Erdogan woos Brussels

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

BRUSSELS - From the Middle East Times website.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held critical talks with European Union officials on Thursday, seeking to allay concerns about Ankara’s EU preparations two weeks ahead of a crucial report.

The European Commission, which is due to publish its assessment of Turkey’s EU bid on October 6, wants clarification on the mostly Muslim country’s reform plans, particularly reform of the penal code.

EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen is due to make recommendations next month about whether Turkey should start EU membership negotiations. The final word will then be taken by EU leaders at a summit in mid-December.

Turkey, an EU candidate since 1999, has been striving hard to win a positive appraisal from the commission by pushing through major reforms to its laws, judiciary, and systems of government.

But Brussels has warned that the hard work risks being undone at the final hurdle if promised reforms to Turkey’s penal code are not carried through.

Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government last week withdrew a penal code bill from parliament – apparently under pressure from hardline Muslim groups to restore a clause to criminalize adultery.

Officials delivered a blunt warning this week that Turkey would be snubbed by the EU unless it passes the penal code reforms.

EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler, a known opponent of Turkey’s accession, said on Tuesday that its entry into the bloc would create myriad problems for EU farm policies.

Earlier this month it emerged that the Austrian official had warned, in a letter to his fellow EU commissioners, that “there remain doubts as to Turkey’s long-term secular and democratic credentials.”


posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/29/2004 01:33:00 PM 0 comments

Democracy and Secularism vs. Majority Rule

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Real democracy seems to be misunderstood in Egypt. Democracy isn't just as simple to describe as "what the majority wants". The rule of the majority is actually totally the opposite of democracy. The basis of democracy is the freedom given to anyone to express any thought in a democratic society that respects a variety of different beliefs and thoughts, which guarantees the respect and safe-being of anyone who believes in any religion/thought as long as it remains a thought and doesn't break the law. If the majority were to repress all other minorities then that's not democracy, that is actually called "totalitarianism" (correct me if I'm wrong).

A real democracy cannot exist without secularism, which naturally goes as part of a whole democracy, respecting the freedom of religion and belief, or non-religion and non-belief.

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/21/2004 09:45:00 PM 2 comments

Minister to pull plug on ‘noisy’ Cairo muezzins

Friday, September 17, 2004

By Hassen Zenati - CAIRO
From the
Middle East Times Website

Plans by Egypt’s religious affairs minister to silence muezzins’ calls to prayer in mosques and prayer rooms – some 3,000 in Cairo alone – have provoked an unholy row.

“People complain bitterly about the cacophony from loudspeakers in the mosques,” said Mahmoud Zaqzuq to justify his ordering a study on the possibility of a centralized or ‘unique call’ to prayer.

This would rule out mosques making their own individual calls, in keeping with a tradition that goes back to the beginning of Islam.

The minister told the daily Al Akhbar his only concern was the “search for calm and the well-being of the people, especially those looking after the sick, or pupils who need to be able to concentrate on their homework.”

Jealously guarded autonomy by the mosques inevitably produces a slight difference in timing for the call to prayer. The result is a clashing and unharmonious noise of competing calls.

Complaints come mostly from those who live near the mosques, whose sheer numbers ensure that thousands of people are affected.

Most objections focus on the muezzins’ call at dawn, summoning the faithful to the first of Islam’s five daily prayers.

The minister is studying the installation of a network linking different mosques in the same town or district so that a single call goes out at the same time throughout the zone covered by the network.

He says this method, along with choosing the most melodious muezzin’s voice, would enable the noise level to be controlled.

Another suggestion is to allow only the biggest mosque of an area to make the calls to bring the faithful to prayer – ruling out prayer rooms and less well- attended mosques.

The religious affairs ministry is responsible for some 90,000 mosques and prayer rooms throughout the country, including some 3,000 rooms and mosques in the crowded capital.

Imams fear the reform project will undermine Muslim liturgy. The call to prayer, instituted from the first years of Islamic preaching, was entrusted by the Prophet Muhammad to a freed black slave, Bilal, whose call remains the example for muezzins to follow today.

A single call to prayer would not conform to Sharia (Islamic law), according to Ahmed Sayer, a professor at Al Azhar university, while his colleague Muhammad Sayed Ahmed Yassir said he feared the move could eventually lead to “canceling Friday prayers in the mosques and be satisfied with prayers put out over the radio.”

