Friday, October 5, 2007

Weekend Roundup Preview - All Egypt Edition

So many articles have appeared this week concerning Egypt. Some about social problems, others focusing on Ramadan, the movie/ T.V. industry and then, as usual the Muslim Brotherhood. So Vagabondblogger has decided to dedicate this post to Egypt. You will find people living on roofs for lack of affordable housing, a film industry hoping to rise up again, Ramadan as experienced in Egypt, the woes of the Muslim Brotherhood, and last but not least animal rights - not all in that exact order. For the full articles, click on the links.

Some Live It Up: Life on Cairo Rooftops

CAIRO (Reuters) - Like thousands of other people in Cairo, Ashraf Ali, 33, has lived his whole life on a downtown roof.

Seven floors above the dirt and din of Cairo's streets, he enjoys a cool September breeze that sweeps over the one-room clapboard hut he shares with his wife and two children.

"In the summer we eat, drink, and sleep out here," he said, gesturing towards the dusty rooftop, where the rent is less than $1 a month. "It's better than living down there."

Some Cairo roof-dwellers enjoy makeshift toilets, standpipes, even baths. For others, there is no running water and little protection from scorching summer sun or winter rains. Of this 'sub-class', the luckier ones can rely for water and toilets on the hospitality of better endowed neighbors in flats 'below'.

Living on rooftops, analysts say, is often a convenient solution to Cairo's housing problem.

Cairo struggles to remain a city of action

Egyptian film was long a focal point of Arab culture. Today, it's mostly for the brave.

For decades, Egyptian film served as the cultural glue that held the Arab world together. Cairo produced extraordinary and artful cinema as well as popular entertainment. But movies like the "The Aquarium" or 2005's "The Yacoubian Building" have become rare. Rapidly shifting values, economics and technologies have combined to erode Cairo's status as capital of the Arab film business.

Though Egyptian censors rarely rule over movies the way they do in, say, Iran, audience members and critics have managed of late to cow producers and directors into producing mostly bland comedies without kissing, fighting, arguing or politics, called "cinema nazima," or proper cinema. Amid such grim realities, a small core of actors and directors is struggling to revive film in this "Hollywood of the Orient."

Other Arab countries have begun moving in on Egypt's status. Dubai in the United Arab Emirates has become home to the best post-production facilities in the region. Syrians began producing television series in an edgy vérité style that has made them popular. Lebanese have all but taken over the market for the filming of music videos.

Satellite channels, like Saudi-based MBC, began filling the airwaves with American movies subtitled in Arabic. "On one hand [satellite] did help by spreading the movies and exposing more people to them," said Hana Rahman of, which covers the film and music business in the Arab world. "But it has also hurt the business, because now the Arab audience has awakened to the fact that there are better movies, quality-wise and story-line-wise."

The Western onslaught also shifted tastes among those with access to satellite television. Film critics complain that many of the new Egyptian movies are little more than bad imitations of Hollywood. One, "El-Turbini," mimics "Rain Man." Another, "Mafia," resembles any American, B-grade action flick.

"The business needs new blood, creative minds and more young people," said Rahman. "It also needs more awareness that audiences aren't stupid. They are not just looking for something that makes them laugh. They need something serious that reflects more of our reality and the problems we are struggling with in the Middle East."

Decline of a major playerMOVIES first came to Egypt in 1896, thanks to visiting European artists. By 1927 the country produced its first native-made, full-length silent movie, "Layla," followed by its first talkie, "High-Class Society," in 1932. By the 1970s, Egypt produced 80 movies and many more series each year, and the Egyptian Arabic dialect became the universal tongue of the Arab world.

But decay set in. Some blame the cultural shift following the 1967 war with Israel, which discredited Arab nationalism and launched a wave of Islam now cresting throughout the Arab world. The industry suffered other blows with the advent of video in the 1980s and satellite technology in the 1990s. Elegant theater houses fell into disrepair. Production houses shuttered. Not until the late 1990s did it start to make something of a comeback, in the form of multiplex theaters inside new shopping malls. New production facilities opened in the shiny new desert suburbs. But by then, the Middle East had become more insular, religious and intolerant. The conservative values of the oil-rich Persian Gulf have risen to challenge the laid-back attitudes of Egypt and Lebanon.

