What Egypt Thinks About Globalization
What Egypt Thinks About Globalization

Egypt, as one of the cradles of civilization, and long-time leader of the Arab world, provides a strong narrative highlighting the challenges and successes of globalization. On the one hand, the country has transformed itself economically, from a centrally administered economy to a free-market economy, through the intervention of the IMF and World Bank. This transition was difficult and many felt left behind when government services were cut and the prices of everyday goods and services rose.

The religious/secular divide and the young/old divide are apparent in conversations throughout the Egyptian blogosphere about religion and politics, and especially about the use of language. The Internet is changing how young Egyptians express themselves, often merging Egyptian Arabic with English, with new slang terms to boot.

Issues such as climate change, HIV/AIDs, and energy and economic development, are being addressed by the government, with varying success. Similar to issues of cultural globalization, these issues are being debated by the Egyptian press, which has become quite vibrant.

Economic Globalization

Youssef Boutros-Ghali, Minister of Finance, Arab Republic of Egypt, provides an overview of Egypt’s path to economic development from a centrally administered economy to a market economy.

As Egypt began dealing with change and began its reform program we came to the conclusion, with hindsight that we in fact needed to accept a number of new ideas that would govern our lives henceforth. First, we needed to accept that there are exogenous factors that could affect our daily lives and over which we have little control; exogenous factors that are transmitted through means that are increasingly outside the control of the powers that be. Remember that when we started our reform program Egypt was a centrally administered economy with an implicit promise that the central government could control everything…

Second… local parameters begin to be judged against global norms that are alien to our society….

Third and even more unsettling, your actions have a global audience. Whatever you do whenever you do it, gets transmitted to a worldwide audience that will evaluate your actions, weigh them against others, judge them, and emit opinions without ever hearing what extenuating circumstances surround them….

Today when I look back I can distinguish three phases in our reform program…

The first phase of our reforms was imposed on us through a crushing Balance of Payments [BOP] problem. Shortages of foreign currency brought out the many imbalances of our economy at the time. A budget deficit in excess of 20% of GDP, double digit inflation, a stagnant economy and distortions in all the major macro-variables of the time. The BOP crisis brought also, as usual, the IMF with a vigorous stabilization program.

Five years later, the economy has been stabilized, inflation and the budget deficit brought down to single digits, the exchange rate unified, interest rates were market-based, prices aligned with their international equivalents and the economy opened up to the outside world through a reduction of customs and trade barriers…

In 1993, the macro-picture had been restored to balance. A timid privatization program was started and the share of the public sector in GDP, well over 70% when we started, began to decline. But we still had no private sector to speak of…

This first phase, painful as it was, was a resounding success. Two Paris Club agreements and the elimination, in a world premiere along with Poland, of 50% of our external debt, set the stage for the next phase of our reforms. The economy recovered. GDP growth rates reached 5% and reserves increased to over $20 billion from near zero.

But we still had a problem…the absence of institutions that can drive the day to day management of the economy….

A second phase of reforms, more halting, piecemeal, more tentative, ushered a second generation of reforms in 2000. Political openness became the order of the day. New parliamentary elections under the supervision of the judiciary were held… Initially the press, tentative and timorous became more assertive… Greater economic freedom, better functioning markets and a private sector that already accounted for close to 60% of GDP all contributed to greater demands for a better organized polity….

It was time in July of 2004 to review the relationship between the economic individual and the state. It was time that the traditionally predatory relation between the Treasury and the taxpayer be changed to a genuine partnership. It was time also that the outside world be brought unambiguously into our economic lives. Income taxes were reduced by over 50%, from 42% to 20%, and taxpayers were entrusted with responsibility of self assessing their taxes…In the same vein Customs tariffs were reduced by 40% with the elimination of almost all non-tariff barriers.

The response was immediate. Growth recovered to 6% today, foreign investments jumped from 450 million in 2003 to 5 billion today, our stock market was the best performer worldwide in 2005. Private investment and consumption grew, and we have today a broad-based growth engine in the economy. The current account and indeed the full balance of payments are in surplus reserves have recovered to over $25 billion. We have turned a corner and passed the point of no return. The economy and society at large in Egypt have finally and irreversibly embraced globalization.

Boutros-Ghali, Youssef. Speech. Global Economic Governance Programme Annual Lecture 2006.

