MADA MASR
Mada Masr is an independent Egyptian online newspaper, founded in June 2013, with content in Arabic and English.
#FreeRamySaath posters displayed in the street as part of an Amnesty International campaign.
Geopolitics
Osman El Sharnoubi

When The Only Way Out Of Prison Is The Price Of Your Citizenship

Several notable political prisoners in Egypt have renounced their citizenship to gain freedom. The choice is a difficult one to make personally, and the practice is highly questionable politically.

CAIRO — On January 8, Egyptian-Palestinian activist Ramy Shaath arrived in Paris after Egyptian authorities released him from prison and deported him after over 900 days in remand detention. He walked out of Charles de Gaulle Airport with his wife Celine Lebrun-Shaath to a cheering crowd of supporters. Yet the conditions of his release were no cause for celebration — Shaath was forced to renounce his Egyptian citizenship in exchange for his freedom.

Shaath's detention was part of a continuing crackdown on political dissent under Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which has trageted liberal critics.

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Photo of a man holding prison bars in his cell
Society
Mada Masr

Inside Egypt's Shocking Rise In Capital Punishment

While executions were once rare, Egypt has become a global leaders in judicial killings amidst growing secrecy around the legal system.

CAIRO — It was around noon on February 20, 2019 when Mounira* first heard the news. She was at home watching television when a news bulletin flashed on the screen announcing that nine prisoners had been executed that morning at dawn, among them her 27-year-old son Fouad*. A year earlier, the men had been convicted of the 2015 assassination of Public Prosecutor Hesham Barakat and sentenced to death. The sudden announcement struck her like a thunderbolt.

Fouad was arrested in 2015 and tried in a military tribunal (Case 514) about which there is no public information. He was eventually acquitted, yet while in detention, he had been added to the assassination case.

“When he received an acquittal in the first case, I held out some hope that he would come out of the public prosecutor [assassination] case as well. I told myself, ‘these aren’t sham trials, they actually look at the case files,’” Mounira said.

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Photo of former senior adviser to Egyptian President Mohammed MorsiEssam El-Haddad appearing in court.
Geopolitics
Abdullah El-Haddad

​An Egyptian Son's Plea: For​ My Father And Arab Spring Reconciliation

Essam El-Haddad, a senior adviser to President Morsi, was jailed more than eight years ago. His son Abdullah continues to fight for his father's liberation, which he says is a necessary path toward national union in post-Arab Spring Egypt.

-Essay-

CAIRO — My heartbeat quickens as I see my mother's name flash on my phone screen. I stop everything I'm doing and try to remember to breathe. I lift the phone to my ear and brace myself for the bad news that will inevitably come about my father who has been locked in an Egyptian prison for more than eight years. They say things get easier with time, but these phone calls flout that rule. Nothing about them gets easier, especially when I'm receiving them in forced exile.

My father, Essam El-Haddad, was a senior adviser to President Mohammed Morsi. He was received by foreign governments and met with officials around the world. Now, at 67 years old, he languishes in solitary confinement. Despite his failing health, he has been denied medical care, having suffered four heart attacks since his detention. The little we know about my father's circumstances we learned through the rare occasions our family was allowed to visit him by Egypt's prison authorities. These visits have stopped since 2016.

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Sudanese protesters holding signs and wearing Sudanese flag
Geopolitics
Nesrine Malik

In Sudan, A Surprise About-Face Marks Death Of The Revolution

Ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was the face of the "stolen revolution". The fact that he accepted, out of the blue, to return at the same position, albeit on different footing, opens the door to the final legitimization of the coup.

A little over a month ago, a military coup in Sudan ended a military-civilian partnership established after the 2019 revolution that removed President Omar al-Bashir after almost 30 years in power. The army arrested the Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and, along with several of his cabinet and other civil government officials, threw him in detention. In the weeks that followed, the Sudanese military and their partners in power, the Rapid Support Forces, moved quickly.

They reappointed a new government of “technocrats” (read “loyalists”), shut down internet services, and violently suppressed peaceful protests against the coup and its sabotaging of the 2019 revolution. During those weeks, Hamdok remained the symbol of the stolen revolution, betrayed by the military, detained illegally, unable to communicate with the people who demanded his return. In his figure, the moral authority of the counter-coup resided.

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photo of a woman speaking with imprisoned defendants during a trial in a Cairo court
Society
Nada Arafat

Harder Time: How Egypt Cuts Prisoner Communication With Loved Ones

Letters from inmates provide a crucial link with the outside world, and yet the process of sending and receiving them in Egyptian prisons is both arduous and arbitrary as an extra means of control.

CAIRO – Abdelrahman ElGendy says letters were a crucial lifeline for him during the time he spent locked up in five different prisons between 2013 and 2020. "Letters were not only important, they literally saved my life," he says. "I was only living because I was looking forward to them from one visit to the next, and I would read them over until the paper became worn and torn."

Last month, the family of imprisoned software engineer and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah — who had been held in remand detention for over two years until his referral to emergency trial last week — announced it would take legal steps to ensure that Abd El Fattah is able to send letters to them following a period when prison authorities refused to allow him any correspondence.

According to the family, besides prison visits once a month, Abd El Fattah's letters are the only way they can gain assurance of his condition, and when his letters are denied, that in itself is an indicator that his treatment in detention is worsening. The numerous legal requests and official complaints by the family have been met only with silence by authorities.

While letters provide a crucial link between prisoners and the outside world, the process of sending and receiving them in Egyptian prisons is an arduous one as a result of arbitrary restrictions put in place by authorities.

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Photo of a man at a market in Aswan, Egypt, holding several mangoes in his hand.
Green Or Gone
Nada Arafat

How Global Warming Shriveled Egypt's Mango Production

ISMAILIA – Every year during the month of July, crowds gather in the mango farms of Ismailia, in northeastern Egypt, to pick the delectable summer fruit during its relatively short harvest season. But this year, as a result of erratic weather patterns throughout March and April, the usual bountiful mango harvest was severely affected with farmers witnessing a precipitous drop in yield. Some 300,000 farms saw an 80% decrease in productivity, leading to a supply shortage in the market and a corresponding 40% increase in the price of mangoes.

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Anonymity has gained importance in Egyptian activism
Society
Dalilah

Online Anonymity: Between Fear And Political Power

CAIRO — I've been thinking lately about my relationship with anonymity, and the way my understanding of it — which used to be somewhat one-sided — has been evolving, both in personal writing and in political work. In a polarized environment, we become trapped in a reactive position, especially as some of the approaches adopted recently by feminist organizations have come under heavy attack. Our energy is consumed by creating a discourse to counter our attackers, preventing us from reflecting more deeply on our tools and approaches. It seems that anonymity will be part of our arsenal for some time, so I believe it's important to understand it as a wide-ranging approach in which we can occupy different positions. Examining it in this way may help us arrive at a better understanding of its potential as well as its limitations.

Some years ago, I wrote a personal piece about a very private experience that caused me an immense sense of pain and frustration. I felt defeated by all the institutions of the regime. The experience made me realize that my body is not my own, no matter how much I try to take possession of it. I realized that the obstacles that stood in my way were institutional and structural, and that it was beyond my individual ability to change them. I published the piece under a pseudonym, but I also said how much I wished I could publicly declare the experience as mine, to own my anger and pain in front of everybody.

This personal experience expanded my awareness. Anonymity gave me the space to reveal it, a space free of judgments and debates. By foregoing public ownership of my experience, I avoided coming under violent attack. But what anonymity gave me is exactly what it took away. Herein lies the price.

I didn't fully understand this then; I only felt a sense of unease. But then, I've never felt completely at ease. Being a woman from an underprivileged background, paying a price has always been a fundamental part of my existence. I learned from a young age that I will never have everything I want.

Sacrificing something for another, more essential thing was always the frame that determined my choices. These limitations began, with time, to shape my aspirations and desires: I began, unconsciously, to not want what I could not have. I didn't complain or stop to think about it; I was so used to this feeling that it became invisible.

