Archive for June, 2009

So Unfortunate…

June 28, 2009

The final days of this boot camp are approaching. Yesterday, my partner, Nada, and I went to shoot some b-roll in the streets. Luckily, we actually managed to get great shots. We were a little worried at first because videotaping on Egyptian streets is illegal without a license so my plan B was to use the “stupid tourist’ card if we had gotten caught—but we didn’t so yay.

Shortly beforehand, Tareq (Nada’s driver) got into an argument with the tourism police. The officer had taken his license away for “being rude.” Tareq was waiting on us for about five minutes in a no parking zone. According to the police officer, he didn’t move when he was told to, which is enough reason to take his license away. The officer then told us that we had to go to the office across the street and pay a 50-pound fine to get the license back. Tareq got there and was then told that the fine was 100-pounds. There was absolutely no formality to this process at all! How can someone just decide to fine someone for being rude and just make up the fines as he goes along???! What really killed me is the fact that we waited 30 minutes for this entire fiasco to be over– in the same “no parking zone”– so why was he so worried about those first 5 minutes?

Now that I have my complaining out of the way, that same day, we met Ayman Nour who is the leader of an opposition party in Egypt called “Al-Wafd.” He was Mubarak’s opponent in 2005 (decided to run while he was in jail) and he was jailed again after the election for “fraud.” He talked to us about corruption and how it affects Egyptians in their everyday lives. I can’t really go into this too deep for the sake of time (and limited internet), corruption drives people to feel political disparity and therefore, they are more likely to act extreme and corrupt towards one another. Someone FINALLY told me what happens to part of the foreign aid that Egypt gets from the US. I realize that Ayman Nour might not be 100% reliable being a victim and therefore bias against the government and all, but the fact that this money is misdirected is almost common knowledge. One minister used part of the money to pay his personal employees like his driver and so forth. We REALLY need a committee to overlook misspending and corruption—that should be one of the first things created if Egypt ever has a transition of power.  There’s that along with a solid constitution—one that you can’t just decide to change over morning coffee.

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From Egypt!

June 19, 2009

I’m not sure if I was just ready to leave Qatar or the fact that this would only be my second visit to Egypt in 12 years (Technically my second day in Cairo in 12 years).  The noise, the atrocious driving, the crowded streets—I missed it all.

We had to stay at a hotel instead of AUC because of the whole swine flu incident at the very dorms that we were supposed to stay at. It’s cool though—I’m not complaining. The view from my room is phenomenal! We are right by the Nile so naturally, I’m out on the porch writing catching up on some writing.

The first day was really long and of course everyone was running on low sleep.  We went to AUC for lectures and overpriced cups of coffee. After practically falling asleep during the last one, my story partner, Nada, and I had an interview scheduled with Ahmed Abu Haiba. Abu Haiba is the visionary behind a new channel called 4shbabTV, which he describes as an “Islamic MTV.” Our story is basically using this channel to talk about youth identity in Egypt. I swear it’s a lot more focused than it sounds…inshallah. We sat in on “Who Wants to be an Islamic Pop Star?” Please pause and reflect on the sheer awesomeness of what I had just said. Thank you. It’s an American-Idol type thing where people from all over the Arab countries call in, sing, and compete to get their songs produced on 4Shbab. We were in the control room so we heard a lot of the comments. “Habibi—don’t ever ever sing again, ever (for God)!”

Just so you know, apparently the entire city of Cairo rushes the streets after winning a soccer game. I was walking downtown and all of the sudden, cars started honking their horns (they even have a distinct beat) and many started waving the Egyptian flags, fireworks, lots of yelling…no jumping over fires though–I guess that remains a UNC thing. It was really fun only I feared for my life the entire time. It’s hard to believe but the driving got even worse. The concept of a lane doesn’t exist here, pedestrians DO NOT have the right-of-way, no signals, no speed limits. I spent about 15 minutes contemplating whether or not I should cross the road and after watching a number of people (Egyptians) take on the challenge aaaaaand a  big fail it was indeed. These people are either really talented or insane.

