Tag Archive: Egypt


Hello everyone! I know it’s been while since I’ve cast one eye on two worlds and shared my findings with you, but believe me, I’ve been a very busy bee this past year:

I’ve been working on my Masters in Journalism and Digital Media and will – with any luck – finish this May (which I think is quite apropos).

At any rate, I figured the start of the new year would be a perfect time to delve back into my beloved world o’ blogging, and because so much has happened since we last cyber-spoke, a quick run-down on the hip-happenin’s that made 2013 so…well, 2013-ish, might be in order:

There was:

  • A “do-nothing” Congress (we’re still waiting for them to “work” on something of substance instead of arguing every single hour of all 11 days they’re actually in session).

The Worst Congress In Our Lifetime

  • A new progressive Pope (he’s shaking some things up – let’s see if he makes it into Dan Brown’s next novel)Pope_Francis_at_Vargihna

(photo credit: The Daily Aztec)

  • Edward Snowden (the NSA debacle, monitoring of Americans and a crap-ton of other countries and so far, no repercussions for the masterminds that orchestrated all this -AND THEN, VERY PUBLICLY, LIED ABOUT IT).

  • Healthcare.gov (and the love/hate/hate relationship between members the aisle (leaving the American people to shake their heads in disgust / frustration– how are other countries pulling this whole “Universal health care” thingy off??) P.S. And from the looks of it, the site’s homepage still has some kinks to work out, like overlapping and confusing text, and where’s that lovely young woman everyone was at some point screaming about?

Healthcare.gov

  • Syrian bombings – then the Syrian “We’re givin’ it all up” chemical weapon relinquishment campaign about a whole minute later.

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(photo credit: STR/AP)

  • Egypt’s military “coup,” which has apparently now been deemed “crimes against humanity”- and its declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood’s as “terrorists” (They’re the bad guys, folks, listen to us, we’ve got machine guns) **although full disclaimer: I happen to think that a lot of ’em are actually on Santa’s “not-so-nice” list).

Egypt Protests Intensify As Army Deadline Approaches

(photo credit: Ed Giles/Getty Images)

  • New York City’s first democratic mayor in decades (and yes, he’s married to a black woman and has bi-racial kids, what’s the biggie?)

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(photo credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

  • The Boston Bombings, the city-wide chase afterwards and the hoopla over a RollingStone Magazine Cover:

Five Revelations From Rolling Stone’s Boston Bomber Cover Story

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(photo credit: Rolling Stone, illustration by Sean McCabe)

  • Kim Jon Un’s questionably brutal execution of his uncle (was there or wasn’t there 120 dogs involved? why are we talking about dogs?!)

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(photo credit: YONHAP/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The legalization of marijuana in Colorado (new vacay spot!)

Colorado Lawmakers to Feds: Let marijuana businesses bank

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(photo credit: Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)

  • The purchase of The Washington Post by Amazon’s Jeff Besos (okay media industry, now let’s see what happens).

  • Wendy Davis, a pair of pink sneakers, and an honest discussion about abortion in America.

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(photo credit: Eric Gay/AP)

  • A sequester, a government shutdown, Nelson Mandela’s death and a schizophrenic sign-language interpreter.

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(photo credits for images on this row: Win McNamee/Getty Images; AP)

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(photo credits for images on this row: GlobalNews; PressTV)

  • The re-opening of dialogue between the US and Iran (and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeting no less! holla!)

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  • A super typhoon hits the Philippines, India has a rape epidemic, and Miley Cyrus’s twerking makes international headlines (subsequently, for longer than either of those other two stories).

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(photo credits: Reuters; Hindustan Times)

Miley-Cyrus-Tongue(photo credit: Liberty Voice)

  • And most recently, an ancient Egyptian brewer’s tomb is discovered (looks like what made for a good time then and now aren’t so far off).

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(photo credit: Supreme Council of Antiquities/AP)

Whew! That was a lot. And those were just a few of the tid-bits that fueled a year where some of the media touched on a few significant issues, though most really seemed to concentrate more on what racist ramblings members of the Duck Dynasty are mumbling and what gaudy new outfit Kim & Kanye’s new baby is donning. You know, the important stuff.

Still, there’s that whole world out there, with all its craziness and all its wonder. And I plan on sharing my opinions on the things I find that make the West and the Middle East more similar than maybe a lot of people might want to imagine. We are, after all, one big ole’ group of people that have to share the same ride through time; so instead of asking “Are we there yet?” maybe we should start asking, “Where’s the nearest Mickey D’s and/or Hummus Shack?” and enjoy the ride.

