You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Egypt’ category.

I want to share this article by my friend Veronica about returning to her home town in Malaysia after seven years abroad. She discusses the changes in her own community and the positive effect that murals and graffiti have had on residents. Having worked in development in Africa, she suggests that development is perhaps both more subtle and more organic than development practitioners would have us believe.

I particularly love the follow comment on development as a human and heart centred process. I couldn’t agree more, V!

“Development isn’t necessarily a set of goals. Development needs to be human-centred. Development is what people want it to be, what they want for themselves is what they will achieve with what they put in. Others are merely vehicles and catalysts to enable such an environment to take place….

(S)omething as simple as a few wall-paintings has triggered such response and in turn provided the catalyst for local artists to express themselves more freely now is what I would truly call development.”

Graffiti Mohamed Mahmoud Street

Veronica discusses the impact of wall art in Malaysia. This picture is from Mohamed Mahmoud Street in Cairo, where graffiti art has also played a role in creating change in the city.

Advertisements

A sequence of human rights films last week at the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival Yangon  brought together my past life in Egypt and my current one in Burma.

A Myanmar film about a whistle campaign to prevent harassment against women in the Myanmar buses. The audience howled with laughter as men picked up whistles, desperate to also receive a free gift. One women said harassment was much better now, because of the whistle, we wondered?

“No” she replies, “because now I am old the men no longer want to harass me.”

“The men want to touch everyone”, says another woman , “so I am grateful for this campaign.”

The film seemed to go full circle as while in Egypt last year the grassroots campaign against sexual harassment by Harassmap and others was going strong. Myanmar has not had the same bad press as Egypt for its sexual harassment and violation of women’s rights, but there is an underlying problem here and dealing with sexual harassment will just be the first hurdle. (For more posts on sexual harassment see here and here).

The other film Back to the Square, brought us to the streets of Cairo themselves through the lens of Petr Lom. An in-depth and interesting documentary which explores the abuses of the Egyptian military authorities since 2011 through the stories of 5 different Egyptians. The film shows the continued corruption and abuse of authorities by the military and police through individual cases, highlighting current injustices but also the energy, defiance and humour which marks the Egyptian character.

Egypt might seem very far in distance and culture from the streets of Yangon, but the Burmese audience reacted audibly to the images of Egypt. They laughed out loud as the police officers spoke of the fairness of their system and gasped at the images of torture, manipulation and abuse. Whilst laughing as a police officer attempted to charm the camera with his version of good practice and justice, my neighbour excitedly whispered to me:

“It is just like our country.”

This moment highlighted the human nature of justice and the common understanding of abuse by authorities as wrong. Though they are worlds apart these people are tied by similar experiences and similar anger at their powerless in the face of such abuse. We so often debate the cultural nature of human rights, yet human moments like these remind us that justice its is broadest sense is something that we all hold strongly within us, whatever our cultural background.

Manal El-Tibi the only Nubian member of the drafting Constitutional Committee, withdrew frustrated with a non-inclusive process in which certain parties dominated. Nubian requests were not included: for the right of return to their traditional lands, for the development of historical Nubia, and for the protection of a diverse Egypt, where Nubian history and
language would be taught in schools. Within the power struggles in Cairo, the Nubian voice blends with other rights demands, but in Aswan, the Nubian voice is impossible to ignore.

In Aswan Egypt’s ancient links to sub-Saharan Africa are clear. Alexandria collects the winds of Europe; Sinai hears the desert songs of Arabia; Cairo catches the breeze from the Maghreb. In Aswan, the Nile brings Africa tangible and buoyant into the middle of town. Africa is bold in Aswan. The Nile has travelled far to reach this point, it transports invisible burdens from the countries it has penetrated. It heaps Sudan into Lake Nasser, drops Ethiopia by the Aswan promenade; unleashes Uganda into the soil.

Read the full article in Guernica Magazine: The Capital of Nubia.

While the revolution appears to have had immediate effect in generating enthusiasm for democracy, it does not seem to have triggered the same kind of immediate broader change in rural areas. However, equality and freedom for rural women is being negotiated through careful development strategies in the long-term. According to Lindsey Jones of ACDI-VOCA, “the two key factors that I’ve seen contribute to creating change in the rural areas are education and income-generating opportunities for women.”

Indeed, revolution is not the only way to create change. Improved education, training programmes and initiatives to encourage participation may not be dramatic, but they are proof that whatever the political attempts to exclude women, rural women are gaining more opportunities slowly and surely.”

Read the full article at: Think Africa Press.

