Monday, December 17, 2012

The Jews of Egypt

Since I began living in Egypt -- and once before -- I've been attending services and celebrations with the Jewish community of Cairo. The tiny group consists almost entirely of elderly women, and it is slowly dying out.

From Rosh Hashanah and Simchat Torah to Sukkot, Purim, and Chanukah, I've gotten to know some of the remaining Egyptian Jews and the diplomats, study-abroad students, and others who help strengthen the community's numbers. It's been a fascinating experience.

I wrote an article for Foreign Policy about how Egyptian Jews have been faring since last year's uprising. Please check it out here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Refugees and protests in Jordan

Syrian girls study in a school in Irbid, Jordan.

Egypt's had an eventful few weeks, and so have I. Bored by the lack of newsworthy action here about a month ago and spurred by news of protests and Syrian refugees in Jordan, I booked a ticket there to file some stories from the Hashemite Kingdom. I also traveled to Lebanon for a weeklong vacation I had wanted to take for a while.

Of course, after a few days in Jordan, Egypt exploded politically when President Mohamed Morsi widely expanded his powers with a constitutional decree. Clashes, protests, a constitutional referendum, and more broke the relative silence that had settled over Egypt in previous weeks.

Back in Jordan, the government faced some of the most intense popular protests in the kingdom's history, with citizens pouring into the streets to rally against a surprise announcement of cuts to some fuel and gas subsidies. I wrote about the protests for The National and The Egypt Independent.

My main impetus for traveling to Jordan, though, was to cover the massive influx of Syrian refugees who have crossed into Jordan in recent months. About 146,000 Syrians have registered as refugees or are awaiting appointments with the UN's refugee agency in Jordan, and the government says over 100,000 more undocumented Syrian refugees are spread throughout the country. Many live in squalor.

I wrote a story for Al-Monitor about how Jordan is feeling the crush of these refugees on its infrastructure and the public school system in particular, and I filed a piece for The National about how aid groups are rushing to prepare refugees for the winter cold. Since I returned to Egypt, I wrote a follow-up story for Syria Deeply, a great, new website, with more about how Syrian children are adjusting to schools in Jordan.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Torture in the Sinai

I spent a good chunk of the last week or two working on a piece on human trafficking in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Bedouin have been holding sub-Saharan Africans hostage there for a number of years, not to mention trafficking weapons, ammunition, and other goods, but the subject has been receiving more media attention of late.

The hostages, primarily Eritrean, have told activists and refugee-aid workers that their kidnappers subject them to electrocution, burning with molten plastic, beatings, and rape.  Ransoms can reach $50,000.

Check out my story here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Elections 2012: The view from Cairo

Watching the election results roll in required an extra level of commitment in Cairo, where the States' weekend switchover to standard time meant we were now an extra hour -- seven total -- ahead of the East Coast. The first polls closed at 1 a.m. Egypt time, and the networks called the presidential vote for Obama at around 6:15 a.m.

I didn't last that long. I attended an elections party at the apartment of the deputy press attaché at the U.S. embassy here, along with lots of Egyptian journalists, activists, and bloggers, as well as some American diplomats and reporters. CNN, Al Jazeera English, and Nate Silver's analysis alternatively flashed on screens and a projection around the place, and I scarfed down a cupcake with a red-white-and-blue elephant on it -- for the sole reason that it looked like Jumbo and I "like elephants," as I explained to an Egyptian woman sitting nearby as I grabbed it.

A journalist from Al-Watan, a daily newspaper here, also interviewed me -- in English, alas -- in a Google Hangouts session that may or may not be seen by anyone. The questions were along the lines of, "How do you see the election going?" "What are the differences between Romney and Obama?" and "Why do the candidates talk about why they love Israel so much?"

