Robert Mugabe and ethical tourism

 
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By Christian Nielsen

Was Robert Mugabe’s appointment as UN ‘tourism ambassador’ an unforgivable travesty or can ‘guilt-edged tourism’ trigger reform in dictatorships?

Thursday 7 June 2012

Despite no formal title being bestowed upon the controversial ‘dear leader’ of Zimbabwe, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said the association with Robert Mugabe in the UN’s World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) was “outrageous” and symbolised “what is wrong with the UN”.

So, how did this farce come about? The story goes that UNWTO’s Secretary-General Taleb Rifai recently met the ageing Mugabe, along with Zambia’s President Michael Sata, at Victoria Falls on the country’s shared border.

According to a story in the UK daily,  The Telegraph, the three signed an agreement that UNWTO’s 20th General Assembly would be hosted there in 2013. Both presidents were then invited to “join hands with other world leaders and add [their] voice to our effort to position travel and tourism higher on the global agenda”. Rifai reportedly praised Zimbabwe for its hospitality. “By coming here, it is recognition, an endorsement on the country that it is a safe destination,” he said.

But criticism has poured in from around the world about the UN’s poor judgement, not only in this case, but in several other high-profile decisions in recent months. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the US House Foreign Affairs chair, went as far as to accuse the UN of “propping up dictators“, but that it had hit a “new low” naming Mugabe as a tourism envoy.

“[As] if North Korea chairing the Conference of Disarmament and Cuba serving as vice-president of the Human Rights Council had not been enough,” she is quoted as saying. “The continued rewards the UN bestows upon the world’s dictators has reached the point of absurdity. An organisation devoted to world peace and stability is propping up and aiding the very regimes that oppose such ideals.”

In its defence…

The World Tourism Organisation is a relative newcomer to the United Nations table and is perhaps showing its inexperience. And it is not even the only international tourism organisation on the block, with the World Travel and Tourism Council also exerting significant influence in the sector – which may grow if  UNWTO continues to bungle international relations on this level.

The UN describes its association with the WTO, a “specialised agency”, as a global forum for tourism policy issues and a practical source of tourism know-how. “UNWTO plays a central and decisive role in promoting the development of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism, paying particular attention to the interests of developing countries … [It] encourages the implementation of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, with a view to ensuring that member countries, tourist destinations and businesses maximise the positive economic, social and cultural effects of tourism and fully reap its benefits, while minimising its negative social and environmental impacts.”

Even a cursory glance at this manifesto reveals a few major missteps in cozying up with Mugabe, despite his country clearly qualifying for much-needed economic development. Under Mugabe’s three decades of rule, Zimbabwe’s economy has deteriorated from a mini-powerhouse of southern Africa to a spluttering basket-case. Crony politics has all but destroyed the country’s once robust and well developed agricultural sector. Combined with a decade of hyperinflation, low growth, massive debt, decrepit public services and knowledge flight, as the skilled and educated seek opportunities elsewhere, and you have a potent compote for a failed state.

According to the African Economic Development Institute (AEDI), President Mugabe’s Land Acquisition Act of 2000, which led to a massive redistribution of arable lands from thousands of experienced white farmers to less experienced black farmers, set the scene for economic failure. The plan was reportedly supported by Kofi Annan, then the UN Secretary-General, who said at the time, “The equitable distribution of productive capital, such as land, is not only economically important, but also essential to ensure peace and stability.”

The AEDI explained in a 2009 report on ‘The failing economy of Zimbabwe’ that Zimbabwe’s Land Acquisition Act had amplified a serious food shortage crisis. “If Zimbabwe cannot provide itself the basic elements of survival, such as clean water and food, there is very little prospect of any economic development,” it concluded.

So, Zimbabwe was in terrible shape in 2009, but what about 2012? There are some positive signs, at least when it comes to the economy. According to Africa News, Zimbabwe‘s economic outlook is bright. “The establishment of a government of national Unity (GNU) in February 2009 and the adoption of a multi-currency regime brought about economic recovery and price stability, and strong recovery will continue this year.”

Agricultural output, it reported, rose 15% in 2009 and 34% in 2010, largely from increased tobacco production. However, growth in manufacturing output slowed down to less than 3% in 2010 compared with 10% in 2009. This year, farm output is expected to increase as more land was put under tillage last year.

Guilt-edged tourism

The pariah state of Myanmar springs to mind as a similar international relations debate to that facing Zimbabwe now: do you prop open the door of a dictator by maintaining dialogue, or in the case of tourism encourage visitors to go there, or do you nail it closed, thus blocking any chance of light or change getting in?

This ‘guilt-edged tourism’ debate (read about it in my book Tourism and the media), has swirled mostly over the skies of Cuba and Myanmar, with the jury perhaps still out on both. But there are signs that greater openness and exposure to tourists and (it should be said) their dollars, euros, yens and yuans, at least opens the door to these notoriously tricky leaderships.

Could the same be said of Zimbabwe? Has the UNWTO acted in the spirit of its doctrine of “promoting the development of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism” or has it overstepped its mark, or just plain lost its way in a misguided attempt to sew up the world’s tourism patchwork?

In my humble opinion, the door needs to be open just enough to nourish any grassroots democratic and economic seeds worth reviving. Zimbabwe is clearly showing some signs of improvement since the GNU entered power in 2009, with opposition figure Morgan Tsangeri as prime minister. But there is too much bad blood – both internal and with the international community – with Mugabe still on the political scene.

The ageing leader will clearly jump on any warming in international relations at this stage of his career. At 88, he will be looking at legacies. Forgotten is his earlier role as the statesman who steered the country out of colonial rule. Remembered will be his role in the country’s economic decline and political repression, and perhaps even his newly bestowed title of tourism “ambassador” with a small ‘a’. Another dictator addicted to power goes from hero to zero.

 

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Egypt’s Nubians: damned by the dam

 
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By Khaled Diab

Half a century after the inundation, Nubians may finally gain recognition and redress for the loss of their homeland.

Monday 23 April 2012

Lower Nubia is modern Egypt’s very own lost Atlantis. This ancient land today lies mostly under the waters of Lake Nasser, a massive reservoir created by the Aswan High Dam.

