Faisal’s Tobril

Or the way I see it

Archive for February, 2006

Addendum

Posted by Faisal on February 28, 2006

My friend Hussam just informed me that I need to put numbers and things of the sort when making arguments about the state of education or the economy of Egypt. That makes complete sense, and let me inform anyone who has bothered to read this far that I will not generally do that unless I feel really strongly about the topic.

Other than that, please, don’t take anything I say for granted. Im sorry if Im going to force you to do a bit of research, but sometimes I just dont have the numbers at hand. I dont have access to a computer at home at the moment and techincally speaking, I shouldnt be blogging from work. It would be pretty obvious that I am not doing my work if I was to embark on a journey of statistical discovery and uncovering.

So BASICALLY… Sorry!

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The Meat of the Matter and the Crux of the Issue.

Posted by Faisal on February 28, 2006

I recently took a cab to work (I was late for the school bus and thus was forced to dish out 20 L.E. to a cabby). I usually make conversation with Cab drivers, usually because they cannot seem to be able to drive for any distance without being involved in some kind of conversation. Im guessing this keeps the boredom at bay. So, anyways, the driver turned out to be a department head at the Ministry of Planning. I found that interesting.
You see, Department heads are like 4-5 Hierarchial levels away from Minister. They are above the middle echelons of the organization. But this guy was driving a cab! Of course, I didn’t just get into the cab and have the man announce that he was a department head. We began talking about something or the other and then he informed me that one of his children was taking English courses at some center or institute. Then we began discussing the concept of private lessons in Egypt and, of course, the state of the Egyptian educational system.
Now we get to the meat of the matter. The Crux of the Issue.
Economically speaking, Egypt is considered an under-developed state. I won’t get into the economic details and statistics (mainly because I dont have the numbers memorized and I’m too lazy to search for them now) but suffice to say that the country is lagging behind… and badly. This is especially obvious to all those who reside in Egypt. The number of poor people is appalling. The number of people who get poorer everyday is even more appalling. Our Economy is more and more relying on the services sector, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for the fact that Egypt almost defines the classic example of a rentier state; we get all our income from… things that are already there.
So what are Egypt’s sources of income?
1. Tourism
2. Suez Canal Revenues.
3. Remittances from workers abroad.
4. Oil.
5. (RECENTLY) Selling off public institutions.
So we’re basically producing nothing and getting money for things that we never did.
I could begin to list all the reasons why Egypt has no industrial capacity: the conflicts that we were involved in for years and that still ear-mark the region as risky to possible investors, the Nasserist and Sadatist legacies, the conspicuous consumption carried out by most Egyptians who can afford to invest etc etc etc.
But that’s not it. Not really. Deep down, if we search and dig and uncover, I believe the root of the problem is Education.
I am one of those political economists who strongly believe that Education is a main driving factor, if not the most important factor, behind a state’s ability to develop, industrialize or at least become a world economic power. China was able to prove that you do not need to produce and export high-tech products in order to succeed. Not at all. Then again, it wouldn’t be rational to compare Egypt with China because of the differences in the past, now and for sometime. Korea has also been able to prove that investing in education will mean a high return in terms of (and I hate to use this expression which I consider quite derogatory) “Human Capital”.

Let’s look at it in a simpler fashion. Germany, the UK, the US, France along with some other industrialized nations have an economy that is heavily based on production. That is, an economy based on skilled or semi-skilled manual laborers. We don’t even have that in beautiful Egypt. Our vocational schools are so out-dated and so pathetically inadequate that those graduating for them probably wouldnt qualify to be apprentices in the shabbiest family-owned factories in the poorest industrial country.

When High School teachers, administration and staff choose to give their students above average to high grades so that these same students can specialize in their field of choice, that really does not help at all. Twenty years from now, we’ll read about another building falling or patient dying because some son-of-a-bitch Doctor or Engineer (inadequately trained and educated) couldn’t do his job properly.

Wake up!

There is so much more I want to write about this, and I will, but for now… I’m too exhausted!

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I came to this conclusion

Posted by Faisal on February 26, 2006

I came to the conclusion recently that I strongly abhor Israelis. I realized that, except for that small portion of Israelis who actively lobby against Israeli occupation of Palestine and others who refuse to be conscripted when the time comes after they complete High School, I will not even enter into conversation with an Israeli when I see them.

It was never like this before for me. I had always taken the stance that I would deal with them as human beings, possibly in a slightly cold manner, but I might actually engage in conversation… out of politeness if nothing else.

Then something strange happened a couple of days ago.

