October 05, 2012

Love is what it is

When night falls in Egypt I see tweeps on my timeline opening up, thinking of love, yearning for warmth and often too afraid to give it a try. The wonderful Austrian born poet Erich Fried, who lived in London but wrote in German, composed a beautiful answer to that, which inspires us to take the risk of losing our heart. Because there is no other option, no matter what we think.

Because love is what it is.


What it is               (by Erich Fried, 1921 - 1988)

It is nonsense
says reason
It is what it is
says love

It is a disaster
says calculation
It is nothing but pain
says fear
It is hopeless
says intelligence
It is what it is
says love

It is ridiculous
says pride
It is careless
says caution
It is impossible
says experience
It is what it is
says love


September 30, 2012

Alber Saber – And all is well in Egypt

Imagine it is night. In the darkness outside a mob is congregating around your house. They scream, they hurl death threats, they say they will burn down the house and kill you. You and your mother are scared to death. Your mother calls the police by phone. They must come and protect you or something terrible will happen. Then the police come. They intrude into your apartment, but instead of calming the crowds and stopping their illegal doings – the police arrest you, drag you out of the house and through the cheering crowds that continue in their death threats while shouting Allahu akbar. Your mother is left behind without someone protecting her. And you cannot do anything, because the police have handcuffed you and drive you away. It is almost midnight and the horror has gone on for hours. You are scared stiff and don't know where the police is taking you and what will happen to your mother.

Imagine arriving at the police station at the middle of the night with no lawyer to help you, no one to turn to. Imagine the police officers, who came not to save you but to arrest you, hurl insults at you, push you, beat you, then throw you into a dark cell where there are other inmates already. Imagine one police officer shouting to the inmates that you have insulted the Prophet, that you have been blasphemous, that you don't believe in God – shouting it so loud that everyone is getting agitated and angry. Imagine the frustrated inmates, furious at the police for treating them like dirt, now turning their fury on you, because they need an outlet for their anger, need a scapegoat they can blame everything on. And imagine how they fall on you, shouting, pushing – and how then one inmate grabs you from behind, pulls back your head and slashes your neck with a razor blade until you bleed. While the mob around you want to kill you and the police officer grins his dirty grin.

Your adrenaline will pump in your head, you are so scared to die there and then in this shitty police hole of a cell, with the blood already running down your neck and into your shirt, you sweat yourself wet and your heart pounds so hard that it hurts and you know you are going to die any minute at the hands of this incited mob – and then the police officer finally shouts for them to stop and they let go of you and the police officers move away and you have to spend the rest of the night in a corner of the cell not knowing if they will come at you again, if they will take that razor blade again and slash you to death. And you feel the blood running down your body and into your trousers and you don't know if the mob on the street has killed your mother or not. It is so dark in that cell, so unbelievably dark. And you lose all grip on yourself because you don't know if you'll survive the night.

Imagine all that. And then wonder what you have done that could have caused this. Not in the Middle Ages. Not in the middle of nowhere. But in Cairo. In 2012. Under the regime – or is it a government – of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Then you hear that the mob has told the police officers that you had posted that anti-Islam movie about the Prophet from that disgusting American on your facebook site. But you know you didn't and you know they are lying. And you don't understand how you can almost die in front of the police who never investigated anything when they where called to save you from the mob, but instead threw you in jail. Without evidence, without any reason. In Cairo. In 2012. In September.

And later you learn that the investigations of the prosecutor indeed show that you have not posted that shitty film on your facebook page, and that therefore they should never have arrested you and thrown you to the furious inmates inciting them to injure you. And you learn too that the General Prosecutor, who has already done his evil work under Mubarak and never cared for the murders of almost 1000 innocent Egyptian protesters, is still allowed to be evil and still allowed under President Morsi to continue in his evil work. And you think about the promises of this new President, who said that all murders of the revolution will be solved and all martyrs will get justice. And you know this will never, ever happen with this General Prosecutor, who did not care about the young protesters getting killed and who does not care to do what the new President tells the world in his interviews, and who still does not get sacked but can continue to be a felool, while the President just allows it to happen.

And then you learn, while you got your head shaved and have to share a dirty cell with too many inmates and get hardly something decent to eat and have to shit in front of the others while the cockroaches run around your feet, that the prosecutor knows you are innocent, but that he still won't set you free. Because he found out that you thought about religion and God and that you don't know who to believe, and to him this is worse than insulting religion, this is so evil that he would like to kill you and is sorry he can't, because there is no law for that in Egypt. And you learn that all evidence is withheld from your lawyers that your mother and human rights groups have now engaged for you. That the prosecutor is not giving it to the lawyers although he must, but he does not care for the law. He is above the law, as he was above the law under Mubarak and is now above the law under Morsi, because this new President is not better than the old one and does not care. And you learn that the prosecutor hisses at your lawyer how he can defend you, when you don't believe in a God! And you wonder why he knows nothing or cares for nothing that is called judicial procedures and defence of an accused or the rights of someone who has not been proven guilty. And you know, if he could, he would order you to be lashed or again thrown to inmates that try to kill you. And he would laugh about the blood running down your body and would go home not thinking about it anymore. Because his life is fine. His life has not changed. No revolution has forced him to change his evil way. He does not have to care for the law or human rights or the big words from the President. Because the President allows this to happen. In Egypt. In 2012. And so the prosecutor can say to the press that he demands the full punishment for you – for what?, you think – and no mercy, no mercy!

And the President says nothing. Only big words on television. And grins. Like the General Prosecutors grins. And you wonder why in God's name – yes, in his – you and your mother so often have risked your lives back then in Tahrir, when you fought for the revolution – that now eats you up like the regime before wanted to eat you up. And you ask yourself why so many died in Tahrir and around Egypt when what you got is only what you had. And you think that if you had wanted to be thrown in jail for nothing, you might as well have achieved this under Mubarak and that you would not have needed a revolution for this. Because what you get today is the treatment you could have gotten before. So why the fight and the many deaths? It has all been futile.

You are 27 years and of Coptic origin. You are not dumb. You have been taught to think and use your brains to question. And you have questioned. You have looked at the three big religions with their contradictory statements and their unequivocal belief only they are right, only their God is the one and only right God, and you looked at all that and were confused. Yes. You were a young man and you were confused. Now they hold that against you. Your crime, they say, is that you asked questions, that you tried for your life to find answers you could live with. Your crime, they say, is that you dared to use your own brains, that you not simply behaved like a sheep and said "blah, blah" when all demanded you to say "blah, blah" and not think, and not question, and obey blindly under the sword of religion that to you is not solace but confusion. Your crime, they tell you, is that you did what hundred thousands of people and philosophers have done before you in thousands of years that this world exists, trying to find answers to riddles that are so difficult to solve, trying to see light in dark tunnels, trying to find a personal way to understand life.

That was your crime. In Cairo. In 2012. In the 21st century after a revolution and under a President who says that now all are equal in Egypt. And he tells it to the world in staged interviews, grinning and smiling as if everything is in order. But he does not tell to that world that he is lying, that the Muslim Ahmed Mohamed Abdallah (known as Sheikh Abu Islam), who burned a Bible at the U.S. embassy protests and who was filmed doing that and who said that next time he will "urinate on it" and who too is charged with blasphemy, is free and not in jail and not beaten and not slashed with a razor across the neck and does not have to sit in a cage like an animal for all to watch and scorn at and has no mother who had to flee the angry mob threatening to kill her and burn the house down and who cannot return to her home because the Egyptian police is only protecting the mob but not the innocent woman. And who is not sitting in a dark, infested, dirty cell at night with unruly fellow inmates and is scared stiff that he will be sentenced to years in prison and never see his mother in freedom again and will not be able to protect her from the mob that still wants to kill her. In Egypt.

In the Egypt, where the President Morsi says, all now are equal. And where lying is still the name of the game in the presidency, in the judiciary, in the society. And nothing has changed from Mubarak times. Nothing has changed, just nothing. And they drag you from the cage after a futile court date, where your lawyers not even got the evidence against you into their hands, where the prosecutor molests your mother and treats her like dirt so that she weeps and weeps, and where you are insulted and degraded and can't help her from out of that cage. And they lead you down the stairs to the truck waiting to bring you back to your cell, and they need five men, five grown men to shove you down one single staircase, though your are handcuffed and thin and skinny from the shit treatment you had to endure already for weeks, and you can't look at your mother one last time because they won't let you, and you know that Abdallah is free and that the mob is free and that the General Prosecutor is free. And all are grinning and smiling and free. Because the President says in an interview that now all is good in Egypt and all are equal before the law. And you know you will spend your nights and days until the next court date in weeks in that infested, dirty cell, degraded, humiliated, treated like dirt. Because you too are an Egyptian. And equal. And you wonder what Morsi means, when he says "equal", and whether he knows that he is lying, and you don't know how you will survive.