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Okay, so it’s been awhile since I last doused some multi-perspective jive talkin’ on this blog, so apologies for the ridiculous delay. But I’ve been busy honing in my digi-techie media skills at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg’s Journalism & Media Studies graduate program, so it’s not like I’ve been sitting on my bum, eating Cheetos and counting how many times Maury Povich tells some poor schmuck with a disoriented look on his face “you are not the father.”*

*Full disclosure: I am currently on my bum writing this and I just ate some Cheetos. Povich is married to Connie Chung, who was a journalist, so technically if I were to hypothetically watch his show, I’m sure I could make an argument somewhere in there.

In any case, as I delve back into a more regular posting schedule of all things dual-worlded (that’s a real word, right?), I figured I’d start with something that’s near and dear to my heart: the arts.

The ‘New’ Egypt and its art (or what’s left of it)

It’s no secret that since the 2012 election, President Mohammed Morsi and Egypt’s primary legislative entity, the Muslim Brotherhood, have not exactly been fitting like snug gloves on the hands of the Egyptian people. What’s been remarkable to me, however, is the drastic blows being dealt to the essence of what makes Egypt a historically rich place of wonder. We built the pyramids for crying out loud! (see what I did there? The “we” implying some sort of personal participation. I like to just call it ‘cultural pride,’ but, whatever, tomato, tamato).

I started reading about it here and there, at first from people I know who were artists, musicians. Then, it sprung up on social media. Next thing I knew, the cries and outrage went viral, sparking conversations and heated debates calling to “save the ballet!” (I wonder if we’d hear that expression yelled with such gusto and passion in the U.S., but I digress).

The Egypt of now doesn’t seem to be the place I remember visiting as a child; a place of awe and beauty, and where the imagination and wonder of what human beings are creatively capable of infiltrated my senses with an effortlessness I could never quite describe. I just couldn’t believe the things that were happening to culture and the arts in a land that’s so long been associated with cultivating great artistic expression, so, as a journalist, an artist, and an Egyptian, I had to write about it. (click on the link below to view full story)

Fighting for art’s survival in a new – not improved – Egypt

In this Storify article, I responded to Egyptian musician, Osman El Mahdy’s eloquent call to [metaphorical] arms by stressing how essential it is to preserve the arts, even amid a turbulent period of uncertainty and governmental corruption:

“This post articulates precisely how essential the arts are to the identity of a people. Egyptians have been recognized the world over for maintaining a long, rich history of cherishing and cultivating the very spirit of what makes humanity grow, prosper and achieve greatness: art, music, architecture – among countless other influential contributions. The corrupt regime (and yes, it IS a regime) that now strangles this once triumphant nation should be challenged by all Egyptians – artists and otherwise – to relinquish this charade of religious righteousness and be stripped of all the power that attempts to siphon what’s at the core of Egypt (and all great civilizations): the free-flow of artistic expression. It’s what has – and what ALWAYS will – make us HUMAN.”

We have GOT to save art, in Egypt and beyond. The first step: awareness. Please pass this along and let’s start talking about it, to save not just Egyptian art forms, culture and national identity, but humanity’s. We simply can’t be left with Maury Povich re-runs.

Sample of a Book of the Dead of the scribe Neb...

Sample of a Book of the Dead of the scribe Nebqed, c. 1300 BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello Peoples,

Apologies for the hiatus – I’ve delved back into graduate school and have been writing like a maniac, albeit covering issues that pertain strictly to the crazy world I’ve courageously entered: multimedia journalism.

Still, I had to include a snip-it of the solid articles that I’m finding which have helped to inform me on what kind of various types of crazy that’s happening on the other side of the pond. Egypt’s debacle of an elections process. Syria’s general ridiculousness. Iran and Iraq’s new romance.