Now, half a century after the inundation, Egyptian Nubians are finally being offered the prospect of decent compensation for the loss of their homeland in the 1960s. Following years of concerted campaigning by Nubian campaigners, and their active role in the revolution, Fayza Abul Naga, the minister for planning and international co-operation, announced that Nubians would soon be compensated with new farmland and villages.

Ever since Egypt’s controversial decision, taken soon after the 1952 revolution, to construct the High Dam, questions have persisted as to why Cairo was so cavalier with both the Nubian people and the priceless archaeology in which the region abounded.

Defenders and apologists insist that Nubia had to be dammed so that Egypt, one of the driest places on the planet and almost wholly dependent on the Nile for its water, would not be damned.

And despite its severe environmental impacts, which were foreseen long before its construction, the dam saved Egypt, in the 1980s, from the severe drought upstream in Ethiopia, where most of Egypt’s water originates. It has also played a major role in the modernisation, electrification and industrialisation of the country.

It has also been suggested that racism played a role too. However, I am not convinced that racial discrimination was a conscious factor in the decision to flood Nubia. As far as I understand it, the Nile had only one cataract in Egypt and this happened to lie near the ancestral lands of the Nubians.

Then, there is the question of regionalism and class. Egypt has long been run centrally from Cairo and the urban centres of the north, while the south, in general, has had little say in its own or the country’s future. That would explain why Upper Egyptian peasants were also uprooted by the dam. The sacredness of “national unity” has also played a role, with Nubia’s distinct culture and language often seen as a threat by the Cairo elites.

In addition, as elsewhere in the developing world at the time, development and modernity were a far more pressing imperative in the minds of Egypt’s central planners of the time than cultural preservation and tradition. That helps explain why the Egyptian government had not given much thought to the preservation of the unique archaeological heritage of the region, home to the ‘Black Pharaohs‘, until an international furor erupted.

The international community managed, under the auspices of UNESCO, to pull off perhaps the largest and most impressive archaeological rescue operation in human history which rehoused Nubia’s most significant monuments, such as the temple of Abu Simbel.

The Nubians themselves were not as fortunate, and no massive international aid was forthcoming to help them relocate. Some 50,000 Egyptian Nubians were forced to move from 45 villages and relocated to Aswan, which has become a Little Nubia renowned for its hospitality and the warmth of its people, and to the ill-thought out  New Nubia, near Kom Ombo.

Though New Nubia was supposed to mirror old Nubia, preserving its culture while introducing modern utilities, it was in reality a charmless development of small concrete housing which, unlike the lush Nubia they left behind, lay in the desert.

Dissatisfied with their new homes, a large proportion the inhabitants of New Nubia migrated to other parts of Egypt, though many dreamed of returning as near as possible to their ancestral homeland.

The reality of discrimination is reflected in the marginalisation that Nubians still endure. For instance, a disproportionate number of Nubians are employed in menial work, such as bawabs (janitors). In fact, in some parts of downtown Cairo, a cluster of poor Nubian communities exist on the rooftops.

Despite that, a few Nubians have made it to the very top of Egyptian society. Culturally, the Nubian singer Ahmed Mounib was the first to introduce mainstream Egypt to the mellow sounds of Nubia. His protege, Mohamed Mounir – himself a refugee from the Aswan dam – has managed not only to put Nubian music on the map, with his funky fusion of traditional Nubian with jazzy western sounds, but was also one of the very few mainstream artists to sing socially conscious lyrics before the revolution.

Interestingly, in spite of their general underrepresentation, Nubians have fared markedly better in the highest echelons of Egyptian political life, perhaps due to the fact that the army has been one of the few routes open for the advancement of the marginalised.

The country’s third president Anwar Sadat, although he grew up in the north of Egypt, was the son of Nubian parents, while the country’s current de facto leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, is also of Nubian origin.

In recent years, attitudes towards Nubians have been changing, and there is a growing recognition that the Nubian people were wronged. This process has gathered pace since the revolution erupted, and one can only hope that Nubians will be allowed to resettle in what’s left of their homeland and be treated as full equals elsewhere in the country.

 

This article first appeared in The Guardian‘s Comment is Free on 21 April 2012.

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Black pride in the Holy Land

 
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By Khaled Diab

Africans in the Holy Land are challenging the whitewashing of their identities and are taking greater pride in their heritage.

Friday 30 March 2012

You wouldn’t guess it when introduced to her, but Madeha Alkmalat is a “Bedouin”. Turned out in casual evening wear, she is the picture of the young, educated, sophisticated urban woman. She is more at home in the 21st-century metropolis than in the still-prevalent Orientalist fantasies of the noble-yet-primitive nomad woven by the likes of “Lawrence of Arabia” or captured on film by Lehnert and Landrock.

“People expect Bedouins to be dressed in traditional Arab dress and the women to be covered up and invisible, so when they see a modern, uncovered woman, they are surprised,” says Alkmalat, who links her empowerment not only to her independent personality but also the support of her enlightened family.

Another thing which caught my eye about this Bedouin-Palestinian when I first met Alkmalat in a trendy Haifa restaurant in the shadow of the sublime beauty of the Baha’i gardens was that she also happens to have a dark African complexion.

On the other side of the bitter political chasm separating Palestinians from Israelis is Tali Ysia, also a young, educated, articulate woman who stands out because hers is the only Ethiopian or black African face in the cosy West Jerusalem patisserie where we met for hot drinks and conversation.

Alkmalat and Ysia, though they don’t know each other and their communities rarely interact, belong to a new, more assertive generation of African-Palestinians and Ethiopian-Israelis who are struggling with the complexities of their identities, taking greater pride in their heritage, and demanding to be regarded and treated as equals.

Identity is a complex minefield for both young women. “I used to be ashamed of my Ethiopian roots,” admits Ysia, who identifies herself, above all else, as an Israeli.

Alkamlat, whose tribe has for centuries lived in Rahat, in the al-Naqab (Negev) desert, which is today in southern Israel, feels a deep connection with her Palestinian identity, which is understandable given that her only connection with Africa is her skin tone.

However, on top of her Palestinian, Bedouin and African identities, she also holds Israeli citizenship, speaks fluent Hebrew and studied at an Israeli university. But defining yourself as both Israeli and Palestinian can be like walking on a tightrope through a political minefield – it truly puts the conflict into conflicting identities. As one Palestinian-Israeli memorably put it, “My state is at war with my nation.”

