Happy Easter to all my Greek and Greek-Cypriot friends.
Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category
Lately, I have been taking a lot of taxis. Naturally, that means hearing unsolicited political opinions, life lessons, and impromptu stories about women who match my exact physical description and share my sense of style (and, sometimes, my name) getting mugged, raped or murdered, in the hope of scaring me into begging them to my full-time driver and shield of protection.
Last week, one managed to convince me. Instead of suggesting I promptly take his phone number and call him whenever I need to venture out into the jungle that is Cairo, Reda, my new driver, casually offered me a shotgun for a reasonable LE600.
Being the picky shopper that I am, I refused to simply buy the first gun I hear of and asked for options. Obligingly, Reda decided to call a guy, who knows a guy, to get me a beginner’s collection. “Something small for a small lady,” he told him.
I had two options, Reda told me: *Fard Kartoush* (a birdshot gun) for LE700, plus an additional LE70 for 10 bullets, or a 9mm for LE2000 (the gun is actually worth LE15,000, but since it stolen from a police department during the revolution, Awad, Reda’s friend and dealer, is not too keen on keeping it) or settle for the lowly sound-gun-turned-real-gun for LE1000.
The latter is known for breaking itself after the third shot, because its transformation into a killing machine was conducted by a underemployed carpenter, looking to make a quick LE200 by changing the gun’s barrel.
My second option was to go to Suk al-Salaah (the weapons market), which is part of Suk al-Imam al-Shafa’i in Sayeda Ayesha.
I was given simple directions: “Go to the stolen bedrooms market and ask them to point you to the weapons market.”
Realizing that I don’t know where the stolen bedrooms market (which, as the name suggests, is a market where stolen bedrooms are sold for prices so low, they are technically being stolen all over again — although some of the beds and dressers were just the natural result of divorce), so I asked Reda to tag along with me, partly out of self-preservation.
Since it was a Tuesday, and the market is officially held on Fridays, not many people were there, quite unlike Fridays, when the market is so full of people no car, no matter how small, can get in.
There was a group of idle shoppers chatting rather than discussing prices with dealers selling all kinds of things from old Nokia phones to curtains. There was an argument about an overpriced *matwa mafaragha*, a Swiss knife whose blade is serated and pointy, literally giving it an edge over all other *matwas*. The young man, who didn’t want to pay LE20 for it, was quickly pulled back by another buyer.
Reda said that the oddly peaceful end of the heated argument was very normal in the market, where quarrels are uncommon.
“Both the buyer and the seller come here knowing it’s against the law, no point in hassling over prices and making a fuss,” Reda explained. “Not that we are scared of the police, they know where we are and what we do, and they do nothing… the point is everyone here is armed (or in the process of getting armed), if someone is provoked enough to shoot; everyone will start shooting,” he continued.
However, the buyers are not just shady young men; they are shop owners, worried fathers, car owners, etc. Just people who have lost all faith in law enforcement and don’t want to be the defenseless victims of thugs, particularly now that weapons are readily available courtesy of Libyan and Sinai smugglers, and more importantly, the famous January 28 2011 police station raids.
Ironically enough, many of those much-feared thugs also shop in Suk al-Salaah too. So the future victim and criminal rub shoulders while calmly arming themselves against each other.
“Is your girl buying or not?” an exasperated Awad asked Reda, purposefully ignoring my presence and interrupting our conversation. “I am not his girl,” I corrected him. Awad already knew that, but was presumably trying to get to buy something, anything.
Having had no real intentions of buying weapons, I simply pretended to be unimpressed by all of them. At one point, I half-jokingly complained about the lack of color variety.
I felt somewhat safe in doing so, because both my gender and looking the way I do (i.e. not looking poor), gave the few people I spoke to, the impression that I am easily fooled bag of money that would cough up double the desired amount. So long as I paid Reda his promised LE200 for his time and implied that I was going to be back later to buy; I was safe.
Meanwhile, the gun market for the upper class is booming too. The only difference is that the gun you would get for LE3000 in Suk al-Salaah is sold for continously-increasing prices, which can easily reach up to LE20,000, in an air-conditioned store in Heliopolis or in the vaulted corner of a fancy gas station, like the one in the beginning of the Ismailia road. Also, they have color variety.
Other than getting a chic shade of gold, the only advantage to buying these guns is that one would be forced to first get a license. However, Reda argues, that the ubiquity of weapons and indifference/incompetence of the police force makes getting a license, which is a hassle in and of itself that drives many to Suk al-Salaah, is hardly a necessity, yet alone an advantage.
While knowledge of the growing illegal, and legal, markets of weapons is as common as the weapons themselves, the market continues to fly under the radar of both the police and the media.
