pesticide.

As a lethal product, strychnine should not be deposited at random, as it can also threaten residents’ health. In addition, prominent welfare activists like Dina Zulfikar criticized the council for not analyzing the area to determine exactly which animals were roaming Moqattam’s streets, since wild protected species like foxes could perish as well.

The General Organization for Veterinary Services (GOVS), the body responsible for addressing the stray dog problem, is known for systematically poisoning and shooting street animals to deal with the issue. Within two weeks of the mass killing campaign, 156 strays from the area had died.

Just doing our job

Hassan Shafiq, one of the media coordinators at the veterinary organization, a body that falls under Agriculture Ministry, says the GOVS is simply doing its job.

The mission of the GOVS’s trained veterinarians is to curb the growing number of stray animals roaming the streets of Cairo and other big cities.

“We believe our priority is protecting human beings,” he tells Egypt Independent.

“We do not have any statistics on the numbers of strays,” he adds. “We brought specialists to start a count in greater Cairo and the final results were 35,000 dogs. However, these numbers cannot be verified.”

[rebelmouse-image 27086528 alt="""" original_size="426x640" expand=1]

(photo: jay bergesen)

Shafiq says the organization sometimes works in collaboration with police to shoot dogs.

But animal rights activists voice frustration about the cruelty and inefficiency of these techniques to control the stray animal population.

“These veterinarians shamelessly go against the whole essence of their work,” Zulfikar says.

For Mona Khalil, chairperson of the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals, strays actually provide a service for the residents of major cities.

“They are very useful in diminishing the ferret and rat population, and their ongoing extermination has already created an imbalance in the environment,” she says.

For animal activists, instead of trying to exterminate street animals, the GOVS should focus on keeping the population in check by launching spaying and neutering programs.

She says using expensive poisons like strychnine and sending teams of vets to get rid of stray animals is nothing more than a waste of public funding.

“If poisoning and shooting strays was a successful approach to the problem, then the issue would be sorted by now,” says Khalil.

But Shafiq says the GOVS does not have the money for alternative methods.

“We are looking into neutering and spaying, but we are not equipped to do so and we don’t have the funds for it,” Shafiq says.

And few Egyptians feel the same way about protecting the nation’s stray animals. In fact, some residents take matters into their own hands and kill strays themselves, using similar methods as the GOVS, or worse.

Ahmed al-Kabani is a veterinarian who works in a private clinic in Qattamiya that also treats stray dogs.

“People tend to call authorities to demand the killing of dogs in their area,” he says.

If they don’t get an answer, they resort to their own methods.

“We have had some cases of dogs being fed balls of meat filled with ground-up pieces of glass, which is extremely painful and fatal to animals,” he says.

To change people’s minds, activists say they want to work with government officials to create a nationwide awareness campaign calling on veterinarians to begin a neutering program for strays.

“Funding is not the issue. Money just needs to be shifted from expensive strychnine poisons to paying professional veterinarians,” says Zulfikar.

However, veterinary schools must also begin teaching students about compassion and how to think about the welfare of animals, Khalil says.

“Getting a degree here is just about memorizing for tests, and practical lab experiments that inflict tremendous pain on animals,” says Khalil.

She adds that such mistreatment often rids future veterinarians of their compassion for animals. “This puts shame on the medical profession and ultimately creates robots with no mercy,” Khalil says.

Zulfikar adds that Dar al-Ifta issued a fatwa in 2008 stating that police and others should not kill stray dogs because it violates Sharia. “It is the role of educators and civil society to instill compassion in future generations, as well as guidelines on how to understand and to treat animals properly,” she asserts.

The Ramses II temple in Antinoupolis, now Sheikh Abada
Ahmed Zaki Osman

In Egypt, Treasured Archeological Sites Bulldozed And Looted

Warnings that the government has failed to protect Antinoupolis, among the largest Egyptian archaeological sites, which is being "systematically destroyed" by those who want to farm the land.

CAIRO - An Egyptian archaeologist has warned that Antinoupolis, one of the country’s largest archaeological sites, is being “destroyed systematically” by residents amid a complete failure from the government to protect the site.

Monica Hanna, a researcher with the University of Humboldt in Berlin, told Al-Masry-Al-Youm that she received information from archaeologists who work at the site of the ancient Roman Antinoupolis, also known as Sheikh Abada, saying the site faces grave danger.