Not all African-Palestinians have their roots lost in the mists of time. Some, like the small Afro-Palestinian community in Jerusalem of some 300 to 400 people, trace their origins back to the late Ottoman era, when they were brought over by the sultan to guard the al-Aqsa complex, or by the British mandate as workers.

Despite their closer links to Africa, they define themselves primarily as Palestinians. “We are Palestinians of African origin,” describes Yasser Qous, who heads the African Community Society in Jerusalem. “We are like coconuts: we are dark on the outside but inside we are Palestinians to the core. We are immersed in the Palestinian reality, though we cannot forget our roots.”

Many of Quos’s community lives in two beautiful beautiful buildings just outside the magnificent architectural splendour of the Dome of the Rock. Built in the 13th century, these ribats (hostels) originally functioned as housing for Muslim pilgrims from across the world, including Africa. In fact, African pilgrims have been settling in the holy land for centuries and many stayed behind, though these have long melted into the population at large.

Like African-Palestinians, Ethiopian-Israelis find dealing with their different identities challenging. In fact, their African and Israeli identities may be in greater conflict because the vast majority of this 120,000-strong community has only been here since the famine and civil war in Ethiopia in the 1980s prompted Israel to smuggle the small Ethiopian Jewish minority out of the devastated country – even if a small Ethiopian community connected with the church has lived in Jerusalem since Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire.

Although the Israeli government has put in place numerous programmes aimed at helping Ethiopian Jews to fit in which apparently draw lessons from previous waves of immigration, the integration process has been far from smooth and, successes notwithstanding, poverty is three time higher and unemployment double among Ethiopian Jews compared with the Israeli mainstream.

In addition to the challenges posed by the sudden shift from an agrarian society to an advanced modern economy, as well as the absence of robust family and social networks, Israeli policy effectively concentrated most Ethiopians into self-contained ghettoes of poverty, deprivation and lack of opportunity.

This harsh reality has provided bigots with the excuses they need to justify their prejudices and has fuelled a certain amount of racism, which Ethiopians have recently been protesting against, with slogans like “our blood is only good for wars”.

“The stereotypes about Ethiopians in Israel are similar to those about African-Americans,” Tali Ysia tells me. These include that Ethiopians are criminals, violent, primitive and alcoholics. “These stereotypes are unfair but people

hold them because this is all they hear about Ethiopians in the media.”

However, negative stereotypes were not a problem in Ysia’s personal experience: “I never made my colour an issue. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, most others won’t either.”

Part of Ysia’s ease in navigating mainstream Israeli society derives from the considerable foresight exhibited by her mother, who is a living legend in their household. Her pregnant mother not only led a four-year-old Ysia and her older brother on a 10-week, nocturnal march from Gondar in Ethiopia to Sudan, where they were airlifted to Israel as part of the clandestine Operation Moses, she also insisted on settling her young family in the white coastal town of Herzliya, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, rather than in predominantly Ethiopian neighbourhoods. “My mother didn’t want us to live in a closed community. She decided that for us to be successful, we had to become fully Israeli.”

Ysia’s journey from the Ethiopian highlands was not only long and arduous physically, but also culturally and emotionally. From a traumatised child who could not stop playing with the magical light switch for her first few days in Israel and who was fascinated by the existence of white people, and especially white people who were also Jewish like her, she and her siblings have battled the odds to get a decent education and jobs.

But this success came at the price of the African identity, which her family felt compelled to leave behind in Ethiopia. Then, while studying in Jerusalem to become a teacher, Ysia attended an Ethiopian pride course which opened her eyes to her heritage, as did an African-American stranger she met in the States. “Now I am proud of who I am. I can succeed because of who I am. I don’t need to deny it,” she emphasises.

Though longer-established, and hence better-integrated, African-Palestinians also suffer from their unfair share of discrimination. “A lot of people around still call us ‘abeed’ (‘slaves’),” notes Madeha Alkmalat, though this is unheard of in the more urbane north.

Historically, some Africans in Palestine are the descendants of slaves – as personal servants, concubines, soldiers or even as manual labourers on the Ummayad sugar plantations – but many more arrived in the Holy Land as pilgrims or merchants.

Yasser Quos also insists that modern Palestinians’ grasp of the institution of slavery has been affected by the far better-known American context. “I’ve always said that Spartacus was not black, and he was the first rebel in the slaves’ revolt,” he notes.

In previous centuries, whites were perhaps as likely to wind up as slaves as were blacks, especially if they ended up on the losing side in a war. In addition, though slavery is an abhorrent institution, in the ancient world, many slaves held high status as teachers, doctors, ministers and elite warriors. For instance, Egypt was ruled for centuries, and enjoyed one of its golden ages, under the rule of an elite military caste of slaves known as the Mamalik.

Quos also holds that the discrimination faced by African-Palestinians is largely unrelated to race and is mostly isolated to the area of marriage. “The problem for African-Palestinians is more to do with class than colour,” he explains. “Palestinian society went from being feudal to become bourgeois. Marriage used to be brokered on the basis of the property the two families entering it owned. Even today, marriage is generally not between individuals but between families of the same class.”

But there is a significant, and rising, amount of inter-marriage, though it is still relatively rare among the Bedouins, as Quos himself demonstrates. His father moved to Jerusalem from Chad and married a local Palestinian woman. His wife is also of mixed Palestinian and African origin.

Although the narrowing of identities caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has caused both African-Palestinians and Ethiopian Jews to suppress their African side, discrimination, modern communications and their growing assertiveness has led the two communities to feel greater solidarity with Africans elsewhere.

“I feel solidarity with Africans around the world. We have similar histories, even if our religions are different,” says Tali Ysia.

“I don’t know about Africa, I have no connection with Africa and I’ve never been there,” asserts Madeha Alkmalat. “However, I do feel a certain belonging to my colour. This is perhaps because of discrimination and also because of how I was raised. I’m always happy when I see black people getting ahead. I was over the moon when Obama became president. His victory challenges the stereotype that black people are only good at sports and music.”

