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Cairo

Cairo Egypt - A Contentious Veneer of Political Nothingness



This last weekend I was in Cairo, Egypt thanks to a 12 hour layover on my way to work in Ethiopia. Having previously lived in Egypt, I was excited and nervous to see what developments have occurred in Cairo since the Arab Spring.  I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed.

Here is what I found:

One, there has been an incredible explosion of street art throughout the city.  Not only in Tahrir, but everywhere one can find evidence of artistic expression and protest.  This is rather incredible.  Below is a photo from the old social science campus for the American University of Cairo, located on Mahmoud Mahmoud street.  The quantity of texts and imagery that adorns the building is not unique, but such messages can be found elsewhere in the city.



Admittedly however, Tahrir is the focus of more extraordinary works. On the wall of the original American University campus one can find massive murals and other large-scale works which are less clear in their political intent, but remain aesthetically striking.



Beyond the presence of street art, near Tahrir is an extensive array of defensive fortifications.  Large concrete blast walls and stone structures are arranged for about 1 or 2 blocks in every direction around the Ministry of Interior.  Concave walls line some of the streets, striking because their design would be clearly ineffective against explosives (such as the role of the traditional T-wall) but make human access nearly impossible.  Furthermore, large steel gets have been erected near the Mugama on the edge of Tahrir which can be used to close access to the square.



Yet beyond Tahrir, the city remains fairly unchanged.  Vegetables are sold, donkeys pull carts, and traffic barely moves.  Only one block from Tahrir, one can see that daily life has remained the same as before the uprising.  After meeting with some Egyptian friends, I voiced my concern that nothing has truly changed.  The jobs are the same.  There are still police posted on every corner.  There is still a large quantity of easily identified secrete police scattered throughout the city.  In terms of formal political systems, it appears no different than when I left in December of 2009.  They agreed.



Yet one change remained clearly observable.  The divide between the rich and poor has continued to grow.  Outside the city in Qahira Jedida (New Cairo) the suburbs have exploded in size.  Massive malls, large water fountains, and sweeping grass lawns (in a desert!) stretch as far as you can see. There is even a massive, brand new Ikea located nearby in New Maadi.

In the meanwhile old Maadi, which has been the longstanding neighborhood residence of the elite, has grown old and tired.  There remain some beautiful houses, yet much of the neighborhood has lost its upper class allure.  The rich have vacated for the suburbs and the poor have struggled to fill the gap.

In addition, large scale construction projects can be found everywhere.  Capitalism has run rampant in the interest of the upper class.  Just below is  photo from Tahrir, where on the very edge, massive new office buildings are under construction.



In the end, government has remained unchanged, the security of the common people no different, and capitalism has had its way.  Even the revolution has been co-opted.  Below is a photo-synth of 2 images I took of Tahrir with the Mugama in the background.  Perhaps the revolution was televised, but today it is bought and sold, to no benefit of those fighting for change.


Urban Planning in Conflict

Kabul, Afghanistan

I haven't updated this blog for awhile, although daily updates can be found at The Humanitarian Terrain.  The next couple months will continue to have a low rate of posts, however in August I will have far more to write about as I begin my new position in Kabul, Afghanistan.  For the present are some small news blurbs concerning urban development issues in regions of interest.

UNHABIT releases Charter of Values [LINK].  In line with contemporary trends in economic and physical planning, UNHABITAT has required ongoing partnerships with private agencies to facilitate project implementation.  To encourage a strengthened relationship that remains centered on UNHABITAT priorities within the private sector, the agency as created a series of guidelines to frame future partnerships.

New Model on Evolution of Urban Settlements [LINK].  By merging an expansive study of regional linguistic structures and local political organization in South East Asia, scientists have advanced a theory on the rise and collapse of past civilizations, wherein those that advanced the most quickly became more vulnerable and prone to sudden collapse.


Upcoming Conference on Building Resilience [LINK]. Heritance Kandalama, Sri Lanka July 19-21. Interdisciplinary approaches to disaster risk reduction and sustainable urban development.


Brief interview with Somali Archaeologist Sada Mire [LINK].  Although initially displaced by the ongoing conflicts of Somalia, Sada returned from England's University CollegeLondon to discover prehistoric rock-sites in the northern province of Somaliland.

Approval for new Egyptian Science Research City [LINK]. The ruling military in Egypt approved the planning and construction of a new urban development dedicated to technological research and scientific advancement. The campus will be situated on 300 acres near Sixth of October City.

