Tuesday, January 16, 2007

View from Cairo

I don't think any post I've read shows as clearly as this why we need to stand with our democratic, secular friends in the Middle East, and elsewhere, and not allow the Islamists to divide us, as they would wish. The first and most grievous victims of Islamism are, of course, Muslims - including those who are Muslim only by birth. If you think Islamism is having a terrible effect on Western societies, think for a moment about what it must be like in a Middle Eastern country. Here's a personal account from Nah·det Masr:

During the early and mid nineties of last century, life was looking nice for me and for a large portion of the Egyptian population. It was a booming time for the economy, I had recently graduated then, there was no problem finding a job for an engineer in my specialization, the air was so optimistic!

I went to get a graduate degree in the US. I returned to Egypt in 1998, the local economy was stagnating, I found a job at a multinational firm with a nice salary, hence, dodged the local stagnation, and even replaced my car with a nicer one. To continue the perfect picture, a new beltway road was introduced close to my home, and I managed to reduce my work trip from one hour to about 15 minutes! Life was so good!

I was driving to work one day on 1999 when the BBC Arabic Service news announced that an Egyptian Airliner on a trip from JFK to Cairo disappeared from the radar screens. In the next several days, the news kept pouring in about a suspicion that the pilot might have committed suicide, Egypt lost very good people on this plane including scientists, industrialists, and a contingent of army officers who were studying in the US. This has created all sorts of conspiracy theories! Anyway, this kept heading the news broadcast in a way that prompted me to switch off or change the channel whenever the news is broadcast. The bad news kept pouring in; in 2000 there was that infamous visit by Sharon to Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem which prompted the second intifada, and the pictures of Mohamed El-Dorra getting killed by the Israelis, then the senseless suicide bombings, and Israeli revenge. The news was so bad that a broadcaster once advised men not to watch them before going to bed with their wives!

I started 2001 with high hopes, I was just assigned the task of managing a major regional project, and it was going smooth. I had a lot of business travel, staying in 5 star hotels in lovely cities around the region. In the summer of 2001, as part of my assignment, I went to attend technical conference in Chicago, at that time I decided that I will try to move the US; I met with a recruiting agency, and they told me that the outlook was bright. At last, I was going to leave the region with its bad news, and Egypt's crowded streets. I continued my trip in the US by visiting my Ph.D. advisor in Philadelphia, I then went on to give a lecture at the Georgia state university at the invitation of an assistant professor friend there, who later offered me to come and teach as visiting scholar there. Again, the outlook seemed very good, life was nice again, I didn't even mind being randomly selected for extra security check at each airport I used in the US.

After returning to Cairo, I started getting calls from my recruitment agent. There was a serious offer, and I was about to transform my life the way I always wanted. Move to the US, raise my kids on the values of tolerance, and secure their future by sending them to good schools, getting a house, basically the American dream!

On the afternoon of 9/11 (Cairo time), I left work to find that one of my car tires was flat, and was told that it was emptied by a resident of the apartment building I was parked off who though I had nor right parking there! I got furious, and decided I am going to the police station to lodge a complaint.

On my way to the police station, I heard the BBC Arabic service radio broadcaster saying that they are extending their news hour to cover the accident of a plane hitting one of the WTC towers! I said to myself, what foolish pilot would accidentally hit a building! I also felt bad because I visited the WTC towers earlier, and I had some of the best family photos taken there. I lodged the complaint accusing that resident! of course, nothing was to happen since the witnesses wouldn't testify, but I wanted that women to be called by the police so that she doesn't do it again. Anyway, I noticed that everyone was listening to the news. I didn't even turn on the radio on my way home! I was late, and hungry.

I arrived home, and was asking my wife at the door if she could imagine that an idiot pilot hit the WTC??? She was better informed! She told me to come to the living room to see for myself what was happening! I seemed like the world has gone crazy! All channels of the Nilesat were getting live feed from CNN, and replaying the second plane hitting the second tower! Of course, it became apparent that it was no accident, it was mass murder in the most cowardly way! We started getting calls from friends, and people started to float conspiracy theories, but that's beyond the point!

I got that depressing feeling again! Of course the recruiting company stopped calling me, and I called off my idea of moving to the US under the circumstances.

For the next few years, there was nothing but bad news; locally, the Egyptian pound lost half of its value, and while the invasion of Afghanistan was justified to dislodge the evildoers, Bush decided to move against the advice of the UN, and most of world, and invaded Iraq. His decision is still inexplicable to me. Iraq had no role whatsoever in 9/11! News of carnage in Iraq kept pouring in, the gruesome beheading of Nick Burg which, in my view, was a milestone in TV history, I couldn't watch it of course, but the reaction of the terrorists was to do more of it as they saw this tactic as their shock and awe , but that's another story. The Fallouja carnage, the mass murder of Shia who were accused by the insurgents of cooperating with the occupation, the revenge by the shia, it was like a competition of who shows the most graphic scenes! These news were culminated by Saddam execution and the rise of islamic militancy in Egypt, and even the judiciay took a right turn towards intolerance.

I have not only become depressed most of the time, but I started to consider taking antidepressants, and judging by the news in Egypt, and the region, I think we should all stock up on antidepressants.

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