And of course, what would this blog be if I those articles didn’t include info on the West’s (particularly the US) hand in it all…So here’s a taste of what’s shakin’ –>

Happy reading! (well, “happy” probably won’t be the exact emotion that these articles will elicit, but at least you’ll be informed)

 

Be sure to check out the following piece just posted on Newsweek’s online portal, The Daily Beast (thedailybeast.com) – it outlines what artists are grappling with in terms of censorship [and therefore, an uncertainty about creative right to expression] in a post-Mubarak Egypt:

Egypt’s Artists Fear Censorship by Islamists

Also be sure to follow me on Twitter to catch all my latest findings on things Mid-East, Far-East and how the West Is Winning: @2worlds1eye

As I flip through the over-glossed pages of my magazines, shuffle the varied tunes on my iPod and scroll through the list of my DVR‘d shows (admittedly, most of them are guilty pleasures), it hits me like an excessively violent stroke of Picasso‘s brush: Art is a curious and glorious thing. It can be used to make a statement, raise awareness, spark conversation or controversy. It’s universally regarded in every culture and community as a means for expression – and whether it’s suppressed or encouraged, it always exists in some form or another. Hell, there’s even those who will argue that Mike Tyson‘s inked face constitutes a fine and classy example of it.

In the US, art doesn’t necessarily have to be associated with the surrounding political, social or religious atmosphere; and while there are plenty of expressions that align with and demonstrate a particular stance on the related culture, it still generally finds itself independent of such constraints. Which definitely explains how “Drunk Girls In Da Club” became a number one hit.

Egypt’s art, however – from films to music, books to television- has always managed to precisely reflect the pulse of its people. Up until the January 25th revolution, that pulse was more like a series of heart attacks; lending itself to songs, films and books that were plugged directly into the Egyptian psyche like Dr. Frankenstein’s lobotomy prep. The momentum of the uprising was immeasurable, but Egypt’s art world was doing it’s damnedest to capture it, and more importantly, to promptly deliver it to the people with the excited rush that comes with such revolutionary change.

Before Spring, Must Come … Answers?

Before the Arab Spring, movies, music and magazines became intimately intertwined into the Egyptian sub-culture, even going so far as being referenced in daily speech. The popular 1997 song “Kamanana” by Mohamed Fouad became so successful that the word – which literally means nothing – somehow became synonymous with the word “everything” (Egyptians now use the word often in daily slang). There’s even a cosmetic store in a Cairo mall actually called Kamanana – I’m guessing since Cleo’s MakeUp Shack was probably already taken. So, even amidst the turmoil and strife of the corrupt Mubarak regime, artists still found themselves able to connect with the people, and create relatable, palpable material for Egyptian society to enjoy.

In this way, the pre-revolutionary expression of Egyptian art was one of answers, where a beginning, middle and end was established in films, books and songs that lucidly revealed the people’s mindset of the moment. Now, there is such an uncertainty to where the country is going, artists are finding the inspiration isn’t flowing so freely. A writer’s block of sorts is surfacing amongst artists, where once easily emerging creativity isn’t being produced with the same fervor as it once was.

Finding An Open Chair Once the Music Stops

As opposed to the US and the West in general, where confusion and uncertainty themselves can be potent catalysts found within the heart of the art*, Egypt is now struggling to find its artistic identity post-Mubarak era. It seems that the “magic” of the revolution has dispelled – and what’s left behind is a list of unsavory words that Egypt’s artists are straining to incorporate into their creations. Turmoil, bloodshed, unrest, the compromising of women’s safety and general miscommunication are all found on that list, replacing words like change, hope and progress as inspirations to create fresh forms of expression. Even established artists and performers who participated in creating art pre-revolution (and during for that matter) are finding themselves challenged to grasp the elusive “pulse” that once pounded so steadily and clearly within Egyptian culture.

It appears that for Egyptian artists right now, the concepts of change, of hope and of progress are easier to use as muses than are those of unpredictability, disquiet and turbulence. Before and during the uprising, there was a clamor from all artistic realms to support the protests and excite the popular mindset into a frenzied mutiny for change. Street graffiti showcased statements of rebellion, while gallery exhibits in museums displayed past revolutionary art. It seemed everyone was riding the fantastical wave of dissent, and the tides were heartily flowing with plenty of inspiration to help plug art into Egyptian life and Egyptian life into its art.

The critically acclaimed short film Interior/Exterior by Tamer Habib, starring the celebrated Egyptian actress Yousra explores a middle-aged couple’s participation with the Tahir Square crowds – but that was before the revolution ended and the dust settled. Both Habib and Yousra claim to now be taking a break from any projects having to do with the revolution, and have reportedly distanced themselves from any works involving the subject matter.