My understanding of this gradually began to evolve when I started being active, anonymously, in feminist political work. I would participate in a discussion, critiquing something that I was a part of. My critique would be heard, but my position as an insider would not be seen. I felt that some of what I said was lost because my position was invisible. A position is a kind of filter, allowing someone's words to be heard in a certain way. Anonymity placed me in a grey zone between absence and presence. Sometimes my words were present but my position was absent; at other times, my position was apparent, but other aspects of me were missing. Anonymity confronted me with the fact that I would never be fully present — that, in every context, I would need to forego some part of me in order to present another, more essential part.

Anonymity has been the subject of considerable discussion in feminist political circles in Egypt recently, in particular, the anonymity of published accounts of sexual violence. These discussions are often polarized. Those skeptical of anonymity argue that it cannot be used as a reliable tool for change, because the credibility of anonymous accounts, published through anonymous channels, cannot be verified. Credibility comes from knowing the identity of people, but declaring one's identity comes at a price. Credibility becomes a kind of commodity: I will believe you in exchange for the social price you will have to pay. On the other hand, those in favor of anonymity argue that it relieves women from part of the social and psychological burden of sharing their testimonies publicly. Keeping the intermediary anonymous, they say, is also a way of protecting them from the violence of society and the security apparatus.

The problem is that the focus of these arguments is on the burden that anonymity relieves from the women involved — those who share testimonies or those active in the field. The two sides only differ in their assessment of whether or not that price should be paid. But neither side is delving into the fact that anonymity itself comes at a cost.

Credibility comes from knowing the identity of people, but declaring one's identity comes at a price.

It has begun to scare me a little, the lack of attention given to this. Being unaware of the manifestations of oppression in the tools we've created for our liberation might limit our political ambitions to what our oppressive reality permits. Concealment is one of the manifestations of the oppression of women in a patriarchal society. The patriarchal order instills the idea that our natural place is within the bounds of the home, and so our public presence becomes a space for negotiation. Concealment is the price we pay in this equation. Sometimes we choose to conceal certain parts of ourselves in our daily life in order to avoid exhausting confrontations. In Egyptian society, this concealment takes material and immaterial forms. We hide our bodies in layers of clothes in order to avoid the reactions of people in the street. I personally hide in my house for days, because I know that simply being outside might expose me to something I have no energy for (and this is a luxury many other women do not have). We often hide aspects of who we are and the choices we've made from family, friends and people in our social circles to avoid the rejection, conflict and violence we might face if we reveal who we are. This, in part, is what anonymity does: it conceals certain aspects of ourselves while revealing others. It makes our thoughts and experiences apparent, but deprives us of public ownership of them. It helps us collectively reveal the truth of what we are thinking and going through, but prevents us from being entirely present as individuals.

These words are not a call to abandon anonymity as an approach. It's naive to assume that the tools we produce will not contain elements of our oppression: These tools, just like ourselves, are products of this reality. The absence of a cost would necessitate the absence of oppression, which is not our reality at the moment. What I am calling for, instead, is to constantly examine our tools and to point out the ways in which oppression is embedded within them. To know that we are always in negotiation with the systems of our oppression, that a tool is simply a political strategy that we can choose in one moment, and move beyond in the next; to expand our imagination and political aspirations between what these tools, derived from an oppressive reality, can offer us.

I recently had a conversation with two feminist comrades about the behavior of some other feminists in our sphere, which we concluded was motivated by a desire for personal achievement. We traced this back to the "professional" values that have plagued the feminist movement in Egypt. The movement has become a kind of career market, where personal accomplishment and competition are valued. This undermines our strategies, as they might be based on the visions of more influential feminists, visions which are not created in isolation from their professional interests. This is one aspect of the balance of power within the movement — the more professional and academic credentials someone has, the more her voice is heard. The movement itself has become a way for some people to enrich their resumes. I said to my two companions that anonymity represents a threat to the type of people who can't bear not to receive credit for their work, even at the cost of carrying out the task itself — a conclusion full of harsh judgments, but unfortunately also of truth.

After the discussion, this thought lingered in my mind and I began to reflect on my own experience. When I'm an anonymous participant in a successful political action, I feel a desire to publicly associate myself with it. When I write an anonymous text, and I find people reading, sharing and republishing it, I sometimes wish to hear words of praise and encouragement. I won't deny that I sometimes feel this way, as difficult and uncomfortable as it is to admit it. But I don't believe I'm the only one. I think the roots of this feeling can be easily traced back to the capitalist system that governs our lives and frames our definitions of success. Our sense of accomplishment comes from our individual achievements, and our sense of self-worth comes from other people's praise. Capitalism has given us certain definitions of achievement that highlight the value of individualism and differentiating ourselves from others.

During another discussion with a group of comrades about accountability, one of them pointed out various kinds of corruption that we might fall into. The discussion was not just about administrative or financial corruption, but also about corruption on the level of daily behavior in the network of complex relationships within the movement. These relationships intersect in many ways: political activity, friendships, romantic involvements, work relationships, etc. One of those present in the discussion said that her choice of anonymity was not just based on fear of the security apparatus in Egypt, but because she saw it as a way to reduce the possibility of corruption.

Our sense of accomplishment comes from our individual achievements.

I remembered the desire that creeps up on me from time to time, and it hit me that anonymity can be a way of working on ourselves and maintaining our integrity. I mean that not in a religious or moral sense, but in a political sense. Resisting the impulse for individualism, and the set of values that comes along with it, becomes a political act. The dominant desire for personal success is one of the biggest challenges in our attempts to create a movement based on solidarity and collective action. How can we build a movement based on individualism that is, in turn, fighting a system based on individualism?

I'm not posing this question from an ethical standpoint — I don't see a collective approach as morally superior — but I do see that the tendency for individualism leads to oppression and alienation. The system of production, which has shaped so much of our way of being, works to divide and separate us. The interests of the individual trump everything else, and individual achievement is the only guaranteed way to avoid a harsh life. The only possibility of salvation produced by this system is an individual one, which does not threaten its existence, but in fact perpetuates it. This emphasis on personal salvation drives people to work harder and produce more. Failure is attributed to an individual's lack of effort, rather than to the systemic inequality that determines our chances in life. Adopting the same approach as the system would spell failure for us, or at best, a limited degree of influence. We can never use the tools and approaches of the system as well as the system itself does, because it created them.

This is why I believe that anonymity can be part of my political training. It helps me rid myself of an individualist impulse so deeply ingrained that I sometimes no longer see it. It puts me in constant confrontation with the origins of my motivations. It allows me to see the inner workings of a system that I want to dismantle, to understand that I am a part of it, and that fighting it necessitates constantly questioning myself. To be aware that, in this battle, anonymity becomes a political choice, not just to protect myself on a personal level, but also to create a movement that is not based on individualism. That sees itself as fighting not only the patriarchy, but multiple, intersecting systems that perpetuate one another. We cannot dismantle one without dismantling the others.

How can we build a movement based on individualism that is, in turn, fighting a system based on individualism?

I don't mean to romanticize anonymity. During a conversation with another friend, she pointed out the fact that anonymity can also be used to help destructive people escape the consequences of their actions. This brought to mind the Killjoys* blog, which published testimonies of sexual violence and the misuse of power in civil society organizations without the consent of the women concerned. Anonymity became a cover through which the creators of this blog could claim to be working for the good of these women, while ignoring the price paid by these same women as a result of their actions.

While discussing some of these issues, one of my comrades pointed out that anonymity can also obscure the role of feminists who occupy less powerful positions within the movement. As mentioned previously, we don't all have equal positions in the balance of power. Anonymous work might mean that fewer women are included in certain spaces, especially in the creation and discussion of strategies, or even in general discussions and collective learning, because if they continue to work anonymously, we will never know who they are.

