Friday, September 28, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Threat Against Foreign Women, US Embassy Says

The reason I say "foreign" in the title as opposed to the US embassy stating Americans is because non-native English speakers cannot differentiate among Americans, British, New Zealanders, Australians, etc.

U.S. Embassy Cairo

Security Message for U.S. Citizens
Threat Information Directed Against U.S. Citizens
September 28, 2012
The Embassy has credible information suggesting terrorist interest in targeting U.S. female missionaries in Egypt.  Accordingly, U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance, taking necessary precautions to maintain their personal security.
U.S. citizens are advised to maintain valid travel documents. U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  U.S. citizens without internet access may enroll directly at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the U.S. Department of State's, Bureau of Consular Affairs website, where the current Worldwide CautionTravel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information can be found.  The U.S. Embassy also encourages U.S. citizens to review "A Safe Trip Abroad,” which includes valuable security information for those living and traveling abroad. 
Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.  You can also download our free Smart Traveler App available through iTunesand the Android market to have travel information at your fingertips.  In addition to information on the internet, travelers may obtain the latest information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or outside the United States and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
For further information, U.S. citizens may telephone the U.S. Embassy in Cairo at ((20) 2-2797-2301).  After hours (for emergencies), U.S. citizens may telephone the U.S. Embassy in Cairo at ((20) 2-2797-3300).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Letters from Egypt: University Meltdown

Source: Princeton

You know how sometimes we watch TV and it’s like the media has just asked for the dumbest person in the crowd to volunteer their thoughts on a situation? I have to wonder if it’s just because only the less-informed are willing to speak. In either case, if you’re attempting to stage a movement, you might want to keep some from speaking to the media.

All of the foreign universities in Cairo are protesting over one thing or the next, but things seem to really be gearing up at the American University in Cairo (AUC) over tuition hikes. The administration, despite earlier promises of a cap on tuition, has continued to implement a 7-8% increase annually. I am not going to discuss AUC student grievances over tuition, but one year ago I posted a blog, “The American University in Cairo Brief,” where I detailed the university president Lisa Anderson’s appointment of her husband to chair a department as well as students protesting.

What is unfortunate is that while the students may have a valid case regarding their recent tuition hike, some of the students quoted in local news sources are ill-informed and represent a much bigger problem: lack of education (including comprehension, research, supportive facts, etc). I don’t think this can be blamed on the faculty of the university as I even documented in the previous blog:

“Back track a couple of months ago during final exam time when I traveled to AUC to get my computer repaired. I was sitting in my friend’s office doing work – a professor (although I cannot say which department for obvious reasons) – while students piled into the office to negotiate their grades. Their arguments were null and void, mostly idiotic, and all revolved around failure to attend lectures and complete CORE course requirements. And this is the future of Egypt. Mabruk.”

Local news source, Al-Ahram, quoted one petroleum engineering student Hossam Mohsen as saying: "We can afford the tuition increase, but we are not receiving anything in return. We have a shortage in faculty members. We have two or three labs only. They send us to audit in the labs of the British University in Cairo. Professors in petroleum engineering don’t know how to speak English. By 2015, AUC tuition will be LE 250,000, which is too much. If I travel to study abroad I will pay less. McGill, for their citizens, offers tuition at $12,000; AUC now is offering tuition at $25,000."

I've met many of those professors in this exact department - they all speak fluent English. Seeing as how a huge multi-national firm supports the petroleum engineering department at AUC with a grant totaling around $15 million spread over five years – this is shocking. Mohsen added, “Where did the money go? We didn’t see any labs.” Labs offered include reservoir simulation, production software and log interpretation and another five labs including drilling with a drilling simulator, according to a recent graduate of AUC’s petroleum engineering department. That money also goes toward the software licensing provided by the multi-national firm which Mohsen should do some research to find out how much that technology costs before giving interviews.

But Mohsen’s words bring up a different problem: Egyptians immediately alleging corruption charges (he blamed the department chair for his so-called lack of labs, questioning financial allocation). Another recent graduate of the program told me, “I believe that what Hossam claimed is not true and was only said out of anger.” While the other recent grad said, “I am sure Mohsen was talking at a moment of frustration and he exaggerated.” Yet its people like Mohsen that are quoted in the media and quite frankly downplays the movement with his ill-informed rhetoric even if said in haste.

Does anyone else find the irony?

One AUC graduate from the department told me, “Again no department is perfect, but what I care for is compared to other private institutions teaching petroleum engineering, AUC students are capable of proving themselves in the market.”

Basic lesson here: THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK and stop the witch hunt. You get nowhere without proof. Maybe AUC and other international universities in Egypt should focus on research and reading comprehension. Then again, that would require many of these students that do neither to actually show up for class.

Disclaimer: There are some students at these universities that do value an education and attend classes regularly; however, that is not the case for the many.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Letters from Egypt: My Experience for What It’s Worth

While many of you are watching the news feeling angry at what’s happening, I want to remind you that news organizations seem to only focus on certain areas. During Egypt’s revolution, the only stories came from Tahrir Square (which the US Embassy is very near, like a five-minute walk).