No Rest in Somalia. Somalia premier quits, Danish Warship offers Kenya 24 captured pirates, 25 member of al-Shabaab surrender, while continued fighting displaces more residents...  [LINK].  In a desparate attempt to round up new recruits, insurgents have been visiting Madrasa's in central Somalia, looking for schools to stop teaching and offer children to join the insurgency [LINK]. 

Essay by Egyptian Activist, Demaugh Mak: "Mubarak, You are 30 years late." #Egypt, #Cairo, #FREEEGYPT, #25jan


For over a decade, if not several, Demaugh Mak has been one of the leading voices of human rights activism in Egypt.  In the few years  that I've known him, he has been arrested by the Egyptian police on several occasions for speaking out and fighting for the needs of the marginalized and oppressed people in his country - yet his convictions have only strengthened with each obstacle.  He has been kind enough to contribute this essay, highlighting some of the living conditions in Egypt and underscoring the demand for change.


Mubarak, You are 30 years late.


When you set an appointment with someone and he doesn’t show up for ten or fifteen minutes, or sometimes half an hour you may wait for him to arrive. But when he is thirty years late, that’s when you explode.

After 30 years of false promises from Mohammed Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president who stepped into the ruling chair in 1981 after the late president Saddat was assassinated, how could the Egyptian people not rise up and fight for their rights?

 A real revolution has suddenly hit. All over Egypt the people are asking Mubarak to leave after all what he did to the people. He took an oath to protect and safe guard Egypt, and promised us a new brighter world, but he didn’t deliver.

Hosny Mubarak turned Egypt into a police state in which the role of the security forces is to secure his presidential throne and his gang's interests in Egypt. He doesn’t care how much 80 million Egyptians are suffering under his dictatorship.

Egyptians became burdened under the pressure of the poor economic situation, which has not improved at all during the last thirty years. Today, more than 10 million people suffer from unemployment in Egypt. Living wages seem like a myth to most. 40 % of Egyptians lives on under 2 dollars a day. Under Mubarak’s rule corruption in the public sector and the government reached levels that have never been seen before in Egypt.

As an example some (experts) are getting hired for 1,800,000 pounds a year and at the same time 10,000 employees in the same governmental sector make 99 pounds a month, which means they make approximately $18 a month. This is not an acceptable salary for a human being.

35% of Egyptians are illiterate and the educational system is getting worse every day. Curricula are irrelevant to the requirements of the market. Untrained teachers and a bad schooling system are taking the people  nowhere in this age where knowledge is power.

Egyptians have the highest rates of heart disease and liver and kidney failure in the world. In addition to the poor conditions of the public hospitals and the lack of appropriate medical services the spread of corruption to every corner of the state is reflected in the patients that do receive quality medical care. Ministers, wealthy businessmen, artists, and football players are treated at the expense of the State in the biggest hospitals in Europe and America, while some commit suicide because they cannot afford the medicine to save their children from death.

All of this didnt humiliate the Egyptians as much as the police damaged their dignity. Under Mubarak Egyptians have experienced countless incidents of torture of citizens in police stations and too many cases of murder without the officers responsible being charged. The spread of police harassment of citizens in the streets including beatings and insults created a relationship completely devoid of trust between the citizens and the police. When the police have all of the power and the people have none it creates an atmosphere where ugly things can happen.
The most dangerous sector of the police in Egypt is the state security, which controls every aspects of Egyptians’ lives. You cannot do anything in Egypt, not even hold a wedding in a hotel hall, without a permit from the State Security. The stories of kidnappings, rapes, and murders by the State Security department are too gruesome and sad to share here and there are so many they could fill the Library of Congress.
This is Egypt and this is how Egyptians were living before they decided to say “Enough!” and rise up, ironically and intentionally on the (Police Day) the 25th of January, 2011.
‘We are all Kahled Saed’ Facebook group, (Khaled was an Egyptian citizen from Alexandria who got beaten to death in the streets by two police officers.) called for a day of anger demonstration on the Police Day. No one expected the Egyptian people to take to the streets in the greatest Revolution Egypt has ever seen.

Egyptians occupied the public squares and main streets of most cities in Egypt demanding the resignation of President Mubarak, the dismissal of the government, and parliament to be dissolved. The people demanded the establishment of free elections, democracy, amendments to the constitution, and prosecution for those responsible for the rampant corruption in Egypt, and Ending of the Emergency Law that they have been living under for 30 years.