Even Obama’s openly pro-Israel stance has not diminished African-Palestinians’ sense of black pride. “When it comes to American foreign policy towards the Palestinians, we know that Obama is like a mannequin,” says Quos. “We knew that the talk of ‘change’ in his speeches had limits… but he may mark the beginning of change.”

Qous also believes that most Palestinians respect the African community and especially the significant role it has played in the Palestinian national struggle. One example is Fatima Bernawi, who became the first female Palestinian prisoner of conscience and has held a number of prominent positions in the Palestinian leadership.

For her part, Ysia says that most Israelis she encounters are reasonable and are open to having their prejudices challenged, and the situation will only get better as Ethiopians become more integrated .

And many African-Palestinians and Ethiopian-Israelis are determined to become more successful and let their success speak for itself to society at large and act as a role model for the forthcoming generation.

Ysia, who is the only Ethiopian teacher at one of Jerusalem’s top primary schools, dreams one day of opening up her own school which would not only provide excellent education but teach Jewish children from different backgrounds the value of coexistence.

Alkmalat also wants to give back to her community and society at large. She works for a civil society organisation in Be’er Sheva, where she now lives, which seeks to empower Bedouin women and enable them to carve out their own space in a largely traditional, male-dominated community.

Moreover, whether or not they find common cause in their struggle for full equality, African-Palestinians and Ethiopian-Israelis, by their very existence, challenge the rigid and simplistic “us” and “them” division that underpins the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and offer hope that one day identities will become more fluid and inclusive again.

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Are we now ‘friends’ of al-Qaeda in Libya?

 
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By Badra Djait

Belgium was one of the ‘Friends of Libya’ in Paris. But does the prime minister realise that these Libyan ‘friends’ include a former al-Qaeda fighter?

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Belgium’s acting prime minister, Yves Leterme (CD&V), represented the country at the ‘Friends of Libya‘ summit which took place in Paris on 1 September. The National Transitional Council of Libya, a political  body representing the anti-Gaddafi rebels, also took part in the gathering.

But can Leterme, in the name of Belgium, befriend a certain Abdelhakim Belhadj, who is  not only the Transitional Council’s military commander but is also a former al-Qaeda fighter and the former leader of the  Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)?

“From holy warrior to hero of a revolution,” read the sarcastic headline in the London-based al-sharq al-Awsat sarcastisch.

Against the Soviets

 In 1988, Belhadj moved to Afghanistan to take part in the anti-Soviet jihad there. In 1990, the returning Libyan mujahideen set up LIFG. Belhadj was the former emir of this group which has been defined as a “terrorist” organisation since the 11 September 2001 attacks in America.

In 2004, Belhadj was arrested in Afghanistan, interrogated by the CIA and delivered to Libya, where he was eventually released in 2008. Earlier this year, he seized the opportunity to transform his defunct fundamentalist party into the Libyan Islamic Movement, which became one of the main opponents of the deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In this capacity, he became the military commander of the Transitional Council.

Meanwhile, rumours have been circulating that Gaddafi has fled to neighbouring Algeria. A convoy of six Mercedes with tainted glass was seen crossing the border. A number of Libyan rebel leaders accuse Algeria of supporting Gaddafi. Algeria denies the allegations.

Until now, Algeria has refused to recognise the Transitional Council until it receives assurances that the new Libyan government will co-operate in combating al-Qaeda in North Africa. Why has Belgium not taken a similar stance?

In contrast with Libya, Bahrain and Syria will not be on the receiving end of a military intervention from NATO, the UN or any other international coalition, in the name of democracy, human rights or the “responsibility to protect”.

Syria has a mutual defence pact with Iran (renewed in 2006 and 2009). This means that an attack against Syria would constitute an attack on Iran. And didn’t China and Russia recently warn that attacking Iran could trigger a world war?

Why are the popular democratic protests in Bahrain, the neighbour of Western ally Saudi Arabia, not appreciated? More importantly, why were the elite Saudi troops sent to crush the uprising in Bahrain trained by Great Britain? It was confirmed in the British parliament that the Saudi National Guard was taught how to “maintain public order”.

Reconstruction

The West has declared its official commitment to help build democracy in Libya. Restoring security, improving the humanitarian situation and the establishment of a multi-party, pluralistic political system are officially the top priorities. But Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, knows better what it is all about. He promised, in a statement, to grease the palms of the the countries which helped Libya in the fight against Colonel Gaddafi with lucrative oil contracts. Libyan oil is highly sought after for its high quality which, among other things, makes it ideal for the production of kerosine, which is often used as jet fuel.

 A number of countries, including Britain and Germany, have promised to release tens of billions of dollars in frozen Libyan assets to the Transitional Council. Other countries which did not immediately take part in the military intervention – such as Brazil, China and Russia – are hoping to get a second chance with the transitional government.

But the question for now is whether the “friends of Libya” will co-operate with a former al-Qaeda fighter in order to acquire those lucrative oil contracts?

 

This column is based on an editorial published, in Dutch, by De Morgen, on 30 August 2011. Published here with the author’s consent.

 

 

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Indiana Hawass and the pharaoh’s curse

 
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By Osama Diab

Zahi Hawass may liken himself to Indiana Jones, but the minister of antiquities is one artifact of the old regime Egyptians want to live without.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Zahi Hawass, one of Egypt’s top archaeologists, symbolises the point where our proud and glorious past intersects with a bleak and uncertain present. In the minds of many Egyptians, he is associated with Egypt’s modern corrupt rulers rather than the great pharaohs of ancient times.

In Arabic, the word ‘pharaoh’ always has positive connotations except when it’s used to describe an absolute and ruthless ruler or manager. This is exactly the kind of pharaoh Hawass was in the eyes of many of his compatriots.

Since Hosni Mubarak’s departure from office, protests that demanded the removal of Hawass from his position as minister of antiquities were uninterrupted. These were held by fellow archaeologists, the guards of heritage sites, or simply Tahrir Square protesters who see him as an antiquity that they have no interest in embalming from the era of Egypt’s most recent pharaoh, Mubarak.

This pressure has yielded results and Hawass did lose the job he was offered during the 18-day revolution in a cabinet shuffle that aimed, but failed, to calm down angry anti-Mubarak protesters.