I was watching the news and the channel I was viewing had a short piece of footage which involved the usual scene of a Palestinian child lobbing a stone at an Israeli armored Jeep. In retaliation, an Israeli soldier comes out from behind the Jeep and fires a couple of rifle rounds in the general vicinity of the child. I don’t know if the man was a bad shot, or whether he missed on purpose, but the boy was not hit. Keep in mind that this was live fire, a few seconds before this boy threw his rock, a man was shot and killed.

I had seen this exact scene hundreds of times before on many different news channels from different parts of the world. But this time, my grandmother (who was sitting next to me at the time) spoke up and said: Look at what he did! How could he do that? He [the boy] just threw a rock at him and he fires a bullet back at him! These Israelis! (This last statement was said in a very sarcastic and cynical tone of voice.)

I realized that I am disgusted, as a human being (though I cannot deny the subjectivity of my conclusions as an Muslim, Arab Egyptian), by the things those Israeli army soldiers do.

I will not accept the weird excuses they offer to explain their actions (not that they feel they have to, apparently. They seem to think that it’s only natural for them to fire live rounds at people throwing rocks at their M-16 toting, steel and kevlar protected soldiers). I don’t care if the United Nations divided Palestine into territories for the jewish inhabitants and others for the Arabs. I don’t care if U.N. resolutions makes it alright or legal. I thus don’t care that the Israelis are still in breach of these resolutions.

Although I have never advocated this before, I hope by everything holy that Hamas keeps bombing the hell out of Israeli civilians until they figure out that they are an occupying force who do not have the right to take one millimeter into land which is not their own.

You know what? I don’t care about how violent people think this is as well. I hate the fact that I try to be understanding towards Americans, Israelies and all those foreigners and Westerners who think that Arabs are uncivilized and Muslims are terrorists. FINE! Let them think that. I personally don’t believe in killing them for that, but I definitely believe that I will be less understanding and more critical of their culture and civilization.

Apparently the U.N. has a Dialogue of Civilizations committee or Special Body set-up. To hell with that. They won’t get any dialogue from me.

Damn bigots.

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Fisk on Denmark

Posted by Faisal on February 15, 2006

This is an article that one of my brothers forwarded to me on e-mail. As is obvious, it is by Robert Fisk and discusses the issue of the Danish newspaper and the caricatures of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed.

I generally respect what Robert Fisk has to say… and even though I do not agree with all his views in this article, I respect the fact that he went about writing it in what seemed to me to be a level-headed manner.

Here it is:

Robert Fisk: This Isn’t Islam Versus Secularism

We can exercise our own hypocrisy over religious feelings. I happen
to remember, more than a decade ago, a film called The Last Temptation
of Christ.

By Robert Fisk

So now it’s cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed with a bomb-shaped
turban. Ambassadors are withdrawn from Denmark , Gulf nations clear
their shelves of Danish produce, Gaza gunmen threaten the European
Union. In Denmark, Fleming Rose, the “culture” editor of the pip-squeak
newspaper which published these silly cartoons – last September, for
heaven’s sake – announces that we are witnessing a “clash of
civilizations” between secular Western democracies and Islamic
societies. This does prove, I suppose, that Danish journalists follow in
the tradition of Hans Christian Anderson. Oh lordy, lordy. What we’re
witnessing is the childishness of civilizations.

So let’s start off with the Department of Home Truths. This is not
an issue of secularism versus Islam. For Muslims, the Prophet is the man
who received divine words directly from God. We see our prophets as
faintly historical figures, at odds with our high-tech human rights,
almost caricatures of themselves. The fact is that Muslims live their
religion. We do not. They have kept their faith through innumerable
historical vicissitudes. We have lost our faith ever since Matthew
Arnold wrote about the sea’s “long, withdrawing roar”. That’s why we
talk about “the West versus Islam” rather than “Christians versus Islam”
– because there aren’t an awful lot of Christians left in Europe. There
is no way we can get round this by setting up all the other world
religions and asking why we are not allowed to make fun of Mohamed.

Besides, we can exercise our own hypocrisy over religious feelings.
I happen to remember how, more than a decade ago, a film called The Last
Temptation of Christ showed Jesus making love to a woman. In Paris,
someone set fire to the cinema showing the movie, killing a young man. I
also happen to remember a US university which invited me to give a
lecture three years ago. I did. It was entitled ” September 11, 2001 :
ask who did it but, for God’s sake, don’t ask why”. When I arrived, I
found that the university had deleted the phrase “for God’s sake”
because “we didn’t want to offend certain sensibilities”. Ah-ha, so we
have “sensibilities” too.