But Mubarak's regime did not respond. Rather, all of the communication networks were ordered to be shut down, this included all internet and cell phone networks, and the police were ordered to fire on demonstrators, which leads us to the Revolution on the fifth day. As of now, Egyptian police have killed more than 130 people and injured about 4000.

When demonstrators faced all of this the police forces withdrew and a malicious plan to cause chaos was enacted. Police freed criminals and thugs in the streets to steal, plunder, and rape. After this, the order was issued to bring out the army to maintain security after the withdrawal of the police and for the implementation of a curfew order. Thus far the curfew has not been enforced by the army and the army has been in the streets with the people for three days. The army was welcomed by the citizens as there is a close relationship between the army and the people. The army has a history of standing with the people and refusing to fight with them.

Demonstrators who have never used violence towards any person or establishment have formed  groups to maintain security and help the army deal with groups of criminals. They have succeeded in arresting many criminals and discovered that many of them are actually police or government backed thugs. Many of them were even carrying state issued police identification cards that stated their ties to the government.
And Now. Egyptians are controlling their country for the first time. Mubarak still doesn’t want to step down. He has made one speech in which he offered to ask the government to resigned and formed a new government with most of his old gang, but the Egyptians didn't fall for that scheme. They know that the problem isn’t just the government as much as it’s the whole fascist regime. The people insist that they want Mubarak out of power.

The Egyptian people have charged their hearts with 30 year of corruption and oppression, and anger. They will not go home and sleep without knowing they will wake the next morning to a free country.

The Capacity for a New Egypt


There have been countless discussions and analysis' in the last several days regarding the future of Egypt.  As I have a rather personal relationship with Egypt, I have paid great attentions to these discussions.  Most often, they have focused on the lackluster stance of the United States, the omnipresent power vacuum, and the pivital role of the military in securing the state on behalf of the people or on behalf of Mubarak.  Facebook, blogs, and twitter posts have also been quick to point out all the things not being discussed: the role of women in the protests, the socio-economic conditions that led to this uprising, and a discourse on what exactly is the identity of the Muslim Brotherhood within the political landscape.  While Al Jezeera has done an excellent job of providing constant coverage, it seems that most American media have spent their time focussing on hypotheticals.  Not to simply add another analysis to the already cluttered pool, but there is one startling observation that remains heavily undiscussed: what are the assets in place for a better Egypt?  

I'll never forget a couple years ago when I went for a job interview with a non-profit founded and operated by Egypt's former Minister of Culture.  He had many impressive credentials, a nice office in a wealthy neighborhood, and project committed to improving relations between Egypt and Sub-saharan Africa.  In short, I accepted an agreement to do a lot of work and in the end was left stranded with with a rather bad situation.  Ultimately I concluded that the agency was simply a corrupt operation for this guy to siphon funds from the government.   The first thing that tipped me off, however, was the fact that this guy had no understanding of the broad scale of non-government organizations situated in Cairo to assist the most vulnerable populations and facilitate capacity building.

A quick google search alone will show one the variety of NGOs that have been long established in Egypt.  Notable agencies include The Egyptian Center of Human Rights, the NGO Support Center, Caritas, and St. Andrews Refugee Services.  Egypt is likewise full of Universities training engineers, scholars, researchers, and technicians at places such as Cairo University, Ain Shams University, American University in Cairo, and the The Future School.   While there certainly tens of millions of Egyptians without adequate access to education or viable livelihood options, there are also millions of Egyptians who are talented, business savvy individuals who have sought opportunities for self advancement their whole lives.

I'm not going to pretend to know what will happen to Egypt - but the possibility is part of the excitement.  Whereas in the past extremist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood were the only viable alternative to Mubarak's government, there is now the means for many other players to enter the field.  In a country that restricted the movement and access to services of its own people, there is now the possibility that a new generation of Egyptians could engage ladders for social mobility.  In contrast to living beneath a 30 year suspended constitution on the grounds of a "State Emergency," the people may express their opinions in newspapers and media outlets - including the internet - without fear of the police taking them away in the middle of the night.  

In contrast to news reports, the people I personally know in Cairo right now explain that the protests have remained generally peaceful.  That many citizens have been actively removing trash from Tahir square and other parts of the city to show this is no longer the downtrodden Egypt of Mubarak. That the crowds are overwhelmingly shouting slogans of universalism to overcome perceived hostilities between Christians and Muslims or rich and poor.  

