A thinker, dreamer, idealist, ardent observer and traveller

Month: March, 2011

It’s a Bad Mad Man’s World

If you talk to men, even educated and supposedly world wise men, they all huff at gender equality and gender mainstreaming as bullshit coming from angry and frustrated women who do not know what they want. These type of men may prevent women from achieving their human rights. Also, these elements should never stop us from fighting for our right to have our existence acknowledged as more than simply natural means of the continuation of the human race, or as cultivated domestic servants.

Now, I’m not a feminist, and I don’t believe all men are dogs, but the balance is in favour of men, unless it is in the man’s interest that a woman should be allowed to progress. In this connection, there is believed to be a glass ceiling which women still have to crack to be considered equal to men. From my experiences, there is an impenetrable cement wall, albeit a thin one. The man at the top will never accept a well-educated, competent woman with a mind of her own, unless she will flash her bosom in his face and shake her legs to attract his attention. A woman who is competent and respects herself has no place in the professional world of NGOS and international development. After all, it is a fluffy field where skills and expertise is not a requirement, as opposed to law, accountancy & finance or IT. So if you’re university educated to work in the development field, it is a waste of time and money and you might as well set up your own business because that is the only way out to financial independence and to prove your education was a worthy investment.

Regarding the gender and development concern of mainstreaming and equality, a gender expert at the University of London said that instead of focusing on women’s right as a separate issue/concern developmentalists, economics, political scientists and legal experts should include a gendered focus as an integral part of their analyses. After all women constitute 50% of the world population and they suffer the most from the structural inequalities of oppression. The above mentioned gender expert also said in the Arab world, women have always participated in protest movements against oppression. They do not need Western feminists to tell them what to do. I think that is a common trait in the Muslim world. True, due to illiteracy, low literacy levels, despite the abuses against her from society, or even her in-laws, lack of freedom of mobility, ignorance and lack of awareness of their rights is common. However, within the domestic sphere a woman reigns.

In a final note, she can manipulate the surroundings to her benefit to the extent that the husband has to oblige. Of course there are extreme cases where the wife is burnt alive or thrown acid in her face, or publicly raped. However, this is where the good of NGOs reign large. Thanks to their presence, women have a voice. So, for whatever their worth, in some instances, NGOs do challenge the status quo in such a way that the filthy underdog’s voice has to be heard. An opportunity to gain credibility is like finding a treasure at the end of the rainbow-a rare opportunity you only get once in a blue moon, if ever.


Demonstrations, Revolution, Down down Mubarak!

I was in Aswan when the demonstrations took a revolutionary turn in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Luckily I was done with my sightseeing by then, otherwise it would had been a wasted stay as I was not allowed out of the hotel, unless it was to go to the airport. What was supposed to be a 1 day demonstration endorsed by the government, turned into a national protest movement forcing President Mubarak to step down 17 days later, with the Supreme Court suspending the Constitution.

I have never really experienced a crisis situation before, so it was an interesting experience. During the weekend I was in Aswan, there was no internet reception and sms texts showed pending delivery. The day we started our sightseeing we were told that for security reasons we had to register ourselves, and the detail of the taxi we were renting at the local tourist department office. As Abu Simbel is only open in the early morning we had to go the following morning and that we would be going with a convoy of other tourist buses for safety reasons.

Aswan is a very interesting place, it is cleaner, much more relaxed and a lot less dustier than Cairo. Our taxi driver was an interesting character. A short sturdy sporty built Nubian Sudanese, living and working in Egypt owning his own taxi and guest house business. He used to sail the felucca. Now he goes water skiing and wind surfing in Sharm al Sheikh and Hurgada to keep fit. He is married to a German alternative health practitioner. When asked about Mubarak, he was all positive, “Egypt all good, Mubarak all good, everything good, everything muiyya muiyya” with his thumbs up. If you want to marry German, French woman all good, no restriction. From early morning we went to the main sites in Aswan. Edfu, Kom Ombo, and we just managed to sail to an island where the Philae temple is and catch the light and sound show.