This brought something to my attention: The reason I'm now present in several platforms of discussion within the feminist movement in Egypt is that I've made — and continue to make — certain contributions without being anonymous. People became aware of my political stances, and some began to invite me to join them. This also helped me find and get to know other feminists with whom I feel a sense of comfort and familiarity, with whom I can exist in a shared space without any of us feeling the need to hide certain aspects of ourselves. This begs the question: Is it possible to work anonymously while remaining present and valued in our feminist groups? Seen from this perspective, anonymity comes at another cost. The celebration of feminist work gives some people social and political capital. They are heard, appreciated, invited and granted more opportunities. This means that those of us who don't get credit for their work are foregoing part of their social and political capital, which might help them grow stronger in the movement, present their views and be taken seriously, and negotiate with others from a position of greater power.

This calls into question a point I made earlier in this article. In an environment rife with the violence of society and the security apparatus, we don't all have the privilege of choosing anonymity as part of our political education. Some people need to thoroughly calculate the consequences of their actions if they think of revealing themselves to the world. This does not mean that the feeling of being safe is always based on actual safety — especially in this context, where the responses to the issues we raise do not seem to follow a consistent logic. (The contradictory reactions to the cases of Ahmad Bassam Zaki and the Fairmont rape are one example of this.) Our level of vulnerability when confronting the world also changes from one situation to another, depending as well on the position we take in each situation. What this means is that anonymity is not always a choice we freely and willingly make. In most cases, it's a decision made because we're aware of the vulnerability of our situation, or the oppressiveness of our environment — or because our life experience has taught us that we always have to give up something in exchange for another thing that we deem more crucial. And, as another colleague pointed out, some women (such as Menna Abdel Aziz and Bassant, the "Mit Ghamrgirl") decide not to opt for anonymity despite their vulnerable position in an environment of oppression.

And although anonymity can play a role in resisting individualism, it is also not a guarantee of collective work — as proven by the example of the Killjoys blog. Despite its anonymity, the blog's approach was both individualistic and substitutionary (by which I mean a person or a group of people who replace the parties affected by a situation with themselves). This arises out of a feeling of superiority — superiority of knowledge or politics or even moral superiority. This substitutionary group believes its path is the right one, that it alone has the ability to "implement," "transform" and "purify," unlike the women concerned, who are timid and powerless. They follow the logic of individualism in political work, thinking that change can happen through individuals or groups who work, at best, in isolation from the women affected, or, at worst, by ignoring their needs, wishes and priorities.

Anonymity can play a role in resisting individualism; it is also not a guarantee of collective work.

Anonymity can thus be an obstacle in the collective path of the movement, in the way we communicate as human beings and comrades and as narrators of testimonies and life experiences, and in the process of holding each other accountable. It can also be a hindrance to future interpretations of this present moment. When I conceal my identity in any of my contributions — whether in a written text or in political work — I'm not just concealing my name, I'm also concealing the many components that make up my identity, which would give a reader of history a deeper understanding of who I am and the aspects of my privilege. This means that I prevent a picture being formed that is different from the one I present about myself and my place in the world. I stand in the way of historical interpretations of myself and the role I played in my context, which I don't and won't fully understand because I'm inside it. Anonymity here comes at the cost of knowledge — knowledge about the creation of this movement, about its components and positions in life as well as in politics, which might be crucial to building upon these past and present experiences in the future.

Concealment is an essential mechanism of anonymity — although, as mentioned above, it is not intrinsically negative or positive. Sometimes it is a manifestation of oppression, in others a mode of resistance. Sometimes it is a way to practice self-vigilance and avoid corruption, in others a way to escape responsibility for our actions.

For me, our position is key to determining the implications of anonymity in any given moment. For example, if I am sharing a testimony of sexual violence or another personal experience that I can't reveal publicly for fear of violent reprisals, my use of anonymity here is a manifestation of oppression. The system forces us to conceal ourselves in order to negotiate with it. Anonymity becomes a decision and a political strategy based on negotiation — an exchange of what is revealed and what is concealed — which necessarily comes at a cost. We choose not to suppress our (already suppressed) voices and experiences, in exchange for suppressing our identities. But we have to be mindful of the price that we pay for anonymity here. On the other hand, if I am engaged in political work that attracts praise and a feeling of distinction and superiority, choosing anonymity would be a way of resisting the tendencies that the system has instilled in me. These might be a hindrance to the movement if I'm not aware of them and working on curtailing them. We also have to remain vigilant about the destructive behavior and escape from accountability that anonymity might enable.

These ideas arose through personal experiences with anonymity from different positions. Developing this piece would not have been possible without the help of friends and comrades who always motivate me to think and reflect. I wrote this article at different points in time, and I decided to keep the contradictions inherent within it, because I see them all as relevant. Contradiction is a part of our existence, and it's always present in political work. This piece does not claim to offer a comprehensive view, but it might be an invitation to begin reflecting on an approach we've often taken without fully realizing its implications. Because of the attacks on us, we've been cornered, most of the time, into defending anonymity. I hope this piece might serve as a call not to romanticize anonymity, and to keep exploring its many layers.

*This is a reference to the قاتلات البهجة blog that is separate from Sara Ahmed's blog, feministkilljoys

Grocery Shopping In Egypt: Local Ingredients Meet Global Trends
Egypt
Osman El Sharnoubi

Grocery Shopping In Egypt: Local Ingredients Meet Global Trends

A new high-end food retailer, Gourmet, is helping reshape Egypt's supermarket industry.

CAIRO — A few months ago, I decided to challenge Gourmet.

Egypt's most prominent high-end grocery chain had earned a reputation for stocking ingredients that were hard to find anywhere else. For foodies, Gourmet had opened the door to previously inaccessible recipes. I'm not a foodie, but I do have access to The New York Times" cooking app after one of my colleagues generously gifted me a subscription. Standing outside Gourmet's branch in Maadi, I scrolled through the app looking for a dish that was — in orientalist parlance — "exotic." I eventually landed on a recipe requiring several ingredients unlikely to be found in any Cairo supermarket: Thai red curry paste, Fresno or serrano red chile, unsweetened coconut flakes and baby spinach. The dish? Red curry lentils with sweet potatoes and spinach.

This was my first visit to the large Maadi branch, which dwarfs its counterpart in Zamalek. It was mostly empty — just me and a few other shoppers wandering the aisles. It didn't take long to find what I was looking for.

The baby spinach was displayed prominently among other fresh local greens, while the Thai curry paste was nestled in a rack featuring a wide assortment of curries, sauces and other flavorings. I also found locally grown red chilies that resemble serrano peppers — a good substitute. The coconut flakes, however, were nowhere to be seen. Since they were just a garnish, I was about to write them off but decided to ask one of the many employees roaming the shop for help. He quickly led me to a shelf I had browsed twice before but somehow failed to notice had the coconut flakes, stacked between other dried fruits and nuts.

You win, Gourmet — and not just in this challenge. As I searched for my ingredients, I inevitably caught sight of the plethora of the store's signature ready-to-cook dishes. A week later, I ordered Gourmet's margarita pizza and three chicken breasts à la provençale, both pre-prepared and needing only to be popped in the oven. Not always having the time to cook, and squeamish at the prospect of having to order out again, I found their ready-to-cook meals the perfect middle ground. I would clearly become a regular customer.

Gourmet supermarket pioneered ready-to-eat meals with local ingredients in Egypt — Photo: Gourmet Egypt via Facebook

This experience summarizes much about the evolution of high-end food retailers in Egypt over the last decade. Increasingly, supermarkets are offering a wide selection of imported foods, organic local produce, their own lines of prepared meals and ready-to-cook items, all packaged and marketed using novel techniques. Regarded as the apex of Egyptian grocery shopping, Gourmet has played an important role in this transformation. Its emergence has helped to shift trends in the supermarket sector that have grown to represent new realities in the consumption and production of food in Egypt.