Lots of Egyptians seem to like Obama, and not only because they don't know who his opponent was (one cabbie put a Ruskie spin on Mitt's name, calling him "Romchav"). They generally support Obama but have been disappointed by the lack of change in American foreign policy in the Middle East since he took office, particularly after a soaring speech the president delivered at Cairo University in 2009 that promised a "new beginning" with the Muslim world.

I conducted some man-on-the-street interviews for The National this afternoon. Here's what one guy said:
Mohamed Samir, 30, a financial systems consultant in Cairo, said he - like many Egyptians - was relieved that Mr Obama had been re-elected over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. "Obama is closer to Egyptians and the Arabs," he said. "Romney, I think, is farther from us." 
"Maybe in the future, there will be more dialogue and there will be change going forward," Mr Samir said.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Officers Ahmed and the case of the missing wallet

Osman the taxi driver restored my faith in humanity this weekend. (Not that it was necessarily in need of restoring or anything, but still.)

I hailed his cab on a bridge Friday after playing squash, and all seemed well until I got out five minutes later at the square near my house and immediately realized my wallet wasn't in my pocket. I turned around but he had pulled away; I briefly considered taking up another taxi driver's offer to chase him down, but I had no idea where he went -- or what his name or license-plate number were.

But then, from Ashraf the traffic cop who said he'd call if someone brought my wallet back, to a man on the street who offered to give me change, Egyptian after Egyptian I met that afternoon went out of their way to help me.

I filed the report at the nearby police station, a dirty, converted old villa. I saw zero computers the entire time, and my police report consisted of Officer Ahmed handwriting a statement on a blank piece of paper. Some guys arrested for stealing sat in a metal cage across the room from me.

At one point, we had to wait a few minutes for Officer Ahmed #2 to return with a key to a safe behind the desk. I peered over to see what valuable treasure was housed inside, and lo and behold, the policeman carefully raised a rubber stamp -- and ink! -- for all to see.

I think this stamp was actually the most valuable thing in the station, since its mark turned some handwritten scribbles into a full-fledged police report.

In the end, the decency of a good Samaritan prevailed. I woke up Saturday morning to a call from a man named Osman asking when he could bring my wallet to me. An hour later, the cab driver from the day before showed up at my building, wallet in hand -- complete with credit cards, money, and my business card, which is how Osman reached me. It had fallen between the seat and the door. Stupid gym shorts.

I've heard from friends that wallets and phones often make it back to those who lose them in the taxis of Egypt, I think more so than they might at home in the U.S.

In conclusion, ilhamdulillah.

This post was updated Oct. 15, 2012, at 10:13 p.m.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Jumpo the elebhant

Jumbo's storied tale made its way to the streets of Cairo this week.

Driving alongside the Nile the other night, I passed a truck with "Jumpo" written on its backside. Classic Arabic-speaker mistake. There's no P sound in Arabic, so when saying or writing foreign words people often use B instead. This means Egybtians often find themselves leaving their cars in barking lots. And so on.

Here, the Arabic speaker who wrote "Jumpo" had overcompensated, and hilarity ensued. At least for me. I snapped some quick, blurry photos on my phone, and my taxi driver asked what was up.

And thus the legend of Jumbo the elephant, Tufts University's celebrated mascot, came pouring out, from P.T. Barnum and his traveling circus to the fateful day in 1975 when a fire at Barnum Hall burned up Jumbo's stuffed carcass. This also involved explaining the whole concept of college mascots, which don't exist here.

"It's nice that in America you have such folktales," said the driver, agreeing that this folktale was a bit weird.

In other news, I've been working hard getting myself set up here in Cairo for Egypt Round Two. I had some mixed emotions coming back; I regretted leaving my family and friends in America, and I was a bit overwhelmed by, for the first time in my life, having no formal schedule for the indefinite future. Also, it's hot here, and I wasn't able to fully move into my room until this past weekend.

But I found a comfortable library with fast Internet in which to ply my trade, joined a country club (actually), and have found some work. I'm even going to finish unpacking today!

