“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Some unforeseen maintenance interventions at home would’ve drained out five days from our planned stay in Egypt. If it weren’t for my nephew, we wouldn’t have been able to manage such unseen inconvenience. Dr. Seif Sultan, my nephew, a thirtyish promising dentist holder of a PhD in dental and jaw rehabilitative surgery, offered to control and supervise the works at least twice a day on his way to and from the university, where he teaches, or to his private clinic where he practices; so that we don’t have to worry and may enjoy our holiday.
That was “an offer we couldn’t refuse” bringing back a happy and satisfied smile to light up Alessandra’s face. She, as much as myself, wanted so much to drive up the valley to see our Upper Egyptian and Nubian friends in Luxor and Aswan: Sheikh Mohammad Er’Ramley the regional director for Al Azhar institutes in Upper Egypt and the New Valley, Ossama Es’Sayed the Rooms Division Manager of the legendary Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel & Pavilion, Nubeyia the fascinating Nubian Executive Housekeeper of Etap Luxor Hotel, Abdel Hamid the old felucca sailor (traditional Nile river sail boat), George Gaddis the jeweler, Hamed the Executive Chef in the Ex Novotel Resort now Iberotel, Fathi Hefni the impresario, Hakeem the Nubian river boss, El Ghoul the director of Sofitel Cataract Hotel, Gabriel the guide and a lot more friends of mine I’ve known through my long working career whom all became friends to Alessandra.
Driving a car up the river for almost 1000 km, is an experience I sincerely recommend to those travelers eager to know, to comprehend and to taste the real life of the country. Nothing like what they watch from a comfortable seat of an air-conditioned approaching airplane’s window or the one they frequent in hotels. Of course such a dare will not cross the minds of the new breed of tourists, the ones educated and programmed to fit in the mass and all inclusive travel packages to visit a country à la japonaise, in a week or ten days, convinced of having centered a good deal but never realizing that they brought nothing back with them, except a few insignificant souvenirs that in time they would even forget where did they get it from! Surely those haven’t got the will or drive to ‘Know’ or ‘Experience’ or at least ‘Discover’.. They just want to ‘Change’ their daily monotonous routine.. And the mere thought of having worked all year long to save some money and willingly give to someone to tell them when to wake up, where to go, what and when to eat, and most of all what to buy and wherefrom, doesn’t in the least bother or tickle their thoughts!!
That’s not my kind of tourism and hospitality.. My perception of both is based on exclusivity, personalization and quality.. On one hand, a traveler cannot be reduced to a room number and a wrist bracelet, but on the other hand should pay very well to be recognized as an individual with special needs and expectations that his host should meet and satisfy.. My perception is an old fashioned conservative and orthodox understanding of receiving travelers authentically and in nostalgic style. Perhaps even that’s why I decided to quit that business when I realized how the mutation in the culture of travelling is reflecting all the aspects of the globalized market economy: accumulating quick big private gains, abusing of manpower working rights and conditions, exporting wealth, degrading culture, establishing superficiality, producing low standards in quality, destructing ecological and environmental systems, drying national economy on the mid and long terms.. Realizing the quick changes happening to the hospitality culture, I refused to be part of it, so as I cant beat it and won’t join it.. I’m out.
But friends are friends.. People you shared with them and through them good part of your life’s ups and downs.. We’ll go, insha’Allah, and overcome the long drive to see each one of them.
Once again, I did drift far away with my thoughts.. A hopeless old man’s defect, but it’s no Elsheimer.. I assume! Well!! Unfortunately things didn’t turn out favouring such a long desired plan.. Once we reached Cairo, where we gladly spent the most valuable two days time with my daughters and grand-children, we came to know that the Upper Egypt main road has been closed by order of the AFSC (Armed Forces Supreme Council) the body that is temporarily ruling the country, due to certain unrests around the areas of Minia and Assiut! So we made up our minds to set off to Sinai for the remaining ten days. We still have dear friends there, especially among the Bedouin Tribes.
I noticed a 180° conversion in the attitudes of the young men serving in the fuel stations, in previous experiences, in Cairo and along the way, they weren’t attentive or caring to customers needs, while now all along the way and in the several distribution points we stopped to refill, they were alert, courteous, polite, initiative and quick.. You find your car dusted and the front and rear wind shields cleaned in no time.. As they greeted us upon arrival with a smile, they wished us a safe trip on departure.. It never happened before, you can feel they are now proud of working and gladly trusting their tomorrow, though the pay is still the same or maybe even lost some of its real value after the revolution.