Another opponent echoed this, asking if the future rules would “limit Muslims to pray behind an imam officiating on television.”

Others questioned whether there was not “an American hand” behind the ministerial proposition. Islamists frequently accuse the US of pushing Cairo to constrain Muslim religious practices in Egypt.

Fears for the jobs of the 200,000 muezzins working throughout Egypt have also been expressed, although the minister has promised not to sack any of the 70,000 muezzins officially working for the state. He says they may be redeployed to other jobs within their mosques.

Those working for religious associations and private organizations appear to be the ones facing the biggest upheaval.

Opponents of the reform project question the rationale of limiting the decibel level of the morning calls.

“How can they pretend to lower the sound level of the call [to prayer] when it is aimed at awakening the faithful so they can accomplish their sacred duty?” asked Abdel Sabur Shahin, head of the Sharia faculty at Al Azhar university, the most prestigious seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world.

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/17/2004 10:32:00 PM 0 comments

The God Simulator

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be God? Here’s your chance to find out.

This simulation puts you in the place of God. As God, you are both omnipotent and omniscient. You have the power to do or create anything. No problem is insurmountable for you.

The God Simulator - click here!

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/17/2004 09:11:00 PM 0 comments

Anti-gay campaign over?

Saturday, September 11, 2004

I'm wondering whether the state-supported anti-gay campaign that started 2001 is now over, since there hasn't been any news on this since February 2004. I believe that even if it's not already over, then it must be reaching to its near end. The government must look for another group of people to repress afterall, maybe lesbians or prostitutes next!

The government has many Islamists imprisoned, and I mean many many! They pose a great threat to the mostly-secular, officially-Islamic system. So the government also has to make what you can call a "balance" by arresting "bad" people too. This is a way to indirectly tell Islamists "we are already Islamic and don't need you!" It's also a way to redirect people's attention away from political and economical big problems that Egypt is going thru.

In 1995 they had started a similar campaign agaist Satanists. It ended in 2000, probably because people got used to the issue and it was no-more an exciting thrilling thing to talk about. Then in 2001 they started the anti-gay campaign.

I don't know, hopefully it's over by next year or maybe it's already ended now!

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/11/2004 06:41:00 PM 0 comments

A Last Stand by the Jews in Egypt

Friday, September 10, 2004

Fewer than 200 remain in Arab nation, where a small group is trying to hold on to artifacts.

By David Lamb
Times Staff Writer

November 19, 2002

CAIRO -- From scores of mosques, the muezzins' calls to prayer rumble through Cairo like claps of thunder. But inside the synagogue on Adly Street, behind a wrought iron fence and heavy wooden doors, an old woman named Iman hardly seems to hear them as she dusts mahogany benches and polishes the granite entryway.

She works hurriedly even though she knows no one will be coming to pray today. People rarely do. The calendar is open: no bar mitzvahs, no Sunday weddings with couples ascending the marble stairs amid garlands of roses and gardenias.

"It's only funerals now," she said, sighing. Still, as the volunteer caretaker, she wants everything spotless because responsibility comes with being one of Egypt's last Jews.

Today fewer than 200 Egyptian Jews remain, and only a dozen or so -- all elderly women -- are actively trying to save the nation's Jewish history. Soon the community, which once numbered 150,000 here in the capital alone and dates to the last years of the pharaohs, will fade away.

In a final twist, that end approaches with the community under siege -- not by Arab nationalists or Islamic radicals, but by Jews abroad who fled Egypt decades ago and want the community's artifacts to follow them.

Shaar Hashamayim synagogue, built in the early 1900s, was once the very heart of the Arab world's largest Jewish community. The Jews of Cairo freely published their own newspapers in French and Arabic. They prayed in 29 synagogues, owned most of the major department stores, cornered the cotton trade and created urban districts, worked as financiers and merchants and helped found the National Bank of Egypt. Several served as elected members of parliament. Many streets and squares were named after prominent Jews.