Here's some of what I've been up to since I've returned:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Great timing

I'm on the ground in Cairo after nearly three months away, and it's been an interesting return. Protests roiled capitals across the Arab world this week in response to an anti-Islam video purportedly made in America, including a riot that breached the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Tuesday.

Since arriving last night (Friday), I haven't been out and about too much since I've been so jetlagged, but my impression is that the demonstrations in Cairo are quite similar to other clashes during the last year and a half. A protest starts out for one reason or another, the police underestimate its size and/or intentionally let the embers simmer for a while (is that a real expression? I dunno -- I'm jetlagged...), then when the demonstration gets out of hand, tons of random youths descend on the scene to fight the police because that's what they like doing.

So it sounds like the initial pretense for protests -- the anti-Islam video -- quickly devolved into an excuse for a core of a couple hundred uneducated youths who have a some score to settle with the police to battle the cops. Egyptians generally call these people "baltigiya," or "thugs," and many people here believe they're paid by someone to mix in with the real protesters and sow chaos. Who's paying these people? Depends who you ask; I've heard Mubarak's associates, the Muslim Brotherhood, foreign governments. So many conspiracy theories, so little logic.

I just read what appears to be a pretty good summary of what's going on here now. Check it out at The Egypt Independent, an English-language paper here. Sounds like most protesters haven't even seen the video.

Personally, I feel safe since I'm in the confines of my friend's apartment and since I haven't ventured over to Tahrir Square or the U.S. embassy nearby. I've also read reports that things have calmed down. Even though I'm relatively close to everything -- maybe a 25 minute walk -- you would have no idea anything's happening since life goes on in this city of 20 million people. I don't think the violence this week spread more than a few square blocks.

This afternoon I ran an errand to pick up a phone. My taxi driver got my hopes up when he said that the demonstrators are bad people, Egyptians love Americans and Europeans, and it's really only the governments that are the problem. Then he said a Jewish lobby controls Obama's mind and wants to keep Egypt down. He also complemented my Arabic, so I have mixed feelings about the ride.

Down the street from my friend's apartment, a couple dozen protesters ringed the interior of a traffic circle this evening, holding up signs deploring the violence and urging dialogue. "Islam is a religion of respect" was the general gist of their posters, printed in Arabic and English. Dialogue, not anger.

Update (Sept. 16, 2012): Two final thoughts. It seems there is a wide gap in Americans' and Egyptians' concepts of the interaction between freedom of expression and freedom of religion. For many Americans, the right to free speech is sacrosanct, even if that speech defames religion. Many Egyptians, meanwhile, are all for free speech, as long as that speech doesn't defame Islam or the Prophet.

Also, many here don't understand that the American government is not involved with the video in question. As the above story from The Egypt Independent puts it, when discussing one particular demonstrator, "[L]ike most protesters at the scene, Ibrahim believes 'The Innocence of Muslims' is a Hollywood production that, like any local or international film released in Egypt, and presumably elsewhere, passes through several rounds of censorship and receives official state approval from its own government before seeing the light of day."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Oh, the insanity!

Alas, my first year in Cairo has come to a close, as I leave tonight for a long-scheduled trip back to the U.S. to spend time with family and friends. I wish I weren't peacing out at such an insane time in Egyptian politics, although then again, most of the past few months would probably qualify as "an insane time in Egyptian politics."

Only this time feels more insane: As Egypt expert Marc Lynch wrote yesterday, "In the next few days, a Parliament might or might not seat itself, the new President might or might not be empowered, a new Constitutional Assembly might or might not be formed. And tomorrow, another of Egypt's endlessly inventive judges may declare the Muslim Brotherhood itself illegal." [The court ended up postponing the trial on the Brotherhood's legality until September.]

Lynch explains that this whole mess mirrors the albeit more fun and less destructive mess otherwise known as Calvinball, the game with constantly changing rules from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. I highly recommend checking out Lynch's insightful analysis, if only for the reprinted comics.