The protest movement’s most popular song was written by the little known guitarist Ramy Essam, who also composed a series of chants and lines for the crowds to wail in the middle of the square. Now, with the unified assembly of men and women dissipating, the square is becoming a place of violence and hostility, and those chants are no longer the people’s calls to arms.

Published on January 17th, 2011, immediately before the start of the Tahir Square rebellion, Revolution 2.0, by Wael Ghonim chronicles the memoirs of the then-unknown Google geek who’s Facebook page helped energize the Jan. 25th protests and who was released from 11 days of interrogation by the secret police thanks to a public outcry for his freedom. That public’s adoration was due to Ghonim’s invigorating revolutionary charisma. With no clear leader to coalesce the masses in transition from upheaval to peaceful order, it seems – at the moment – like Revolution 3.0 doesn’t stand much of a chance to be pitched as a sequel.

Even dissident veteran singer Mohamed Mounir, considered by many to be the “Voice of Egypt”, is having trouble with the composition of his upcoming album. The songs don’t seem to come easily, he claims, as each day brings with it another point of view of what should be done, and another question about what lays ahead for Egypt. “How can we in the middle of the revolution sing and dance?” Mounir poses, revealing further how engrained and in tune many Egyptian artists seem to be with their people. “The true artist is the one who sees further than the people see,” he also claims – but it is precisely this philosophy that most artists are grappling with, and what could essentially be the only way to emerge from the uncertain storm that has strangled Egypt’s artistic life-force.

What Will Egypt Paint On Its Newly Blank Canvas?

Despite the [hopefully] temporary choke-hold on Egypt’s artistic realm, there are still those who are determined to trudge through the uncertain times ahead – even through experimental measures – and emerge creatively triumphant for it. Yousry Nasrallah, easily regarded as one of the country’s most revered directors, is countering the confusion by happily tapping directly into it. He’s shooting his next fictional film project and centralizing it around the revolution. But what makes this a unique venture in Egyptian filmmaking is that he’s doing it without a script; basically recording footage as he writes, and writing as he’s recording. The method sounds similar to shooting a documentary – which is a genre that’s creating international appeal – but what Nasrallah is proposing seems to be a fused creation that would be a new art form for a new Egypt. And what better way to rise from the ashes, then to allow the phoenix to fly, uninhibited.

If the West can offer anything to the uncertain course of re-birth that has enveloped Egypt, it should be that of the emergence of a reinvigorated artistic movement; one that values and capitalizes on the strength (and potency) of rebellion. It is precisely this energy that initially gathered the masses under the flag of change, and – if thoughtfully re-imagined and re-invented – can be exactly what unifies the people to transform hope for change into attainment of change.

*Recent US examples of both fiction and non-fiction works on film where political or social uncertainty are the underlying elements of the art:
Films: V for Vendetta; Fahrenheit 9/11; An Inconvenient Truth; Avatar; Inside Job; Waiting For Superman; Wall Street
Music: ‘Meglomanic’, by Incubus; ‘Do The Revolution’, by Pearl Jam; ‘Union’ by Black Eyed Peas; ‘Information’ by Dredg
Books: ‘Revolution and Revolutionary Moments’ by James Defranzo; ‘Waking Up Strange: Let’s Start A Revolution!’ by Christopher Rothlem
 

STREET ART: Graffiti on Cairo's walls (Getty Images)

Change isn’t easy. In fact, it can be rather frightening. Throw in words like “Muslim Brotherhood” and conjuring up the image of a peaceful green meadow with Arab children democratically frolicking along, waving the American flag and singing songs of peace starts to be a bit of a challenge. Talk about a spooky reputation that precedes them – even if it might not be wholly accurate. The Muslim Brotherhood comes across to the US and others as the dark cousin at the family reunion who’s eerily standing in the corner of the room, eying the party. No one quite knows where they’ve been all these years, but that dirty Harley parked outside and those prison tattoos spell trouble. Plus they keep shoving their hands straight into the queso dip and that’s just disgusting.

Ok, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Especially since there’s a good chance that motor bikes and body ink aren’t quite the Brotherhood’s fortés. Still, solid information regarding their motives for a new Egypt isn’t being fully related to (or understood by) most of the world, even their own people. However, since their Freedom and Justice Party is undoubtedly gathering strength in Egypt’s parliament after recent wins in election rounds this month, it’s a force that is making serious headway in establishing a grounded presence in post-Mubarak Egypt.