I’ve avoided the news because also, during the revolution, I was dismayed and angry at what was portrayed as I felt there were other areas of focus that should have been covered for a more well-rounded perspective. There are other stories out there, but it seems like many journalists and their employers forget this. I just turned on the news for the first time and saw that a KFC in Tripoli was set ablaze with workers injured and how protestors attacked the German (setting it on fire) and British embassies in Sudan. Then the news feed froze and was quickly transitioned to the “State of the Euro.”

I will reiterate that maybe I’m not the best source at this time to discuss anti-American sentiments in Egypt because as it stands now, that hasn’t been my experience. But again you must also note that I haven’t ventured out to other areas within Cairo because the atmosphere is very unstable (although I have to also admit that my area is on alert because we do have the highest amount of Americans and expats residing). Unlike the period during the revolution when some of you either thought I was crazy or brave, that wasn’t the case at all. I know Egypt and I know Egyptians. I speak enough Arabic to get by, able to make jokes if questioned (which Egyptians love their jokes), etc. Egyptians for the most part are relatively peaceful. You’re more likely to see a bunch of them yelling giving off the impression that a physical fight is about to ensue and then turn, get in their cars and drive away. That doesn’t mean there aren’t those that can inflict harm as you can see from other stories on my blog detailing the increase in crimes (you can’t go from a 100% police state to nothing – chaos will undoubtedly result).

*QUICK UPDATE* I was just told that embassy-plated vehicles are being moved from the area.

I expect certain actions to take place in Libya, Yemen and Tunisia (and apparently, Sudan), but I did not expect things to escalate as much as it has in Egypt. An old colleague commented on my post yesterday saying how much he liked the point that I made about Arabs judging all Americans for the actions of one man and westerners judging all Arabs for the actions of a few Islamists. The reason I anticipate such actions from Libya, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen is mainly for one reason: they’re still very tribal (remember what the Libyans did to Qaddafi’s body – now that was barbaric and completely against Islam). Egypt is more evolved. Laugh all you want, but compared to those other countries, it’s true.

I do one of two things on Fridays (which is our Saturday in the Arab world): I order delivery of Eggs Benedict and orange juice from one of my favorite restaurants or I take a walk and sit at my usual cafe drinking coffee and reading. I chose the second option today and made the 10-minute walk, stopped at the kiosk to pick up cigarettes, passed the mosque during Friday prayer and sat for four hours at the café. Nowhere on my walk did I incur harassment or screams. The kiosk delivered my cigarettes and correct change. The café guys greeted me as usual with my coffee already made before I ordered. Another Egyptian whom I’d met as I sat outside that same café listening to the election results came over to me to say hi. And I sat with an old friend chatting as though nothing was wrong.

However, that friend had just come from another area within our neighborhood and discussed how the nearby mosque was screaming such animosity (her Arabic is much better than mine). Let me be clear though – that mosque has always been like this ever since I’ve lived here. My friend, once married to an Egyptian, has been here over 20 years and also admitted that this was its usual MO.

I left the café and went to buy flowers for a dinner party tonight. I was met with excitement and even when I told the shop owner in Arabic that I was cheap so don’t get too extravagant, he laughed hysterically, told me that my Arabic was very good and charged me around $5 for this arrangement. I walked home and nothing out of the usual. The only thing I heard was, “You’re beautiful” and if I didn't hear that on the regular, I would be worried.

This isn’t to say that the atmosphere is safe and that nothing is going on, but this is to remind those of you not located here that the news focuses on what it wants. And while I can give you many complaints about Egypt, I also have to tell you that not everyone is the monster that you’re seeing on TV. What’s even worse is all the hate I see spewing from other Americans. Please remember that you only make the rest of us look horrible. I don’t believe in spreading hate, nor do I justify the actions taking place right now. But when you comment on articles that contain such racist speech, you only serve to further animosities.

I know that you’re upset, hell, so am I. I can’t believe that this is the same country I moved to four years ago, it was much different then. Please be mindful of what you say because at the end of the day, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Here is a comment I lifted from the US Embassy vs Muslim Brotherhood article in which I liked the message:

A "million man march" against whom? The real film-maker (alias) Sam Basile? Then, they should march across the Atlantic to Hollywood. We can only hope devout people are not being encouraged officially by the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) to find innocent targets: the US embassy in Cairo (which has condemned the film) or any local groups. We hope calm, adult heads will prevail and prevent exactly what film-makers hoped would happen: Muslims in the region would turn to mob violence to defend the prophet and target non-Muslim targets such as Copts and Americans locally, defaming themselves further in the eyes of their audience: Western nations and non-Muslims. Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), the whole world is watching. Now is your chance to show your honor.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Talking of Mohammed Signs Death Warrant

Remembering those Americans that lost their lives in the Libyan attack

I once heard someone say something to the effect, “It’s not like we’re scared to talk about Islam, we’re just scared for those of you that do.” Meaning retaliation will likely follow. And why wouldn’t anyone think that? Just look at the past few days throughout Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Remember the Dutch man, Theo Van Gogh, who was brutally murdered after he released his 10-minute film “Submission” (for a description of the short film, please see “The Murder of Theo Van Gogh”)?