But each of four wars with Israel -- in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 -- resulted in a tide of emigration. Synagogues closed, rabbis left, kosher butcher shops closed. Over nearly six decades, the number of Jews in the Arab world dwindled to less than 40,000 from 850,000. Those who remained became an Arabic-speaking, easily forgotten minority in a sea of Muslims. Today most are elderly, unskilled, poor and apolitical. Few practice Judaism. "I know little of religion," Iman said.

Given the diminished size of the Jewish community here, the Historical Society of Jews From Egypt in Brooklyn, N.Y., wants historical and religious items sent to the U.S. for safekeeping.

The society's members fear that the artifacts might be sold to private collectors. It makes no sense to keep them in Egypt, they say, because nine of the 12 remaining synagogues are closed and the other three are rarely used. The community is so small, it can't even gather the 10 men required for a minyan, or prayer group.

"These records and artifacts belong to us," the society's president, Desire Sakkal, wrote the U.S. Congress in August in a bid for assistance. "They are our heritage and our history, and we want them available for use, consultation and research at a location closer to where most of us Jews from Egypt live today."

Carmen Weinstein, president of the Jewish Community Council of Egypt, and her ailing mother, Esther, have ignored for the last five years what they refer to as the society's "insensitive letters referring to our inevitable extinction" and refused to meet a delegation, headed by a rabbi, sent to Egypt by the society. At the council's request, the Egyptian government in 1997 classified the artifacts as antiquities, meaning they cannot be sold or exported.

"We are still in Cairo despite what everybody says," said Weinstein, who runs a stationery store near Shaar Hashamayim. "Taking the Jewish seforim [prayer books], books and records out of Egypt is tantamount to saying that Egypt should demolish the pyramids and the Temple of Luxor because there are no pharaohs left."

Although age and limited resources are slowing their efforts, the Weinsteins and others have worked hard to keep the Jewish community in Cairo viable. With the cooperation of the government, they saved a Jewish cemetery in nearby Basatin from being destroyed by a new road and oversaw the renovation of the synagogue on Adly Street in 1980 -- a dividend of then-President Anwar Sadat's peace treaty with Israel.

Another surviving Cairo synagogue -- Ben Ezra, said to be one of the world's oldest Jewish temples -- was renovated with money from the Egyptian Jewish community in Canada.

"Memories of weddings and bar mitzvahs flooded my mind as we walked through this magnificent structure where my grandparents, parents and lots of my many uncles and aunts were married," Leon Wahba of Cleveland wrote Carmen Weinstein last year after seeing Shaar Hashamayim on his first visit to Egypt since he left in the 1950s. "The synagogue is very well protected by the Egyptian police, and we found it to be in particularly good shape."

A dozen police stand guard across the street from Shaar Hashamayim, and surviving members of the Jewish community say they are not subjected to discrimination or hostility. But given the tensions in the region, they find it preferable to live quietly without calling attention to their religion.

"These are disheartening times for everyone in the Middle East," Weinstein said.

Most Egyptian Jews have visited Israel, and many feel contempt for those who left Egypt. To those who stayed, this is still the motherland.

When Jewish Egyptian singer Laila Mourad died in 1995, an Israeli diplomat called her family and offered to allow her to be buried in the Jewish state.

Her son fired off angry letters to Egyptian newspapers, saying his mother had nothing to do with Israel -- she was Egyptian.

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/10/2004 02:18:00 PM 0 comments

Nawal el Saadawi

Interview by Stephanie McMillan, 1999.

SM: Can you tell a bit about the class you're teaching, "Dissidence and Creativity"?

el Saadawi: In my country they're not allowing me to teach it at all. The word dissident is a taboo. In any country. Even here. You know that the western democracy is false democracy. The power is of the military, the power of money, of the multinationals, et cetera, et cetera. If you really want to change the system, the capitalist system here, or in any country, you will be a dissident and you may land in jail, in prison, as happened to me in Egypt. Now here the system, the establishment is so strong, that writers can not change anything. In Bangladesh, in Egypt, in Africa, you know, you can make a revolution by an article. Sadat put me in prison because of one article I wrote. Just one article. It was not even critical of his policy; it was exposure of the contradictions in his policy and how he was ruining our economy and increasing the gap between the rich and the poor and how he was encouraging the religious fundamentalist movement. I was writing scientifically, objectively. But this article made him furious and that's why he put me in prison, because this article can change history. In our region poets can go to prison, writers. A piece of poetry can make a revolution. Because people are waiting for the revolution. And the government is weak. In our country the establishment is not as strong as here in America. Here the capitalist class is strong, protected by the military and nuclear power. So the people have no power here, actually. Though they think they have power, they don't have power. Only the military, the government, the media and the multinationals have power. In our country, because of the weak government, and the weak parties and the weak organizations, the people have a voice, they can go out into the streets because they are hungry, as happened under Sadat in 1977. The people went into the streets asking for bread. It was about to be a revolution, but they used the army against the people. So writers are very important in a crisis period, because they have an impact, they can affect politics. But here writers can affect nothing. There are good dissident books, but people don't read them or if they read, nothing happens, because the control of the system is so great.

