A journalist's informal chronicle of negotiating the Middle East

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Egypt’s ambulance drivers in turmoil

I haven’t been able to write yet about everything that’s happened in Egypt over the past few months. Until I sort that out, here’s a video and story I’ve been working on for the past couple weeks about what paramedics and ambulance drivers are going through.

See the full story here: http://madamasr.com/content/video-ambulance-drivers-turmoil

A little bit like the Twilight Zone

It’s been an overwhelming few days back in Cairo after traveling to the U.S.

Clearly I’m not the only one feeling out of sorts…

You remember Al-Masry Media Corp, owners of the largest independent daily Arabic newspaper and it’s sister English-language paper Egypt Independent? Yes, the same company that “restructured” EI in April, laying off our team of 30 journalists for “financial reasons” and scaling it down to a handful of translators.

Before sharing their exclusive coverage of ongoing events, it would be remiss not to applaud the mere three-month turnaround on the financial front. Egypt Independent is now posting job ads online for an entire English-language news staff. The upward outlook comes just in time, too, as Al-Masry can move on to the more pressing problems of Egypt’s economic crisis.

In addition to new fiscal policy, it seems they’ve “restructured” their editorial line just a bit. I’m guessing they Googled their interviewee and saw “Gay Republicans” “Wikipedia” and his name, “Maurice Bonamigo”, in the same link and naturally put two and two together. But if you insist on having “facts” and “information”, I suppose you can click these links:

From Rosie Gray at Buzzfeed: Meet Maurice Bonamigo, U.S. Senate impostor

From Max Fisher for the Washington Post blog: Egyptian newspaper interviews ‘Republican senator’ who is actually conservative political consultant

Video

Zero Hour

I’ve been spending the past week filming in Tahrir and around Cairo. It kicked off on June 30 with protests that were every bit as massive as promised (for the first time in a long time), then on Wednesday in comes the Army and out goes the president.

I spent today mostly visiting the Islamist camps in Nasr City’s Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque and outside Cairo University. The former was surprisingly organized and friendly to the media while the Morsi supporters at the university were suspicious and controlling of where I could film.

You never know what you’re going to get on any given day or how you’ll be received, you just have to be there.

Video

Don’t piss off the artists

… or they will stage concerts and bring out the mimes.

Seriously though, I really enjoyed filming the Ministry of Culture sit-in and spending some time with the artists this past week. They like to point out that no one in Egypt has occupied a government building as long as they have (approaching a month now).

Singing, dancing, and otherwise bringing art to the street is one of the cooler ways I can think of to protest — even if the street in this case is still in the wealthy area of Zamalek.

Video

Get ready for Mada Masr

We, the journalists formerly known as Egypt Independent, bring you our new venture. And until our impending launch this weekend, this video should help clear up just what we’re all about at Mada Masr.

Video

Reality TV has a moment

At first I rolled my eyes when I got assigned an entertainment story at Reuters the other day, but I was won over while watching the footage of people in Gaza and the West Bank really going wild for Mohammed Assaf when he won Arab Idol. It made me wish I had been there and I couldn’t stop smiling at work.

You can see the video here:  Arab Idol Mohamed Assaf brings joy to Palestinian streets

Sexual Harassment Smoothie

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Let me tell you the story of the sexual harassment smoothie. It was strawberry.

It arrived in a glass on a tray full of awkward beverages and sat between me and four managers of Cilantro.

I didn’t order it but took two obligated sips anyway because apparently giving a free beverage to someone who was groped in their coffee shop makes managers feel magnanimous.

I do believe this icy pink drink was imposed on me with the best of intentions, but it came to be part of the problem.

A day earlier I stopped in the 26th July Street branch of the coffee chain Cilantro. Waiting for my coffee, I felt a bump and a quick hand brush against my ass. I got an equally quick jolt of adrenaline, or whatever it is that makes your muscles tense and your face go hot, before chalking it up to a clumsy waiter. Stop being paranoid, I reprimanded myself.