Hanna said that the area near the Ramses II temple has been bulldozed and leveled. She added that the northwestern corner of the walled city had been bulldozed and for agricultural use.

[rebelmouse-image 27086422 alt="""" original_size="450x600" expand=1]

Columns in the Ramses II temple in Antinoupolis - Photo: Roland Unger

The case of Antinoupolis was brought to light last December when media outlets reported that the site was the target of fierce excavation and demolition campaigns in an attempt to reclaim the land for agricultural use.

Some residents reportedly demolished a large area of archaeological ruins and cemeteries made of mud in the Roman cemetery and prepared the area for planting after looting the site.

Hanna, however, told Al-Masry-Al-Youm that the situation was getting worse, similar to what has happened to the archaeological site of Dahshur. In January, residents began digging a cemetery on a piece of land in the vicinity of the Temple Valley in Dahshur, an area that has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1994.

"There is a systematic construction of cemeteries on archaeological sites and the scenario is repeated everywhere," she said, adding that neither the State nor the police were protecting such areas.

She also said that the construction of cemeteries is often a cover-up to dig for antiquities.

"We are losing these archaeological sites forever. If a home is built, the State can later remove it and retrieve the land. But once the dead are buried, it is impossible to do so," explained Hanna.

Appeal on Twitter

Hanna launched a hash tag #Save_antinoupolis in order to shed light on the crisis facing the important archaeological site.

According to her, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has been unable to stem the destruction of Antinoupolis, which includes archeological finds dating from the pre-dynastic period, the Middle and Modern Kingdoms, and the Ptolemaic period.

The site became famous during the Roman era after Emperor Hadrian established a huge Roman-style city named Antinoo Polis, filling it with theaters, temples, schools and other historical buildings. Many of the buildings were still standing during the French invasion of Egypt in the late 18th century, and scholars later wrote about it in the book “Description de l'Egypte.”

The city flourished after the age of Hadrian until the Antinoë region became one of the largest regions of Egypt and included most of Upper Egypt, starting from the South of Fayoum until Sohag, with Antinoupolis as its capital, which is now called Sheikh Abada.

[rebelmouse-image 27086423 alt="""" original_size="600x600" expand=1]

Tapestry excavated in Antinoupolis - Louvre Museum

The importance of the region continued during the Byzantine era. By the spread of Christianity, the city became home to a large diocese. It also remained important during the Islamic eras, as its name became Ansena.

Last year, archaeologists at the site announced that they had located a Roman cemetery dating at least as early as the mid-second to mid-third century AD.

Attacks against Egypt's historical sites began during the 18-day uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak, when some managed to get into the Egyptian museum in Tahrir Square. Later, with the security vacuum around the country, many more archaeological sites were looted or vandalized.

Protests in the West Bank village of Nabi Salaeh, near the Halamish settlement
Sharif S. Elmusa

The Historical Falsehoods And Misleading Language Of West Bank "Settlements"

Palestinians are victims not only of Israeli power politics, but of linguistic deception.


Looking for ways to improve my English when I first arrived in the US, I chanced upon a book about strong and weak words. It now strikes me how the reporting and writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is replete with weak words.

What the book didn’t say is that weak words, when repeated incessantly by powerful propaganda machines, become strong masks for detrimental policies and deeds. One such word is “settlement,” by Israeli Jews on Palestinian land.

The word “settlement” sounds innocuous, if not outright positive. Other than its legal or political meaning of an agreement, it could indicate a village, a collection of dwellings and such.

[rebelmouse-image 27086387 alt="""" original_size="500x336" expand=1]

A settlement near Bethlehem, in the West Bank - Photo: Libertinus

Even when it refers to a “colony,” the word has lost its edge after more than 50 years in the post-colonial era. And in the country that made the Israeli-Jewish settlements possible, the US, the word “colony” evokes favorably the early settlement history in the white imagination.

It begins in the mind

But an Israeli-Jewish settlement is hardly innocuous. It contains an overload of myth and religion, “legal chicanery” (in the words of Palestinian writer and lawyer Raja Shehadeh), hilltops, violence, strategic considerations, subsidies (including American loan guarantees), state-of-the-art infrastructure, ongoing expansion, a wall to enclose the clusters of settlements and powerful political constituencies. At least for Israel and Jewish settlers.