SM: How are your books received here and in other countries? Do they reach the masses or is the interest mostly in academia?

el Saadawi: How can I reach the masses in English? I reach them in Arabic. My books are selling very well in the Arab world. My books are in the villages. They are read by people who can just read, because I use very simple language. So my books are read all over the Arab world. But how can I reach the masses in English? It's not my job, also, to reach the masses here, though I reach the masses of young people, of students. And my books are not academic. My books are published by Zed books, it's a progressive, revolutionary publisher in London. And my books are popular among a portion of, I can't say the masses, the illiterate no, but the people who read and write, students, young people, progressives. The left. Of course not the right, the right will never read my books. And some of the women's feminist groups, they read my books all over the world.

SM: After you taught at Duke University you went back to Egypt. Are you again in exile now?

el Saadawi: No, I am in Egypt now. I live in Egypt. Even when I was at Duke I did not consider myself in exile. I hated the word. The media said that. I said, well, I am in danger for my life in Egypt, and I have to leave, because I have to protect my life. And Duke offered me a post, so I came, you know. I could have stayed in Egypt. Duke offered me an opportunity for me to come outside of Egypt to do something else, to teach. Also I came here, to teach for three months, for the autumn semester and then I will go back to Egypt. I can not live permanently in the States. I have to be in Egypt most of the time. And then to come out for a while. For a change, to meet people, to teach, you know, for a change. But my life is in Egypt.

SM: What do you hope your students will learn from your class?

el Saadawi: You have to ask them. I don't teach, because I hate teaching. I'm not a teacher. You can not teach dissidence, and you can not teach creativity. What I do, usually, I say I undo what education did to them. Because education, and this is a universal phenomenon, it has nothing to do with the West or East, or North or South, the education system serves the political system, and the military, and the economics. Like the media, the education system, socialization, conditioning, religion - all serve the political power, the system. And this political power, with its education system, with its religious system, the economy - it ruins the creativity of people, and their courage, and their understanding of the self and the other. So what they do, I undo. What education did, what the media does, what the political system and power do to people, I undo that. And just open the way for the students to discover their own creativity from inside. Because your creativity comes form inside. Creativity is born with you. We are all born creative. So that's what I do. So I don't really teach.

SM: What is the connection between creativity and dissidence?

el Saadawi: Oh, that's a very good question. You can not be creative in a system that is very unjust, like the system we live in, unless you are a dissident. Because when you are creative you are for justice, for freedom, for love. It's by nature like that. You feel that you want to do something. You can not accept injustice. You become angry, if this injustice is happening to you or to others. If you are walking in the street and you see children who are begging, beggars, who are starving, they are dying of hunger, what do you do? You become furious. You want to change the system that created this hunger. You discover it's not national only, it's international. So I make the connection, I open up to understand the connection between international, national and family oppression. And why we have poverty. It's social, political. It's not a natural disaster. It's made by the political system, internationally and nationally. So if you are creative, you will feel these children who are beggars, you will be angry, and you'll fight to make them eat. So you find yourself active. So I do not separate between writing and fighting. So what I do is make the connections. To undo the fragmentation of knowledge. Because the knowledge we receive in university is very fragmented. So I try to undo this fragmentation.

