Archive for the ‘ Egypt ’ Category

Being An Activist

If the last three years of my life taught me something, it would be the toughness of being firm in what I believe in and standing up for this as long as it’s needed.

During recent events in Egypt many people around would ask me and my friends why we cared about it so much to write posts and tweet and facebook about it. We couldn’t explain, that their victory will affect all of us. And, apparently, it did.

Now that Jabbar Savalan’s case is happening, I know exactly what those close to him feel. When Emin and Adnan got arrested in July 2009 it was also a start to a whole new page of my life – the one when I had to pick a side and stick to it. I did and have never regretted it. I was most certainly sure that my friends were not guilty and did not deserve what they got. It was also the time when I realized that most of the things I cared about before didn’t mean a thing.

Ever since, among my oldest friends I was perceived as a “dissident” and would often be asked: “Are you still not arrested?” by the most sarcastic of them. On Facebook, where most of our activity was concentrated, many unfriended or hid me. Losing some of them, was pretty painful, but the cause was worth it. Especially, given that it introduced me to the whole new dimension – the world of activism.

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Admitting inconvenient truth is not easy by definition: first you need to learn to be objetive about yourself and your family. Then, you learn to do the same about your country, which, trust me, is the toughest one. You have to see both good sides and the ones people around you prefer to forget about. You have to admit that your country is NOT perfect. Then you start acting.

If life was a high school – activists would probably be these crazy kids who give away flyers and care about an old tree to be cut. They make it seem as if they don’t care what others think. They have secret crushes on cool kids, they want to go to parties, but usually don’t get invited.

But life is not a high school. And they’re not pathetic weirdos.

Activists, are the ones to start telling the truth, when others prefer to ignore it. They go against the flow, when many settle for what’s given. They go to prisons, for those who are not ready to stand for their rights. Activists are the ones to advocate for those who are not ready to speak up. They experience fear for themselves and their families. They lose some friends to prisons; they understand when others stop saying “Hello” because of fear. They patiently wait until these people come back, and in most of the cases, act as if nothing happened. But the main thing to understand about activists is that their goal is to make people think, while people are the ones to eventually go out to the streets and demand the justice.

Activists are activists not because they’re bored, not because it’s cool to be ones and certainly not because it’s easy. Most of them suffer personality disorders and periodically doubt themselves. But every morning they wake up to do what they do.

Simply because someone has to do it.

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There are two women among many of my friends who I admire and adore in a very special way. Both happily married, both having pretty much everything a person needs to have a stable and careless life. Nevertheless, both among the most passionate activists of our country. Arzu and Mehriban, this post is for you, for all the other activists around the world and for those who don’t, and probably, will never get us.

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Corrupted No More

One of the good things about living in small communities is that rumors usually turn out to be true. No, not the gossiping-about-people-and-their-sex-lives kind of rumors, but the ones about important news.

Right after Tunisia held the revolution and in the middle of the Egyptian one, the air in Baku started to change. A wave has flown around Baku, whispering that, taking bribes is now forbidden – there is no corruption anymore. And, well, after living your whole life in a country, where you know you’ll have to bribe whatever you do and wherever you go – it sounds kind of shocking at first. And since you also know “where the news come from” you don’t believe the media sources either.

And that’s when you go to the people and ask them if it’s true. It turns out it is. A friend of a neighbor was supposed to pay 100 000 EUR annual bribe for his 4 supermarkets. When he came to the Tax guys, they silently sent him to the cashiers, where he paid his official 10 000 EUR and went back home absolutely happy.

Another guy brings cars for sell from Europe to Azerbaijan. He would usually pay around 80 000 EUR for several cars on the customs. This time, however, he was also sent to the cashiers and paid 5 000 EUR. He went back to “his guys” and offered to give them the rest, but the horrified used-to-be-bullies sent him home and told not to come back with these kind of offers. The guy celebrated all night and all day.

Then you read about dozens fired in ministries, reforms to be implemented in the most corrupted structures and special services created to address people’s problems and complaints. And for the first time in your life you feel the scent of the Change.

But the saddest part is, the first thing to come to your mind is: “I wonder how long it will last”. Because, let’s be honest, why does it take two revolutions thousand miles away to fix the biggest problem, that harmed and drove away two generations of your people and made the country #134 in the world corruption index?