The struggle for Egypt will remain for sometime.  But I do not perceive this struggle to be frightening, rather it is simply an honest expression of its people, as founded by necessity.  And hopefully, soon, when the country is able to pass over the present precipice of tensions and protest, and move toward resolution in the form of a new government, there will be some recognition of an easily over-looked, yet pre-existing infrastructure.  An infrastructure of longstanding mosques, churches, business owners, academics and non-profits all equally committed to a better Egypt.  This commitment is not new, it has always been there, but  like a plant bursting through the soil to see the sun for the first time, this commitment has the space to live and grow.

The Women of Egypt







I have continued to spend most of my time with all attention watching Al Jezeera here.  In the meanwhile, I have been frequently asking the question, where are the images of the women involved in the protest?  In contrast to western portrayals of how women are treated in the Islamic countries, women are a central part of Egypt.  I'll never forget the day I first walked into the Mugamma, the central location of all day-to-day government business, and discovered nearly all the employees were women.  The majority of the time I have had to conduct business at the university, with the government, or at a bank, it has always been with a woman.  While men might often be the most visible presence in the street, I always found that the women actually made the city function.

I've been looking for a collection of images from a variety of sources from facebook (here's a good source), I am reposting those below with some links to other sites as well. If anyone has additional information, hit me up via twitter @msipus or with the comments below.  I'd like to add much more to this collection.


Men and Women Equal in Peaceful Protest Against Mubarak


Women Protesting In Yemen


For those with a deeper interest on the subject, here are some published articles I found online:
El-Mahdi, Rabab."Does Political Islam Impede Gender-Based MobilizationThe Case of Egypt" Totalitarian Movements & Political Religions; Sep-Dec2010, Vol. 11 Issue 3/4, p379-396, 18p

Women and Language v. 26 no. 1 (Spring 2003) p. 73-8

El Guindi, Fadwa "Gendered Resistance, Feminist Veiling, Islamic Feminism.Ahfad Journal; Jun2005, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p53-78, 26p


















Cairo Life

Mallory sent me this video today.  Its silly, but makes me homesick for Cairo.   Of course it doesn't show all the grit and grime, dust, and frustrations... but then again those are what make the good parts so good.

Movin' with the beat

I've been a little quite again as its been difficult to write any captivating posts lately.  Everything is constantly in that "in between state."  I guess this is okay though, as its really just a matter of transitioning from one set of life circumstances to another.

I've continued contact with Samasource, and while I don't want to state anything prematurely, I believe that the relationship is unfolding well enough and its possible that I might end up in Kenya soon enough.  This is a transition I really look forward to, considering how much I enjoy African societies, cultures, and languages.  I've been in contact with an array of friends in Nairobi, and am working on making some new connections at this time.


One new project that I have been working toward actually concerns my side hobby of producing hip hop music.  I had recently learned of a new record company, Gatwhich Records, founded in Nairobi by hip hop artist Emmanuel Jal.  A former child soldier in Sudan, Emmanuel has been touring and recording albums within Europe and America for several years now, his most recent release,  Warchild, is a favorite in my collection and highly recommended.  Anyway, I contact the record company he recently started and they are interested in hearing some of the music that I have been recording in Cairo for the last year.  As I might be moving to Nairobi within the next few weeks, this could be a good opportunity to further expand my recording project, as I hope to work with more hip hop artists across the continent.  If possible I would really like to use this as an oppurtunity to showcase the guys that I have enjoyed working within over the last year in Cairo.

To share some of these recordings, I recently uploaded more tracks to my Youtube account.  These are not music videos per se, but simply a few photographs taken by my Australian friend David Lazar (this guy is an international award wining photographer, so check it out!!!) of the guys, with the camera panning and the music playing.  I am attaching below a sample clip of my recent production with Slim J, called Number One Romeo.  This is definitely one of my favorite songs.


The Black Cloud of Cairo


October and November is not the best time in Cairo - although it should be.  The weather drops from deep fry to a mild simmer, the evenings are crisp and the mornings are lazy.  Yet thanks to impatient demands of poverty and the lack of government regulations (in addition to the lack of implementation), the Egypt's autumn is anything but pleasant.

Its dreadful.
Absolutely dreadful.
I can only compare it to drowning.

Or at least how I imagine drowning.  You find yourself disoriented, everything is familiar but different.  You know that the most important thing to do is keep you mouth closed but your lungs crave oxygen, forcing your eyes to burn and water and swell up inside your head... eventually your body forces you to open your mouth and its over, everything comes rushing in.

The black cloud.

Your lungs ache, your throat itches. The afternoon sun cakes your body in a combination of soot and sweat.

