zondag 24 mei 2009

Na de laatste interviews uitgetyped te hebben en na nog even kortstondig aan sociale bewegingstoerisme te hebben gedaan (een betoging van textielarbeiders voor het parlement), richt ik mijn blik op België en kan ik niet wachten om weer thuis te zijn. : )

donderdag 21 mei 2009


Yesterday I've been to Mahalla, finally! It was a tiresome but extremely interesting day. I arrived at 12h at the central square in Mahalla, where Ahmed Belal picked me up. First we had a little walk in the city itself, where Ahmed showed me the tent camps of people whose houses have been demolished by the state a long time ago, but still wait for financial compensation. These tents stand along various roads in the middle of the city.

Next I had lunch at Ahmed's home, which is located in the periphery of the city. His family owns a large house, more a small appartement building, where each "nuclear family" has its own floor. It was a nice and comfortable home, although furnished in what we in Belgium would call "grandmother's" style. The lunch we had consisted of baked chopped liver with vegetables, fried eel, tomato & onion salad, bread, rice, and fries. Tasty, especially the eel was a pleasant surprise, as I did not expect the speciality of the Meetjesland, my region in Belgium, served in Egypt ;)

Ahmed's family house

After lunch, we talked a little and then we went to meet my first interviewee of the day, Osama Yussef, a driver and member of Tagammu in Mahalla, who had been active in the 6th of April movement last year. We met at a café near a road where there had been a massive demonstration last year; the protestors even stopped the train which runs parallel to the road. The police intervened in an extremely brutal way.

Osama Yussef

Ahmed Belal brought a friend along, Muhammad Fathi, who is also a member of the Tagammu Central Committee. I had an interview with him which resulted in some interesting sights. Apparently there are three factions within Tagammu: (1) the leadership, which occupies all the executive positions in the party; (2) the trend for change, which consists mainly of youth, activists, and members from outside Cairo who are discontent with the leadership and the reformist party line; and (3) a group around the charismatic Abu-l-Azz al-Hariri, who is an old skool leftie. I wrote before of the similarities between Tagammu, the socialist party in Belgium and the phenomenon of left-wing opposition, and these similarities are once again confirmed. Furthermore, it is interesting to see how the workers' struggle in Mahalla strenghtened the informal authority of Muhammad Fathi and Ahmed Belal in the party, as they are both active party leaders in this city - an additional piece of information to insert in my whole theorization of the relation between intellectuals - activists - class struggle - narratives.

It was already 7 PM when we arrived at the CTWS building for a "collective" interview with five worker leaders. The interview was a first to turn the tables and estimate the attitude of these "spontaneous" labour activists toward political party activists. They had different explicit or implicit political affiliations (there was even an "NDP-worker"!) and filled different roles in the production process of the factory, ranging from engineer to "manual" worker to factory teacher.

I think we finished the interview at around 8h30 PM and then we went to the office of Said al-Husayni, the Mahalla MP of the Muslim Brothers. I asked him about the stance of the MB vis-à-vis the workers' movement, labour questions, strikes, privatizations, social justice, etc. During the interview Said said on three occasions that the MB are essentially a socialist movement. Nevertheless, his answers to my questions pointed more toward a moral national capitalist ideology than anything else... There are similarities between the politics and ideology of early christian democracy and the MB which should be explored further.

Said Husayni to the right. Notice the green flag with "al-islaam huwa al-hal" (islam is the solution), a slogan which is repeated on a sticker on the fridge at the left ; )

Afterwards, when we left his office, Ahmed chuckled and said that I had given Husayni a hard time with my questions. I took that as a compliment ; )

At around 10h30 PM I left Mahalla for Cairo, and I finally got home at 1 AM, as a tired, but intellectually and politically very satisfied man.

zondag 17 mei 2009

Cat saved!

Yesterday, in the middle of the night I was awakened by the mewing of my flatmate's cat. One quick look through the window told me she was stuck up a tree, with a dozen of other (male) cats at the feet of the tree. Apparently they had hunted her until she was so scared she climbed into the tree, and now she was afraid to come out. Poor creature, we thought, and we fetched a ladder and some guys at the bakery to get her on the ground. No luck. She got even more terrified and went up until she was some 10 metres above ground. No way we could get her down with this ladder, so we wanted to wait until the next morning... eventually she'll climb down, no?


The next morning she was still in the tree, but even higher, some 15 metres high, hunted by another cat which had started climbing the tree. As she was close to the roof, we went up and tried to build a bridge between the roof and the tree with some wood, luring her with some fish & water. The poor creature tried to cross, but the wood was too shaky and she panicked, climbing to the top of the tree, 20 metres above the ground.