In other words, while we claim that Muslims must be good
secularists when it comes to free speech – or cheap cartoons – we can
worry about adherents to our own precious religion just as much. I also
enjoyed the pompous claims of European statesmen that they cannot
control free speech or newspapers. This is also nonsense. Had that
cartoon of the Prophet shown instead a chief rabbi with a bomb-shaped
hat, we would have had “anti-Semitism” screamed into our ears – and
rightly so – just as we often hear the Israelis complain about
anti-Semitic cartoons in Egyptian newspapers.

Furthermore, in some European nations – France is one, Germany and
Austria are among the others – it is forbidden by law to deny acts of
genocide. In France , for example, it is illegal to say that the Jewish
Holocaust or the Armenian Holocaust did not happen. So it is, in fact,
impermissable to make certain statements in European nations. I’m still
uncertain whether these laws attain their objectives; however much you
may prescribe Holocaust denial, anti-Semites will always try to find a
way round. We can hardly exercise our political restraints to prevent
Holocaust deniers and then start screaming about secularism when we find
that Muslims object to our provocative and insulting image of the Prophet.

For many Muslims, the “Islamic” reaction to this affair is an
embarrassment. There is good reason to believe that Muslims would like
to see some element of reform introduced to their religion. If this
cartoon had advanced the cause of those who want to debate this issue,
no-one would have minded. But it was clearly intended to be provocative.
It was so outrageous that it only caused reaction.

And this is not a great time to heat up the old Samuel Huntingdon
garbage about a “clash of civilizations”. Iran now has a clerical
government again. So, to all intents and purposes, does Iraq (which was
not supposed to end up with a democratically elected clerical
administration, but that’s what happens when you topple dictators). In
Egypt , the Muslim Brotherhood won 20 per cent of the seats in the
recent parliamentary elections. Now we have Hamas in charge of ”
Palestine”. There’s a message here, isn’t there? That America ‘s
policies – “regime change” in the Middle East – are not achieving their
ends. These millions of voters were preferring Islam to the corrupt
regimes which we imposed on them.

For the Danish cartoon to be dumped on top of this fire is
dangerous indeed.

In any event, it’s not about whether the Prophet should be
pictured. The Koran does not forbid images of the Prophet even though
millions of Muslims do. The problem is that these cartoons portrayed
Mohamed as a bin Laden-type image of violence. They portrayed Islam as a
violent religion. It is not. Or do we want to make it so?

-The Independent

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Football… or is it Soccer? WHO CARES!

Posted by Faisal on February 14, 2006

Egypt has recently won the African Cup of Nations! Congratulations!

In what was probably the most watched televised football tournament in this country, Egyptian fans heroically cheered their team on to an ultimate victory over the Ivory Coast’s team (after 2 regular halves, 2 extra halves and ultimately 8 penalty kicks). We won, through penalty kicks, 1-0.

For the uninformed amongst you, 1-0 is the magical score that is automatically given to any two teams who slug it out in a grueling, nerve-wrenching penalty fest.

I actually went to the football stadium and watched that match. Hana and I had great seats! 2nd class tickets which placed us almost exactly in-line with the half-pitch line. We cheered and screamed and whistled along with over 75,000 other fans (more like the 30 sitting in our direct vicinity, but there were 75,000 fans in that stadium, not counting Egyptian security forces, who I estimate (very roughly and tentatively) numbered 281,938. Plus or minus 5… and the creepy looking guy two seats down from me.

Yes Egypt! Yes! Yes!

It would have been a memorable experience BUT…

But the Egyptian authorities, media, television, sport-casters, stadium administrators contributed to corrupting an event involving the most popular sport today.

1. The tickets were sold sporadically and were difficult to obtain.

2. There was supposedly food outlets at the Stadium. I haven’t tried the stuff personally, but all accounts place it at a minimum of horrendous. They wouldnt allow people to bring in water or soda-cans or what not.

3. Even more, they wouldnt allow people to bring in lighters (Think: these lighters will be used to light up large amounts of TNT or dynamite and blow up the stadium)

4. The doors were closed VERY early on, and they even refused to allow people (who had tickets and my brother and friends were part of this group of people) to enter a total of three hours before the match.

5. Black Market prices were mind-boggling. That’s alright though, scalping always occurs and its an almost perfect market in terms of supply and demand. What I do not appreciate is Police Officers busting the scalpers and then selling the tickets on the Black Market themselves!

6. Our football team sucked! If you’re religious, then it was God’s Grace that gave them that victory. Yet the Egyptian people are going on and on and on about how amazing they are!