Just imagine all this would happen to you. Your name would then be Alber Saber. And you would not understand why the world, why Egypt, why your fellow Egyptians, why the President Morsi is allowing all this to happen. But as this did not happen to you, you are not Alber Saber. That is wonderful. You will sleep well. Because Egypt is well. And all are equal now. And all is good now. And the President will not lie anymore and means what he says. Because he is not Mubarak. No. Mubarak is gone. There was a revolution, remember? Now all is well. And Egypt has nothing to fear anymore. Never again.


Alber Saber was arrested on September 13, 2012 on false charges in Cairo, Egypt. He has not regained his freedom.

Report on the trial – The Washington Post

Report on the case – Daily News Egypt

The arrest video – "Alluha akbar"

June 27, 2012

Denying sexual assault on women assaults them once more

The accounts of horrific sexual assaults against women in Cairo have been accumulating in the last weeks on social media and garnered a lot of attention by users of twitter and facebook. Reports of women attacked by mobs - sometimes up to a hundred -  of sexually crazed men, ripping off the women's clothes in public places, raping them with fingers and tearing at them to a point where the victims believe they will die, are hard to bear - both in their description of an unimaginable amount of aggression as in their conveyance of utter helplessness and anxiety on behalf of the victims. Reading such accounts can be a harrowing experience and is an emotional challenge to say the least.

Perhaps this is the reason for reactions that - to put it mildly - are hard to take for the victims on top of the horrors they experienced. When Natasha Smith, a British freelance journalist and documentary film maker living in Cairo, published the account of an unbelievably horrid and aggressive sexual attack on her by hundreds of men during the celebrations of the outcome of the presidential elections in Egypt, the social media world was in shock. Comments of disgust and true compassion made the rounds and her blogpost describing her ordeal was posted and reposted in huge numbers.

Not long after the blogpost got viral however a reaction set in that seems to become typical in such cases: the questioning of the credibility of her account. Was it true what she told us? Could this have happened in the way she described it? Was the account logical and coherent or were things missing, unclear, incomprehensible? Was she in fact just making all of this up to be in the limelight, get attention and become famous?

Apparently there are not few who think that writing in detail about how you get gang raped is a pleasurable way of garnering attention and becoming famous. The numbers of those who seemed to think so and started questioning the credibility of Natasha Smith rose after the first tweet started to tip off the wave. As with a rumour that spreads, the discussions in minutes flushed across social media platforms, now concentrating on the questions "who is she?" - "has she ever done something credible before?" - "is she lying?" - "does she want to makes us believe...?" - and away from the actual thing that needed discussing: the indisputable gross sexual aggression against women rampant on the streets of Cairo.

Often women deny it happened

While it is always good to not immediately fall for every story that is posted on the net the willingness to suddenly flatly reject the possibility of this sexual assault happening came close to denial. And the most troubling - and this I have not seen for the first time - was the fact, that it was almost only women who quickly jumped on board and called out that this female not necessarily had to be trusted. Not because they know her personally - but because ... - Yes, because of what?

Why is it that women much more than men so often in such cases resort to insinuating the story of sexual assault by a woman is fabricated, is a lie, is only made up to garner the attention of the world? Why are women not naturally inclined to take the side of the female victim that after all represents them as possible target of another assault tomorrow? Wouldn't this be the natural reaction and not the opposite?

Psychologists have studied for decades the reactions of humans on emotionally charged and troubling accounts of victims and found several reasons why one of the reactions almost always is to deny the victim's credibility. There are reasons that both genders have and reasons that are specific to women when it comes to accounts of sexual assaults and rape. In both cases it would be good to reflect on them.

It didn't happen, so I have nothing to fear

One of the main reasons in both genders for denial is the urge for 'self-protection'. By discrediting the victim's account one can brush it off with no fear to become victim oneself one day. Humans need a feeling of safety to live and continue to do what they are doing without the constant fear that all this could - as in the case of the victim of the accounted assault - break into pieces within minutes and shatter their lives. By looking away and denying this truly happened, lives can continue trouble free. And apparently this urge is so intense that inflicting hurt on the victims by discrediting them or questioning their credibility is willingly accepted.

It didn't happen, so I don't have to get emotionally involved

Another reason is the emotional self-protection many feel in need of. Getting emotionally engaged in what horror has happened to another human is energy draining to say the least and can seriously jeopardize being able to continue a happy, contented life. Empathy, showing sympathy for a victim, almost always needs a lot of emotional power that people are not willing to sacrifice for someone they do not know. There seems to be the belief that resources on this per person are limited and one better be stingy. And the easiest way to do this without feeling remorse for being selfish or cold hearted is by doubting that there is any story that would need such an input in the first place. If the victim's story is fabricated, no emotions, no empathy is needed, no energy must be put up and now power sacrificed. There is nothing to be empathetic about because there is no assault that happened. The human mind is full of tricks when it wants to get off the hook and shy away from personal responsibility and the urge to emotionally protect oneself and not get involved seems to be intense in many.

It didn't happen, so men are not as bad after all

While these reasons are common in both male and female they do not satisfactorily explain why so many women especially dispute the credibility of sexual assaults recounted by other women. There must be additional reasons for this reaction that surprisingly is quite the opposite of the solidarity one would have expected to find.

One reaction that one encounters is the unwillingness to accept the other gender as potentially dangerous and harassing as it often is. As one female tweep wrote to me on one such occasion a few weeks back when I was criticizing men for assaulting women: "You are not allowed to speak like that of men! I like men! And I want to love men!"

Fine. But what if they don't love you back? Is that too hard a truth to take? Apparently so, for the amount of energy put up in defending the men - be it in an isolated incident or as a gender - is often remarkable to read. In denying the victim's story the attempt is clearly made to rehabilitate the men that are accused in the account, men as such, men women need, men women don't want or cannot be without. A natural reaction, one would say, as there is only one other gender for any one of us to have (leaving out those for a moment who find more inventive ways to solve the drawbacks of this minimal variety on offer).

Of course, if women would have to concede that men are sexually assaulting animals the idea of bonding with them for partnership would seem less tempting. Yet hormones do not care, so for reasons of hidden forces steering the gender through life, the urge to acquit men of blame is going strong in women. Men must be likable, lovable for partnerships or marriages to work. In blaming men, this dream many women have of men - the most intense version is of course the famous knight in shining armour - would be crushed. Then what? - As this is not allowed to happen - acquitting it is.

But if men are not to blame, the victim surely must be the one to take responsibility. The easiest way for this is discrediting her credibility. If she told a lie, if this horrific report is untrue, it only proves what we have known all along - that men would never do such things to women, that some, few women only make this up. - And women would find peace of mind that life with a man is yet possible and something to strife for. No questions asked. Mission accomplished.

If it happened, it was probably her, so it can't happen to me

The other only method of reaching acquittal of the men is to acknowledge the incident happened - where witnesses attest to it so that the truth of the story cannot be denied - but immediately asking questions if not the victim is to blame for this in the first place. "Why did she have to be there at such a time?" is a common question posted on social media, basically saying nothing else but that no decent, acceptable woman would have gone to a place like that at such a time and therefore would not have been attacked. As - for all to understand - undoubtedly the author of such a line only proves too well. She didn't go to such a place so she didn't get assaulted. So clearly it is the victim's own fault if something goes wrong  - which also relieves of the task to ponder on the men's behaviour that is part of this story. In more blatant versions one can even read a "well, some men are like that" - which is usually accompanied with a shrug of a shoulder ("such is life") - and the pointing out that everyone knows this and who doesn't act accordingly has to blame only herself.

A remarkable way to get the attacking men out of the limelight and an astonishing lack of solidarity. And that for a good reason that once more is embedded in the wish to self-protect. If as a woman I have to admit to myself that vicious attacks by men on women actually happen and - worse - can happen anytime to any women, I as a woman will have no peace of mind anymore. If however I pinpoint the blame for this assault on this one particular woman (aka "slut" in worst versions) then of course I myself will not ever get into this trouble and can wholeheartedly be both denying such incidences for myself and thereby be at peace of mind. A famous example of this is the Muslim Brotherhood MP Azza El-Garf who pointed out to the stunned Egypt that there was no sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo, as she herself had never been harassed. A flawed logic taken up by others who now point out that they too were in Tahrir joining the celebrations on presidential election and - take note - it did not happen to them! So clearly, again - was Natasha Smith making this up or doing something wrong? Was she perhaps to blame?

Men would not do it if women would not tempt them

Often the attacks by women on female victims of sexual assault are clear and outspoken. She dressed wrong. She walked wrong. She did not wear a veil (which as experience shows does not protect from sexual attacks). She was blonde. She looked foreign. She wore high heels. She looked men in the eyes. - The possibilities are innumerous and all boil down to the same: it was her that was at fault to produce this reaction in men. She alone is to blame, so I - as a women dressing rightly, covering up, lowering my eyes - will never have to fear such an attack (oh please, dear God, please!).

