Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Israel, the Enemy

As presidential candidates were announced – and rebuked – it should come as no surprise that some continue spewing the Israeli links to certain candidates. When some Egyptians are displeased, they instantly cite reported connections with Israel as the reasoning. And didn’t you know that Israel is the enemy?

Sure, Israel is responsible for the illiteracy rate in Egypt.
Israel is responsible for the harassment in Egypt.
Israel is responsible for all the garbage that’s thrown throughout the country because placing rubbish in a trash bin is just too cumbersome. Maybe it’s Israel’s fault for not supplying the rubbish bins.
Israel is responsible for the economic decrease because it couldn’t possibly be as a result of Egyptians staging protest after protest refusing to go to work. That’s just silly.

I had heard some chatter on the ground from Egyptians that supported Omar Suleiman, former Army general and Mubarak-era Intelligence which is strange considering no one within the country seemed happy when he temporarily acted as Mubarak’s VP (Mubarak had hoped this change would calm protestors in Tahrir). However, as things continue to spiral out of control (tourism continues to suffer, economy drops further into an abyss and safety remains an issue), some people are calling for a hard-lined leader to restore some stability.

And naturally, the picture with a Star of David symbolizing ties to Israel was posted on Facebook by an Egyptian whom opposed of another Egyptian’s support for former presidential hopeful Suleiman (read the next blog that will cover why he is no longer a presidential contender). Instead of focusing on Israel, why aren’t Egyptians focusing on education and employment? Blaming bad leadership is one thing, but to constantly use Israel as a scapegoat is preposterous. Look at the problems within and take responsibility instead of trying to blame someone else. The response to that was, “But I assume you don’t understand what is Israel for us and the moral behind supporting an enemy who will always be our enemy as long as they are occupying Arab land.”

Last time I checked, Israel didn’t “occupy” any part of Egypt. The fight between the Israelis and Palestinians is another issue that shouldn’t be brought up in regards to Egypt making a governmental shift. This does not mean I support Israel and my own opinion regarding the issue is just that, mine and it will remain off of this blog. However, what I fail to understand is how any country that is faltering so much currently would have many of its people wanting to cause further instability with another country.

His banter continued with: “…it is bad, corrupt leaders like Mubarak and his friends who were surviving by making the US happy and to benefit our enemy Israel by giving them all what they asked for. For example, the free gas we gave to Israel so they can kill more and more Palestinians.” Egypt should not have been exporting so much gas when it couldn’t meet its local demand, but to instantly claim that the gas went for murder is a moot point. The other downside is Egypt needs to charge more for its energy, but Egyptians protest each time (Egypt has been trying to decrease subsidies, but is met with opposition every time pre- and post-Mubarak). Energy in Egypt including power and gas for automobiles is cheap compared to other places throughout the world.

“…they [US and Israel] will not let us build a strong army and manufacture our own weapons. They destroy our industries and force us to depend on the West.” I wonder if he knows that the US has been trying for years, even under Mubarak’s administration and after to decrease its military personnel in Egypt? A source told me that it was because the US feels that by now, Egypt should know how to use its own equipment. Shocking, Egypt doesn’t. That’s not the US’ fault nor Israel’s – I believe that would fall to the “go get em” attitude of the Egyptian military. You don’t want the money from the US? Fine. Then how will you ever buy equipment because business is just booming these days…

And then to close this out (I really can’t stand to delve much more into his nonstop rhetoric): “Israel is no different from al-Qaeda or other terrorists. They just have a state and that’s why they differentiate themselves from other terrorists.”

In all this anti-Israeli talk, I wonder how much of this person’s time is actually spent just thinking solely about Egypt? 

*Disclaimer: Not everyone feels this way, but this is to highlight one viewpoint. Do not have a poor view of all Egyptians because this doesn't represent everyone collectively and nor should anyone ever try to classify such a large group in that manner. Egypt is diverse and it holds some great aspects, attributes and people. It's just sad that sometimes that gets lost in frivolous banter.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Important Dates

Tomorrow will mark the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party-led “Million Man March” in Tahrir Square. While not anticipating a “million” strong marching if previous numbers are any indication, an advisory has been issued by the US Embassy.

The embassy also said, “As Egypt’s presidential election draws nearer and the final list of candidates is soon to be completed, campaign rhetoric and political gatherings will likely increase throughout Egypt.  Opposing viewpoints, campaign posturing and party rivalries could lead to tension  or clashes as parties and their followers assemble in support of candidates.”

So to keep you abreast, here are some important dates as recognized by the British Embassy:
April 12-13: Announcement of presidential candidates
April 14-15: Appeal period for presidential candidates
April 17: Verdict of trial for the Port Said football riots
April 26: Final decision on presidential candidates
May 23-24: Presidential elections
June 2: Former President Mubarak’s trial verdict*
June 16-17: Presidential election run-offs
June 21: Presidential election results released*
June 30: Handover of power from military to civilian government*

Important dates in bold will garner the most attention and have the most reaction (in my opinion)
*If previous actions are any indicator, the asterisk shows the chance of date change

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Airlines and Airports

Taken in CAI: "The people of Egypt are the greatest people on earth; and they deserve the Nobel Prize for Peace." The irony.
What happens when an Egyptian loses it on a flight bound to Cairo?

It’s been awhile since the last entry, but after 1.5 years, I went back to the US. Upon my return on an Emirates Airlines flight from Dubai (DBX) to Cairo (CAI), I was jolted awake by what could be perceived as a mad man shouting at the top of his lungs. Considering the fact that I’d hardly slept on my 16-hour leg because I was chattering away with the person next to me, I would like to think I was pretty dead to the world on the final stint of my flight itinerary.