SM: Have you ever been attacked for your views in this country?

el Saadawi: By philistine people. People who are capitalists, right wing, Christian fundamentalists, and their media. Oh, some of them have written, some of them spoke, and some of them have censored my thoughts in the media. Whenever I give a talk or something and the media is there, they censor it. They cut the parts they don't want. Of course, here they don't encourage dissidence at all. But in some universities, like here at Florida Atlantic University, they are happy with the course I am doing, especially the PhD Public Intellectual program. It's a very, very progressive program. It is based on integrated knowledge and interdisciplinary studies. That's why they invited me to come and teach here.

SM: Have you heard about the political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal?

el Saadawi: Oh yes, oh yes. He is on the death row. In fact I took part of what he said in one of my keynote addresses at the college of New York at Stony Brook. I was invited by the African Literature Association to give a keynote address and I referred to him. This was two years ago. It's not him only. There's no democracy here. I follow the presidential campaign, and you know nobody can be in the campaign unless you are a millionaire, unless you have money, unless you have much money to spend on this campaign. That's how they attract the media. So you can not really be in politics unless you are rich like Ross Perot and George Bush and all them. Also the right wing, they have a lot of money, and the christian fundamentalists, the Christian Coalition, they have a lot of money. So where is democracy? Since the majority of people are silent, and can not speak. So it's a false democracy.

SM: What would you say to a woman in this country who assumes she is no longer oppressed, who believes women's liberation has been achieved?

el Saadawi: Well I would think she is blind. Like many people who are blind to gender problems, to class problems, to international problems. She's blind to what's happening to her. Like many housewives who are happy because they are staying at home, and because their husbands provide for them. In psychiatry we call it "Housewife's Happiness Distress." Because it creates depression after that immediately. A housewife will also have what we call the syndrome of Housewife's Depression. And it comes from that false happiness. She thinks she is happy but deep inside she feels unhappy. So those people are blind. Deep inside they know there is something wrong in the system, but they are blind because they didn't receive the correct knowledge. They just receive fragmented knowledge. And they can be professors in university. During the Gulf War I was in Duke University. I asked one of the professors of political science at the university about the Gulf War. He didn't know about the Gulf War. He said we are liberating Kuwait. (Laughter). He didn't know anything. He said America is liberating Kuwait. So I told him about the oil. He was teaching political science, but he was blind to the real cause of the Gulf War. You find highly educated people who are blind, because they received fragmented knowledge. They become very good physicians, especially physicians. I am amazed here that I meet physicians, medical doctors, who are so self-centered. They think about their profits, their money, their clinics, that's all, and know nothing about what's happening.

SM: How can unity be achieved between women of imperialist countries and women of oppressed countries, and what are some obstacles that must be overcome?

el Saadawi: First of all, obstacles abound, such as how can we meet? How can I meet women in Bangladesh, meet women in America? We need money to meet. We need tickets. We need to meet. We need to translate our work to indigenous languages. We need to discuss together, because without that it can not work. We have to exchange, we need exchange. And we need to act together. We need to go beyond our nationality and our gender and our color and our religion, because we are united. You are a Muslim, you are a Christian, you are Jewish, you are Hindu. We are divided by religion, by culture, by the so-called "multi-culturalism." You know, imperialists encourage multi-culturalism, diversity, to divide people. To divide people, not for real multi-culturalism or democracy. And in fact religious fundamentalism is very liked by imperialism and neo-colonialism. They work together. And globalization and all that. So how can we go beyond all these barriers and meet? That's why I travel, that's why I meet women everywhere, and men. We have to combine women and men's efforts. So we should get together, men and women. And working class, intellectuals, middle class - we have to go beyond our class, our gender, our nationality, our color, our religion - and then to meet. It's important. I believe in that. That's why I travel, that's why I attend conferences, that's why I speak, and I think without that we can not win. Bangladesh alone can not win. Egypt alone can not win. We need transnational. Because our enemy is global. So we must establish a global movement. But we have to start locally. Global movement does not mean I don't do anything locally. I have to start from my base. But how to connect the village, the grass roots with the international, that's important. It's happening! All the time. I am from the village. We encourage people, first of all not to leave their country. That's why I say I have to stay in Egypt all my life. I have to organize in Egypt. That's why I never stop organizing in Egypt. We have to work and write and fight locally. But we have to extend and exchange globally. We shouldn't break our connection globally. We need both, from the very, very local, to the very, very global.