That being said, here is one of the few reports about illegal weapons. It’s an interview with a smuggler and a weapons dealer, who is preparing for his Masters in International Law, and sometimes buys weapons by entering the name of the gun he wants into Google to look for someone who has it. Once found, he would add that person on Facebook to discuss the details of their transactions (those who send late replies or ask for too money are mercilessly poked to deactivation, I imagine). He likes to have a three-year-old kid fire the guns.
– Nour Youssef
Published in The Arabist.
A brief glimpse of the work of Canon Andrew White at St George’s in Baghdad.
- Under siege but vicar of Baghdad is still spreading the word
- Canon Andrew White at Guildford Baptist Church
- Candles in Lincoln Cathedral
On the day the Boston Marathon was bombed, far worse bombings took place in Iraq. The curate of St George’s narrowly escaped with his life.
Synchronicity: Only recently was I telling my lovely friend Annie of St George’s in Baghdad and the work of Canon Andrew White. This morning I received from Andrew this video. In the post an in-house newsletter of Lincoln Cathedral, with highlighted a thank you from FRRME on behalf of Canon Andrew White for their generous donation of £1,000 to their important work of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. I may, in part, had something to do with this, as I gave Lincoln Cathedral a DVD of a talk Andrew White gave in Guildford. From little seeds grow great things.
Set on the eve of the invasion of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. The action takes place in a square.
I just made it as it started a heavy downpour. For some reason, I was not given a programme as I walked in.
As it was a few minutes before the service started, I lit a candle for the massacre of the innocents.
Service of Nine Lessons and Carols is a community event. People from different walks of life read the lesson.
Afterwards mulled wine.
I had brought along The Pilgrimage to give to a friend. Sadly she was not there, or if she was I did not see her. I gave it to one of the choristers who was a little surprised to receive a gift. I hope she likes it, as she actually knew what the book was about.
Paulo Coelho speaks of some people needing ritual, it is the rhythm that governs their lives. We have rhythm, a clock, the day, the seasons.
I walked to the station lost in thought. In The Witch of Portobello Jesus looks into a church and thinks to himself, even I would not be welcome here. I do not think he would think that looking into St Nicolas, but he would question.
The only time Jesus sanctioned violence, apart from his own violence to the money changers in the temple, was when he condoned violence to those who harm children.
Two days ago we had violence done to children and to those in whose care they were. We had incredible courage shown by the female teachers, some of who laid down their own lives to protect the children during the massacre of the innocents.
There was not a mention. Not a mention. Not a prayer. Not a moment of reflection.
One of those who read the lesson was a head teacher of a nearby primary school, last year her children participated in the service. One of her colleagues also read a lesson.
Why did they not hold up the lesson and tear it to pieces? This was my lesson for today, but instead I am going talk of the massacre of innocents.
One of the lessons was of the massacre of the innocents instigated by Herod. No mention of the massacre of the innocents at a primary school two days ago.
Two thousand years ago, Bethlehem was under the jackboot of military occupation. Today Bethlehem is under the jackboot of military occupation. There was no mention.
It is excellent that St Nicolas still keeps alive the traditions that many churches have forgotten. But it also has to operate in the real world, to show that it has some relevance.
Philip Yancey in one of his books, possibly What’s So Amazing about Grace?, refers to a man who swore in church during a sermon. Giles Fraser has recently made reference to the same incident. Shock horror, but what should have been far more shocking was what the man was talking about.
Sometimes we have to jolt people out of their rituals. Rituals have a tendency to degenerate into cosy complacency.
I found it hard to fathom, no prayers said for those children aged six to seven gunned down, their grieving families, no moment of refection, a few minutes of silence.
Maybe I am being too hard. They did have a collection to raise funds for a refuge for the homeless, but if we did not have slash and burn of public services, with a ConDem government hitting the most vulnerable in society, if the rich did not dodge their taxes, we would have no need for the poor to rely upon charity from St Nicolas.
Mousa Maria lives in Occupied Palestine, in the West Bank town of Beit Ummar, a town now surrounded by six illegal Israeli settlements.
The farmers go out to work their land with difficulty. They are beaten and shot by settlers and Israeli soldiers. Their olive trees are cut down, the land flooded with sewage from the illegal settlements. An apartheid wall is planned which will cut the farmers off from their land.
If land is left unused, the Israelis declare it abandoned and seize it. One project is to ask people in the West to finance the planting of trees, in order that the Israelis cannot claim land is abandoned.
The entrance to Beit Ummar is guarded by an Israeli watch tower. Periodically the town is sealed off by the Israelis. If the townsfolk attempt to leave, they will be gunned down by the Israelis.
