Aslan Media's Letters From... Series

 

Every person sees news through their own local and national reality, filtered through religion, culture, local politics, and unique personal perspectives. Every town, city, region, nation, and region has its own story, and every news story has a thousand different perspectives.

Our "Letters From..." series brings you the experience of current events with local perspective, providing richer detail than a top-down news organization ever could. Written entirely by our Citizen Reporters all over the world, this growing series of blog posts provides focused glimpses into the news and stories that are merely printed words and pictures for the rest of the world.


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Brotherhood Deliberations

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After the crisis in Tahrir Square finally deescalated through the courageous act of thousands of women marching to the square, demanding an end to violence, political leverage is being sought as parties propose plans to hurry the presidential elections. The military council succumbed to such pressure following the clashes of Mohamed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir, to guarantee elections before the end of June 2012. Current ideas now call for elections to be as soon as January 25, the one year anniversary of the revolution.

Proponents of this idea argue that the military must be returned to its barracks as soon as possible, having mangled the democratic transition if not actively opposed to it. This cry is heard from across the political spectrum, from liberals and Islamists alike.

Read moreBrotherhood Deliberations

Early Election Observations in Egypt

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On the first day of voting, I took a morning stroll through our neighborhood to see the early activity surrounding our four public schools hosting parliamentary elections. Polls opened at 8am, and I crossed the street, walked a block, and began to observe.

A few things stuck me immediately. First, a long line. Over 100 people were in the queue, side by side. Second, they were all men. I thought this was peculiar. Third, the guard. About four or five soldiers manned the entrance to the school, while two or three policemen monitored traffic and paid general attention to the surroundings.

Fourth, the propaganda. Opposite the school were about twenty volunteers for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, distinguished by their bright yellow hats with the party logo.

Read moreEarly Election Observations in Egypt

Live Report: What’s Going on in Downtown Cairo?

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9:30pm Local Time, Cairo, Egypt 11/20/2011

Right now, the crowd in Tahrir Square is in the tens of thousands and growing quickly.  The square itself has a very safe, communal feel to it, and many observers have likened the crowd to the crowds last January.

A couple of streets away, however, a battle between crowds of Egyptian youth and armed security forces is going on its 48th hour. According to the latest official count from the Health Ministry, six protesters have been killed and more 1300 injured over the last 24 hours alone. There are widespread reports that security forces are firing live ammunition along with tear gas, while protestors are throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks in response.

In the heart of downtown, storefronts are locked up; there is little light, and demonstrators cycle in and out of the violence, walking and stumbling with their masks, faces puffed up and dirty from the tear gas that has been fired on a continuous basis for the last 48 hours.

Read moreLive Report: What’s Going on in Downtown Cairo?

Religion and Politics in the New Egypt

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As everybody knows, under the rule of Hosni Mubarak religiously inclined political parties like the Muslim Brotherhood were outlawed, though Brotherhood candidates still ran for office as independents. Now that Mubarak is gone, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood will be able to run openly for Parliament. And while the ruling Military Council has maintained the law forbidding religious political parties, there is no question that other political parties in Egypt with a religious reference will arise. There has even been an effort to enroll at least some Christians into the new Islamic-reference parties.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, for example, includes a Christian Vice-President, and boasts 100+ Copts among their 10,000 members. Though I am unaware if other Islamic-reference parties also have Christian members, the precedent set for the Freedom and Justice Party of the Brotherhood has led also to a party for al-Jama’a al-Islamiya and various Salafi trends. No semblance of a Coptic party has yet emerged, but the Free Egyptian Party, financed by wealthy Coptic businessman Naguib Siwaris, is composed 30% of Copts, far above their percentage in population.

Read moreReligion and Politics in the New Egypt

Clashes, Deaths at Coptic Protest in Maspero

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This article appeared on ASenseofBelonging.com on October 10, 2011.

Egyptian State TV confirms 23 dead and over 170 injured in clashes between largely Coptic protestors, unknown assailants, and Egyptian military police on October 9, 2011. Protestors began their march from the heavily Christian neighborhood of Shubra at 5pm, culminating at the Egyptian Radio and TV Building in Maspero in downtown Cairo. The peaceful march was scheduled to end at 8pm, but was attacked at various stages along the route by unknown opposition.

I received word of the protest earlier in the day. Having witnessed the Coptic attempt at a sit-in at Maspero five days earlier, which was eventually dispersed by the army, I wished again to get a sense for the manner in which Copts were expressing their grievances. These largely centered on the burning of a purported church in the village of Marinab, in Edfu, in the Aswan governorate on September 30. Many Copts believe the interim government to be lax in protecting their community and securing equality of citizenship; what is certain is that a lack of security throughout the country has led to abuses.