The almost unbearable extreme of this thinking - powered by fear the story could be true after all - is to blame the victim of such an assault to make the streets more dangerous "for all of us" by inciting men to think along the lines of attacks. Which - clearly - men do not do on their own if women do not make them. An even more flawed logic that perfectly blends in with the identical conviction of men in patriarchal societies who do not tire to point out that women are an evil temptation that make men do what they would never otherwise do. Hence the covering up, the shutting out, the keeping them in the house. Women who echo this logic resemble people handing the key to their prison cells to the warden asking them to shut them away. One would think this impossible but unfortunately one reads more of this on social media than is imaginable.

To the victims of sexual assault this is impossible to bear, because the collaboration with the attackers feels as if the rest of the women condone what happened and leave her, the victim, with the guilt. And psychologically it boils down to another attack on top of what was endured already. It will leave even more scars on the victims souls that will need years - if ever - to heal. Inflicted this time not by the men that sexually attacked but by the women that pretend to find fault in this only with the female victim and not with her attackers.

For the egotistic urge to have peace of mind and be at peace with men these women sell off their sisters who are in pain. And thereby too allow these gross human rights violations against women to continue.

Telling of sexual assault to become famous?

But blaming the female victim for apparent misconduct is usually only done when all else fails, when for reasons of witnesses present the incident as such cannot be denied. Where this is not the case, the easiest way yet to get out of the fix remains to dispute that a sexual assault as described in a testimony ever happened. For this, any argument will often do. As someone with regard to questioning Natasha Smith's account wrote on twitter yesterday: "I'm not suggesting she's making it up but people lie. Gay Girl in Damascus anyone?"

A not too convincing argument, for if one points out that people lie one is of course already short of suggesting "she's making it up". Why else would one doubt her credibility and point out that "people lie"?

The comparison to the Gay Girl in Damascus - which was in fact a 46 year old idiotic American male obviously lacking all comprehension of what empathy and human feelings are about - is in addition flawed, because it ignores the fact, that as much as the Gay Girl in Damascus wrote fantastical stories, 'she' never pretended to recount a story of a sexual assault on herself with vivid details of her genital zones.

That's where the thinking once more goes wrong trying to ward off the horror, a victim of sexual assault could actually tell the truth. A truth one would have to face, which apparently is harder for many women to do than to spread doubt it ever happened.

The insinuation that a victim only tells such a story to become famous and interesting shows an astonishing lack of understanding what telling such a story for the victim actually means. It is not like telling some story of everyday life or political pressure, as the Gay Girl of Damascus did. Telling of a sexual attack is like stripping yourself in public, giving people insights into the worst happenings to your private parts, which doesn't come easy to anyone. It's for a reason we call them 'private' parts, because out of shame we do not expose these voluntarily in public. To tell the story however how men groped and shoved their fingers into your private parts, these become public. And it feels like you might as well stand on the market square and rip off your clothes for all to see and watch you naked - knowing well, all will. No one wants to be stared at, but in recounting such a story of sexual assault this will happen, if only in the minds and imagination of the readers.

That is a very unpleasant knowledge the victim has and is anything but easy. To imply anyone would do this just for getting attention or becoming famous shows that the critics - luckily - have never experienced sexual assault personally and do not know what goes on inside a victim when it takes the courage to tell the world.

To recount a sexual assault is a horror relived

A few months ago one night on twitter a hashtag suddenly sprang up called #IDidNotReport. With starting their tweets with this hashtag women suddenly began to recount what happened to them days or years ago with regard to sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse and even rape. "I did not report", they said, and went on to explain what it was they did not report and why they didn't and why now they thought it was time to let it out. The accounts that were coming in suddenly with the force of a tidal wave were harrowing and innumerous and tweeps I followed started to open up and tell stories I would never have imagined happened to them. I was stunned, shocked - and paralyzed. For I too did not report many years ago and had promised myself never to tell.

As I saw a wave of testimonials sweep across my timeline and women showing an unbelievable bravery in speaking out what had happened to them, I began to realize the importance of not hiding what happened, of not pretending it didn't, which obviously - see above - is so much easier for society to bear.

It took me a while and I first confided silently in a woman friend, but then I took up my courage so as not to fail these brave women speaking out and I started to tell my story. I thought it was important, that a man too admits that this happened to him because especially men think such assaults are 'unmanly' and are convinced that they should never tell. As did I.

It took seven or eight 140 character tweets only in which I described that I did not report the sexual attack on me many years back on a trip home in a sleeper from Luxor to Cairo, when I was seriously ill with high fever and the elderly tourist in the bed below made use of my incapacitation and assaulted me in my sleep. Due to my illness and very high temperature I could hardly fight him off, battled what felt like hours until he seemed to give up and I fell asleep again exhausted. When I woke up the next morning he was gone from the compartment and so was my necklace. He had been at me once more at night and to this day I don't know what else he did after I had fallen asleep again.

Telling this story in those few lines on twitter without going into any more detail was sheer horror. I had always imagined to have put off this unpleasant incident long ago and never felt it had in any way interfered with my sexual well-being or self-confidence. I worked this out for myself, classified it as an unfortunate incident that I could not prevent - wrong place, wrong time, wrong circumstances - but not as something that could easily happen again any day to come. That probably made it easier for me to put it aside. So much more surprised and shocked I was to see that when that hashtag appeared on my timeline and I started to read all the reports from others, this long settled story came up like a wave of hot and cold hitting me and the idea of telling the world what had happened - 26 years after the assault occurred - seemed impossible to do.

After I had pulled myself together and had told my story in those few tweets, a wave of positive reactions set in with tweeps - both female and male - praising me for my courage and telling me how undoubtedly strong and brave I was. Only to the woman friend from before did I confess that I was neither, but that I was in fact and literally shaking, trembling and sweating to such an extent that I had to take a shower at 2 o'clock in the morning to get back into normal life. Sweating like this, feeling dirty, abused, disturbed, hurt and confused on an incident that had happened so long ago - only because I took it upon me to finally speak about it. And only in a few tweets.

There is nothing more hurtful than to encounter disbelief

If this personal experience is anything to go by, I can assure you that telling the story of how you were sexually assaulted - and that even in detail and only a few days after it happened - is anything but easy, is anything but something you would do for fun or to get attention or to get famous. You would more than gladly miss out on such fame, thank you very much, if only it didn't happen or if it did you could keep quiet about it. Anyone taking up the courage to tell his story however to alert the world that these attacks happen, that sexual assaults must be taken seriously and not ignored or put off as figments of the imagination, suffers hugely inside and will encounter an anxiety that compares to the initial horror experienced.

For this reason the attempt to discredit victims of sexual assault - be they female or male - by insinuating they only tell such a story to become famous and garner attention borders on the malicious. It blatantly ignores the pain inflicted by recounting such an attack and the emotional stress a victim is going through when it tells of what happened, knowing only too well what images the account will invoke in the readers. The private parts will become public parts, the readers will visualize what you tell, you will thus become the victim again to what happened - only this time it seems in front of everyone's eyes. And what after that? Will you still be able to hold your head up high now that everyone sees you as a "sexual victim", sexualizing you in every aspect as if this was what you were made up of, the only thing that mattered about you?

It is incredibly difficult to do. And if Natasha Smith told her story the way she did - and others did before her too - then partly due to still being severely traumatized but also because with every detail you describe you know that the imagery in readers minds will begin to tick like a clock gone wild. And these images will stick to you - and it will be difficult to rid yourself of this knowledge.

To whoever picks up the courage nevertheless to tell the story of sexual assault in order to shake up the world and say: Hey listen! This happens! - there is nothing more hurtful than to encounter disbelief, discrediting, ignorance of the pain inflicted. The worst that victims of such crimes report when going to police stations is having to face officers who shake their heads in disbelief, disinterest, disregard and show willingness to believe the accused more than the victim - is to be treated like a liar, not taken seriously - left in the end alone with the horror one barely survived.

There is no excuse for this at all. In all statistics done on women reporting sexual crimes the number of fabricated stories turned out to be insignificantly low. And yet disbelief rather than belief seems for many the initial name of the game. Apparently it still makes more sense to doubt the credibility of a victim than to trust that no one in her sane mind would make up such a horribly story - which once told excessively burdens the victim and her sexual privacy. Not only after surviving such an assault but too after telling about it, nothing for the victim will ever be the same. To imply a women would do this easily, is baseless and inexcusable. If not malicious, it can only result from the sheer ignorance of what truly goes on in a victim after a sexual assault.

With denial the victim is assaulted a second time

With all the stories we find on the internet, posted and reposted via social media tools, it does make sense to be cautious and awake and to think twice when hearing a story that is unpleasantly bold. However in the case of sexual assault testimonials this has become an automatic reaction for many, and sadly many women. The shying away from the horror told and the wish not having to acknowledge the truth about such attacks leads into denial mode and starts to discredit the victim. With that nothing is gained. The situation - for all women believe it or not, not only for the 'liar' or worse the 'slut' - will stay like it is, but above all the victim will be hurt even more.