On our way back from the light and sound show in Philae Temple towards Aswan Dam there was a road blockage of burning tyres. Being a skilled driver he swiftly turned the car around and took another way in his usual statement: “Egypt all good, Mubarak all good, only stupid people who complain”. That was when we sensed that things were boiling under the surface and people were tense. The next morning, when we were on our way to Abu Simbel temple and were heading out of Aswan, a group of protestors, men dressed in the traditional Egyptian gelabbiya, plastic slippers and the headcloth, some were also in trousers and shirt were protesting with placards and wooden stick in their hands, or their fist raised, albeit peacefully walking along the road. The driver being on the safe side as the typical taxi driver in Egypt didn’t comment much, but did say Mubarak was bad and should leave.

After returning from Abu Simbel and driving along the road to the Aswan Dam, the same place where we saw burning tyres the evening before, one of the lamppost posters of Mubarak was partially burnt. Things were reaching boiling point, but people were quietly getting on with their lives. Saturday morning on the day of return to Cairo CNN international and Al-Jazeera were on everyone’s screen in the hotel, internet was down and we were told it was safer to stay in Aswan till things got calm or leave the country. In the neighborhood opposite our hotel, vigilante groups were protecting their area with sticks and baseball bats. The police were patrolling the area in their huge black tank van. Everything was tense and calm. No one was allowed to leave the hotel unless they were going to the airport. We were receiving reports from Cairo that people had set up vigilante groups in their neighourboods with sticks and clubs. People gathered ammunition in the form of knives, swords, daggers, molotov cocktails in case criminals started raiding their cars. Residential areas had been barricaded off, and curfew was imposed in Cairo. From 8-15 people were free to go out and markets would be open. The banks were all closed.

On Monday when we returned to Cairo, we arrived just after the curfew had been imposed. Cairo had changed from being a vibrant, hustling bustling city where cars, taxis, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, donkey and horse carts amidst people would freely roam, traffic jams would create a life of their own, into a ghost town. Suddenly the army was out on the street side by side with the vigilinates, with army tanks at main junctions. After every 5 mile there would be a security check made by civilians or army personnel. This was the zombie-vampire movie turning into reality. The streets, roundabouts and junctions were empty and dead silent, you could literally hear mice dancing on the streets. The taxi driver took us around Cairo circumventing Tahrir Square which is the heart of Cairo. The area by Hilton Ramses Hotel, by the Nile, neighbouring Tahrir Square was empty. I was consumed by surprise. This is the closest I’ve ever been to revolutionary events.

When I returned from Cairo, I attended a lunchtime panel discussion on the events in Tahrir Square. One of the panelists, speaking on the economic factors said that despite a decent economic growth rate, there was no trickle down effect. The wealthy got richer and the poor got poorer. Clearly, when there is a discrepancy in the economy, the consequences will be severe.

People in the corporate sector, legal people, investment bankers, found it hard to believe what had happened in Egypt. To them the common Egyptian is too scared and subdued, not to mention…plain stupid to initiate people power at such a scale where a leader is actually dethroned. Besides what was wrong with the leadership? They were getting subsidized bread, rent and petrol, what did they have to complain about? For some strange reason the corporate elite have a problem understanding it’s not all about subsidies when you have no opportunities for better pay, jobs, healthcare and political expression. Moreover, to expect that people will not wait for any opportunity to express themselves and make the most of that moment, shows a total disrespect for people who are less advantaged than them, just because their concerns and issues don’t affect them.

