Friday, April 22, 2011

More on De-mubrakization

I have blogged a few times about the changes of names that have taken place throughout Egypt during the past few months. They have occurred on the Metro and at the university (though I recently learned that the name change to Suzanne Mubarak Hall just became “official” last week even though the sign itself had been removed a month ago). Well, the name Mubarak is now to be removed from all public places, due to a court decree that was handed down on Thursday, and is reported here in Al Jazeera.

This applies to Mubarak’s pictures which the attorney proposes replacing with the Egyptian flag. I like that the idea. Not only should Mubarak’s picture be taken down, but perhaps the idea of the Presidency in Egypt has been so transformed that, perhaps he or she (and Egypt has its first female candidate), should no longer lord over the state, symbolically or actually. Another lesson Egypt can teach the world.

Aesthetically at least, I appreciate the spirit and image of the name scratched out on subway maps, reflecting the democratic spirit of the revolution, much more so than a court order. Still I think this decision is pretty cool especially, when Jazeera reports:

The case had been filed by Samir Sabry, a lawyer, who had requested the court to have Mubarak's name replaced with the names of protesters who died during Egypt's popular uprising.

It is estimated that some 500 places in Egypt (mostly schools, but also parks and a public library near our home) bear, or bore, the Mubarak name. On the day before the court order was issued, a new count of those civilians killed during the revolution was released: 846. While it may be tempting to look at this number and compare it to the death toll of other revolutions (and there is a time and place for that sort of analysis) but 846 is 846 is 846. It gives me chills just typing. That is a lot of people.

And this, finally, leads to the math. Egypt can begin the process of renaming places for the martyrs of the revolution and, at the end of the day, will not have enough institutions for all 846.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Revolution in the Factories of Menoufiya

Last year, I gave a talk at a university in Shebin El Kom, Menoufiya, in the Delta, and blogged about the experience. During the revolution, I was especially excited by the stories I heard coming out of this area, where it was clear that there were mass mobilizations on a scale equivalent to what the world saw in Cairo and in Alexandria, just without the international media attention.

I was pleased, then, to read a report on NPR from Menoufiya, particularly around labor organizing that has been taking place against a system of privatization that has been occurring throughout the country for the past several years. Privatization has been a national crisis, and is certainly one major cause of the degradation of working people, which, of course, led to the revolution. After the revolution, it is encouraging to see workers continuing the movement in the factories. Movements like these represent the places where the work of the revolution will continue.

In this context it is worth mentioning that privatization campaigns occur with the full-fledged support of the US and many international NGOs, and this factory in Shebin El-Kom manufactures products for the US market.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Welcome back to the neighborhood, Malawi!

There is a lot of good information about what is happening in Egypt right now and some really insightful political analysis from people far more knowledgeable than me. And I hope that friends and family reading my blog are also reading widely about Egypt. Now I am reflecting on the value of my blog, which is primarily a forum for friends and family abroad to know what I see and what is going on in my world here. And it is a place for me to post photographs of that world.

So I think it makes sense for me to describe what is happening on the street where I live in Maadi. I used to live next door to the Macedonia Embassy, which I wrote about some time ago here on the blog. I have not moved, but they have, so we are no longer neighbors. Or, at least, their flag was taken down from the building next door. Plus I saw some big moving trucks a few weeks back.

This neighborhood does have a lot of embassies, though only a couple on the streets right around me. Other than Macedonia, the Malawi Embassy is also on our street. And their flag was also taken down at the time of the revolution, but this week I noticed that it was back up.

By the way, this is a great flag that I am happy to see it every morning when I walk to the gym or the bus. Malawi went back to the classic Pan-African red, black, and green last year (after having a variation of it since independence). Welcome back.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

On the Bus

On the bus that I take to campus several times a week, there have been a few changes. There is a security guard on each bus, because there has been some concern regarding security on the roads, with so much uncertainty throughout the city. Originally it seemed like it was something like an air marshal, someone unidentified. But you typically know who the person is, and usually it seems like they are wearing AUC jackets (either by design or default). The buses intentionally do not indicate that they are for AUC, a practice that predates the revolution. They used to be “Family Transport” buses, but our route is now managed by a different carrier, who uses an assortment of buses, most bearing the names of some tour company or other.