Before he founded Gourmet, Jalal Abu Ghazaleh owned and ran AM Foods, a wholesale food supplier to several clients in the fine dining business, including the Four Seasons Hotel. Founded in 1996, AM Foods was small, with a handful of employees, and specialized in providing high-quality imported meats and seafood that weren't available on the local market.

At the time, Abu Ghazaleh hosted dinner parties and treated his friends to some of his premium steaks, he told Mada Masr. It wasn't long before they were asking him where they could buy their own choice cuts of meat, and the idea to cater to individual customers first took shape.

In 2006, Abu Ghazaleh brought in a desk for a new employee and gave him a mobile phone to take orders. Home deliveries were carried out by a part-time delivery person who also worked at Mo'men, a popular fast food restaurant. Two years later, Abu Ghazaleh opened his first brick-and-mortar shop off Ring Road on the outskirts of Maadi and named it Gourmet.

Back then, Gourmet's only means of publicity was word of mouth — and word spread quickly. Gourmet expanded rapidly, and just over a decade later it has established itself as Egypt's premier high-end food retailer with 15 stores and an enviable level of brand recognition. Yet, Gourmet's path to success was anything but straightforward. Just three years after opening its first retail outlet, the company's revenues were severely impacted by the 2011 revolution, with disruptions in supply and new duties imposed on luxury goods.

An even bigger setback came in November 2016, when the government devalued the currency as part of an economic reform program put in place to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund. The cost of imported goods doubled overnight and the subsequent lack of liquidity — with the Egyptian pound losing half its value — disrupted the supply of many imports.

The devaluation prompted Gourmet to rethink its strategy — one that would come to redefine the company and propel it into a new and lucrative market.

In order to deal with the import crisis, Gourmet pivoted to begin offering a new type of product: locally produced ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat meals, or "food solutions," in corporate speak. The move proved remarkably successful and Gourmet's own food products have become one of the main lures for customers and a major source of revenue. This new business approach was bolstered by a major investment in 2018 by the private equity firm B Investments, which purchased a majority stake in the company for LE125 million.

Gourmet was now competing for a larger "share-of-stomach" — looking to entice customers not only for their grocery shopping needs but for prepared or semi-prepared meals to replace restaurant delivery food.

80% of retail foods are sold in smaller, traditional grocery stores.

As a leading retailer in both specialized groceries and prepared foods, Gourmet represents Egypt's latest stage in a decades-long, worldwide trend toward the increased centralization of food shopping, the globalized availability of ingredients and food products, and of the trading of home cooking for so-called convenience.

Prior to the advent of the modern supermarket, shopping for groceries in Egypt, as in much of the world, was a multi-faceted endeavor.

Vana Celic, an 88-year-old Alexandria resident, recalls how in the 1940s, grocers displayed goods like sugar, white cheese and salted fish in large wooden barrels while portions of halawa (sesame candy) would be cut from huge slabs. Everything would be weighed and placed into paper bags. Packaging and branding were uncommon.

The same could be said of Britain in the postwar period, when a single visit to a present-day supermarket replaced trips to multiple shops: a grocery store for basic items like sugar, butter and canned fish; a greengrocer for fruits and vegetables; a butcher for meat; a baker for bread, and the milkman for milk, as documented in the book The Grocers: The Rise and Rise of the Supermarket Chain by Andrew Seth and Geoffrey Randall.

During this same period, upper and middle-income families living in downtown Cairo, like Vana's, would often go to Al-Souq al-Faransawi (the French market) near Al-Azhar, where food vendors lined the streets displaying their fruits and vegetables in woven circular baskets and sold live poultry from rickety wooden crates stacked high atop one another. Vana remembers how cooks from wealthy households would be chauffeured to the market, where they and other household staff would sit at a nearby cafe, while the vendors would take orders of what was needed and then promptly load it into the car as they sipped their coffees. While these markets still operate widely in Cairo, they are no longer frequented by the city's more affluent residents.

In the 1970s, policies of economic liberalization first began to remove long-standing restrictions on imports, prompting the emergence of a new breed of small grocers that straddled the line between traditional grocery and supermarket, offering foreign products ranging from Dr. Pepper to anchovies to various cheeses. While these new grocery stores were limited in number, they came to be well-known within Cairo's wealthier neighborhoods.

I vaguely remember supermarkets as a child in the early 1990s. They weren't as numerous as they are now. But even then, my mother assures me, our food was usually bought separately from the grocer, the greengrocer, the fruit vendor (separate from the greengrocer in Egypt until recently) and the butcher. And the range of products on sale was rather limited.

"Workers in supermarkets don't care because they're not the owners."

The customers' relationships with the local grocery store, butcher and poultry shop is still prevalent in Egypt: 80% of retail foods are sold in smaller, traditional grocery stores. But the remaining 20% — which mostly encompasses wealthier customers — slowly shifted over the years and by the late 1990s, modern supermarkets had become a staple of affluent neighborhoods in Cairo, Alexandria and coastal resorts. At the turn of the millennium, supermarkets continued to proliferate more widely and they began using their bulk purchasing power to offer products at discounted rates compared to their more traditional counterparts.

Supermarket chains are now a major player in the food retail market. Although they comprise just four percent of the total number of food outlets, modern retail channels — such as supermarkets and convenience stores — nevertheless account for around 20% of total sales in the US $17.5 billion food retail sector, and have a projected growth of 15 to 20% over the next few years, according to a 2019 report by the US Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service.

Yet there are concerns about the continued spread of modern supermarkets, which centralize, corporatize and homogenize food shopping, leading some target customers to eschew outlets like Gourmet in favor of more traditional food sources.

Mostafa, an old classmate who lives in Maadi (a supermarket haven like Zamalek) dislikes supermarkets and describes outlets like Carrefour as "monstrous." Mostafa's concerns about supermarkets are centered around his experience as a consumer and the impersonal nature of supermarket chains, as well as the tendency for supermarkets to elbow out small businesses that he considers more trustworthy and whose products he deems of a higher quality.

"I still shop from small vendors —the butcher, the grocer, the corner shop. You know who owns them," Mostafa says. "Workers in supermarkets don't care because they're not the owners. You don't get the freshest products, which are often stacked in the back to sell the older ones. I prefer vendors that aren't corporate-owned." Mostafa prefers to shop for food at small outlets, both from local vendors as well as from independent sellers of higher-end artisanal products.

However, consumers like Mostafa appear to be the exception. Agricultural researcher Saqr El-Nour found that growing culinary trends, such as healthy eating, have largely resulted in consumers purchasing organic foods from city-based vendors who, more often than not, are connected to large businesses that have capitalized on the emerging demand for these products. Organic produce is generally not available in traditional souks (open-air marketplaces) and smaller vendors who offer healthy food options find it hard to compete with large corporate players like Seoudi or Gourmet.

Supermarkets and food outlets like Gourmet still only represent a fraction of the market. Whether their share will grow in the future is difficult to predict, but what is clear is that the supermarket landscape has flourished over the past decade, and Gourmet — that expensive little store that started out with one branch offering Canadian lobster tail and certified Angus beef — has been at the center of this transformation.

Palestinian demonstrating in Gaza City, June 2021
Geopolitics
Budour Hassan *

Palestinian Liberation v. Israelization: A Moment Of Truth

In the latest Palestinian uprising, the greatest accomplishment has been to demonstrate the actuality of liberation.

-Essay-

JERUSALEMMay 14, 2018: Donald Trump keeps his promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and recognizes a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Palestinian Authority's call to action results in nothing but a few performative protests and anemic marches in the streets of Ramallah. There's a small demonstration outside the new embassy building where Zionist leftists beat their drums and call for the end of the occupation.