Mousa Maria became an activist at the age of seventeen, when his college was occupied by Israelis and turned into a prison, an Israeli flag flown over the building. Mousa Maria and his friends, wanted their college back, wanted to continue their education. They decided on direct action, for which they paid a very heavy price. They decided to rip down the Israeli flag and replace it with a Palestinian flag. Two of his friends were gunned down and killed. He was arrested and thrown into prison for five years.
In prison began his education as an activist. He realised violence would not work. It would simply provoke even greater violence from the Israelis and it was what the Israelis wanted, as then the Palestinians could be portrayed as the violent aggressors, and the Israelis seekers of peace. No matter what the provocation, Palestinians have to learn to respond with non-violent direct action.
A second spell in prison, Administrative Detention (held without trial).
Children are arrested by Israelis and thrown in prison.
Training is being given for people to record what they see and upload to the net.
Western observers are needed to bear witness to Israeli atrocities.
The Palestinian Authority has no authority, the only authority is Israel.
Lawrence of Arabia and the Arabs were betrayed by the British and the French, who carved up the Middle East, replacing the Turks as the new colonial master. The Balfour Declaration granted the Jews the right to occupy part of Palestine, classic divide and rule. Israel is a terrorist state founded on terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Jewish terrorists landed in Palestine, massacred Palestinians and British, drove the Palestinians out of their villages, invited other Jews to join them to occupy the land they had seized. T E Lawrence drew up his own map. Following his betrayal, we suffer the consequences today. Kurdistan would have been a state, as would Palestine. There would have been no Israel. There would have been no Palestinian problem. The countries we now see in the Middle East are artificial countries drawn up by the British and the French.
The Balfour Declaration (dated 2 November 1917) was a letter from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild), a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland:
His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
The weapons used by the Israelis are supplied by the British and Americans.
There is no hope of action by the United Nations, the Arab countries or the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians are a non-people the rest of the world wish would go away.
It is for ordinary people to act, to boycott Israeli goods, to pressure their governments to introduce an arms embargo on Israel, an economic embargo, Israeli war criminals to be arrested and charged, their bank accounts frozen.
Mousa Maria is co-founder of Palestine Solidarity Project and Center Four Freedom and Justice. His talk at St Nicolas Church in Guildford comes towards the end of a three week speaking tour of the UK.
Following the meeting at St Nicolas Church, Zaytoun Palestinian olive oil was on sale.
- Israeli Apartheid by Ben White
- Israeli Apartheid – A talk by Ben White
- Israel is an apartheid state (no poll required)
- Britain must atone for its sins in Palestine
- Picking olives under occupation
- Nablus: The Business of Occupation
- Sindyanna of Galilee – fair trade for a fair society
- A massive shooting of live ammunition direct at people as Israeli army invaded Ni’lin: three people severely injured
No country would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. — Barack Obama
Why 200 flights and only 15 dead? We want 15 flights and 2000 dead. — Michael Ben Ari addressing a rally
In war parents bury their kids. In peace kids bury their parents. In Gaza, Israel buries whole families under the rubble. — Dr Norman Finkelstein
There is no middle path here – either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip. — Glad Sharon, son of Ariel Sharon
We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods …flatten all Gaza. — Glad Sharon, son of Ariel Sharon
This is chilling and very upsetting, more upsetting than seeing the dead bodies of children.
The first day of the attack by Israel on defenceless Gaza, the missiles rain down and the kids show their defiance.
Israel took out the military head of Hamas, knowing this would lead to a response from Hamas, which in turn gave them the excuse to bombard Gaza.
Why? Because peace talks were taking place. Israel does not like peace talks. Peace talks make the Palestinians look reasonable. Therefore whenever peace talks are taking place, Israel provokes the Palestinians into taking some form of military or terrorist action, to justify an iron fist response.
When peace talks are taking place, attention focusses on the theft of land not suicide bombers.
US and UK talk of the right to self-defence, of Israel not Gaza, then give the green light to Israel to go ahead.
Hypocrite Obama talks of missiles raining down. Drone strikes in Pakistan?
Sharon Udasin of the Jerusalem Post asks Israelis: “Does anyone have pets who are freaking out because of the rocket sirens? If so, please contact me today for a story. Thanks!” Jeez these Israelis are all heart.
At the weekend, Israel targeted journalists reporting from Gaza.
The true face of Israel can be found in the Israeli media.
Contrast the children in Gaza with a rally in Israel.
