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RANYA KHALIFA: "Democracy Digest"...


This blog is a personal quest from me to anyone out there who is interested in making Egypt a more efficient and human-friendly country, given our January 25th revolution which is paving the way for our transition to a true democracy.....I believe in Laws that are just, taking into account the plight of citizens who cannot speak for themselves out of poverty, illiteracy, or lack of a medium to get their voices heard.

Being an Egyptian with a western education, has given me the chance of seeing life from both prisms.  It is a privilege and yet a burden to explain two sides of a story all the time!! But, I am sure such is the plight of many people in this world who have a foot in both the oriental and the western culture.

My blog is designed to shed light on the myriad of issues that Egypt's economy, culture, and people will have to go through as they transition to democracy, as well as the plight of many Egyptians who cannot get their voices out to the media.  I want to try to put my knowledge to use whereby this blog could speak out on behalf of the underprivileged as well as minority groups in Egypt. 

My utmost objective is that this blog actively takes part in Egypt's post-revolution transition (and beyond) whereby readers all over the world gain insight into the real lives of Egyptians; be they poor, middle class, or elite Egyptians.  Egyptians are all in this ship together and it is up to us to steer it in the right direction, battling the high waves and dire straits that we will surely face on our route to democracy.... 

I envision a democracy where every citizen is respected, and is also an active participant in Egypt's progress...and where every leader is responsive to the people and is held accountable by these very same people.

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Who Will Write Our History?

Posted on January 21, 2012 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (95)

A question keeps hounding me these days as the first anniversary of our January 25th Revolution draws ever so close..namely, "who's going to write about January 25th and its aftermath in our history textbooks?" How will this revolution go down in history and how will the next generations perceive the "facts"?  What are the "facts" and who can claim to have a neutral take on what happened in Egypt, not only during the 18 days till the fall of Hosny Mubarak on February 11, 2011, but on the events of Mohamed Mahmoud street, Maspero and on People's Assembly clashes?

But, before I begin to panic that our history will be colored according to various political hues, or that whichever political party that is allotted the Ministry of Education will skew events according to its advantage, I am reminded of the fact that social media has become a de facto "big brother" breathing down everyone's neck..history is no longer recorded in newspapers and magazines, but has become an amalgamation of YouTube sound bites, Tweets, Blog posts and citizen journalism first-hand accounts, often accompanied with high resolution photography!  So, who again, will write our history?  And if we have several conflicting accounts of a particular event, who commands the one version that will go down in our students' history textbooks, as the most accurate, "unbiased" one?

And how does a people's Revolution get accurately and objectively depicted between differing forces of the Revolutionary Youth (not a homogeneous group by the way), who sparked the flames of January 25th and the Islamists who managed to garner 70% of parliamentary seats? The majority party, was won by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), securing a whopping 47% of seats all on its own! So, who will write our history? According to Wikipedia, history is "a field of research which uses a narrative to examine and analyze the sequence of events, sometimes attempts to investigate objectively the patterns of cause and effect that determine events".  But is there such a thing as "objective history"

When it comes to a Revolution like January 25th, a true people's Revolution, one without a leader to claim it as his own doing, could there not be more than one "valid" vantage point? What if the Muslim Brotherhood has one account of the events leading to January 25th, and its aftermath, whereas the Revolutionary Youth have another story to tell? And what if activists and citizen journalists recorded yet different accounts? Which vantage point is the neutral, objective one that will be presented to Egypt's students in schools?

At a delicate point in our modern history, there are opposing forces, some seeking to complete the January 25th Revolution whereas other forces are calling for "stability" and the reinstatement of the state's very essence, functions and aims. Oscillating within such a volatile time-frame, one which is characterized by a deep mistrust of authority, where institutionalized power is believed to be invariably exercised in the interest of those who wield it to exploit others, the question of ensuring factual recorded history becomes paramount...

So, who will write our history?

"Black Sunday"...What Lies Beneath...

Posted on October 11, 2011 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (73)

Countless blog posts and articles have been written and pundits have analyzed the events that took place on Sunday evening as Copts marched from Shubra to Maspero on October 9th, 2011.  But this march wasn't like the others that were held by Copts in Maspero since January 25th.  This "Bloody Sunday" brought out all that has been lurking beneath the "Egyptian fabric", which is in my opinion, in desperate need for alterations. And it was about time that this fabric ripped itself apart in order to mend itself back again...only if we, as Egyptians, recognize the faults and diligently work to remedy them.