However, since as any desperate activist I’m not only a cynical critic, but also a believer, I’ll lean back in my chair and wait. I’ll wait for the 19-year-old to be released from the prison; I’ll wait for my friends to be taken off the hook of a conditional release for the crime they did not commit; I’ll wait for the irrational projects and economical solutions to be abolished or fixed; I’ll wait for the day when I will not need rumors to believe the news.

Amen.

Sandmonkey on MSNBC

Famous Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey, who I recently interviewed for RFE/RL and who later was arrested, assaulted and basically robbed by the Egyptian police, is talking on MSNBC from Tahrir square here.

Sandmonkey Arrested! You – next.

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The most famous Egyptian English-speaking blogger Sandmonkey, the one I made an interview for RFE/RL two days ago with was arrested today.

First the message was spread on Twitter, saying his father tried to call him, but someone else picked up the phone and said “You are next”.

I’ve also tried to call, the same person picked up and first said: “Efendim”, which is used for “Hello” in Turkish (apparently it is also used in Egypt). I asked if I can speak to Mahmood, the person replied: “Who are you?”. I asked the same question again, the replied: “Who are you and where are you from?”. I asked again if I can speak to Mahmood, the person replied: “Mahmood – police. You – next”, and hung up.

I called again the second time and asked if they can tell me if Mahmood’s all right and not injured. The person said “Mahmood okay”. I asked how long he’ll have to stay in the police, the person shouted: “Okay!! Bye bye bye bye”, and hung up. Now Sandmonkey’s phone is off.

A friend of him contacted me, saying her brother was with him. She is trying to call but someone picks up and doesn’t speak.

At the moment, we are trying to spread the information among international community.

In our conversations during this week, he told me the State Security was using different kind of tricks to find him.

UPD: Sandmonkey’s blog is down. The screen says This Account Has Been Suspended

UPD: Sandmonkey was reportedly arrested when he was delivering medical supplies to people on Tahrir Square.

UPD: Sandmonkey is reportely held in Abdeen Police Station in Cairo (?)

Under this link you can find the last blog post of Sandmonkey cached

UPD: Huffington Post mention

UPD: some tweets report Sandmonkey was first attacked by thugs. NOT CONFIRMED

UPD: Al Jazeera’s Yourmedia just mentioned Sandmonkey’s arrest live: “We receive reports that prominent blogger Sandmonkey has been arrested. We heard a lot of him, we know him, he was updating his twitter but not for 5 hours now”.

UPD: Apparently Sandmonkey’s phone is back on. Facebook user Jylan Khairat says: I just called his phone also and someone else answered pretending to be him, then he said in arabic “we’ll get you all”.

UPD: some tweets report Sandmonkey has been released. Some say he escaped. He and his friends have been beaten, his car destroyed, his phone confiscated, the medical supplies stolen. Trying to confirm now.

UPD: Twitter user RamyYaacoub reports: On the phone with @SandMonkey: “We were released, we did NOT run away . . . heading back to safety now” #SandMonkey

UPD: Twitter user RamyYaacoub reports: @SandMonkey: “We were just released after a 2 hour arrest, the beating came before the arrest” #SandMonkey

@RamyYaacoubSandMonkey: “My car is completely destroyed, my cellphone was taken, we were saved by my friend’s extra phone”#SandMonkey

UPD: @RamyYaacoub: @SandMonkey: “Massive Chaos ensued before we got arrested, my phone is gone, money, and car is destroyed” #SandMonkey

UPD: BBC also reported his arrest and release.

UPD: Sandmonkey on Facebook: “I am ok. My car destroyed, was beaten, but am fine. don’t call my cell and delete me from ur bbm until i get it back.”

On Twitter: RT @Sandmonkey: I am ok. I got out. I was ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated , my car ripped apar& supplies taken #jan25

Last update from my telephone conversation with Sandmonkey:

He and his friends were driving the car to Tahrir square to deliver medical supplies to people, when Mubarak’s people approached them. They managed to escape and stopped by the police point to seek help. Instead, police officer took the keys of his car and ordered people to attack them. They were in the car, while around 100 people were destroying it.

He managed to escape the car from the other door, but was taken to the police station. There they confiscated his phone and money, and ripped his car apart. They were given no explanation, pressed no charges. After spending two hours in police micro-bus they were released, apparently, because “people made such a big fuss out of this arrest”.

Sandmonkey is home and safe. He’s bruised and slightly injured with pieces of glass. His friends also injured.

The story of their arrest in details, and Sandmonkey’s interview to CNN here.

