As the game progressed the Egyptians looked more sullen and spoke even less.
I poked my Canadian coworker.
This is strange. It’s like the Egyptians are bottling their anger and disappointment.
Though no sports fan, I enjoy sitting back and socializing over games with enthusiastic friends, sharing their excitement and learning a thing or two about the complicated world of sports so many swear by. (It’s similar to my fascination with religion…)
Yet, this game,the outcome of which would determine whether Egypt or Algeria would compete in the World Cup in South Africa, was different. No one talked, snacked or drank and tension filled the air. Though all day Egyptians had laughed, dawned flags and face-paint, now few looked like they were actually enjoying the action.
When Algeria scored the single goal toward the beginning of the match, there was complete silence. Did that really, happen? I squinted at the new “1” marking Algeria’s score, the replays and those around me. Though I was at an extremely crowded outdoor cafe, with tons more surrounding, there were no boos, or any other insults yelled at the offending goal.
Maybe they’re collectively not optimists? I wondered. During the previous game, which led them to this tie breaker, they scored in the first moment and last. They had needed to win by at least two points to advance and they had done it. After such a victory, the lack of optimism throughout the entire game surprised me. Rather than being a fun, social experience, the game seemed intensely personal to the Egyptian viewers.
The game ended and spectators rose and dispersed. The loudest noise was employers at the cafe forcefully stacking the cheap plastic chairs. We hurried out of their way.
The people can’t handle it, he explained. They’d go crazy. There’d be riots.
He also thought it would lead to less opposition toward Mubarak because as the primary supporters of the football team, Egyptians would environ the regime with their nationalistic aspirations for the team. Driving away from the cafe, our cab driver shared his views.
The next evening, another Egyptian friend and I sat in traffic in Zamalek. A natural occurrence in Cairo, we didn’t think much of it until we encountered riot police blocking entire streets and gangs of screaming boys donning Egypt flags and loud words.
In the past days, what seemed like it was going to be a losing M3lesh (whoops) for Egypt, quickly blocked from memory, has turned into a national and international attention steeling debacle. Though security concerns were present from the beginning, (BBC reported 15,000 security forces were at attention at the game in Sudan) because of pre-game violence, including Egypt attacking and injuring Algerian players in their bus and Algerians ransacking Egyptian businesses in Algeria, the level has quickly escalated and gained international attention.
Last week both nations recalled their ambassadors, leading the debate to switch from football to Arab unity and the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, used the opening of the World Economic Forum to call for peace between the two Arab nations. BBC has also reported that Amr Moussa asked Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi to mediate. So practical…
Verdict of the moment? Seems like Egypt might as have well won the match for all the trouble and politics being squeezed out of the plays.
Some links I referred to–though I’m in no way saying they’re all reliable news sources–part of the fun is the rumors. Part of the interest is the unverified facts and motives of the reports.
I have a lot to say about my work in Egypt, the Iraqi refugees and other I work with and the status and image of refugees more broadly. To begin, here is what I wrote for the Globe .
Though I was originally going to write this about a month ago, I postponed because I was concerned anything I wrote would be petty, not giving people an accurate idea of who these people are or what they have gone through, what they face or what they mean to me.
Also complicating things, is my role as a coworker, professional confident and employee. Though only a first person-blog entry, (as opposed to a reported news article) the lines between journalist and advocate, subjective and objective have become tangled and hazy. Though it’s might be possible to accept what is without overanalyzing all the whys and hows, I prefer making things complicated.
So, more to come…later. I have an appeal and training material to prepare. (The main reason I’ve neglected blogging recently.)
“What we try to do is give a voice to the south [Arab, developing, marginalized], said Al-Jazeera program editor, Richard Lewis, “[We] give a representation to the group of people who have so long been without a representative, without a voice.”
Aimed at After driving around in a maze of security and buildings for 20 minutes, we finally arrive
Though born in 1996 from money form Qatar’s government Al-Jazeera is completely independent.
Here is Al-Jazeera’s code of ethics. It’s written into the stone directly when entering the building.
Though intended to be self-sustaining within five years, Al-Jazeera continues to be 90 percent funded by Qatar’s Emir. The other 10 percent comes from advertising, mostly generated through the eight sports channels the network boasts.
Lewis and the others we met were quick to point out this set-up renders Al-Jazeera free from financial pressures of other networks. “We don’t have that commercial thing dragging us down,” his colleague said.