And if you find out Natasha Smith did not lie about the assault but told it as it is - will you then let the horror of what happened to her reach you or will you find another reason to not let it touch you? - And will you then apologize to her for inflicting even more pain on her by doubting her credibility? - Or will you just pretend your public doubting never happened and look away? - How decent is this then? Is it truly her story you worry about or not much more your own?

Even if the urge is felt to go into denial mode for reasons shown above, the victim will seriously feel that it is assaulted a second time - on top of what it already had to endure. Out of of fairness, compassion and responsibility it would therefore be vital and wise to tread softly. If you are in doubt, wait and watch and do research if you must but don't discredit publicly, creating wrongs that cannot be undone. And don't think it is cool - when others show empathy - to go against the wind and openly question the victim's credibility. There is nothing cool about being in denial and the issue at hand is too serious to use it for playing games.

It would be better to first give the victim the benefit of the doubt and not the culprit. Otherwise, whether you like it or not, you become unwillingly the collaborator to such horrific, inexcusable attacks on women. And then, as much as you deny it to yourself now, the next victim could be you after all.

June 24, 2012

Let us learn from the Nile

Looking at the Nile I see the river flow with serenity, murmuring calmingly along, not getting into a frenzy, not easily disturbed.

There is a grandeur in this flowing that surpasses momentary irritations and will endure all fights and tribulations, glowingly.

Sometimes I wonder why that beautiful Nile can't pass its silent wisdom on to the people who live at its shores.

Much would be won for Egypt.

June 23, 2012

SCAF remains the revolution's most dangerous enemy

I must give it to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) - I underestimated them by miles. While half the revolutionary forces were dead scared of the Muslim Brotherhood possibly winning the presidency with Morsi and the other half scared Shafiq could win - the real power that is still holding Egypt in its grip was overlooked: the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces with their power hungry generals.

Two days before the presidential elections, which possible outcome I discussed in my recent blogpost, the High Constitutional Court in Cairo ruled on June 14 that Egypt's Parliamentary Elections Law was unconstitutional with a third of the MPs having to give up their seats. In the consequence of this ruling the Egyptian parliament was immediately dissolved and tanks were positioned around the building with the army barring MPs from entering.

It was clear that the ruling made by judges appointed still by Mubarak had the consent of SCAF, even though the generals were quick to state that they were not happy about it - but nevertheless used iron force to make sure parliamentarians were not able to enter parliament anymore.

What no one had expected and took everyone by surprise and into a shock came true: the people of Egypt went into voting for a president in a country that had neither a constitution nor a parliament. An unprecedented affair!

But as if this was not yet enough trouble, the SCAF thought up even more. On the evening of the second voting day (June 17), shortly after the polling stations finally closed at 10 pm, SCAF issued an amendment to the Constitutional Declaration - basically stripping the new president of his powers and securing almost all powers - including the legislative - for them alone. Egypt was without parliament, not yet decided on who won in the presidential election and with a constitutional situation no one had ever voted for. To put it bluntly: the SCAF had taken over Egypt and staged a 'coup'.

In my assessment in my blogpost I had contemplated the idea that SCAF could plan a coup after the president was elected and rejected this for what I thought were sound reasons. Never in my wildest dreams however did I come up with the idea SCAF could stage a 'soft' coup already before the president was even elected! That indeed was a move by SCAF that took me just as much by surprise as basically everyone else both in Egypt and abroad. In fact this move scared the Obama administration so much, that they issued a clear warning to SCAF that aid could be frozen if the army was not to change this course and hand power over to a civilian government!

I  - and obviously even the closest allies - truly underestimated both SCAF's power hungriness and their ignorance. For while I thought SCAF would not want the world to see them as the ones destroying the transitional process in Egypt, from the above actions it has to be deduced that either the generals couldn't care less after all or were and are just too stupid to understand the impact their takeover has regarding their image in Egypt and the world.

As I write, Egypt is in a state of chaos. One week after the end of the presidential elections it is still not clear which candidate made the race. The SCAF controlled Higher Presidential Election Commission (HPEC) keeps postponing the announcement of the winner and rumours that Morsi won and Shafiq won run wild. Whatever the outcome will be, it seems certain that the win will be by only 1 or 2 percent, leaving the winner with somewhere around 51% or 52%. Which - obviously - means that the loser is having almost just as much supporters behind him as the winner. Egypt will be divided in two and the camps are lashing out at each other now already with full hateful force.

Currently, while everyone nervously waits for the result to finally be declared, it is almost firm belief that the win will have nothing to do with having gotten 49% or 51% of the votes. Instead it is taken that SCAF is feverishly working out behind the scenes what to them would be a more bearable outcome of the election on the long run - and according to that the winner will be announced. Period.

Not to mention, that rumours coming from army sources already are spreading that the president - whoever it is finally going to be - will only be a 'transitional' one who won't be in office for longer than a few months. After seeing that the democratically elected parliament was dissolved only a few months after it was elected - many think because the dominant role by islamists was not to SCAF's liking - it is not too incredulous to believe that SCAF will also dispose of the democratically elected president once they find a solution for the next political vacuum this would create.

Yesterday SCAF issued a statement justifying its latest power grab and warning the people of Egypt from revolting and disrespecting the authorities. "We will face anyone who will pose a challenge to the public and private sectors with an iron fist."

A coup by SCAF? I was sure they would not go that far. But seeing what they have done before the president is even announced and hearing the rumours of what could be expected after the president is declared, anything seems possible at the moment. The Muslim Brotherhood made clear it will not take the dissolving of the democratically elected parliament hands down. What that will mean in the end regarding a power clash with SCAF should Shafiq and not Morsi be declared the winner, is anyone's guess.

The catastrophe for Egypt is not near, it will have to wait, I wrote only 12 days ago. It seems as if years have passed since then. And no one at the moment can give any prediction as to where Egypt is going and what one will have to expect for the future. Only one thing is certain: the generals of SCAF hold on to their privilege with a might and force that can be deemed scary. And they show no scruples in disregarding anything a democratic society is made of. While they pretend to be the protectors of the revolution, in reality they have so far proven to be nothing less but its most dangerous enemy.

June 09, 2012

The truth about Egyptian State-TV ad - Really!

Egypt once more is in turmoil. State-TV aired an advertisement two nights ago that got people much disturbed as they had the feeling this video was going against foreigners, slandering them all for being spies and warning Egyptians to talk to them.

Now that of course is utter nonsense. In a country so dependent on tourism and foreign visitors no government in its sane mind would air an ad that portrays foreigners as dangerous spies. Egyptians clearly succumbed once more to conspiracy theories that abound on the internet.

Unfortunately the ad that was aired in Arabic got worldwide attention with reporting in major newspapers like the New York Times or the Independent. Those papers of course could not understand what was said in the TV-ad and therefore reported wholly wrong.

A version with the correct English translation to the ad (note that there is a sub-titled version on the internet that cannot possibly be taken seriously) has now been published and can be watched here. It shows clearly - as was expected - that Egyptian State-TV as always showed responsibility, was true to the revolution and voiced the grave concerns of the revolutionaries against the military rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. All rumours saying otherwise are clearly lies.

June 06, 2012

Egypt's catastrophe is not near

Two weeks ago, when the results of the presidential elections were announced, practically everyone in Egypt was in shock. There was no winner but there were clear losers all across the political spectrum as no candidate managed to garner more than 25% of the votes. No matter who you sided for - be it Morsi (25%) or Shafiq (24%) or even Sabbahi (21%) - the bottom line of the result was clear: 75% and more of Egyptians had lost in the game. That is huge and not a thing to be happy about. Even worse, it is a result that put people in serious shock and scenarios of the catastrophe being near made the rounds everywhere. Should Shafiq win in the run-off elections on 16/17 June, the old regime would triumph back into place and the revolution would be over. All martyrs would have died in vain. Should Morsi win, the Muslim Brotherhood would take over the country in an islamist sweep, install sharia and head Egypt off to an Iranian future. Whether you belonged to the 25% of Morsi or the 24% of Shafiq voters (not to mention the 51% rest), so much was certain: Egypt was doomed. The run-off results would launch the catastrophe.


After the first waves of shock expression died down, people started to get into hefty fights not only over who would be the right candidate to elect in the run-off but also over whether to vote or to boycott was the right answer to the disturbing results of the first round. As always in Egypt, lots of emotions thundered down like a tidal wave across the political scene. People slandered each other as traitors to the revolution to an extent that did serious damage to social contacts with friends turning away, despising each other for their choice both in the first round or the upcoming second. It seemed, Egypt could no longer contain the stress it had endured in the last 15 months since the toppling of Mubarak and was spiraling down into chaos and hate. There was not much to be hopeful for regarding the future, especially as both candidates in the run-off elections were bound to incite even more emotions if they would be elected.

