Saturday, September 15, 2012

Protest Outside The Box

"Why did the protesters go to the embassy of the United States in Cairo?", "The police has all the right to stop them, no matter what" and "Those protesters are mainly stupid and brainwashed". Those are mainly the phrases you are going to see if you happen to follow the Egyptian activists and netizens nowadays.

Like many others, I am against those protests since day one. What's the problem of those protesters? How come it is the USA that is to be blamed just because some people decided to make a film there that the angry protesters find it to be against their religion? Let alone the killing of innocent people in Libya and waving Al-Qaida flag on the anniversary of September 11. And now the protesters are asking for an apology from the States, an apology for having freedom of speech laws! Why not, when we have scholars who call for killing those who participated in that film.

Thanks to the angry protesters who made it easy for me to take such stance this time. I have no reason to sympathize with them. But a year ago, and even during the early days of the Egyptian revolution, I happen to be on the other side of the table. The Egyptians were protesting against the ruling military junta, and back then those whom we used to call remnants of the old regime used to say the exact same phrases I mentioned above to the protesters. "Why did you go to Mohamed Mahmoud street?", "The police has all the right to defend the state against those angry protesters" and "You're brainwashed and following foreign agendas".

I can sure say that the military junta was killing and arresting people, controlling the media, and  they were not democratically elected and ruling the country by brute force, so we had all the right to protest then. And as I said above, the protesters now have no reason to protest this time. But this doesn't seem to be an enough answer to my wonders.

Photo taken by Gigi Ibrahim, under Creative Commons license.

For every protest, in order to unify all protesters, there should be a reason to unify them under its umbrella. Reasons do vary from toppling a regime, to ending military rule, to seeking the rights of the martyrs (like many protests last year). And reason for today's protest are defending Prophet Muhammad. The more noble the reason is, the more easier it is to make others sympathize and even join the protest. But if you give it a second, and a more pragmatic, thought. You'll find out that most of the times those reasons can be noble and true, yet, still there are other reasons that are normally not announced. And here comes my own interpretation of protesting outside the box, that you might choose to agree to totally disagree with.

I think that the main reasons for the protest in front of the embassies of the United States, at least in Egypt, is that the Salafy's felt they were left out. After the Muslim Brotherhood seized the power, they didn't give the Salafy's as much posts in their government as they were expecting. So my interpretation for the protest is that the Salafy's are mainly trying to get back into the picture and to prove to everyone that they have power in the street and can mobilize people. The Muslim Brotherhood on the other hand seemed to be against the protests in the beginning. Most of my friends who are either members of the MB or just emotionally affiliated with them were against it, and they were using the exact reasons I mentioned above for not being in favour of the protests. A short while later, they Brotherhood and Morsi found out that one of their main assets is that they present themselves to the people as an Islamic group. And for sure not participating in "defending Prophet Muhammad" will make them loose a lot of the credibility among their supporters and offer such credibility to the Salafy's on a silver plate. So later on, the Brotherhood changed their tone, and started to call for a million man march in support of the cause. But once more, they realized that they are now in power, and they don't only deal with local matters, but they also have international relations to look after. Hence Morsi and Khairat El Shater were very cautious doing their tightrope walking and trying to please both the Egyptian voters as well as their  own peers in the White House.

Many activists might hate me for this, but the protests that took part last November and December, also had secondary reasons other than toppling the military junta and seeking the rights of the martyrs. The Brotherhood used to say then, that the protests are happening few days before the parliamentary elections, and the non-Islamist protesters are trying to postpone or even cancel the elections since they are sure that the Islamists are going to lead in the elections. I didn't agree with that back then, and I still don't agree much with it now, but I think they weren't totally wrong either. Part of the protests were a way for the protesters to get themselves back to the picture before the elections and a way to grab the voters attention.

Few days ago the Ultras (football fans) were demonstrating in front of a football stadium as they didn't want the Super Cup match to be played before the ones behind the killing of 74 football fans last February to be punished. No one can deny how noble is their cause, yet it was hard for me to see it as the only reason behind the protest. Many more protests in front of the Minister of the Interior or the Israeli embassy, etc. They all needed a second thought from you to tell what are their secondary, or may be primary, unannounced reasons.

