Cairo- I had one of those accidentally fantastic days in Cairo today. Spent most of the day lazing around Zamalek, shot a few phot’s of some killer post-revolutionary street murals, and all I ate were two heaping bowls of mega tasty kushari- Egypt’s national veg dish. One thing I have to say about Egypt is it is so easy to eat vegetarian here, especially when compared to Libya’s obsession with chicken. I’m a bit psyched that my Khalifa Haftar story which went out yesterday seems to have gotten some legs. Reuters did a story on my article today-Rebel army chief is veteran Gaddafi foe–think-tank as did The Telegraph-Libya: rebels send trained forces to the front, telling youth to stay back-(which I’m guessing picked up on the Reuters story) and I just concluded an interview with CNN down in Atlanta.
I did a funky trip out to Giza tonight and the local fellaheen were a bit freaked out my my unorthodox ways. I ended up tramping around this slum in the dark, pitch black, muddy, horse crap littered warrens full of the classic “hello mister” routine. The Egyptian government or maybe antiquities authority has built this gigantic separation wall cutting the slum off from the pyramids which I definitely do not remember on my last trip to Cairo in 1998. I felt like I was walking through the West Bank without the bifurcated olive groves and hundreds of cats crawling through mountains of rubbish instead. After a while I finally made it to the gate just in time to catch the French version of the sound & light show with a group of aged French couples. It was incredible. I expected some 1970s time warp laser show experience, and while there were vestiges of that, the whole deal was really well put together. One of those long, tiring days to where I wish I was not leaving tomorrow. But off to little Bahrain I go en route to Addis Ababa. More adventures before heading home and doing the Massachusetts Avenue shuffle in a few weeks. I’m starting to really like Cairo. Just wish the hotels were a bit better.
Cairo- I’ve been enjoying myself wandering around Cairo’s slightly Islamabad-esque (but way more lively) Zamalek island the last couple of days. Zamalek, the city’s diplomatic enclave, is a breezy oasis squeezed in the middle of the Arab world’s Mumbai. I’m working away on the March issue of Militant Leadership Monitor and planning on doing some mandatory sightseeing once I get enough accomplished on the wifi tether. In other news, I did another interview (русский) with Voice of America’s Russian service and found via google that I was written about two weeks ago on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty about the whole Lukasheka-Qaddafi connection. There are a million things going on here in Cairo to where I can’t keep up with them all. Robert Gates made a surprise visit here yesterday, the Interior Ministry was on fire when I arrived the other night, Ban-ki Moon almost got jacked when he came to visit the Arab League HQ and on and on. I’ve noticed that a good number of journos have returned to eastern Libya, which I’ve been debating doing, but that aside from Allied bombing, the story does not otherwise seem significantly different. The rebels are still unable to organize themselves and the Qaddafist still have way superior firepower. The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing in this case.
I saw this Daily Show video, which is almost funnier to watch from here. The key to the whole bit is the final, rapid fire discalimer at the end of the segment.
Cairo- Took a very leisurely journey from the relative calm of Alexandria’s Midan Saad Zaghloul and a week of regrouping after the previous two in the Libyan insurrection, to Cairo’s posh Zalalek island, a leafy, diplomatic enclave in the center of the Nile. It still astounds me how cheap Egypt is (except for this rather expensive hotel where I’m staying the night). A first class ticket from Alex’s Misr train station to Ramses station here was 50 Egyptian pounds, which at $1 USD to 5,91 £E, makes the under three hour journey well less than $10. I then took the Metro from Ramses station to Gezira, which avoided a lot of traffic and put me on the island, for 1 £E, or about 17¢.
I cannot recommend highly enough the restaurant called Mohammed Ahmed est. 1957 on a hill just off Midan Zaghloul in Alex where I ate everyday (sometimes twice a day if I include their take away counter). I don’t know of too many places in India, or even Pakistan, where you can eat that cheaply. A huge lunch for under 1 USD? There are major cities in South Asia where that price would be tough to beat. Ahmed’s is a great people watching joint as well. Catching a taxi the 10 minutes from Gezira up to Zamalek, it hit me how almost provincial Alex is to Cairo, the quintessential megacity.