Women and Sharia

June 12, 2009

The lecture given by Dr. Aisha Almannai, who is the Dean of College of Sharia at Qatar University, raises a lot of questions. First of all, based on what Dr. Almannai said about women and men being equal in faith and religious accountability, what is the issue with women leading prayer or women giving the Friday sermon? Just a little bit of background, it is not typical for a woman to lead a coed prayer or Friday sermon. Among all women or family, yes, but otherwise, it’s very rare. Just as a note, this is traditionally the same case for all of the Abrahamic religions, but some newer interpretations are starting to state otherwise.

Amina Wadud, who I mentioned as an example, is a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. She became controversial after leading a mixed-gender prayer and a Friday sermon in the U.S. I’ve read a couple of articles by Wadud and much of her rhetoric sounds very similar to Dr. Almannai’s in particular to women having equal faith. She even mentions the way that the Quran addresses both women and men as a way of emphasizing that equality–“Muslimeen wa Muslimaat.”

The answer that Dr. Almannai gave was that women and men differ (mainly biologically) and therefore they have different roles. It’s basically the “separate but equal” philosophy. Almannai asked “would you [women] accept carrying luggage or being the security guard in front of a building at night? No.”  This is an example of the fact that it inevitable that women and men are sometimes meant for different roles, but ones that are not supposed to privilege one over the other. However, I did not find these examples particularly relevant to her argument. Prayer and sermon do not need the same male muscle mass required to carry luggage nor does the mosque contain the same hidden dangers as a dark alley.

Here’s a good argument: prayer is a time of deep commitment and concentration and if you are familiar with how Muslims pray, you’ll also know this one. A woman can’t lead because then she’ll have to be in the front and so not only is this distracting to whom she referred to as “sick-minded people” but it also protects her from being looked at the wrong way. During the prophet’s time, women and men prayed side by side—separated by a few feet so it limits any “distractions” from one’s immediate or peripheral vision.” Also, I found the story about the prophet shielding the man’s eyes away from the woman interesting. As I interpreted it, this puts a lot of emphasis on male modesty, responsibility and self control. These are points that I really wanted to discuss with Dr. Almanni if there had been enough time.  In terms of giving a sermon or Khutba, I didn’t have time for a follow-up question asking Dr. Almanni’s view on it. She mentioned how women are leading in education and are starting to take on more leadership roles in society. She, herself is the Dean of Sharia at Qatar University, which is obviously an extremely important position.  Obviously, Dr. Almannai gives many talks and lectures about Islam and Islamic scholarship. So my question is how is the fact that she is giving those talks fundamentally different from giving a sermon, which is meant to educate a group of people about religion?

Dr. Almanni brings up a good point; she said that no one can possibly understand everything since mankind’s understanding of religion and divine power is limited. However, I think that a deeper understanding would come about from the debates, discussions and questioning of different interpretations. Now, to be fair and to take away some of my own credibility, I have not done a deep analysis of the Quran nor am I qualified to be a scholar—like Dr. Almannai.  My critique is only based on the arguments that were presented to me in this lecture and my own limited understanding. So feel free to criticize or comment.

The Ice-breaker Breaker

June 11, 2009

Today was fun. I found out that I was a complete air hockey FAILURE. It was incredibly fun though–I scored like half of the points…against me of course…Like in everything else, I will use the left-handedness excuse. It’s the same reason I can’t drive well or play soccer.

