Alaa Abdel Fatah detained for four days pending investigation

Alaa Abdel Fatah's twitter avatar

Alaa Abdel Fatah’s twitter avatar

Prominent political activist Alaa Abdel Fatah was remanded in custody for four days for organising and taking part in a protest outside the Shura Council on Tuesday. The protest breached the newly passed and highly controversial Protest Law.

Security forces raided Abdel Fatah’s house on Thursday night, taking him into custody. Continue reading

View from the top; Cairo Tower

You can spot its unique steel structure glinting in the morning or get distracted by its colourful, flickering lights at night. Almost half a century old, the Cairo Tower still stands strong, rising slightly above other buildings in the Zamalek island, Cairo.

Regardless of the time of day, being almost the only tower high enough to allow you a panoramic view of greater Cairo, it is worth a visit.

A beautiful, black-and-white photo shows my mother with her family, looking into the camera from the tower’s revolving restaurant at night. Mum was barely a toddler back then. Another picture features the very same people; only this time some fifteen years or so older.

“My father had us visit the tower again and take the very same picture when we were old to spot the contrast.” Is how my mother likes to put it.

When I caught myself finding the time to visit the Empire State Building during a 10-day stay in New York, I realized that I had no excuse to have lived my 21 years of life in Egypt without even once visiting the Cairo tower.

“I shall go.” I told myself, no longer depending on the chance that might have someone drag me over there.

Regardless of the hassle it took for me to arrive at the tower — it being located in a semi-maze district with scarce signs leading to the major landmark — the trip to it wasn’t quite drastic.

Having once spent over three hours in a queue at the New York Empire State Building, I had cleared my schedule for the day in order to find enough time to enjoy the Cairo Tower. Little did I know that I would find it almost deserted, with no more than half a dozen visitors waiting in line.

This came as a surprise, especially as the ticket is quite affordable; EGY 20 pounds per Egyptian and EGY 70 pound (just a little over US$10 US Dollars) per foreigner.

Just as the legend holds, a nice guy with a camera was standing at the entrance, offering to take a picture of me with the tower. Back at the Empire State Building, taking a picture was not an option; it was a mandatory step that would eventually lead you to the upper deck. Yet, buying the photo was optional; they’d show it to you on your way down to the exit, offering it for ten The gesture was sure to leave a positive impression on me; one which soon disappeared when I reached the elevator.

Without getting into details about the relatively long amount of time I had to spend in front of the elevator, my stay there was not in the least bit enjoyable. Apparently, it was cleaning time, so we were naturally asked to “move over” from the entrance to give the janitors a better chance to mop the floors, of course getting our own share of water-splashes in the process.

Once finally upstairs, it was easy to forget this unfortunate incident faced with the breathtaking view from the top. The way Cairo is spread out right in front of your eyes from up there is simply spectacular. You can see the wide Nile breaking into two to give birth to Zamalek island, and acting like a border between Giza governorate and Cairo.

In an attempt to see more, I reached out for the one telescope available in the entire tower. It requires EGY two coins to function, yet I was greatly disappointed to find, when I finally made it to the telescope, that I was too short to see through it; or to be more precise, the telescope was installed at a level too high to allow not just the vertically challenged but actually anybody within average height to see through it.

Below the upper deck are two occupied floors; one hosts an ordinary café and restaurant. The other nurtures the ever popular “revolving restaurant”; which allows visitors to have an enjoyable meal while watching the Cairo view float by as the restaurant turns 360 degrees.

It doesn’t take you long to get your fill of sightseeing inside the tower, due to the tower’s relatively small diameter, yet be sure your journey will end with positive vibes; despite the lack of care the tower suffers from.

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Mashrabeya peeks

The street is packed with action; the noise of the street vendors calling on their products goes in perfect synchrony with the rolling of carts on the tortuous road. It takes a diligent stare upwards to confirm that the mashrabeya is indeed open; it’s impossible to even sneak a peek on whoever is stealing glances from behind its wooden exterior though. Is the mystery girl staring back? Or is she simply taking a sip of the cold water stored on the inside of the mashrabeya? An almost inaudible bang and it’s a certainty that the window to the outside world has been closed.

