Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Letters from Egypt: My Friend was Kidnapped in Cairo

“It’s a new business… These bastards are not afraid of anybody – they don’t change the place even.”

Kidnappings are on the rise in Cairo, but amazingly, the media has not really covered it. When you look up “kidnappings in Egypt” most of the articles revolve around the number of Christians kidnapped since the 2011 uprising.

Most recently, two Egyptian females were kidnapped in the 6th of October (on the outskirts of Cairo). They were released after ransom was paid by their grandmother. A source close to the family told me this morning that initially the captors wanted LE 10 million (about $1.4 million), but the grandmother was able to negotiate down to LE 5 million (about $715,000). I cannot confirm that is the exact amount, but what I can confirm is that a ransom was paid and the girls released to their families.

My friend was kidnapped in Cairo. Correction: my friend’s husband was kidnapped, but it doesn’t take away from a serious problem that is increasing at alarming rates in Cairo. He was driving a black Mercedes in front of Golf City Mall in Obour on a late-August morning when the road was blocked with shots fired in the air. Elena’s* husband (Egyptian) offered the kidnappers the car, but instead, they took him. The car was left with the keys in the ignition and still running until police came. From his description, his captors were farmers and they fed and gave him mineral water. A LE 10-million ransom was asked, but Elena said: “And we didn’t get him after the first payment, it was a psychological game.” In the end, she ended up paying LE 500,000 (around $71,000) and her husband was released after 13 days. Elena said that today another man driving a black Mercedes was kidnapped from the same spot as her husband.

She said, “It’s a new business. It’s unbelievable the number of these cases!” Elena added that during her husband’s investigation, the uncle of one of the police working on the case was also kidnapped. Elena said, “They know that the police trace their calls, but they are not afraid. These bastards are not afraid of anybody – they don’t change the place even.” She also added that the police offer little to no value in the rescue effort, even insinuating that it could be a possible collaboration.

It appears that for right now, the kidnappers are choosing at random but most likely based upon the make and model of the vehicle. Also keep in mind that foreigners have not been targeted, but that doesn’t mean that as the kidnappers’ confidence grows that it can’t be a possibility for the future.

*Name changed as the investigation is still open

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Curfew Lifted After 4 Mths of Suppression

Egypt has finally lifted its curfew after four months. Most of us knew that this was going to happen soon, but an official date wasn’t announced until Tuesday.

Honestly, I don’t even know what to do with my Fridays anymore after living life under a 7 pm curfew since July.

I remember during the revolution in 2011 having a “shoot to kill” curfew that started at 4 pm. It was lifted after a few days, week max, to 8 pm and then gradually lifted altogether. Any curfew restriction up until July never lasted that long. The most recent curfew began rigid, but then gradually meant that you could remain out in your neighborhood. If you were outside your neighborhood past curfew, you had to spend the night with friends. Airport arrivals or departures meant getting to the airport prior to curfew (factor in your driver getting home before the imposed time restriction), hanging out at the airport until 5 am or getting a room at a nearby hotel.

Curfew for every day minus Friday was gradually lifted to 11 pm and then midnight. This is also inconvenient when you have work and wish to travel outside your area. I called London Cab during the 11 pm curfew (Fridays had different times) to travel to Heliopolis to meet with friends. I asked what time the last taxi ran and was told 9 pm. Thursdays are the main going out nights in Egypt as an Arab work week runs from Sunday to Thursday. So this time restriction meant that I would leave the office and return home to hopefully leave by 6 pm for Heliopolis. Depending on traffic, I would probably make it there by around 7 pm at the earliest only to then say hi to friends and turn right back around and leave. Since Fridays are the weekend, you would have more leeway in traveling. Wrong. With the 7 pm curfew, you were basically still tied down to your neighborhood.

If you had to work on the weekend, like I sometimes do, you can forget about having an easy night and ordering take-out. There was next to nothing open. Sure there were a couple of places that really took advantage of the curfew, raking in the cash all the while; however, there are only so much of the maybe three options you can take. It will be interesting to see how sales will be for a couple of those places now that curfew has been lifted with more options available.

Fridays were also a pain because you stayed home and probably played around on the Internet. Yeah, you and all the other 11 million people in Cairo which meant internet speeds slower than a granny with a hip replacement crossing the street with a walker.

So as of today, November 14, we are finally free. Now Muslim Brotherhood and Ultras – don’t go and screw it up.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Location of Morsi Trial Announced

Cautionary statement: If your employment is located in the vicinity, you live in Katamaya or other places requiring you to use the Ring Road and Autostrad – you may experience delays and/or road closures.

It’s that time of year again. Time to put another former leader on trial. And time for media to run wild with visions of a complete meltdown in Egypt.

Speculation loomed over where the trial for ousted president Mohamed Morsi and 14 others in the Morsi camp would be held with most figuring that it would be at Tora (prison grounds in Maadi that holds a lot of high-profile political prisoners). In a move that was expected, authorities changed the location right before the start date (November 4). Now the trial will be held in an area near the police academy in New Cairo.

Mubarak on trial back in 2012
This is déjà vu for a few reasons. First of all, it’s the same place where former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was also placed on trial. Mubarak stood accused of premeditated murder of peaceful protestors. Morsi stands accused of inciting murder and violent acts. Both trials started around the same time (Mubarak’s began in December 2011, Morsi is November 2013). An appeals court overturned Mubarak’s life sentence in January so keep your head up Morsi, maybe 2015 will be your year.

