I have been gone for this past week, but I wasn't absent in any way. I was running around helping an Australian friend do a report on May 4th. Here are glimpses of the days that passed by and the people that I met during.
Going to the Hesham Mubarak center is a head-trip. In front of its building there is a street market for groceries, there are 4 police soldiers always camping at the entrance, and there is no respectable sign at the door that says that this is the main legal center for the defense of human rights violations in Egypt, only one made out of cardboard and written on it with a sharpie. And the funniest thing about it is that it is managed in the most democratic of ways. Every year they have elections for the position of the Center's manager, and everyone can nominate him/herself and everyone from the previous manager to the officeboy has a vote. Oh, and no manager can run for more than two consecutive terms.
"I find that I have no choice but to support May 4th, even if I disagree with it, because it's something that the youth are demanding and doing on their own and I am all for them trying to do something. Now, despite the fact that they are going at it the wrong way, I can't stop them, nor will they listen to me, because they are sick of hearing people telling them what they can or can't do. So I support them, cause if they succeeded, it's a good thing, and if they failed, they will gain experience."
On Wendsday we met with Abdel Monem, the Muslim Brotherhood Blogger and Khaled Hamza, the editor if www.Ikhwanweb.com at the house of the Media Coordinator for the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the setting that I walked into: We were greeted by the house owner, who had with him this young and tiny veiled girl named Sondos, who (of course) spoke English fluently and (naturally) was one of the higher-up editors of Ikhwanweb ( "See, not all veiled women are oppressed an at home, we have young ones who know English and are in managerial positions") and who hosted us in a very posh living room and served us Tea and Cake, with members of his family periodically coming out, dressed in western clothes come out and greet us very nicely. Those people know exactly how to handle the western media.
To be fair to them though, they have been extremely nice and hospitable to me, despite knowing my beliefs and stands on them, which is a cause enough to respect them. And despite the fact that I completely disagree with almost everything they stand for, they are getting their human rights violated in this country on daily basis, which any human being will tell you isn't right. And in case I was never clear on this before, I am for them having the right to form their own political party and run in elections. Firstly because it's everybody's right to have political representation and secondly because maybe that will be the jolt that will move the anti-Ikhwan crowd from their apathy and slumber. Maybe.
One thing though I am confused about, so Khaled if you are reading this, can you tell me why in the name of Zeus' Butthole was there a decorated Christmas tree- in May nonetheless- in the corner of the room with ornaments on them? And why did the ornaments have pictures of veiled girls plastered on them? Please, I would like to know.
" You know, the State Security people one day decided to give me a "humanitarian visit" to see my very sick father. So the night before my visit, a squadron of SS soldiers arrived at our building at midnight and occupied the building, and forced themselves on my parents' house and stayed there for 8 hours till I arrived at 8 am, in the name of securing the building, since you know, I am a dangerous visitor and all. When I found out I flipped out on the accompanying officer, asking him why would any decent human being do this, and of course there was no answer. My mother came out, gave me this look and said "Damn you" . That killed me. I think that messed me up more than all the time I've spent in prison."
Abdel Monem, Wendsday
Khaled: I spoke to your friends, Elijah and Issandr, about you. And you know, they both said that you are extreme.
Me: Well, of course they would say that. I am not surprised at all!
Khaled: Why? Is it because they are leftists?
Me: No. It's because they are foreigners here and their work warrants them to have a good relationship with you, and I am not sure that's possible with them publicly endorsing my views. Don't you think?
Thursday was the first of May, the Egyptian worker day. On that Glorious day the new Mubarak directives were released: A 30% increase in the wages of government employees as a solution to the current problem. Because, you know, the rising prices only affect government employees, and a 30% increase on their 30$ a month salary will really help improve their lives, and allow them to buy cars and houses and maybe save some money for Lil Mo's college fund. And the way he said it too, man, talk about classic: "They told me we will raise the workers 10%, I refused and said it has to be higher. They said ok, 20%, I said, NO, it has to be higher. They said we can make it 25%, but we really have no way to cover it under the current budget, I said NO, NOT A PENNY UNDER 30%". And this, ladies and gentlemen, how you know the mark of a great leader. A great leader doesn't care about the budget, the economy or reality, he only cares about the goal he set in his imagination despite what the actual circumstances may allow. All Hail Hosny.
Thursday was also the day we met Bilal, the kid that went up to the PM and demanded –to thunderous applause- that he release the April 6th detainees. He is very young, very skinny, with intelligence just poking out of his eyeballs. I didn't know that he was a member of the Ghad Party, hell, I didn't even know el Ghad party still had members. The interesting thing about him though, is that he is from the Post Ayman Nour generation: i.e. he joined after Nour went to Prison. That's a believer in a party and its ideals, not a leader and his charisma, which is a concept that is lost on the middle-east for some reason.
"Oh, my parents didn't think highly of what I did at all. I went home to find that my parents burned half of my books. However, after my mother talked to the neighbors, who surprised her with their messages of support to what I said and did, she changed her mind. She looked at me and said "Bilal, you know, you and your friends may perish for standing up to what you believe, but don't worry, Egypt will always remain Bilal!". So I looked at her and said "That's all very nice mom, but couldn't you have figured this out before burning my books?""