How many times since January 25th did we hear the famous chants of Tahrir Square "Muslim and Christian are one hand"??...and why do we so fiercely want to demonstrate that Muslims and Copts are living together happily ever after?  Is it because in our "collective conscience" we recognize that there is a deep rift between them? When and how did this rift begin? I don't wish to delve into a historical analysis of events nor do I intend to recount figures and data.  I prefer to speak of these changes from a purely socio-political point of view.  

We must admit to the fact that the events of Maspero have revealed the ugly face of sectarianism in Egypt.  Muslims and Copts are not "one hand".  Muslims make up 90% of the Egyptian population and our personal ID's provide hard evidence of our religious affiliation.  I personally believe that your religion is a personal and private matter, one that should not be made public so as not to deprive any individual of an equal opportunity or chance in life.  Isn't that the essence of equality?  Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian-born political theorist wrote in his "constitution of liberty"  that equality of opportunity demands that "there are no artificial obstacles, such as birth, race or gender, standing in the way of people making the most of their natural gifts and achieving their full potential".  Therefore, equality demands a level playing field

When our personal ID's display our religious affiliation, that exemplifies a contravention in the essence of "equal opportunity" and "level playing field".  Not only is religious affiliation mandatory as a required field in Egyptian personal ID's, but I recall stating my religion in my resume whenever I applied for a job! Why does my religion have to figure in my resume?  Here I was thinking that getting a job was merely based on merits and job experience!  Would my religion affect my salary?  More importantly, would my religion affect my chances of being interviewed for the job in the first place? And the answer is "yes", whether we care to admit or not.  In Egypt, your religious affiliation "matters".

This fact was blatantly evident on "Black Sunday"...after watching several Talk Shows and reels of video footage, I got the sense that some Muslim Egyptians felt offended that Copts would dare take to the streets and "demand their rights".  How could a minority of 10% brazenly stop traffic and demand to be heard? But, it is their right, assuming that things will change after January 25th and that our "mentality" will evolve as well!  Ladies and gentlemen, the most persistent anxiety that concerns me is the "tyranny of the majority"..."whereby the majority would abuse their position of power to trample underfoot the rights of minorities, vindicated by a system that seemed to legitimize the realization of their desires and aspirations" (Ben Dupre). 

And if we are steadfast in our efforts to build a "new Egypt", one that is founded on equal opportunity, respect for human rights, and the empowerment of women, then we must come to terms with the fundamental term, "equality".  It is a long road ahead...but there's no turning back now.  Reversing decades of repression and contention will not be swift, but we also cannot afford to have cosmetic, rudimentary alterations to our "social fabric".  The January 25th revolution demanded, "freedom and social justice". Martyrs died during January 25th Revolution... and others died on October 9th.  They were all EQUALLY martyrs...they were all EGYPTIANS.

The Dark Compliment... (against repression in Africa)

Posted on June 28, 2011 at 6:31 AM Comments comments (0)
The Dark Compliment...

The link was cut, defined,
   Boundaries set, ranks resigned,
Minds saw reason, others struck blind,
    Torn in two, not aligned...

Separated by a stream of thought,
   Waters over which armies fought,
Rights of civilians couldn't be bought,
   No matter what the goodness sought...

Lands of preserved wilderness,
   Now ridden with bewilderness,
Cultures once unknown and dark,
   Being extinguished, leaving no mark...

Dark flesh, and blood, called third races,
   Are being repressed in locked cages,
Being shot down in upheavals and rages,
   For trying to cross to safer places...

Free the zibras, giraffes, and mice in mazes,
   "Display of wild animals in Kenya", exotic phrases!
Safaris stampeded with tourists and long gazes,
   While bodies lay infested in ditches, leaving no traces...

While the snow thickens in Antarctica...
   Fires have burned the bridges of Africa...

The Flowing Stream...(published this poem in the U.S.)

Posted on June 28, 2011 at 6:25 AM Comments comments (0)
The Flowing Stream...

A stream of no beginning,
    A tunnel of no ending,
An endless dream,
   A flowing stream...

Time has no meaning,
  It's no longer demeaning,
To show thy feeling,
   To reveal thy thinking...