What seems to be the consensus among the Western world is that the Brotherhood is a strict, Sharia-law driven group that will bring back the more conservative views of Islam upon a historically moderate Egypt. It seems that the liberal Western-minded revolutionaries that began the uprise really didn’t utilize their educational advantage by truly thinking through what groups might emerge after the removal of a longtime seeded ruler. Bad move rebels. The Brotherhood is here and the key to either working with them or working towards removing them is to clearly comprehend what they’re actually about.

God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” That’s the credo of the Muslim Brotherhood – which, in all fairness, certainly does read as a rather stark and intimidating set of notions for any progressive Westernized thinker. Plus including the word “death” in your mission statement really doesn’t illicit warm fuzzy feelings. But get this: the Brotherhood is still considered less menacing by a vast majority of Egyptian voters than their competition for Parliamentary seats, the Salafist Nour Party, which is more openly violent and extreme in both political verbiage and action, as compared to the Brotherhood. The ironic thing is that the parties that represent the young modern reformers that famously rose up in Tahir Square, demanding a truly democratic change in Egyptian government are currently pulling a meek 13% in the first round of elections. So it seems at this point, a much more thorough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood is definitely in order, especially since they will most likely be the next installment within the Egyptian government as the ruling party. Translation = it’s time for Egypt to be sat down and talked to about the latest addition to the family that the stork is bringing: a few new Brothers.

On December 9, 2011, Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times wrote about his personal experience with Muslim Brotherhood activists that I found rather revealing. He describes being exposed to a sort of enlightenment about misconceptions that have blanketed the Brotherhood’s caricature-like reputation across both the Westernized international community, as well as parts of Egypt itself. In his interactions with Sondos Asem, a 24-year-old middle-class graduate of the American University in Cairo who’s home he dined in, Kristof delved into the issues that commonly arise when speaking on Egypt’s civil unrest, and received rather interesting reactions from Asem and her family.

On The Oppression of Women:

Egypt has always been the cooler older sibling of the Mid-East when it came to women’s rights – although I certainly do use the word “cooler” here loosely. In comparison to more religiously rigid countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, where women are required to wear hijab and are forbidden to exercise many of even the simplest rights granted to men, Egypt has maintained a much less secure chokehold upon its women. My mother and other female relatives tell me stories of how, growing up in 1960’s and 70’s era Egypt, they donned super short mini skirts, wore tons of eye makeup and rocked out to The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Egypt was a country of liberated women under the beloved President Anwar Sadat, who in his time, changed Egypt’s socio-economic direction, among other things. Egypt actually had hippies, if you can believe it.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been thought by many Westerners to be associated with re-instituting the oppression of women – something that Asem strongly denied in her talk with Kristof. She explained that in addition to 50% of the Brotherhood being comprised of women, her own mother, Manal Abul Hassan is running for Parliament under the affiliation of the Brotherhood. Asem also asserts the same notion I referenced previously, that Egypt being religiously moderate is therefore incomparable to Saudi Arabia and the like. Rather, she says, Egypt should be compared to countries like Turkey, where amidst economic prosperity, an Islamic government reigns and where women are not objectified or mistreated, but are incorporated in government as vital participants.

Even the gruesome issue of female circumcision was brought up by Kristof, and Asem’s declaration of the Brotherhood’s stance on this topic was clear: the Brotherhood is against the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation. However, I gathered no further elaboration from Kristof’s interview with Asem on this particular subject, as the topic seemed to quickly shift to the Brotherhood’s views on economic policies and illiteracy – which Asem attributes to women’s real problems within Egyptian society. Suffice to say, the particular issue of genital mutilation was not one that Asem seemed to want to linger on for any length of time – which I found disconcerting since the unbelievably cruel practice is one that an immense number of Egyptian girls now commonly experience. I should note that the Mubarak administration – oddly enough – actually made some effort to stop this ridiculous custom. Go figure.

On Peace With Israel:

When Kristof approached this touchy subject with Asem, she dismissed it – along with the issue of alcohol consumption and wearing hijab – as policies that the Muslim Brotherhood do not plan on making any changes to. Claiming that creating jobs is the number one priority for the Brotherhood if it were to take over the Egyptian government, Asem explained that the country’s current economic disparity is what needs to be tackled immediately; and therefore the primary concern would be to reform the current economic system and eliminate the corruption that has reigned under Mubarak’s regime.