Labor

Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian journalist from Cairo, writes about technology’s impact on Egypt’s nascent labor movement, the labor leaders Fayoumi, and the connection to the broader political climate. This article provides an interesting counterpoint to the official view, expressed above, about Egypt’s economic reform program.

…Fayoumi’s first taste of industrial action was in 1988, as the factory went on strike protesting the scrapping of annual grant given to workers in the fall to help pay the schooling of their children…

Although the workers won the strike, the factory was about to face its worst years to date. In 1992, the Egyptian government started the Economic Reforms and Structural Adjustment Program, under the sponsorship of the World Bank and IMF. Social spending was reduced and public sector companies were put on sale for privatization. The textile sector was hit strongly. From roughly half a million workers in 1990 the number was slashed to the half by the beginning of the new millennium…

The decimation of the textile sector was coupled with a period of downturn for the labor movement in the 1990’s. Strikes were few, and some were met with live ammunition….

The rise of the anti-Mubarak coalition, Kefaya, in 2004 failed to have a direct impact on Fayoumi and his colleagues in Mahalla…

But in the age of satellite channels, mushrooming independent press and online media, the images of Kefaya’s protests, where they took on the president and his family directly—for long a big taboo in Egypt’s political life—made it to the TV screens and newsstands in Mahalla and elsewhere, raising some eyebrows.

“We heard of the demonstrations in Cairo,” Fayoumi comments, speaking of the 2005-6 Kefaya pro-democracy protests. “We didn’t have Kefaya activists in the factory, but seeing and hearing about those protests were motivating.”…

“The workers felt their victory,” Fayoumi remarks. “We felt we could do anything afterwards.” The same feeling, it turned out, was shared by other blue-collar workers. Egypt embraced a “winter of labor discontent,” with virtually all textile mills in the Nile Delta and Alexandria striking over similar demands. Inspired by Mahalla, the cement mills went on strike, followed by the railways, garbage collectors, hospital workers, bus and metro drivers, teachers, professors.

Mahalla itself was to embrace another strike in Sept 2007 over bonus…The workers scored another success by forcing the government to sack its appointed CEO, yet they still failed to impeach their local state-backed union men. But slowly a network was emerging around Fayoumi, came to be known as the “Textile Workers’ League,” which started a campaign of leafleting in the factories demanding raising the national minimum wage to LE1200 and the freedom to unionize. The League mobilized a twenty thousand strong protest in February 2008, and announced a strike on 6 April to push for the same demands. The police aborted the strike. Fayoumi and other members of the league were kidnapped by the security services, but the town erupted in riots for two days…

Kamal’s crusade for a free union and national minimum wage continues. But, ironically, the first independent trade union in the history of the country was declared 20 December 2008 by the property tax collectors, who had previous gone on strike the year before, occupying downtown Cairo.

el-Hamalawy, Hossam. “A working class hero.” The Arabist. November 18, 2009. http://arabist.net/arabawy/2009/11/18/fayoum/

Technology

Mark Warschauer, University of California and Ghada R. El Said, Brunel University, and Ayman Zohry, Cairo Demographic Center, discuss the use of Arabic and English online amongst Egyptians.

Classical Arabic, as the language of the Qu’ran and the common language of the Arab nation, is central to their identity as members of that nation and of the broader Islamic community. Egyptian Arabic, as the language of daily communication, jokes, song, and cinema, is central to their identity as Egyptians. While virtually all Egyptians are competent speakers of Egyptian, only about half of adults in the country can read and write Classical Arabic…

According to a recent study by Schaub (2000), English plays a dual role in Egypt. On the one hand it is the principle foreign language of the general population. English is the first and only mandatory foreign language taught in schools, with obligatory English language instruction starting in fourth grade…

Beyond that though, English serves as a second language of additional communication for a large swath of Egypt’s elite. The majority of private schools are considered English language schools, which means that English language instruction begins in kindergarten and that English is a medium of instruction of other specified subjects…

The other main contextual factor framing this study is the use of the Internet in Egypt. The Internet was first introduced to Egypt in 1993, when a small university network was established (Information technology in Egypt, 1998). Commercial Internet use began three years later and has developed with more government support and less censorship than in many other Mideast countries, reaching a total of some 440,000 Internet users by 2000 (Dabbagh Information Technology Group, 2000), representing 0.7% of the population. Though the growth of the Internet in Egypt is constrained by economic (i.e., high expense in relation to average income) and infrastructure factors (i.e., low teledensity), the impact of the Internet extends beyond its current limited reach… Furthermore, those who are already connected disproportionately represent the economic elite, so their influence extends far beyond their somewhat limited numbers, especially in major population centers such as Cairo and Alexandria (Warschauer, 2003)….