Viewers and Islamic political activists also began hauling filmmakers into court. Director Youssef Chahine, Egypt's most famous director, was criticized for using his movie "The Emigrant" as a vehicle for depicting the life of Joseph. Islamic activists repeatedly sued the prominent actress Yousra for her alleged lack of morals throughout the 1990s. Adel Imam, star of "The Yacoubian Building" and widely considered the greatest living Egyptian actor, has been threatened by Islamists for decades. Waked, who appeared in George Clooney's "Syriana," was threatened in August with banishment from Egyptian films after appearing alongside an Israeli actor in a Tunisian production.

Though "Yacoubian," which traced the lives of more than a dozen characters living in a Cairo apartment house, was among the most successful Egyptian films ever made, it also encountered tremendous resistance. Opinion columnists claimed that it defamed Egyptian society. Members of parliament demanded that scenes depicting sexual harassment, homosexuality and torture be cut or that the film be removed from theaters. In some cases, theater owners themselves trimmed scenes they thought inappropriate. The pressure sent a chill through the industry. Prominent female actors, like Hanan Turk, began donning the Islamic headscarf in films.

'Polygamy' soaps irk feminists in Egypt

Cairo: Egyptian pro-women groups are disappointed that several TV serials being shown on local and Arab TV feature polygamy as a recurrent theme.

"I have been working in the field of women's welfare for more than 20 years and I have never seen so many polygamists in Egypt as portrayed in TV dramas," said Eman Beibers, the chairperson of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women.

At least seven television serials with polygamists are on the air waves every night of Ramadan - when viewing rates in the Arab world peak.

Breaking the Fast With Family, Friends And Late-Night Fun

The sun slipped behind the high-rises on Haram Street. Drivers hit their gas pedals and their car horns, alternately bullying and joking their way through lanes crowded with fellow Cairenes, all racing to reach home before sunset signaled the end of the day's fast during this holy month of Ramadan.

In one Haram Street apartment, Maii Younis placed pigeons in a skillet to brown, handling the birds carefully to keep their rice stuffing from bursting forth. Her daughter Sally, 21, circuited between kitchen and dining room, laying out the china, talking to her mother and guests, and using the kitchen phone to make plans to go out with friends after the family meal.

In Cairo and other cities all around the Middle East, authorities held torches to ancient cannons to signal, as has been done for centuries, that the sun had set -- and that Muslims who had fasted from dawn to dusk for Ramadan could now begin their evening meal, or iftar.

At intersections, do-gooders thrust packets of dates and cups of water toward those who hadn't been able to make it home in time.

Before dawn, the cycle began again. A drummer moved down Haram Street, pounding to wake up the people in time for a last meal before sunrise began the day's fast.

"Wake up! Wake up!" he cried, calling out to residents by name as he moved past in the dark.

In her bed, Sally slept on.

The Ramadan Experience in Egypt

Nocturnal diversions

Most bars and nightclubs close for the month, admittedly, but some of those that stay open rather more sensibly knock alcohol off the menu altogether, or -- operating in secret -- raise the price. One regular customer of a famous downtown café complains of the alcohol policy: "for years I've met my friends and sometimes done my work here, largely because I can have a beer at a reasonable price. But in Ramadan they stop serving beer, and this always puzzles me because it's not like I become someone else during Ramadan -- why should customers change their preferences for a month and then return to normal?" He added that one bar in Emadeddin stays open "after a fashion" but raises prices to an exploitative degree. Barmen, like Hani, acknowledge that Ramadan is an appropriate time to take off, mainly for religious reasons, but says it presents people like himself with a huge financial problem that they must prepare for in advance: "what if one hasn't saved money for this forced vacation? Then finding alternative work becomes necessary, and work isn't always available on the spur of the moment."