Then we called the fire brigade, and after some negotiations they moved out. Once they were on the roof, they took a hooked pole, bending the tree towards the roof. This was a critical moment: the tree was old and chances were big the branch she was holding onto would crack and fallall the way down. Or the pole would lose his grip on the tree, catapulting the cat to the other side.

In the end, it worked out well. The branch *did* break, but it luckily fell on the roof, together with a very traumatised cat, who almost jumped on another tree.

zaterdag 16 mei 2009

Looking forward to a final, but heavy week!

Next week will be huge! Monday I have two interviews; Tuesday I will go to Arish in Sinai to interview people there; Tuesday I'm going to Mahalla, to meet some workers and to speak with the Mahalla MP, who happens to be the number 2 of the Muslim Brothers as well, it seems; Thursday or Saturday I'm going to Alexandria on an interview tour; and Friday I have an appointment with a leader from a teachers' strike & movement. In between I want to arrange some interviews with people I haven't been able to meet yet...
Phew! De laatste loodjes wegen het zwaarst, as the Duth proverb goes ; )

vrijdag 15 mei 2009

Give me an R, give me an S!

Yesterday I finally spoke with Hossam el-Hamalawy, thanks to Jack Shenker, who was able to organise a meeting in Nasr City. Hamalawy is known for his blog Arabawy and his activism in the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) an underground Trotskyist movement with ties to the British SWP. 
Another important feat is that Ahmed Belal arranged a meeting with the Muslim Brother MP for Mahalla, next week. So on Wednesday the 20th I'll be travelling to Mahalla in the Delta.
During these final ten days I will try to conduct interviews with "high priority" people on my contact list. Plus I want to attend at least two more classes of Arabic, the one I'm having this afternoon not included.
All is going well at the moment, I will be a little sad when leaving Egypt the 26th, but I won't deny that I'm looking forward to be back in Belgium, for many reasons - one being more important than the others ; )

maandag 11 mei 2009

Back on track

After some setbacks during the last two weeks (ill, laptop crash, mobile lost/stolen, ...) I'm back in the game. Now I'm planning the agenda of the final two weeks, filling it with interviews and meetings. If all goes well, I'm going to Mahalla within three days...

zaterdag 9 mei 2009

't is de week van miserie... Gisterenavond is mijn laptop gecrashed en ik ben al de hele dag bezig met hem terug aan de praat te krijgen. Blijkbaar was het een combinatie van een virus, dat mijn rootdirectory om zeep heeft geholpen, en een reep kapot RAM dat voor voortdurende BSODs zorgde. Gelukkig heb ik mijn belangrijke bestanden gebackuped, maar leuk is het allerminst...

Update: k heb windows XP terug aan de praat gekregen, nu nog al mijn programma's opnieuw installeren :s

donderdag 7 mei 2009


Today my Arabic class was cancelled and moved to next Friday... and at the same moment I heard the whole Cairo Conference is cancelled as well, under pressure of the police. Een serieuze streep door mijn rekening. :-/
Adding to that, I have been a little ill the last few days. Dizziness, nausea, and now a faint headache. Nothing too serious, so don't worry, but still, I'm feeling not at all in optimal shape...

zondag 3 mei 2009

Moving on

After catching up with some deadlines for articles, I managed to make new appointments for this week. Tomorrow I'll meet Essam Shaban, who's considered an expert in social movements; on Tuesday afternoon I'll meet up with Per Bjorklund, a Swedish  journalist who's specialised in social movements as well, and who did some coverage of the 6th of April in Mahalla last year; in the evening I'll have an informal meeting with Ahmed Talal Shukr; Thursday I have my fifth Arabic class with Elia; and Saturday I'll see Bahu from the Tadamon (solidarity) network.

Next week will be interesting as well; from Thursday the 14th until Sunday the 17th there will be the Cairo Conference, hosted in the Journalists' Syndicate. A lot of "anti-imperialistic" organisations attend the conference, from the Revolutionary Socialists to the Muslim Brothers. I hope to meet and interview a lot of new people there, especially from the RS and the MB.

Although both Jack Shenker and Sarah Carr have poked Hossam el-Hamalawy of the RS into meeting me, I still haven't received any reaction from him, which is a real shame, as he could strongly help me in my research. I'll try to reach him through Jack & Sarah again somewhere this week...

On the leisure front... Yesterday evening I met up with Ahmed Zakariyya for a game of chess. It was very exciting, as I was in a worse position throughout the whole game but in the end still managed to achieve a draw. :)