At this vulnerable point the two candidates - Ahmed Shafiq (former Prime Minister under Mubarak and a remnant of the toppled regime) and Dr. Mohamed Morsi (Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood) - unwillingly did something to calm down the situation: they talked publicly in press conferences and on TV. And many now think that at least in their own interest they perhaps better shouldn't have. But for Egypt no doubt their attempts to publicly explain themselves came like a band-aid to an open-wound. It soothed the pain. For suddenly it became clear: the catastrophe was nowhere as near as feared. Not with these candidates anyhow. Both were talking such a lot of nonsense that the pictures of the demons on the wall began to dissolve and slide down to the floor into little heaps of miserable nothings no one could seriously be afraid of.

To put it mildly: both lost any credibility as to their capabilities of both ruining or running the country, both clearly showed they lived in dreamlands far away from the reality of Egypt's miseries and both demonstrated that they were anything but invincible to a strong, politically minded Egyptian movement - as the revolutionary movement with all its flaws undoubtedly is.

One might argue that a fool in the wrong place - especially if it is the highest one in the country - can cause a lot of damage. True. It must be argued too however that a fool is never as uncontrollable as a sound minded, cold calculating dictator - as Mubarak quite clearly was. He knew exactly both what he wanted and how he was going to get it and ruled Egypt as all know with the famous 'iron hand'. Envisage an iron hand and try pin it to either of the candidates of the run-off and the idea will only scare you if you never heard them open their mouth.

What I am saying is not that both in their function, intention and illogical thinking can not be of danger. But a catastrophe needs a bigger cause than this and these two - even with the backing they have - are simply not made of such caliber.

The Shafiq scenario

Let Shafiq win the game and become president of Egypt. Then the political scene will become very lively (and I mean 'very'). The Muslim Brotherhood, dominating the parliament, will give him hell at every street corner he turns up at and foil every attempt of his to get the rule back to the good old days. Never ever will the Muslim Brotherhood forget what they endured under decades of dictatorial rule in the prisons of Mubarak. Should Shafiq as much as try to fail on his promises to build the new Egypt he rants (to little credibility) about they will confront him and his government in the most serious ways. And although they then would have lost the presidential elections, it is to be taken they will still have managed to secure almost half of the votes of the electorate - plus having 47% that got them into parliament. Say what you want and fear what you think, but no Shafiq will overlook the power behind the Ikhwan and simply pretend they don't exist.

If Shafiq in any way is dreaming of installing the old regime - although of course for elections sake pretending the opposite currently - he will not succeed. The parliament is a much too strong force to reckon with, not because of its legislative powers but because of its possibilities to fight Shafiq and his cronies publicly in a never heard of way. Times have changed, media has changed, if State-TV shuts off, others will broadcast and never ever will this now empowered Muslim Brotherhood take it lying down should the old regime try to oppress them again. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood has the connections on the ground which it build in decades of social work. Shafiq, belonging to the rich elite that never cared for the plight of Egyptians, lacks these contacts. The Muslim Brotherhood will clearly use this to its advantage.

Then of course - as if this was not enough trouble for Shafiq already - there are the revolutionary forces in Egypt that, although unfortunately still not politically organized in an efficient way, will fight Shafiq with all their might. Sometimes side by side with the despised Ikhwan, sometimes alone as last year, when the Muslim Brotherhood failed to support the revolution many times for egotistic reasons. The revolutionaries won't care. They'll fight anyhow and they will have much possibilities to make themselves heard. And this time the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing the fight is too in their own interest, will not find it as easy to look away. - In addition, the revolutionary forces have four long years to finally and properly organize themselves and build bonds that will survive onslaughts and even the next elections. If they play it right. And why not believe they finally could. There is a learning curve to everything, even to revolutions.

The Morsi scenario

But what if Morsi wins? What if the Muslim Brotherhood then holds both the presidency and power of parliament and position of its speaker? Will sharia not come over Egypt like a natural catastrophe that cannot be halted? Is there any way to stop them from building the next Iran? - Yes, there is.

Again there are the revolutionary forces and liberal political parties and movements that will fight any attempt to islamistically redecorate their living room. And the furor against turning Egypt into a deeply religious state is at least as intense as the one going against the attempts to reinstall the old regime. Besides - should the Muslim Brotherhood go ahead with implementing an intense form of sharia in Egypt it will face serious opposition even from within those groups that initially voted for them. Already now the miserable turnout of voters in the first round of presidential elections, slumping from once 54% in the parliamentary to now only 46% in the presidential, showed that the Muslim Brotherhood damaged seriously the trust the people put in them when voting them into parliament. Not few who went voting in the first round in addition voiced that they would not vote for the Muslim Brotherhood again given the poor if not even scandalous performance in the last four months in parliament. The fact that their candidate did not secure a solid lead in the first round but only came first with just one percent away from Shafiq showed to the Muslim Brotherhood too that their position can be vulnerable and ignoring the protests of the people of Egypt - both from the revolution and from within their own electorate - can cost them their political life.

Especially after decades of suppression, torture and incarceration, the Muslim Brotherhood will think in longer terms than just four years, not to endanger what so far they could achieve, and they will tread softly in implementing their true goals. The public declarations by Morsi to include opposition, copts and women in his government may sound incredulous. But once said and out there in the open will be hard to reverse. The powers Morsi says he wants to incorporate to bind them into his political ruling are clearly not only in existence but of big enough importance for him to take them seriously. They won't become smaller just because he breaks his promises and instead ignores them. They are strong forces the Muslim Brotherhood will have to reckon with in the next four years. And either Morsi sticks to his words and works with them - making another Iran impossible - or he will face stiff opposition that too in no way will allow him to implement an islamist rule as feared by many, should he be voted into office.

So given both scenarios, either Shafiq or Morsi coming out as winner of the run-off elections to presidency, the fear of immanent catastrophe looming over Egypt seems hardly realistic. Whoever wins will have to secure his political survival against strong oppositional forces. And the winner will in either case try hard to survive the next four years politically in the hope to come out better and more potent in the next elections. There is no room for catastrophes if they want to make it. And given the little intelligent determinational force that seeped through in their political explanations, seeing them running wild with iron hands is not a realistic expectation of the future.


The question then only remains if the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) will take either of the above solutions hands down. Many who might follow on the reasoning so far still need a catastrophic scenario to prove their fears right and what better could supply this than the idea of a military coup?

Should Shafiq win, there is little need for such a violent act. Shafiq, an ex-military man, has made no secret of his love to the army and his respect to SCAF. Many - probably rightly so - suspect him anyhow to be the candidate of SCAF, who is said to be securing his position and backing up his candidacy. In all secrecy of course. Officially both have denied this. But should Shafiq become the next president of Egypt, SCAF will have no problems with him. Should the oppositional forces, foremost the Muslim Brotherhood, indeed confront the Shafiq government with serious opposition or even protests on the street, SCAF will be hesitant to be incited into taking over the ship. They will do anything to silently or intimidatingly support 'their' president and his government, but the need for a coup will not be there as long as Shafiq and his ministers hold the ruling powers in their hands.

Such a government would not endanger the interests of SCAF and neither would the protests of the opposition. SCAF will see no necessity to put itself into the huge trouble of becoming publicly the destructional forces of the democratic transition in Egypt. It would turn them into a pariah all over the world and confront them with serious and violent reactions within the country, both of which would tamper with their sole interest of securing their economical and financial advantages. A military coup with Shafiq in power is not feasible.

Should Morsi win, the enemy of SCAF will have made it to the throne, for in all the decades of presidency suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood the army was always the force behind it. No Mubarak, Sadat or Nasser decided on them alone, they were all military men. Nevertheless the SCAF will again be hesitant. Staging a coup just because a candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood made it to the presidency would ruin all credibility of the army being the guardian of the transition. If that was truly their idea, the huge win of the Muslim Brotherhood in the parliamentary election would already have been reason enough to act. Yet SCAF did not, and for good reasons too. With 47% of the electorate against you, you face an unbearably opposition staging a coup that can only be contained with serious use of lethal force. It would have - and will - destroy all hopes of SCAF to keep the billions in military aid from abroad and secure their posh life in secluded urbanizations with villas and pools and supermarkets carrying everything the ordinary Egyptian never gets to see. There is much at stake, and ruining it for the 47% power loss in parliament simply was not worth it.

With this however the SCAF also ruined its chances to stage a coup once a president was elected - democratically elected for all the world to see - who too would come from the Muslim Brotherhood. If anything, SCAF waited to long for such a risky maneuver and will now not be able to explain this to anyone nor be successful at suppressing the forces it itself allowed to slip out of the bottle. You don't get genies of freedom and democracy back in, once they are out. And out they are. And no one in the world or in the country would take their oppression hands down.