Image

Happy New Year! Excuses for the break since the last post. I have just moved country for work to a place with an unreliable and slow internet connection, so gaining access to this site is proving slightly complicated. However, with perseverance (and some research into the best internet connections in town) it is still possible, so I hope to continue to write and update over the coming year.

To begin the year, two extracts which offer a different approach to women’s rights. Firstly, an extract from a short story, Discovering Home by Binyavanga WainainaI, from the collection : Ten Years of the Caine Prize for African Writing, published by the New Internationalist.

I like the way this story addresses indirectly women and women’s rights and the way characters speak indirectly to those rights demands. I particularly liked the impressions of powerful strong women in this story. It is a great contrast to the many stories (or development and rights messages) of women as disempowered, weak or oppressed.

The women are also not presented in as sexy or alluring. They obtain their power through other means, in the same way as a man might. They do not use their ‘feminine charms’ to win over men, or to get what they want or need.

The main character Eddah, is smart, strong and capable. She has political power as a member of a political parties, economic power by asserting control and ownership of her husband’s resources as well as setting up her own business and physical power by acting together with other local women. She also has essentials provided to her via a garden which men tend for her and from a shop owner with whom she has an affair.

Indeed, these women possess most of the characteristics sought after by development projects for gender equality or women’s rights : political participation or participation in decision making and generating alternative forms of income. The methods used to accrue these forms of power may not be the most orthodox, yet it is difficult not to admire the strength and resourcefulness of these women and particularly Eddah who defies a system which could very well be considered intended to suppress her.

Here are the extracts which show some of the strong female characters and their ability to claim their own rights within their community.

“I met Eddah when she had just married Ole Kamaro. She was his fifth wife, 13 years old … I remember being horrified by the marriage – she was so young! … ( A) few years of schooling were enough to give Eddah a clear idea if the basic tenets of Empowerment. By the time she was 18, Ole Kamaro had dumped the rest of his wives. Eddah leased out his land to Kenya Breweries and opened a bank account where all the money went. Occasionally, she gave her husband pocket money.

Whenever he was away, she took up with her lover, a wealthy young Kikuyu shopkeeper from the other side of the hill who kept her supplied with essentials like soap, matches and paraffin.

Eddah was the local chairwoman of KANU (Kenya’s Ruling Party) Women’s League and so remained invulnerable to censure from conservative elements around. She also had a thriving business, curing hides and beading them elaborately for the tourist market at the Mara. Unlike most Masai women, who disdain growing of crops, she had a thriving market garden with maize, beans, and various vegetables. She did not lift a finger to take care of this garden. Part of the co-operation we expected from her as landlady meant that our staff had to take care of that garden. Her reasoning was that Kikuyu men are cowardly women anyway and they do farming so-oo well.

Something interesting is going on today. There is a tradition amongst Masai, that women are released from all domestic duties a few months after giving birth. The women are allowed to take over the land and claim any lovers that they choose … I have been warned to keep away from any bands of women wandering about. We are on some enourmous hill and I can feel old Massey Ferguson’s tractor wheezing. We get to the top, turn to make our way down, and there they are: led by Eddah, a troop of about 40 women marching towards us dressed in their best traditional clothing.

Eddah looks imperious and beautiful in her beaded leather cloak, red khanga wraps, rings, necklaces and earrings. There is an old woman amongst them, she must be 70 and she is cackling in toothless glee. She takes off her wrap and displays her breasts – they resemble old gym socks.

Mwangi who is driving, stops, and tries to turn back, but the road is too narrow:on one side there us the mountain, and in the other, a yawning valley. Kipsang, who is sitting in the trailer with me shouts for Karanja to drive right through them:

“DO NOT STOP!”

It seems that the modernised version of this tradition involves men making donations to the KANU Women’s Group. Innocent enough, you’d think – but the amount of these donations must satisfy them or they will strip you naked and do unspeakable things to your body.

So we take off at full speed. The women stand firm in the middle if the road. We can’t swerve. We stop.

Then Kipsang saves our skins by throwing a bunch of coins onto the road. I throw down some notes and Mwangi … empties his pockets, throws down notes and coins. The women start to gather the money, the tractor roars back into action and we drive through them.I am left with the picture of the toothless old lady diving to avoid the tractor. Then standing, looking at us and laughing, her breasts flapping about like a Flag of Victory.

A quick second extract looking at rights of women in an unconventional way is this great post by wrongingrights. The states that it is written in response to the recent high publicity rape cases in India (and also see) the USA and Lara Logan in Egypt and the misplaced attitude of public officials towards those cases of women, (see this perspective from India and this one from Canada).