I now experience sporadic afflictions of dermatitis once or twice a day, and I really just want to stay inside, but of course this isn't feasible. Anyway, air is air, and being inside the house or out on the street is only a marginal difference.

So what's the deal?

The deal is that Cairo is suffering from the annual Black Cloud, generated every fall by the combination of industrial pollutants, car exhaust, and most notably, the burning of agricultural waste after the harvest.  The amazing thing about the Nile Delta is that this stretch of land is astoundingly fertile; planting and harvesting seasons are simply put on a year round production schedule.  Strawberries in January, prickly pears in June, vegetables year round... its incredible.  Egypt is also one of the largest producers of rice within the world, producing around 4.5 Million Tons of rice every year.

According to the rice farmers, the problem is that after the harvest, they are left with mountains of agricultural waste, obstructing their land and making it unusable for the next planting.  Although I have my doubts, I read some stories on the internet that some troublesome kids in 1999 had set fire to a giant pile of such waste, and after farmers noticed that the fire never spread, but only sat smoldering and coughing up a black pillar of smoke, burning has become the common solution to their problem.

It has been stated by the Egyptian government in the past that the issue will be taken care of, that regulations will be created and enforced, and that the black cloud will stop showing up every fall.  As you can see from the photo taken this afternoon from my bedroom window, its clear that these changes haven't happened.

تحب البطاطا مع ذلك؟ ( or ) Would you like fries with that?

This evening I had posted an order with McDonalds on the internet, expecting it to arrive at my door in 30 minutes. Cairo, for all its frustrations, is actually equipped with an incredibly sophisticated website called Otlob.com, which allows one to order food from just about anywhere within the city and have it arrive within an hour for a one or two dollar delivery charge. While it is surprising that such technology is commonly used here, it is also not surprising considering just how much this country LOVES fast food. In fact, if someone were to ask "what is Egyptian food like?" the response would not be a description of lamb with hummus, but perhaps an overview of the menu at Hardees or Pizza Hut. If you don't believe me, here is a picture I shot from inside a pizza hut... immediately next to thepyramids.

A quick look at Google, and Mcdonalds will pop up everywhere (see below).

Strangely, this map doesn't even have half of the McDonalds locations. Add to this Hardees, Pizza Hut, Chilis, Applebees, and KFC, the whole thing would be littered with red dots. By the way, good luck finding a decent restaurant specializing in Middle Eastern Cuisine. I will admit however that Mallory and I once wrote an Email to Taco Bell, requesting that they begin to install a franchise within Pizza Hut locations in Cairo, as the nearest Taco Bell is in Dubai. We also suggested locations.

Anyway,  I place an order with McDonalds, and expect nothing more until the phone rings 5 minutes later. Please be sure to use your best Egyptian accent while reading from this point on.

Otlob: Mr. Mitchell, this is Otlob, there is a problem wid you order.

Me: Yes?

Otlob: What item would you like the "extra chocolate sauce" added to?

Me: The M&M McFlurry (the options include the 1/4 pounder, fries, coke, salad, and strawberry sundae... and no, this was not all for me).

Otlob: Very good Sir. Thank you very much. Bye bye sir. This was all fine, and if anything, I appreciated the commitment of the agency to not make the tragic error of adding chocolate sauce to the wrong dessert. But then the phone rang again...

Otlob: Hello Mr. Mitchell Sir, there is a problem with the chocolate sauce request, McDonalds said they cannot add it to the item you requested because that item does not have chocolate sauce.

Me: Well of course they can. That is why I requested "extra" sauce and am paying "extra" money, because the request is made in addition to the item.

Otlob: Yes sir, I understand, and I tell this to McDonalds, but they say it cannot be done.


This same conversation goes on and on and on, for about 3 rotations. At this point I just start laughing, and I really can't determine if the guy on the phone is laughing either. Maybe he wasn't, but it was so funny and absurd to me, I couldn't imagine him being really serious. So I said...

Me: Okay. Actually, add the chocolate to the sandwich.

Otlob: (Confused) Um, the sandwhich, no chicken, wait, um...

Me: Yes, add the chocolate sauce to the sandwich.

Otlob: You want me to add it to the sandwich sir?

Me: (chuckle) No, I don't want it on the sandwich, I want it on the ice cream. Just tell them to put it on the ice cream, it will be fine.

Otlob: Oh, you are kidding? You make joke? Oh, on the ice cream, not on the sandwich. I can do that sir. Thank you for the joke sir. Have a nice day.