With Morsi in power, SCAF will watch things unfold, as oppositional forces fight any attempt to islamistically refurbish the country. There will be a lot to watch no doubt and as long as the Muslim Brotherhood faces such stiff opposition in its own backyard, why should the army risk their riches? They might very well be trying behind the scene to broker (another?) deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, to not be held accountable for the crimes of the past and to be able to keep their accumulated wealth in return for not taking over by a military coup. The Muslim Brotherhood, hesitant (perhaps?) at first will probably and secretly agree to this deal, because they are - again - interested in a much more long-term goal, reaching the next elections without losses and securing their position in Egypt with even more voters backing them up. Think of them calculating easily in terms of 10 to 15 years when it comes to implementing their final ideas how it should be and you will clearly understand that they will not endanger their long-term success for a showdown with SCAF that they cannot possibly win.

A military coup?

So in both cases a coup seems very unlikely. SCAF simply has neither the power nor the interest to face the consequences of such a takeover. Besides, their aim has always been to be behind the scene, quietly taking over 20 - 40% of Egypt's economy and raking in the chips. You can easily get used to this and it is hard to kick a habit. Under Morsi the army officers retiring will most surely not see high positions in governorates fall to them automatically as in the past. But there will always be well-paid positions in the enterprises the army runs. And SCAF will have every interest to keep these profitable. Which can only be if the country comes to stability and stays quiet. Not little of the army's profits are made from tourist resorts that have taken a heavy beating due to numbers of visitors going down during the revolution. It is also in SCAF's utmost own interest that these profits return and they know this will only be possible if to the outside world at least the image of the new democracy of Egypt is not tampered with.

A coup would ruin everything and above that make the country uncontrollable. Not being able to contain the protests in Tahrir, Maspero and Mohamed Mahmoud street last year taught SCAF a lesson. Egypt has changed. You don't get the lid back on the pot anymore, not by violence, intimidation or blood-shedding. The pressure is on. And it stays on - as could be seen - no matter how hard you hit.

The beginning not the end

Sticking to this reasoning one can see that whatever outcome of the run-off presidential election will have to be endured, Egypt is not heading for a catastrophe but into a four year period of undoubtedly lively and interesting developments. If on the revolutionary side this period is used to organize, get over differences, form trustable coalitions and not simply continue to train the skills of rock throwing, the tables can easily be turned when the next elections come around. The candidate the revolutionaries wanted and were willing to accept was only four percent points away from making it to the top. Bundling all positive forces in the revolution can secure the win of him or a similar candidate in the coming years. Until then neither Shafiq nor Morsi will be able to push through with much of their agenda on their own in the face of the opposition and SCAF has no interest to take over, rather trying to secure their financial profits now and for the future.

There is a lot to be expected when on June 17 late at night the first freely elected president of Egypt will become known to the people. This time around the result can not be a shock to anyone because both options are well discussed and won't come as a surprise. For whatever it means, when either Shafiq or Morsi becomes President of Egypt so much is certain: it will be the beginning not the end. And Egypt's catastrophe will have to wait this time. It is nowhere near and fortunately not to be seen.

April 25, 2012

Men Do Hate Women, Dear Dima!

In the newest edition of "Foreign Policy" the columnist Mona El-Tahawy wrote an article with the title "Why do you hate us?" describing the problems women face at the hands of oppressing men in the Arab world. In the last 24 hours the article has ignited a firestorm on social media with people heatedly debating the issue and many lashing out at the author for the things she wrote. Many blogposts were written attacking her for supposedly being anti-Islam, depicting men in a bad light, shaming the Arab region in front of the western world and much more. Most blogposts transport the old thinking that the truth should not be told openly - most often considered a taboo - and that men aren't the way Mona describes them. The journalist Dima Khatib now too replied to Mona's article in a blogpost named "Love, Not Hatred, Dear Mona" - it is the first blogpost I find respectable, although I do not share her views. But I encourage you to read her post - and here is my reply to her.


Dear Dima Khatib,

though I do not agree wholly with your euphemistic view of the situation of Arab women it can be said that this is undoubtedly the most sincere and constructive post dealing critically with the article of Mona.

Unfortunately Dima, I - as a man - have to tell you that the 'hate' you all get so heated up about and don't want to believe exists is very much inherent in many men around the globe. While you all naturally would love to see us men in a good light so as not to rob you of hope it has to be noted that very many men in the world - not only in MENA - are not only afraid of women but truly hate them. Why?

Because you make our blood boil, you make us lose our head, you incite us to do things we normally wouldn't do, you make us skip our friends over you and fall out on their friendship, you get us to show emotions (we hate that the most), you tick off a process in us that we cannot control, a sex urge that leads us to a point of no return - which we hate, because we men always want to be in control. And then we awake from the orgasm - which in men other than in women can be like cooling down high temperature in seconds - and suddenly we are back to our normal self. And then many men say: What was this? Why did I do this? Why did I react this way? Why did I lose my head, my control, my composure? I, a man who is always in control? What did this evil woman do to me?

Bewitched me, tempted me (shame on her), transformed me into a person without own will (hate you for that).

If it hadn't been for Eve then Adam would never have stumbled, would never have been expelled from paradise. It is women who cause all the trouble, because they lure us into sexuality where we do not know anymore what we are doing.

Grossly exaggerated? You wish. - I am not saying that every man reacts this way. Many in fact have learned to control themselves or to let themselves go in relationships, to even show emotions without dying from it - yes, to even learn to enjoy enjoying sex and not just working off an urge that needs to be removed from the system.

The sad fact - and I know more intimate details of men's thinking on this then any woman will ever want to learn - is that many men who do react uncontrollably fear you women like the devil - worse indeed hate you for producing such reactions within us.

And it is at this point that the whole critique at the word 'hate' Mona used is running empty. The salafis show in every inch of their behaviour that they do indeed hate women and for that reason suppress them. And if you want to know why - see above. Because they have a huge issue with sexuality that they do not enjoy but see as something devilish that drives them into an uncontrollable state. They don't want to ever lose control of themselves - you come and make it happen. They don't want to show emotions - you come and demand just that. They hate to not know what they are doing - you are the reason they get into such a miserable state.

I've been following up on the discussion about this article now for 24 hours and all I can say - it is a bitter truth, but swallow it. Many men - and many men in the Arab world (that is what Mona talked about) - do hate women and show it in all their contempt - starting from condoning female genital mutilation (if she does not feel something, he can finish quicker and won't lose control), encouraging teenage marriages (treat the young already as possession then they won't get ideas), denying fundamental rights so all will be in control. In the male control. Stuff the women who only cause trouble.

Then there are those you talk about - nice men, respectful, perhaps even worshipping women. But those are not the issue - neither in the article nor in the real life oppressing women. Mona talked about those men that DO oppress you. And she said bluntly and truthfully what is behind that oppression.

If you don't believe men can hate women, just go to Iran and see what happens there in forcing 9 year old girls into marriage, watch women get lashed 90 times in Saudi - for having been raped -, check teenage girls getting forced to marry rapists in Morocco, or acknowledge young women getting honour killed for having been abused by soldiers in Libya. You call all this love, and love will solve all problems?

What unfortunately you and all other women will have to accept is that it is hatred that is behind that and that men who torture, rape, beat, oppress and even kill women do this out of hate, not out of love. Obvious one should think, but apparently so hard to bear for women who would love to see the world be so much better.

Sorry for the truth, but it does not help oppressed women if we deny what cannot be denied. I am grateful to Mona she had the guts to say how it is. And I wish more women would have the courage to face the truth - and start thinking about ways to change from there. It would help you all a lot more than remaining in a state of wishful thinking - quoting you: "If only we could learn how to love again, so that men learn to love women without controlling them, and women learn to love men instead of loving to please men. How about we start from love, Mona, instead of hatred?" - and idealizing those men that lash, beat, force, deny and do even a lot worse to you wonderful women.

They don't talk love, they talk hate, Dima. That is a fact that must be faced. It's not easy and it needs courage, I know. But in overcoming oppression facing facts is a must.

April 18, 2012

The revolutionaries of Egypt play felool

Sometimes it is amazing to see how easily people are fooled. Even people who call themselves revolutionaries and fight a tyrant. When on Saturday the Presidential Election Committee (PEC) disqualified 10 of the 23 candidates who had applied to run in the elections for Egypt's presidency, people danced in the streets with joy - for next to the most dreaded Omar Suleiman - ex spy-chief of Mubarak - the just as much detested Khairat El-Shater from the Muslim Brotherhood was rejected by the commission. That was indeed good news. So good in fact, that no one cared to think about why the candidate El-Shater had been refused. The only thing that counted was his being ousted from the run for office - and what better thing could happen to Egypt than that?

Well - justice perhaps? Because justice is nowhere to be found in the decision by the PEC on El-Shater's rejection. Nor, by the way, on the rejection of another candidate - Ayman Nour. Nour too was rejected by the PEC - and startling enough both for the same reason.

Two sides to a coin

Under Mubarak' dictatorship the ikhwan Khairat El-Shater was imprisoned several times for his political views that the regime deemed dangerous. Now that the dreaded Mubarak is gone and the dictatorial regime due to a revolution is supposed to be history, the imprisonment under Mubarak should not speak against El-Shater, on the contrary. He, who defied the dictator should be considered rehabilitated in post revolutionary times since the dictator is gone.