Even Kristof’s later interview with former foreign minister and Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa, was optimistic regarding the Brotherhood’s stance on continued peace with Israel: no matter what happens, Egypt will continue to nurture its good relations with the US and remain loyal to its peace treaty with Israel. When rebuilding a nation Moussa says, “You cannot conduct an adventurous foreign policy…We must have the best of relations with the United States.” If only Mr. Roger’s were still alive, I bet he’d invite them into the neighborhood. Well, maybe.

On Governing A Modern Economy:

Among the Brotherhood supporters and activists that Kristof spoke to, were liberal Egyptians who were a bit more skeptical of the Brotherhood’s motives – and ability to actually govern a modern Egypt. Many insisted that they [The Muslim Brotherhood] may exude a mild, peaceful demeanor now, but that there may be an intolerant streak that emerges later down the line. Talk about schizophrenia. Not to mention, many progressive Egyptians claim that the Brotherhood simply does not have the experience or political know-how to actually manage a modern Egyptian economy, with all the complexities that inherently emerge when any rebuilding of this magnitude takes place. What worries these modernists is that when push comes to shove, the Brotherhood will rely on Sharia-law or other rules of religion to make decisions that ultimately move the country back into the religiously conservative realm. It’s what tends to happen here in the US, when people aren’t quite sure how to handle things. Let’s just ask God.

What I truly reaped from Kristof’s intriguing experiences was that the Muslim Brotherhood is still a mystery to many – and as with most mysteries, it’s best to explore all the evidence, assemble all the clues and do all the research before declaring that Colonel Mustard must’ve done it in the library with the wrench. What the Brotherhood (and Salafists) did that was a politically ingenious maneuver to gain serious momentum in the elections: infiltrate the poorest, most uneducated portions of the Egyptian countryside and the like and convince those people – many times with bribes of food and money – that they are the best choice for a new Egypt. What did the progressive revolutionaries do to implant that same notion for their parties? Wait, they didn’t. Hence their current failure in gaining any sort of ground to compete with the Brotherhood. Which leaves us at…

Understanding the true nature of the Muslim Brotherhood is what is going to shed light on whether or not Egypt is moving towards a democratic, economically stable (and hopefully forward-thinking) society, or not. The idea of the Arab Spring in Egypt was to remove the corrupt, suffocating grip of a crooked regime and adopt a real working democracy. Let’s just hope – by trying to truly understand the entity that may be ruling – that the next wave of progress is done under the blanket of peace, fairness and clear thinking. After all, it took the United States of America a shade under a decade to get it right ourselves – the Constitution was written 7 years after the battle at Yorktown. When it comes to change, ‘scary’ really can be an understatement. But its an assumption that can be overturned by something much more potent: knowledge.

Coat of Arms of Egypt, Official version. Gover...

Egypt Coat of Arms Image via Wikipedia

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness“, a cherished phrase outlined in our Declaration of Independence is markedly and universally regarded as the essence of the basic rights afforded to each American. Plus there’s no denying that it rolls off the tongue ever so nicely.

In the US, it seems that while these three simple staples are inherently part of our culture, along with them, another fight is underway: to get more money for the hardworking American and to demand more accountability for those in power. The current Occupy Wall Street movement (and other Occupations throughout the country) are prime examples of how the American people are decidedly taking the Declaration’s most memorable phrase and manifesting it into their own destinies. The cry is pressing; government needs to be held liable for our current economic condition.

Across the pond, however, with the rise of what is being dubbed The Arab Spring, it seems that people are fighting too, but for things that the US luckily already has: basic human rights and a stable democratic government. With the ousting of Egypt‘s Mubarak, Libya’s Gaddafi, and the countless other civil uprisings all over the Middle East and Northern Africa, the people are finally speaking – and it’s louder and clearer than ever before. Nevermind a raise in wages or an explanation for why the mortgage bubble burst; they just want to be able to live under relatively peaceful conditions as human beings without fear of being beheaded or stoned. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Still, what makes this time in our global environment most interesting is how similar these movements actually are in their fundamental purposes – even though they are so very different in their cultural foundations.

The US government has long been in bed with Wall Street, Big Business and the richest 1% of the population. There’s no secret there. And the Arab governments have long been in bed with the US, with much of their military and weapons-funding funneled directly through countless US administrations (both Dems & Reps are guilty on this one). So what we essentially have is this:  a governmental gang-bang with the “Do Not Disturb” sign indiscreetly hanging outside the door while both the American and Arab people wait outside with housekeeping.