[Mitigating circumstances explaining the study’s results include:]

General dominance of English in the professional milieu. Most of the formal online communication carried out by the young professionals in this study was done within broader environments that strongly emphasized English….

Lack of Arabic software standards. A second reason for a dominance of English is the lack of a common Arabic software standard…The lack of a single common standard for Arabic language computing, together with the large presence of foreign nationals in the business community, hinders Arabic language computing….

Computer and Internet use learned in English environments. Most of the participants stressed that they first learned to use computers and the Internet in English environments, either in their English-medium coursework or in English-dominant work environments…

Early adopters’ fluency in English. The majority of the people in this survey were educated in English and can write English as well as or better than Arabic….

The… interesting result of the study was the considerable amount of Romanized Egyptian Arabic used by the participants. Romanized Egyptian Arabic was widely used in both informal e-mail communications and online chatting, with many people engaging in code-switching (between English and Egyptian Arabic) and some writing exclusively in Egyptian Arabic.

…The use of Egyptian Arabic in online communications represents a major expansion of its written use, especially in a Romanized form, in a new realm in which informality is considered acceptable and in which no authority has stepped forward to discourage its use….

…In this context, it is not unlikely that the advent of the Internet could be one factor, together with other socioeconomic changes (e.g., globalization), that contributes toward a shift from the traditional diglossia in Egypt to increased multilingualism, with both English (from “above”) and Egyptian Arabic (from “below”) encroaching on the traditional dominance of Classical Arabic in written communication. If this were the case, it could be one expression of a strengthening of global (English-language dominant) networks in Egypt, as well as local (Egyptian) identities, with a corresponding weakening of more “traditional” sources of identity, such as (Arab) nationalism….On the one hand, the participants in this study made quite clear that their use of English does not signify an embrace of Western culture or an abandonment of Egyptian identity. In contrast, they tended to describe their use of English in terms of Egypt’s long and proud history of being able to absorb the best from a broad array of cultures and make it its own. And they also made clear that their own local language, Egyptian Arabic, is a particularly powerful vehicle for expressing their most personal thoughts and feelings. Their use of Egyptian Arabic online thus represents the appropriation of technology toward a people’s own communicative purposes.

Warschauer, Mark, and Ghada R. El Said and Ayman Zohry. “Language Choice Online: Globalization and Identity in Egypt.” Message Board. JCMC 7 (4) July 2002.

Health

In these series of blog postings, the Egypt blog chronicles the issue of HIV/AIDS in Egypt. This first article highlights the experience of one man who gets tested for HIV/AIDS.

To my amazement, the way I was received by the doctors prior to the actual testing was pretty welcoming. I found that they didn’t ask for a name, but rather for a pseudonym and a birthdate to be my identity there. Then, I was sent to a counselor whose job was to give simple information about AIDS and HIV. The guy didn’t show any signs of disrespect for the fact that I’m going to check if I have HIV, which was astonishing. I heard that until very recently AIDS was seen as such a tabboo even by doctors. And after the counseling session they gave me a few condoms and lubricants, and three booklets with information about AIDS, and then I went to have the test. I’ll go get the results next Sunday, hopefully it’ll be negative, wish me luck!! :-)

Oh, I also didn’t pay a penny for any of that.

It was a very nice experience that I didn’t expect to have at a government lab, and I’m happy my country is having a more liberal approach to sexually transmitted diseases and is actually propagating against the whole stigma that’s associated with them, especially HIV and AIDS.

Egypt Guy. “My first HIV test at a government lab.” The Egypt Blog. June 23, 2009.

This second article is an interview with Ayman, an Egyptian living with HIV/AIDS.

Ayman, what is it like to live with HIV in Egypt?