If Egyptian archaeology was a country, then certainly Hawass would be its Mubarak. Just like his former boss, he is besieged by allegations about his business interests, accusations of turning Egypt’s archaeology into a one-man show by claiming credit for scientific findings and being the sole speaker about Egyptology in the local and international media. Of course, he’s also committed the unforgivable sin of being one of Mubarak’s favourite men.

Hawass is the epitome of the kind of self-centred, egocentric and possibly charismatic figure that the revolution has risen against, along with the kind of Mubarak-era politics he used to symbolise. Even though he’s been called Egypt’s Indiana Jones, the name that probably describes him best is his very own, Zahi, which means vain or conceited in Arabic.

Evidence of his narcissistic personality is not difficult to find. In April, he launched a clothing line named after himself in Harrods, and his latest book, A Secret Voyage, is Egypt’s most expensive book ever, carrying a price tag of 22,000 Egyptian pounds (about £2,300) with only 750 copies printed, and all signed by Egyptian archaeologists.

With his rock-star attitude, Hawass might have managed to bring archaeology more into the headlines – not necessarily because of his fine discoveries or first-class research, but mainly because of his rather eccentric behaviour. Even though the man was, or made himself, synonymous with Egyptian archaeology in the minds of many, whoever succeeds Hawass is certainly not going to be the media sensation he managed to be. Hawass will be missed by journalists searching for colourful and amusing stories, but unlike his ancestors, this pharaoh’s mystique might be short-lived as a symbol of an unpopular bygone era in Egypt’s history.

The sacking of Hawass, Egypt’s latest victim of the revolution, shows that the 18-day revolution was only the mother of numerous baby revolutions against little pharaohs or mini-Mubaraks in ministries, universities, factories, political parties and so on, and his departure marks another victory for those trying to clear the country of its deep-rooted authoritarianism.

This article first appeared in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian on 22 July 2011. Discussion of this article is available here. Republished with the author’s consent. ©Osama Diab. All rights reserved.

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How African is the Arab revolution?

 
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By Khaled Diab

Though the ‘Arab’ revolution started in North Africa, most debate has focused on the Arab world, but what about the rest of Africa?

Wednesday 6 April 2011

It was vaguely reminiscent of when Egypt won the African Cup of Nations for the second time in a row and for a record seventh time in 2010, and it seemed that pretty much every African I came across would warmly congratulate me on my native country’s “stunning “achievement.

But this time the tournament in question was played out not on a football pitch but on the streets, the winning team did not represent Egypt but it was Egypt, and the prize was not to hold aloft a cup but to sip from the cup of freedom. And unlike with football, I did not have to feign interest

Nairobi

The Nairobi skyline. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

When I visited Kenya in March, it seemed that pretty much everyone I came across wanted to talk about the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, and the tragedy in Libya.

As soon as I touched down, the first person I came across – David, a Namibian public official who shared a taxi with me from the airport into town – confessed how compulsively he had been watching events unfold in Egypt, and how the north African revolutions evoked in his mind and those of other Namibians an excitement they had not felt since the fall of apartheid.

I was surprised that, on the other side of the continent, in a country with almost no political, economic, cultural or historical ties with Egypt, the Egyptian revolution could resonate so intensely. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been, as there is something universally appealing about people braving oppression to defeat tyranny.

Besides, as one Kenyan NGO worker put it, millions of Africans are cursed with dictators and tyrants, and so the fact that some of the longest-serving leaders on the continent have been ousted or are on their way out – and all this through the unleashed power of ordinary people – is inspirational to marginalised and disenfranchised citizens across the continent.

So, could the spirit of the Arab revolution spread south into sub-Saharan Africa? Some people I met are hopeful that it will, citing the fact that many African countries share similar social, economic and demographic realities with Egypt and Tunisia, and that young Africans are waking up to their potential.

This “youthquake” certainly appears to be a factor in Nigeria. “As Nigerians prepare for presidential elections next month, what is happening, much less dramatically than in north Africa but with perhaps as much long-term significance, is that the youth is finally awake,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote recently.

Others are of the opinion that events up north will have little impact further south. “Many Africans see these revolutions as an ‘Arab’ thing and do not really see themselves as part of these events,” said Marion, a Kenyan social activist. And the failure of Zimbabwean activists to mount a Cairo-style “million citizen march” in Harare’s very own Tahrir Square lends some credence to this view.

Some also cited the more fractured and fragile nature of many African societies, and how tribalism and other divisions, as well as poor communication infrastructure, would make it difficult to mobilise the population as a whole to rally round a single agenda.

When I mentioned that this feared tribalism had not stopped Libyans of diverse backgrounds from uniting against Muammar Gaddafi, Sarah, who cut a fearsome matriarchal figure, predicted in no uncertain terms that she expected the Libyan dictator to emerge victorious – an outcome she favoured immensely. “In Africa, we need strong men to hold our societies together, otherwise we will have civil war, as Libya is proving,” she asserted defiantly, unleashing a storm of protest from her colleagues – who, like me, pointed out that the civil strife in Libya is entirely of the Gaddafi family’s making. I was shocked that she could speak of the Libyan leader, who had ordered air strikes and declared war on his own people, with such abandon and apparent infatuation.

“And where will the rest of Africa be without Gaddafi? Forgotten and neglected,” she said, expressing her expectation that the new crop of north African regimes would not be nearly as generous or involved in the African scene as Africa’s self-crowned “king of kings” was.

These assertions drove home to me how many Africans share – along with Arabs, at least, until the revolution changed attitudes – a belief in the apparent futility of freedom. The legacy of colonial oppression and exploitation, followed by postcolonial despotism and corporatism, has left many Africans disillusioned and sceptical that they can become masters of their own destiny.

But despite this negative self-image and the outside world’s view of Africa as a hopeless, benighted continent, an under-remarked revolution, or perhaps evolution, has been unfolding in many parts of the continent.

Kenya is a good example. Despite large income inequalities and a relatively high crime rate, clean and green Nairobi exudes prosperity and self-confidence. Though the city does not have much of a past, it exhibits a hope in the future and the power of freedom and knowledge. In fact, education seems to be a national obsession in Kenya, with some newspapers even leading with their education section.

Politically, Kenya has already had its own “revolution”, when its former dictator, Daniel arap Moi, was forced to step down in 2002, and his anointed successor, who also happened to be the son of Kenya’s founding father, was hammered at the ballot box.