The article approaches the problem from a different perspective and also one which hits directly home. The posts discusses preventing men from working in the media, going out at night due to the risk they sexually abuse or rape women. It is also suggested that they wear blindfolds in public to prevent them from being aroused by women in public places. The post seems humourous and what struck me on reading it was that I found it humourous. It made me reflect that  if we discussed preventing women going out after dark or wearing less provocative clothing or being unsuitable for certain jobs it would be taken as a serious article not a comic one. In this role reversal this article effectively highlights the cultural and social norms we so easily accept as truths regarding women’s freedoms.

Here is an sample, but do read the whole post:

Unwise to Allow Men to Go Out Alone at Night?

A local coalition of religious leaders, concerned about recent studies showing that an average of 6% of men will commit a sexual assault during their lifetime, and that nearly all sexual assaults are committed by men on their own or in groups, are urging parents not to let their sons go out at night unless they are accompanied by a mother, sister, or trusted female friend.

Mens’ groups have responded with concern, pointing out that this may leave some men unable to complete the tasks of daily life, such as going to school, working, or socializing.

In response, the religious leaders said that they “understand that this may be an inconvenience for some men,” but that “the minor difficulties this imposes on men are nothing when compared to the lifelong horror sexual assaults cause their victims.” “Really,” said the organization’s leader, “almost any limitation on men’s freedom is better than the risk that they might sexually assault someone. That’s just common sense.”

(Just a little final note on Egypt, as I have been following women’s rights issues in Cairo for the past year, see here, here and here, it seems important to highlight that the issue of sexual assault goes much wider and deeper than the assault of Lara Logan, which partially inspired the wrongingrights post. Sexual assault is a complex problem in Egypt and one which women and activists face daily. For more information on that subject see Harassmap, Nazra and a plethora of media comment, including Egypt Independent, Washington Post, Aljazeera and of course this much discussed piece by Mona Eltahawy).

A new regular post highlighting a few special rights stories. I will post at the beginning of each month. I hope to share some of the best articles, reports, videos, photos which I’ve come across in the past month which discuss or shed some new light on human rights and development issues across the globe.

So onto the very first Rights Round Up :

1. Aljazeera‘s article: In pictures: Cairo’s rich-poor standoff by Mosa’ab Elshamy.

A compelling photo essay which highlights some of the contradictory aspects of the right to decent housing in Cairo. The pictures are of the Boulaq slum area of Cairo, situated near to the Nile Towers luxury shopping centre. Mosa’ab Elshamy states:

” While opulence is the towers’ signature, Ramlet Boulaq is without sewage, electricity or running water. “

The images highlight the derelict state of residents houses and the sub-standard living conditions in which they survive, by placing these alongside the suited clients of the Nile Towers complex. The right to housing is a much spoken of problem in Cairo, yet images like these go to highlight how much still needs to be done to assure a basic right to housing for city dwellers.

2. Throwing Stones at the Moon (extract) in Granta.

The haunting story of María Victoria Jiménez, told beautifully in her own words. A medical intern who was attacked and disfigured for exposing corruption at a hospital, her tale is similar to too many in Columbia and other Latin American countries where violence rules over truth. Her strength and honesty makes inspiring but hard reading which demonstrates what defending rights has comes to mean for Maria Victoria.

“I don’t want to move to another part of the country because that would be quitting. And if I quit, everyone will do the same, and we won’t get anywhere. The fact is that if people stay silent, what future will my nephews have, and what future will their children have?

I continue to move around from house to house in Bello. I go to work and then I go straight home. I don’t have a life. I stay in my room by myself and I sleep with a kitchen knife, pepper spray, and a bulletproof vest next to my bed. Outside of work, my life is four walls. Sometimes I think that maybe it would have been better to have died.”

3. Une Justice Qui Fait Honte au Pays! in Courrier International.

One for the French Speakers. An impassioned critique of the Tunisian justice system for bringing charges against a woman who was raped by police officers. An article which highlights once again the struggle in the Middle East and North Africa for a system and society which respects and assures equal treatment for women.

4. Women’s Rights Demands

A lovely short (and optimistic) video on women’s rights demands in Egypt, created by CEWLA (The Centre for Egyptian Legal Assistance), but expressed by the women themselves. So often we writers, organisations and commentators speak for women. Here they are speaking in their own words, saying what is important for them in Egypt’s future. Demands include assuring criminalisation of FGM in the Constitution, rights for housewives, universities in Upper Egypt and higher representation for women in political bodies.

