Total… er, partial eclipse of the Sun.

Today, Egypt was one of those countries fortunate enough to experience the Total Solar Eclipse. Sadly, this was in Salloum, way over by the western border of the country, right next to Libya. In Cairo, there was only a partial eclipse.

In the school where I work, as usual, there was a big controversy regarding the eclipse. Here’s how it went:

Someone in administration heard that there is a high chance of being blinded if you were to stare at the sun during the eclipse. Now, while I do not know the scientific truth of the matter, I will assume (for the sake of argument) that this is, in fact, true. What happened was that they re-scheduled the break 45 minutes earlier than usual. (With the old timing, break-time closely co-incided with the estimated time when there would be the maximum eclipse for Cairo).

Of course, the point behind this was to make sure that non of the kids stupidly look at the sun disk while the eclipse was “in process”. What happened was that during the eclipse, one of the teachers (I’m guessing) allowed his/her kids out (again Im guessing because they asked/begged and annoyed them) to check out the eclipse.

I’m not sure if the kids were meant to return to the classroom promptly, or not.

Since the Head-Mistress (Principal) was not present at that point in time (she had to go to this hospital because her son had been injured playing sports earlier in the day), non of the other administrative staff did anything about the issue. Furthermore, sixth period (eclipse-occuring time) was designated as a free period where the kids could (if they wished) join the “eclipse-prayer”. I have never heard about this before, but I will suppose that it exists in Islam or something.

There was no-one assigned to supervise those kids that did not wish to pray or the classes of the teachers that did wish to pray; all occurred haphazardly. This prayer was organized quite efficiently, in record time, if I may add. Of course, no real teaching occurred during the last two periods (which were over 8 minutes longer than usual because of the shortened and re-scheduled break)

My question is this: How on earth could an administrative staff, and a Head Mistress, expect to foster a proper educational environment if the decisions they make are abrupt and carried out with barely any warning. The teachers were more confused than the students. (I actually believe that the students are used to living in this chaotic atmosphere… they seem to thrive in such a climate.)

Whenever a teacher errs, or supposedly errs (the same thing to the administration), there is usually hell to pay. I would not be surprised if public lynching of the teacher became institutionalized policy. It surprises and shocks me that simple organizational steps cannot be set, followed and maintained. The school actually claims that they educate the future leaders of this country. Woe be unto us if this is true!

If I was in charge of this country, or had any say in the matter, the school staff and all administration personnel responsible for such chaos and confusion would be tried for High Treason, found guilty and summarily shot. I’m dead serious. One did not expect that private schools would be more corrupt than public schools, but apparently this is so. One expects governments, and especially the Egyptian government, to do a bad job. Schools who charge their students exorbitant fees for mediocre services, should not.

But that’s just the way I see it.

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The Rain

It rained yesterday. That was quite strange.

I imagine all Cairenes had already assumed the summer was upon us (yes, this early) because the temperature has been increasing steadily for the past two weeks. More and more people had already begun to shed their winter outfits and make ready for spring (that is, if one can call the period between winter and summer – generally lasting no more than a day to a week – spring).

As I took a cab back home from Downtown Cairo (from near the American University in Cairo’s Greek Campus), I noticed a couple of good things about the rain; the trees seem greener and the air smelled different, somewhat purer (not pure, of course. I doubt that anything short of divine intervention or a nuclear weapon can rid Cairo of the obscene levels of pollution that it suffers from). But aah! The trees were beautiful.

And that was about it.

Being Egyptian, and living in Egypt, I did not allow any shred of happiness to overcome my sensibilities. As usual, I was proven correct in my decision. I had to wait for an empty cab for a period which exceeded thirty minutes. As a general rule, this is a bit much. This is because most Egyptians are completely unfamiliar with rain. It’s also because government officials, or those in the Ministry of Transportation, clearly have no idea on how to plan and construct decent roads.

Let me explain. (Thought I warn you, this may take a bit and could be detrimental to your psychological health.. as an Egyptian. To all non-Egyptians, well… behold some of the miniscule reasons why I personally believe Egypt, as a country, should be declared one of the wonders of the modern world.)