Obama Administration: Arab People, You Deserve Better! American People, .. Uh… Sorry, We Got Nothin.

Baffling still is the unrelenting endorsement for the Arab uprising by the current US administration; an unwavering support for the military to step aside in countries like Egypt – allowing the people to put in place their own civilian-run government via a fair, democratic electoral process. Not to mention, another manipulable US ally in this unstable region wouldn’t be too shabby of a by-product. The US government’s consensus: hooray for the Arab Spring!

Conversely, the same US administration is producing an all but mute stance on the OWS movements that are taking place in their own back yards. No real response or tangible explanations are being offered to the American people, and the protesting is largely being ignored by top administrators. (coyly saying “we’re working on it” doesn’t really count either). Any response that’s not a muddled, ambiguous retort is one of complete cynicism. GOP candidates like the smug Newt Gingrich even go so far as to criticize the Occupy protestors by saying to “go get a job right after you take a bath”. Ah, eloquent words indeed. Especially coming from one of the dirtiest, corrupt hypocrites in all of US governmental history.
The fact is, no administrative support is going towards the uprisings that are occurring here in the US, but plenty of support is being ushered towards the Arab people who are rallying with a similar volume. Which brings me to:

So Egypt, Where’d You Get All That Tear Gas? Oh, Wait…

As Egypt’s unrest continues to swell, and more protestors are killed or injured by military forces and riot police, the question inevitably arises: where did all the tear gas, rubber bullets and nerve gas even come from?

Surprise, surprise. And by “surprise”, I mean “totally not a surprise”.

As much as the US claims that it supports the Arab Spring, and uprisings like that in Egypt, one wonders how the weapons being used against the very people who the US government is supporting are the same ones graciously supplied to the corrupt governments that the US actually helped put in place? Deep is the rabbit hole, indeed.

The simplified analysis here would be that, foreseeing the reality that Egyptian people have simply had enough, the best move for America would be to align itself with the winning side. It’s not just smart politics, it’s a safety mechanism the US has learned to utilize all-too-well over the years. So while Mubarak and Gaddafi were once very close US allies, now that their incredible unpopularity among their own people has removed them, best for the US to denounce these jokers and cuddle up with whomever’s next. In many cases with the Arab Spring, this means a civilian-installed leadership; most likely un-akin to what the US is used to dealing with. So good luck there.

But What About Here At Home?

As an Arab, I am extremely happy to see the tangible overturning of unethical Middle Eastern governments (aka dictatorships/tyrannies) and witness the people finally taking matters into their own hands – however dangerous the obstacles may be. There are generations of depravity to make up for, and so it will no doubt take just as long to establish something new and better; but there is a unified voice finally being heard, and that’s something that’s indeed long over-due.

But as an American, I am extremely disappointed that this same gusto for change hasn’t resulted in a more productive governmental transformation here; one that truly brings into question practices that are inherently damaging those three vital pieces of what we’ve collectively come to call our rights as Americans and that are outlined in our precious Declaration. If we are truly to set an example of how freedom of speech, peaceful demonstrations, and the right to organize are core principles that we wholly stand by, then we’d better start showing off our stuff right here at home. The spotlight is on and all that’s audible is the sound of crickets.

What are becoming evident now more than ever, especially through these movements, are the similarities shared between Americans and Arabs – revealing just how much of a cultural bridge exists between both worlds at the most elemental level. We are all in a similar pursuit: that of happiness.

I’ve never really considered myself a feminist, in the traditional sense. I believe in equal rights across all spectra: gender, race, religion, hair type, skin tone, you name it. But I’d also like to think I live in a time [and place for that matter] where being a woman doesn’t translate into a constant struggle for that equality. But alas, (that word isn’t used enough – it’s got a dramatic yet poignant effect), we simply do not live under the utopian conditions that most of us naively assumed the 21st century was to deliver. Hell, I’m still waiting for my electro-laced pair of Nike’s and hover-converted DeLorean.

In a rather revealing Newsweek article published last month, the best – and worst – places to be a woman were outlined; where a rather thorough compilation of data was collected that spanned from how well women were treated within their justice systems to their participation in government. Five major factors were used when categorizing which countries in the world were optimal for women’s prosperity, and which were lacking: Justice, Health, Education, Economics and Politics. Each of these factors were graded on a scale of 1-100, and were evaluated  according to how well women fared when it came to these basic fundamental issues. Not surprising, primarily Westernized, progressive nations made it in the Top 20 where overall scores ranged from 100-85.