This week, there was a new change. The security officer on the bus checks identification before allowing you to board the bus. This is an entirely new practice. Then, as it was before, when you get off the bus at campus, your id gets checked to make sure you have a bus pass (students) or are otherwise authorized to ride (staff or faculty). Then there is another id check for getting onto campus, which includes putting your bag through an airport-style x-ray machine and walking through a metal detector (which I don’t think is too sensitive or serious as I have never emptied my pockets).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Things I see and don't see

I was downtown today for this first time this week. The first time since the military fired on demonstrators over the weekend. And the first since the remaining protestors were cleared out again. There were some small groups of people on the streets around the midan, but not many. And there were military police in the square who seemed to be doing two things—helping direct traffic and making themselves visible. They were wearing uniforms with bright red armbands and bright red berets, and they were in groups and could be readily identified from a distance. The streets had been shut down by the military earlier in the week, and it seems like the military wanted to clear everyone and everything out before the end of the week so that there was not momentum coming into the weekend.

And in other news, there was the announcement of the detention of Mubarak and sons for questioning for 15 days. The sons, and their cronies, are being held at the Tura prison which is near where I live (and which I blogged about a few months ago). The former president appears to be essentially under house arrest in Sharm.

I am not entirely sure if there is a connection between the military attacks on protestors and the high-level arrests, but it does often seem to be the case that something terribly demoralizing (and in this case tragic) is offset by something encouraging. I am not sure if this is part of a well-rehearsed script, but it does occasionally feel that way. Then again, there is not a lot of evidence that the military is particularly well-organized in its role as the country’s rulers...

I love seeing dictators held to account for their crimes almost as much as I like seeing activists in the streets (and treated respectfully by the state security authorities, whoever they might be at the moment).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Guns for sale

I blogged a few weeks ago about seeing someone showing off a new gun on the metro platform. Since the revolution, there have been signs advertising guns for sale at the local supermarket, bakery, and bookstore. I took this picture earlier this week at the stationary store across the street from where we live.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book fair

The Revolution caused the cancellation of the Cairo International Book Fair, which is a big annual event that takes place in late January. As a result of the cancellation, the university decided to organize a much smaller Tahrir Square book fair, which I attended with R yesterday morning for a couple of hours.

I was there relatively early in the day and it was still pretty quiet, which meant lots of space for R to safely run around and have fun. Not sure how things were later in the day, or throughout the weekend.

R collected lots of gifts—an Italian flag from the Italian cultural center (several embassies had tables set up); a bag with a book, magazine, and brochures from the Azerbaijan Embassy; and miscellaneous snacks from everywhere. There were a lot of children’s displays, which was nice. At one of these, R started pointing and screaming “Bu Bu.” I looked and saw what she saw: Brown Bear, her favorite English-language book in Arabic translation, which is now the newest addition to our family library.

I have gotten R some Arabic-language children’s books (which are at my reading level) over the past few years, and her favorite character is Farhana, who has a whole series of books about her. This past week, R has been really enjoying them, so I was disappointed that we were not able to stay late enough to see the author who was doing a children’s program and reading later in the day. I was, however, excited to learn the titles of the next three books in the series: Farhana Loves Egypt, Farhana Loves Tahrir Square, and Farhana Loves Freedom.

The publisher told me they are still at the printer but should be available in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Yesterday, I experienced my first earthquake. Our apartment shook. I did not notice it at first, but J did. Then I heard the hanging doorknobs on some of our cabinets rattling and realized something was happening. A quick internet search revealed a quake measured at 4.0 in Cairo that had its epicenter in Crete where it registered at about 6.0. There was no damage here in Cairo, but you could definitely feel it. My world remains interesting.