Living with HIV in Egypt is very tough, because the stigma is very high in Egypt against people who are living with HIV. We are having a very tough fight in our country to do what we have to do. To be able to have a safe living environment, away from stigma, away from many other things, we have to fight. [We have to fight for] support and care — we do not have it professionally. We have [HIV] medications, [but] only one line. If you get resistance from this line, you will not be able to get another one. I think we have a very tough life with HIV in Egypt, and we have to fight more and more, so we can get our rights.

What do you think the biggest challenge is?
Our biggest challenge is to lessen the stigma, and also to make our leaders and our government [provide us with better] support, care and treatment.

What do you mean by “stigma”? Are people losing their jobs or their housing?
It’s there by all its meanings. People avoid you. They don’t know how HIV is transferred. They don’t know anything about anything, and they treat you very badly… If it’s not your property, if you are renting it, you would be kicked out. In your job, you cannot say that [you have HIV], because if you said it, you would be fired… I have been working in a place for one and a half years. I didn’t say anything, and I couldn’t say that.

Where do people get their medical care?
They give out medications only in our Ministry of Health [in Cairo]. This is the only way we can get it, because it’s very expensive…Even if you live far away, you have to come all this way — from any place in Egypt, any region in Egypt, you have to come to Cairo so you can get your medication.

There is no other support or care. If you go to a doctor for an operation and say that you have HIV, he will not give it to you. Actually, right now, we have HIV-positive pregnant women, and we don’t know how and where they are going to give birth. And the places the government does give us are of very, very low standards…

What kind of support do you get from family and friends?
My family, they are very supportive…My mother, she was the one who first told me that what has happened has happened, that I had to look ahead. How you are going to live — what happens to you — this is decided by God, so you have to try to live your life in a normal, nice way.

I don’t have too many friends whom I can tell. One friend is my sponsor in a Narcotics Anonymous program. The other one is an HIV-positive person who is living with me…she has been helping me in many things.

Wilder, Terri. “What Is It Like to Be HIV Positive in Egypt? An Interview With Ayman, an HIV-Positive Egyptian.” The Body. September 5, 2008.

This third article highlights an incident of government intolerance toward people with AIDs.

A Cairo appeals court’s decision to uphold the sentences imposed on five men jailed in a crackdown on people living with HIV/AIDS underscores the Egyptian government’s dangerous indifference to public health and justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The May 28 ruling upheld the maximum three-year prison terms for each of the five, following a months-long campaign targeting men with HIV/AIDS. A total of nine men have been sentenced to prison so far…

Since October 2007, Cairo police have arrested a dozen men on suspicion of being HIV-positive…On January 14, 2008, a Cairo court sentenced four of those men to one-year prison terms on “debauchery” charges. An appeals court upheld those sentences on February 2. The present five defendants were referred for trial separately in March. Authorities released three other men, who tested negative for HIV, without charge, after months in detention.

While the 12 were in detention, doctors from the Ministry of Health forcibly subjected all of them to HIV tests without their consent. Doctors from Egypt’s Forensic Medical Authority performed abusive anal examinations on the men to “prove” they had had sex with other men. Human Rights Watch has documented that such examinations conducted in detention constitute torture. Police and guards beat several of the men in detention…

The prisoners who tested HIV-positive were chained to their beds in hospitals for months. After a local and international outcry, the Ministry of Health ordered the men unchained on February 25…

“Egypt: Court Upholds HIV Sentences, Reinforces Intolerance.” Human Rights Watch. May 29, 2008. http://theegyptblog.blogspot.com/

Culture

Egyptian journalist, Safaa Abdoun writes about the language and culture clashes in Egypt.

….While the older generations are caught up in debates about whether globalization is conflicting with our culture, it is the younger generation that is reinventing the language, embracing the phenomenon of new lingo and bringing about a revolution of ideas and trends into the country.

This internationalism is the trend of the modern jargon the youth developed to better express themselves and their lifestyle. Growing up in a conservative culture run by centuries-old traditions and customs while watching Friends and chatting on MSN, young people have combined both worlds in the way they speak. New Arabized-English words are coined everyday.

Critics have described today’s youth as oppressed and blindly adopting Western values. The young generation has also been blamed for obliterating the Arabic language and Egyptian identity, replacing it with a globalized modern identity that goes against our morals. But there is always the possibility that they are simply spicing up
the language to better suit the new technology and global trends.….
In fact last year a book was released by Kenouz, a local publishing house, exclusively discussing the new lingo of Egyptian youth. The 273-page book is called “Qamous Rewesh Tahn,” or “An Extremely Cool Dictionary,” written by journalist Yasser Hemaya…

In the book, Hemaya compiles around 500 words and expressions used nowadays by young people, in addition to other sections about linguistic topics such as the language of online chatting and the language of taxi-drivers.

