January 31, 2011

Egypt: A New Spirit of National Pride

This video is put together by a friend of mine, Ian Lee. We did Fulbright together in Egypt. He is a journalist for Daily Egypt. I hope western media will start to share such images.

January 30, 2011

The Capacity for a New Egypt

There have been countless discussions and analysis' in the last several days regarding the future of Egypt.  As I have a rather personal relationship with Egypt, I have paid great attentions to these discussions.  Most often, they have focused on the lackluster stance of the United States, the omnipresent power vacuum, and the pivital role of the military in securing the state on behalf of the people or on behalf of Mubarak.  Facebook, blogs, and twitter posts have also been quick to point out all the things not being discussed: the role of women in the protests, the socio-economic conditions that led to this uprising, and a discourse on what exactly is the identity of the Muslim Brotherhood within the political landscape.  While Al Jezeera has done an excellent job of providing constant coverage, it seems that most American media have spent their time focussing on hypotheticals.  Not to simply add another analysis to the already cluttered pool, but there is one startling observation that remains heavily undiscussed: what are the assets in place for a better Egypt?  

I'll never forget a couple years ago when I went for a job interview with a non-profit founded and operated by Egypt's former Minister of Culture.  He had many impressive credentials, a nice office in a wealthy neighborhood, and project committed to improving relations between Egypt and Sub-saharan Africa.  In short, I accepted an agreement to do a lot of work and in the end was left stranded with with a rather bad situation.  Ultimately I concluded that the agency was simply a corrupt operation for this guy to siphon funds from the government.   The first thing that tipped me off, however, was the fact that this guy had no understanding of the broad scale of non-government organizations situated in Cairo to assist the most vulnerable populations and facilitate capacity building.

A quick google search alone will show one the variety of NGOs that have been long established in Egypt.  Notable agencies include The Egyptian Center of Human Rights, the NGO Support Center, Caritas, and St. Andrews Refugee Services.  Egypt is likewise full of Universities training engineers, scholars, researchers, and technicians at places such as Cairo University, Ain Shams University, American University in Cairo, and the The Future School.   While there certainly tens of millions of Egyptians without adequate access to education or viable livelihood options, there are also millions of Egyptians who are talented, business savvy individuals who have sought opportunities for self advancement their whole lives.

I'm not going to pretend to know what will happen to Egypt - but the possibility is part of the excitement.  Whereas in the past extremist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood were the only viable alternative to Mubarak's government, there is now the means for many other players to enter the field.  In a country that restricted the movement and access to services of its own people, there is now the possibility that a new generation of Egyptians could engage ladders for social mobility.  In contrast to living beneath a 30 year suspended constitution on the grounds of a "State Emergency," the people may express their opinions in newspapers and media outlets - including the internet - without fear of the police taking them away in the middle of the night.  

In contrast to news reports, the people I personally know in Cairo right now explain that the protests have remained generally peaceful.  That many citizens have been actively removing trash from Tahir square and other parts of the city to show this is no longer the downtrodden Egypt of Mubarak. That the crowds are overwhelmingly shouting slogans of universalism to overcome perceived hostilities between Christians and Muslims or rich and poor.  

The struggle for Egypt will remain for sometime.  But I do not perceive this struggle to be frightening, rather it is simply an honest expression of its people, as founded by necessity.  And hopefully, soon, when the country is able to pass over the present precipice of tensions and protest, and move toward resolution in the form of a new government, there will be some recognition of an easily over-looked, yet pre-existing infrastructure.  An infrastructure of longstanding mosques, churches, business owners, academics and non-profits all equally committed to a better Egypt.  This commitment is not new, it has always been there, but  like a plant bursting through the soil to see the sun for the first time, this commitment has the space to live and grow.

January 29, 2011

The Women of Egypt

I have continued to spend most of my time with all attention watching Al Jezeera here.  In the meanwhile, I have been frequently asking the question, where are the images of the women involved in the protest?  In contrast to western portrayals of how women are treated in the Islamic countries, women are a central part of Egypt.  I'll never forget the day I first walked into the Mugamma, the central location of all day-to-day government business, and discovered nearly all the employees were women.  The majority of the time I have had to conduct business at the university, with the government, or at a bank, it has always been with a woman.  While men might often be the most visible presence in the street, I always found that the women actually made the city function.

I've been looking for a collection of images from a variety of sources from facebook (here's a good source), I am reposting those below with some links to other sites as well. If anyone has additional information, hit me up via twitter @msipus or with the comments below.  I'd like to add much more to this collection.

Men and Women Equal in Peaceful Protest Against Mubarak

Women Protesting In Yemen

For those with a deeper interest on the subject, here are some published articles I found online:
El-Mahdi, Rabab."Does Political Islam Impede Gender-Based MobilizationThe Case of Egypt" Totalitarian Movements & Political Religions; Sep-Dec2010, Vol. 11 Issue 3/4, p379-396, 18p

Women and Language v. 26 no. 1 (Spring 2003) p. 73-8

El Guindi, Fadwa "Gendered Resistance, Feminist Veiling, Islamic Feminism.Ahfad Journal; Jun2005, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p53-78, 26p

January 28, 2011


For several days it has been a demanding task to peel my eyes away from discussions of Egypt.  Having spent quite a bit of time there and with many aspects of my life still connected, watching this sudden week of change has been emotional to say the least.  While I hope to see many great changes continue to occur, everyone please be safe.

For those who have loved ones in Egypt, although mobile and internet connections are down, land lines for incoming calls remains open.