SM: How do you see the future?

el Saadawi: First of all we have to trust ourselves that we can change the system. I'm very optimistic. I never lose hope. Even when I was in prison, I never lost hope. Because hope gives us power. So I believe the future will be better. That's number one. We have to trust that we are going to change. The future will be better, and the lives of children will be better than our lives. And to work on that. That's how I deal with life. I don't believe that the revolution will come in one night. The revolution is a process, it's a continuous process that starts from here and now. Some people they say, 'Oh, we'll perform the revolution when the situation is okay" - no. You have to start the revolution from here and now. It's a process, and we go on step after step. And we can unite like that. We have to work together and organize, organize all the time, because there is power in unity. And to unveil our minds. There is power in unveiling the mind and begin to drink of knowledge. So we have to work on that. All the time. To work on it. And not to discourage any small effort made by the people. And we have to turn the silent majority into the speaking majority. Who speaks in the media: the minority. I consider myself the voice of the silent majority in Egypt and the Arab world. But I should do something to make the silent majority speak up. Young women, young men, young people, writers, students, so that more and more individuals of this silent majority speak up. Release the silent majority by my voice.

SM: In addition to writing, you participate in other forms of political struggle, such as your campaign against female circumcision, against the US aggression of the Gulf War, and recently defying the UN sanctions against Iraq. Can you discuss what you are currently involved in right now?

el Saadawi: Yes. We established the Arab Women's Solidarity Association in Egypt to bring Arab women in unity, so that we could have connection with Arab women from different countries. Now I'm concentrating on Egyptian women. Locally. We have to get the power for Egyptian women through the Egyptian Union. Because the Egyptian women's movement is fragmented. There are many organizations and we need to bring them. Because if we have a powerful Egyptian Union, then we will have a powerful Arab union. So this is the latest struggle.

SM: Since every form of oppression comes from a single global system, and there are so many possible avenues of struggle, and everything is urgent, how do you decide what to focus on in particular?

el Saadawi: You start with what you can. You start here and now, from your local position. Because your feet are on the ground. You have to start from yourself, from your ground, not to be in the air. That's why struggle starts locally, and it expands, and it connects globally. You have to start locally from your soil, from your village, from your country, from your state. To liberate yourself.

SM: What are the differences you see between oppression here and in Egypt?

el Saadawi: Differences, oh, yes. Here the oppression of women is very subtle. If we take female circumcision, the excision of the clitoris, it is done physically in Egypt. But here it is done psychologically and by education. So even if women have the clitoris, the clitoris was banned; it was removed by Freudian theory and by the mainstream culture. Also women are oppressed economically. There is feminization of poverty everywhere. Women are becoming more and more poor, more and more unemployed. The gap between the rich and the poor is increasing and that's why women suffer more. Women are suffering from the capitalist economic system. They are suffering, they are becoming more poor. But of course poverty here is less harsh than in Egypt. You don't see it. Sometimes it's visible, you see people in the street, but you don't see beggars like in Egypt. Here oppression, economically, psychologically, it's more subtle. It's hidden. Women everywhere are all victims of the class patriarchal system. The sexual problems are much less here. In my country if a girl loses her virginity, it's a scandal. If she's pregnant outside marriage, outside wedlock, it's a scandal. Her name may be put on the death list, as happened with me, if she attacks, or is critical of religion or mainstream beliefs. But here, no. No. Here you can lose your virginity, you can give your name to your child if you don't have a husband. In Egypt, never. It's the name of the father. The name of the mother does not exist in Egypt. You can not choose the name of the mother. It's very harsh on women. Here we can say that the personal life of women is more relaxed. They have more freedom in their personal life. But in their political and economic life, they are suffering, you know. You have to also study each class. Because maybe the women in the working class here are suffering much, much more than women in the middle class in Egypt. So you have to compare classes.

SM: Here, exploitation is more hidden; it's not sharp.

el Saadawi: It's not very visible here, because it's psychological. It's hidden. Also the country is more rich. Here you can see poor people having a car, for instance, who don't have work. But in Egypt poor people are in the street. They don't have a home, much less a car. Of course, Europe and the States, they are having many of their riches because they have exploited other countries, because of colonialism and neo-colonialism.