I’ll start with the roads. Most Cairenes with a decent memory span of one year (you can’t expect more from Egyptians) or… more(!!!) understand perfectly well that rain is an urban disaster in Egypt; the roads flood, the metro (subway, tube, whatever) breaks down, public transportation in the form of buses and so on also break-down, walls leak, sewege and drainage pipes overflow… the whole works. In all honesty, this makes no sense at all.

You see, most Egyptian roads, in my humble opinion, should be labeled as hazardous. Apparently, in an attempt to keep Egyptians drivers and pedestrians on their toes (always on the lookout for possible hazards), no two Egyptian roads look alike, feel alike or are even designed alike. Hell, the same road in Egypt takes on forms that are so different that were you to blindfold a passenger in any four-wheeled vehicle (preferably a non-Egyptians. The Egyptians would be fooled for maybe… 3 seconds, then they’d identify the exact address – including the closest building number), they would probably believe that they are traversing urban, rocky, desert, tundra and savannah terrain all in one go.

You have streets which are V-shaped, then you have those that take on a wave form, then you have streets that go like this: / or like this \. Or a combination of both – /\/\/\/\.

You have streets with pot-holes, you have streets with ditches, you have streets with sidewalks, without sidewalks, with asphalt, without asphalt, with and without asphalt (Thirty-One flavors?! Humph! The Egyptian government has put Baskin Robbins to shame!) You have streets which wiggle you, make you slide, spin, rotate, vibrate, elevate, depress, compress and dissect you. (The combination is always a secret… and subject to change. You’ll always be caught with your pants down.)

We don’t have regular streets (usually consisting of a long, black smooth surface which is slightly curved upwards in the middle). WHY WOULD WE?! Why on earth would any sane, logical person want to have a road where the water automatically moves to the sides and where a gutter and efficient drainage system awaits to whisk it away through a myriad of well-designed, placed and built pipes?! I know why! Why that would be completely and utterly boring. This way, every time it rains, all car-drivers can imagine they’re boat captains (Ahoy there Cab Driver!) and navigate around the city. Because of the state of some Cairo streets, the previous statement isn’t really an exaggeration.

As it stands, when it rains, the normally insane Egyptian drivers split into factions;

King of the Jungle Faction: The group of people that will inform you that rain or shine, nothing stands in the way of their vehicle. They will continue driving along at speeds in excess of 100 km/h (in 60 km/h zones). As a special treat, and to illustrate their point more practically, they might even consider bumping up their normal vehicular speeds a good 20-40 km/h. To prove a point you see.

Head in the Ground Faction: My personal favourites. This group of people will slowly and surely inform you that to move beyond 1 km/h in the rain is a sure way to ultimately damage your vehicle. Thus, they plod along at 1km/h, effectively causing 5 km traffic jams. (What really bothers me is that they refuse to go home and park the car… As far as I can deduce, their dogma stipulates that they continue driving around the way they do, in order to spread awareness of their beliefs.)

Heads will Roll Faction: Most drivers fall into this category when it rains. This group of drivers will drive along at a moderate speed, slow down when it comes to newly created middle-of-the-road oceans, seas or lakes. A little faster when the road clears up. But, they are extremely pissed off because of the behaviors of the Head in the Ground Faction and the King of the Jungle Faction.

Rain in Cairo will, apparently, forever change the way you view the environment. Rain in Cairo will turn the staunchest Green Peace activist into a hardcore mother-nature vandal. Yes indeed!

Ain’t I lucky that I don’t have a driver’s license yet?

And that’s the way I see it.

My! How things can change.

Sadly, this is another MUN post. Hopefully, it will be one of the last ones (at least for quite a long time to come).

I got involved in a discussion with a friend who was part of the CIMUN (Cairo International Model United Nations) before. Naturally, this was after they had read my previous post in which I was not very pleasant towards CIMUN.

Basically, after I discussed the details of the matter with them, giving them names, occurences and dates and after the whole thing went back and forth for a while, I was quite satisfied with the conclusion that we had reached (Don’t expect a biblical revelation); its possible that I was a bit harsh criticizing the organization. Knowing that I only criticize because I believe in the essence of the MUN, hence the number of times that I joined the Organization either as a Delegate, Secretariat or Organizing Committee member, I should maybe direct my criticisms at the people I have a problem with and not the whole organization.