For the Palestinians, it spells marginality, exclusion, insecurity, prisons, house demolition and checkpoints that take lightly their time and dignity. It signifies the uprooting of tens of thousands of fruit trees, ever-present fear, cutting off farmers from their land and daily shrinking of space for living.

The settlement commences in the mind, which denies the history of the people in the land before and after the Jews, including 1,500 years of continual Arab presence. The West Bank — the 22 percent of historic Palestine — in the Zionist version of history is Judea and Samaria.

Forget “Palestine,” the name of the place from time immemorial.

A site then must be found. That could be anywhere; it doesn’t have to be near a putative past Jewish settlement.

A hilltop is a location of choice, and where the land is flat, such as in the Jordan Valley, it is declared “a closed military area.” From the hilltop, the Jewish eye beholds only other

Jewish settlements; to see an Arab village, it must turn its gaze downward.

Power is grafted onto topography.

How to take away the land? You grab it, and then justify it with a legal concoctions writ by the state of Israel itself — you can even distinguish between “legal” and “illegal” settlements. At the same time, bring in a bunch of trailers and park them on the site; follow that by speedily building a collection of houses like a military garrison, but with white limestone and red-tiled roofs and then suppress any thought of a Biblical landscape.

The settlement project is a state enterprise. A settlement needs to be linked by water and electricity, by roads and Wi-Fi. That is why to make the project somewhat economical more settlements are called for.

A settlement begets another settlement. The settlements need roads. Now, a modern multi-lane highway network guts the ancient hills, crisscrosses the West Bank in four directions and “bypasses” (a weak word for encircle) Palestinian cities and towns.


If the settlements were biological entities, we would speak of malignant growth. Only Jews are permitted to settle in the settlement and travel on the highways, even if they have just arrived from New York. The Palestinians who are Israeli citizens are not allowed — the West Bank Palestinians are beyond the pale.

That is why they must be called Israeli-Jewish settlements, not just Israeli settlements. The settlers can be religious, some are fanatical (there are secular fanatics too), but many come for the pastoral life (it is interesting that Jews in the US are generally urbanites, when that country has enormous areas of rural landscape).

[rebelmouse-image 27086388 alt="""" original_size="800x532" expand=1]

Wall separating the Shavei Shomron settlement from the road - Photo: Almonroth

The settlers benefit from subsidized housing, water, energy and other services. They don’t give much thought to Palestinians.

The number of settlers now exceeds half a million in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, which in the Israeli mind does not belong in the West Bank. Now if Israel was short of space and wanted to relocate such a number of people, it could do this in a very small strip of land instead of the 3,000-odd square kilometers effectively controlled by the settlements, or about 10 times the area of Gaza with its 1.5 million inhabitants.

But Israel has other motives — a takeover of as much land as possible from Palestinian territory and the control of all.

A half million privileged, dedicated settlers are a potent political force, with backing in the army and among the Jewish population in general. Even if a large countervailing current existed in Israeli politics that opposed the settlement enterprise, the settlers would be hard to dislodge, considering the ideological, political and material “sunk” investment.

Owners' rights

If the land was without a people, as early Zionists pictured Palestine, for a people without a land, we could stop here. But the country has, and always had, “owners” that Israel refuses to recognize.

The Zionist scheme of creating a Jewish state in Palestine always had a built-in logic for expulsion of the Palestinians from the country. The Zionists dubbed it “transfer” (a weak word for expulsion, or ethnic cleansing).

Today, expulsion may be the “wordless wish” lurking behind the settlements, but it may not be possible, considering that the number of Palestinians nearly equals that of Jews between the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.

Taking this reality into account, and to protect settlers and augment the settlements, Israel has set up a system of control for the Palestinians. The settlements themselves, and the roads and the wall that winds through the West Bank, are but the physically visible component of this system.

They are spread and clustered throughout the West Bank. In the pre-state period, the Jewish settlements were also exclusive and often congruent; in the West Bank, they also fragment, breaking up the contiguity of the Palestinian map.

A system of South-Africa-like bantustans is thus established, separate and unequal.

Physical control cannot do the job alone. Israel buttresses it with institutional measures, grounded in an unlimited, no-holds-barred conception of security.