7. Of course, the main reason they do this is because all the Sports commentators are rambling on about how amazing they were/are.

8. The reason they’re doing that is because they want to suck up to the Egyptian Football Association. Favours, money, recommendations, jobs… I dont know what they want, but they want something.

9. Why is that President Mubarak grants the football team 3 Million pounds and the very next day sugar prices increase by 1 L.E. per Kilogram?

10. Why on earth is President Mubarak being hailed and thanked everytime the victory is mentioned on the radio or on television?

11. The standard authoritarian rhetoric goes heavily into effect; President Mubarak is being called the father of the Egyptian people and the sports commentator who was commenting on the Final game was talking more about how Mubarak is such a nice, giving and amazing person than on the fact that the football team won!!!

12. Why are newspapers hailing ‘The Pharoahs’ in their headlines, yet forgetting all about the ferry incident where over 1,000 people died? It stinks and reeks of corruption and bribery and its all but forgotten by the Media!

13. Why do the Egyptian people stay on the streets of Cairo until the early hours of the morning celebrating the victory and yet not one word is raised about all the problems that face us!

14. Why do these uncivilized bastards block whole streets in an already extremely populated and grid-locked city where vehicle traffic is slowly choking the life out of every citizen just because your football team won a tournament which really means jack shit?!?!

There’s so much more to say yet it’s so intertwined and I will have to digress to everything corrupt and rotten about this country that this post would never stop.

What’s wrong with you Egypt?!

By all that’s holy, what is wrong with the Egyptians?!

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The Lion’s Den

Posted by Faisal on February 12, 2006

Hello people

Okay, for the most part I do agree with all you have said with the regards to the “Danish Problem”. In that there is little rationale behind boycotting a government that didn’t insult us in the first place, and that we, as Muslims, should make serious attempts at improving our image.

But I am going to be a bit of a devil’s advocate here, if only to make things interesting. Oh and I am sorry if I ramble on a bit, but I have a hard time making arguments without going into long and boring backgrounds. Oh I’ll also be writing in the first person a lot but it is not necessarily how I feel (I just find it easier to write that way sometimes).

First of all, I think that getting angry and outraged is a natural reaction to seeing your religion being mocked (I do understand that this has nothing to do with your argument, but bear with me). Furthermore, Muslims (particularly Muslim Arabs) have a… unique (not the word I wanted to use) predicament in that Islam as a religion crosses over into being a culture, a way of life even, simply due to the nature and precepts of the religion. So when someone mocks me, as a Muslim, I, by instinct, will understand that my very way of life is being mocked. Being mocked by someone who, with all due respect, does not know or understand the first thing about my way of life, and why and how I live it.

In short, what I am trying to say is that anger and outrage as reactions are not out place or context in this case.

Secondly, whilst I will be the first to agree that image is very important, it is an ignorant man who builds arguments and opinions based on them. “Muslims are bloodthirsty terrorists” may be the image being projected, but I will definitely look upon the person believing it with the utmost contempt. And while I may well excuse the misconceptions of an individual, a newspaper is more than a mere individual and I will not, personally, excuse the ignorance of what is supposed to be a collection of “scholars” (i.e. the newspaper).

So that takes care of the anger-related portion. As for the fact that no Muslims see to be bothered with the fact that Shiites are killing Sunnis and Sunnies are killing Shiites, but are immediately riled up at a cartoon… well I think that is more a facet of human nature than anything else. It is all good for an African-American to call another African-American “Nigger”, even though it is throwback from days of opression and slavery, but a caucasian calling a black man “nigger” and there will be hell to pay. A black man shooting another black man and it might be dismissed as “representin” but a white guy shoots a black guy and it’s racsim.

Insult and pain, it would seem (as with almost everything in life), are relativistic variables that are interpreted by different people and cultures depending on the conditions and perpetrators involved, and in some cases, as and when it they are inclined to interpret them.

The one thing in Faisal’s argument that I cannot fault is the futility in blaming a people and a government that are not at fault. Having said that, can you really blame the people? We are raised and live in countries where the media is an extension of the government’s will and opinion on any given issue. Can people be blamed for thinking that the same applies elsewhere, albeit under the conveniently encompassing blanket of “Freedom of Expression and Speech”? (And there are people that truly believe that freedom of expression is only a blanket that does nothing more than cover the very same governmental will that they more clearly experience in their own countries…. come to think of it…I am bit of an agnostic myself).