A Week of Egypt

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A collection of pictures and videos I collected from the protests this week. I’ve put the names of the authors that were available. If you know the authors of other pictures, please inform me in comments.

 

Cairo yesterday:

Feb 2nd. Egyptian Christians protecting Muslims during the prayer. By NevineZaki

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“5 years ago I was a minority opposition, today – I am the people.”

He was the first person I called when I saw news from Egypt. “I can’t talk, dear, I’m pretty teargased right now”, he said.

I met him in Berlin. It was a blogger conference with participants coming from all around the world. For him it wasn’t the first official international event he was invited to because of his activity. Very soon, we found a lot in common – he would tell me about his society, I would tell him about mine. When the uprise in Egypt began, I couldn’t think of a better person to interview about it.

My interview with him for RFE/RL:

“Sandmonkey” is one of a number of bloggers and activists in Egypt getting the message out of the country through Twitter (he is sending his tweets via a friend in Jordan). RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service correspondent Nigar Fatali spoke with him about Internet activism in Egypt and its role in the country’s uprising.

RFE/RL: What does it feel like to live in a country where Internet and mobile phone connections can be shut down by the government at any time?

Sandmonkey: It is not fun [laughing]. It clearly affects you. People are being transported back to 1980; they have to go back from technological progress to using landlines. And most of them don’t even know the landline numbers of their friends to call and check on them. Having no access to the Internet and a curfew are driving people insane. For activists it means the inability to upload pictures and videos of the horrors that are taking place here, while for many other people it basically means the inability to do their job. No one goes to work because there’s no Internet. The banks don’t work because of that; the country in general is in paralysis. The fact that the government can shut down the Internet and phone connection anytime they want is simply unnerving.  

RFE/RL: Why do you blog under a nickname? Do you plan to reveal yourself?

Sandmonkey: I’ve always kept my identity anonymous and I’m not planning to reveal it because some members of my family are affiliated with the ruling NDP party and I don’t want to put them at risk. 

RFE/RL: What is it like to be an activist in Egypt? Do you get oppressed or threatened?

Sandmonkey: These days it actually feels strange; scarier and more exciting. One day you’re breaking barricades, the next day you get tear gassed, and the day after that you try to escape the gunshots of street thugs. But it’s very rewarding because we see ourselves and our people being validated. We’re proud of them for taking responsibility for their destiny and saying “No” for the first time in their lives. Everything about being an Egyptian got redefined in the last days. Before, many people would not agree with us. No one would believe that we could take action or do anything together, as a nation. Today, everybody is with us. Now people believe it’s possible. Five years ago I was a minority opposition. Today, I am the people. And this feeling is indescribable.

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Быть египтянином сегодня…

My interview with Egyptian blogger and my friend Sandmonkey for Radio Liberty in Russian. Soon to be published in English.

Sandmonkey – никнейм, который выбрал для себя один египетский блоггер и активист, начавший вести свой блог в 2004-м году. Он взял себе ник и скрывает свое настоящее имя из соображений безопасности.

На сегодняшний день sandmonkey является одним из самых популярных блоггеров в Египте – его блог насчитываыет более 5 300 000 просмотров, а его страничку на Twitter отслеживают почти 6 000 человек.

В Египте почти с начала событий введены ограничения на Интернет, а с понедельника прекратил работу последний провайдер. Нигяр Фатали взяла интервью для РадиоАзадлыг у sandmonkey по телефону вечером 31 января.

– Каково это – жить в стране, где правительство может отключить интернет и мобильную связь в любое время?

– Это невесело (смеется). Воздействует на человека. Сейчас люди перенесены обратно в 1980, из технологического прогресса им приходится возвращаться к наземным линиям связи, проще говоря, к городским телефонам. И большинство из них даже и не знает домашних номеров своих друзей и близких. Комендантский час и отсутствие интернета сводит людей с ума.

Активисты лишены возможности загружать фотографии и видео тех страшных событий, которые здесь происходят. Для других отсутствие интернета означает невозможность работать – люди просто перестали выходить на работу. Банки тоже не работают, страна в подвешенном состоянии. Сам факт, что правительство может отключить нашу связь с миром в любой момент настораживает и откровенно нервирует.

– Почему Вы пишите под псевдонимом? Вы планируете раскрыть свое имя своим читателям в свое время?

– Я всегда писал под никнеймом и не собираюсь раскрывать свое имя, потому что некоторые мои родственники тесно связаны с правящей партией и я не хочу подвергать их опасности.

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