A countdown clock on the front-page of the Egyptian newspaper AlMasry AlYoum ticks off the number of days left until the military is scheduled to hand over power to civilians at the end of this month. A recent addition to the daily count: a question mark.

Voting in Egypt's presidential runoff took place Saturday and Sunday, and as of now, both candidates have claimed victory, with official results to come (in theory) on Thursday. For more on one of those candidates, military man Ahmed Shafiq, check out my story last week for The National.

Finally, I authored a short essay for the Tufts Alumni website a month or two ago about the state of Egypt's "January 25th Revolution." I wrote about how Egyptians increasingly viewed last year's uprising as a mistake, or at least felt uneasy about its continuously unfolding outcome. Those sentiments have only seemed to spread in recent weeks.

Update (June 19, 2012 at 11:45 p.m. Cairo time): And then Mubarak died.

Update (June 20, 2012): Just kidding. The state news agency's report was wrong.

Monday, May 28, 2012

An Islamist, a spy chief, and Jay Leno walk into a bar...

Imagine an election with 13 candidates, where the front-runner changes every week and no one knows who is going to pull ahead the next day. Picture a presidential vote in a place with no history of free and fair elections, a judicial system dominated by officials appointed by an authoritarian dictator, a council of generals running the country's affairs, no reliable opinion polls, and a constitutional crisis.

Ahlan wa sahlan fi Masr. Welcome to Egypt! Sixteen months after protesters in Tahrir deposed President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians took to the polls on Wednesday and Thursday to elect their first president in a vote observers said was largely free of forgery and vote-rigging. It was the third time people here had voted since Mubarak stepped down – first for a constitutional referendum last spring, and then in parliamentary elections in the fall – and it seems to have gone relatively smoothly considering the fact that the biggest question in elections past was, in terms of final percentages, how high in the 90s the dictator would receive.

This time marked the first time in modern Egyptian history when the victor remained unknown before the polls opened. It was a topsy-turvy race that lasted only a couple months amid a transition period that has included massive protests against military rule and a debate over the constitution as Egyptians contemplate the relationship between religion and state.

The leading candidates for a while appeared to be Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League secretary, and Hazem Abu Ismail, a bearded, baby-faced, ultraconservative Islamist preacher whose supporters – known as Hazemoon – were absolutely obsessed with him. Moussa ended up coming in fifth place, while election officials disqualified Abu Ismail since his deceased mother had taken American citizenship a few years back; legally, an Egyptian president can’t have a parent with foreign citizenship.

Two additional candidates dominated discussion for a bit, but were subsequently disqualified for questionable reasons: Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s head of intelligence who the former president appointed vice president during the uprising, and Khairat el-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s former deputy leader.

The Brotherhood’s backup candidate, Mohamed Morsi, polled in the single digits in the weeks preceding the vote, but polls here are notoriously poor, and he ended up taking first place. It’s pretty surprising since Morsi seemed somewhat lackluster in person – I attended a rally of his – although the Brotherhood did run a pretty robust get-out-the-vote operation; for example, I heard that a bunch of Brotherhood vans and tok toks in my friend’s Nile Delta village ferried voters to and from the polls.

The dark horse was definitely Hamdeen Sabahi, a proponent of the pan-Arabism of former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the Arab version of Jay Leno. He’s been an opposition figure for decades but came out of nowhere at the last minute in this election. Up until the final few days before the poll, I had hardly heard his name, but he ended up coming in a close third.

One reason the results remained unclear up until the end was the relatively large percentage of undecided voters. I heard that in some cases illiterate Egyptians arrived at the polling place with absolutely no idea what to do or whom to vote for, and other people were still trying to make up their mind in line outside elementary schools-turned-polls. With no history of free elections and poor voter education, many Egyptians struggled to pick their man out of the 13 choices.

