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RANYA KHALIFA: "Democracy Digest"...


Murder: and Senior Citizen Homes in Egypt...

Posted on April 20, 2011 at 1:24 PM Comments comments (43)

Dear Readers,

Going through the daily newspapers today, I came across a murder that took place in Mohandeseen, Cairo.  An elderly woman in her seventies was repeatedly stabbed by a worker at her ironing service (whom she knew quite well).  The murderer climbed up her plumbing poles and went in through the bathroom window.  He was busy stealing her jewelry, cash, and cell phones, when the old lady woke up.  He strangled her, then stabbed her four times in the stomach and chest.  I understand that murders happen everyday.  But, murders involving elderly victims is on the rise in Egypt.  Would this woman have been murdered had she lived in a Senior Citizen Home with the care and security to deter such heinous crimes?

Suffice it to say that when I googled the term "senior citizen homes in Egypt", I got the yellow pages of a city called Egypt in Texas, USA!!  But, I am concerned about Senior Citizen Homes in The Arab Republic of Egypt.  This term is so uncommon and may indeed be looked upon as a taboo or a disgrace to many Egyptian families that ponder the fate of their elderly loved ones.  It is not common for close-knit Egyptian families to send their senior citizens "somewhere" to live out their final days.  But there are times when sending an elderly family member to a Senior Citizen Home is a necessity, albeit a burden on the family members' pockets and conscience.

I don't believe that these "homes" should be a taboo in any sense of the word.  Egypt's population will face a growing proportion of youth to senior citizens and we need to face this situation as there is a growing number of crimes being committed against the elderly who reside on their own.  How many times in the recent past did you read about crimes of theft that are being committed against old men and women (by their own family members as well as strangers) because it was viewed that living on their own made these elderly an easy target, or more like a "sitting duck"?  I am referring to the case that I described earlier as a mere case in point.

I totally understand if family members do not want to take the elderly family member in to live with them in an extended family structure, which is a financial burden nowadays on many nuclear families.  But, I am totally against allowing these elderly to live alone and to become easy prey.  If the elderly refuse to go to a Senior Citizen Home, then any living family member has to make sure that there's somebody trustworthy available to look after the old person.  I believe that if we had efficient homes available, many senior citizens will feel better off conversing with other elderly citizens instead of succumbing to ill health and old age on their own. 

Any future government must take into account that there is a growing need for Senior Citizen Homes in all governorates in Egypt, with particular attention to larger cities such as Cairo, Alexandria, and Tanta.  Rural areas may still find the idea of leaving your elderly in the hands of strangers, to be against their culture and norms.  If studies are made which show that there is no immediate need for such elderly care, then resources should be diverted into the cities which do need such elderly care.  Businessmen and civil society NGO's can and should allocate some of their resources to this cause, whereas Human Rights groups as well as The Ministry of Health must ensure that nurses are trained in the field of Senior Citizen Care.

If we are talking about true democracy for Egypt, then it must be a democracy for ALL citizens, including the rights of the elderly to stay in affordable and health-caring environments that are secure, humane and dignified...

"political fear" syndrome...

Posted on April 16, 2011 at 4:03 AM Comments comments (0)

Yes! The Revolution has succeeded in toppling and imprisoning Hosni Mubarak and his regime in a span of two and a half months.  But, that does not mean that Egyptians wake up every morning surfing the web for political parties to join or for civil society NGO's and organizations to volunteer for.  Should this come as any surprise after 60 years of political apathy and the almost complete absence of a functional civil society?

Would it not be great if all Egyptians enrolled in a "Democracy 101" course where they learn about the fundamental principles of democracy and civil society?  I wish there was a "crash course" all of us could take that would bring us into the 21st century of world politics.  After decades of political paralysis, it would indeed be naive on our part to think that the vast majority of Egyptians would be galvanized into political participation.  After all, the state security apparatus did so much to destroy the very fabric of Egyptian interest in politics, not because Egyptians have a low IQ, but because we feared "participation" with all that it entails.

On a personal level, I actually am debating the merits of a specific political party, but a certain "fear" inside me keeps stalling my determination to actually go to the party headquarters and fill out the application.  A part of me senses a real and palpable "fear" that I may be tracked down, followed or hurt in some way or another.  I can't seem to shake that sensation off.  I keep telling myself that this is a new "era in Egyptian modern history" and that we all need to partake in the future structure of our country.  But, after years of having so many political detainees, torture and illegal phone tapping, my mind is still struggling with the new reality of "political freedom".

It could be that the political situation in Egypt is still very fluid and that the picture is murky (to say the least).  But, even so, this very situation may be the one that should compel us to act NOW, as opposed to postponing our political participation till later.  We all need to clear our conscience and to give Egypt our best shot.  Wouldn't it be more prudent to say that we gave it our all instead of maintaining a "wait and see" approach where things don't go our way?  We will only have ourselves to blame...

My Mentor and I...

Posted on April 15, 2011 at 5:17 AM Comments comments (0)

Dear readers,

I have decided to dedicate my first blog entry under this category "Towards a Functional Civil Society", to my Mentor, who first introduced me to the term "civil society" back in 1996...

I was studying for a Masters Degree in Middle East studies at The American University in Cairo (AUC), and my Mentor called me into his office to discuss my paper entitled  "Copts in Egypt".  He was impressed that I chose to write about Copts and whether or not they were facing any discrimination in the workplace as well as in their religious practices etc.  He encouraged me to interview prominent Copts in Cairo and to include their words verbatim in my paper. I did just that.  Then a discussion ensued between my Mentor and I.  The following is a true encounter, yet entirely rephrased, based on my memory of that particular discussion:

Me: "Why is it that we cannot all be treated equally in Egypt, whether Muslim or Copt? And why is it that Egypt is ruled with such an iron fist, unlike the United States which enjoys such admirable freedom of expression and equal rights?"

Mentor: "Egypt doesn't want democracy, it is not allowed here in order to protect the regime.  They have to clamp down on anyone who dares utter the word "democracy".

Me: "How is it that we can bring about democracy, without threatening the regime? Is it possible to slowly introduce democratic principles to an authoritarian regime such as ours?"

Mentor: "That's exactly what I am trying to do. Look over at the table behind you.  There's a stack of magazines with an olive-green cover.  Grab a copy and read it.  Tell me what you think..."

Me: I look at the multiple stacks of magazines and books stacked neatly on my Mentor's table.  I come across the stack with the olive-green color.  The magazine is entitled "Civil Society".  I look at my Mentor, startled, confused and feeling a little ignorant.  After all, I was an "A" student in his class and I didn't want to look so lost for words..."Ah! "Civil Society"...what exactly does that mean?"

Mentor: "That's the mechanism that ensures that the people have some form of power over their lives, away from the country's government and executive branches.  Civil society includes NGO's, syndicates, labor unions, etc..."

Me: "Oh! I never heard that term before.  Are you allowed to publish this magazine?"

Mentor: "No, but I am doing it anyway.  I am publishing it out of my own pocket.  Ranya, the people have the right to a civil society and that's the building block for them to know their civil rights".

Little did I know that my Mentor would be jailed roughly ten years after this discussion. The Mubarak regime didn't appreciate his calls for civil society or for democracy.  After his release, my Mentor left Egypt and continued his calls for democracy from abroad. 

The Mubarak regime is now gone....and my Mentor is returning to Egypt...next month.