Nothing, it would seem is slowing Al-Jazeera. After thirteen years the single station has expanded to a network watched by 150 million households in 105 countries worldwide. In 2006 Al-Jazeera launched the English language channel.
Until recently, political reasons, have thwarted Al-Jazeera’s growth in the United States.
Initially lauded as much needed free Arab media, after September 11th we were bottled up with the rest of the region, Lewis explained.
While United States channels were forbidden to even show coffins, Al-Jazeera showed missiles effect on the ground as well as their sail threw the air.
Lewis said since 2005 relations have improved. “The administration understood their point of view wasn’t being represented in the Arab world.”
Beginning July 1st, Al-Jazeera will be broadcast 24/7 in Washington DC and two other cities.
Until then, you can watch a live-stream any time.
Included in our tour was the chair of a a reporter detained at Guantanamo Bay.
The first thing Michael Slackman wanted when he took a seat with us, 25 eager journalism students and our professor Carlene, was a coffee. Is this on or off the record? He asked us, before answering the question for himself. I hate when journalists go off record.
Slackman has worked in Cairo as the New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief going on seven years. Here are some interesting snippets from his hour plus chat with the group
You know that annoyingly overused quote about preparation and luck? On August 31, 1997, Slackman, the Albany NY bureau Chief for ?? was in London crashing at a fellow reporters house. Close friends were having a baby and he was in town for the occasion. He wanted sleep but the phone would not stop ringing. When he learned the reason–Princess Diana was tragically dead, he hit the streets in leu of the MIA Herald reporter. His wife, a photographer, was on hand too.
After street reporting he headed to see his friends at the hospital. The same hospital holding Diana’s lifeless body. We pushed our way to the front and they let us in when we said maternity. They must have though my wife was pregnant, he reasoned.
The only reporter inside the hospital, the scenes Slackman wrote earned him front-page coverage and a follow-up trip to London. From there he scored his first international post in Moscow then Egypt and the Middle East.
After about seven years in the Middle East Slackman describes his job as helping Americans understand how Arabs interpret events.
He was in Iraq when Bush announced the invasion and back for the elections.He thinks the Obama administration needs to rethink the word ‘terrorism.” Hezballah and Hamas, labeled as terrorist groups by many in the United States, are political parties here. “It’s really self-defeating not to speak to enemies.”
While his target audience is the United States, that hasn’t kept the Egyptian government from paying him a lot of attention. He said the people who work for him are continually harassed by government security. They won’t touch him directly because he’s American.
Some insider advice he shared after nearly seven years in the area?
Don’t believe people when they give you directions. After being pointed the wrong way many a time, he investigated phenomenon for a story. What did he find? “It’s more of a shame to say I don’t know than to give wrong directions.”
What do the words Islamic blogger bring to mind? Young extremists hacking away on old computers. Youth from poor backgrounds who have turned to Islam after secular dreams failed? Maybe you already know better.
Raya Shokatfard is a 63-year old female blogger for Islamonline.com and lived most of her life in the United States. She came to speak with us at Professor Sullivan’s flat and because of popular demand, spent the majority of the time sharing intimate details of her personal life. Ask some journalistic questions, Carlene chided us an hour or so into the conversation. It was little use–Raya’s story had us hooked.
A native of Iran, Raya’s family migrated to California in 1969 when she was 20 years old. A mini-skirt wearing model who owned a clothing store, drove a Rolls Royce and spent her time at a beach house, religion and modesty, so central to Islam were far from her mind.
At some point, these luxuries grew old. “I have everything but I’m really empty,” she remembers realizing.
Through Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity (she practiced as a Christian seven years) she traveled, still at a loss for what she sought. Then she read the Koran. “It was so plain, so clear. I felt I did find God here,” she told us.
Divorced with two children Shokatfard retreated to the mountains of northern California to home school her children in Islam and lead a more peaceful life. As her understanding of Islam deepened so did her desire to share and combat misconceptions about the religion.
Raya spent 16 years speaking in schools, churches and wherever she was welcomed about Islam. At the same time she operated as a highly successful real-estate agent.
Around September 11th she married a “strict” Egyptian husband with two other wives. He asked her to give up her real estate business–which she said was earning her $30,000-40,000 per month. “When you say you believe don’t you think Allah will test you?” she said of the financial sacrifice.
She also adapted the niqab (face veil) in addition to the hijab (headscarf) and abaya (full-length dress) she already wore. She continued giving lectures in rooms where men and women sat separately–she removed her niqab only facing women. She said she wanted to learn from her husband, who was under Allah. Women are vessels under their husbands, she told us. “Everything he asked me, I did,” she said of her second husband. “He was a very knowledgeable sheikh.