Things have soured somewhat. Kenya’s current president, Mwai Kibaki, has exhibited psuedo-dictatorial tendencies and managed to hold on to power in 2007 amid accusations of vote-rigging, which sparked a wave of protests and violence that rocked the country.

“In Kenya, we take 10 steps forward and 12 steps back,” one Kenyan joked. My personal impression is that, despite numerous setbacks, the country is advancing. For example, Kenya’s new constitution, despite delays in its implementation, will limit the power of the presidency, boost the transparency and authority of the judiciary, and empower women.

From Kenya’s maturing democracy to Namibia’s successful post-apartheid multiparty democracy to South Sudan’s peaceful divorce from the north, Africans are slowly and gradually charting a course towards a brighter and freer future that is far removed from the images of conflict and destruction with which the outside world is most familiar.

 

This column appeared in the Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section on 28 March 2011. Read the full discussion here.

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Mobile revolution in the Middle East

 
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By Christian Nielsen

“You won’t fool the children of the revolution.” Especially not if they’re Twittering away on their mobile phones.

Friday 18 March 2011

What started as a mobile-mediated youth movement has evolved into revolution and probably even war. The revolutionary wave hitting the Middle East and North Africa comes as no huge surprise to some scholars who predicted that the power of new media and instant communications would catch out unwary dictators and undemocratic governments everywhere.

In an article entitled ‘The blog versus big brother: new and old information technology and political repression (1980-2006)’, which recently appeared in the International Journal of Human Rights, the authors suggest that new technology features prominently in the current wave of globalisation which appears to be manifesting in widespread discontent, particularly among tech-savvy youth.

The authors, Indra de Soysa, director of globalisation research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and his colleague Lucia Liste Muoz, suggest that reliable information and free communication are something of a lifeline for fledgling opposition movements.

The authors note: “Sceptics of globalisation suggest that the new technology will hamstring governments from acting in the interests of ordinary people and for furthering communitarian values, leading to demobilisation of reform movements and empowering powerful capitalistic elites.”

Yet others, the authors continue, suggest that new technologies empower people at the expense of states, paving the way “for diversity of opinions and constraining the repressive tendencies of states and bureaucracies”.

Their December 2010 article – appearing rather forebodingly just weeks before the Middle-East/North Africa winter of discontent kicked off – appears to build on a 2009 paper by the same authors under the title ‘The blog versus big brother: information and communication technologies and human rights (1980-2005)’.

“TV is especially bad for human rights,” declares de Soysa in a statement, “because the government can feed propaganda to the population.” Evidence of which can be plainly seen in Libya today, as the world media are being harassed, obstructed and, according to some reports, even abducted by pro-government henchmen. Meanwhile Colonel Muammar Gaddafi maintains his defiant – many would argue delusional (see the Chronikler’s Defiantly delusional) – stand using traditional media like TV to misinform citizens.

Last week, as the country seemed to the rest of the world to be in the grips of full-scale civil war, a Libyan army captain said on Libyan state TV that security in rebel areas is at about 95%. “There are some rats that could be lying in some alleys and inside some flats. We are capturing them one group after the other,” he said. See Gaddafi in action on Turkish TV (BBC).

Young, sceptical and not into TV

That younger generations are turning away from traditional media (or “old technology”) like television in its basic form is well documented (check out the Nielsen report ‘Young people don’t watch TV on TV’). But what we are seeing, anecdotally at least, is that they are also increasingly sceptical about the one-way, lecturing approach to traditional media like TV. This is particularly true of countries where the media is state dominated, censored, or in dictatorships like Libya, just plain mouthpieces for the corrupt state to keep its people down.

So, this is really where the new technologies, especially mobiles and social media platforms, really shake the cage of dictators and questionable democracies. The internet and mobile phones make it harder for despotic leadership to feed the whole population with the necessary propaganda to prop it up. And social media also gives people access to information which might otherwise be censored or blocked on the internet (think China).

Technology as freedom fighter

In Egypt, for example, where a Google employee mobilised so many people in such a short time, social media really showed its potential as a political tool – a force for participatory democracy in some pure form.

Indra de Soysa points to the many eyewitnesses who sent pictures from mobile phones to media organisations like al-Jazeera, the BBC and CNN. “The authorities can no longer get away with attacking their own people. In Burma, the authorities can still shoot a man in the street, and get away with it. But there are beginning to be fewer and fewer countries where that is still the case,” he notes.

In Africa, mobile phones are spreading rapidly which also means that Africans will be connected to the world in a completely different way than before. “The world is becoming flatter because people communicate horizontally,” he adds.

Saddam first

De Soysa puts the current wave of enthusiasm for democracy and freedom in the context of globalisation and the way communications have changed in just a decade. The youth today, he suggests, perceive themselves as citizens of the world – no longer believing that old men should dictate how they should live. De Soysa suggests Tunisia and Egypt were not freak events: the start of the latest wave of revolutionary unrest in the Middle East and North Africa began with the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he believes.

“The human cost was high, and many died. But it was an important symbol that encouraged people in other repressive regimes to believe that it is possible to get rid of a dictator,” he notes.

“I would not say that George Bush should get the Peace Prize, but in retrospect this was a very important event in initiating the change that is now rolling across the Middle East.”

That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is to take Marc Bolan’s advice: “you won’t fool the children of the revolution”… not anymore that is! If Bush helped at all, it was showing younger generations how wrong the old boys with their old technology got it.

 

This article is published here with the author’s consent. ©Christian Nielsen. All rights reserved.

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Defiantly delusional

 
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By Christian Nielsen

Muammar Gaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi have something in common: delusions of grandeur that keep them desperately holding on to the reins of power.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

History remembers the likes of Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle somewhat fondly for their jingoistic rhetoric and their, well, dogged outlook in the face of adversity. But the sort of defiance we see from the Muburaks, Mugabes, Gaddafis and, closer to home, Berlusconis and Putins of this world will get less generous treatment in the annals.

But what do these admonished leaders have in common that can be added to the world compendium of bad leaders – a must-read for opposition parties in countries striving for democratic legitimacy? Take Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi for a telling case of two ageing leaders who do everything and anything to maintain their grip on power.