5. Amnesty International : Rule of Law Elusive – Two Report on Violence against Protesters in Egypt

For months I have been hoping Amnesty International’s comment on violence in protests in Egypt, after following and reporting on this topic during the Abbaseya clashes. Amnesty don’t disappoint  issuing two reports. The first focuses on abuses carried out by the military, including torture and killing with impunity. The second focuses on police violence during protests and clashes. Attacks by the authorities on protesters seemed to characterise Egypt’s transition period, undermining the very freedom of expression and assembly which was fought for during the revolution. The reports call for President Morsi to reform the police and security institutions and ask for accountability and justice for past abuses.

 

 

An article I wrote on urban gardening in Egypt has been published by UNDP in a report on Green Economy in Action.

The article is included demonstrating examples of “agriculture demonstrating practical, concrete, and on the ground green economy country experience”, with the aspiration that this will “provide information and knowledge for policy and decision makers and practitioners on the positive implications of greening some priority sectors, including job creation, resource efficiency, and generally contribution to sustainable development”.

I think this is a testament to the wonderful projects that the featured organisations are working on in Cairo. The growth of urban gardening is an interesting phenomenon. It was inspiring to see what can be created on the rooftops of a busy city such as Cairo and the positive effects that these gardens can have for food security, the environment and communities.

The link to the report can be found here (see pages 23-24 for the article).

For more information about the featured projects see: Schaduf; Thousand Gardens in Africa; Permaculture Egypt and Nawaya.

“The struggle for national unity in Egypt goes far beyond religion, far beyond the Christian’s concerns and far beyond minority rights claims. Despite repeated arguments presenting the country as one majority group, the revolution and the democratic discussions that have followed have highlighted the diverse voices of Egypt. Indeed, within the Egyptian population there are many ethnic minorities: Berber; Bedouin; Beja; Nubian and Dom. There are also many other smaller religious groups, including: Baha’i; Shia Muslims; Jews and various branches of Christianity. In some cases certain groups suffer political exclusion without being numerically minorities, such as young people and women. A monotone picture of national unity, language and culture fails to portray the diverse voices within Egyptian society.

The Copts have the particular challenge of preserving their faith while simultaneously integrating into a new nation whose president encourages the agenda of another faith. In such circumstances, agreement is by no means simple. Yet a vision of Egypt as a multi-layered country, with many groups and many perspectives may help to ease the tension. Indeed, in a post-revolutionary Egypt with a bubbling civil society and youth movements, the Copts have many allies in challenging the new political power. Current anti-Morsi protests attest to this fact.”

Read the full-article at: The Arab Review.

“Egypt: ‘Constitutional amendments amount to coup’

Tensions have soared in Egypt after the military dealt a number of blows to the democratic process in the form of court decisions and constitutional amendments. In a column on theallAfrica.com site, political analyst Catriona Knapman notes that the latest and most blatant of these is the Constitutional Declaration, issued on 17 June, which grants the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) legislative powers as well as greater control over the constitution-drafting process. ‘Lawyers and activists were left to grapple with the legality and implications of what many now describe as a coup d’état. The military made its first move on 13 June by issuing Decree No. 4991, which grants the military power to arrest civilians for an extensive list of crimes, including acts disrupting traffic and public protest. A coalition of human rights groups and activists described it as ‘a legal shield for army intervention in the daily life of Egyptians’.

The second move came on 14 June , two days before the final round of the presidential elections, as the Supreme Constitutional Court announced its verdict on two major decisions. The first concerned the Political Isolation Law whose goal is to deny political rights to persons associated with Mubarak’s former regime. The court declared the law unconstitutional, allowing Ahmed Shafiq, who was Hosni Mubarak’s interim Prime Minister in 2011, to run in the final round of the elections. As a candidate supported by SCAF, the political ramifications of the decision were inescapable.’ Knapman says the second decision claimed the parliamentary elections for the Lower House last year had been unconstitutional as party members had been allowed to contest the one third of seats reserved for independent candidates. ‘This thus called for parliament to be dissolved until fresh elections. Debate is still ongoing on whether or not there is now a functioning parliament. The Constitutional Court judgment declared that one third of parliamentarians were illegal, but doubt remains as to whether this requires the complete or partial dissolution of Parliament,’ she added.

 

“The formation of Egypt’s constituent assembly can be seen as an illustration of the many groups vying for representation within Egypt’s new democracy. Yet, the struggle to include women representatives within the assembly is demonstrative of the traditional power struggles which continue to be played out in the country.
Women’s groups are continuing to fight another battle in a long war, but it is apparent that they are just one party that has found itself excluded, and their fight is one in which many others are now joining. Yet, care must be taken so that public debate on women’s issues is not lost, if SCAF attempts to gain a tighter hold on the Constitution-drafting process.”
For full article see ACUS.

Rights on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.