The Israeli army enters any Palestinian town or city or village any time, to arrest whomever are its collaborators (themselves a pathetic offspring of the system of control) suspected of transgression of security. It targets people for assassination (Israel prides itself on having no capital punishment, but executes Palestinians without trial).

The Israeli military detains (a weak word for imprisonment without trial) for long periods. Palestinian prisoners have waged hunger strikes and one inmate, Arafat Jaradat, has just perished after a protracted fast.

Time difference

The Palestinian roads are intercepted by checkpoints set up at will; some are more extensive than others and some resemble borders, like the one marking the exit from Ramallah to Jerusalem.

Human rights organizations once counted more than 600 such barriers to movement, manned by gung-ho, rude young soldiers. These checkpoints also enable Israel to impose closures, local and total, lasting hours to days and weeks.

Palestinian time is not equal to Jewish time.

In short, a settlement means a rich past and lively present and future for the Israeli Jews, whereas for the Palestinians, it means an erasure of their history, an oppressive present and a miserable future.

This state of affairs is abetted by the US. That country changed its depiction view of the settlements from the strong “illegal” to the weak, “obstacles to peace.” President Barack Obama, “the strongest man on earth,” is scheduled to be in Tel Aviv and Ramallah in March.

We do not know what he has up his sleeve, although the record invites skepticism. Obama had originally asked Israel to stop expanding the settlements and backed the establishment of a Palestinian state, but subsequently dropped the issue for political expediency.

Yet there is so much at stake in a region undergoing massive and unpredictable political shifts and the US needs to start taking the wishes of the people in the region seriously.

The United Nations General Assembly has given the US an opening by voting Palestine as a non-member state, rendering Israeli-Jewish settlements illegal on this state’s territory. Britain had promised the Palestinians in 1939 a state of their own within 10 years (on the heels of defeating their revolt against its own occupation).

Perhaps Obama can bring along the UK’s David Cameron to give him a hand in lifting those obdurate settlements.

Empowering women and children through street art
Maha El Nabawi

When Egypt Deletes Women's Rights Heroines From School Textbooks

Street artists spray the images of the women who have fought for equality in Egypt, from the early 20th century to the Jan. 25 uprising.

CAIRO - It was a landmark day when prominent women’s rights activist Doria Shafiq bravely led a march of 1,500 women to storm the gates of the Egyptian Parliament on Feb. 19, 1951.

After several hours of unrelenting protest, Shafiq was finally received inside Parliament, where the council agreed to consider the demands of Egyptian women.

Along with her predecessors, including Hoda Shaarawi, Nabawiya Moussa and Ceza Nabarawi, Shafiq remains one of the 20th-century pioneers of the women’s liberation movement in Egypt. Her march to Parliament later led to the inclusion of women’s suffrage in the 1956 Constitution.

But, despite her many feats, Shafiq is likely to be forgotten in the minds of future generations in Egypt.

The 2013–2014 editions of the Egyptian National Education textbooks have been edited to delete the picture of Doriya Shafiq and pictures of those killed during the Jan. 25 revolution. Shafiq’s image was removed from the high-school textbook because she was not veiled.

But, as the subversion of Egyptian women continues, local human rights activists have become more creative in their fight for women’s equality, representation and rights.

Seen through local street art collectives like Noon El Neswa, the Mona Lisa Brigades and various independent efforts, a new wave of street art and visual campaigns seeks to challenge the low status of Egyptian women by painting them in a positive light.

“They are already deleting female activists from our history books,” says Shady Khalil, co-founder of Noon El Neswa, a gender-sensitive street art collective. “In order to help reverse the effects of this and many other attacks on women’s rights, we have been creating graffiti campaigns with the purpose of reclaiming women’s rightful position in public spaces.”

He says the goal is to utilize gender-sensitive and female-driven street art campaigns to tackle and invert negative social ideas or stereotypes toward women.

Co-founder Merna Thomas says, “The idea was to gather a group of young, female rights activists and visual artists to collaborate in constructing public campaigns aimed at changing the narrative of women in Egypt.”

The collective officially launched on March 9 2012, a symbolic date that coincided with the one-year anniversary of the “virginity tests” allegedly carried out by members of the military and security forces against detained female protesters.

At the time, Khalil had been working with the women’s rights activist group Nazra for Feminist Studies. The organization agreed to help launch the initiative, providing them with a gathering space and legal consultation.