Still present within certain older districts in Cairo, the mashrabeyas’ history goes way back. Believed to have appeared sometime between the 11th and the 13th centuries, the mashrabeyas popularity peaked in Arab countries during the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

The large etched box protruding out of old buildings known as a mashrabeya usually leaves passersby with dropped jaws.

The logic behind such sophisticated windows is not solely concerned with their astounding outer appearance and the oriental glamour they brush buildings with. Apart from the utter privacy they allow homes to maintain while still managing to have their windows open, a matter specifically helpful for Eastern women who are given the chance to stay by the window without being seen, the mashrabeya had a lot to offer on the technical and engineering levels.

Widespread in relatively hot countries with a desert climate, the Islamic engineers who installed mashrabeyas into buildings made several calculations before doing so. The mashrabeyas are therefore located at the spots where the air breeze is usually concentrated and where the sun is most likely to enter. In the summer, the special tilt the mashrabeyas are left open through manages to light the place and provide proper ventilation without allowing the sunrays to directly fall into the house and thus heat it up. The coolness provided by the mashrabeya is reflected by the decision to store the water jars by the mashrabeya to keep them cold. And in winter, the installment of the mashrabeyas at the spots where the sun is mostly concentrated during the winter and the angle used in opening the mashrabeyas allows the sunrays to fall directly on the ground, thus heating the entire house.

A lot of care was also put into the crafting of the mashrabeyas, where it was the general norm to have them crafted in wood in Cairo and Basra, and in steel in Bagdad.

This genius creation started slipping into extinction by the early 20th century, only to be replaced by western alternatives which are not necessarily compatible with the nature of our climate.

Still, few mashrabeyas can still be found in touristic sites such as Al-Hussein area and Khan Al-Khalili.

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Tour guides’ protest call for restoring security

In a sunny corner of the National Egyptian Museum, a group of almost a hundred tour guides held a protest, denouncing the ongoing lack of security in touristic sites. Occupying a sidewalk outlining one side of the Museum the protesters formed a circle, holding their tour guide cards and chanting their demands through a microphone  and scheduled to remain there till 2 pm.

“The protest is held to deliver a message of warning and alert about the lack of security and moral behaviour taking over most touristic and historical sites to the officials.” Hesham Ahmed Al-Shattury, the secretary general of the tour guides’ syndicate, said while standing in his full suit among the protesting guides, explaining the reason for the protest.

According to Al-Shattury, cultural tourism in Egypt has declined by almost 80 percent following the January uprising, and especially after violent incidents such as the Maspero massacre and the cabinet clashes.

The protest was barricaded by three big banners displaying the guides’ demands; save the livelihood of over four million Egyptians working in the tourism sector, save touristic and historical sites from the lack of security and moral behaviour and backing the tourism police to support touristic security.

“The dire lack of security in touristic and historical sites has reflected negatively upon cultural tourism in Egypt, a situation which has subjecting tourists as well as tour guides to tough harassments which has sometimes even led to physical assault.” Al-Shattury added.

One tour guide standing in the protest, Ramy Al-Ameir told the Daily News Egypt that the main spark behind this protest is the verbal attack a female tour guide has been subjected to almost two weeks ago at the hands of a souvenir vendor.

“I don’t want to personify this protest by pinning it down to one individual incident,” Al-Shattury said, commenting on the aforementioned incident, “especially that several other attacks have happened before.”

Meanwhile, Al-Shattury assured that the demands of this protest were not categorical but national demands aimed at saving one of Egypt’s most important industries and a main source of national income and foreign exchange.

On the personal level, the protesting guides themselves were echoing separate demands as well as discontent affecting around 16 thousand tour guide nationwide. There seemed to be displeasure with president Mohamed Morsy’s Thursday meeting with a number of actors artists and intellectuals, where several guides see that a meeting with the guides’ representatives would have been more pressing.

Al-Ameir, one of the protesting guides speaking against Morsy’s meeting, posed an interesting point regarding the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan Egypt is subject to receive.