Since the political activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and union activities are banned or limited, there is no public platform through which people, especially workers’ concern can be addressed. What was unique with this demonstration was that it was mainly composed of young people. University educated people, either studying or unemployed and unable to get jobs. It can be suggested they were demonstrating for the right to a future. They all wanted Mubarak to go and elections to be held. Mohammed Elbaradei supported the demonstrations and supported the demand for Mubarak to resign. I read in The Economist once that he would not stand for election in Egypt because he knew there was no way he could ever win with the current political setup. Unless it changed there was no point for him to contest the elections. He has a party which targeted the youth, the university students because they are the future of any country. When the demonstrations progressed, with the President dissolving parliament, and later announcing elections in September, with the blocking of the internet, I was reminded of this article. Mr ElBaradei’s wish came true. The youth, joined by other middle class people, demanded change and the end of the Mubarak regime. People in favour of the regime, the very same corporate high society claimed it was not a local, home grown demonstrations, but influenced by external forces because it was completely out of character of the Egyptian nation. Rather, it is completely unnatural for people not to protest when their right to breathe, to live and exist is continually denied them and still be politically sidelined as if they have no value. It was mentioned by some of the Egyptians I saw that Mubarak was alright till 2005, when he started promoting his son Gamal Mubarak as the next president. The 2005 elections were rigged, it was also during his time Mubarak become more tyrannical.

In connection with the revolution in Egypt, after Mubarak stood down as President, I attended a lunch time panel on what had happened and what will the future hold. One of the panelists, an Egyptian activist, Gigi Ibrahim, said that the Tahrir Square demonstrations were not a one time event, but a culmination of a series of events over several years.

Demonstration culture started with banning the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1990s. In October 2000 the Palestinian revolt happened. This demonstration is significant for youth activism in Egypt because “it involved a new generation of previously non-political youth” ( and subsequently created a revival of Egyptian street activism. Followed by a protest in 30th March 2003 against the invasion of Iraq. In 2005 with the re-election of Mubarak, anti Mubarak wave of protestations started because people were against the election results and the intended hereditary transfer of power from Hosni Mubarak to his son Gamal Mubarak. They did not want the kind of system and paved the way for the Kefaya Movement’s activism.

The Movement itself started in 2004. According to “its origins can be found in earlier strands of political protests beginning ith the solidarity committees throughout Egypt following the start of the second Intifada in Palestine in October 2000.” Structural adjustment programmes brought along increased privatization, and more increasing inflation. In defiance, in spring 2008 university students initiated April 6th Movement , which started as an Egyptian facebook group. It announced and planned a strike on April 6th, 2008 in El-Mohalla El-Kubra which is an industrial area in the city of Cairo.

To conclude, the Revolution was a culmination of several events. People simply had enough and they exploited an opportunity to get their point across. Whatever comes afterwards, people power should never be underestimated.


Domestic Paradise, bliss, or plain Hell?

The other day, one of my classfellows from Pakistan liked a video link on facebook about a woman scorned along with her family beating up her cheating husband with a shoe. The woman he had an affair with was also publicly humiliated. The video was from AlJazeera. It was an amusing video because usually it is the cheating wife, or allegedly cheating wife who gets beaten up or stoned. Unless she gets international civil society support, such cases are blatantly overlooked, contributing to the already fragile state of sanity for the world’s suffering women.

The same day, I read in one of the free newspapers a few responses to a letters to the editor regarding David Cameron saying that absent fathers should take responsibility for their fatherhood, pay up with child allowances and be more present in the child’s upbringing. In response to this news item someone wrote a letter to the paper complaining about not mentionin cheating mothers/ wives, who abandon their husbands and children for richer men. Why are these kind of mothers not held accountable for their absence, why are they not made to contribute more financially and through their presence. These cases exist.

Happy homes get ruined by the callous mother who wants to pursue an independent career, not that there is anything wrong with that, or whose current husband somehow lacks the same kind of ambition of his wife, so she dumps him for someone maybe younger, or, just as ambitious as her. With time, hard work, and working the system,  she gets the business empire she craves, along with the stamp of being an enterprising mother figure to look up to, for other women to follow. Then there are the mothers, wives who were happily married to a devoted husband and father. His flaw being he likes a snack on his business trips. With a wife who used to have an active, independent social life before marriage, many are lucky to get well-educated, loyal husbands with good jobs, who are committed to the marriage and the entire family set up.