We shall overcome, we shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Deep in my heart, I do believe
That we shall overcome someday
And we’ll walk hand in hand, we’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand one day
Deep in my heart, I do believe
That we’ll walk hand in hand one day
And we’ll break down the prison walls, we will tear down those prison walls
Together we will tear it down, the prison walls, on that day
Deep in my heart, I do believe
Yeah we will tear down all those prison walls on that day
Deep in my heart, I do believe
We will tear down all those prison walls on that day
And the truth will set us free, the truth will set us free
The truth will set us all free on that day
And deep in my heart, I do believe
That the truth will set us all free on that day
And we shall overcome on that day
People didn’t accept the idea that Salafi guys could sit and drink in Costa Coffee. Everybody was unfriendly. It’s because they have a perception that Salafis don’t go for coffee in such places. — Mohamed Tolba, co-founder of Salafyo Costa
Through our Facebook page and our videos we are trying to tell them: Hear from us rather not about us. — Ahmed Samir, co-founder of the Facebook group
Do you guys sit in Costa? People would look at us in bafflement because they had a perception that Salafis don’t drink coffee in such places. It’s what I call visual abuse. It’s sad but funny. — Mohamed Tolba, co-founder of Salafyo Costa
Costa Salafists are quite literally, Salafists who meet in Costa coffee shops.
The Arab Spring kicked off in Tunisia, then spread to Egypt.
If you watched closely, as I did, you would have seen people on the streets, in Tahrir Square, many ages, but many young people, many young females, young females who were treated as equals, small groups forming, engaging in articulate, animated, but above all informed discussion and debate.
Move forward, the toppling of dictators, then elections.
All then seemed to have been lost, in Tunisia what could be called a soft Muslim party took power, in Egypt a harder Muslim Party the Muslim Brotherhood took power and behind them the hard line Salafists.
It seemed as though all had been lost, lives sacrificed for nothing. But all may not be as it seems from a superficial glance.
To topple a dictator is to question power. Power is usually toppled at the top, to be replaced by the same for example as we see in Animal Farm.
Tahrir Square was grass roots, question from the bottom. Once that genie is out of the bottle it is impossible to squeeze back in. Something Putin need to understand with his imprisonment of Pussy Riot and clampdown on opposition.
Girls who were not allowed out of the house, took to the streets. They now question. They are no longer prisoners in their own house.
Students question their teachers. Bribes are no longer paid to policemen.
We take reading for granted. If you cannot tread, how can you travel around, how do you know which street to find, how can you catch a bus if you cannot read the number?
The Taliban tried to silence Malawa, they failed.
The first word of the Koran is read.
Costa Salafists are so named because they quite literally meet in Costa coffee shops. A pity they cannot find local indie coffee shops in which to meet.
Costa Salafists would appear to be an oxymoron. Are Salafists not hard line intolerant bigots and Islamic fundamentalists, is not Costa a Western imposed coffee chain, the last place Salafists would meet? It is exactly because of that perception why they meet in Costa coffee shops. They even count Coptic Christians among their core supporters.
When I met Mohammed Tolba, the founder of this initiative, many of my own assumptions of Salafis were fundamentally challenged; to be frank, I didn’t realize Salafis could be so light-hearted and tolerant. Mohammed emphasised some basic struggles that the group faces: reminding themselves and other Salafis that they do not have an absolute monopoly on religious truth, and encouraging Salafis to have regular and meaningful interactions with other Egyptians rather than isolating themselves as they have for many years (which in part was a result of the discrimination they faced under former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak).
They believe in the authority of the Koran, but in a living interpretation of the Koran, an interpretation that your heart tells you is correct.
The Prophet warned, only heed a fatwa if your heart tells you it is correct.
The Old Testament was never meant to be written down as to do so would be to set it in stone. It was a living document that was interpreted to suit the present day. Later prophets constantly reinterpreted that which went before.
During Occupy St Paul’s, there often seemed as many clergy as there were occupiers at St Paul’s in-the-Camp. They were going back to original teachings of Jesus.
A cultural shift is taking part. At Occupy it was to question what was happening, the way our economy and financial systems function. In Greece and Spain that shift is of necessity as there are no jobs or at least no jobs in the formal economy.
When Super Storm Sandy struck New York, Mitt Romney saw it as a photo opportunity. Occupy New York got their hands dirty, Occupy Sandy was born, they were out helping people, feeding people.
People who were in Tahrir Square took their inspiration from Occupy, Occupy took their inspiration from Tahrir Square. Cross fertilisation.
The cultural shift that is taking place is being networked.
The Arab Spring was organised through social media. The Costa Salafists are no exception, making extensive use of Facebook.
- Green Shoots from the Arab Spring
- Salafyo Costa, Salafi Group, Works to Counter Intolerance
- Salafyo Costa aims to put a new face on fundamentalism
- Salafism and coffee
- PODCAST Interview: Egyptian Filmmaker, Karim El-Shenawy, on His New Film “Salafi”
- Young Egyptians use Facebook, coffee to bring religions together