In fact, I obviously would not attack the organization unless I was criticizing the reasons for which it is created or the mission it attempts to carry out. What happened was that I (and I do this often) mis-phrased what I wanted to say. This is probably because there was a large number of people that I wanted to criticize, so I just went on and blamed the whole organization.

Also, and I forgot to mention this before, the degree of subjectivism was obviously high. I will not defend that though. They were my personal views and thus they are nothing if not subjective. Still, and I won’t get into details, I know the feelings I harbored were obviously too intense.

Last of all (thank you for hanging in there!), I should mention that I still don’t agree with lots of self-congratulating that occurs in MUN and the amount of needless back-scratching that occurs. I also find it strange that some people manage to judge how others perform without any possible benchmark, basis or knowledge upon which to base their judgement.

Have some shame and stop telling people that they suck or kick ass simply because they you don’t/do like them. Have you learnt nothing from all those courses that you are taking/took to get your degree?!

And that’s just the way I see it.

A Spin on the Strange Turn of Events

In an egomaniacal attempt to hold onto my position of ‘Devil’s Advocate’ in all things posted on this blog, I will try and put a spin on Faisal’s blog on Ibrahim Nafea.

Consider this: We live in a country where the bureaucracy is the be all and end all of…well, all, people tend to forget one very simple variable that cannot be ignored: human nature. Allow me to explain.

A wise man once said: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It is a natural progression (please permit me this generalization, and a few more to come) of events for a person who had nothing to thank his lucky stars when he/she gets a break. In most cases, he/she will take full advantage they will now find themselves in.

Now you will be thinking “That’s not an excuse!!” And you’re right, it isn’t…I’ll get back to this later on. Let’s examine another side of the equation. The system, as it exists (as it existed?!?!) does nothing to combat this kind of corruption. Worse, it does a great deal to encourage it. The ruling clique is very likely to be highly suspicious of someone who doesn’t ‘join the club’ so to speak; that might indicate that the person in question has… morals (aaaarrrrrgghhhh!!). A big no-no if you happen to hold some position in the government. See, it’s all well and good if the person just simply doesn’t want to take anything, more for me (this ‘them’ thinking); but what happens if, heaven forbid, that moral person suddenly decided that everyone else should be moral too?

And so, if you follow this line of argument, the only people who are capable to fighting the corrupt-powerful are those that are as, or more powerful, than them.

Now let’s get to the crux of the matter: For those that comment on the corrupt or lament the powerful for their moral ambiguity, would you be any better if placed in the same position, provided with the same opportunities and placed under the same pressures?

Think about it for a while; we’ll discuss this again soon.

A Strange Turn of Events

I discovered yesterday that a co-worker, an Economics Teacher, is the Daughter in law of Ibrahim Nafae. This is significant because I had just published a post on my Blog, yesterday, discussing corruption and the fact that this teacher’s father-in-law was being investigated for suspicion of wide-scale corruption while heading Egypt, and the Arab World’s, most distributed Arabic Newspaper.

The situation becomes very strange when you are actually acquainted with someone whose family will be directly affected because of such an issue. It’s not that I feel any sympathy for Nafae (or, I should say, I will not feel any sympathy for him if he is found guilty and punished), it’s just somewhat awkward listening to her (she seemed to be taking it well – and this isn’t an air-headed or callous woman) discussing how she explained to her children (16 and 20) what the whole thing was about and that they should come to expect that their house might be searched and their things meticulously picked through by investigators.

My father, a media man himself, explained to me his own experiences with Nafae. Apparently, Nafae’s wife was a colleague of his way back when he worked with the Egyptian Radio and Television and they were not doing financially well. This was until Jihan El Sadat, Deceased President Sadat’s wife, chose him to be in charge of her monetary affairs. A front man, so to speak. My father tells me that when Nafae was chosen to be Editor-in-Chief, the media world was shocked that this man (apparently an insignificant at that point in time) was brought in to head Egypt’s most presitigious newspaper.

He then went on to tell me how people in Al Ahram Press, and in particular a friend of his who holds a managerial position there, informed him that Nafae and his sons (one of whom is married to my co-worker) went on to monopolize the newspaper’s source of paper, ink, glue, machine spare-parts and other matters. This is, of course, independant of their use of their connections to obtain large pieces of land at cheap prices and then selling them again at outrageous prices (but I won’t consider this as being of a corrupt nature since I do not have relevant Real Estate information about land prices etc).