“Instead of taking over 3 billion dollars of loan from the IMF, take good care of tourism; a sector which could provide Egypt with one billion dollars per month.”

Al-Ameir’s work has been stalled for almost two years, due to the ongoing stagnation in the tourism sector.

It wasn’t only tour guides who took part in the protests. A few representatives of the Free Egyptians party were also seen among the guides, with the logo of the party decorating one or more items of their outfit.

One of them was Mona Monir Rezk, secretary general of the women’s committee in the party, who explained that in line with the party’s constant demand for a civilian state.

“We have joined the tour guides in a previous protest last year, which also had similar demands.” Rezk said.

Under the burning sun, one guide who seemed to be leading the protest called upon the other guides to join the circle and chant along instead of standing at a distance. Whether the seemingly large number of protesters would take its toll on restoring tourism to its initial state is yet to be observed.


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Syrian independent female figures go on hunger strike

Not far from the square which nursed one of the most influential peoples’ uprisings in modern times, a group of six Syrian female figures spread out their mat and pillows and stationed themselves in front of the Arab League headquarter near Tahrir Square in Cairo, announcing a hunger strike on Tuesday, September 4.

The six women signed a joint statement addressing the new United Nations and Arab League joint Syria envoy Lkhdar Ibrahimi, calling for a set of six demands and vowing to remain on hunger-strike until their demands are met.

“This hunger-strike shall not be lifted until our demands are met.” Lina Al-Tibi, prominent Syrian poet and writer and also head of the National Syrian Council’s media office in Cairo, said as she sat on her modest mat shaded by a giant tree, at a short distance from the Syrian media tent. “It is a decision we have all agreed upon; we’re not dissolving this hunger strike even if the price is being hospitalised; even if the price is our lives.”

Among the demands of the women are: imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, immediate rescue of Syrian women and children through humanitarian corridors, exercising pressure for the entrance of different media organisations as well as human rights organisations into Syria, working to block the passage of any ships carrying arms to the Syrian regime through the Suez canal, regularisation of the situations of Syrian refugees and not granting the Syrian regime any further time limits.

“Hunger-strike is the last of our weapons.” Al-Tibi said, referring to a mechanism which has been used excessively in recent times by Syrian activists throughout the world.

According to the official facebook page of the Syrian National Council, Syrian activists and artists have began going on hunger strikes throughout different cities since August 26, in countries which include: Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Spain, Turkey, Germany and now Egypt.

“There is semi-coordination between the different hunger strikes worldwide.” Al-Tibi assured. “But the special thing about this particular hunger strike is that it came from a group of women.”

Al Tibi told the Daily News Egypt that the strike, which has now reached six participants, had started by four only. The participants are, aside from Al-Tibi; Syrian decorator Salma Jazayerli, Syrian actress Lewiz Abdel Kereem, Egypt-based Syrian actress Wafa’ Salem and Syrian human activists Georgina Gamil and Rola Al-Khash.

The six women represent different sects within Syria to assure that the Syrian uprising is all but a sectarian conflict. They are often joined by a few males who offer their solidarity as well as their assistance to keep the headquarter of the strike safe from acts of thuggery.

“We have reported the beginning of our strike at the Qasr Al-Nile police department.” Al Tibi confirmed, citing a ritual usually practiced upon the announcement of a hunger strike throughout the world. “Yet, while the general response worldwide is to send an ambulance with a physician to observe the state of those striking, nothing of the sort has been done in our case.”

Al-Tibi added that an utter lack of attention and correspondence has been witnessed from the side any Egyptian parties or even the Arab League.

“The League is also refusing to provide us with electricity or even grant us access in order to use their rest rooms; a matter which forces us to abandon our mat at midnight and return at 4 pm in the afternoon.”

At the time of the interview, only Al-Tibi was available at the strike, as the rest of the women had gone home to shower.

Appointed to replace Kofi Annan, Algerian diplomat Ibrahimi had told BBC news last week that his mission to restore peace to the conflict torn Syria was “nearly impossible”.

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