So I woke up discombobulated to see a man two rows over, two rows back standing in his seat yelling all sorts of profanities in Arabic. I’m unsure how long this had been going on, but if I woke up with my iPod playing at top volume – it must have been pretty serious. Another American near my row called a flight attendant over saying, “Are you going to get someone to take care of this?”

Then three Emiratis (the equivalent to air marshals) came from first class rubbing their eyes since obviously they’d also been asleep. They listen to the man who continues to yell toward the back bathroom and then look at one another and instantly giggle. Oh how different this is compared to what would have happened on a US flight (or any Western flight for that matter like KLM, Air France, Delta, etc). The flight attendants remained calm although you could tell a couple were frazzled and after about 10 more minutes, the man was placed in a holding area where you could still hear screams periodically.

When we landed, police circled our aircraft and all the passengers had to wait until the man was removed and detained.  Apparently the man, under the influence of some substance (which another Egyptian said was alcohol, but I don’t believe) and began hitting other passengers near him. An Egyptian passenger told me while waiting in line at customs that, “This is exactly why I don’t believe alcohol should be served on the aircraft.” I said, “We had only been in the air for 30 minutes and no drinks had been handed out by that time. Furthermore, if you don’t want alcohol served on your aircraft, might I suggest you take Egypt Air.”

So excited to go home and see my family, I took pics throughout the flight :)
So that leads me to giving a couple of suggestions regarding airlines and airports. First of all, the worst airline I’ve ever taken would have to be Egypt Air. True there’s no alcohol on board, but that doesn’t bother me as I rarely drink when traveling. The problem with Egypt Air is as such:

  • Unless you book through Expedia, the airline does not allow you to book via its website.
  • If in Egypt, you must go to an Egypt Air office (in Cairo, it’s located in Nasr City), get a number, wait in line and go through an enormously lengthy battle just to secure a ticket. It’s like when a foreigner asks for directions from a local: right, left, second left. When an Egyptian or just an Arabic speaker asks another Egyptian for directions, it takes 20 minutes. I mean, are they describing the bowabs and shrubs in front of each turn? Same thing at Egypt Air offices – why it takes 45+ minutes once speaking to a representative to actually book your flight, I’ll never know.
  • The food is wretched and you can go ahead and anticipate tummy issues. Can someone please let Egypt Air know that there are other breakfast items that could possibly be included rather than some old egg with a dried out beef frank that seems like it’s been in circulation since Mohamed’s days on earth?
  • Customer service is horrendous. You better hope that you don’t get dehydrated while up in the air because that call button is apparently just for decoration – no member of the flight crew will ever attend to your needs. Oh and good luck finding them.
  • I am a card holder for the airline, but it took me two years to get my official card because of office error on the Egypt Air’s part. Even though I have my physical card, it’s amazing how miles are never placed on my account and I never receive any kickbacks for how often I’ve flown the airline.
One positive note, however, is the luggage. Even if you’re overweight slightly, just flash a smile to the man and sweet talk him – voila! The flipside to that is how many carry-ons other passengers may bring which ultimately screw over your overhead space. Oh and there’s always a funny story with what Egyptians bring back to the motherland. A friend once told me he saw another Egyptian bringing a car motor back – lol. I’ve seen mattresses personally and the list could go on.

Delta is also bad (and coincidentally was previously Egypt Air’s domestic partner in the US), but since it is no longer flying in Egypt – no need to detail its negative attributes.

Flying to other third world countries, you have to know that you’re not going to have the best carrier; however, I didn’t mind Ethiopian Air. I thought the service was good and again, I was flying to another third world country – I can’t expect optimal luxury.

I think KLM and Air France are just okay. It depends on the airports really and with KLM, if you have a long layover in Amsterdam, the airport is easy to navigate, full of storage lockers and easy access to the train taking you into the heart of the city. I am not a fan of France’s Charles De Gaulle airport, but I think that it’s because I was in the new extension which didn’t offer a lot.

Now onto my favorites:

Turkish Airlines:
  • Good service
  • Decent Food
  • Airport can be boring with a 10 hour layover, but there’s an outside smoke room and I always love the people I meet in airports. In fact, I still email with someone who had a slightly longer layover than mine. It was fun swapping stories and hearing/seeing pictures from Iran.

And my top favorite:

Emirates Airlines:
  • Wonderful customer service
  • Excellent food selection with three choices per meal
  • Various movies/tv shows in multiple languages offered
  • In-flight crew working around the clock to ensure a pleasant journey
*Side Note – DBX has a new Winston smoking room which has great filtration and lovely lounge seating (much better than the one in Abu Dhabi which can make a female smoker feel a bit awkward with the all-men, mostly Arab smokers staring away).

Pointers about CAI’s Terminal 1 and Terminal 3:
Terminal 3 is the newest addition to Cairo International Airport (CAI). It is cleaner and more organized, but it is also more stringent on bags and checking in. The staff also has chips on their shoulders so get ready to have a lovely time (sarcasm) paying that expired visa fee…

Terminal 1 has more pleasant staff, more lax, the guys working the upstairs bar are pretty fun. Getting through security was a breeze and paying a fine was met with jokes inside the office with the staff. In with that, there are negatives about this terminal too. It’s not clean and you have a lot of “Gulfies” in the terminal.
*Side Note – for  female smokers: go to the upstairs bar. Do NOT go into the smoke room because with so many “Gulfies” present, the probability of getting grabbed/groped is high.