Thomas had also begun taking on women’s causes after volunteering with Harassmap, an organization and website created by activists to shed light on the prevalence of sexual harassment.

“Don’t Label Me”

“The first campaign we launched under Noon El Neswa was called Graffiti Haremi (Women’s Graffiti),” says Thomas. “The idea was to create positive images. Rather than highlighting the negative, we wanted to promote the positive.”

Local graffiti artists Diaa al-Sayed and Mohamed El Moshir, along with members of the collective, developed a series of stencils using familiar icons from Egyptian pop culture, including powerful women such as actress Souad Hosni, songstress Om Kalthoum and film star Faten Hamama.

“We had noticed that women were only being used in graffiti as a form of insult — we wanted to reverse this by covering the streets with female icons that every Egyptian knows and loves,” says Khalil.

Their stencils are simple and recognizable. Their most notable work includes a stencil triptych created by Sayed, which pictures the outline of one woman without hear-covering, a second wearing a hijab and a third wearing a niqab. The slogan reads, “Don’t label me.”

Another notable work is one created by Moshir, which features the image of Om Kalthoum alongside her song lyrics, “Give me my freedom and free my hand.”

Thomas says she hopes the collective can continue growing, although it is limited by a lack of financial and human resources. Her future ambition with the collective is to continue creating empowering campaigns for women, in collaboration with other women’s rights groups.

Meanwhile, another collective of young activists called the Mona Lisa Brigades has also joined the cause of empowering women and children and promoting social justice through organized street art campaigns.

Mohamed Ismail and Mostafa Ali founded the Mona Lisa Brigades as a direct response to the excessive forced used by the then-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces against demonstrators. The group’s signature stencil can be seen prominently in downtown Cairo. It depicts Mona Lisa on a bright yellow crosswalk sign; her eye is covered in an eye-patch while her hand holds a spray can.

The group’s most notable campaign, titled “I Want to Be,” can be seen in the Ard al-Lewa neighborhood in Giza.

“After doing a great deal of research in Ard al-Lewa, we discovered there were thousands of children who have had almost no voice or representation throughout this movement,” says Ismail. “So we sat with many of them. We discussed their dreams and hopes.

“Soon after, and with their approval, we sprayed stencils of their faces along the walls. Under each image, we included the child’s dream. This way, whenever those kids walk by their faces on the wall, they will never forget their dreams,” says Ismail.

The collective’s upcoming campaign, “We Are All Human,” will also take place in Ard al-Lewa within the coming months. According to Ismail, the aim of the campaign is to emphasize the need for cross-cultural understanding in Egypt.

He hopes that, one day, street art can align more with political campaigns. He believes political parties should consider using graffiti for grassroots expansion, as it is an instrument and medium that is inexpensive and easy to spread.

Cairo's Tahrir Square in February 2013
Akram Ismail

A Revolution Without A Revolutionary Party - The Limits Of Egypt's Secular Opposition


CAIRO - I believe the presence of armed gangs and the incidents of rape during Tahrir Square protests represent a serious problem.

I do not just sympathize with the victims: women and revolutionaries who were, and still are, subjected to wide-scale suppression or abuse. I am concerned about two issues; the first of them is building a revolutionary party capable of maintaining a link with protest spaces.

In established bourgeois democracies, parties are not required to have strict organizational forms or quasi-military units because their prime focus is political campaigning and elections, which are handled by experts and activists who form strategic and political-planning units. They are less in need of units to manage activity on the ground.

We, however, have a problem in this regard. We have a state of revolutionary mobility to which we relate through traditional political parties that have not seriously examined how to link themselves to this state of mobility and protest spaces in an organized manner.

The question is how to build a party that is capable of maintaining presence in the political sphere and in revolutionary spaces.

The second issue concerns the relationship between political powers and protest spaces. This started to be problematic when political powers called for staging a sit-in in July 2011 against the then-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. That sit-in was not serious enough and gradually disintegrated, with the remaining protesters being subjected to all forms of violations until the sit-in was forcibly broken up.

[rebelmouse-image 27086267 alt="""" original_size="499x333" expand=1]

(photo: Gigi Ibrahim)

Over the past two years, this scene has been repeated several times, whereby political powers would withdraw from protest spaces without announcing their pullout, leaving those who insisted on staying to face all forms of harassment and suppression.