Thirty minutes later an exhausted McDonalds employee was at my door (top floor of the building, no elevator, and all Egyptians smoke half-a-pack per day). I paid the man, opened up the bags and discovered with a grin, a virgin McFlurry, and a strawberry sundae with chocolate sauce.

Could have been worse, but in the end, Egypt won again.  Current Score: Mitch 7, Egypt 3,562

Documentary on New Cairo

Incidently, after having written the other day about the urban phenomenea of New Cairo, a documentary was brought to my attention by the blog of a fellow student at the Center for Forced Migration and Refugee Studies, in AUC.  At this point, I have only watched 4 of the 8 minutes, but from what I saw, I believe that it does a fair job to capture the shifting dynamics of the contemporary urban landscape within metropolitan Egypt.  I encourage anyone with a general interest of understanding a little about the modern developments of the Middle East to watch it.  Enjoy.

New Cairo

Yesterday was my refugee psychology class where we usually sit around, hold hands and talk about our feelings.  Every once in awhile, people mention the word refugee, but for the most part the class discussion seems to meander into every direction except refugee psychology.  I don't really mind the class so much, except it is located at the new campus, about an 1 hour bus ride outside of Cairo within the sprawling urban development, New Cairo.


The campus is absolutely beautiful, yet the poor generalplanning of the entire New Cairo development seems to undermine thesatisfaction that one would otherwise derive from the setting.  For the time being, going to school at AUC in New Cairo is disaster.  With no public transportation system in place, the schoolshuttles buses from the old campus gates to the new campus, every dayof the week.  With only 2 or 3 departments still located at the oldcampus, the entire downtown facilities remain empty while the expenseto maintain them remains in place.  In New Cairo, all aspects of dailylife had to be determined and constructed in advance of the residentpopulation, so it is only natural that certain details are lacking orare insufficient.  From technical concerns, such as anticipating theappropriate sewer size for the projected future population, to simplerdetails such as appropriate business hours.  


New Cairo is a rather bizarre place, a big goofy suburb of rich people in big houses out in the desert.  It has many of the characteristics of of new American suburbs, with rows of identical houses, tree lined streets, and convenient shopping centers dotting the periphery, but it also has an array of unique characteristics.  Palm trees dot the medians, giant fountains of water are spread around to showoff the luxury of the neighborhood, and crazy glass office buildings are randomly distributed.  The buildings are generally positioned within a high density, and with nearly zero setbacks, the facades are frequently immediately perpendicular to the street edge.  I can't recall if there are any sidewalks, but I have the impression that the interest of cars dominate the street design far more than pedestrians.

The strange thing about New Cairo is that EVERYTHING is presently under construction.  While normal communities evolve slowly over time, this whole city is planned from top to bottom by urban designers, architects, and real estate companies.  The whole city is being constructed all at once, as all housing, business, utilities, and shopping have suddenly popped up within the Sahara like an oasis of modern commerce.  It makes the area sorta creepy really, to see unfinished concrete buildings buried in the sand, as far as you can see.  An apocalyptic allure hangs over the buildings, especially as I cannot look at them and detach my thoughts from the current economic crisis.  It is difficult to measure or understand the economic downturn from where I stand, as the distinction between rich and poor is so massive within this country, that even with serious detriment to the Egyptian economy, one can barely see a difference.  Yet as New Cairo rises from the desert, I wonder if it will ever accomplish the vision that was set out for this place many years ago.

When I went to school for city planning, many of my more traditional instructors would profoundly echo to the students that the most important characteristic for any planner to contain is to have a strong sense of vision.  To have vision for the future, an ideal to work toward for the greater good of the community, and a specific sense of how this vision can be created in material form.  As I look at New Cairo, I reflect on this sens of vision, contemplating the vision of those who initiated this plan, and yet to see their intentions undermined by greater forces.  Certainly vision matters, but another lesson I had learned while studying planning was the value of metrics.  How much did these planners study and measure the forces that shape communities, that shape the creation of their vision, and ultimately determine the success of this new settlement?  Planning is of course, not a pure science, or at least is often not pursued in that manner as Community Planning is an interdisciplinary discourse.

While personal vision and precise measurements are certainly needed, I would argue that New Cairo reveals a common shortfall among planners, the element of community.  As a completely designed new settlement out on the urban periphery, there was no preexisting community to serve as a foundation for growth.  Communities evolve over time and cannot be magically called into existence.  Yet without a community in place, how does one truly ever know what to plan for?  Maybe in the future, New Cairo will stand as the feature destination for tourists and and successful businesses within Egypt.  Perhaps it will be the glamorous counterpart to Cairo, or maybe it will become assimilated into the general sprawl of Cairo, so that these two different cities will merge into one single massive settlement.  For the moment, New Cairo remains a disconcerting venture as it seems to have everything except for the most crucial ingredient.  People.