Indeed, their rise to power tells us as much about the men as their antics to keep it. Today they have the misfortune of sharing more in common than any other two world leaders in the news. And the kinship goes way beyond their defiant stand in the face of popular unrest and the obvious colonial connection between their countries.

Gaddafi and Berlusconi are indubitably the most egocentric, obdurate, corrupt, eccentric, vainglorious and conspicuously rich leaders on the planet. These two are clearly cut from the same shroud – they like to think of themselves as the second coming for their respective peoples.

And so it is today that they now face a common dilemma: meet demands to cede power and face the ramifications (legal or otherwise) of their actions, or go down fighting to the last hair plug.

Let’s look more closely at these two characters to understand how their people came to burdened with them.

A military man, the young Gaddafi took control of the country in 1969 following a bloodless coup which sent Libya’s monarch packing. After seizing power, he took a populist approach in an attempt to win over Libyan hearts and minds among the many tribal factions. His pan-Arab, anti-imperialist agenda subsumed elements of Islam along with a more Western mercantile mentality – he allowed small-scale entrepreneurship, but kept control of larger, strategically important companies, including oil-related and media businesses.

Among his famed eccentricities, Gaddafi sleeps in a Bedouin tent guarded by female bodyguards on trips abroad. The international journalist John Simpson once implied that the Colonel would pass wind as freely as he would opinions on the ills of Western society.

His record of ruthlessly crushing dissent and repressing civil society was well established long before any of the actions he has been accused of ordering during the February 2011 people’s revolution. His attempts to rally Arab states to band together in dealing with regional issues were generally rebuffed, so he turned his attention towards pan-Africanism, later influencing the creation of the African Union.

A reflection of these extreme views can be seen in his now-acknowledged sponsorship of terrorism, including his alleged ordering of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Ever the unpredictable, his antics have gained him (un)welcomed media attention during his four-decade rule, including such recent exploits as staging a hero’s ‘welcome home’ party for Abdel-Baset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of masterminding the Lockerbie bombing, who was released on ‘medical grounds’; a grand-standing one-hour lecture to the UN on all the ills of the world system; and inviting young Italian women during an official trip to the country to convert to Islam – a gesture he thought would help to cement ties between Tripoli and Rome!

The subject of women leads us neatly on to Silvio Berlusconi, whose now infamous ‘bunga bunga’ parties, involving scores of women as captive audience for his crooning and swooning evenings, were reportedly inspired by Gaddafi’s penchant for travelling ‘en harem’. Speculation is rife where the term comes from – with no apparent Arabic roots, some suggest it came via an old joke about three Westerners being forced to choose between death and bunga bunga, only to discover if they chose bunga bunga that their fate would be “death by bunga bunga!”

But the latest scandal surrounding the mercurial Berlusconi won’t go away so easily. Hundreds of thousands of Italians (spurred on by women’s movements) took to the streets earlier this year to protest against their leader’s intransigence. Italians, who arguably freely elected the man ( his control of the nation’s limited media offering make fair elections unlikely), are finally speaking out, and they are saying “enough is enough”.

And the judiciary might also finally get its chance to catch the playboy politician out. He is currently facing charges of abusing his power in attempts to hide his involvement with a young Moroccan club dancer called Karima Keyek – aka Ruby Rubacuori the ‘heart stealer’.

Italian prosecutors allege that upon learning that Keyek was being held by Italian police on possible theft charges, he used his influence to get her out. Alas Berlusconi remains typically defiant – yes, that word again – denying the charges as “disgusting” and “groundless”. The trial will begin on 6 April.

The Economist takes some pleasure in reporting the antics of “slippery Silvio”, as they’ve called him, and the mysteries of Italian politics. Back in December 2004, following his acquittal on charges of bribing judges, the weekly magazine wrote:

“There is no point debating if the prime minister of Italy might have bribed judges. But the party he leads was created by a friend who was in league with the Sicilian Mafia. That, in its shocking essence, is what two Italian courts decided last weekend. They were giving two separate judgments, one on Silvio Berlusconi and the other on Marcello Dell’Utri, once head of Publitalia, the cash generator in Mr Berlusconi’s media empire, and the man who conjured up his party, Forza Italia, in 1994.”

As recently as January 2011, under the title ‘A party animal’ The Economist took another swipe at the Teflon-PM: “The solution to this crisis that might suggest itself in most other countries was flatly ruled out by the prime minister on January 18th. ‘Resign?’ he asked journalists. ‘Are you mad?’ Once again, he seems bent on facing down claims that would persuade most normal public figures that the time had come for retirement, perhaps to a monastery.”

This article triggered a flurry of readers’ letters. One – by Nevios, presumably an Italian commentator  – underscored the strengthening case that leaders driven by megalomania can easily slip into dictatorial behaviour in an attempt to hold onto power with the sort of defiance (of the facts on the ground) that only the delusional could entertain.

Nevios writes:

“I am thunderstruck by Berlusconi’s ability to deny and repel every [bit of] blame he receives by half the world. He stresses his innocence and moral purity and behaves as though everything were going just perfectly! He is becoming more and more like a dictator, covering up every misdeed that concerns him, limiting the freedom of the press… This is why I thank The Economist, and the foreign newspapers in general, which informs [sic] us objectively and thoroughly about what is going on in Italy.”

In a decade or two from now, how will the world remember the defiant posturing of Berlusconi, Gaddafi and their ilk? Or will we have so many new dictators that the class of 2011 will become a footnote in the annals of delusional leaders?

 

This article is published here with the author’s permission. ©Christian Nielsen. All rights reserved.

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The Jasmine Revolution

 
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By Osama Diab

Tunisia’s revolution will spread the scent of its jasmine to oppressed nations all over the region.

1 February 2011

Analysts and experts never cease to analyse the sociopolitical nature of the Arab world. Especially since 9/11, most have set their expectations low and been cynical about any social or political change taking place in the land of strongmen and dictatorial power. We, Middle Easterners, have been accused of being passive, unable to mobilise, and unwilling to fight for our rights.

After blowing all over the globe, the long-awaited winds of political change have decided to finally visit the Middle East. North African countries have in the past few years seen a large number of riots, sit-ins, strikes and demonstrations to protest low wages and the high cost of living, but a ruthless police state has always stopped these outcries of anger and frustration from developing into a popular revolution ousting a regime from power. Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution on 14 January  2011 marked the first successful attempt to overthrow a dictator by a popular revolution. And it took place in a country that was thought to be one of the most stable in a region where autocracy was believed to be deep-rooted and nearly impossible to abolish.