No anger to persuade,
   My emotion to fade,
Thee shall never be bade,

Could I abandon thee?
    Become a dying winter tree?
A honey-starved bee?
  Alas! What's left for me?

Many come, many go,
  To them all I say: No!
Not I act so to please you,
  You are not my beau...

Doing not so is fallible,
   Acting otherwise; unallowable,
To you I am pure,

The stream flows endlessly,
   Its waters taste of purity,
Shine with clarity,
   Its strength; Mighty...

Re-visiting "gender inequality" post-January 25th....

Posted on June 7, 2011 at 5:33 AM Comments comments (51)

When women are fearful of walking in Egypt's streets because of increasing rates of sexual harassment, physical assault and rape, then we have a very serious social and behavioral problem.  I am not talking about a novel phenomenon that's taking shape post-revolution Egypt, nor am I speaking of increasing incidents that are due to lack of police forces.  I am speaking about a fact of life that has existed way before the revolution, specifically around the mid-1980s, when I personally began to feel the weight of harassment and the limitations that it puts on freedom of movement....a basic tenet of The Declaration of Human Right, Article 13-(1).

Sexual harassment on the streets of Egypt is where I chose to begin my wider topic of "gender inequality" in Egypt.  When women are judged by their clothes and appearance instead of being valued for their true moral and intellectual value, this gives me great cause for concern and disdain.  In patriarchal societies, such as that plaguing Egypt and perhaps the entire MENA region, women are generally considered to be means of human reproduction where their primary, if not sole "raison d'etre", is to produce babies and to nurture their offspring.  This is an extremely admirable objective.  But, I am totally against this being the sole goal of a young girl's upbringing and her "cultural socialization" in Egypt.

UNICEF defines gender equality as "leveling the playing field for girls and women by ensuring that all children have equal opportunity to develop their talents".  Do girls and boys have equal opportunities in developing their talents and skills?  To illustrate my point, I ask you to listen to this personal account of a rural woman from Fayyoum: "Reading doesn't make a woman socially acceptable or useful", Nesma said.  "Here, in the villages, we women grow up to marry and have children.  That is our role in life.  Anything else is a luxury".  (Cairo, March 8, 2006, IRIN).  IRIN, is a Service of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

What is even more noteworthy is the fact that according to the HDR (Human Development Report) for Egypt, 85% of female rural household heads are illiterate!  This is a fact which has further social and health-related implications for these women and for the Egyptian rural social fabric.  The fact that women in rural areas don't get the compulsory primary school education stipulated by Egyptian Law, allows parents to ignore even issuing the girls a Birth Certificate, which in turn means that the girls become invisible, i.e.  "off the population and hence human rights radar".  What does this mean for post-revolution Egypt? It means that a huge portion of eligible female voters will be essentially "kept in the dark" and denied their Constitutional and Human Right to vote.  Moreover, even if females get registered for a National Identity Card, they will be easily manipulated for their votes.  Therefore, the right to education is my first and foremost concern as it is the foundation for social progress on all levels.

Without proper education, women in Egypt will not become aware of their immensely vital and critical role in society post-January 25th.  This new role for women is the real stimulus for pushing the wheel of economic, social and scientific progress forward and to bringing Egypt into the 21st century as a hub of economic development for the MENA region.  An educated mother makes for a more controlled birth rate, lower prenatal death rates, better health indicators for mother and child, and an educated male and female population.  In short, once a mother knows the path to self-determination that education brings, she will not obstruct or prevent her children from attaining the same rights...

Ladies and gentlemen, the path to gender equality is a long one...but once we conquer the stumbling block of denying girls their right to education, then we are over the hill and on our way...


Deadly traffic jams: We need garages in buildings!!!!

Posted on May 31, 2011 at 6:36 AM Comments comments (95)

I absolutely detest traffic jams in Cairo, just like everybody else!!! But, one thing that truly bothers me is the fact that governors and governorate councils do not impose strict rules and regulations on buildings in the entire country!!! I mean, why in the world is there not a Law that stipulates and enforces all building owners to build and open up garages in buildings??  Why are the garages either not there, closed to the residents, or used as retail shops???