On each one of the eight check points along the way as well as the tall stations, we noticed the presence of the armed forces next to the police agents. They control your documents and the car trunk then wish you safe and happy journey. As a matter of fact, they are very polite.. Nothing like the common oppressive arrogance of the police forces.
Late in the afternoon we arrived Sharm El Sheikh. After having passed that monster structure used as the city gates and going through the main “Peace Road”, two sceneries did grasp our attention and brought us uneasiness, the first was the port full of excursion boats anchored with no one on board.. We’re talking of several hundreds of them.. If you count on average for each one four sea crew members, three ground crew, the diving instructor, the cameraman, the courtesy bus driver, the diving center attendants, the sales representatives, the fueling caterer, the food and provisions supplier and so on, you’ll soon realize that we’re talking about an entire population of unemployed youth and a substantial economic harm to the territory.
We came across the second passing in front of the pyramid shaped International Hospital, where the ex dictator is presumably detained. Seeing the well known blue armored vehicles, six of them, belonging to the Interior Ministry’s Prison deportation department, and about 20 police soldiers and two middle rank officers. The absence of representatives of the Armed Forces in that case alarmed me a lot, and I’m afraid that I passed my worries to Alessandra, that strange absence cannot be attributed only to the Camp David Accords terms and conditions; It may also means that the ex dictator is not there at all. At such a troubling thought frowns replaced smiles, and we remained silent till the doorsteps of the Hotel.
The warm welcome of our friends kept our spirits high, but the knot in the throat remained all the same.. If he’s not in the hospital, where then? A question that kept buzzing like a trapped bee inside my head. Alessandra knew how to drive away those worries.. A massage, a long shower and a nice cup of our favourite Italian coffee; that’s her magic recipe for recovering long drives and worries.. It always worked perfectly, specially the massage bit and its undoubtedly certain followers.
I will not go through the daily details of our stay at Sharm El Sheikh, but I’d rather draw some characters I met this time so you’ll be able to make up your mind about which category to allocate them:
Mr. Mohamed S.: the lawyer who follows the registration practices for a small apartment we bought there. He’s the Head of El Tor City Council who practices privately from office and home. Before the revolution he assisted foreign ‘investors’ to join Egyptian speculators in destroying entire areas of the South Sinai governorate under his jurisdiction. Now he’s preaching a plan to create agriculture cooperatives for new type of medium range speculation.. To allocate blocks of five thousands feddans to ‘serious investors’ where to provide them with paid assistance to drill water wholes, and for the essential infra-structure needed to start cultivating. When I discovered the absence of a regulatory plan of crops and times, I realized the speculating edge behind such a scheme.
Mr. Ehab O.: the hotel’s Rooms Division Manager a typical liberal moslem young fellow, who doesn’t miss a prayer, and yet seriously enjoys every moment of his working day doing his utmost to see to the comfort of his guests, trouble shooting and solving problems while always alert to the interests of his hotel and to those of his employer: the guest. Ehab is very enthusiast about the future of the country after such an overwhelming revolution. He finds the time for introducing his newly wedded Russian wife the essentials of the Arabic language. But as many of his peers, can’t decide where to give his vote.
Mr. Wasfi K.: My life long friend, career colleague and companion, and the Area General Manager for one of the famous hotel management and touristic investments companies operating in Egypt since three generations. He judges the revolution as “Born Crippled” because it didn’t settle the pending account with the past first. He’s very pessimist about the near future and is encouraging his son to migrate abroad. Even if I don’t agree with him, but I respect his views.. He’s my last remaining friend.
Waleed: The senior beach attendant, a very reliable young fellow who’s soon to be married, but his contradictions hit me. First he truly believes in the necessity of change as a tool to convert the present into a better future, however he doesn’t have a clear idea about what the next step should be. I think it’s normal in such case of young men having to work for twelve and thirteen hours a day having no time for the luxury of self education or even the energy to do so.
Ragab: The fruit shop owner in the old market place where we always got our best fruits during our repeated visits to South Sinai. Though the business is very limited, he still have faith in the coming days and wish well to Egypt. He will vote like his family in the valley. They will tell him when the time comes.
Guirguis: the head waiter of Sadiki restaurant at Hadaba area, believes that El Baradei is a better choice for the country being a Nobel Peace Prize holder, a well connected internationally, have a solid view for the country’s strategic future, yet he lacks mediatic appeal. Here’s one with a clear opinion.
Captain Hassan L.: A pioneer who came to Sharm El Sheikh more than twenty years ago and forged by his bear hands a business that cost him long and painful sacrifices. Now that he built his small empire, He holds his caring strictly to his lady friends, to his business and nothing else. He’ll decide the vote at the very last moment, if he’s in Egypt and not travelling!!