In the end, Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander who was Mubarak’s last prime minister, came in first and second, respectively. They’ll proceed to a runoff on June 16 and 17, since no one candidate won a majority of votes. The two candidates are quite polarizing, and the over 50 percent of people who didn't vote for them last week essentially have to choose between a Mubarak-esque figure and an Islamist. This, as you might expect, puts many liberals in a bind.

This weekend, candidates who didn't make the next round contested the vote, although the presidential electoral commission rejected their appeals today. This evening, thousands are reportedly marching through Alexandria and Cairo to express their anger over the way things have turned out.

I contributed to The National’s coverage of the election with three articles: one on the candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a self-styled liberal Islamist who came in fourth; another on women and the vote; and a final one from the coastal city of Alexandria on the first day of polling.

It’ll be an interesting couple of weeks. And oh yeah, they’re announcing the verdict in Mubarak’s nearly year-long trial this Saturday.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The return to Jordan

Driving from traffic circle to traffic circle, wandering around the University of Jordan, and traversing the traffic of downtown Amman, it seemed like I had never left. I studied abroad in Jordan two years ago, but it felt like just yesterday as I ate Shawarma Reem at the Second Circle or dipped bread into hummus with meat at Seveen, right outside the university's north gate.

Ever since I move to Egypt nearly a year ago (!), I've been meaning to get to Jordan. I still keep in touch with my host family and a couple Jordanian friends, so when a holiday celebrating the liberation of Sinai made it easy to travel to Amman for five days last week, I was really excited. But when I called my host mother to tell her I was coming, I found out some very sad news: Suleiman, my host father, had died in late March, just a week before my call. He was 79, and his illness had come about very suddenly.

So I traveled to Amman with excitement but a heavy heart. When I arrived at my host family's doorstep, an unfamiliar face answered my knocking. Their current host student, an American college student from Minnesota, told me that my host mother was in the hospital, and I'm pretty sure my heart skipped a beat. Turns out she was just having minor eye surgery, ilhamdulillah. Instead, I said hello to a large chunk of their extended family, who lives in apartments in the same, small building. It was awesome: The little kids recognized me, one of them still had a stuffed camel I brought him two years ago after a trip to Egypt, and my ability to communicate with the family had improved significantly since my Arabic and cultural knowledge have grown so much.

When my host mother returned from the hospital two days later, we sat and talked for hours and hours, and I came back the next day for a long lunch with the entire family. Delicious food defined my entire study-abroad experience, and devouring chicken and rice with my host family brought back a flood of memories -- specifically the one where I would lay in a fetal position on my bed, stuffed and content, unable to move. Still, it was painful to see my host mother so sad; she lost her best friend, someone with whom she did absolutely everything every day.

Otherwise, Jordan was pretty much the same. I spent a lot of time with a couple Jordanian friends my age, which was a lot of fun and way better than chatting on Facebook or Skype. I also noticed a lot more photos of Prince Hussein, the king's 17 year-old son and the crown prince. This time around, I talked politics nonstop with Jordanians and expats alike, a welcome change from my benign existence two years ago, when I was less schooled in how to navigate touchy subjects like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I learned way more about Jordan's political scene during this visit since I was writing an article for The National on the country's reform efforts. Now, that's not necessarily the most thrilling subject matter, so it was quite convenient that the prime minister resigned shortly before my deadline. My story suddenly became more interesting -- or at least I think so -- and you can read it here.

I also wrote a piece for Fikra Forum, a bilingual blog by The Washington Institute. Read that article in English or Arabic, the latter version translated professionally.

And before I go, thanks to Tara for letting me stay at her place! It was a palace. You could flush the toilet paper. Another welcome change from my last stay in the city of hills.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tea, beaches, and monkeys

I traveled to Sri Lanka for a week and a half this month during my spring break, and it was a wonderful time. I'm unfortunately kind of busy right now getting ready for a trip to Jordan this coming week, so I don't have time to do a post that does Sri Lanka justice.