I just realized now that there is no ethics in politics, or let me say, there is not absolute good and bad there. Two parties might do the same thing, yet you chose to side with one and stand against the other. I used to do this, and I guess I will continue to do the same. Sometimes the devil is in the details of each action, and that's how you can decide which one is ethical and which one is not. But most of the time you just have to follow your senses. And I do not mean by this that you shouldn't try your best to make the most ethical choices, in fact, I just want you to stick to your ethics all the time. It's only that things will rarely be that clear, so keep your eyes wide open and be ready for all possibilities.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It's Paralympics not Pitylympics

Yesterday was the last day of the 2012 Summer Paralympics that took place in London. Throughout the games people have been sharing photos of the athletes on Facebook and other social media platforms. Challenge plays a major part in sports in general. We love seeing people challenging each other as well as challenging their own selves. We love seeing records being broken. We watch the Olympics to see how strong, fast and high humans can go. And that is reflected in photos, except when it comes to the Paralympics. Or at least this is what I've noticed in the photos people share the most on social media.

The above photo is one good example of what I'm talking about. I'm not sure if you can read Arabic, but in most of the comments [Ar] on this photo on Facebook, people are basically saying, "Thank God who spared us from what he has afflicted other people". Please tell me if I'm the only one who finds such comments stupid and silly. We do not see the athlete's name under the photo, no one has any idea how he finished the race, what records he broke, or not. All what people have is a photo of him starting the race as well as pity on him.

Now have a look at the above photo. You think she felt down while running in some race or something, right? Well, no, that's the long jumping competition. And guess what, all long jump athletes fall down in the sand after they jump whether they are in the Paralympics or the Olympics.

Well, there are for sure comments about the athletes' strong will. They didn't give in to their disabilities and decided to play sports, just like non-disabled people. But why shouldn't they?

Okey, let me surprise you now. According to this article in the Telegraph. "The average man jogs at a speed of 8.3 mph, or 100m in 27 seconds", and "the fastest among us can sprint 100m at a speed of 15.9 mph, or between 13-14 seconds". In this year games, the Finnish athlete Leo-Pekka Tähti finished his 100m race in 13.63 seconds on his wheelchair. So he is fastest than most of us, while he is on a wheelchair!

May be this is how social media works. But let's remember that those athletes didn't go to London looking for pity, but they are there looking for records to break.

Till next post, I'll leave you with this beautiful short film, The Butterfly Circus, starring Nick Vujicic:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

El-Gohary: More Than History

I was on my way back from the Friday prayers when a stranger in the street gave me a poster of the Egyptian national football team. That was in November 17, 1989, and I still remember that afternoon like it was yesterday. Egypt was having a football match against Algeria in the World Cup qualification. Egypt had to win that match to go to the World Cup held in Italy the upcoming year, and it did it.

Some months later, Egypt was having its first match in the World Cup with The Nederlands. That was the first time for my generation, as well as my father's generation, to see Egypt in the World Cup, the previous time we went there was in 1934, and by coincidence it was in Italy too. A friend told me in the morning that he had a computer program that can predict match results and it says Egypt will loose 9-nil. Sure he was bluffing, but it reflects how strong was the Dutch team in our eyes then compared to the Egyptian one. That was my first football match to watch ever. I was learning the football rules while watching it. And we had a 1-1 draw! Moments later, it was also my first time to see floods of Egyptians chanting and dancing in the streets. Now, more than 20 years later it is still our last time to see Egypt playing in the world cup finals so far.

Few years later, I became obsessed with football, and I happened to support a football team that has more defeats in its history than wins, El-Zamalek. But that year it won, not only the Egyptian league, but the African Champions League, and it followed it by the African Super Cup later on.

Eight years after the country's appearance in World Cup, it failed to make it to the two upcoming ones, and it hadn't won any of the African Cup of Nations trophies held outside Egypt since the 50's. But this time, Egypt made it to the final of the championship held in Burkina Faso in 1998, and bet South Africa 2-0, and we are the champions!

For an Egyptian born in the 80's who used to support El-Zamalek. Those are the most important events of football history to me. But this is not the only thing in common between all those events, the most important thing in common between them, is that in all those events it was Mahmoud El-Gohary who was the coach managing the national or local team I was supporting.