When she could not reach her husband to gain permission, she missed her own lectures.
After September 11th she wanted to do something more. I wanted to expand my audience, she told us.
She came to American University in Cairo and earned her Masters in Communication and Media. During this time she divorced her Egyptian husband–something common in Islam. After graduating in 2007 she was hired by Islamonline.com, the most widely read English Islamic publication. Today accepts a promotion to the position of chief editor
How are you guys grappling with all this? Carlene asked us mid-way through. I think we can talk freely here, she said. Raya has children who grew up in the United States. She spent her life there.
We did not hold back. We asked Raya about polygamy and feminism, her multiple divorces and relationships with her children.
“No matter what I did I was the smartest in everything. I became proud,” she told us. “I had the body of a woman but a mind of a man. When I really looked at characteristics of a believing woman, that is not me.” She described Saudi Arabian women who isolated and insulated themselves from the outside world.
What you’re saying is woman shouldn’t work? Isn’t that a privilege of the elite? I questioned her.
She held firm. It’s not women’s natural role. Their characters suffer. Raya considers her own activism different–not a financial enterprise she is doing the work of Allah.
After the session ended Stephanie Daly and I asked her questions for an article we’re writing about dating (stay tuned!).
Steph wanted a picture with her. Come in, come in, she encouraged me.
As the title of this program, “Media in the Arab World,” suggests, the point of our time here is partly to dabble in reporting internationally.
Carlene assigned a few pairs of students stories and invited the rest of us to pitch ideas.
The tourist police in Egypt, lounging around at every corner, inspired my first story idea.
Carlene paired Clarice Connors, a grad student on the dialogue, with me to get the scoop. We reasoned visiting the place of the incident, what we believed was a cafe in the Khan (Egypt’s biggest market), was a logical way to begin.
When we got an unexpected chance to visit the Khan straight from lunch yesterday, we jumped. We entered the Khan, the largest souk (market) in Egypt, pens, without knowing the name or location of the cafe or other crucial details of the event, such as date and number of casualties.
We gripped pens and pads, Clarice boasted her wide lens camera and I thanked my Arabic teacher from last year, Nermeen for teaching me crucial words, such as bombing.
As we walked through the rambling alleys and smiling vendors on each side enticed us with scarves, jewels, perfumes and endless other trinkets, we pondered how to bring up the sensitive subject of the bombing. Wandering we knew, wouldn’t cough it up.
The Khan is huge. We don’t even know the name of this place. We’re going to have to ask to get anywhere.
A boy, who looked a few years our junior, smiled from store filled with fabrics.
Though he was perplexed by my stumbling Arabic, the next group of vendors we asked were a hit.
Follow him, they said, pointing to an older man who was already weaving his way down the crowded streets. I shrugged at Clarcie–here we go.
He took us to Naguib Mafhouz, a cafe named after the most iconic of Egypt’s authors. We thanked our guide with a couple pounds–a constant means in Egypt and surveyed the scene.
“I thought it was outdoors,” I said to Clarice. We didn’t see any damage.
A small security stand with a couple tourist police stood to the right. We tentatively approached and began our questioning. The officers didn’t say a whole much, but the vendors were happy to chat and directed us further down the street. We continued down the alley, conducting brief interviews and snapping pictures. Keep going, it’s further down, source after told us.
We turned around the corner and there it was.
A strip of open cafes adjacent to the Mosque of Hussein. The two Samy brothers were our final sources. They pointed out the spot of the attack and wrapped up the interview by scribbling their emails on my pad along with the words “Face Book.” “Look us up, and come back to our cafe,” the younger brother asked. We promised we would.
Writing, which I did earlier this evening was equally interesting. Clarice and I sat in a smoky cafe and she typed as we orally composed.
What were we trying to say? I was interested in why the event was labeled a terrorist attack. Was it because a Western tourist died? Would any random act of violence in a tourist destination automatically qualify? Would a similar act in New York city gain the same reputation? Our sources told us life two days after the event returned to normal. Was this desensitization toward violence or had the media blown a relatively small incident out of proportion? Katarina Kratovac, an AP reporter we met earlier this week, said the international media waited for hours and no government officials came to brief them. Did the lack of information and followup on the event contribute the publics seemingly lack of continued attention to it?
That one short story could have gone so many ways. Reporters’ choices are endless.