New Hip Hop Video

I recently finished this video for Life of Slim J.  For whatever reason, I am having much difficulty in getting the appropriate resolution for Youtube, so the image is not as nice as I would prefer.  Regardless, if it is not visible below, then you can link directly to it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGwBTavlhDI


The Art of Rapitecture

I just got home from a day of constantly running around, and now I'm about to pull an all night long homework session.

I met with the guys from VIP today and we started laying the groundwork for their album.  They also introduced me to a French rapper who is living here in Cairo that I will start working with also.   Its amazing, as producing these hip hop records is simply something that I thought would be fun but I didn't really expect much to come from it.  Instead, I am finding a very receptive audience and many excited artists who view this as their chance to make the sort of music that they asprire toward.   So now I have three different albums in production, and this Friday Unigunz will be debuting much of our work in a live performance here in Cairo.  Another glimmer of good news is that a UK radio show called Refugee Radio, which broadcasts on Monday nights in Brighton and Hove, is interested in doing a special on the project.  You can learn more about the radio show at http://www.refugeeradio.org.uk/.

In other news, school is getting close to ending... so close, but just not close enough.  If getting older doesn't make me lose my hair, I quite sure that continuing my education will.  I started this term totally fried, so at this point I'm beyond crispy.  One more semester... just 3 classes more...

Tonight I need to write a collection of papers, one on Sudanese refugee camps, one on the dynamics of money transfers by migrant communities, and another on the distinctions of refugee vs. general migration policy.  You know, its been nice to learn the intricacies while I've been here, but more than anything it makes me miss doing Development Planning.  I miss creating diagrams and drawings, elaborate presentations to convey the results of my studies and being able to talk about the intercourse between large concepts such as social justice and the particular components of architecture or urban design.  Working with migration, economics, and foreign policy within the context of Planning made it so much easier to grasp while my more recent academic research remains within the abstract.

Speaking of which, I just remembered that I need to submit an abstract to a university in India right now.  I've written two separate papers on Humanitarian Space thus far and if the University of Delhi is interested, I might present my research on the complications of Humanitarian Spaces within conflict zones at a conference called Imagined Horizons: Spatial Configurations of the Present.  For anyone interested, here's the opening paragraph...

"Humanitarian operations within conflict zones often require military support to satisfy security demands, a practice frequently at odds with the humanitarian objective to deliver aid to demanding populations in a politically neutral manner.  This contradiction is most evident within the necessary action to carve out humanitarian spaces for the implementation of aid programming within conflicted regions.  The creation of such spaces frequently demands military support, leading to an increase in conflict by additionally politicizing the role of humanitarian aid and thus politicizing a landscape created for logistical purposes.   Furthermore, by impinging upon the pretense of neutrality, humanitarian actions supported by militarization adversely affect the expression of rights among displaced populations who must occupy the same territory.  This imbalance is likewise reflected within the physical transformation of the humanitarian space, as a space created for the sake of institutional operation and human rights expression, is converted into a zone of controversy and power."

The Day I Met Ronald Reagan

Today was intially a very frustrating day.  I stayed up all night, unable to sleep.  I woke up all groggy, and had to bust out the door to Hidayek El Maadi to meet up with the Lost Boys gang.
Except that didn't work out.

I went to the cafe where I had previously met their leader.  It is a well known hang out for Sudanese refugees in that neighborhood, and I assumed I would meet up with them just as before.  Yet no one showed.  I sat, drank a cup of wretched tea (I forgot to ask for Lipton), and after awhile I made a couple trips into the labyrinth of alley ways where our 'school' is located.  Unfortunately I never found any indication that these guys were showing up.  That's fine, as the only frustration is for them to satisfy such low expectation.  However, in my own error, my phone battery was dead and I was unable to call my boss Natalie.  So after an hour and a half of wandering the street and drinking tea, I left.

Here's one of those streets.
The evening remained overshadowed by my disappointment, only compounded by my usual brooding over my life in Cairo etc.  Then at 8:27 the telephone rang.

This guy called, saying he was from a group called V.I.P., and that he heard I am a music producer, that I had a recording studio, and that I can write beats for them.  I guess word is getting around about the work I've been doing, and now it seems local hip hop artists are looking to work with me.  This guy happens to work in Garden City, which is nearby, and was just getting of work, so I offered to meet him in front of Hardees.