The people of Tunisia proved us all wrong by forcing dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali out in a way unprecedented in the Arab world. The only way an Arab dictator would take his suitcase and escape his own country used to be through a military coup, until a few days ago, thanks to the people of Tunisia.

But what does that mean to neighboring countries like Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Egypt? No one can claim it will have no impact, because it already has. At least four people have self-immolated in Egypt out of desperation, which is how it all started in Tunisia when Mohamed Bouazizi burnt himself to death sparking non-stop riots for three weeks to protest against deteriorating living conditions and high unemployment. Riots have erupted in Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria since Tunisia’s uprising.

Democracy, like authoritarianism, is contagious. It is hard to find a standalone democracy surrounded by dictatorships, or vice versa. In the Autumn of Nations in 1989, a few Eastern European countries overthrew their communist regimes, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of many communist regimes in the region after that. Communism was not hurt just in Eastern Europe, but in many countries all over the world following the Soviet Union’s collapse. Another major ripple effect was Latin America’s serious steps towards democracy over the past three decades in a fashion rarely seen in the developing world. If real democracy takes hold in Tunisia, it will increase the chances of it happening elsewhere close by.

However, it’s hard to predict the extent of the effect on neighbouring countries because, even though they belong to the same region and share a lot in common, every country still has a different economic, social and political nature. Copying and pasting a Tunisian scenario in Egypt, Libya, Algeria or Morocco is unlikely to happen. However, North Africa now seems well prepared and more ready than ever to dispose of its authoritarian regimes and gradually start a new era of people’s empowerment due to a steady increase of dissidence and a growing political momentum in some of these countries, in reaction to dire economic situations, high levels of corruption and worsening human rights conditions.

Even though Tunisia’s revolution might not be replicated, it will still bring many benefits to the people of neighbouring countries.

Firstly, it acts as a clear warning message to authoritarian regimes that over-relying on security apparatuses to remain in power with no popular support is unsustainable. It also conveys the message that the economic and political rights of the masses must be dealt with, and cannot be silenced by a heavy hand.

Secondly, it ends the myth that Islamists are the only groups capable of toppling regimes in this region – an idea established after the Iranian revolution and the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, one that has been used by secular dictatorships in the North African region as a scare tactic to win the West’s support. The idea is simple: imposed secular authoritarianism has been for long preferred over an elected Islamic regime by the world’s superpowers. Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once stated that the United States has long favoured stability over democracy in the Middle East and ended up achieving neither.

It also implies that the way for a government to gain legitimacy is from its own people rather than by allying with superpowers, as they all turned their back on Ben Ali after he was overthrown by his people. France, his biggest former ally, has refused to grant him asylum. Many regimes relied solely on their alliance with Western superpowers at the expense of their own people. This might no longer be a good bargain for Arab dictators.

Whether or not we will see the fall of one North African regime after the other is hard to predict and not guaranteed, but the good news is that Tunisia’s revolution will spread the scent of its jasmine to oppressed nations all over the region, inspiring and empowering people in their fight against unjust regimes.

This article was first published by Worldpress.org on 31 January 2011. Republished here with the author’s consent. ©Osama Diab.

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The mother of all clashes

 
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By Osama Diab 

It’s true that football divides Egyptians today, but it also, paradoxically, unites them on so many other levels.

30 December 2010

Today, once again, Egypt will be divided, but this time not based on sectarian tension between Muslims and Copts or political rivalry between the government and the opposition, but between supporters of Ahly and Zamalek, Cairo’s arch-rival football clubs. People in Egypt take their football seriously, especially when the clash is between Egypt’s and Africa’s most successful football sides 

Even though this pugnacity rarely gets violent, it is commonplace on the derby day for fans of both clubs to avoid watching the game with supporters of the opposite side. Even the one family is divided on that football festival. Ahly fans in the living room, while the odd Zamalek fan would watch it with his fellow Zamalkaweya in some street cafe while sucking on a shisha to keep the stress level under control. It’s also common for the fans to verbally harass the enemies a few hours before the battle breaks out. 

But among all this harmless hostility on the day of this Cairo derby, there is also a very positive aspect to it, which is the disappearance of all the forces that divides the people of one nation. Unlike in Scotland, where club affiliation is highly decided by religion and politics, in Egypt, it is not based on either religion, social class, race, and not even geography. An Ahly fan could be a Copt or Muslim, rich or poor, from the very north of the country in Alexandria or from its south in Aswan, old or young, male or female and the same applies to Zamalek fans. On that day, you can see a Coptic and a Muslim teaming up against another Muslim just because of their love for the same club, or an upper class teenage girl screaming in joy at the same time as a binman when their club scores a goal.

 Al-Ahly (Arabic for national) traditionally has been described as “the club of the people” as opposed to al-Zamalek which was founded by a Belgian expatriate and was later endorsed by the late King Faruk and even named after him for a few years. Al-Ahly, instead, was founded by a group of Egyptian elites. However, after the 1952 revolution, both clubs were nationalised and fell prey to governmental control narrowing any disparity between them or their identity. Since then, the reds and the whites have dominated the Egyptian football scene, and even though al-Ahly managed to attract a larger fan base, the demographics of their supporters became very similar.

Some Zamalek fans still pride themselves on being fans of the “royal club” due to its link with King Faruk, while Ahly fans pride themselves on the fact that their club is the club of the masses and is the true representative of Egypt, but these are mostly myths created by the fans to forge an identity for their club that is different from their opponents.

In a time of sectarian tension, political clashes, and a deepening social class wound, Egyptians need something to remind them that unity is possible and that the barriers of social class, religion, etc. can be demolished by a simple idea, which in this case is football.

Tomorrow I will be screaming my heart out here in one of London Edgware Road’s shisha bars with my fellow Zamalek fans in Egypt and all over the world in support of our team, leaving behind our religious beliefs, social status, skin colour, gender, etc. For the time being, let us put aside our political views, credos, bank statements and college degrees, and just bring the munchies, drinks, and flags in preparation for this heated clash.

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