Mr. Nasser Z.: The V. Travel Regional Manager, he’s a militant who did participate at the “Tahrir Square” manifestations almost from day one, just took the time to move his family from Cairo to a country side village with his parents till things settled down, and he joined in the square giving a helping hand anywhere needed. He’s convinced that the past régime with all its components and culture should crash and burn first, then a constituent committee chosen by the people should prepare the draft for a new constitution, to be able to build a parliament on new electoral laws, as a preparatory step to elect freely and democratically a new president. Nasser is ready for any kind of sacrifice for the good future of his three young children. He’s the first person I met in Egypt who recommends the French Revolution example.
Ayed the fisherman, Khodeir the park ranger, Soliman the cafeteria owner: My friends the Bedouins belonging to “El Mesaynah” tribe, and are living in what should be called ‘reservations’ where for ages and ages were treated as a touristic attraction but never as Full Egyptian Citizens. All of them are eager to see what the future will bring for them, their tribes and their families.. They have every right to hate the past, survive the present and doubt the future. Just a small note: the average daily earning of a Bedouin is less than ten Egyptian pounds a day! (1.5US$).
Gamal: the barman in a Five Star Hotel regrets the peaceful mind owed to the security the ex régime provided even if it meant “No Rights” or “ No Laws”.
Now, as I can’t describe all the characters I encountered in a month, I can tell you for sure that they all have one thing in common: “they are all looking for freedom and democracy, but neither have the slightest idea for an answer to the following questions: What is the price to be paid for freedom and for democracy? Are you ready and willing to pay it? and, once you have freedom and democracy, what will you do with them?”.
I wish you will fulfill your part of the deal and categorize each individual I mentioned, as I told you earlier in the introduction of this series of articles. Once you do so, I want you to carefully consider each candidate, applying for the legislative, administrative and presidential elections; having in mind the following question: “Which one of those candidates have a strategic solid plan and program to meet the contradicted needs of all the characters you’ve seen here with me, and the others you may see, should you decide to use this kind of magnifying lenses?”.
Good Luck, and see you there..
No matter what, give your vote..
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
I don’t know whether I’m just simply getting old to experience hallucinating disorientations, or is it truly a fact of today’s life that the set of values upon which my generation grew up with and by, have mutated to the point of becoming unidentifiable.
The newspapers along with the TV news are shelling us every single day with horrifying news regarding the new distracted breed of “parents”.
Here is a father who forgets his new born child in the car, parked under the August sun, for six hours while he sits serenely at his air-conditioned office exercising his job duties, and completely unaware of his crime!! The child died in hospital after three days in coma.
And there is another one, of the same breed, who leaves his five year old son, unattended, in the semi deserted public swimming pool from one o’clock under the boiling afternoon sun till four o’clock. If it weren’t for another pool client, who came rushing to shake him awake from inside his car, parked in the cool shade of a large sycamore tree.. The abandoned child died drowning, surely agonizing, while his irresponsible father was enjoying his siesta!
How to judge such parents? I prefer to leave that to each one of you, as such examples are multiplying day by day, and are proving the cultural mutation which disfigured a fundamental value: “RESPONSIBILITY”. However, let me say that they are unfit to provide society with responsible and reliable individuals, potentially capable of managing and, why not, ruling!
Same applies to nations and governments. As we find responsible governments planning strategically their future, by completely obliterating the errors of their past, we encounter other unfit and weak governments, continuing to concede to the pressures of the lobbies and those of the “friend of…” , to decide a decree or pass on a law suitable for the personal interests of X or Y. As such they open the door wide open to corruption and injustice for starters.
I’ll give the example of two middle aged friends, who honestly worked their backs a life long to raise their children according to the essential set of “Values” same as they have received from their fathers, and their fathers from theirs. Those two friends, at a certain point of their carrier, discovering that they will never go any further up the hierarchy, have decided to start a private business of their own with regard to the only experience they were able to accumulate in over thirty years of hard honest work.
Good? No! As the ‘naïf’ couple plan to register their desired partnership as a company of limited responsibility for management (in jargon: Ltd); the unexpected surprise came along quickly enough to kill their high hopes and colourful daydreams. The Egyptian laws request a deposit of two million pounds! Why? What for? If they had that sum why in heaven they would’ve wanted to start a private small business? And if, by any hallucinating fantasy, they hypothetically had the money, why should it remain blocked in a closed account in favour of the state to do whatever it wants with and without even a simple prior notice “For Info”? Isn’t that a blunt official protection to the “haves” thus violating the basic right of the “have-nots” for an “Equal Opportunity”?
