Snow on Cairo-Alexandria agricultural road

When I went back to Cairo last December, I was thinking that I will be able to enjoy the warm weather after months of cold in New York. Well, it was warm sometimes in the morning, but not as I expected it to be.

Now that we are in January, the fact that Cairo sees snow this year before New York is definitely worth mentioning. Who would have ever thought that Cairo will have snow or hail? Here we are, the world is changing!

 

Bursting My Bubble

Wandering aimlessly the chaotic streets of Cairo was something that I have always loved to do. Whether by night or day, I always thought there is something charming about it. But, as I grew up, I came to realize the ugly truth: there’s no way to enjoy it without going through the awful sexual harassment on the streets everyday.

Starting from when I used to park my car few streets away and walk to the university’s campus on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, this is when I started changing my views about the streets of Cairo. And, even when I finished school and moved to Mohandessin for my first job, then Maadi for my second, it was still the same old story.

I bet we all agree how awful and common the harassment is in Egypt, and some ladies know how to deal with it, and some blame it on what you dress (which is definitely a lie), but for me it was different; yes, I try to fight it by writing and talking about it, but because I can’t stand it I will just put my headphones and music on every time I leave my car. I just chose to live in a bubble I created, but replacing the ugly words with the music I choose for myself.

It became something essential to me to an extent that if I forget my headphones at home I would be so nervous and don’t want to leave the car. I was always aware that people on the street verbally harass me as I pass by and sometimes I could guess what they are saying, but at the end of the day I felt okay as long as I don’t actually have to hear it.

For years now, I chose the headphones thing as my defense mechanism against harassment and tried to be alert all the time. Sometimes I just pretended that music is on so that I don’t have to hear anything. I was always aware that it is a very weak one, but it was the only way for me to partially enjoy walking in Cairo.

Only this year (or last year as we just started a new one), I got a chance to spend my first four months ever away from Egypt. As much as I hated the homesickness experience, spending four months with almost no harassments on the streets at all gave me a chance to realize how weak I was. I realized that instead of trying to solve the problem I just tried to live in my bubble by not listening to any harassments, while I’m aware that they will never go away like this. I always used to give myself the excuse that I have tried, given that I talked about the issue several times and during the International Women’s Day march in 2011, which was a complete failure.

This December when I went back to Cairo, I thought I should change. I was still scared of being harassed since the moment I walked out of the plane, and it actually happened. But, I just decided I will stand up for myself. I will not let anyone change the way I live or stop me from doing something I always loved to do.

Learning a lesson from ‘Tunis’

Visiting Fayoum last week for the first time after the revolution, I was actually expecting to see the people there in a bubble or as i see many people in Cairo, opposing the revolution and blaming it for everything. I though I’d find them not really aware that there are protests still going on, especially that it was not one of the cities that were making the news during the revolution, except for the prison incident.

Although the trip was not to cover anything related to the revolution or politics, it was good to hear from people there how they feel about the revolution and the situation now in Egypt. We drove around Fayoum, but our main stop was in ‘Tunis’, a beautiful village overlooking the lake, famous for pottery, and most of the people living there are farmers, foreigners, or Egyptians who come rest there away from the bustling city life. Although the word ‘journalist’ sometimes freak out people especially these days, the people of the village were very helpful and took as around, until we got to meet one of the village’s famous contractors Hajj Sayed Abdel Sattar.

When asked about the revolution and politics, he said that people here are happy about the change, adding that it was right about time that things change. He also said that protests are still going on there because people will continue to fight for change. But for me, I expected him to say that people were first supporting the revolution and then turned against it when they felt things are still not getting better for them, as it is the case with many people i spoke to in Cairo, and when he didn’t mention then i asked him. His response was actually the lesson i learnt. He said that although the majority there understand that we are in a transition period and things will not get better at the moment, there were others who thought when the money of the former officials is returned, it will be re-distributed among the people. “It is the job of those who understand that this a common phase in every revolution and that it will take time until we see the real change, to explain to those who do not understand so that they don’t blame the revolution for everything we are seeing now,” says Abdel Sattar. He adds that we might be seeing worst conditions now, but people should understand that things will get better on the long-term.