There have also been innovations made in order to make the default written language, which is English, for computers and mobile phones more convenient.

Abdoun, Safaa. “Is Egypt’s Newspeak a Jargon of Globalization?” The Daily News Egypt. August 8, 2008.

Environment

This article discusses the potential impact of climate change on Egypt.

Egypt could be heading for disaster. Although numerous scenarios are being espoused, two things are certain in all of them: Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city will disappear and the North African is in for some troublesome years ahead

“Many of the towns and urban areas in the north of the Delta will suffer from the rise in the level of the Mediterranean with effect from 2020 and about 15 percent of Delta land is under threat from the rising sea level and the seepage into the ground water,” Environment Minister George Maged told a parliamentary committee earlier this year…

“Of course this is exaggerated. I think it’s a gross misunderstanding,” Mostapha Saleh, head of Environment Quality International in Egypt, said. He says the minister was over stating the realities in order to create international awareness of the situation facing the country, which he says could become “critical.”

Saleh believes the situation facing Egypt is in need of attention, but according to the data he has seen “if sea levels rise by one meter that would bring water inland 60 to 70 kilometers (35 miles), so it is not necessarily a large portion of the Delta.”

According to Mohamed Al Raey of Alexandria University, the threat to the Delta region – an alluvial plain that sits only a few meters (about 8 feet) above sea level – needs to be watched.

He says in an article in Al Ahram Weekly that climate change could lead “to an increase in the frequency and severity of sandstorms, and longer periods of drought followed by more intense flooding. This is expected to lead to public health problems, including the spread of epidemics, especially in poorer regions.”

A 2004 report issued by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) corroborates Al Raey’s assertions. In the study, they argue that only one degree centigrade could lead to large evaporation losses and significantly reduce Nile flows if the assumption that a four percent increase in evaporation per degree is taken into account.

Al Raey says the Mediterranean is already on the path toward flooding Northern Egypt, raising an average of .08 inches annually for the past decade. “It has already flooded parts of Egypt’s shoreline,” he says.

Generally, scientists predict the Mediterranean will rise by as little as 30 centimeters (one foot) to one meter (3.3 feet) by the end of the century. Even a one-meter rise in the water will submerge Alexandria…

In Alexandria, the local government is spending $300 million building concrete walls to protect the city’s beaches, and in some areas sand is being dumped to help replenish deteriorating beaches…

“Being left unprepared will affect not only economic, physical and environmental security, but national, regional and global security, if actions are not taken now to mitigate and adapt to, the projected impacts of climate change,” Mehyar [the director of Friends of the Earth Middle East] said earlier this month….

Egypt: Climate change sees dark future.” Bikya Blog. September 29, 2009.

Women and Globalization

This newspaper article addresses the impact of the success of the Ayza Itgawiz (I Want to Get Married) blog, an Egyptian blog about single women living in Egypt.

In August 2006, Ghada Abdel Aal, a 27-year-old pharmacist, started an anonymous blog called Ayza Itgawiz (I Want to Get Married). She had a thing or two to say about what it’s like to be a single Egyptian girl in search of a husband…

The blog quickly gained a following, and in 2008 an editor at the prestigious Dar El Shorouk publishing house contacted Abdel Aal..coaxed her out of anonymity. The book version of her blog…has sold about 30,000 copies, a huge print run by current standards in Egypt, where the low levels of book-buying are constantly bemoaned.
It’s hard to know how many unmarried women there are in Egypt today. Amid talk of a “crisis” of spinsterdom, the government’s main statistics-gathering institution recently published a report that suggested there were three million single women over 35 — then felt compelled to deny its own statistic, claiming the number was only a few hundred thousand. But it’s well-documented that both men and women across the Middle East are getting married at a later age. Economic forces – high unemployment and the shortage of affordable housing – play the biggest part, since a job and an apartment are prerequisites for young men planning to propose. Women’s educational and professional attainments (and heightened expectations) must also be a factor.