Wouldn’t it be simpler, and more practical as well as functional, to invite the ‘sub-entry’ in play of the banks to finance and the insurance companies to guarantee, in order to let the production and employment process have their take?
Those are practices of the past, and as long as they remain in force, I don’t see the light at the other end of the tunnel.
I hope that someone ‘is’ at home!
My heartiest and most sincer wishes to all the Moslem Nation for a seren and peaceful Eid (Bairam) after a long summer's fast of this year Ramadan, may it be accepted and registered in your good deeds.
But I can't be feasting in a world where everything is for sale and bears a price tag. See the Libyan population, like a blind host in the banquet of the cunning, are celebrating the liberation of Tripoli while the “NATO & Co” are already discussing with the NTC the various options for settling the bill: frozen moderate oil prices for I don’t know how long, reconstruction contracts to which nation, arming and training of security and army forces to be granted to whom, a permanent base for the “NATO” I don’t know where and so on; to the point where liberating Gheddafi’s assets and accounts to Libya becomes the most effective bargaining tool.
Such practices are a historic treat that has been accustomed among nations and refined through time, but the key word in this regard is: “..among nations”. And of course in a way the nation’s delegated representatives. Here a legitimate question should come out: “Who nominated the NTC the one and only delegated representative of the entire Libyan population?".
We know that few days after the revolution have exploded last February, the NTC smartly showed up headed by that intelligent ex minister and filling immediately the power void resulting from the unexpected quick autonomous declaration of the Free BenGhasi Insurgents.
Now the NTC is binding the country by long term treaties and contracts for which it doesn’t have the legal authority, and that explains the speed in which almost the entire world acclaimed the NTC the “Sole Legitimate Representative” of the Libyan people, with related merits as the seat in the Arab League or the UN and other international and regional organizations (African, Islamic…etc).
I can’t see any explanation for depriving a population from its future, through a globally orchestrated chorus singing glory to the victorious, while vesting an “Interim” the “Permanent” costume. Or maybe there is an explanation - for not waiting to establish the needed institutions for a functional democracy by which contracts, accords, protocols and treaties could be duly negotiated and signed – and that is to present the full bill at mid-meal to embarrass the host while the guest is euphorically drunk.
That is how the Arab Nation lost its peninsula and Gulf oil, already mortgaged for decades to pay the exaggerated bills for three wars and an occupation, also the Egyptian Natural Gas and Oil, now the turn has come for the second largest oil reserve on the planet, not to mention the south Sudan underground mineral treasures and the Darfur oil lakes. That is how the Arab wealth and power are being drained out for the irrationality of the unfit and the avarice of the opportunist.
No one is considering the fact that the only one actually footing the bill, is the helpless citizen. The citizen who will continue for decades, and maybe even his children too, to suffer under the heavy burden of continuous taxations to settle the required installments and almost never tasting the fruits of his resources.
The sad paradox is that he’s paying the price for: Aid, Help, Assistance and Rescue!
And we proudly dare call ourselves the “Human Race”.
Alessandra needed some small silver and gold artifacts to take back as presents to parents and friends.. Since we’re in Alexandria, then there is no choice, it has to be “Share’ Faransa” (which is the Arabic version of Rue de la France). Since my family has been a life long client of the famous goldsmith Mahmoud Ghoneim, I couldn’t betray the tradition and kept contact with his son and now with his grand-son after the elders went for their journey into eternity.
Hossam Ghoneim.. What a character! Like all oversized persons (he’s over 120kgs), he masters the art of telling funny stories. Sometimes he creates an entire story out from a common joke, yet you will not find out until you burst into that hysterical type loud laugh, as he finishes you with the punch line, while he remains as usual in his steady controlled voice pitch. Then he would join in with his soprano laughter, that only by hearing it and seeing how his entire body responds vibrating in ripples all over, you cannot escape from laughing heartily until you lack breathing.. Usually that is his welcome ritual. And no matter how I prepare my wife and myself not to fall into his trap, he would always find a way to take us in circles until he delivers that vicious sudden knock out punch line.
It was no different this time; after the usual salutes and hugs, and the offering of the welcome drink, he started telling us the story of the early days of the revolution and how it affected the business on that street dedicated to the gold trade some 600 years ago. On the second day, while tens of thousands were rallying the square nearby and reaching the street, a tall man with a baritone voice leaded the cheers and called out the verses the crowds repeated after him. Using a head-set microphone like the one telephone operators used in the past, in its turn connected to an amplifier magnifying his voice out from four horn-cases placed on a post over the deck of a pick-up. The man was on foot yelling and waving urging and stimulating the protesters , and behind him was a sort of a sound technician with a microphone in hand, the very sensitive type called panoramic that is used for the symphonic orchestras. Anyhow, as the man with baritone voice tuned out one of his verses in his head-set microphone, and after several hours shouting without food or water surely his slim belly’s intestines should become full of air, and so it was.. In perfectly synchronized timing came out loud from the four horn-cases a draft from his rear straight into that sophisticated panoramic microphone, that you could’ve smell it even. It was that loud that the cheers stopped for a second, just a second but long enough to make the man forget completely what he was tuning, and he couldn’t seek help from the technician because, poor guy, he took it all in the face and lost senses.