In short, though, it's a fascinating place full of pristine beaches and beautiful mountains, gorgeous tea plantations and ubiquitous monkeys, delicious food and really nice people. The food is spicier than India's, and as visitors we didn't see much rampant poverty like that which is so commonly associated with India -- not to say it doesn't exist. The people are still recovering from the tsunami in 2004, which killed tens of thousands and leveled coastal communities, as well as the effects of the country's civil war, which lasted over 25 years and only ended three years ago.

I hope these photos can convey how beautiful and interesting Sri Lanka is:

The city of Kandy, in the hills in the center of the country

Women at the Kandy's Temple of the Tooth, which is said to contain Buddha's tooth

Giant Buddha 


Buddhas in caves

The ubiquitous rice and curry

Sigiriya, the site of an ancient rock fortress 

Sri Lanka's colorful (and ancient) transportation

Mmm... cream soda

A farm in the beach town of Nilaveli

A civil war-era bunker on an empty beach in Nilaveli

Ruins from the tsunami in Nilaveli

Picking onions in Nilaveli

Tharini, the daughter of the awesome family that ran our guesthouse in Nilaveli, attacks a coconut

Muslim boys in Trincomalee, a coastal city that was the scene of fighting
and ethnic tension just a few years ago

Hindu ceremony in Trinco

More spice than you could possibly imagine

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Bathing in a nearby river

Third class on a train into the Hill Country

 Sunrise in Haputale, in Sri Lanka's Hill Country


Farina, one of our hosts in Haputale, with her delicious breakfast

19th century-era, British railway system

Tea fields at sunrise

The view from Lipton's Seat, where Sir Thomas Lipton, founder of the Lipton
tea empire, used to come and ponder life's greatest questions

Tea. Lots of tea.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Parkour, cattle, and Islamists

It's been a crazy news week here in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood announced on Saturday -- after lots of speculation and closed-door negotiations -- that it would field a candidate for the presidential race, throwing the election into disarray and upending previous electoral predictions.

Meanwhile, foot-and-mouth disease has been ravishing the Egyptian countryside over the last few weeks. I saw on TV today that the outbreak has dissipated, but it's made a long-lasting financial impact on farmers here.

I've had a number of pieces published in the last week -- a video and two articles:

Parkour on I've gotten to know some Egyptian youths who practice parkour, the free-spirited sport in which athletes navigate urban environments with acrobatic techniques. They flip, fly, and jump through the air, and I made a short video about it that was published on's Page 2 blog. Click here to check it out.

Foot-and-mouth disease: I traveled on Friday to the Nile Delta -- the fertile region between Cairo and the Mediterranean where much farming in the country is concentrated -- to do a story for the Abu Dhabi-based, English-language newspaper The National on the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. I met farmers and saw infected cows; click here for my article.

Muslim Brotherhood: I wrote another article for The National on Sunday, this time about the Muslim Brotherhood's announcement that it would nominate a candidate for the presidency. Click here to read the story.

I'm off to Sri Lanka this Wednesday for almost two weeks over spring break, with a quick stop in Kuwait on the way back to Egypt. I hope to update while I'm traveling. See you soon!

Update (April 3, 2012): A third piece I wrote this week for The National, on Islamists and the transformed Egyptian presidential race, was just published online. Click here to check it out.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Coloring the revolution

The Cairo International Book Fair is a funny place. Between booths hawking ornate copies of the Qur'an and tomes detailing anti-Western conspiracy theories are even larger tents selling the provocative novels of Alaa al-Aswany and analytical works by Egyptian writers on the country's incomplete revolution. Across the Cairo International Fairgrounds are antique dealers, a tent with ties to Saudi Arabia, and major international publishers.

While plenty of Arab writers exist, the literacy rate across the Arab world is quite low and pleasure reading in Egypt is relatively unheard of. As the Economist put it: "The Middle East has a bad reputation when it comes to books; nowhere else do so few people read them."