Every time political powers call for a sit-in in Tahrir, the state authority withdraws from the square and then political powers withdraw later, allowing bolder, more radical, frustrated, violent, confrontational groups that have lost faith in the political process to thrive. As political powers relinquish the square, groups of vagrants, children and youth who see violence against the Interior Ministry as the only means to express their anger, sprout.

In the meantime, violent tendencies and incidents of harassment and rape rise in this uncontrolled space, where the kingdoms of poverty and fury can exercise all forms of violence, struggle and revenge away from the regulated city.

How are political powers addressing this issue?

Revolutionary and political powers undoubtedly regard protest spaces as liberated zones that they can use to pile pressure on the political authority to create a negotiating advantage. However, they have not taken protest spaces and their related challenges seriously.

“Tahrir is shouting for help”

Just after 25 Jan. 2011, the 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition surfaced as the most prominent leader of protests, especially those carried out by the more radical currents. The group tried to advise the radical groups in Tahrir against closing the Mugamma administrative building in July 2011, but it failed because its attempts were only cursory and also because it did not seek to keep a strong presence in Tahrir. Controlling Tahrir required building a more coherent and organized structure.

Political powers called for a sit-in in Nov. 2012 following the issuing of the 22 November constitutional declaration. But that sit-in, which continues until today and which came as a result of a fresh revolutionary uprising, has produced the current scene, with more violent and radical groups controlling Tahrir, defending their territory strongly and even testing their limits by blocking the 6th of October Bridge and the metro. Linked to this violence are incidents of bloody rapes and harassment in the vicinity of the square.

[rebelmouse-image 27086268 alt="""" original_size="499x333" expand=1]

(photo: Gigi Ibrahim)

Today, it is quite impossible to tell the infiltrators from the revolutionaries.

Political powers do not see the need to keep a foot in Tahrir. This is not only a political choice, but also an organizational issue. How do they want to build their political organizations? Do they wish to limit their activity to the electoral political sphere? Or do they wish to build an organization capable of managing the conflicts on the ground, mobilizing the crowds and carrying out clear-cut roles in the mass movement?

Political powers cannot play a role in the revolutionary mobility without bolstering their capacities to undertake fieldwork. Their talk about being unable to secure Tahrir is understandable, for those nascent political organizations cannot be asked to fully control Tahrir.

However, they should have a vision on how to be present in Tahrir. The fact that revolutionary political parties are not doing this will cause them to have a weaker negotiating position with the political authority. Worse, it will produce a political sphere opposed to Tahrir, and perhaps even bestow legitimacy on quelling it.

Additionally, linking the political sphere to Tahrir will not be possible unless political powers become active players there and forge an interactive relationship with it.

Perhaps we attach too much importance to Tahrir. But it remains the epicenter of revolt and our first field test. This revolutionary kingdom is gradually abandoning politics for the sake of bloody confrontations with the regime. It expresses anger, deep social contradictions, running a thin line between struggle and crime, in a space that is increasingly attracting the margins of the city where all forms of adventure, lawlessness and challenge to authority are tested.

This free space needs the attention of political powers, which should have an eye on Tahrir and another on the presidential palace.

Tahrir is shouting for help. It is becoming a frightening expression of a severe social crisis — an increasingly radical, violent and hostile spot. Meanwhile, political powers are becoming more sluggish, security bodies more disintegrated, the political sphere more restricted and the political authority more hapless. So who dares to take the initiative — or the risk — to resolve this problem?

Egypt's White Desert
food / travel
Sabrina Ghazal

A Boom In Egyptian Eco-Tourism, But So Many Trails Still Shut Off

CAIRO - Among the amazing landscapes Egypt possesses, the most precious are undoubtedly the seashores on the North Coast and the Red Sea, as well as the desert. Countless sites in these areas are unique and rare wonders of nature, and require special care and protection.

The Egyptian Tourism Ministry has a plan for how to use these natural reserves to their full potential and develop environmental tourism. But there is a lot to do, and there are many obstacles that handicap the project.

Tourists are now eager to delve into rough natural surroundings and indulge in wildlife adventures, to get away from their urban lifestyles — and, if managed properly, they can find all of this in Egypt.

“Eco-tourism is booming,” says Mahmoud al-Kaissouny, environmental adviser to the Tourism Ministry. “And it is on its way to representing half of international tourism.”

