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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.
FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War
Elias Kassem

Why Yemen May Be The Real Trigger Risk For Middle East Escalation

The Iran-backed Yemeni rebel group Houthis have seized a vessel in the Red Sea’s shipping route and took the ship’s 25 crew members hostage. It’s just the latest sign that the spillover from Gaza may arrive first from the south.


Since the war against Hamas exploded last month in Gaza, international diplomats and war-game analysts have been looking at the map of the Middle East to gauge if and where the conflict might escalate.

Though much of the attention has been on Lebanon-based Hezbollah across Israel’s northern border, it's best right now to look south instead.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here .

The Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, known as Houthis, have escalated their attacks on Israel and its interests, fueling already mounting concerns that the war in Gaza could spill over into a regional conflict.

On Sunday, the rebels said they seized a cargo vessel in the Red Sea crucial shipping route, south of Israel, and took the ship’s 25 crew members hostage.

The escalation by the Houthis and other Iranian-backed militias in the region, including missile attacks by Hezbollah on northern Israel have increased concerns the war between Israel and the Palestinian militants in Gaza could spread across the region, with even more explosive global consequences.

Analysts say the latest Houthi move aims to add more pressure on Israel and its closest ally, the U.S., as the war in Gaza continues unabated. They also say that as the situation becomes increasingly dire in the Palestinian enclave, Iran may be left with no choice but to escalate tensions through its proxies in the region.

Sunday’s seizure came hours after the group threatened to target Israel-linked vessels off Yemen, as part of their response to the war in Gaza. The rebels have also launched barrages of missiles and explosive-laden drones on Israel since the war began on Oct. 7.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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(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.