So the Cairo book fair back when I visited in January was quite a sight. It was the first one after last year's uprising, and changes were evident: Muslim Brotherhood literature was on sale, as were scores of provocative works about Mubarak and the current political situation.

As were these cute kids' coloring books I snapped up. Entitled "The Arab Revolutions,""Elections,"and "Parliament," they're a primer on how things work in Egypt nowadays. Or at least how they're supposed to work.

The Arab Revolutions 

Right: The revolutionaries are those who rise up to eliminate corruption, calling for reform and construction.
Left: Freedom is like the water and air of the people.

No to tyranny and a lack of respect for public opinion.

The book shows scenes from other Arab uprisings, like the "Yemeni people's revolution"(right) and the "popular Libyan revolution"(left).

The Elections

Your vote is secure, so share your vote, and give it to the person who deserves it.

Right: The ballot box is the first way toward fair democracy.
Left: No to corruption... No to forgery... No to buying votes.

Electoral symbols: Every candidate and party has a certain symbol that represents it on the ballot.

The Parliament

Right: Members of the People's Assembly represent the people in discussions about the country's affairs.

An elected president of the republic is one who takes his office via elections by the people.

And, oddly stuck on at the end:
The national army protects the country's borders from enemies.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Al Jazeera English

I'm very sorry it's been a month since I last posted, as I know everyone's been dying for an update. Or at least that's what my mom tells me.

I started interning a few weeks ago at the Cairo bureau of Al Jazeera English, the international news channel headquartered in Qatar. Most people associate the station with Al Jazeera, the Arabic-language station that inspired its English counterpart. But AJE, which launched in 2006, is editorially separate from the Arabic channel and has become widely popular across the world—although it has so far failed to penetrate the American market in any significant way. Think of it as a kind of alternative to the BBC or CNN International; in fact, it beat out the former this year to win a prestigious British broadcasting award. Some have accused it of an anti-American bias, although it also receives plenty of criticism for harboring a pro-American slant. Watch for yourself for free online or on Comcast in the D.C. area.

The channel received accolades last year for its comprehensive coverage of the Arab Spring, and the Cairo bureau in particular was praised for its reporting on the uprising that toppled Mubarak. I'm honored to have the chance to learn from such talented journalists, and already they've taught me a lot about a medium I'm not as familiar with: TV.

On my first day, I was lucky enough to help out on a shoot about the revolutionary graffiti that lines the walls of a famous street near Tahrir Square, Mohamed Mahmoud Street. The road has played host to a series of clashes over the past few months, but in recent weeks it has gained fame mainly for its spectacular street art. It was also the address of CASA before we left the downtown area.

Check out the finished report here. Either of the artists' English voiceovers sound familiar?

(If you can't see the video, click here.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tahrir 2011 vs. Tahrir 2012

How do you celebrate a revolution that has not yet run its course?

That's the question many Egyptians pondered on January 25, 2012, which is the subject of a blog post I wrote for Beyond Borders, a multimedia website with reports from around the world. My piece compared the atmosphere in Tahrir to the climate surrounding the one-year anniversary.

Check it out: "Tahrir one year later: Celebrating what?"

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A soccer game turns violent

Nearly 80 people died and over 1,000 were injured last night in Port Said, the Mediterranean port city on the northern end of the Suez Canal, after spectators at a soccer game stormed the field and attacked rival fans in the most deadly outbreak of violence in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak's downfall. Dozens were reportedly stabbed, suffocated, or fell to their deaths. When another match last night in Cairo was called off as a result, people responding by setting the main stadium in the capital on fire.

Hardcore supporters of the team that seemed to be on the receiving end of the violence, the Cairo powerhouse Al Ahly, are reportedly amassing now in and near downtown Cairo. Tahrir Square is closed off to traffic, and it's clear that soccer fans will play a large role in demonstrations today and already expected protests tomorrow. When the super-excitable "Ultras," as the hardcore Ahly fans are known, are involved, the situation becomes much more volatile; they led the march to the Israeli embassy back in September, and they've also been present at some of the more violent clashes near Tahrir.