SM: In that case, isn't it very hard to create a movement here against the system?

el Saadawi: There are, there are people here who are quite aware and they are against the system. During the Gulf War, thousands of people were in the streets, demonstrating against the Gulf War.

SM: Do you find it difficult to find a balance in criticizing Islam without pandering to western prejudice about it?

el Saadawi: I am critical of all religions. So you see, I criticize Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism. When you criticize your own culture, there are those in your culture who are against you, who say, "Oh, don't show our dirty linen outside," you know? But I don't believe in this theory, the dirty linen, et cetera. I speak one language, whether inside the country or outside. I don't change my language, because I believe in what I'm saying. I'm critical of Islam, Christianity, Judaism. I speak about all of them with the same belief and the same courage. So that's number one. So I'm not really threatened by people who say, "Oh don't criticize your religion outside your country." No, I have to criticize everything. I must be honest with myself. So I have one language, which I say. And we shouldn't be afraid of being blamed of being westernized. Some people say, "Oh, you are westernized, that's why you criticize Islam." But I criticize Christianity too. I criticize Judaism. And Buddhism, and Hinduism and everything. But some people try to defame you, to ruin your reputation by saying you are westernized. Taslima Nasrin, she was a victim of that, people said, "She shouldn't criticize her culture in the West." I think this is trying to sabotage writers and women, and to intimidate them. And I don't care. I say my opinion anywhere. Locally, internationally. Because when you believe in something, you do.

SM: Do you write differently for different audiences?

el Saadawi: No! I write in Arabic. All my books in Arabic. And then they are translated. Because my role is to change my people. That's my role. I can not change people here in America and leave my country. So that's why I write in Arabic. I never write in English. And then my books are translated.

SM: You have written that at other times in history, some religion had progressive aspects, but that now it is used by those in power to retain their power. Is it possible today for religion to be in any way progressive, or for a religious person to be progressive?

el Saadawi: It seems a very difficult question, because what do you mean by religion? Because what's god, the conception of god? God, to me, is justice, freedom and love. My grandmother was illiterate. She never read the Koran. She believed, she told me, god is justice. That's real religion, that's the true religion of the people, that they believe in justice and god to them is justice. God to the poor people is justice; it's not a book. God is not a book or a text.

SM: Do you think of it as a supernatural being?

el Saadawi: No, I believe it's a force inside us. What's divine, to me, is the collective power of people. That's divine to me. The collective power of people. It's historical. Because god as he is described in books is a historial being, he is fixed. My conception of religion is very different. My conception of god is that god is inside us, and if god is outside us, it is the collective power of people, when they act, when they revolt against injustice. So god to me is justice. The revolution of people is divine. God as an external power, I don't believe in that. No, I don't believe in any external power, except the collective power of people. My power comes from inside here. And from outside if there is an organization and I am part of it, and we change the system. So that's the real power to me. If it is external, then it is the collective power of the organization of the people. If it is internal, it is my creative power. So how I integrate my creative power, that's my god inside me, and the god outside that's the people. You see?

SM: Why do you feel that you have to say that justice, the struggle of the people, all that is god? Why do you have to call those things god?

el Saadawi: Because some people don't understand. You have to make a link with the people. Because millions of people believe in the word "god," and if you tell them there is no god, they will be shocked.

SM: It's tactical, then.

el Saadawi: It's not tactical. It is explaining, using a language that people can understand. If the people believe in god and you tell them there is no god, then… But if you tell them, wait, like my grandmother, who said god is justice. My grandmother said it; she was illiterate. So the people say, already, that god is justice, and freedom and love.

SM: But when you work in that way, the fundamentalists, Christian or Muslim or whatever, at a certain point they will say, "at last god controls our lives. You can't destroy this social relationship, this class relationship, because god made it."

el Saadawi: No, what I mean is that revolution is a process. It's not done in one night. You can not do anything in one night. And knowledge comes gradually. Like a piece of light. Because the brain sometimes is so dark. There is a thick veil on the brain. That's why we say we need to unveil the mind. So I have to understand, first, the audience to whom I am talking. And I don't believe in shock treatment. In psychiatry that they make a shock by electricity and they say the patient will be all right: no, no, no. I believe in knowledge to be given in a very peaceful way and calm way, so the people will start to open their eyes to new facts. So I have no problem if I tell them, "you already believe that god is justice. God is justice, god is not a book. You are illiterate and you said it: 'god is justice,' so we don't need this book. We don't need the Koran. We don't need the Bible. We don't need the Gita. We don't need all those books, those are old books. We can read them as historical books, like any book, and leave it. But we have to think about justice. This is our god, our new, real god." I agree with you, that we have to change the language. We have to not use the word god. Why don't we say goddess? But we have to do it in a really gradual way. Because when you shock people, sometimes they don't listen.