A state of uncertainty dominated the media scene on Friday, on whether or not anything was gonna happen on May 4th. You see, it's kind of hard to predict the outcome of a strike that has no clear organizers or participants, with everything operating in a very anarchist manner. In order to combat such uncertainty and confusion, the media invented a new political entity that is behind all of that is happening. What did they call it? "The Facebook Youth movement", I kid you not. So now the Facebook Youth movement is the new political player in town, with newspapers running stories on how they are calling for this or demanding that, which is basically them making a story from any asshole creating a group calling for something on the Egypt network. This reminded me of when they started running stories on the new gods of politics, media and activism: "The Egyptian Blogger Movement". Remember that shit? When they used to run stories on how "The Egyptian bloggers called for this or organized that", like we are some sort of monolithic entity that actually agrees on everything and is organized and has goals and leadership. I kept asking every blogger I know to introduce me to the coordinator, the supreme leader or even the spokesman of "The Egyptian Bloggers", but they would be as stumped as I was.
My suggestion? We create a facebook group called "The leadership office of the Facebook Youth Movement" and I will be their spokesmen, and someone else can be their supreme leader. I am sure the Media will jump on us in 30 seconds, hosting us and asking us of our goals and demands and what we have in store next. Oh boy, I would mess with them for hours!
"Do I like this government? Of course. It's not a bad government at all. From the security side of things, they are great. They have some problems from the economical side of things, but really, who doesn't? Oh no, I find nothing to complain about when it comes to this government. They keep us safe and secure. God Bless them!"
A Taxi Driver, Friday
Saturday was the day we were slated to meet the Supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mahdy Akef. It wasn't what I expected. His personal office is tiny, like literally smaller than my office, and he gives this image of this very kind and sweet old man, a total grandpa type. Since I was only the translator for my friend, I didn't ask any of the questions I wanted to ask. My personal impression of him, personally, is that he is a very smart and astute man, and his brain operates perfectly despite his old age. Oh and very polite. All freaking MB members are very very polite.
"Why are we joining this strike when we didn't join the last time? Well, we are joining because that's what the people asked us to do. There is a national demand for us to join, and we listen to the people, so we have to comply."
Mahdy Akef, Saturday
Later on that day I received an SMS from Sharqawy's fiancé. State Security has been tailing and harassing them for 3 days, and she needed him to hide somewhere until May 4th is over, so she asked me. I've known this kid for more than 2 years now, and I can safely say that I've never seen him in the state he was in. He embodied controlled rage and weariness in a way that is impossible to describe. He told me that they refuse to leave him alone because he managed to identify the State Security Officer that tortured him at the police station, and mentioned that over the phone and now the Officer knows and is scared. So he is harassing him in every way he can, hoping that Sharqawy would have enough and flee the country.
"Those Motherfuckers. You know what they did? They blindfolded me and then took my wallet and looked in it. I could hear them naming the different types of ATM and credit cards I had in there. They then looked into the money pocket where I had about 6 K worth of dollars and Egyptian pounds on me, and then they loudly said ' you have 270 egyptian pounds in this wallet. Take it' and put it in my hand, but didn't return my wallet immediately, but did so later. I didn't figure out why until I came out. The wallet had a piece of paper that had my ATM pin code on it. That Bank account in my business account, and it had over 14 K in it. By the time I was out, the Balance was 0. All the money was withdrawn. And now I am out, I am broke, and owe people money. They are the scum of the earth."
Sharqawy, Sunday 2 am.
" Today is the Day Egypt was reborn!"
Al Ahram Newspaper headline on Sunday, marking the President's 80th Birthday!
Sunday, well, you could read all about it here. So instead let me tell you this unfortunately 100 % true story:
Magdy Hussein- the leader of the Islamic Labor party- called Zakareya Azmy- The President's Chief of Staff and an MP- on the phone one week before the strike and told him that he is organizing a committee to run Egypt after the people's revolution will force Mubarak to abdicate on May 4th and that if he wants a seat on it he is welcome to join them. Not a word was mentioned of Azmy's reply though, although it is widely believed that this was due to Aazmy being too busy rolling on the floor laughing his ass off to reply to Magdy.
Monday, ahh Monday.
Monday was the day the Egyptian press gloated over the failure of the strike, with many of them claiming that the 30% raise aborted it. Monday was also the first day that Mubarak announced that there is no way to finance the 30% raise. The parliament, that same day, passed measure to finance the raise, by raising the prices of car gas by 35 %, solar by 40% and the taxes on cigarettes by 20%. The ripple effect of those increases will fuck us of a lot of money for the entire year, and one has to openly wonder if a 30% raise for a segment of the population that is less than 10% warrants collective punishment for the entire population. Hell, now even the government employees are more screwed. The new prices were enforced starting from 10 pm. Under my house there is a gas station and at 11 pm, the fighting started. And it's just the beginning. The people, as usual, will turn on each other instead of the government, and life will suck for all of us all around.
"The rich will be the ones paying for the workers raise"
The headline in RosealYusef, a government sponsored rag today
"This guy I work with, while riding the Micobus with me, kept curisng Mubarak today. His government salary has increased by 37 pounds, but now the Microbus' fare has doubled, so now he has to pay extra 2 pounds a work day. If he works for 20 days a months, he is already worse off by 3 pounds. And what kills is that he raised the prices right after he announces the raise. This Mubarak guy, he has no tact!"
The Taxi Driver I rode with to work today. Oh, and by the way, the ride now costs 30 pounds, up from the standard 20. Increased Gas prices, baby!
I do have to admire this government's cunning though. If people connect between the hikes and the government wage raises, not a single person will dare to support a strike or demand a higher wage again. And what a perfect excuse to implement price increases that you wanted to implement for ages then say it's a way to pay off the huge raise you gave the workers. And here we thought we were going to give him a Birthday he wouldn't forget on Sunday. Ha, he is the one who made the following Monday unforgettable. Thanks Mubarak for doing this to us on your birthday. What a way to make us celebrate it with you. Motherfucker!