El-Gohary is one of the most important figures in the history of Egyptian and African football, and is considered by many as the best Egyptian football coach ever. He was the only one in Egypt's entire history to play in Al-Ahly and become the coach of its rival El-Zamalek later on. This - beside his achievements on the national level - made him loved by all Egyptian football fans regardless of which local team they support. And that's why everyone I know was so sad after they know he passed away few days ago.

I believe the least to be done is to name Cairo Stadium after him.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Breakfast with Socrates

“Given that Socrates was effectively assassinated by poison, you might think twice before accepting his invitation to breakfast”. This is how Robert Rowland Smith opened his book, Breakfast with Socrates.

People know I'm a slow reader. It takes me ages to read a book. Slow enough to get bored of books I am reading and leave them before finishing them. But this one was interesting enough that I couldn't but finish it. The thing about this book, not only that it introduced me to names like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva and Jacques Derrida, and reintroduced me to others such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Max Weber and René Descartes, whom I rediscovered his most famous phrase "Cogito ergo sum" here. But also - just like other philosophy books - it makes you discover new meanings and interpenetration for your everyday life.

We wake up everyday, but it's nice to know how "waking up" and "discovering the truth" are related: “The associations get only richer and more intense when you realise that the very concept of truth - the cornerstone of philosophy and religion alike, let alone law - also rests heavily on the meaning of waking up. And you don't need a philosopher to appreciate it, because there are clues to its dependency in everyday phrases such as 'waking up to the truth', 'my eyes were opened' and even 'wake up and smell the coffee'. If such phrases hint that waking up and truth are bedfellows of some sort, you need only go back to the ancient Greek for corroboration. There you'll find that the word truth is 'aletheia', from which in English we get the word for 'lethargy'. But see how the Greek word is 'a-letheia' rather than letheia - that is truth is the opposite of lethargy. And what is opposite of lethargy, if not waking up?”

After waking up, you put on your clothes and make yourself ready to go to work. But don't we all feel too lazy to go to work most of the time? May be Freud has interpretation for this: “Getting ready is that point in the day when the rivalry between the two needs is likely to peak, because we are making transition from being at home and pleasing ourselves (ego) to going out and having to conform to a series of norms an conventions (superego). We become less ego and more superego with each button we fasten”.

How come on the one hand we cover our pubic with clothes, yet on the other hand, we want to attract the opposite sex? “Clothes exist to hide the pubic from the public and therefore make you socially acceptable. The irony is that, precisely because they are a prerequisite for social inclusion, wearing clothes has become almost more natural than being naked ... To that established irony, we can add a more subtle one. As anyone who has been on a date well knows, clothes aren't just about covering you up: while you need them to hide your sex, you want them to show your sexuality”.

Smith later discusses lots of things, such as shopping. “Let's remember you can still go shopping without buying, because where buying is a matter of need, shopping is a question of want”. As well as credit cards. With money you buy things using the money you earned from work you have done in the past, but with credit card you are buying things for work yet to be done in the future. “Credit' comes from the Latin 'credere', 'to believe', for credit is the belief that the money you're borrowing will someday be returned, a belief that needs the future to function in”.

The write also discusses languages, and reading, and how words in a book needs reader as well as the writer to put meanings to them. “[Roland] Barthes turned the thable on the author, saying no only the a book needs a reader to wake it into life, but that in so doing the reader becomes nothing less that the author, who reveals in the book's hermeneutic possibilities, releases them and so becomes its own creator.”

The book consists of 18 chapters, each discussion one single detail of your day, from waking up to travelling to work, to bunking off, to going to the gym, to watching TV, to having sex, to sleeping. And since it serves as an introduction to philosophy, the author recommends a list of books to read after you finish this one, such as:

  • The Discourse on the Method, René Descartes
  • The Last Days of Socrates, Plato
  • Basic Writings of Nietzsche, Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Points...: Interviews, 1974-1994, Jacques Derrida
  • The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud
  • Memories, Dreams and Reflections, Carl Jung
  • A Barthes Reader, Roland Barthes
  • Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre
  • The Foucault Reader, Michel Foucault
  • From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, Max Weber
  • Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Walter Benjamin
  • The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology, Claude Levi-Strauss
  • Capital: An Abridged Edition, Karl Marx
  • The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli
And let me add:
  • The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
  • Rhetoric, Aristotle
  • The Nature of Things, Lucretius

"Philosophy is about recognising the ambiguity of life as it is lived", Breakfast with Socrates.