All this non seriousness aside, the Arab states will not stop revolting and in some cases, exploding. Besides the Allied bombing of Libya since I left, which has not changed the game on the ground significantly for the rebels just yet, in Ba’athist Syria, an uprising has apparently begun in the southwestern town of Daraa near the Jordanian border and tensions in Yemen and Bahrain show no immediate signs of deescalating. The only true oasis of ‘stability’ is of course the United Arab Emirates where the Emiratis, an underwhelming minority in their own nation off set by millions of South Asian, Egyptian, and Filipina guest workers who can never be granted citizenship, means that for Emiratis with no urban underclass to speak of, the status quo suits them just fine for now. Here in North Africa, it is all thawra, all the time. (Link) View more John Rhys Davies Quotes and Sound Clips and Raiders Of The Lost Ark Quotes and Sound Clips
New York- I have a new story out in today’s Asia Times Online about an alleged Chinese spy who was detained and deported from India in what seems to be a very curious case that has received no attention in the Western media that I know of. I came across the story while working on the new issue of Militant Leadership Monitor and decided that it was worth devoting a full article in and of itself.
A lot has happened in the world since I have been pecking away at my laptop. The Finest supermarket in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood was suicide bombed last Friday that killed at least eight (or nine). While covering Afghan politics in 2009, I survived on provisions from the Finest Shahr-e-Nau location which often had the only working ATM in the city and was walking distance along dust-choked streets to the places I was holed up while filing stories. The Finest stores are owned by Sayyed Mansoor Nadiri, the head of Afghanistan’s Ismaili community and cater to Westerners in the city, making them an obvious target of Deobandi suicide attackers. I met and photographed Nadiri briefly while he cast his vote for Karzai on election day in Kabul and instructed all of his followers to vote for Karzai as well in one of Karzai’s many back room palace deals he cut with warlords and religious leaders to guarantee his “reelection.” I used often drive by the Wazir Akbar Khan location coming back into the city center from Jalalabad road and sit by the traffic circle nearby and observe Western mercenaries mingling in the parking lot after a hard day of tooling around the city intimidating Afghans and looked upon them with disdain. In any war zone, mercenaries are the bottom of the barrel in the hierarchy of “war tourists” and are a favorite target for insurgents. A deadly conflation appears when mercenaries, as fellow Westerners, consume the same goods and services as journalists, diplomats and aid workers and the wished for, supposed distinction of identity washes away and one target becomes indistinguishable from another in a highly chaotic environment. Kaboom!
Then al-Qahira (a.k.a. Cairo) where a day of rage has turned into days of rage and the Obama administration has consistently been “not out in front of this thing” to use my favorite political cliche of late. Mubarak has been the tallest hypocritical cornerstone in America’s bogus democracy promotion agenda for a long time. The last time I was in Egypt was after traveling there via Jordan after the American invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003. Iraq was singled out by neoconservative ideologues as an unpalatable dictatorship that had to be overthrown by force and at once, largely because it was a dictatorship or so the world’s public was told (depending on the day and which way the wind was blowing). Egypt and Jordan, an authoritarian presidential patronage state and a constitutional monarchy respectively, are dictatorships that are stood up by the U.S. taxpayer due to their pliable leadership and peace treaties with Israel, another highly unegalitarian state. Here in the United States, every Zionist, anti-Arab pundit is desperately scrambling to play the Muslim Brotherhood card to confuse and frighten an unfortunately, largely naive public. These pundits views are as out of date as the Brotherhood’s. They only believe in democracy promotion so long as it fits their very narrow idea of democracy, an impossible fantasy in most of the world. Throughout the Cold War, we were told that the Arab world was not ready for democratic and open society because it would create a dangerous vacuum filled by the then boogey man de jour, communism. Now plenty of such Cold War-reared pundits are having a field day warning that the American public should not cheer on a liberation revolution on the streets of Egypt’s cities because surely nefarious Islamists will fill the dangerous void if Mubarak flees, say, to Saudi Arabia, another dictatorship. Then there are those that say things like “well we don’t know if Arabs are ready for democracy” which is akin to those who asked in 2008 whether American voters were “ready” for a black president. Basically, soft racism. The revolution in the Arab states of North Africa and the Middle East is being televised and it is nearly irrelevant what a White House press secretary says in a reactive rather than proactive statement at this point.