I walked down there and after a few minutes was shaking hands with this Sudanese rapper.  Upon asking his name he told me "Ronald Reagan."  I smiled, as it sounded like any other goofy street name most of the gangsters have, usually the names of famous rappers in America..  We went inside and sat for over an hour, drinking orange soda, talking about music while I shared with him samples of the work I've made with Unigunz.  I showed him the way I work on my laptop and discussed the philosophy underlying the whole project/partnership.

It became clear that he is excited about this project, and more importantly, he wants me to show him how to do this sort of work himself.  Equipped with his own computer at home, he has spent many hours trying to make his own music and music videos.  He pulled out a flash drive and showed me a video he had filmed and edited himself.   He recorded the video on a hand held digital camera and edited the separate scenes on his PC.  For a guy with limited resources, I think he did a rather decent jobfor the video. Sure, its very rough, but he is definitely doing thebest he can.  He filmed it at place where he works at 5 am so thereweren't any customers, and managed to do all of it by himself.

The only real problem with it is that the music itself was ripped from a very successful musician in America, not only that, but it was a top ten song a few years ago.   At least the lyrics are original, so the first thing we are going to try to do is write an original piece of music to replace the one he has now. 

Later on he asked how to spell my name to enter it into his phone.   I told him that its just "Mitch," that I don't have a street name and should probably get one.  Sure - I've thought about forming one - suggestions by friends have ranged from Mizzel to  DJ Abayed Abayed, which means DJ Whitey White in Arabic, but I haven't found anything.  Upon mentioning my lack of street name, the guy looked at me and said, "Yeah, I don't have one either.  That stuff is for Lost Boys and Outlaws, and I don't need that.  My name is Ronald Reagan, and yeah, he was a president, but its just a name."

Realizing that it wasn't a street name, it reminded me how aid workers sometimes name children after the day of the week on which the child was born.  I've met quite a few guys from Sudan named Sunday.  I also thought of a story I heard once from a Sudanese guy about how much his family loved Ronald Reagan because when Reagan was in the White House the family was able to better take care of the children than during any time after.  I wondered about the story behind this guys name, but I decided that I might ask another time.

Oh yeah, and here's Ronald's video.

Cairo's Lost Boys

Today I visited the Lost Boys to initiate another hip hop program. 

It's interesting to observe the differences between the two primary Cairo gangs, the Outlaws and Lost Boys, considering that the members both come from the same parts of Sudan.  The Lost Boys have been the predominate youth gang within Sudan for many years, while the Outlaws only recently formed in retaliation to constant harassment.

Within Cairo, the two gangs live in different neighborhoods and have evolved to maintain particular characteristics.  The Lost Boys live in the nicer neighborhood of Maadi, are generally better educated, have less structure within the gang, and are often the more violent.  In contrast, the Outlaws were founded, and accordingly named,  because they exist 'outside the law. '  The Outlaws live within the poorer neighborhood of Ain Shemz, have limited education or oppurtunity, maintain a strict system of order within the gang, and generally engage only in retaliatory acts of violence.

Today I managed to immediately befriend a guy named James within the Lost Boys who is excited at the prospect of being able to record professional quality reggae music.  Apparently he has a couple traditional drums which he plays at church services (all members of both gangs attend christian churches on a weekly basis or more).  For several years he has been trying to play music with other people for awhile, yet nothing would ever come together - certainly something to which I can relate. 

Now with the other guys, the general gangsters, it is definately more challenging to get these guys off the street and into the studio - but, since that is the point of the project, it is a matter of using any means necessary.  Unfortuanately the best strategy right now appears to talk about how the oppositional gang is doing so well with the project.  I played some tracks of music recorded with the Unigunz, and said "This was made in Ain Shemz."  I didn't say who made it, but since they assumed it was made by the "Outlaws," the guys began to listen with rapt attention.  I suspect now that when I show up on wednesday, there will be more interest and motivation to make the project happen. 
Of course, once I get a little bit out of these guys, I'll return to the Outlaws in  Ain Shemz and say 'listen to what the Lost Boys have made!" 

Its frustrating, but this is really the only way to get either gang to do anything.  I fully intend to direct the attention away from that motive with each increment of progress, but for now, I obviously have start somewhere.  As for James, I already gave him some homework to do, and I'm curious to see if he will manage to deliver when I see him again in three days from now.