Tunis might be a tiny village as compared to Fayoum, and even a dot on the map as compared to Cairo, but i totally believe that it is the duty of those who read and understand how revolutions work to reach out to people on the street and  help in spreading political awareness. I do not think it will be easy to continue with a successful revolution if we keep losing people on the way. Hussien Younis, a cab driver in his early thirties, was an employee at one of Zoheir Garrana’s travel agencies for over eight years. He used to make LE 1800/month, which were enough for him to support his wife and three kids. But after Garrana’s assets were frozen, Younis, like many other employees had to go find another job. Driving the cab, Younis says he barely makes LE 500 after the revolution. Being a devoted Tahrir protester and supporter of the revolution during the first 18 days, starting January 25th, Younis says he turned against it all when he found the prices going on, lost his job, and everything is going worse for him. The good thing that talking to people like him helps them understand that the situation will hopefully get better, but like he says, “me and many of the business owners in Downtown that i spoke to already would love to believe that this is just a transitional phase and things will get better,” explains Younis. “But it is much easier to believe that when you don’t have a family to support and nothing else to lose more than what you lost already.”

It is pretty simple.. many of us had the privilege of good education and if we do an extra effort of reading more and explaining to the people on the street, we might end up with more people willing to work, instead of having people who want to hijack the revolution. It is not only that people are not aware of the different levels or steps in a revolution, but also many of people on the street are not familiar with any of the terms they hear in statements, news or anywhere these days, like: the articles of the constitutional declaration and the condition to apply them only after the emergency law is over, the martial laws, the importance of voting and how to choose candidates, etc. It is important to pass whatever we learn to those who do not know, even just among people in your house or neighborhood.

Will it ever change?

Rosa Parks on the bus

Yesterday i took a flight from Cairo to Johannesburg, but stopping first in Addis Ababa. The first flight went well, as well as the second one too, except for one incident. Almost everyone was on board already waiting for the plane to move when one guy insisted that someone else wouldn’t sit next to him. Sitting few seats away from him, i was able to get what the story was all about. The man stood up and told the flight attendant that he was sitting next to this other guy on the first flight, and that he has personal issues with him. The story turned out to be that (and im sorry for using labels but this is how it went) a white man decided than a black man shouldn’t sit next to him and his wife.

Almost everyone sitting around us got really angry because of the racist man, and not only this, but the flight attendant actually asked the guy to come with her so that could find him another seat. Passengers started screaming at the young guy telling him not to give up his seat or right, and if the other man and his wife are not happy then they should leave. But, the other man looked back at us saying ‘ it will never change.’

Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat, and it is not really about the seat, but actually about the idea and rights of these people. But even with her being the first woman (or black) doing so, they are still discriminated against, which proves that the other people dealing with them will never change; may be they just got a bit better. We call for a world where racism, but in every country we exclude a group for some reason, whether it is Egypt, US, or anywhere else in the world. I guess we just enjoy labeling people and then call ourselves non-racists.

Check this link for words from Parks

http://politiku.tumblr.com/post/6684283994/kindlemyheart-people-always-say-that-i-didnt

Egypt: new vision/division?

 

Sitting with friends joking about the latest gossips in town, one of my friends brought up that her sister was at H&M CityStars the other day and saw that they started covering the models’ bodies in the photos like they do in some countries (i.e Saudi Arabia). When that first came up we just made fun of that and laughed about it, as both my friend and her sister were not sure then what this is really about or if it happened by mistake in one photo. But, it wasn’t until the next day that my friend’s sister went back to the store and this is when we saw the first actual photo from there.

H&M CityStars covering the model's leg (photo by Dalia Rabie)

 

What started as a joke turned into a serious concern when i decided to go beyond the photo taken at the story, and dig more in the website.