Yet the opposite is true. The PEC rejected El-Shater as candidate for presidency due to his earlier convictions and jail terms. These they are holding against him. And the revolutionaries, who are more than glad that he is ousted from the race, rejoice.

When the liberal Ayman Nour dared to become the first person to contest the dictator Mubarak in the elections 2005 it cost him his freedom right after the elections. Mubarak of course stayed in power and Nour was thrown in jail on charges of "forgery" many considered and consider to this day as trumped up to silence a liberal mind. Now that the dictator is gone, this bravery should speak in his favour and the revolutionaries would surely not hold this against him. Yet the PEC does, for it rejected Nour too with pointing out that he had had an earlier conviction and served jail time. He is therefore not eligible. The revolutionaries are disappointed about this and complain bitterly.

It is interesting and just as much scary to see how so called liberals and leftists, activists and revolutionaries look at the same context twice and show two different reactions - depending on whether they like the person in question or not. However not depending on aspects of justice or democracy.

Reason to rejoice?

Both Shater and Nour received the same verdict from the PEC: Because they were thrown in jail under the dictator Mubarak - they now cannot become president, because a presidential candidate may not have a criminal record. Since both served jail sentences, both - according to the PEC logic - have a criminal past and therefore are not eligible to stand for office.

While this decision in Ayman Nour's case is met with anger and criticism by revolutionary forces - the same decision in El-Shater's case is hailed as a victory for a democratic Egypt. And no one sees how bitterly the PEC is having them on, playing the old cards from the old system and judging according to the old way of thinking - that whoever is (or was) against Mubarak is an enemy to Egypt and must be ousted from political life. Is that the tune of the revolution of January 25? Hardly. Then what is the rejoicing about?

What the revolutionary forces of Egypt - the leftist, the liberals, the activist - don't get is that with this two-sided rejection the old regime is still in full force deciding on who is going to run for president and not. While this as such should not come as a surprise - one thing does: the fact that the revolutionary forces themselves in hailing the ousting of El-Shater now actively support such an unjust, flawed, dictatorial decision - and don't even realize that with this they are being complicit to the injustice of the old regime.

Food for thought

When you hail that El-Shater is not allowed to run for office because he was thrown in jail under Mubarak you are in fact condoning the felool way of thinking, you are supporting the old forces and you show them that they have nothing to fear from the revolution with regard to protesting for a free and just decision on who is going to become president of Egypt.

When you protest against the ousting of Ayman Nour you lack credibility, and the regime knows it. Either you accept that jail term under Mubarak for political reason was not a crime but something brave and a sacrifice of personal lifetime - then you will have to accept this for every candidate, whether you like him or not. If you only accept this for Nour but not for Shater, the only thing you prove to the old regime and yourself is that the demands of the revolution like freedom, democracy and justice were nothing more than empty slogans whose real values and dimensions you have not understood to this day.

If so, you will get the president you deserve. Then don't complain.


February 25, 2012

In times of sadness, never lose love - Erich Fried

For over a year now we have been confronted with troubling news of people being arrested, beaten, tortured, killed. No doubt, if you want a revolution to happen you have to face up to bitter reality. But the amount of disturbing information coming out of the countries of the Arab spring can be overwhelmingly depressing. The deaths in Syria everyday, the conditions in Bahrain or Yemen, the fatalities in Egypt with no serious sign of holding anyone accountable - all that can sum up to a burden hard to carry, something to make the heart heavy and result in burnout symptoms or even stress disorders.

It is in such times that I almost cling to a poem by Erich Fried, an Austrian born award winning writer, who was one of the finest love poets of contemporary times. Though living in London he wrote all his works in German and was both famous and much hailed there for his wonderful poetry. In addition, his translations of Shakespeare or Dylan Thomas into German rank among the finest today.

I had the great privilege of knowing Erich, working with him, having long conversations with him. He was warmhearted and energetic, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, a bold political activist who often clashed with the political elite, and an undeterred fighter for humanity and peace. He was hated by the conservatives for his leftist views and frowned upon by his leftist friends for constantly trying to see the human in his enemy. When he died in 1988 of cancer it was a sad day. I loved him dearly and I still miss him today.

How wonderful though that his writings remain with us to give us courage and inspiration. One of his most beautiful love poems I translated here. It shows, that even the bravest political activist can have his downs, can tire and feel worn out and yearn for something to soothe the pain: Love and security and peace of mind.

May it be uplifting to all those whose hearts are heavy these days with the sorrowful news we have to bear daily.


Words                                                  (by Erich Fried, 1921 - 1988)

When my words shed their syllables due to fatigue
and on the typewriter the stupid mistakes begin
when I want to fall asleep
and never wake to the daily sadness
of what happens in the world
and which I cannot prevent

then here and there a word starts to groom itself and hum softly
and a half thought combs itself and looks for another
that perhaps just now was still choking on something
   it could not swallow
but now turns around
and takes the half thought by its hand and says to it:

And then some of those tired words
and some typos that laugh about themselves
fly with or without the half and whole thoughts
out from the London misery over sea and plains and mountains
always across to the same spot

And in the morning, when you go down the steps through the garden
and stop and start to take notice and look
you can see them sitting or hear them fluttering
a bit cold and perhaps still a bit lost
and always silly with joy that they are truly with you


February 22, 2012

‘Paying the ultimate price’ - R.I.P. Marie Colvin

Today once more is a sad day for journalism. This morning, around 9 a.m., Sunday Times of London correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed in Homs (Syria), when they tried to escape the rockets from the Syrian army. Both died instantly.

Last night, Marie Colvin had still given telephone interviews to the BBC and CNN about the horrors happening in Homs. She spoke of horrific scenes she witnessed, of people dying under unbelievable conditions while the shelling of the starved city was continuing without end.

"I know it's impossible to stay safe but please try" were the last words Anderson Cooper said to Marie Colvin in their phone conversation. - It was not to be. This morning she was dead. There is no 'safe' in Homs anymore.

Not for the 28.000 civilians and not for the handful of journalists that dare to make it across the border. Besides Marie and Rémi being killed, two other colleagues were injured in the attack: Paul Conroy, the Sunday Times photographer assigned to Marie Colvin, and journalist Edith Bouvier from Le Figaro.

As so often after the loss of life the question in journalism arises whether it was worth it, whether the reporting from the war zone justifies the immense danger, journalists and photographers put themselves into. Do we really need the pictures and the reports from the ground? Will it help to end any misery or is it not perhaps just a dangerous folly of overtly adventurous die-hards who have no respect for life and have fallen out of society, unable to make it in a normal world?

From all the reports of friends and colleagues we get, Marie Colvin was anything but reckless or without fear. She knew what sufferings the war zones could produce, she had herself lost colleagues to war reporting and paid tribute to them with their families and friends in St. Bird's Fleet Street in a commemorating service in November 2010.

It is here too that she spoke up and explained the motives behind her willingness to face danger again and again, knowing too well the deadly result it could produce.

Today that result has materialized. Marie Colvin was killed.

While thousands around the globe mourn her passing and many colleagues remember her in numerous moving articles and speeches since this morning, my tribute to her comes in the form of her own words. The words she spoke at St. Bird's on November 10, 2010 - and repeated at other occasions when people kept repeating the question: "Is it worth it?"

To Marie Colvin it was. It was worth it. It was vital. And, as she put it to a friend in a Beirut coffee shop only a week ago: "After all, it's what we do."

Read Marie Colvin's own explanation, why we need war zone reporting, and why there are some journalists and photographers who dare to risk their lives to get the truth out to us: the ignorant world, too often looking away, not showing interest, lacking empathy - but most of all, without knowledge we so desperately need.

I bow in deep respect to Marie, Rémi and the many others who were killed and thank them for every bit of truth they sent out from the horrific war places on this troubled planet.

Our gratitude is yours for ever. May you rest in peace.

Marie Colvin, St. Bird's, Nov 10, 2010

Your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen, 

I am honoured and humbled to be speaking to you at this service tonight to remember the journalists and their support staff who gave their lives to report from the war zones of the 21st Century. I have been a war correspondent for most of my professional life. It has always been a hard calling. But the need for frontline, objective reporting has never been more compelling.

Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you.

Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitised language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes, the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years. Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children.

Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?

Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price. Tonight we honour the 49 journalists and support staff who were killed bringing the news to our shores. We also remember journalists around the world who have been wounded, maimed or kidnapped and held hostage for months. It has never been more dangerous to be a war correspondent, because the journalist in the combat zone has become a prime target.

I lost my eye in an ambush in the Sri Lankan civil war. I had gone to the northern Tamil area from which journalists were banned and found an unreported humanitarian disaster. As I was smuggled back across the internal border, a soldier launched a grenade at me and the shrapnel sliced into my face and chest. He knew what he was doing.