For them, the occupation refers solely to the territory their state grabbed in 1967. You can almost see tears of nostalgia welling up as they remember the state before June 1967 — a youthful state epitomizing socialist and democratic values, a refuge for the world's Jews (never mind the institutional racism against Arab Jews). The memory is too beautiful to be tarnished by the 18 years of military rule over those Palestinians whom Zionist militias were unable to expel. A state of kibbutzim and trade unions, the Sabra, and the declaration of independence, one whose image is too pure to be sullied by a few massacres (the massacre of Kafr Qasim was simply a technical error), or the plunder of Palestinian lands sanctioned by the Supreme Court of Israel — the same court whose independence was lauded by Hannah Arendt in her book about Adolf Eichmann's trial.

Like the Palestinian Authority, these Zionist leftists fear the death of the two-state dream. But can something die if it never lived? Their Palestine and that of the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not have space for refugees and their right of return.

Workers use tools to break parts of a building, damaged by last month's Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip — Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/ZUMA Press

May 14, 2018: Refugees in Gaza approach the fence that separates them from the forbidden part of Palestine, between it and them the distance of a stone's throw and the sniper's bullet. Their chants are an attempt to remind the land of its owners before their bodies are pierced by lead. Their Palestine extends from the river to the sea. They turned out and gave their lives for the right of return, not because the US embassy was moved from one city in occupied Palestine to another. It's the same sky over Sheikh Muwannis, Manshiya, and Jerusalem; the sea in Gaza and Yafa is the same sea.

June 2020: Benjamin Netanyahu is on the verge of formally annexing the Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley. Palestinian and international human rights organizations appeal to the European Union to stop what they call an unprecedented development. The PA raises the alarm and Israeli intelligence agencies warn of possible unrest. But it is only the officials hunkered down in the PA headquarters in the statelet of Ramallah who are troubled. They, along with liberal Zionists, worried about Israel's reputation, while the Europeans clung to the two-state myth and the directors of NGOs scrambled to meet in their digital conference halls of Zoom. Netanyahu suspends the formal annexation. But the de facto annexation marches on, implemented through mass home demolitions, daily army and settler attacks on Palestinian farmers, military orders, and plans to build new bypass roads. All of this is routine. No cause for undue concern, it doesn't merit newspaper headlines and doesn't change the rules of the game. It allows the fiction of "Israel proper" to persist.

Why didn't Palestinians rise up against formal annexation or the relocation of the embassy? Some people attributed it to a deep despair among Palestinians, their sense of powerlessness and futility after decades of losing battles and hijacked intifadas. Others said it was because the Palestinian cause is dead, forsaken by its champions. This explanation is appealing to the proponents of normalization. How can they be asked to care about a cause that has been abandoned by its own people?

But Palestinians' refusal to respond to the PA's appeals tells us more about that authority's failure to mobilize the public. Palestinians are not automatons that turn on with the press of a button and fall silent with a kick.

At the time, some people spoke of the mounting anger and daily acts of silent resistance as leading to a possible explosion. Talk about everyday resistance that precedes an uprising may seem like a form of consolation or a grasp at hope, but recent years have given us two examples of activism in Jerusalem that show the city has not yet lost its capacity to stand up. We recall that Jerusalem rose up after settlers set young Mohammed Abu Khdeir on fire in Shuafat in 2014, when neighborhoods and towns in Jerusalem slipped the occupation's leash. We remember the popular resistance during the 2014 war, which reached its peak on Laylat al-Qadr at Al-Aqsa Mosque, when demonstrators and worshippers turned it into a night of clashes with police occupation forces, taking revenge for the blood spilled in Gaza.

We remember the battle of the metal detectors in July 2017, when after a two-week sit-in at Lions' Gate, Jerusalemites forced the occupation authorities to remove the detectors and open Huta Gate to worshippers. These brief uprisings came without warning; no one forecast them and the PA didn't raise any alarm. In fact, the PA's lack of influence in Jerusalem might explain its people's ability to take action and fight the occupation.

The occupation authority did not deal with these two sudden eruptions as exceptional events, understanding that the murder of Abu Khdeir and the installment of metal detectors had lit the fuse but not created the fire. Accordingly, its response combined naked repression with policies of containment, "Israelization," and the erasure of young Jerusalemites' Palestinian identity. While intelligence and police agencies surveil, arrest, punish, and summarily execute, the occupation municipality — its community centers and schools, and the national insurance institute — pump money and resources into the city to forge a generation shorn of its identity, preoccupied with individual salvation and assimilation into the Israeli labor market.

It's a delicate balance. In the interstices between displacement and Israelization, between slow strangulation and containment, contradictions emerge, reflecting the colonial apparatus's confused approach to a people it considers a surplus of an unwanted demographic — or as the former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Abba Eban put it, "arsenic," which can only be absorbed by the human body in very limited quantities.

Jerusalem has taught us many lessons.

The occupation authorities confiscate Jerusalemites' land to build Jewish settlements, settler roads, the annexation wall and national parks. They deny them building permits then demolish their homes for building illegally, or force them to demolish their homes themselves. They keep a tight grip on Palestinian neighborhoods, targeting recalcitrant ones with arrests and raids. They mobilize their bureaucracy to strip Palestinian Jerusalemites of their residency and apply their laws to expel Palestinians from their homes and replace them with settlers. They isolate Jerusalemites from their natural ties to the outskirts of the city and the West Bank and levy back-breaking taxes. They take action to suppress any Palestinian political, cultural or social initiatives outside of the occupation's control.

But none of these policies have eradicated the "Palestinian arsenic" from Jerusalem, where they comprise some 40% of the population. Hence the intense focus on the policies of Israelization and containment — a recent prominent manifestation being the decision by the Israeli Interior Ministry to facilitate the acquisition of Israeli citizenship for some 20,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites between the ages of 18 and 21. (This is the same Interior Ministry that has stripped thousands of Jerusalemites of their permanent residency in the city because their "center of life" lies outside Jerusalem, the same ministry that threatens Jerusalemite activists and their families with the loss of residency as a punitive measure.)

Palestinians at Gaza city organize a Palestinian flags march in solidarity with the city of Jerusalem —Photo: Mahmoud Khattab/Quds Net News/ZUMA

But Jerusalem has taught us many lessons. One of these is that a small stone thrown in still water is enough to create a wave, and this wave has been rippling out since the first days of Ramadan. Those who threw the first stone were young people targeted by Israelization, a process designed to divorce them from their emancipatory and national causes, to persuade them that politics is just a headache, and to teach them — in schools and community centers run by the Jerusalem municipality — to be upstanding citizens so they can live in prosperity.

All of these ideas appear to have come crashing down when the occupation authorities closed the gate to their city — Damascus Gate — with barriers and barricades on the first day of Ramadan. Young Palestinians stood up to occupation forces with stones, their faces bared, forcing the police to withdraw, and then set about dismantling the barriers themselves.

This sudden eruption could have died down the day the barriers were removed or when the occupation municipality sent some munshids (Islamic chanters) to try and restore "calm" and "the Ramadan atmosphere" to Damascus Gate. The influential local elite might have protested that these were nothing more than skirmishes led by apolitical hoodlums not motivated by any nationalist scruples, but simply looking to make trouble and pass the time. But what began at Damascus Gate spread to Sheikh Jarrah, fuelling and fusing with the struggle of families there threatened with displacement, turning Sheikh Jarrah into the focal point for Jerusalemites and Palestinians generally.

A new form of protest began to grow in Sheikh Jarrah, entirely different from the usual scene in the neighborhood over the last decade. Protestors directly engaged with occupation police and settlers, first by chanting and raising the Palestinian flag and then by defying brutal police attacks and attempts to disperse demonstrations with stones and more chants. We will stay right here khawa, as Jerusalemites say, which means "in your face" or "despite your best efforts." And in Jerusalem, khawa is a way of life.