How about the Danish newspaper that ran a political cartoon that depicted the Prophet Mohammed? Four men were sentenced to 12 years for their conspiracy to plot a terrorist attack on the newspaper’s offices. The men were either born, or had parents born (according to the BBC) in Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia.

And now so-called American Sam Bacile (although his nationality as well as name is in question since he is in hiding) released a film on 9/11, spanning two hours, titled “Innocence of Muslims.” This sparked riots outside US embassies across the Arab world. Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, along with three other American diplomats were killed when suspected extremists stormed the US Consulate in Benghazi on September 11. Very few people had heard of the video that also resulted in angry Egyptians storming the US embassy in Cairo, burning the American flag and attempting to raise an Islamic flag.

And now the ruling Muslim Brotherhood has called for a million-man march in Egypt for tomorrow (September 14) to protest this obscure video. I suppose while the rest of the world is tired of hearing about the same, mundane protests taking place every other day throughout the Arab world, the Arabs didn’t get the memo. How is it that the Arab world knew of this video, but hardly any westerners did?

I received a phone call last night from a judge here in Cairo expressing his sincere condolences as he went on to denounce the actions of those trying to desecrate the embassy. He said, “They cannot understand that you can’t prevent everyone from discussing Mohammed and they also do not understand that the actions of one man does not represent an entire nation.” However, that can also be said for the actions of a few Islamists committing these crimes and other people blaming the entire religion and/or nationality.

But the actions of the Muslims that have carried out these attacks only serve to further Islamaphobia. Why is it that Mohammed is the only religious figure that no one can talk about openly (unless yelling his praises) without signing their death warrant?

And while I’m all for people being able to talk about the Islamic prophet without dying, why did “Sam Bacile” release such a version of hate on the anniversary of one of the biggest attacks on the US? If his movie had been a love story between Mohammed and Aisha with fictional connotations, it would be a different ballgame. I would support his right to make a film, but I feel that he released hate propaganda and for that he should be held accountable. He has single-handedly placed those of us that live in this region in danger, posed a threat to national security and is now in hiding. You have the audacity to spark such hate, but you go off the grid once sh*t hits the fan?

Read about the controversy surrounding the most recent anti-American incidents:

Source: The Blaze

Source: International Business Times (a New York Times publication)

I am not a good source to tell you if there is a heightened animosity toward Americans or foreigners at this time because I simply haven’t been out. However, what I can tell you is that I’ve had business contacts and other Egyptians that have reached out to say how ashamed they are at what’s taking place. Yet the question remains, why is Mohammed the only religious leader that no one is allowed to discuss?

In other related news:

US Embassy – 1 Muslim Brotherhood – 0
Source: Ahram

US calls out Muslim Brotherhood after group officials tweet one thing in English and another in Arabic regarding its stance on ongoing anti-film demonstrations

Thursday, September 6, 2012

ATTENTION FEMALES: Taxi Gang Rape in Maadi

*Please share repeatedly to get the word out*

As I documented on the previous blog, I try to remain diligent in reporting attacks in and around Cairo and unfortunately, I decided to come directly home before meeting with friends to tell this story because it is so terrible.

About three hours ago, I received a phone call from a friend of mine who is a teacher and has been living in Egypt for about three or four years. She told me that last night around 7 pm, an American female (reportedly from Mississippi, but I can’t confirm) took a taxi to do some shopping in Maadi. The woman had just arrived to Egypt about a week ago, therefore it is no surprise that she didn’t recognize where the taxi was taking her.

Next thing she knows, the taxi has taken her to an undisclosed location and men pulled her out of the car. They beat, raped and robbed her.

Questions you might be asking:
What was her location?
Please see the above statement that she’d only just come to Egypt a week ago. However, she was in Maadi.
Did she give a description to the police?
When you move to a foreign country, it is hard to identify anyone as they all look the same (ie Chinese babies). So this point is moot.

She picked up the taxi in Maadi. It was not so late. And for all of you wondering if she’s okay, she is on her way back to the US as we speak telling her school this morning (an American school in Maadi, but NOT CAC) that all she wanted to do was “get out of this horrible country.”

Please share this blog with anyone you know living in Egypt. Ladies, please carry some weapon, never go alone and always take trusted drivers although I know sometimes you may not have a choice (in which case, please don’t go alone).

And although I’m sure the victim will never see this blog (why would you ever want to read anything dealing with a place of such a horrendous memory for you), I hope and pray that you’re okay. I couldn’t imagine taking a 12-hour flight alone after the ordeal you’ve been through. And I pray that you are able to preserver despite this horrible incident.

As a friend just told me, “This is supposed to be exciting, an adventure. And then you get here and this happens?” I am hurriedly writing this (so apologies for the continuity), but please warn everyone you know. The school is allegedly on high alert and unsure what actions to take now in protecting their staff.

Egypt wants tourists, but even those that come here to help educate Egyptians are being attacked so why should tourists – whom particularly don’t know the country – ever venture here?

Dear President Morsi,
I understand you have a lot on your plate, but you can’t continue to ignore the increase in crime.