Besides that, the day was full of lectures–we had three today and two were very unnecessary. BUT I did see a really interesting video that I shared on my facebook but I’ll go ahead and share it here: http://www.ted.com/talks/pattie_maes_demos_the_sixth_sense.html If you don’t have 8 minutes to spare, watch the last three minutes because this junk is mind-blowing! Basically, they’re talking about an invention that allows you to “interact with your surroundings.” The “most controversial” one being the fact that you would be able to see information about someone upon meeting them (watch the video, seriously)!!!  So, I already get irritated at name tags because my first ice breaker “hi, I’m Yasmin. What’s your name?” is already a bust. So I can imagine what something like this would do–how would I even attempt to meet someone and maintain a converstation? I still don’t get how this fully works, but I’m thinking in the next 10 years, we’re all going to turn socially awkward because there will be no need to talk to anyone face to face anymore. I know that we all know this, but we are all getting so incredibly dependent on technology. Please tell me why I felt sad and incomplete without internet while in Jordan–it’s an issue and I admit to it.

To update, I think that there is a total of 9 swine flu cases in Egypt right now. There was talk (more than likely rumors) of closing airports. Hopeully, I will be stuck in Egypt by then instead of Qatar.

Aljazeera and Swine Flu

June 9, 2009

We got to visit the Aljazeera headquarters here in Doha! We went inside both the English and the Arabic stations. The english one was build about 3 year ago, which would explain why the newsroom kind of reminded me of a colorful spaceship.  The Arabic station was also pretty cool–like a typical newsroom but really nice with lots of cartoons and pictures. There was also a documentary building, a sports building (they plan on having 11 different sports channels!), and an Aljazeera children’s channel.  It was a pretty incredible experience and now I’m set on visiting the one in DC (in case you didn’t know that there was one). 

So, AUC has about 8 swine flu cases–meaning that we obviously can’t stay in the dorm when we go to Egypt. I think they’ve arranged a hotel for us, but how extremely unfortunate. The cases were all non-Egyptians and they were all at one dorm. Either way, I still can’t wait to be back in Egypt.

Lastly, I’ve been having a SERIOUS problem with stairs here. I’ve tripped and fallen more times than ever. It’s really strange. Just thought I would mention it…

“I Want to Buy That”

June 7, 2009

Today our group visited “The Pearl,” which is an upscale residential area on a man made island in Qatar. They advertise as “the best address in the Middle East,” which I definitely see why.  This place is unlike anything I’ve been to.  It’s a very enclosed space first of all. While driving over there, I saw walls from all directions, but they were mostly ads. It’s literally its own little city–they plan to have their own primary and secondary schools, hospital, masjid, supersonic waste management (seriously, the guy explained to us how you put your trash in this vaccum and then gets sucked underground instantly–wild!) 

I also went walking down this neighborhoods shopping area near the Hermes, Gorgio Armani and Jimmy Choo and Ferarris. The most interesting site: their ads! The ads portrayed mostly western couples and the captions said things like “I want to buy that” and “I like it.” Get the title? Seriously–very straightforward messages.  If you couldn’t tell, the topic of today was consumerism in Qatar.

So what’s it cost to live in “Ze Pearl?” It costs anywhere from $5000-$8000 per square meter–yah! Not to mention the actuall expenses of living here–Pshhh…my  caprisun-sized peach drink cost me $6!  (and just as a note, caprisun wins by far!) I remeber the spokesperson that talked to us about this place said “we’re selling a lifestyle,” which is obvious. The ads tell me that this place is not only targeted towards Qataris. He actually mentioned that one small area is a nude beach–again, not “Qatari” in the sense of social norms.

To switch gears, I’m really stressing about my project. If anyone knows of a good story idea that connects Egypt and Qatar, holla!

Moving On…

June 6, 2009

First off, I realize I’m doing horribly with this blog thing, but my excuse is that I had very limited internet access in Jordan. The Jordan trip was amazing! My group was so great and we had the chance to go hiking in Petra, swimming in the dead sea, holy biblical sites. When I get the chance, I’ll be posting pictures fo’ sho’. I really wish we would have spent more time in markets though–we only had a little less than a couple of hours. It’s official, my absoute favorite places to seek anywhere I go are local markets or souks and any body of water.