The country’s 2,600 kilometers of beaches offer countless diving spots, including underwater landmarks and caves on the North Coast. The Red Sea is considered one of the top 10 diving destinations in the world. The desert includes areas of unique geological significance, as well as rare natural rock formations.

[rebelmouse-image 27086179 alt="""" original_size="500x334" expand=1]

White desert in Egypt (Alfonso Ianni)

These areas need to be protected, and since the 1980s, 30 of them – mostly located in the desert – have been declared national parks. In the early 1990s, the environment ministry — led at the time by Nadia Makram Ebeid — laid out a plan to declare 40 areas as natural reserves by the year 2017.

But new discoveries were made, and the now includes 44 protected areas.

“Gebel Kamil, which is very rich in remnants of meteorites, was the last area declared a natural reserve,” says Kaissouny, referring to an area located in the southeast of Gilf al-Kebir, in the Western Desert, in southwestern Egypt.

Among the most important protected areas, in terms of biodiversity, are Wadi al-Gamal National Park, Gebel Elba mountain and the Wadi Allaqi reserve.

Wadi al-Hitan, located in the Wadi al-Rayan natural reserve, is considered one of the most amazing archaeological spots in the world. According to a UNESCO report, Wadi al-Hitan’s unique whale fossils are proof that the whale’s ancestor was a land-based animal. This discovery put Wadi al-Hitan on the protected areas map.

But despite their importance, most protected areas have been extremely neglected for years, if not decades.

“After Nadia Makram Ebeid’s term as minister, there was a growing disinterest for Egypt’s national parks, which slowly degraded, Wadi al-Rayan being the most prominent example of this decay,” Kaissouny says. “If you go there today, you will not be able to enter. It is full of garbage and completely degraded — it is very sad.”
The Italian government designated and funded this natural reserve, and even though Egypt was not able to maintain it, it is now willing to reinvest and rejuvenate the reserve.

The government’s plan

The goal of the Tourism Ministry, together with the Environment Ministry, is to upgrade and renovate already existing natural reserves, to announce new protected areas, and to use them for economic and touristic purposes.

“This project aims to allow tourism investments within the protected areas of Egypt by loosening the restrictions on these protectorates, a little,” Tourism Minister Hesham Zaazou explains.

He suggests that building codes could be adjusted, such as the law that prevents building on more than 10% of protected areas’ land.

“This could be changed to 20%, provided that the infrastructure to be built follows a specific set of requirements that ensures the safety and protection of these areas,” Zaazou says.

Not everyone, however, is as enthusiastic as the minister about these plans.

“We do not need to build more,” says Usama Ghazali, former head ranger of Gebel Elba protected area.

He believes there is a pressing need to come up with better management strategies.

“The ministerial plan is basically to build more within the protected areas. This is not what we need,” he says. “What we need is more services and facilities that respect the environment.”

[rebelmouse-image 27086180 alt="""" original_size="500x375" expand=1]

Many colors under Egypt's Red Sea (photo: prilfish)

There are no laws that govern land use, and none that manage diving centers or other facilities — and most of the time they are not compliant with environmental protection rules.

Ghazali argues that decision makers need to be in the field and understand what the environment and the people living within it need.

“This is very different than what the people sitting at their desks in Cairo want,” he asserts.

He believes that in order to reach an understanding on how to upgrade the protected areas, governing entities and local people need to compromise to help preserve the environment and people’s livelihoods.

In addition, there is a huge obstacle facing this project that is crippling the plans of the ministry.

“In the last 50 years, presidential decrees were issued, and these decrees limited the use of Egyptian land, including protected areas,” Kaissouny says. “Tourism has the freedom to use 6% of Egyptian lands.”

Many protected areas require up to 27 permits within 25 days just to access them.

For instance, a group traveling to the Dakhla Oasis, must first obtain numerous permits, and then, on the way, they will pass about 18 checkpoints where they have to show their permits. The procedure can be very hectic, and an eight-hour trip to the oasis can easily take 14 hours.

This makes it difficult to access natural reserves, and these procedures limit tourism in the area.

“The area of Gebel Elba necessitates many permits to acquire the right of entry, and it makes it very hard and frustrating to get there,” Ghazali complains.

Kaissouny says these decrees were issued based on problems that no longer exist, and that they are now useless.

“We are not in a state of war; we do not need all these limitations,” Kaissouny says.

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.