In my experience when these women settles down, and have children, they always seem to crave their former lives. To a certain extent it’s natural, but they should accept that this was life then, now they are at another life stage and the rules of the game are different. However, so should the men, but then again, it is a Man’s world. It is the woman, wife, mother who makes the house go around, and this has nothing to do with being from the East or West. Nonetheless, the excuse often goes that when he goes for a snack, so will she. Usually due to the husband’s status, the wife gets access to the well-educated and well-connected snacks. It happens the wife gets caught and gets off with a few warnings. However, the day eventually comes when there will be no more warnings and the careless wife gets unwillingly kicked out. Of course, the man is not blameless, but as mentioned above, it is a Man’s world and unless women play along the tunes of men there is no place for them in the larger sphere of affairs. If the husband is well-educated and has a good job, not to mention good looking and a good father, the sensible ones usually overlook the flaws and focus on the benefits. This has nothing to do with maschocism or subjugation, but the nature of relationships and the give and take of life, which is imbalanced.

Going back to the response letter to the editor regarding gold digging absent mothers, I was reminded of an incident I was told about. The wife is relatively good looking, mother to a cute kid. The husband is well-educated with a good job in the corporate sector, has relatively nice features, but bubbly-wubbly humpty dumpty fat. Some men have a thing for married women with small kids, or maybe they just want revenge for what happened to them when they were happily married and some man came along and sullied their marital bed behind their backs. Now, when you have a humpty dumpty dumpling for a husband, and someone smarter and more fit comes along, it is normal to get tempted. Temptation is another fact of life which experience is supposed to cure, but then commonsense is not so common after all. Anyhow, who knows what might come out of it right?

With discretion, focus, a lot of female magnetism, creativity and sweetness she can catch the guy, get a commitment, subsequently divorce the humpy dumpty dumpling, marry the smarty guy and live a life in luxury and sheer bliss. However, sometimes, an affair doesn’t last, because some men are not interested in raising another man’s child and perhaps don’t want to live with the guilt of messing up a child’s life. Or they just don’t like children unless they are their own because they are a part of them.

There are many reasons. They were just passing time, a memorable time. They genuinely liked the woman, but only for a while, only for a purpose. Who knows, maybe they made themselves clear to the woman “scorned” that it would only be for a while, but the time spent together will be memorable. Whatever the reasons, whatever the incentives, whatever the feelings and efforts invested in a relationship, people should think about the pros and cons of any relation. Marriage is a sacred-legal institution, not something to be taken lightly.

True, often it simply doesn’t work out, sometimes the husband was a remorseless lying cheat who left you with all the bills and financial troubles to sort out, while he got the house, the assets and everything. Sometimes she was the culprit. If he is a wobbly-bubbly humpty dumpty, get him to lose weight. If he doesn’t bother blame him then. Even if he is hard working with a desk job, there is no excuse not to keep fit. Similarly, if he looks after you, listens to you, let’s you have your space, follow your interests and meet your friends, and most importantly, trusts you, what excuse does the wife have to sneak an outsider into the marital bed just because he is more appealing than your spouse? Unless he is a conceited, greedy, stingy disrespectful prick who refuses to change, there is no excuse, and in that case maybe divorce is a better option. Looks don’t change, if you found him unattractive when the proposal came to you or when you married him, you should had said something then. Getting caught up in clandestine affairs, hoping the lover will give you a commitment so you can leave your husband is not the answer. Unless you are lucky enough and that is the eventual outcome. But then what about the child/children?

A Russian friend once told me her mother said ‘when a man leaves his wife for another woman, don’t blame the man because he is just being himself, blame the woman for making him look elsewhere’. To this I will add, the same goes for men. If you want to avoid your wife looking elsewhere, for goodness sake do something about your weight amongst many things. I don’t believe men are blameless. Rather, I believe they are the cause of most troubles, however, marriage is neither bliss or hell, it is a necessity for the continuation of culture, values and norms; i.e. society as we know it. Most long lasting marriages experience affairs on both sides, temporary separations, but they survive due to mutual respect, understanding, forgiveness, learning from mistakes and by looking out for each other. Most importantly, they believe in the marriage, and you must live life to be best of your ability and make the most of the choices you make in life.