In brief that was it, but Hossam’s version was something else, because he makes you live the whole scene with all its fine details to make you see the crowds, and he loudly sings the slogans and verses they’d say, opening brackets to describe a woman here or a child there.. Always finding the funny side and, like an excellent caricaturist, draws it for you so vividly that your senses are totally at his mercy, and here he pulls out his ferocious knock out: the air thrust out of such a serious man’s rear through the panoramic microphone into the horn cases and over the tens of thousands of innocent demonstrators who, as the mass psychology mechanics taught us, would automatically and without thinking repeat like parrots everything they hear.. Imagine the outcome.
Finished the laugh, arrived the cool “Kharroub” drink, start of the serious talk. Immediately Alessandra took the line and listed her wishes that Wafaa, his dedicated assistant, at once started to prepare for my wife to chose from, then to say for whom it will be after weighing, detailing the price and making sure the adequate discount was given. Throughout this tiring practice, I was able to dig out of him valuable information about the state of the commerce in Alexandria. It’s not promising at all.. The city is not governed, the enlisted small delinquents who fled in the nineties towards Lybia are coming back fleeing from the war, and since they have lost everything, they will turn to whatever they can reach; and of course the street is targeted and he and all other shop owners are taking precautions. I told him not to let himself and others to be dragged away by such stories deliberately placed on the streets by who made his fortunes in the past 30 years or so, and with such money he can buy willing manpower to defend his realm and their families’ daily bread.
He gave it thought for a while, and then asked: “ but every now and then there is a huge fight that involves hundreds of men armed with whatever they can reach and slowly but carefully the fight finds its way to the street, isn’t that a sort of street gangs techniques? To initiate a small clash an make sure it will grow up quickly involving as much innocent persons and push the mass towards any desired direction in order to create the needed diversion for a planned strike?” At this point I asked him: “every time that such things occurred, did anyone in the area reported any sort of irregularities, like a theft, breaking a safe, raping a woman, kidnapping a person, setting fire in a warehouse, or any other claim?” At his negative answer, he began seeing the scheme and understanding the game.. Someone just wants the people to be terrorized, in order to become easier to manipulate.. Someone with power, lots of money, and men.. Maybe even arms!?!
As we were speaking while Alessandra with Wafaa were preparing the chosen presents, a middle aged man came rushing in the shop asking to talk privately to Hossam! They went to the office in the back for a few moments and then he came out saluting courteously and left; a few seconds later Hossam showed with a smile on his face.. “Hussein Salem was arrested few hours ago by the Interpol in Israel.” He proudly revealed the outcome of the secret meeting which just took place, when I asked him who the man was and whether or not his sources could be trustworthy, he hesitated before telling me that he was the Regional Coordinator of the “Kefaya” movement for Lower Egypt, and that he’s well connected to several intelligence agencies. Hossam’s body language told me that he doesn’t wish to elaborate further on the issue, so I kept my skepticism to myself, for how come that an opposition figure be well connected to various secret service agencies of very doubtful loyalty to the revolution??
We all know who is Hussein Salem, and what relation connects him to the ex president’s businesses, even before the ex president became deputy to Sadat.. It’s a common knowledge that Salem, Mounir Thabet, the late Field Marshall Abu Ghazala and the ex president were all partners in a cover up company created by the CIA to sell and transport arms to both Iraq and Iran, during their senseless decade-long war back in the seventies; as well as to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in their resistance war against the Soviet occupation. Of course such business continued for God knows how long, perhaps even till now! Connect that to the mysterious death of Ashraf Marwan, whom, apart from knowing a lot and even documented a lot more, was a sound business rival! And before that, the assassination of Sadat helped uncover their story, even though he was killed for other reasons. In short, Salem became the richest man in the country if not one of the richest in the middle east, and was powerful enough to engineer a treaty providing Israel with Egyptian natural gas without the formal prior approval needed from an absent parliament, and as required by the so called constitution. He controlled strictly in the palm of his hands several vital monopolies among which Water distribution and Natural Gas distribution!