And now that I think about it, if the media can depict the Muslim Prophet Mohammed in a negative context and get away with it by flying the “Freedom of Expression” banner, then the media sure as hell can depict Jews eating their offspring (or whatever) under the very same maxim. The point being that they cannot and will not because it will be hailed as racism, anti-semetism and bigotry by the very government that now decrees “I cannot do anything about it, we are an emancipated nation” (and I am not a conspiracy theorist, and Faisal I think will back that).

Simply put, politically we do not matter enough for the government to bother to do anything about it (but that’s another story for another time).

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The Return

Posted by Faisal on February 9, 2006

Hey Again

As is obvious, this Blog has been completely re-vamped. Re-vamped meaning: all the old posts were removed to make room for new ones. Not that there were lots of old ones. Either way… I ramble on for too much!!!

I’ve had this blog for over a year now, and for the past year or two I have been wanting to post regularly. I ended up with 5 posts of my own and 2 of Hana’s. Not quite the level of activity I was hoping for. And so, a couple of days ago, I decided to start once again. Thus, the blog is reborn.

If I can maintain the impetus.

So, what’s cookin these days?

Apparently, the Danish Embassy.

I’ve read about this on more than one blog uptill now and though anything I say might be redundant, I wouldn’t be true to myself if I don’t share what I have to say. Here goes:

It is extremely ridiculous that four months after the caricatures were published in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, muslims decide to riot and voice their apparently very strong opinions about said caricatures which, amongst other things, depict the Muslim Prophet Mohammed wearing a black turban which is really a bomb with a lit fuse.

Outrage! Anger! Violence!

Poor Arab world.

I heard about the issue quite a bit of time before I saw the actual depictions of the prophet. I found it amusing that Egyptians (I am an Egyptian who lives in Egypt) felt strongly enough about the cartoons that they felt a boycott of Danish products was required in order to “teach those Danes a lesson”.

I find myself amazed. Arabs and muslims die everyday in Palestine, yet you don’t think of doing a thing. In Pakistan, a Muslim Sunni decided to kill some Muslim Shiites (2 different sects of Islam), but not a word was raised in protest. Yet the moment some independant Danish newspaper decides to publish pictures depicting the prophet wearing a bomb-turban, you go berserk.

For the sake of argument, let’s just assume that what that newspaper did was wrong. (Mind you, I am an absolute believer in the sanctity of Freedom of Expression and Speech.) What on earth do you stand to gain demanding an apology from the Danish government? Even more, what does the farmer (or corporation) who owns the cows and churns the milk to give you milk, butter and cheese have to do with the independant Danish newspaper that decided to publish those drawings?!

If you attempt to rationally tackle the questions, you will notice, O Arab Brethren, that the media in Denmark (or at least that specific newspaper) is NOT owned by the government. It does not represent the views of said government. That is what the Danish Prime Minister meant when he said that he cannot apologize for the actions of that Newspaper. Am I expected to apologize for a crime committed by another Egyptian citizen? I think not. (Again, mind you, I am not saying what they did is a crime… I am merely illustrating my argument using a random example.)

What about that boycott? When I discussed this issue with colleagues at work, one of them piped up and said: This Boycott is a peaceful method of telling the Danes that we do not appreciate the depiction of our prophet in that manner. Tell me, why, oh why, do you want the factory workers in Denmark to suffer because of that?

Now that I think about it, I can come up with an answer to that question… but it sure as hell wasn’t any answer that I’ve heard before. My answer would be: so that these factory workers would PRESSURE the Danish newspapers into not printing such heinous caricatures again. Not likely to happen, but it sure beats burning the Danish embassies in Damascus and Beirut. Mindless barbarians, that’s what they’re going to think.

If you want to work on the problem, if you dont want the Danes or anyone else drawing, writing or talking about you in that manner then how about you start making yourself look good. The Arab world is constantly complaining of the power the Jewish lobby has in the United States. That is the root of all evil, of course. I hardly doubt the Americans woke up one day and decide to throw their fate over with the Jews. It doesnt work that way. These people worked for it. They worked hard. They worked tirelessly. BUT, they worked. You image as muslims is much like the image of Coca-Cola or Pepsi. You have to work to push that image into people’s heads. Tie it in with good thoughts and not pictures of people barbarically attacking a diplomatic mission.

That’s what you need to be doing.

Still, if you feel like you must boycott Lurpak butter, be my guest. If you think that their Prime Minister should swear by all that is Holy that this wont happen again, go ahead and try. Just dont ignore the true roots of the problem; they see you as intolerant, crazy rabble.

Do something about THAT!!!

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P.S. I frequently say Arabs where I probably should have said Muslims. Please excuse that bit of cultural habit. Not all Arabs are Muslims and by no means are all Muslims Arabs.

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