Whatever the reason, a good 10 years (at least) may pass between a middle-class woman’s graduation from college and her betrothal. During this decade, everyone around her is preoccupied with one constant, insistent, unspoken question: When is she going to get married?..

Abdel Aal’s problem isn’t with marriage, which she herself wants, and which she assumes to be a quite universal aspiration. Her problem is with the pressure to settle that results when it is understood that “the girl who gets married early is clever” but “the girl who delays must have a flaw” – and men are allowed to take their time and loftily survey the field.…

…To many Egyptian intellectuals, the success of such a decidedly “unliterary” book – one written in colloquial Egyptian, peppered with international pop culture references, Arabised English words, and the stylistic tics of text messages and e-mails – must represent another nail in the coffin of refined Egyptian literature…

…Public discourse in Egypt is a circumscribed and male-dominated affair. Young women from the provinces, with no connections to Cairo’s literary establishment, aren’t the likeliest participants. Now they know they can head online to tell the world, in their own words, what they want.

All the single ladies.” The National. November 5, 2009.

In contrast, this next article highlights the first woman to earn Al-Azhar’s (a Cairo mosque and University) seal of approval on an interpretation of the Holy Qur’an.

AMIDST the bushy beards and long faces so common among religious scholars, Kariman Hamza definitely stands out—not only as the first woman to write an Azhar-approved contemporary interpretation of the Qur’an, but to have done so with a smile on her face. It’s the same serene smile that made her a household name in the 1970s, when she became the first veiled television presenter in the Arab world…

Hamza is no stranger to challenges: When mini-skirts were still the rage nationwide, she fought for a place for the veiled on national TV. Her “head turban” set a fashion trend of its own at the time, and she has published a four-volume encyclopedia about the veil called Fashion and Modesty. She is also a noted children’s author…
It began when Hamza’s sister — acting at the behest of an official at the Egyptian Book Authority —asked Kariman to write a three-part interpretation of the Qur’an for kids…

She ultimately agreed, drawing strength from the experience of having already written 14 religious storybooks for kids as well as a five-part encyclopedia about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) titled Sayyed Al Khalq, which included 200 colorful illustrations and was declared The Most Beautiful Book in the World at the 1996 Leipzig Book Fair…

Hamza headed to her publisher, Adel Al-Moallem of Shorouk International, and offered him the three-part interpretation as a gift, begging him to publish it for the benefit of children who memorize the Qur’an. Upon reading it, she says, he agreed on one condition: That Hamza finish what she started and interpret the entire moshaf…

After clearing her plate, Hamza sought feedback from religious scholars to see if she was on the right track. Still, Hamza explains, she was hesitant to approach the leading sheiks since the last thing they may want, she feared, is a non-Azharite woman claiming she’s interpreting the Qur’an.

Ultimately, she settled on Dr. Ahmed Omar Hashem, the former head of Al-Azhar University, who had been a frequent guest on her show…

Three years later, Hamza presented her work to Sheikh Sayyed Tantawi, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, who handed the moshaf to members of the Islamic Research Center for review. To her surprise, they approved it without objection. “I was speechless, and grateful beyond words,” she says…

Today, Hamza is working on the seventh draft and is hopeful the final product will be out by year’s end. Her primary goal, she says, was to make the volume accessible to youth, saying she wrote through the lens of a grandmother…

“They have enough love stories in the movies. But to teach a girl she can love her colleague, not because he’s cute, or funny or sporty, but as part of her pure love of God and His creation, is important. Love doesn’t have to translate into lust or speak to our lower instincts.”

Hamza openly discusses homosexuality and the importance of sex education for children at an early age so they don’t fall victims to perversion, “What starts as a game can develop into a devastating habit. Besides, we shouldn’t leave it to the TV, maids, or friends to feed our children sexual information. These are issues I discuss in my tafseer.”

Hamza delves into broader themes, particularly the integrity of our global community. “The bond that connects the human race together has been severed. [...] But we have to realize we’re all Adam’s sons. The West looks down upon us because there’s no such brotherhood. Our Prophet wasn’t sent only to Muslims, but to the whole world. Mercy was the essence of his message. Islam speaks about globalization, but not the kind of globalization the West believes in.”