What was surprising, however, was The United States’ ranking: 8th overall in the world – something that most Americans might very well scoff at in disbelief. After all, this is the nation where the invention of the phrase “stay-at-home-dad” is considered a benchmark for judging how far the working mom has truly risen the corporate ladder. Sigh.

On the forefront of women’s prosperity in the international community with an outstanding overall rating of 100, was actually just a little fellow: Iceland. Piloted by a female president, this tiny nation leads all others in women’s rights, health, education, financial well-being and political clout. The US’s score is a good deal lower: 89.8 overall. Ouch. Our poorest grade was in women’s participation in government; arguably the foundation for which any improvement – and success – can be given a chance to be implemented into society.

As Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary-General once said, “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” So it seems that without this incorporation and participation of 50% of the world’s population, any growth – economic, societal or otherwise – is bound to be stunted.

I began to then take a look into where the worst places to be a woman were and again, sadly I wasn’t too surprised by what I found: the poorest, most democratically lacking countries took the top ranks. Chad climbed to the No. 1 podium position with an overall score of 0. Yes, you read that correctly. Zero. Health and education were rated as non-existent, as women have basically no legal rights. And this wasn’t the only place with remarkably dismal scores. Countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Sudan where honor killings and arranged marriages are not only legal, but oftentimes condoned by the male-dominated governments filled the top 10 spots. At least they’re winning at something.

It seemed like the more I read about this, the more frustrating it was to realize that the underlying reasoning behind much of the world’s difficulties was the lack of vital, unobstructed female participation in absolutely every aspect of life: from active roles in passing legislation to the incorporation of women in the labor force as equal contenders for jobs, salaries, and the ability to climb the industry ladder. Without establishing the root for which fundamental change may have a chance to grow, no hope can be realistically garnered for any sort of development for women’s rights – in this country or any other.

We [The US] like to think we have it made over so many other places and admittedly, we certainly do have a lot to be proud of. There are private and governmental programs in place that support female-owned businesses, more women with college degrees than almost all other nations, and increased advancements in early breast cancer detection with new 3-D mammogram technology. But the US is still lacking severely in reproductive-health services, maternity-leave policies and the number of women holding political office (thanks Hillary, but we’re going to need a whole lot more assertive pant-suits to counteract the Sarah Palins/Michelle Bachmans that have effectively set back our gender another 30 years).

Still, women in other countries, mostly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, have it a lot worse. While Egypt didn’t make the top 20 for worst places to live as a female, it certainly didn’t make any where near the top 20 best places either. With its growing political uncertainly – also echoed by many other Arab countries now in critical civil turmoil – there’s no telling where the future of women’s lib is heading. If Sharia law becomes incorporated more stringently into the daily lives of Egyptian citizens, (or any other Arab/Islamic country) this could substantially thwart any progress for women to make their mark in the growth of developing countries. As much as the US would like to believe that Egypt is the Mid-East pillar for democracy, its immensely flawed model obviously revealed an intensely corrupted system as evidenced by the ousted former President Mubarak. Amidst the already mighty reign of men in this and other Arab/Islamic societies, women oftentimes struggle to survive, let alone be heard – or even better: be participant.

Some people would argue that there are many things being done to promote the empowerment of women in business via microfinance programs: lending services that assist natives of impoverished countries. These programs claim to empower indigenous workers to grow their businesses usually based on the capitalist model, and many times use a particular emphasis on aiding women as their common-place tagline. Nevertheless, the impact that these programs have on women – or whole communities in general – have not been accurately measured, and therefore no concrete conclusions can be drawn regarding their effectiveness. It can be assumed however, that if women’s presence is not established in the governmental strata for which these programs are even permitted to be employed, any help derived from them would therefore have no fighting chance to exist.

This may sound bleak. And it is. Understanding where we are as a country, (and where everyone else is), is key in grasping how far we still have to go in the pursuit of women’s equality. But the answer is unquestionably clear: the establishment of women in government is the first and most critical step in moving forward toward progress in absolutely every way. While it is still very much a ‘boy’s club’, for any sort of international evolution to take place the female population must construct an assertive voice at the very base of our society – not just for the well-being of the gender, but for the overall advancement of our civilization.

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