The situation is strange because on one side, I like my co-worker. She’s an interesting, fun person. It’s easy to make conversation with me, and she understands what I’m talking about even though there is a large difference in age between us and she’s an economist (hehe). But, realizing that the money that her husband obtained, money that she herself used to buy her clothes, cars, travel etc was money obtained through stealing and corruption is not something that I can accept easily.

I will not judge her or sever any acquaintance-ship between us at this point in time (or, I should say, I will very much attempt not to do so). I’m just confused about how I should react.

And that’s the way I see it…

On a happier note?

If anyone has been following, I had previously published a post on the Model United Nations at the University where I used to study. Something happened today that made me think: well hey, maybe there is a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel!

A good friend of mine was chosen to be Secretary-General of the conference; the big honcho of all honchos. Knowing that the person running against her, technically speaking, really had no chance to make it as Secretary-General (Sec Gen), I really shouldn’t have been this happy. Not happy in the sense that I should have known that she was going to win, and would have been preparing my congratulations.

Not so. Usually, the person I root for ends up not getting it. I am not sure if this is because I support them (morally, since there is really nothing else I did or could have done for that matter) or because I generally choose the person who is less qualified or my understanding of the criteria upon which the choice is made is highly skewed.

Either way, Nouran became Sec Gen, and I believe a new dawn will light up the land of MUN. I percieve her as someone who might bring change in the way she deals with her secretariat and organizing committee (OC) members and heads. Postive change. Positive here meaning: no pretentiousness and sticking to the old ways just because they are the old ways. Positive also meaning that she might listen to her secretariats’ needs and not feel the urge to blindly enforce her views. She, thankfully, hasn’t been tainted by excessive exposure to those MUN-ers that I consider tainted.

Sadly, the battle is not over. After choosing the Sec Gen, there comes the choosing of the Graduate Advisor (affectionately called the Grad Ad) and the OC Head. As for OC head, I have no major problem with the two applicants I am sure (personally, and not officially) will apply. But there is a problem with the Grad Ad part of the matter. Another friend is applying for that position. Regretfully, the person running against her is a pretentious little fool who gets off on showing people that he knows it all and who always makes stupid stupid jokes. Worse than mine. Believe me when I tell you that if you’re jokes are worse than mine, then you’re in trouble.

I say sadly because my friend has fewer MUN experiences than pretentious little fool. I want her to get it, but tradtional MUN thinking would have it that experiences are strongly valued (which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself). It also means that the personality aspect is not stressed as strongly. Nor is the ability to use your head instead of your ass to think (which is what I think he does).

I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that Nouran makes the right choice. The situation looks grim. I was day-dreaming about actually going up to the faculty advisor (who gets a say in these matters and is the de facto last word on the issue – so it’s more than a say really) and informing her that pretentious little fool shouldn’t be chosen. It went along these lines:

*I Enter the Faculty Advisor’s office after knocking*

Me: Good Morning Doctor.
Faculty Advisor: Good Morning.
Me: Doctor, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something.
Faculty Advisor: Go on.
Me: I don’t think you should choose pretentious little fool as Grad Ad. In fact, I think you should stand whole-heartedly against it. (I actually say pretentious little fool and she manages to understand who I’m talking about, since its my Day-Dream).
Faculty Advisor: And why is that?
Me: Well, I’m sure you noticed that he’s a pretentious little fool.
Faculty Advisor: Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.
Me: Then you should veto him being chosen. Better yet, he should not be allowed to run for this position.
Faculty Advisor: I think I’ll take your word for it. *Erases his name with a pen from a paper conveniently placed in front of her* It’s done. You don’t have to worry about it.
Me: Thanks Doc!
Faculty Advisor: That’s alright, what you said makes complete and utter sense (Hurray for her understanding!)

Yeah, I know I have serious psychological issues but…

That’s just the way I see it.

What’s up?!

Today, I read an article in an Egyptian Newspaper, El Masree el Yoam (literally translated to The Egyptian Today), with the following headline; ‘A Prominent Official to “The Egyptian Today”: High-level instructions to uncover the corruption of former Ministers and High-level Officials’.

