Christmas in Kuala Lumpur

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The enemy of my enemy is my friend

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Thatcher in 1981 tells Mujahideen in Afganistan that ‘the hearts of the free world’ are with them.

Egypt through songs

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I remember taking the short flight from Amman to Cairo in the summer of 2008 as I was relocating due to my job. The flight was an hour long including take off, descend and landing . With all new and major changes you tend to remember them because it breaks from the norm. It closes one chapter but opens another. Our chapter to Egypt was marked by a constant video on loop on the Egypt Air flight called Ana Masry (I’m Egyptian) ironically sang by Nancy Ajram who is Lebanese. The singer echoes the sentiments of pride. How the people of Egypt are proud and gutsy who are lead by great leaders (Yes Mubarak was a great leader back then). You could almost forget that we were flying into a country that had a dictator for almost 30 years who ruled under emergency law. You could also forget that the last 50 years of Egyptian history was under military rule.

We spent almost 2 and half years under the dictatorship of Mubarak. It was clear and understood that no one had a voice. Oppression, corruption and American alliance was part of life in Egypt. Political voice silenced through imprisonment or death. Daily life was functional through bureaucracy and corruption. American support for the regime was guaranteed. Not only did Egypt receive 1.5 billion each year it also had the honour of being the favoured dictatorial regime in the Middle East. So much so that when Obama became president, the first Middle Eastern country that was chosen to deliver a message to the Muslim world was Cairo, Egypt.

But then in December 2010 a spark in a near by country called Tunisia gave hope to the rest of the people in the Middle East. Dictators that were supported by the leading Capitalists countries can fall and some did. From 25th Jan to 18th Feb the people of Egypt stood up and decided they no longer wanted Mubarak as their great leader. The momentum was just right and the people wanted change but just didn’t know what. All they knew was that they no longer wanted Mubarak. During those 3 weeks or so a very different kind of song became popular amongst the English speaking section of the community. The song (RAP) was a collaboration by Omar Affendeum (Syrian American) and other Arab/American,British artists none of whom were Egyptian. The RAP went viral on the net. The song was about removing the shackles of the pharaohs, about creating a better future and the will of the people was strong enough to do it. It was praising the people of Egypt with a different tone. A tone of solidarity.

Mubarak was deposed and the SCAF (Friends of Mubarak) came to power. In November 2011 parliamentary elections were announced and at the same time a local home grown band released a warm hearted song titled ‘Ya Midaan’ (Oh, The Square) referring to Tahrir (Liberation) square where the focus of the Jan 2011 up risings were. This song focused primarily on the aims of revolution, the will of the people, the dreams of those of who went to the streets when the majority were at home. The song revisits the memories of the uprising to reignite the spirit during the elections. This was the first time since I had been in Egypt that a song sang by the Egyptians about Egyptians become popular and viral that was praising the Egyptian people. This truly seemed like a song that struck the cord of many who toppled the regime. This was a song for the new Egypt. A song about hope, faith and future.

After many mind changes from the Muslim Brotherhood about running in the election or not, whether a Muslim Brotherhood Presidential candidate should stand or not. Finally the people choose Morsi as President with a small majority. By the middle of June 2013 Egypt’s first elected President was deposed again by the army with the help of millions of people and of course lots and lots of funding and media campaign (support), even the satirist Bassem Youssef  fell into the trap. A year later we decided to leave Egypt and a different kind of song was playing loop on radio, on TV and on mobile phone ring tones. The song was as predictable, it had all the right ingredients, catchy tune, singing the praises of the Egyptian people and a scenic picture of everybody happy and of course it was not sang by an Egyptian but this time by an Emirati by the name of  Hussein Al Jassami. The song is so catchy that even the sons and daughters of the anti-sisi were singing it.

Whether you like the music or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that music plays a very important role in Egyptian society. It has been used to create, build, change and manipulate public opinion and the sentiments of the people. Although there are and have been songs sang by Egyptians for Egyptians echoing Egyptian nationalist sentiments such as this, praising the Egyptian army. At least during the time I was there and from my experiences the songs sang from other Arab artists are the ones that gained notable popularity. Aside from the catchy music, I suppose for the Egyptian society its nice to to hear from others how great they are.  Although there are lots if differences in Egypt, whether you are pro-sisi or anti-sisi, pro-MB or anti-MB, a Christian or a Muslim, rich or poor, one thing is certainly clear and that is that Egyptian Nationalism is core to the identity of being Egyptian. The religious would justify it from a textual viewpoint that Islam obliges you to love your country and the secular would justify it through the love of the land. Which ever way it is presented the end result is the same and this is the same in every country that honours nationalists sentiments over principles, it blinds you from the truth.