Just last week, I had a coffee in Afghanistan with a photographer friend, Joao Silva. We talked about the terror one feels and must contain when patrolling on an embed with the armed forces through fields and villages in Afghanistan...putting one foot in front of the other, steeling yourself each step for the blast. The expectation of that blast is the stuff of nightmares. Two days after our meeting Joao stepped on a mine and lost both legs at the knee.

Many of you here must have asked yourselves, or be asking yourselves now, is it worth the cost in lives, heartbreak, loss? Can we really make a difference?

I faced that question when I was injured. In fact one paper ran a headline saying, has Marie Colvin gone too far this time? My answer then, and now, was that it is worth it.

Today in this church are friends, colleagues and families who know exactly what I am talking about, and bear the cost of those experiences, as do their families and loved ones.

Today we must also remember how important it is that news organisations continue to invest in sending us out at great cost, both financial and emotional, to cover stories.

We go to remote war zones to report what is happening. The public have a right to know what our government, and our armed forces, are doing in our name. Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.

The history of our profession is one to be proud of. The first war correspondent in the modern era was William Howard Russell of The Times, who was sent to cover the Crimean conflict when a British-led coalition fought an invading Russian army.

Billy Russell, as the troops called him, created a firestorm of public indignation back home by revealing inadequate equipment, scandalous treatment of the wounded, especially when they were repatriated - does this sound familiar? - and an incompetent high command that led to the folly of the Charge of the Light Brigade. It was a breakthrough in war reporting. Until then, wars were reported by junior officers who sent back dispatches to newspapers. Billy Russell went to war with an open mind, a telescope, a notebook and a bottle of brandy. I first went to war with a typewriter, and learned to tap out a telex tape. It could take days to get from the front to a telephone or telex machine.

War reporting has changed greatly in just the last few years. Now we go to war with a satellite phone, laptop, video camera and a flak jacket. I point my satellite phone to South Southwest in Afghanistan, press a button and I have filed.

In an age of 24/7 rolling news, blogs and twitters, we are on constant call wherever we are. But war reporting is still essentially the same - someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can't get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen.

We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.

And we could not make that difference - or begin to do our job - without the fixers, drivers, and translators, who face the same risks and die in appalling numbers. Today we honour them as much as the front line journalists who have died in pursuit of the truth. They have kept the faith as we who remain must continue to do.

Marie Colvin, 1956 - 2012


Her last report out of Homs for the Sunday Times shows the horror the city's civilians are facing and proves the outstanding quality of Marie Colvin's work. We shall miss her reports badly. We shall miss her telling us the truth.

‘We live in fear of a massacre' - Sunday Times, Feb 19, 2012


January 19, 2012

In memory of martyr Ziad Bakir - Democracy, democracy, democracy

Is it almost a year already? Is it almost a year that Ziad Bakir left the house in Cairo to join the Egyptian revolution?

When Ziad went out on January 28 to be peacefully part of the quest for a new, free Egypt, he had no idea how murderous the regime was going to react. But when the day came to an end, he never returned.

Now that almost a year has passed, you might think the memory of all this has faded, the sadness of those, who loved him dearly, has passed on to bearability. It hasn‘t. „When you lose someone you love, 20 years are nothing“, a woman in a documentary said the other day who had lost relatives in a plane crash in 1979. - Twenty years is nothing. And a year? - So much less.

Did it really happen, this year? Or did all this happen only yesterday? For the relatives this question comes up again and again with no satisfactory answer.

Ziad Bakir was no revolutionary. He was an artist, a fine artist in his trade, heading the design department an the Cairo Opera House. His posters for performances were stunning in layout and colour, creative in their combination of text, photo and colour schemes, and art in itself. Even if you should have known that the event was going to be of poor quality, Ziad‘s posters were so brilliantly arranged and alive that they compelled you to visit the performance. What better quality could such a poster have? The Cairo Opera House was and could be proud of having him as their chief designer.

When Ziad went out into the streets of Cairo on that January 28 he had no rocks with him, no molotov cocktails, no weapons - just a perception of a dream: that Egypt - his Egypt he loved - would become free of tyrannical rule, would allow freedom of speech and secure democracy. For in his family these were values he and his sister and brother had been taught, with early contacts to other cultures and languages of the world. All this documented itself in his multicoloured, multicultural wonderful designs. And the soft-spoken, kindhearted father of three went out to see for himself if this dream of Egypt could peacefully come true.

The rest is bitter history. One day only, one single day turned everything upside down. When Ziad did not return even late at night, his family started to get worried. His sister, who was studying art in Europe and who had spoken with him again and again on the phone about the revolution of Egypt and what it could mean to the country, was deeply disturbed and immediately interrupted her studies and booked a flight home. When she arrived on January 31, Ziad had still not been found.

For weeks the family searched all possible places in Cairo, and while the revolution went on in Tahrir, where sister Mirette often could be seen with a photo of Ziad and her hopeful look, someone could recognize him and have some information about him, while Mubarak finally stepped down to the cheers of the Egyptian people - the fear grew in the hearts of those that loved him that he might perhaps never return. Yet, no one was willing to give up on him. His brother and cousin tirelessly searched the morgues and hospitals, his sister organized the media, giving interview after interview to the local and foreign press, hoping someone out there seeing it would have some news on Ziad.

Five long weeks

But the only news they kept getting was devastating in itself. Calls from unknown callers stating they knew where Ziad is, or saying they saw him only days ago in a prison in Sinai - or quite bluntly threatening the family that Ziad would never return alive if they did not stop talking to the press about him.

Undoubtedly the crooks of Amn El Dawla, of Mubarak‘s hated riot police or the despised former ruling party NDP thought it appropriate to torture the family even more. As if the desperate search for their son and brother day in and day out was not hard enough to bear.

Five weeks after Ziad had disappeared, a phone call from a trusted source came to say that a body was seen in Zenhom morgue that could be him. The family was in doubt, for his brother and cousin had been in Zenhom morgue many, many times in those five weeks, they had seen unbelievable scenes and unaccounted bodies, yet never a body that resembled him. But when they went to inspect, the hopes of finding Ziad alive, sitting perhaps in some godforsaken military prison in Egypt, was shattered. With all difficulties of identification, it was in the end to be taken that Ziad Bakir had been found. And his bullet wounds clearly showed that he had been killed by snipers from rooftops.

It is not wise to go back to every detail of those horrible days when he was found and finally buried on March 13. Why open all the wounds once more? A huge funeral was held at Omar Makram mosque next to Tahrir square, only a few meters away from the spot where Ziad had last been seen on that fateful January 28. Many had come to pay their respect: family and friends and many of his colleagues from the Cairo Opera House. Grieving, they parted from a man they had held close to their hearts for so many years and had now to let go.

Ziad Bakir died at the age of 37. A father of three wonderful children, a gifted, talented, friendly character who never found pleasure in hurting. Those who killed him from the rooftops of Cairo had no idea what they destroyed. To them he was nothing. To his family and friends he was a world.

A memorial exhibition

Only those who are forgotten, have truly died, a saying goes. And if this is so, then Ziad has never left. A moving eulogy was published by one of his colleagues, many memorials were held both in and out of Cairo Opera House, and now, that almost a year has passed and after seven months of intense preparation by his family and friends, a wonderful exhibition has opened in his memory at Hanager Arts Center on the Cairo Opera House grounds in Zamalek, showing for a fortnight his impressive posters and designs and making it once more possible to be captivated by his spirited, lively yet soft-treading talent. As if he was still with us, as if he was still alive. And when the people pass through the exhibition, marveling at the flow of movements and colours, his almost shy, humble smile will undoubtedly accompany them. Ziad is speaking to them through his art and many might be sorry that the performances, for which he once so compellingly advertised, are long over. Seeing the posters, one might yet be inclined to buy tickets. He artistically tempts us to the day.

The Ziad that left on January 28 might have been empty handed. But the Ziad that is remembered had a heart full of passion, of light and of dreams. It is art‘s privilege after all to see light where others see nothing, and a revolution also relies on dreamers if it wants to succeed. Life is nothing without art. Love is nothing without the belief in light. If all come together, the chances are good something new and valuable for the world is born.

The legacy

When hopes were still held up that Ziad could be alive in some military prison somewhere and would one day return to his family, his father, Mohamed Bakir, in an interview with the BBC was unmistakably clear about what was needed for the future of Egypt: „Democracy, democracy, democracy.“

His words to this day ring in my ear.

No, there is no sense in a killing, and nothing that comes can make it seem justifiable that Ziad Bakir, as so many others, lost his life. But if there is any legacy to be found in his death, let this be it - the ongoing responsibility to allow it to happen in Egypt: Democracy, democracy, democracy.

Only then will there be a chance for the family to come to rest. Only then will Egypt manage to bear the loss of its sons and daughters that were so ruthlessly torn from their lives. Harming nobody, chanting with joy and marching peacefully to their unexpected death, so Egypt could live.


Exhibition of works by martyr Ziad Bakir
18 January - 31 January
Hanager Art Center exhibition hall at the Cairo Opera House grounds