The article discusses, in brief, the case of a particular Egyptian former Official, Ibrahim Nafea, the former Chief of the Board and Editor-in-Chief of the government-owned Al-Ahram newspaper (the most widely sold Arab newspaper in the world). The article explains that the newspaper’s source claims that Nafae’s diplomatic immunity will be lifted as soon as the evidence against him is completely compiled. This will occur when the Egyptian Shura Council (Egyptian Parliamentary Higher Council for Advising)** convenes a session with Nafae in the presence of the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution and Legislation and discuss the matter with him.

The article goes on to mention that up to three former Ministers and a larger number of former officials will, or might – it doesn’t make it clear, be tried for similar charges of corruption as well as waste and mismanagement of Public Funds. There are two things that irked me when I read this article.

First of all, why are there only a few officials on trial for corruption in a country which reeks of it?
Second, and more important, why do we not see Public Officials being charged before the word former is appended to their titles? This has almost always been the case in Egypt, as far back as I have been monitoring the news closely (about nine years). I will discuss in length other instances of obvious corruption and mismanagement in separate posts, but for now I will comment on the use of the word “former”.

First though, I have to admit there was a tinge of happiness when I read the article. Not only because these people have been, or are being, brought to justice but also because I felt that they have been used as scapegoats or, at least, they’ve been abandoned by the Egyptian “Old Guard”***. The reason it makes me feel happy is because I get the feeling that the old ways, the old order of politics in Egypt so to speak, is dying out. When former partners in crime are being sacrificed, this speaks of instability. Either the Old Guard are being replaced by the new (headed by the President’s Son Gamal Mubarak) or a change of methods and system has come about in such a way that some have to be sacrificed to give the illusion of change and reform.

On the issue of “former”, the situation is much clearer (to me at least). As with most Authoritarian systems which encourage crony-ism, you cannot risk charging someone in office as it might come back and bite you in the ass. Ibrahim Nafae was replaced about a year ago. His replacement was expected by many, but still came as a surprise to me. The man has held that position for well over a decade, possibly surpassing two (I am not sure about the exact number). As a child, I did not think it possible for anyone else to become Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram, and I am not exaggerating.

I’m guessing that the “case” against him was being built by certain people in power before his replacement. Egypt is a state where political players, especially those directly involved in the shaping of policy, are quite shrewd. Most know how to adapt to a changing situation quite efficiently (if you think about it, most of the Old Guard were members of Former President Nasser’s National Socialist Party – hardcore advocates of Socialism… or so it seemed). In fact, and this does not require any level of political maturity or knowledge, they moved from position to position and adopted ideology upon ideology as their political survival dictated. So they were first Socialist and now they are hardcore capitalists. Yeah, so? Who cares?

Only self-delusion can convince one that they are, in fact, supporters and advocates of these ideologies that they perpetuate, spread and market; these people want power and money… how they get it is a mere detail.

So yeah. Try Ibrahim Nafae, convict him (or not) of those charges of corruption, bribery and whatever else you care for. Yay to the Public Prosecutor and all those Policemen involved in the investigations! You’ve bagged a big fish my friends. Just know this: it’s obvious that that Egypt, as a political system, is at the beginning of the end. The Decline starts here. I’m guessing that there will be more violence and dissent as time goes by. This is the only the beginning, and I’m sure they know it.

I don’t want the peaceful transfer of power; this would leave too many low and mid-level bureaucrats in positions that would effectively cripple (as it does now) the Egyptian bureaucracy. I want major upheavel… possibly a revolution. It will be bloody, that cannot be denied.

But it would be worth it.

And that’s the way I see it.

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** Please keep in mind that this is my name for the body, as it is officially recognized and known as the Shura Council. They have no effective power in parliament and merely recommend. Most members are either long-time professionals or holders of Ph.Ds. They are members of many specialized committees in parliament. I wish the Egyptian government would give English names to all public institutions… it isn’t that difficult. Thank god the Military academy isn’t called: El Koleya El Harbeya.

*** The Old Guard are those people directly involved in decision-making at higher levels and have been so for uptil three decades, many since Former President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Most have been members of Nasser’s National Socialist Party, Sadat’s Egypt’s Party and Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. Many are former police, army or intelligence officers. Almost all are acknowledged as being extremely corrupt (never verified officially through a court-room ruling.. though many who have fell out of favor do get charged with committing a plethora of offences).