One of the most controversial topics is undoubtedly jihad. Hamza is aware of the sensitivity of the issue in today’s political vocabulary, and she admits to having her own personal perspective on the issue of struggle and violence…

“Instead of freaking out at the mere mention of the word, we should focus on clarifying the true essence of jihad. To leave it to those who misinterpret it will only breed terrorists — and then, we’ll have no choice but to face our worst fears. There’s a world of difference between jihad and terrorism. Terrorism isn’t only haram, it’s inevitable kufr [disbelief in God]. Whoever makes it his business to kill innocent people in the name of God because he’s angry at certain policies, laws, or a group of people is far from the path of God. By the same token, no one has the authority to deny us the right to be strong and armed, well prepared to defend our lands and religion at any point in time! We should make sure our enemies know we’re no easy target.”

As Hamza sees it, politics plays a key role in channeling the religious tide in society. Some religious concepts, such as jihad, are undermined, while others are built up…
Hamza also frowns on those who claim that the hijab isn’t obligatory, stressing that Surat El-Noor tackles the obligation all Muslims have to God. “The message is clear-cut and non-negotiable,” she says…

Although Kariman Hamza is the first woman to win Al-Azhar’s seal of approval for a commentary on the Qur’an, she is adamant that she’s building on the work of women who have gone before her…

Hamza can’t wait to see her own moshaf in the hands of people — or to get their feedback. Although she enjoyed writing it, Hamza admits the process took its toll on her. She’s hoping readers will rejuvenate her.

Khattab, Azza. “The Interpreter.” Egypt Today. November 2009. Volume # 30. Issue 11

Energy and Development

Abdel-Moneim Said, journalist for Egypt’s Al Ahram Weekly, discusses major economic development projects that harness energy from Nile dams and natural gas.

We see a similar development unfolding now as the consequence of the mega-development projects that are changing the geographic and demographic face of the country. Whereas the Nile since time immemorial has flowed northward from the heart of Africa to Damietta and Rashid on the Mediterranean coast…today there is a major current of energy flowing in the opposite direction, pumping life into industry, giving new form and substance to agriculture, and spreading light, essential services and irreversible change to the remotest villages and hamlets. This new energy supply has been made possible by the Ministry of Petroleum that has implemented a long-range and far-reaching plan of laying a grid of natural gas pipelines that will eventually cover residential neighbourhoods, industrial units, some electricity generating plants and various tourist resorts throughout a large part of the country. The South Valley Natural Gas Pipeline will be the longest stretch of the natural gas network in Egypt…

This project was first proposed in the 1980s with the aim of piping natural gas to the Kima (Egyptian Chemical Industries) industrial complex in Aswan…However, eventually it was decided that the major obstacles could be overcome and 10 years ago the project went into construction…

This is one of the most important strategic projects the Egyptian government has implemented in recent years. The South Valley Pipeline will be highly instrumental in the development of the south and open broad horizons for our southern governorates. As a cheap and clean source of energy, natural gas is environment friendly. It will help existing companies improve their performance, encourage various forms of trade, attract various infrastructural development projects and increasingly attract private sector engagement in a diversity of new enterprises that will create more jobs for the inhabitants of Upper Egypt. This will contribute to stemming the migration northward to Cairo and even abroad. Ultimately, the major aim is to spur the industrial and economic development of Upper Egypt, which will unleash new scope for the geographic and demographic evolution of our country.

Upper Egypt is thus on the verge of a phase of sweeping socio-economic change, such as that which had taken place in Aswan and the Suez Canal cities before. Moreover, another project is under way that will help propel this process forward: the construction of highways linking Upper Egypt with the Red Sea…The highway, moreover, will form one of the infrastructural foundations for a range of urban and industrial development projects along the Upper Egypt-Red Sea axis..

Natural gas has reached the people of Upper Egypt and the people of Upper Egypt have reached the sea. And all along the expanse of mostly desert land from the banks of the Nile to the shores of the Red Sea the means are emerging for people to elevate themselves to the stature of that wellspring that has changed so much over its long and distinguished history. The wellspring I refer to, of course, is Egypt, the betterment of which is ultimately the cause that concerns us the most.

Said, Abdel-Moneim. “Two-way change in Egypt.” Al Ahram. 19 – 25 November 2009. Issue No. 973.

Human Rights

This video chronicles the plight of every day Egyptians who feel that they cannot speak out about their opinions in public, lest they be thrown in jail and tortured.


* Pictures from Flickr.

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