Read moreClashes, Deaths at Coptic Protest in Maspero

An American's View of The Culture of Conspiracy in Egypt

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As an American, I am used to politics being partisan and even at times vitriolic. But at least there is usually some agreement on the rules of the game and the validity of the constitutional system. Although political opponents criticize their adversaries as being servants of particular agendas, these cries generally do not descend into the realm of conspiracy. Yes, some on the “Left” believe there is a theocratic effort to take over the US government, and some on the “Right” think liberal secular humanism is bent on destroying “traditional” American values. Yet on the whole, the mantra proves true: Politics is the art of compromise. Following the vitriol, most American politicians do just that, and most Americans appreciate it.

In contrast, an American resident in Egypt – if he pays attention to local politics – will find the entire political culture awash in conspiracy theories. The tendency is to be dismissive; it is the response of a paralyzed people seeking to blame others for their problems, and a government actively encouraging the paranoia. Yet as a respected Egyptian journalist friend with experience on both sides of the Mediterranean told me, foreign hands have been meddling in Egypt for centuries. In other words, the palpable paranoia in this country is fueled by reality.

Read moreAn American's View of The Culture of Conspiracy in Egypt

The View from Tahrir: What Comes After September 9th?

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An earlier version of this article appeared on YearinCairo.com, on September 10.

Pulling into the Sadat Metro station in downtown Cairo at around 1 pm as Friday prayers reached a close, there was near silence and little sign of the budding protest above ground.

Political groups of various persuasions increasingly fed up with what they believe to be lackluster reforms and authoritarian policies by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) called for the September 9th protests in the name of “Correcting the Path of the Revolution.” Issues ranging from the timetable of upcoming elections to rising street crime have been particularly contentious issues.

Read moreThe View from Tahrir: What Comes After September 9th?

July 4th in Cairo

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Sadly, Egypt is in a slow downward spiral. The military government clearly does not feel empowered to do much. Crime is up. Even basic enforcement of parking laws is down. The country really needs elections and a strong president to come in and start rebuilding society. Oddly enough, this is exactly what Omar Sharif told our church even before the revolution - Omar is a very smart man!

It is easy to wonder at this period of instability, but we Americans tend to forget the time and uncertainty between our Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the Constitution, or the host of issues that were not fully resolved until the Civil War. Egypt is in that transition. We can only hope is does not take hundred years to get through it, as it did in the US. Farouk, Nasser, and Mubarak all missed real opportunities to get Egypt where it needed to be (Sadat had his hands full with the aftermath of the 1967 war with Israel). I still have faith that eventually the current population will do what needs to be done.

I often ask myself if I would recommend people visit Egypt as tourists. The reality is that Egypt is desperate for tourism, but it is not the same place it was. A friend of mine had a daughter of one of their friends come recently. The interesting thing is that the daughter was visiting as part of a Jewish High School trip. All went well. They had an organised trip that had Tourist Police assigned to their group (they tend to be some of the best trained police in Egypt), and they were smart about what they said and wore. Even now, Egypt is probably more safe than many cities in the US or Europe.

Read moreJuly 4th in Cairo

Cairo, A City Stuck in Limbo

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At first glance, Cairo doesn’t seem like it just hosted a revolution against a decades-old regime. But stop and wander its streets, and it quickly becomes apparent that the city has a tense, uncertain calm.

Four months after the Egyptian people ousted Hosni Mubarak, Cairo has not radically changed. The traffic is still a crazy flow of cars with no real order; people go about their daily routines, most of them doing what they can to make ends meet. But that does not mean that the revolution is forgotten. On the contrary, walking around the city it is hard to not be reminded of the revolution’s success and the challenges that lie ahead.

With that, Cairo does seems stuck in a post-revolutionary limbo. Mubarak is out, but the Supreme Council of Armed Forces is running the interim government with a level of indecisiveness that suggests they themselves do not have a specific plan for the country.

Parliamentary elections are set for September, but there remains a sense of uncertainty as to whether or not the military will give up its leadership role (Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak all ruled over a security state and came from the military. The prospect of civilian rule would upset more than 60 years of Egypt’s governing structure). At the same time, cracks in the united front that brought down Mubarak are starting to appear, and fears of an Islamist takeover led by the Muslim Brotherhood are on the rise. Nothing is definite, things are unclear and instead of looking forward, Cairo seems to be hanging onto the immediate past.

Read moreCairo, A City Stuck in Limbo

Letter From Egypt: News From the First Election

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Amazing how quickly Egypt went to second tier news. Events here have been overshadowed by Japan and Libya (perhaps with good reason). However, things do continue to change here.

Egypt survived the first real vote last weekend. People voted overwhelmingly for the changes to the constitution. It was interesting to hear how this was interpreted as a vote for change.

The reality is that no one was voting against change. What the yes votes are really saying is that even if they do not fully agree with the draft as is, they want to have elections soon and get back to "Normal" sooner rather than later. The more thoughtful Egyptians I know voted against it (both Christian and Muslim) because they think the current draft still gives too much power to the President and they want more time before the elections. To be fair, some of the Egyptians I really respect voted for it - why? Because it will allow for elections soon. Besides they say, a brand new constitution will be written in the fall, so why worry too much about this draft. Perhaps a bit naïve?

Read moreLetter From Egypt: News From the First Election