“You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.” – Malcolm X

From a personal perceptive during the revolution and months after, it was nice to witness a period where dictators did not rule and the hope of a brighter future based on principals was something which people aspired to. I saw the real affect of hope when people have it and how it can change a society but I also saw the dark side of a people when that hope is taken away.

When nationalism is not the focus of a nation in my opinion it has a much brighter future.

Independence from what?

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Today 25th May 2015 Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan turns 69 and celebrates it’s Independence Day but what is it independent from?

A day in the park

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It was an unusually sunny day in Antwerp yesterday. As is the tradition amongst the dwellers of concrete jungles, when the sun shines you come out to play. As expected the park was packed with people sun bathing, BBQing with friends, teams playing cricket, football and badminton. Near the play area were the usual suspects, where parents were sitting on anything possibly suitable for an adults butt and the children were playing on anything possibly suitable for kids to play on or with.

Antwerp is a very cosmopolitan city, where you get to see people from many back grounds. Like most cosmopolitan cities the park was segregated through racial lines.  Scanning across the play area, the seating areas were divided amongst The Orthodox Jews, the Muslims mainly from Turkey or Morocco, the Indians, the Eastern Europeans and the local Belgians. There was an unwritten understanding about using that space and it was that we were all here because our kids need to play and stretch their legs after being cooped up in their concrete jungles. Everyone had learnt to share the space.

The kids did not display a great deal of difference in the play area. Although some interactions occurred when sharing a slide, swing or a monkey climbing frame mostly it was the Jewish kids playing with each other, Moroccans with each other, Turkish with each other and so on.

We decided to settle near the Monkey climbing area pictured above. I am not sure how it started but one kid began to hit another and soon enough they were both fighting. They both looked the same age at around 7 years. The one that got a little beating ran away. Soon enough the kid that received a little beating came with his older sister who looked a few years older to take revenge. Brother and sister began to climb the Monkey frame looking for the other kid. When they found the kid, brother and sister called out for further back up and by this time had surrounded the single kid on the Monkey frame. Everyone around knew there was a problem and most were looking around for the parents to intervene at any moment. After a couple of minutes it became clear that the parents were no where near. Although none of the kids got violent, the atmosphere was hostile and most people wanted to do something but were afraid of intervening because each kid belonged to a different tribe. No one wanted a reprisal from the other tribe. Soon after one of the parents came and took their child away and others went back their parents.

It was sad to see so many adults around including me who felt that they could not intervene immediately. For many parents allowing their kids to mediate in such hostile scenario was sufficient. The parents obviously feel comfortable for kids to mediate in such scenarios, enough so that they were no where near to be found. Surely children should be supervised at all times. Children should be taught right from wrong but under supervision. The survival of the fittest attitude that has been pushed in society at all levels was very evident in the park. A very cosmopolitan park was obviously divided amongst racial grounds. If there is a problem of parenting or racial segregation, is it not the job of the local and national governments to take action with sensitivity? Compartmentalizing communities is never the answer but creating positive experiences of each is. It is our individual and collective duty to ensure that we create these positive experiences to counter the rubbish being spout by the politicians to gain political points in the parliament.

Exotic Market Antwerp

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Markets: A common past time in Antwerp is to visit some sort of a Market. There are large open square shaped spaces scattered throughout Antwerp. The town planners have designed such spaces to be multi-purpose. You will find weekly, monthly and yearly Markets scheduled throughout the year at various squares. One such market which is very popular is the ‘Exotic Market’ aka ‘Foreigners Market’ located at the Oudevaartplaats, Theaterplein from 8am to 4pm every Saturday. It gets its name from the various foreign stalls situated throughout the square from the Moroccan, Turkish and Asian community.

If you dare not try anything, you must push yourself to try the most popular food stall and order yourself a Moroccan Tea and Pancake. Enjoy.

Moroccan Tea and Pancake

Vote for Nobody

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Vote for Nobody? Nobody cares. Nobody will keep election promises. Nobody will listen to your concerns. Nobody tells the truth. Nobody will lower your taxes. Nobody will defend your rights. I vote for Nobody all the time. Vote for Nobody.