I’m in Qatar right now–WITH INTERNET!!! It’s so different from Egypt or Jordan–you can definitely tell most buildings are very new. There are relatively few actual Qataris living here. Someone told me it was anyhwere from a third to a fifth of the population is actually Qatari.  I met most of the fellow journalism students today, which was awesome. I’ll cut this short because I have an assignment and I really need sleep. I have to research a decent story idea and I’m also contemplating whether or not I should get a twitter account…

Obama’s Speech in Cairo

June 3, 2009

Talk about a serious “make it or break it” moment. Obama is going to make his speech at Cairo University tomorrow and anyone who takes interest in the Middle East region is eager to see how this will affect future relations between the U.S. and the Middle East. I’m currently in Jordan, where I had the chance to talk to some Jordanian officials and every single one whom I’ve met so far has expressed nothing but complete optimism for future U.S.—Middle East relations. Even on the streets as a group of American students, we’ve received an Obama shout out from a Palestinian local living in Amman. The Arab media is definitely reflecting this positive sentiment as well. While watching the Al-Arabiya news channel in my hotel room, coverage Obama’s anticipated speech and his trip to the Middle East is continual, with most commentators expressing optimism that the speech will define a new relationship between the two regions, which will then ultimately help resolve the Palestine-Israel conflict.

Why is this particular speech so important? As Minister of State for Media and Communication of Jordan Dr. Nabil Al-Sharif says, it shows Obama’s commitment to the issue. As Dr. Al-Sharif points out, the United States is facing a domestic financial crisis—the worst one since the Great Depression. Nevertheless, Obama is still spending significant time and effort on the two-state solution and it is still relatively early in his term. To many Arabs, this kind of dedication is something new and for a conflict that has been going on for 61 years, “new” is definitely a good thing.

Why should this speech be any different than any other speech stating that “we are committed to a peace and a two-state solution.”? We’ve even heard Bush saying those exact words. The first and most obvious reason for why this speech would be different is the fact that Obama is a well-perceived figure in the Middle East (so far). His language is much different than Bush’s in the fact that it doesn’t employ the “us” versus “them” dichotomy (like Pintak describes in “Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens”). Secondly, Arabs and Muslims themselves have something new to offer to the current peace plan: the Arab Peace Initiative, which is a result of a summit in Doha, Qatar. Under this plan, the Arab League joined the Organization Islamic Council (OIC) in order to make Israel, as well as the United States, an offer. In exchange for a successful two-state solution, 57 majority-Muslim and Arab countries would recognize Israel. Recognition would ideally mean good (or relatively better) relations, strengthened security, and increased trade between Israel and its neighbors. I asked Dr. Al-Sharif, as well as another senior Jordanian official, whether or not he thinks that this is a sufficient incentive for Israel to agree to a two-state solution. He said that it would be “logical” for Israel to agree—after all, the recognition of 57 countries (1/3rd of the U.N.) is a serious milestone that Israel could not achieve otherwise.

What’s in it for the U.S.? Dr. Al-Sharif and another Jordanian senior official describe the Palestine-Israel conflict as the one issue that has the greatest effect in terms of defining Arab and Muslim attitudes towards the U.S. In his book, Pintak also mentions that many groups use the Palestinian plight in order to campaign their agendas. Because it is an issue that highly resonates with many Arabs and Muslims, finding a way to connect the Palestine-Israel conflict it to their own goals is an effective way for some groups to gain support. As we’ve seen in the past, this doesn’t always benefit the United States. Basically, the argument stands that the United States itself can enhance its own security by committing to a two-state solution that doesn’t favor Israel over the Palestinians.

I don’t think Obama’s speech has to lay out a 1-2-3 step “plan for peace” and it probably will not. The main thing is for him to confirm his commitment to the peace plan and reaffirm the overwhelmingly positive and hopeful attitude that seems to have taken over much of the Middle East. Mainly, I’ll be watching out for any statement directly at Israel and their part in future peace plans or of any specific reference to the Arab Peace Initiative and his attitude towards it.