I can’t tell for sure if his arrest information is founded.. It’s very doubtful, knowing how resilient such an element is. He will not be taken that easily.. Once out of Egypt, after the Gas scandal broke out which led the ex president to publicly forfeiting him (needless to mention that privately, business remained as usual, just change some signs here, a few names there.. Et voilà, dinner is served).. He vanished, disappeared.. Just didn’t exist anymore for us common mortal beings.. But his whereabouts were certainly known to the inner circle, though the silence was maintained. No one in Egypt, was allowed to spill out his name in public. It dazzled me not to come across a word or a hint about him on any Egyptian newspaper I could reach on the web while in Italy.. Even now, rarely you will find a line about him except in a shy way hidden in the inner pages among the lower lines. That’s why I can’t take for granted his arrest news unless verified through a trustful source, until then, for me, he is still unleashed and much in the game. Just like many others who, after having built each his small empire sucking the blood of the Egyptian economy, are still freely roaming in and out of the country on their private jets!!?? Not a promising sign for Egypt, at least for the coming few years.
Saturday, 27 August 2011
It’s Monday.. I am fasting, a ritual I’ve vowed to perform every Monday and Thursday reason of which I prefer to keep for myself.. It’s a bit difficult fasting sharing life with a heavy smoker for a wife.. Anyhow, today my appointment with our friend, Ramsi, the famous lawyer is due after eight p.m, this means that I will not have the necessary time to enjoy my usual post “Iftar” habits at sun-set: praying, relaxing and doing nothing.. Consequently my wife and I will have to keep our visit to his family shortened to the minimum needed the customary greetings, seeing the children and what interests me more is to acquire answers to the questions thundering inside my brain like summer temporals.. I’m going too fast? I told you I’m fasting, and as though I tend to cut things short.. Let me try again.
Keeping our visit at the minimum needed respecting the traditional oriental rituals of salutes and wishes: “How is the health?” and “What about the studies?”, “OH! The kid is horse-riding like his father!!??” In a casual reunion like that normally such a rally will take sometime depending on the house-lady’s will to drive the conversation to which direction.
As usual, we arrived punctually, even though I had some difficulty remembering the street where he lives, and if it weren’t for Alessandra, my wife, I would’ve remained circling around the area for hours before calling him to come and escort us.. She directed me as a professional navigator to the street.. Now it’s time to find a parking for the car.. I don’t know what prevents the authorities from obliging each new building to plant trees and make underground parking lots in order to liberate the main stream of the road to visitors or emergency vehicles.. My “Alexandria” of the fifties and sixties was much more organized and way much cleaner.. But that madness called “Real Estate Speculation” devoured my town’s known beautiful Italian architecture characteristics, turning her into a gigantic cement monster.. Ugly and unidentifiable.
Have you seen the “RAPE” of the eco-system and the city’s environment? That awful scar on the face of what used to be called “The Mediterranean Pearl”.. They call it “Corniche” in French language it means: frame, like the frame of a painting, because at her “belle-époque”, Alexandria was really a man made painting framed by a carefully designed sea-side with firm and sever urban regulatory norms..
Well, I have never seen anywhere a similar destruction.. That thing has become a highway of four lanes in each direction crushing the “Main Lung” of the city: the sea front.. Of course in doing so, they had to go into the sea destroying beaches and entire eco-systems, allowing buildings over twenty floors on the sea front, lacking any possibility for planting shade trees to compensate the over polluted air by the chaotic flow of vehicles day and night.. They simply killed my town.. Ignorance and corruption killed my beautiful town, and its funeral was celebrated in total conspirators silence of media, scientific institutes, political opposition parties, and most of all intellectuals.. Needless to say the absence of the religious institutions!! Ignorance and Corruption, that lethal cocktail!!
Excuse me, I drifted far away.. Back to the parking problem.. A young man of about 22 or 23 years old stopped sipping his mint tea and offered to park my car in an under construction apartment building’s parking lot, I accepted and left him the keys and escorted my wife through the typical muddy grounds of construction sites.. We reached safely the entrance of that new fourteen story building where our friend occupies the fifth floor in his new luxurious apartment.. By the way, I challenge any architect in the world to classify that building.
He opened the door and greeted us in his usual warm welcome way.. He didn’t change a bit, since we saw him last year, maybe more elegantly dressed.. The surprise was the wife.. That beautiful Syrian lady who trades in her father’s factory production of Gaubelain and household linen in general, but drapes in particular. The beautiful naturally blond woman is now veiled.. Seeing that drastic change, and knowing the “element”, I exchanged looks with my wife and understood that she’s on my same wave length.. The lady took the veil as a precaution after the revolution, just in case her husband needs to change banner.. Oh, forgive me, I didn’t tell you that he was the personal consultant to the elder son of the ex president!!!??¿¿cazzo.