 

When I saw the first photo my intention was just to simply go on the website and find the same photo of the dress there, and see whether it is the same on the website or they just covered in the store. My surprise was when i decided to open both the Egypt and US versions of the website and compare the latest collections. It was funny to see the two sides of it as the same model appears in one photo wearing shorts and on the other version with legs covered.

H&M website Egypt Vs. US (photo credit: H&M website)

I was faced by a question: is that a new direction H&M Egypt is taking or it was always there but we never noticed? Being a frequent visitor to the store, i remember well that i have seen photos of models wearing shorts and skirts without having their legs covered, which makes me sure now that this is kind of new, but just not sure how recent it is. What i found funny is that unlike Saudi they are not covering all the skin, but they cover the legs and arms in one photo, legs only in one and then arms in another, which was a bit weird and not clear. I understand that in Saudi it is part of their culture that they cover-up the models in photos as women are all covered there, as well as doing it from a religious side. But, the fact that maybe the owner took this decision lately or suddenly noticed that the store here is different than other stores needs to be justified. We have a totally different culture here, one that we even see now stricter than how it was back in the 60s and 70s, but still not a seriously strict one; not as free as Lebanon now, but at the same time different from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

H&M website Egypt vs. US (photo credit: H&M website)

 

Living in this country for over 24 years now, I am totally aware that there might be many frustrations about life in Egypt, but there were also some privileges that I always enjoyed and was not sure that anything would ever change those privileges. Although women get harassed almost anywhere they go, no matter what they are wearing or their age group, but at the same time we enjoyed some freedom that maybe some other countries in the Middle East (example: Saudi Arabia and others) might not have. Visiting Saudi Arabia once, i might not be the best judge, but i was able to notice some of the differences between Egypt and there. While shopping there, i noticed that most of the international stores there have a specific fashion line for ladies there, for example Mango, Vero Moda, as women there wear long skirts or dresses underneath their abayas most of the time.

H&M website Egypt vs. US (photo credit: H&M website)

When i went to looking for the fitting room in most of the stores i found out that women are not allowed to try the clothes in stores, instead you have to buy them, maybe go try them at the rest room in the shopping mall, and if they do not fit you go back to exchange them. Walking around with my cousins at the mall, when we tried to find a cafe’ or somewhere to sit for a bit, i found out that many of the cafe’s and restaurants wouldn’t let you sit unless you are with your family. Not only that, but most of the cabs wouldn’t take you if you are a girl on your own; we were in groups most of the time. Other than the shopping and cabs’ experience, most importantly, women of the country were always prohibited from driving, and also Saudi women, as well as those visiting, are not allowed in or out of the country unless they go with their guardian (mehrem).

 

Back to Egypt, although the numbers of veiled were dramatically increasing over the past years, still we never had the pressure of having to be all covered to leave the house, like in Saudi, no one limits who you sit with at restaurants and women were allowed to drive. Also, men and women sit together normally, without someone asking how they are related to one another, like the ‘Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’ Committee in Saudi do, as they enforce the Saudi rules on people of the country and visitors there.

 

I remember maybe a year or couple years ago Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris brought up that the country we’re living in is not the Egypt he knew. He pointed out that the veil covering almost half the body (what’s referred to in Arabic as khemar) and the niqab (full-face veil) were transferred to our country from other countries (like Saudi and Afghanistan). When he said so people attacked him claiming that he offended the veil, but what he said was actually true. It’s not that the other countries are bad or it is a shame to have these veils, but it is just that it’s not our country.

 

The H&M thing might be a coincidence, and I might be overreacting about it, but it is just that i feel that our country might be moving to a new direction, a kind of backward direction, one we did not plan or aim for. I guess I or someone needs to visit the store to find out the story behind that because it is not like a trend in CityStars. It is more an H&M thing as i saw the same in H&M Dandy Mall.

Please check the website to see the difference yourself: http://www.hm.com/eg/summertime#path=1.1.7&transition=10&duration=500 & http://www.hm.com/us/summertime#path=1.1.7&transition=10&duration=500