For consistent coverage on Egypt from Al Jezeera go here http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/

Additional coverage on Al Hurra TV http://www.alhurra.com/index.aspx

Journalism coverage by my friend Ian Lee filmed in front of the places I used to go to school and where my girlfriend and I used to workhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgh1iOXI6sQ&feature=related & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV8Y3AZbfcw

January 19, 2011

Looking for Water in All The Wrong Places as Somalia faces Drought and Famine

Today I noticed an IRIN  post concerning the present drought in Somalia.  Whereas people in Somali generally depended on water catchments for survival, most of these have dried up and now people are dying, as are their livestock.  Livestock that survives is often too weak to sell.  The most severe water shortages are in the southern regions, where pastoral livelihoods are a critical aspect of daily life.  Somalia's Water and Land Information Management agency, SWALIM, has reported in a recent bulletin that crop production has also been aggressively damaged by the drought.   Production of cash crops such as potatoes and citrus only continue in areas where farmers have access to river irrigation systems.

The draught is expected to last 2 or 3 months until the seasonal rains. Supposedly the draught is forcing people to migrate toward urban centers in search for water.  Accordingly, "Somalis had begun trucking water, 'but it is not nearly enough,'... one water tanker, with 200 drums (each200 L) costs between $200 and $250."  At that cost, 1 liter of water in Somalia is costing over 2 dollars per liter, on par with prices for bottled water in the United States, and it is certainly of much lower quality.

Reading this reminds me of some research I had done a bout a year ago, when it occurred to me one day, "How do people in Mogadishu manage to get water?"  I had asked some friends who grew up there, and they explained that water was purchased from vendors who would transport it via donkey cart.  Looking online, I happened to find an older article that some households have their own personal borehole while donkey cart delivery remains a common practice.  Another common approach is for many families to combine their resources and purchase a larger volume of water that can be then distributed using a pump as needed.  A  family may spend an entire third of their income on obtaining water.

January 13, 2011

Somalis at the Moscow Airport Part IV

The other day I received an email about the Somalis who have been stranded in the Moscow airport for over a year.  Having received permission from the author, I'm posting it below.

My name is Orshi. I was changing planes at the Moscow airport on Monday, 01.10.2011
I met a girl there, who is a Somalian refugee, and spoke suprisingly good english. She told me there are 6 of them now - 2 women and 4 men. And they are hoping to get into the EU somewhere. 

They applied for immigration, and waiting for papers. Also, they have a place to sleep, kind of, and regular food. Some international Union (sorry, forgot the name) gives them food once a week, every week, so she said they have enough.  They've been there for 10 months, and not really any hope how to get out. 
She told me they are trying to follow up on what is happening in Somalia through the net, and have no idea what happened with loved ones back there. 

Also, their problem there is that they are bored to hell, i think. She told me she would like to study, she had good education, compared to others, because she has studied for 8 years. When I had to leave to catch mz fight she asked me for blank papers, or a notebook to have something to write on. I gave her a bunch of papers. 
I don't know what could I do for them, but I really hope they won't be there for much longer. 
Maybe you can help. 


Black Flags and RPG's: Piracy continues to reveal massive problems, while the world misses the point.

The never ending attitude toward piracy off the Somali coast continues to astound me.  Somalia is a failed state with no government, no security, an antiquated economy undermined by climate change, no food supplies to feed its displaced population, and scares the hell out of aid agencies.  Yet we all talk about piracy as if that is the problem because piracy affects international trade.  Its obvious piracy is the consequence of desperate people living in a desperate situation, and if the global community cared about that situation, then we probably wouldn't have piracy.  If piracy continued to persist while the country developed, military intervention and security measures would make sense and probably have the desired outcome.

Everyday there is a constant deluge of absurd media generated about pirates.  Today CNN featured an article on ships containing a safe room to hide their crew while pirates run the show on deck.  They lock themselves in a bullet-proof room full of food and water and wait for help to arrive.  Or consider a personal favorite of mine, as BAE Systems develops a laser defense system to disorient would-be pirates from attacking with their AK-47s and RPGs.  There is also much fanfare over the development of a private military in Northern Somalia to police the waters and combat pirates.

In the meanwhile, the global economy loses anywhere between 7 and 12 BILLION dollars per year due to the impact and accumulated costs of piracy.   So yes, every one is losing money because some really poor men in rowboats are causing problems.

Perhaps one day, somebody, somewhere, will choose to invest a billion dollars into stabilizing the water supply or investing in the workforce of Somalia.  When more donors and nations realize the potential investment opportunity for such a geographically advantaged state,  perhaps they will consider investing in solutions rather than laser beams and naval fleets.  In that scenario, everybody wins, not just the pirates.

January 11, 2011

From the Council of Berlin to the Birth of South Sudan

The whole world has been quite interested in Sudan this week, and rightfully so.  How often do we have the opportunity to potentially witness the birth of a new nation?  One thing I've noticed though when discussing the subject with my friends from neighboring countries is the idea that a unified Sudan is somehow ideologically better, although not necessarily reasonable.  I can't help but feel puzzled by this concept.

Perhaps I would feel the same if Sudan was composed of homogenous groups with shared language, culture, and ideology, but the truth is, that the composition of this modern state is more or less the whim of European colonialism.  In 1884-85, the European powers convened at the Council of Berlin to carve up Africa into separate territories, based upon the geographic locations and trade interests of European colonies.  Since African countries began to establish independence in the 1960s, these shapes have more or less remained the same.  Yet the arbitrary borders have done a great deal of damage to these countries, separating families, causing conflict over limited resources, and undermining regional stability.  

I know that the separation of north and south Sudan does not necessarily establish equality or peace. However, I do believe that it is a significant step toward equality and peace, as it presents the opportunity for the construction of African states founded on the citizens of those states, and not some distant power.