We were generously hosted and offered tea and cookies, but my interests were to find some answers, and without asking I received them.. Now he presides a legal investigating committee responsible for probing and verifying charges of corruption, torture and office abuse; filed against former politicians, government officials, businessmen, financing institutes’ managers…etc. That Bastawissi will be a strong candidate for presidency and will give real trouble to El Baradei. That the Muslim Brotherhood is firmly containing the other religious groups, and most of all that the secret services are working heavily to weaken that front. When I asked him about the new constitution, he laughed explaining that the modifications made to the eight articles of the 1971 text (the Ex Dictator’s constitution..nfa) are more than enough for a long time.
Throughout our conversation and while I was translating to Alessandra I kept watching his children. The 16 year old boy is present with us but definitely his mind is elsewhere, when I hinted about it he told us bashfully that he’s worried about his horse because he didn’t have time to go to the club and see it! But their "Chef-d'oeuvre" is the teenaged daughter, 18 years for precision, whom after finishing her high school, with colourful votes, and now fit for an engineering degree from the university of the city, wants to come and visit us in Italy!?!
At first my wife and I welcomed the idea as the aspirant future engineer will have an opportunity to see first hand the magnificently rich heritage of Roman, Medieval and ‘Renaissance’ styles of architecture Italy offers to the world, along with the treasures carefully conserved in the endless count of museums and special collections conserving human geniality. We were abruptly brought back to earth, out of our fantasies, when she explicitly announced: “I must have an adequate wardrobe before going to college, and where else but Italy?.. Don’t you think?”.. Neither Alessandra nor I had the courage to say what did really crossed our minds.. After all we are their hosts, at their house, and we must observe certain social niceties (hypocrisies)! No?.. Now I know why we, despite the honourable ancestry to the glorious Pharaohs, can’t erect a building to last more than a decade, and I’m only talking about functionality not to mention beauty!!! Like naughty children in recreation time, my doubts came back to squeeze my heart and distort my thoughts, as we saluted them and bid them a gentle ‘thank you and see you soon’.
But then again, once hit by what’s left of the sea fresh air, we dropped that burden and regained some of our hopes, such were empowered by the sight of our car brilliantly cleaned inside and out by that honest and gentle young man.. He even cleaned the tires! I tried to offer him a generous tip, and when he refused and politely returned my hand, Alessandra used her convincing warm motherly look, took the money from my hand and put it into his while he, like an obedient son, blushing and looking timidly to the ground, murmured a few tumbling words of thanks wrapped up in a sincere “may Allah preserve you in peace”!!
What a precious gift to receive straight from the heart of a perfect stranger you may never see again.. The essence of a strongly rooted tradition, offering present comfort and promising future hope.
Friday, 26 August 2011
I went to meet my friend Hussein in his office at the international bank where he assumes his managerial functions.. A conservatively well groomed man of a sports built and a little over forty years of age whom I would position as a moderate enlightened Sunni.. Well, here my doubts danced teasingly in front of us on top of his desk urging me to leave his amiable company.. You would think of course that he is the reason.. No! on the contrary, he was very enthusiast and eager to express his trust in the future of Egypt and proudly explaining his views on how to shape up the country’s economy, despite the fact that his son’s language school had to increase the inscription fees by 120%!!! I have to say that his thoughts stood straight.
It was his lady colleague who made my doubts materialize so violently.. Sanaa Hanem.. Sanaa is her name, but Hanem, like Lady in England, is a Turkish word used to identify a woman’s social rank inherited from the reign of the Ottoman Empire, and I always use it especially with the typical stereotype middle-aged person addict to imitating Aristocracy not knowing of the true meaning of the word or the role it had in conservative societies over the complete absence of coherent culture necessary to perform the character. She projects a brain void except of nonsense, in my humble opinion, and a body ornamented with tons of various tasteless jewelery (which most probably she wears even under the shower), and who threads in a single phrase two English words and four French ones.. You got the picture?? Her views reflected the very arrogant narcissism at its best! The doorman of the apartment building where she lives doesn’t stand up anymore in attention mode at here arrival, and doesn’t assist her out of the car as before.. Even worse, Nadia, the girl that used to come for her weekly peeling, manicure and pedicure appointments will not come anymore.. The end of her world.. What a drama!!