Although, if you’re reading this Morsi, I’d really like it if you could show up in the courtroom via a hospital bed surrounded by a cage. I mean, I know that the trial, unlike Mubarak’s, will not be public – but do it anyway. It would be epic.

For more information on Morsi’s trial and other people standing with him, please read Al Ahram’s FAQs about Morsi’s Trial.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Abdo Goes to School

It’s been almost a month since I first wrote about Abdo, our nine-year old office boy that was missing school to work.

My office faced various problems with getting Abdo in school. First, his mother needed his office salary to help supply basic needs for the family. The salary is LE 300 a month (around $42) which includes him running basic errands for the staff, making tea/coffee and helping clean. We collectively decided that we would still pay the salary under the stipulation that he attended school and after, would come and work a couple of hours at the office.

Some whom I verbally told this story began asking why he had never attended school and wondered about his mother. I assume that his mother, being from a village, probably never attended school a day in her own life. She does not understand the importance of an education because she’s probably been working ever since she was able to walk. She was probably also married off very early (the legal age for Egyptian females to get married was pushed up to 16; however, villages abide by their own set of laws sometimes which mean an even younger marital age).

The next problem came with school enrollment. Finding out that the nine-year old had never attended even one day of school led to many schools in the area turning down his admission. Instead, we were told to find a tutor. Finally we found a school that would accept him as a first grader, but another hiccup came shortly thereafter.

Transportation. Since none of the schools within walking distance allowed Abdo, we had to resort to a school that requires transportation. He is too young to take a microbus alone and despite all of my searches, I was unable to find a reliable, affordable driver. It was disheartening considering that while I understand some people not having the contacts to help, I can’t understand explaining this story to a driver and yet he still not want to look past a foreign face to make a deal helping one of this own. We were finally able to pay LE 150 a month (around $21) to one of the school’s microbuses to pick him up each morning and drop him back to the office.

So after a few hiccups, this sweet boy finally started his first day ever of school yesterday (Oct. 20). He has two friends in his class: Karim and Mohammed. His teacher is named Gameela (beautiful in Arabic) and the female attendant on the microbus ensuring the safety of the children is Mona, as told to me by Abdo when I inquired as to how he liked going to school.

I want to thank everyone who did reach out in support. I especially want to give Esther a big thank you for the backpack and clothes. I will go this week to look for a jacket. If any of you have any clothes for little boys (he has long arms), please let me know.

His sizes are:
Shirt: 8 (I would assume a jacket should be one size larger)
Pants and Belt: 30
Shoes and Socks: 35

Again, thank you to everyone who did help, tried to help and those thinking of helping.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Sacrificial Lamb

If you thought you were imagining the sound of a lamb coming from your neighbor’s flat, chances are you weren’t. Muslims across the world make a sacrifice for Eid al Adha with some estimates claiming the slaughtering of around 100 million animals worldwide. With approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, if that figure is correct it would mean one animal per 16 Muslims. And yes, you will even find the animal being held inside a flat in some cases.

I remember my first Eid al Adha and a friend told me, “Whatever you do, don’t leave your house that day.” That piece of advice is something that I often regurgitate to newcomers. So here’s your 2013 Eid al Adha warning: Do not leave your house from Tuesday 6 am until early afternoon, unless of course you don’t mind the scene.

Last year I watched as a microbus pulled up to my building and unloaded a sheep which my boaba (door woman) promptly took control. Not even 10 minutes later, my bowab (doorman) slaughtered the animal leaving behind a nice trail of blood for all the tenants to walk through. Not ideal, but that can be easily cleaned with a water hose.

The slaughter of an animal is divided among the purchaser and his family, his other friends and extended family and finally a portion goes to the poor. There are specifications to carry out the ritual in a halal manner, but sometimes I have to wonder if the majority of Egypt adheres to the criteria. My bowab did not wash away the blood nor did he dispose of the unwanted innards. Instead, he set off to his own village while the innards remained out and about in public viewing for a couple of days.

Something else that happens in full force, even more than usual, is harassment. Why do holidays in Egypt mean a significant increase in harassment? I’ve been asking everyone because in particular, this celebration appears to be more problematic than the big feast (Eid el Fitr) signaling the end of Ramadan. In years past, hotlines cropped up to help establish a network of reporting harassment during Eid al Adha. Unfortunately, there are no such reports for this year’s feast.

The Daily News Egypt featured an article in mid-August discussing new, worrisome trends in Egypt’s battle against harassment: lower ages and a lack of remorse. The perpetrators are getting younger every year, but the biggest problem is that when caught committing sexual harassment, they will instead stand up giving reasons as to why it was okay to grab a woman.

I know I’ve discussed harassment numerous times on this blog, but for some of you newbies, it needs to be ingrained: stay aware of your surroundings. It doesn’t matter what you wear, despite what others may say. It doesn’t matter if you are in a group or even with another man. So if you’re still in town, be on guard. Try not to walk late at night and in Maadi, particularly avoid the Shell Shop area in Degla (including around CAC). Other places to avoid a leisurely walk include Burger Joint and Port Said St.

And again, unless you want to see a bunch of animals being killed STAY IN YOUR HOME TOMORROW.