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/10/2004 02:00:00 PM 1 comments

What's happening in Turkey?!

Banning adultery? In Turkey?! Are you kidding me?? So what secularism then! I mean Turkey is supposedly a secular state, then how can this be happening? I don't mean to defend adultery or anything but I just can't accept the idea of banning adultery in a secular state, especially that I read about how unfair the old adultery law was to women.

I'd like to talk a bit about Egypt on the same issue actually. Here we also have a law against adultery, and it, too, is really not fair toward women. If a man sees his wife with another guy in bed he's actually excused by the law and if he kills his wife for it nothing happens to him! Well, he gets a sentence that wouldn't be applied. While a woman who kills her husband for the same thing can be sentenced to up to 15 years! I mean, that's really not fair.

I'm not saying that each should be granted the right to kill the other for adultery in order to be fair. I'm actually saying that neither should be killed and if this happens then the prison sentence should be the same regardless of gender.

Back to Turkey now, I'm totally against an obviously religious party being in power in a country that's supposed to be secular.

External Links:

Read the Reuters article on Turkey's new proposed anti-adultery law.

Dhimmi Watch "seeks to bring public attention to the plight of the dhimmis, and by doing so, to bring them justice."

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/10/2004 01:17:00 PM 1 comments

Egyptian Identity

Thursday, September 09, 2004

I am an Egyptianist, and I'm one of those people who believe people living in Egypt now are actually related to the race of the ancient Egyptians. I won't really get into the details of this issue. This whole issue doesn't matter afterall. Whether or not Egyptians are Arabs isn't really the issue here.

Sometimes when I get into a conversation with some Egyptians on the issue of our Egyptian identity, I usually see one of the following three reaction depending on the person I'm conversing with: 1. "yes, we are Egyptian not Arab", 2. "no, we're Arabs because we speak Arabic and because Arabs 'opened' (the politically-correct term for 'invaded') Egypt and fucked the Egyptian race out of existence", or 3. "you can't really know, and I don't really give a fuck." And there are also those who just enjoy making the whole thing seem senseless and pointless, as if being Egyptian really gives them a pain in the ass!

Whatever the reaction is, I'm getting a general feeling that Egyptians are always looking for some other identity, whether it be religious, racial, or anything else.

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/09/2004 09:39:00 PM 2 comments

Omaret Yaacubian

I don't usually read big thick books, but this one is very different. This book is about everything in Egypt from political corruption, to religious fanaticism and terrorism, to gays and gay bars.

Omaret Yacubian (Jacobian Building) is an old apartment building in Downtown Cairo. It has a long history itself that the book tells a bit about. Reading it, you notice the difference between the people who live in that building and the people who used to dwell in that same building years ago. It symbolizes how Egypt itself and Egyptians changed drastically over the last fifty or more years; how more religious and conservative the people of Egypt have become.

For instance you read that at some point of that change, bars and pubs were forced to change their names and have "restaurant" or "café" written on their front doors, instead of "bar" or pub.

The book talks about the time of the 1952 revolution in Egypt when military men came into power and kicked the King out. Bits and pieces about cosmopolitan Cairo before 1952, where you could find people of diverse backgrounds and religions, and after 1952 when Nasser kicked out foreigners and Jews (which I personally see as a pointless fucked-up thing to do).

Anyway, the really good part of this all, is that a new movie based on this book is being made now, I'm desperately waiting for it!

Buy "Omaret Yaacubian" at the Madbouli Bookstore with branches in Downtown Cairo, and Nasr City.
يمكنكم شراء كتاب "عمارة يعقوبيان" من مكتبة مدبولي بفرعيها في وسط البلد ومدينة نصر

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/09/2004 02:28:00 PM 0 comments