Abu Radi, almost 50, has been working in a downtown bar for 15 years, and he used to have a one-month job in a sandwich joint during Ramadan: "of course the pay isn't even comparable, because at the sandwich place you don't get tips. Some barmen stay at home for the month, but I can't afford to do that." Abu Radi's suggestion is that bar owners should pay their staff, even if they reduce the pay by half: "that way they don't lose much and they get to keep their staff, too. Then again, every employer knows it would be easy to get a replacement if the worst came to the worst." For Henna, a nightclub waitress for eight years and her family's main support, the business of finding a month's work to make up for the loss of income is even harder: "I was working as a maid when my neighbour offered me a job at the kitchen of a restaurant, he said, which turned out to be a nightclub; and I was eventually promoted to waiting tables. I'm earning more than I ever have. I used to save for it, too, but it's not so easy for a girl to find work for a month."

According to one young man who works in a five-star hotel bar, however, "those working in tourist zones wish the whole year were Ramadan. Restrictions on alcohol bring in so many more customers, you see." Samir, a liquor store attendant, says the restrictions on alcohol are understandable and normal by now, pointing out that stores do not even open during the day out of respect for the faithful. Egyptians eager to drink must peruse illegal stores like those located in the suburbs of Shubra, but, he adds, they should be aware of the high risk of alcohol poisoning. Perhaps a cup of tea in Khan Al-Khalili is not so bad after all.

Egyptian city to resume shooting stray animals despite protests

CAIRO, Egypt - The population of stray dogs in Cairo's twin city of Giza will once more be controlled by shooting and poisoning the animals because it is cheaper than sterilization, the municipal veterinary department announced.

In an interview Saturday with the flagship state-owned daily Al-Ahram, department head Dr. Abdullah Badr said that it was simply too expensive to implement a sterilization program.

"It is necessary to return to the traditional ways of killing dogs with bullets or poison," he said "This method is used around the world particularly in developing countries."

The discovery of dogs carcasses in upscale neighbourhoods and near the famed Pyramids of Giza in May provoked an uproar and petitions to the government from local and international animal welfare organizations to end the traditional methods of controlling strays.

He said due to numerous complaints from citizens and reports of dog bitings, a wide ranging campaign to shoot the animals would begin next week.

"We can't wait to receive the necessary funding for the sterilization operations, we are faced with an imminent danger to our children," he added, saying that local animal welfare organizations had not lived up to their commitments to provide funding for the process.

Nadia Montasser of the local chapter of the People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals was shocked at the decision and said that local organizations would soon take action over the matter.

Cairo Moving More Aggressively To Cripple Muslim Brotherhood

CAIRO -- After imprisoning or prodding into exile Egypt's leading secular opposition activists, the government is using detentions and legal changes to neutralize the country's last surviving major political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Brotherhood leaders and rights groups contend the government is clearing the stage of opponents in politics, civil society and the news media ahead of the end of the 26-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, who is 79. Egyptians widely expect the transition to be tense and that Mubarak's son Gamal will be a top contender.

In August and September, police raided the homes and meetings of Brotherhood leaders, putting behind bars five of the 12 officials in the group's decision-making guidance council. Two have since been released for health reasons.

Prosecutors have also accused two Brotherhood members of parliament of seeking to revive the group, and police jailed 14 mid- and top-level managers vital to communications in an organization that some Brotherhood officials estimate includes 200,000 members. Egyptian security forces have jailed more than 1,000 rank-and-file members over the past year, according to the Brotherhood; 167 remain in prison.

The Brotherhood was founded in 1928, the year Mubarak and Akef were born, and the government banned it in 1954. Egyptian administrations have alternated between trying to co-opt the group and trying to crush it. Imprisonment during crackdowns in the late 1960s helped radicalize Ayman al-Zawahiri and others, who split from the group in the 1960s and 1970s to start violent movements including Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which later merged with al-Qaeda.