The poor girl have found an engagement as an accountant in a telecommunications firm.. When I said “it’s normal, the girl had a Bachelor in accounting and commerce from Alexandria University, just like yourself I suppose” the lady almost ate me alive.. For how dare a university graduate leave a free and well remunerating profession to a lower income steady fulltime job with a regular contract? The lady forgot that her own son, Hani, after graduating from the faculty of engineering, spent five years in her lap jobless till he found a part time job, of course in black, as a snorkeling and diving escort for tourists in Sharm El Sheikh earning his living from tips, as the wage is barely enough for renting a two rooms apartment sharing the fees with a room mate, and when it comes to food, energy and water bills each of them refers to MOM. So, the lady’s opinion favours irregular free labour with no rights and tax evading.. Not convincing for a bank middle management executive in a recovering third world country overwhelmed by debts and crippled economy.
I politely thanked Hussein for his warm welcome as well as for the usual cup of Turkish Coffee he always offers me when I come to the bank, brewed from his special coffee blend, and bid the best of wishes for the lady and took off, promising my banker friend to keep in touch soon. A promise I promptly kept.
Once out, the late morning’s fresh air brought back my high hopes, but what really rocketed my mood up high in the seventh sky was Abd’Allah the young man who parks the cars near the bank (there’s a lot like him in a city like Alexandria without any adequate parking spaces, where you leave him your keys and he parks and guards your car hoping for your generous tip). I knew his father before him ages ago, and now he took over and sees for his family being the eldest son.. I forgot to tell you that he’s a Bachelor of Arts in specialized in History of Civilizations!!.
Abd’Allah just lost a brother to bullet shot by the police forces during the January 28th and 29th bloodiest events, yet he was very proud telling me the story of “..the young boy, you may have seen on you tube or on the screens of Al Jazeera, alone in front of the brutal machine known as Amn Eddawla (the State Security).. You know, that boy who opened his arms and chest to show them he’s unarmed and telling them not to enter the street where we live, and that there are only women and children like him.. But the cruel ignorant bullet came straight into his chest and he crumbled right in front of his yelling mother’s eyes.. That day the police forces didn’t enter the street”.
He was very serene explaining what I actually saw on TV and couldn’t grasp. Abd’Allah swore to the blood of his younger brother and all the others like him that he and his peers will rebuild another Egypt, God willing, better than the one my generation ‘made’. All what he needs is an official ‘Parking Attendant’ licence for that area, to be able to work steadily in order to better educate his four other brothers and sister! Abd’Allah and a lot like him are be the promise for a better tomorrow.. I hope.
Mr. Heikal in an interview given to Mr. Howeidy right after the “abdication” of the ex president, said something like: “…those looking for a role to play in the ‘Coming New’ must seek credential support upon their actual share of active participation to induce and impose the ‘Present Ongoing Change’ not on their long history of continuing failures to defy or oppose the ‘Past Old’..”.
Thursday, 25 August 2011
Regarding my yesterday's post: "The Vote 1", I beleive I owe you the following explanation.. Forgive me.
After a profound and honest observation, as impartial as I can be, into the Egyptian Society from within; I came up with a brand new classification for the social and economic differences separating the Egyptians into specifically divided “Clans”. So, I decided to share my findings with you, throughout the coming articles which I plan to publish on the blog (Insha’Allah), by which I will try to illustrate the main features of an undeclared struggle (at least not openly as yet) among those clans that I, after careful consideration, have agreed with myself to name:
“the Drowned Clan, the Floaters Clan, the Swimmers Clan, and the Surfers Clan”.
I sincerely believe that they represent the main characters mirroring a population troubled by a chronic identity crisis, and anxiously in search for some idea or someone to bring them together and make of them, once again, a unified “Free Sovereign State”.
A ‘someone’ I would call the “Captain” (since we’re talking sea-level)!
But how will such a figure be identified and selected (or maybe even imposed)? That is the question. I can fantasize an answer, but I’d rather pass the floor on to you.. As you will qualify, at your will, each of the characters you’ll read about in the coming articles, and then classify each under the clan title you would see him or her fitting into. If you apply the same exercise to each and every one of the candidates running for the coming legislative and presidential elections, and give an answer to the following important question: “Who among the candidates is fit and able to elaborate a convincing strategic program aiming at ‘bringing them together and make of them, once again, a unified Free Sovereign State’?”. Only then you’ll be able to screen, judge, select and vote.
The clock is ticking, the elections are approaching, and I hope that you’d run that drill with me and then say yours, as I will, Insha’Allah, on those days next November blocked for a long dreamed free elections.. See you there.N.B.: Obviously I have excluded from that virtual classification a certain category of citizen that in each society exercise an undesired yet influential role, and I mean the outcasts: Regular criminals, registered and dangerous thugs, common thieves and similar.