The newly minted Egyptian parliament held an emergency session today, and many politicians faulted the police and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for failing to uphold security and creating a perception that the military was needed to ensure stability. I asked a worker in my building, a middle-aged man repairing a couch and some chairs, what he thought of the events in Port Said. An Ahly fan, Isma'il said he truly believed Mubarak and his thugs were to blame for a conspiracy to destabilize Egypt. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood hinted at the role of "foreign fingers" in sowing unrest.

From eyewitness accounts, photos, and video, it appears that the police did not, in fact, do much -- or anything, really -- to stop the violence once it started, leading to more casualties. It's possible they might have provoked it by not having many policemen on hand despite indications things could spiral out of control between two rivals. On top of all this, there was bad blood between the Ultras and the police: The two have violently clashed in the past, and the Ultras are often on the front lines fighting the police when there's violence downtown.

I think, though, that it's dangerous to jump on the conspiracy bandwagon and place all the blame with the police and the SCAF. It's not like the police rushed the field and attacked. The fans did: regular Egyptians and soccer hooligans alike.

As Egypt mourns, I think back to the first -- and only -- Egyptian soccer game I ever attended, in December. As we arrived at the stadium for the match between the Arab Contractors (I kid you not) and Zamalek, Ahly's arch rival and another Cairo powerhouse, fans who wanted to get in for free started pelting the ticket booth with rocks. Chaos ensued until people calmed down, but when we entered the gates, phalanxes of police lined the way in. Our Egyptian friends held us back as the police herded chanting fans through security checkpoints.

Hundreds of policemen lined the field and stood guard in the stands and outside the stadium, and the halftime show consisted of dozens of policemen marching in and standing in front of the rowdy Zamalek supporters, the most hardcore of whom are called "White Knights." Even during this relatively insignificant game, hundreds of policemen watched as the fans set off flares in the stands, lighting up the area behind the goal with an eery red glow.

The rowdiness during that game and my general experience with out-of-control crowds of Egyptian shabaab, or youth, leads me to think that its not necessary correct to read this outbreak of violence as solely a symptom of a poor policing and a weak security environment. Maybe there are more complex, social problems at play, issues that are currently missing from the national dialogue.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Egypt's paper anniversary, another Salon piece

It's been a long time since I last posted, and a lot has happened:

  • CASA's fall semester ended.
  • I spent a month at home, saw tons of family and friends, and traveled to New York and Boston.
  • Apple replaced my defective laptop, ilhamdulillah (praise be to the big man).
I returned to Cairo last week ahead of the start of the spring semester and just before another major event in Egypt: the first anniversary of the "January 25th Revolution." Conversations with Egyptian and American friends, activists, and random cab drivers and the like revealed one constant theme: No one knew what was going to happen today.

Questions abounded. Should Egyptians celebrate or stay somber, in deference to the martyrs and unfulfilled demands of the revolution? Will small groups of thugs take advantage of the crowds and spark violence in Tahrir Square? How will the military and Muslim Brotherhood act on such a symbolic day?

In Tahrir today, I witnessed the largest demonstration I've seen since arriving in Cairo in May, with diverse faces and chants giving the gathering a celebratory but political feel. Egyptians are dissatisfied with the ruling military council and the slow progress of change, despite the fact that what has been lauded as Egypt's first (relatively) freely and fairly elected parliament sat for its inaugural session Monday.

But to some degree, today's demonstration just felt like a larger version of previous protests in the square. I don't think it was any sort of major turning point.

Meanwhile, I spent the last few days interviewing young people from all walks of life for an article I wrote for Salon. Check out my piece, "Growing pains for Egypt’s youthful revolution," here.

So many people. (If you can't see the video, click here.)