When the same waiter leaned diagonally across me and pressed his body against mine to remove my cup, I became more uncomfortable. This was a slower burn. I still felt it in my face, but now it spread to my chest. It was hard to blame it on an accident … general awkwardness maybe?

I was already late and as I packed up my things and stood to leave, another hand brushed my ass. To be clear, it was the same hand, just taking another pass.

I screamed.

“STOPTOUCHINGMEWHATTHEFUCKAREYOUDOINGTHAT’STHETHIRDTIME!”

Two things happened: The waiter turned and said “sorry sorry” before whipping back around, and the shift manager glanced up from texting, looked bored and then looked back down.

I stormed out.

I walked about 10 steps and then I shamed myself: “How could you let that happen three times before you said anything/why didn’t you realize/why didn’t you do something else, like slap him across the face/what’s wrong with you/why didn’t you raise hell/why didn’t you listen to your instincts/why do you always hesitate until it’s too late?!”

Rushing to an assignment and then to a dinner party kept me from processing until I got home and burst into tears. The next morning I woke up and found myself crying again. In my head I had a conversation with my mom telling her I might need therapy, and then I cried some more.

I didn’t think I could move out of bed until my friend Dalia told me she was coming so we could go to Cilantro and complain. Another friend called and offered her fiancée’s assistance. I said no. The last thing I wanted was to burden anyone else. But 20 minutes later Munshy called himself and told me he was coming.

Dalia, Munshy and I went to the store and demanded to be put in touch with the area manager, who asked us to meet him at another branch. We eventually sat down with him and it seemed like we kept amassing more managers at our table until we got up to leave.

They were very apologetic and promised to fire the waiter immediately and speak to the manager on duty at the time. But they were also surprised. “Nothing like this has ever happened before in one of our stores,” one said. Another one blamed it on the revolution. And then someone mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood.

When I asked if Cilantro gives sexual harassment training they all said yes, of course, and proceeded to describe what sounded more like customer service policies.

And then there was that smoothie they insisted I accept. For me it became symbolic of how deep-seated ignorance about sexual harassment and assault is. Even the people trying to solve the problem, who I honestly believe took my complaint very seriously, were part of it. With every exclamation of surprise, or explanation of policy or attempt to lay blame on some third party they undermined my complaint.

 I was touched, not once but three times, by a man. And I did not want a fucking smoothie.

Dalia and Munshy went to bat for me. They said in Arabic everything I would have before I could even tell them: No, it’s probably not the first time this happened in your store. Did you ever think that maybe other women didn’t want or know how to come forward? No, it’s not the revolution, we’ve been getting groped for a long time. And Brotherhood-blaming, really?

Munshy was indignant but not just in a macho “I’m protecting your honor” sort of way. I could see him experiencing the whole range of emotions that cycle through me every time I’m harassed: shock, anger, shame, frustration, helplessness and more anger, to name a few.

But as a man, he’s in the minority.

I stood up for myself today, and whatever help that was to me emotionally or psychologically, as long as we see this problem as 1 million isolated incidents, it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t a one-time shock in one fancy coffee shop. It happens all the time to women I know and millions I don’t, and far worse than what happened to me on this particular occasion.

I’m all about empowering women, but it’s not enough. Where are the men? Why doesn’t a middle-aged, educated business owner in Cairo have even a basic understanding of what sexual harassment is? What is so wrong with the way we are educating and raising boys that an 11-year-old tells me on the street he wants to fuck me? And when and why and how does a boy turn into a man who feels it’s his right to assault women?

 

 

Disclaimer: I just want to say, I’m not out to get Cilantro. In fact, the response was surprisingly better than what I had expected. It’s not the first time something like this has happened to me in Egypt, it’s just the first time I knew where the man worked and had the opportunity to seek some resolution.

 

 

 

 

 

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