I am sure I am not the first person to ask this question...it must have been asked several times before...so, is there a Law that requires buildings in Egypt to have garages?? And why do building tenants still insist on using the garage space for shops or storage??  Isn't it obvious that if we imposed garage usage, then traffic jams would be immensely reduced in Cairo and in Egypt in general?  I understand that it is too late to have garages in old downtown buildings or in all the buildings that are in existence today...but what about empty plots of land and buildings under construction??And all future buildings???

If we are going to talk about a revolution in Egypt, then we must talk about ALL aspects of life in Egypt.  If we expect to progress and move forward and to compete on a global scale, then it is imperative that we seriously revisit the building construction Laws in Egypt and to understand that investors want an orderly and minimal traffic-jam environment which reduces their costs in terms of transportation, man-hours and efficiency.   Pavements have been created to serve the pedestrians and not for peddlers to sell their merchandise or for cars to park on them!?

If anyone knows of a Law which required that buildings construct garages, then please let it be known because something has to be done and someone has to do it.......

From revolution to constitution...who will sprint to the finish line?

Posted on May 22, 2011 at 12:03 PM Comments comments (0)

Egypt is definitely in a state of fluidity, fluctuation, exhaustion, unemployment, inflation...you name it, we have it.  And yet, I get this feeling that keeps tugging at my heart that there is a sleeping tiger out there waiting to sprint to the finish line.  That tiger will use everything and every means to win the trophy and be crowned "King".  For the time being, that tiger is not striped with dense black lines, but is rather camouflaged, inconspicuous and laying low, wanting desperately to blend in as much as possible, until the opportune moment, when it will show its real colors....

You may have guessed the true identity of "the sleeping tiger".  I would have much preferred the tale of "sleeping beauty", but I'll keep that notion in mind for another blogpost!!  Yes, I am talking about the Muslim Brotherhood and their seeming nonchalance towards current controversial "hot-spots" in the political landscape in Egypt.  Their every move is meticulously calculated, so as not to draw much public scrutiny or antagonism.  When revolutionary youth went to protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Giza, the MB were mostly absent from the scene, claiming that trying to break into an embassy is against the law and is against Egypt's interests (of course breaking into an embassy is against the law).  When youth decide to march on Gaza in a show of solidarity with their Palestinian brethren, the MB makes a disappearing act and claims that marching onto Gaza should not be a priority now as it could jeopardize Egypt's collective efforts to move forward on our own political and economic development.  Tomorrow"s May 27th (Day of Rage") will also be boycotted by the MB.  Is this a calculated break with the "revolutionary youth"??  Is the MB trying to take the moral high-ground and refraining from any act that would jeopardize its honeymoon with mainstream public opinion, not to mention the MB's appeasing stance with SCAF??

I am not saying that the MB's position is flawed or hypocritical, it is free to carve out its own position on matters, I am just saying that it is desperately trying not to "step on SCAF's toes"...because if the MB is my "sleeping tiger", then SCAF could be considered either my  "wicked witch of the forest" or perhaps, as some surmise, SCAF may turn out to be "Little Red Riding Hood" who's completely naive and lost in the wilderness, but desperately trying to get to save the ailing grandmother who's on her death bed??  You take your pick depending on which side you're on and who you are really rooting for in this story of epic proportions...  One thing is for sure now though, the Muslim Brotherhood will no longer be viewed as Robin Hood, who is fighting off the king and his men in order to give to the poor, justifying his means for his end....the MB has just inaugurated their first "overt headquarters" in Mokattum, boasting grandeur and "handsome interiors"....if anything, the MB is now flaunting its wealth whereas other new arrivals on the political scene are scrambling to make the cut...

If you ask me, I am still of the opinion that the largest and most powerful political party out there is the so-called "Sofa Party", or in twitter terminology, the #kanaba party...despite the number of leftist, liberal and Islamist parties that have colored our political landscape as of late, the vast majority of Egyptians have not yet joined a political party nor are they clear as to whether or not they even want to join a political party at all.  And I am certain that as the parliamentary elections draw nearer, come September, this mighty "sleeping beauty" will wake up and have a decisive hand to deal in our parliamentary elections outcome.  Which way will the wind blow?? Could the MB garner enough support to win 30-40% of parliamentary seats? In my opinion, that will depend on many factors:

1) How the media will portray the different political game-players; mainstream media will have a huge role to play here;

2) How the different political parties will campaign in governorates and rural areas; what do these parties have to offer to the disenfranchised and destitute workers, with the number of unemployed on the increase (700,000 unemployed in the last three months - Al-Ahram Daily, May 25th/2011)?  i.e. what's their economic program?;

3) The potential success of newly formed parties in bringing the voices of their constituents to the those in executive and legislative positions...how much power do these newly formed parties "really" have vis-a-vis the MB's clout? 