Palestinians continued their evening demonstrations in Jerusalem khawa, undeterred by the machinery of oppression or the closure of the entrances to Sheikh Jarrah. They spoiled the Zionist celebration of Jerusalem Day, which marks the "reunification" of the city, and khawa they forced the cancellation of the march in the Old City. They barricaded themselves inside Al-Aqsa Mosque and stood up to bullets and tear gas khawa. Khawa, too, they chanted the name of Mohammed Deif in Sheikh Jarrah and the Al-Aqsa courtyard, and they cheered after the warning sirens sounded and the rockets of the resistance fell on Jerusalem. Khawa they fight to reclaim their city, and this act of reclamation is a slap in the face of everyone who imagined that the process of containment and Israelization had succeeded in breaking this generation.

This does not mean that the projects of Israelization and pacification led by occupation authorities are not a danger or are destined to fail. The occupation knows this is a long process and is betting on a lack of staying power and selective memory, as well as on local leaders who will try to hijack or circumvent the movement. Whatever the outcome of this new uprising, there can be no doubt that the occupation will launch a campaign of arrests and overt and covert intimidation of Palestinian Jerusalemites.

We used to imagine the moment of liberation, but this uprising has shown us that we ourselves may experience it.

More dangerous than repression, however, will be the expanding scope of Israeli community centers and the growing reach of Israeli institutions into our lives. The current uprising and the social networks it is giving rise to, and the mutual support and solidarity generated by demonstrations can constitute a defensive line against future attempts at Israelization. But this line can be broken unless it is supported by organized grassroots action that builds on the gains that have been and will be made during this current uprising.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment thus far has been to demonstrate the actuality of liberation. In contrast to just a few months ago, the question of liberation is no longer one for our grandchildren, but for us, for our generation. We used to imagine the moment of liberation, but this uprising has shown us that we ourselves may experience it; it could be us who come face to face with it, hear it, and breathe it.

The moment young people removed the barriers at Damascus Gate and thousands burst out in chants and cries of "God is great" was a moment of liberation. The day Jerusalemites prevented thousands of settlers from storming Al-Aqsa Mosque to celebrate Jerusalem Day was a day of liberation. The day Palestinians staged a general strike from the river to the sea was a day of liberation. This uprising, which began at Damascus Gate and then moved to Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, Haifa, Lydd, Gaza and Bira, announces a severance with despair and shows that liberation is closer than we had thought.

*Budour Hassan is a Palestinian writer living in Jerusalem who writes about politics, the environment, feminism and disability.

Egyptian women pass by Ramadan lanterns in Cairo, in May 2018.
Egypt
Yasmin El-Rifae

Honor Killings, #MeToo And The Future For Egyptian Women

Women in Egypt have definitively broken the silence around sexual violence — but what comes next?

CAIRO — About two weeks ago, Dalia's doorman, landlord, and neighbors — at least three men in total — suspecting her of having sex or some kind of sexual interaction with a guest, forced their way into her apartment in the Cairo neighborhood of Salam, beat her and either threw her out of the window or terrified her so much that she jumped. The National Council for Women, missing the point, said in its press release that Dalia's body was found "fully clothed." Newspapers reported that the prosecution had ordered a vaginal examination of her corpse.

Two weeks earlier, a draft of a long-awaited personal status law was shown to the public. The draft does nothing that women hoped it might to advance their legal standing — it in fact regresses it in several areas. The bill further diminishes women's already embattled legal and financial guardianship rights over themselves and their children: Being of legal age is not enough to legally consent to marriage — a woman's male relatives can object to the marriage within a year. Being the mother of a child is not enough for a woman to issue their birth certificate, open a bank account for him/her, or consent to their surgery — a power of attorney granted by the child's father or court document is necessary.

The draft law was met with a firestorm from women's rights organizations and a campaign called #guardianshipismyright, which included thousands of stories of women struggling for control as females, as wives and as parents.

The state and society dealt women two blows at the same time.

Public mourning of Dalia, who died in what could be described as an honor killing, has combined with the campaign against the proposed personal status law, with women insisting that the two injustices are inherently connected. In an ugly accident, the state and society dealt women two blows at the same time, and in response, they are braiding them together and identifying them as a package of injustices that make one another possible: secondary citizenship rights, lack of bodily and sexual control, violence, oppressive and gendered social policing, family values.

Screenshot from campaign, March 18th. "Mourning Dalia, martyr of Salam, for complete citizenship for women." — Photo: Mada Masr.

The connections have always been there. The TikTok women were arrested and tried both for making money in ways the state didn't understand, and for being outside of the class that's allowed to flirt, dance, or be sexual online. One of them said she was pressured to submit to a virginity test while in custody (she refused). In an openly patriarchal society, presided over by authorities so accustomed to unchecked transgression, few of the codes and binaries that govern our bodies and lives are hidden.

The challenge is to confront these different problems, these recurring violations and unfairnesses, without losing sight of the larger matrix they are a part of. The linking of Dalia's violent murder to the personal status laws builds on the last few years' public — and very online — momentum around sexual harassment, but it is also a topical shift, or expansion, away from it.

Sexual violence is a symptom of social, political and economic orders which favor the needs and views of men over women. It provokes strong feelings and responses, from empathy to outrage to a need to do something. Perversely, it is also a crime that patriarchal systems are able to publicly decry, and be seen to act against: men must defend their women, the law must defend the mothers and daughters of the nation, the police are given individual culprits to catch and display, prosecutors open investigations that easily lead away from the corridors of power. Taboos, importantly, may be broken, but in the theatricalized social and legal punishment of an individualized crime, we are all unified in flaying the bad guy and upholding the status quo.

It's costly to talk about sexual violence. It's costly for the victim speaking out. It's costly for other women who feel called on to show solidarity, especially on the policed and trolled terrain of social media. It's costly for the collective audience, so many of whom feel traumatized again. More than this, sexual violence becomes overwhelming, it becomes another spectacle: the fact that women are talking about rape becomes the story itself.

The thousands of testimonies published and shared since last summer, while often followed by regressive and exhausting debates, have been powerful and cathartic for many, and inspired demands for better accountability in universities and workspaces. Many have willfully, and wishfully, called it a women's revolution. But we haven't yet addressed the larger problems that make sexual violence so prevalent in the first place. By focusing on it as an isolated problem, we become stuck, and it starts to seem like the root of women's oppression, rather than a symptom. It becomes easier, also, to treat it as a problem of individuals — bad men and better men, strong survivors and weak ones.

Women marching against Egypt's sexual harassment, in Cairo, in February 2013. — Photo: Amanda Mustard/ZUMA

We've seen this happen throughout different iterations of the #MeToo movement, and in older mobilizations around harassment as well. This is partly because working on sexual violence takes so much energy and attention itself, but also because, again, it is such a unifying battle — at least on the surface. Agreeing that rape happens and that it's bad is not a large enough common ground from which to address the systemic problems that perpetuate rape in the first place. To do this, we have to break from the idea that there is one kind of feminism.

The state, mainstream media and often also NGOs and women's movements themselves tend to perpetuate a singular image, tone and agenda of women's rights. Social media gives us each our individually framed view on what women are talking about; the people who sell us things and shape our identities as consumers have always been ready to select and monetize feminine, and feminist, ideals. Certain voices are heard over others, a certain vocabulary becomes the only one acceptable. Some of this — ditching harmful expressions, for example — can be seen as a step forward, but a hardening of discourse and language not only becomes exclusionary, it has a limiting effect on our thinking, imagination, and, eventually, our communication itself.

In confronting patriarchy, we start looking for ways to act unified.

There's a fear that if women start paying attention to our different views on religion, family, the economy, or the political order then we will be faced with irreconcilable gulfs, exemplified in some of our perceived binaries of the secular feminist focused on social freedoms versus the Islamist feminist's reverse views on what those freedoms should be, or a feminism that wants to "lean in", versus one that sees capitalism itself as the root of our problems.