Since the 1970s, the Brotherhood has sought to position itself as a moderate force in Egypt's political life. Its leaders say Egypt should be a civil rather than religious state.

The administration's moves are "designed to basically institutionalize the campaign against the Brotherhood and make sure it will not be allowed to either compete with the ruling party or threaten Mubarak's new successor," said Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

By 2006, with Hamas's victory in Palestinian elections leading U.S. officials to have second thoughts about democracy in the Middle East, and the U.S. military presence in Iraq growing ever more troubled, American priorities in the Middle East shifted again, from promoting democracy to maintaining allies.

That year, Egypt picked off the secular opposition through arrests and intimidation. Ayman Nour, who came in a distant second to Mubarak in the 2005 presidential election, was sentenced to five years in prison on what supporters said were trumped-up charges of forging signatures on campaign documents. The third-place finisher in the race also was jailed but released.

Egypt Arresting Brotherhood Students In Recent Crackdown

Cairo University, the oldest general university in Egypt, founded in 1908, has launched investigations into 122 students, linked to the Brotherhood.

Helwan University, another public university in the capital, has suspended 44 students. Other universities are following these examples, with 23 at Monofiya University and 17 under investigation at Ein Shams university, the Brotherhood's website reported.

Some students are under investigation for charges such as "putting up decorations for the holy month of Ramadan."


  1. polgamy is endemic in Egypt but more in the lower social classes. No one can deny that. I don't see any shame in it if it is legal and permitted by the religion. There are so many unfortunate women in rural Egypt and I guess being a second wife and having a supporter is better than staying single and starve. I once was a Doctor in a rural area and got used to see a farmer coming to the clinic with his three wives to be examined

  2. Okay, I admit it: One of my favorite shows on TV is HBO's Big Love about a polygamist "Momo" (Mormon) family. I have to wait for the DVD since it's not offered on iTunes.

    In the UAE, especially Dubai, you would see gigantic villas, totally identical, side by side and they were owned by someone who had several wives. I think it's okay if all the wives are treated equally - that's what the Koran says. It should really be up to the individuals themselves. The wives have to be in agreement, but I have heard of wives with a pre-nup stating that the husband will not take on a second wife.

    Personally, if The Boss Man were to take on a second wife, I would, uh, haa, scratch her eyes out. But that's just me.

  3. I just have never heard of polygymy working. It's not fair, and the Quran warns men that it's impossible to be completely fair.

    I'm a huge fan of Big Love, also. Waiting for the new season...I think the Egyptian serials portraying polygymy as this comedy of errors likely hits too close to home. I enjoy watching Big Love, but then I wasn't raised in a polygymous environment.

  4. Well, after hearing about Jeffries(?) and his clan, it just reminds me of the old guy in Big Love who's marrying the young 13 year old (?) and his bunch of ladies. That's creepy, on a bunch of different levels.

    I don't know if it works, since I'm not a polygamist, and I'm not friends with any personally (not that I know of). I'm just saying as long as it's an agreement, I really couldn't care less. The same goes for same sex marriage. Do these people threaten me? No way. Do they threaten society - only if you let some ass like Jeffries loose to impose his rule (I just saw a bit of the testimony, and sound bites). But he's more a "cult" creature than anything else.

    Other than that, what other people choose to do with their lives, and that's the main theme - choose - then I really don't give a shit. Bigamy is illegal in every state. Utah had to make it illegal to get admitted to the U.S. So what Utah polygamists do is get legally married to one wife, and then illegally (secretly) married to others (as in Big Love.)

    If these people lived on my street what would I do? Let it go. Though, I must admit, they'd be food for the neighborhood gossip fodder at association meetings!

  5. Of course the Boss Man will never marry another wife beside you. Don't you see that you always call him the Boss Man, I guess you treat him as a Boss Man too. What else anyman needs Vivi. If I find a girl who tells me her Boss Man Tomorrow I will marry