4) Could these new parties "displace" or even compete on the grassroots level with the MB in terms of providing services to the needy?? Civil society will have a mighty role to play here.

As the MB boycotts tomorrow's "Day of Rage", the latter may be a decisive day and a public  "litmus test" in terms of the real popularity or support that the "revolutionary youth" have on the ground. Egypt and the entire world will be watching and listening to what the "revolutionary youth" will have to say out there.  Who will listen? Who will heed the message coming out of Tahrir?? It's a big day for political pundits.....

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...

"Do we have a vision post Jan-25th?"

Posted on April 18, 2011 at 12:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Yes! Egypt's January 25th Revolution was a dream that had to be realized after 30 years of Mubarak's corrupt, stifling and repressive regime!!  Protesters in Tahrir Square as well as in many other governorates, notably Alexandria and Suez, came out in huge numbers and stood their ground, determined beyond a shadow of a doubt, that toppling the former president was both a necessity and an act of patriotism.

The Revolution was deemed "clean" and heroic by the international community, and we all felt proud of what the martyrs and "freedom fighters" in Tahrir and elsewhere all over Egypt had achieved for Egypt.  We felt like one homogeneous entity, Muslim embracing Christian, the old feeling proud of the tech-savvy young, and men and women standing shoulder-to-shoulder in street protests.  Slowly but surely, that homogeneous entity began to show cracks as different political factions and movements strode off in different directions, each striving to reap their own political gains.  This didn't come as a surprise, it was expected.  But, what I personally expect now from the coming government and president is a "Comprehensive Vision for Egypt".  In this blog post, I want to discuss my aspirations and hopes for a new and democratic Egypt. This list is by no measure exhaustive, but it contains the areas that I find most pressing at this stage. 

First, I want to see an extensive and intensive overhaul of the educational system, where curricula in both the public and private schools give students classes/courses in Human Rights Law, Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities as well as to increase  the level of cultural exchanges with other countries.  These countries need not only be Western cultures, but also Asian and Latin American cultures.  The aim is to reinforce the importance of cultural, ethnic and religious tolerance.  I also want to stress the importance of vocational training which is essential for economic development, sustainability, growth, and investment in Egypt.  A well-trained and skilled labor force will make Egypt's industries capable of facing global competition.  Needless to say, the Ministry of Education along with civil society NGO's and organizations et al must work relentlessly  to reduce the percentage of illiteracy in the country.

Second, I want to see a complete overhaul of the health system in Egypt, with an increase in the number of hospitals, particularly in areas with high population density.  Doctors need to get paid higher salaries and hospitals need skilled nursing/staff capabilities.  I want to pay particular concern to Drug Rehabilitation facilities, where it is stated by Egypt's National Council for Fighting & Treating Addiction (NCFTA) that there are 6 million addicts in Egypt i.e. 8.5% of the Egyptian population, many of whom are between the ages of 15-25.  The Egyptian media needs to have "Drug Awareness" campaigns, and to step up anti-smoking campaigns.  By the same token, attention needs to be given to mentally-disabled children, adolescents and adults.  The World Health Organization Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS), reports that 5% of the training for medical doctors is devoted to Mental health in comparison to 10% for nurses.

Third, I want to see humane living conditions for the millions of Egyptians who are currently stacked like sardines in Cairo's slums!!  It is reported that half of the entire Cairo population lives in slum locations i.e. approximately 10 million Egyptians!!  It is out of this extreme poverty coupled with illiteracy and a poor educational system, that religious fanaticism is finding fertile breeding grounds.   These slum-dwelling Cairenes as well as all the Egyptians dwelling in slum areas must be relocated to decent housing, with connections to the transportation grid, bus routes and metro subways. The government has to focus on housing as one of the main pillars of social and economic stability in Egypt, along with reforming the education system, and of course, raising the per capita income.   