A colleague points out that in confronting patriarchy, we start looking for ways to act unified, because unity is seen as strength and gives us a certain ability to negotiate. For example, we deal with victims in one particular way, expect them to react to aggression in one particular way, and hold up one particular path of survival and recovery as the best, strongest one. Sometimes we ignore or reject victims if their reaction doesn't fit our perceived ideal. Salma El Tarzi, for example, wrote about her rape and was attacked by readers who dismissed her as having Stockholm Syndrome. This becomes the position from which we think we're able to negotiate with the larger system, and it keeps us in a reactive framework — we move not based on our own needs and visions, but on how the system sees us and what it permits. And so we replicate its hierarchies and exclusions.

Women have definitively broken the silence around sexual violence — but what is the next step? What is it that we want, beyond an end to rape? Sexual liberation? Legal equality? Socialism? Better capitalism? Anarchism? Discussions that allow for these differences won't necessarily lead to sisterhood and unified agendas, but they might activate an engagement with the wider political and social issues that keep us secondary. If we believe that confronting sexual violence can be a path to broader liberation, we have to ask: beyond a belief that rape is bad, what unites us?

Inside Qattameya's medical center in Cairo on the first day of vaccination in Egypt in March 2021
Egypt

Long Lines, Mixed Message As Egypt's Vaccine Rollout Sputters

Only about 150,000 of the country's 100 million people have been vaccinated so far against COVID-19, and in some crowded health centers, people wait hours only to be turned away.

CAIRO — Vaccine centers across Egypt have witnessed long wait times, insufficient supply and bureaucratic procedures that have made it difficult for many to secure shots to boost their immunity against COVID-19.

At one Cairo hospital, a Mada Masr correspondent witnessed the long lines first-hand, and Doctors Syndicate council member Ibrahim al-Zayat said that the alarming overcrowding situation is worst in the more densely populated areas of Upper Egypt and Cairo.

Vaccine rollout began to wider populations, including the elderly, in early March, and more than 600,000 of Egypt's roughly 100 million people have registered to get COVID-19 vaccines. As of Sunday, 148,987 people, including medical staff, have been vaccinated.

Health Ministry sources have previously told Mada Masr that its officials identified 200,000 medical workers and 23 million citizens with chronic diseases as the first segment of people to receive the vaccine. But many people considered less vulnerable have gotten the vaccine faster than the designated at-risk groups, and the ministry is preparing plans to vaccinate tourism sector workers ahead of a hoped-for robust summer travel season.

The focus on the eligibility criteria was part of the problem at the Matareya Universal Health Insurance Clinic in Cairo, where about 200 people eligible for the vaccine due to their age or due to having chronic diseases waited four to six hours on Thursday to receive COVID-19 vaccines, a Mada Masr correspondent observed.

Tensions rose as those set to receive the vaccine complained to the center's employees about the long waiting and last-minute demands for proof of diagnosis. Some of those waiting outside the hospital told Mada Masr that they were sent home after being asked to bring medical records proving diagnosis with chronic diseases and to set another date for receiving the vaccine.

"Are we supposed to get vaccinated against coronavirus or to catch it?" one person waiting in line asked, after they submitted their IDs and waited outside the clinic for their name to be called.

At one point, Dr. Rania Saeed, the director of elder care at the clinic, apologized to the crowd and said that the clinic has been working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day to administer vaccines. Saeed then tasked another employee with taking down the names of 265 people waiting to submit their medical histories in order to receive the vaccine, a process that took two and a half hours.

One of the citizens interviewed by Mada Masr, Ibrahim Abdel Hameed, 62, arrived at the Matareya clinic to find it overcrowded. When Abdel Hameed asked what to do after handing over his ID, the clinic employee told him to leave and come back at night or the next day or to wait with the crowd. When he asked what steps he needed to take before receiving the vaccine, the employee asked everyone to go outside and wait their turn.

For Zayat, allowing a large number of people, especially the elderly, to wait in the small medical centers creates a suitable environment for further spreading COVID-19 instead of preventing it.

After waiting for six hours, Abdel Hameed, who was number 73 on the list, was denied a shot. The doctor tore up Hameed's vaccine application and told him that his health insurance ID is not proof that he has chronic high blood pressure, as the vaccination system requires a medical report from a doctor. Saeed intervened, and told the doctor to accept the private doctor's prescription the man had brought with him as evidence.

Two women who followed Abdel Hameed, however, were denied shots because they had not brought reports proving that one woman has diabetes and the other has an autoimmune disease.

Health workers prepare an elderly woman to receive a dose of AstraZeneca — Photo: Mohamed Shokry/dpa via ZUMA Press

For Cabinet coronavirus committee member Hamdy Ibrahim, the crowding at clinics is evidence that there are shortcomings in the organization of the vaccination process in a number of centers, especially those designated for the elderly. But he also said that raising people's awareness, following precautionary measures and avoiding crowding inside vaccination centers, may be the solution to vaccinate the largest number of citizens in the least possible time, at least until the matter is better organized by Health Ministry officials.

In a statement issued Friday, the Health Ministry placed the blame for the crowding on citizens, saying that people had failed to show up to receive their shots on the dates specified for them.

But the Ministry also took steps on Sunday to alter its vaccination plan, announcing that it designated an additional 200 new clinics to administer the shot, doubled the number of medical teams working at vaccination centers nationwide, increased the clinic operating hours and capped the number of citizens who can be vaccinated at one clinic at 100 per day.

The ramp-up in administration capacities also comes after Egypt received 854,400 doses last week of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine as part of the global COVAX agreement. There are also reports that more Sinopharm vaccines could be on their way in the coming weeks.

Braving crowds has only been half the battle for at-risk groups. Many have also struggled to secure appointments at all.

In late March, many young people who are not classified as vulnerable to the coronavirus had begun to get the vaccine as early as one day after they had registered online, while those who had registered well in advance, including the elderly and people with chronic conditions, had yet to be scheduled for their first dose.

Attributing the issue to the fact that earlier applicants only had 40 vaccination centers to choose from while those who signed up later could choose from 138 centers, the Health Ministry told Mada Masr at the time that it planned to amend the registration system to enable those who registered earlier to change their choice of vaccination center.

Health Ministry Spokesperson Khaled Megahed said on television Friday that the Ministry can increase administration clinics to 5,000 if need be, providing assurances that 12.5 million citizens can be vaccinated within five weeks.

The provision of free vaccines has been a matter of concern for the government in recent months. Without the requisite funds to ensure widespread vaccination, the government has turned to public messaging that presents vaccination as optional. Alaa Ghannam, the director of the Right to Health program at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, previously told Mada Masr that the approach is "an attempt to manufacture a loophole that would allow the vaccine not to be offered free of charge for everyone."

An independent medical source previously told Mada Masr that the Health Ministry has a parallel track to government-procured vaccines that would provide shots at a modest price through partnership agreements with the private sector.

"It is understandable that the government does not want to be subject to criticisms for not shouldering the entire burden of vaccination, which is what all other countries have done," the source said. "And generally speaking, vaccinations fall within the purview of the government."

A traffic jam along al-Azhar street in Cairo.
Egypt
Mohamed Elshahed*

Cairo Is Urban Trauma, Postcard From A City Planner

This dearth of urban planning in the Egyptian capital dates back half a century. But it reached a new peak starting in 2019, when one of its last livable districts saw its old ways demolished.

CAIRO — Inhabiting a city is an emotional and a psychological experience. For the past decade, I have lived in Cairo, a city I found to be exciting and full of potential from the perspective of an urbanist who studies cities, architecture and is concerned with heritage. I lived in Heliopolis, which I thought was one of the last sections of the Egyptian capital that, despite poor urban management for the past several decades, retained qualities that made it a livable place. It had trees, ample sidewalks, interesting architecture, and a neighborhood feel within its many subsections. It was a district with a relatively high quality of life compared to other parts of the city. There were also the remains of an extensive public transport system — the tram — which despite being dysfunctional, at least allowed residents to dream of its restoration one day under the right leadership.