Last, but not least, I turn to Egypt's notorious transportation/traffic problem!  Egypt's traffic congestion is killing us all slowly but surely, if not by pollution, then by frustration and rising blood pressure levels!  The traffic routes will need to be re-designed, if Cairo is ever to attract foreign investment.  I truly believe that no matter how many fly-overs or bridges there are in Cairo and in other congested governorates, the problem will persist if we do not branch out into uninhabited desert areas. Driving rules and regulations need to be completely overhauled, and these new strict rules must be adhered to, any contravention of these rules must be punishable in a court of law.  Moreover, in a recent survey, Egypt was found to be the number one out of 35 countries, in terms of road accident deaths, with 156 deaths for each 100,000 vehicles! 

There is so much more I could write about, but I think these areas of concern will suffice for this piece.  The list is endless and the resources are indeed limited.  Egypt needs its citizens to unite now more than ever to wipe clean the foundation of this country and to re-build it on fertile, solid ground.  Re-building will not succeed unless Egyptians feel and believe that they now have a stake in making Egypt not only a success in its own right, but a role model for the entire Middle East.  After decades of subservient foreign policies and a wishy-washy stand on many foreign policy issues, it is Egypt's chance to re-write its own chapter in modern history.  No Egyptian is to be left out of this "New Middle East Order".  After decades of living under a Pharoah's tenure, finally the rule of Law must reign supreme, and each and every one of us, must be equally held accountable under this Law...


"Reflections on the Niqab & "Clash of Civilizations"

Posted on April 17, 2011 at 8:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Dear Readers,

On Monday, April 11, 2011, France became the first European country to formally ban the wearing of the "niqab/burka" in public.  Any woman found wearing it in public will face a fine of up to 150 Euros or will have to take lessons in French citizenship.

A big question arises here: aren't lessons in French citizenship, tantamount to lessons in "French secularism"? On the other hand, some of the 2000 Muslim women who are believed to actually wear the face veil in France believe that "the street is the universal home of freedom and nobody should challenge that so long as these women are not impinging on anyone else's freedom" (guardian.co.uk, April 11, 2011).   Since this is the Muslim view of every woman's right to wear the niqab if she so chooses, then it should conversely and logically also apply to women in "Islamic" countries who are not veiled and who choose to walk freely in the street (the universal home of freedom) without being harassed, hassled or threatened.

But, how can one reconcile the views on both ends of the spectrum, especially when we refer to Article 18 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." In essence, the fact that France has banned the niqab could be considered an impingement on a Muslim woman's human rights!  On the other hand, France wants to strictly separate church and state as this is deemed central to maintaining a peaceful civil society....

How then could this ideological dilemma be resolved? Clearly, Muslim immigrants in France (about 5 million) are not integrating into the French secular culture as the French would like them to!  This brings to mind Samuel Huntington's theory on the "Clash of Civilizations" where "the primary axis of conflict in the future will be along cultural and religious lines"....as "the people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world".

But why are most of the clashes occurring between Christianity (upon which the Western civilization is based) and Islam?  Huntington made a number of very plausible factors which contribute to this conflict.  First, Christianity and Islam are both missionary religions, seeking conversion of others.  Second, they are both Universal, "all-or-nothing" religions, in the sense that it is believed by both sides that only their faith is the correct one.  Finally, they are both  Teleological religions, that is, that their values and beliefs represent the goals of existence and purpose in human existence.

This reality could be the cause of the stalemate between the Western and the Islamic worlds.  So, what could be the solution to resolve this cultural deadlock? In my opinion it would be that both parties learn to co-exist under the protection of constitutions whereby all citizens are treated equally regardless of race, gender,religion or ethnic background.  School curricula must enforce the rule that students are given classes in Human Rights so that children are "socialized" and accustomed to the equality of all citizens in the eyes of Constitutional Law.

Tolerance is the only path that the East and West could ever take to co-exist in today's world, as we share increasingly limited land and resources.  The niqab controversy is a case in point that clearly highlights the dilemma that the West faces in trying to integrate Muslim beliefs, traditions and culture. Differences between both cultures will always exist and both the East and the West should continue to preserve their unique identity, but in an inclusive rather than in an exclusionary framework...

Equality has to be enforced by the law, now more than ever, as the Middle East Revolutions will likely create an influx of immigrants to Europe thereby giving the issue of "assimilation" an even more urgent reality.