Urban governance has been nonexistent since the military coup of 1952, when the Free Officers received support from the CIA through a covert program known as Project Fat Fucker to oust King Farouk, seen as uncooperative in the post-World War II era. It was an era shaped by postcolonial politics or, to be more precise, when formal colonialism was morphing into a new system that maintained colonial control, with access to assets, markets, raw material and labor under the guise of independence — a distracting form of political theater built on the emotions and desires of the masses in former colonies.

This dearth of urban planning was strikingly manifest in the summer of 2019, when over the course of several months, all the features that made Heliopolis among Cairo's more livable districts were swiftly removed. The residents had no say in the matter. Century-old trees were uprooted, public transport infrastructure was removed, and sidewalks were made smaller. Such actions are not only counter-intuitive to standard urban management logic but also have a severe impact on the value of private property in the area and, more importantly, on the psychology of residents. This is urban trauma.

Cairo today, and for much of the past decade, is an unstable city. When protests erupted in 2011 in the capital and across the country, occupying urban space was central to dissent. Conversely, urban infrastructure, particularly road systems, proved essential tools for authorities to assert urban control, such as the rapid deployment of security vehicles to the streets in an effort to impose curfews. Other examples include the cutting of electricity and the internet. In addition, there were many insidious forms of control that worked to destabilize the urban environment and make it less hospitable to potential protesters as well as to create a constant state of anxiety, even inside the home.

Over the past decade, Cairo has transformed immensely, with slogans such as "development" and "progress' operating as smoke screens for a violent remaking of the city for other ends. Counterrevolutionary forces argued that stability was more important than political change, but on the neighborhood level across the country there has been no stability whatsoever. Space is disfigured on a daily basis, trees are removed, buildings are demolished and heritage collapses. Within a matter of days, weeks or months, residents have lost their orientation around neighborhoods in which they have lived their entire lives. What kind of stability is this? And for whom?

Urban planners understand the psychological potential of cities.

Since the 1950s, urban planners, mostly in the United States and Europe, have understood the psychological potential of cities. Town planning can engender a sense of belonging, strengthen local communities, and bolster neighborhood ties. Conversely, it can also enforce a sense of individualism, manipulate residents into becoming consumers and intensify feelings of loneliness, alienation, anxiety and fear.

When the United States began its "shock and awe" campaign in Baghdad in 2003, the intention, as the name suggests, was to induce psychological shock, to overwhelm and control the population of an entire capital in a mere instant. In today's urban environment, psychology is always at work: in the hyper-surveillance of Dubai or Beijing, in the advertising-saturated Times Square in New York or London's Piccadilly Circus; or in the presence of military camps within Egyptian cities, with conscripts placed in watchtowers, their rifles pointed outward at the city around them. In all these examples, and many more, urban environments impact human psychology, intentionally or not, where technologies, spaces and tactics are weaponized by those in power to control populations.

Despite the apparent availability of funds to build an entirely new capital or attract investments for superfluous additions to the city — such as mimicking the London Eye on the Nile — Egypt's more mundane, yet crucial, urban needs have not been met. In a political environment orchestrated around the notion of megaprojects touted by those in power as evidence of their rule, fixing sidewalks, planting trees and improving public transport do not add up to iconic achievements. Instead, Egyptians have been increasingly gaslit since the 1990s into believing that their cities are irreparable and nothing more than reflections of the Egyptian psyche: chaotic and unordered.

Through psychological manipulation that serves undemocratic rule and uncontrolled capital, it has become common to hear that something is fundamentally wrong with Egyptians themselves and that only money can buy them a ticket out of their urban misery. Promotions abound for privately-built gated developments, with names meant to evoke life in Marseille or other far afield spaces such as "Dreamland" or even "Future City," which feels all too much like the dreary present.

Over the last several years, Cairo has been the laboratory for some of the most aggressive urban interventions in its entire history. From highways that negate the existence of residential buildings within arm's reach, to the demolition of hundreds of mausolea containing the remains of the city's dead, including many of its most important public figures, these projects seem to negate the very existence of the city's inhabitants.

In the current political climate, where any form of opposition is immediately branded as a threat to the nation and its security, such projects bulldoze through the urban fabric under a plethora of flags and nationalistic slogans such as "we build for you." At the crux of the matter is a form of state paternalism that echoes statements made by officials during the legendary eighteen days of the revolution: "Egyptians are not ready for democracy" — which in urban affairs translates into "Egyptians don't know what is good for their city."

Cairo has been transformed into a place without memory.

For many inhabitants of the city there is a sense of being held hostage, of feeling helpless and having no control over the environment they occupy and inhabit. The numerous interventions happening at once are disorienting, they create chaos and disperse any effort to record what is happening. Alongside these processes, and in the absence of robust institutions that maintain the memory and history of modern and contemporary society, Cairo has been transformed into a place without memory, perpetually stuck in a disorienting present. These are tactics of psychological control and many Cairenes may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, caused not only by the instability of the city, but by the increasing sense of anxiety that comes with pervasive insecurity and predatory surveillance.

In the aftermath of 2011 Cairo saw an immense increase in surveillance cameras mounted in public spaces. This was followed by a law that forced private businesses to install cameras outside their premises. Trees may provide shade and clean the air, but in a security state they also hinder surveillance. So trees must be removed. Occasionally, to counter criticism of tree removal, imported palm trees are planted as decorative replacements whilst lining the pockets of importers. The imported palms do not survive well in Cairo's harsh environment and often die shortly after planting. This seems counterintuitive: Why import palm trees from vast distances to a country rich in its own local varieties of palms? Such questions can best be answered by adjusting the expectations or refocusing the purposes of the urban interventions taking place.

Cairo street scene in 2005. Not much has changed since. — Photo: JJ Jester

Such interventions are driven by multiple interests; not the interests of the masses, but rather those of the security apparatus looking to open up spaces for observation and control and for those who receive direct, no-bid contracts and are only looking to maximize profit. Regardless of the form they take, these interventions are in fact fulfilling exactly what they are designed for; the public does not figure into the state's considerations.

In 1948, in the aftermath of World War II, and following the exit of British troops from Egyptian cities, architect Sayed Karim consulted Al-Musawwar magazine on producing a series of spreads that illustrate key urban challenges facing Cairo in order to get the public on board for the necessary changes. One of the spreads titled "Cairo is suffocating, let her breathe!" was centered on the issue of green space. The spread was mainly visual accompanied by a short text. It included an aerial view of the capital with a graph below visualizing the amount of green space in various parts of the city as measured by the ratio of population density to public parks. It presented both a bleak picture and a call to arms, arguing that the city was dangerously lacking in green space which correlates directly with higher rates of infant mortality, disease and social ills.

At the time, only one percent of the city's total area was dedicated to parks, while it needed about ten percent for healthy levels. Six districts, such as Bulaq, Shubra and historic Cairo, which were collectively populated by over 1.1 million residents, did not have access to any green space. The text concludes with a call to establish a municipality to govern Cairo and manage its affairs, including the lack of green space. "Enough of the politics of improvisation which have cost the state and the people immense losses," the architect concluded.

Karim was an ambitious and vocal architect and urbanist and his daring message reflected the widespread revolutionary fervor and public criticism sweeping Egypt after 1948. Others joined his calls for a municipality and the demand began to materialize in 1949. However, the heavy-handed policies of the new military regime which co-opted the revolution in 1952 led to the cancellation of the short-lived municipality. The building erected for the municipality was then used as the headquarters of Nasser's Arab Socialist Union and subsequently the National Democratic Party.

In this new era, Egypt's heads of state did what they saw fit with the city and its people, there was no room for a politics of participation such as a democratic municipality. Ever since, the city has been a site for projects decreed from above and designed to improve the image of leaders rather than provide its residents with needed services. As for voices such as Sayed Karim, who looked to galvanize public opinion with urban critique, his career was cut short, his offices were shut by the state and he was placed under house arrest in 1965. Cairo today continues to live in the shadow of this traumatic moment.

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