Monday, May 12, 2014

How the US Embassy in Cairo held me guilty by association

Today, I went to the US Embassy in Cairo as stated in my appointment confirmation hoping to get a non-immigrant visa to the United States to visit some friends.

Before that, I asked my friends who issued the visa before about their experiences and prepared all my papers, including papers that prove my "strong ties" to Egypt (namely, a bank statement and a letter from my company's human resources department signed by my employer that certifies that I have a job), so that they'd be assured I will return once again.

After a set of ordinary questions about my marital status, salary.. etc, the consular told me that I was rejected because I have previously applied for immigration (and then specified, a Green Card Lottery).

As far as I know, I've never ever applied for a US visa, whether an immigrant one or not. My parents did apply for the Green Card Lottery, but I didn't. I'm not even interested in immigration and this was the the first attempt in my life to visit America or any other country. Moreover, they never managed to win, thankfully.

The only reason I reached after thinking is that when my parents applied for the lottery they must have written down my name in part of the process and it seems that this is an enough evidence for the embassy to consider me a potential illegal immigrant who failed to obtain an immigrant visa and is seeking a non-immigrant one and will never come back. Simply put, I've been held guilty by association.

There was no time for negotiation, the consular asked me to leave her booth without explanation or giving me a chance to counter or even understand the reasons I was rejected for.

I was so baffled by what happened and I wanted to understand. I tried asking some security guy (the only person I found in front of me), he told me that I may have to wait for at least two years to be able to gain a visa, on condition that my parents stop applying for the lottery.

To make sure, I called the embassy call center for 3 times to ask for what I should do to dissociate myself from my family. Why on earth would a fully grown-up financially-independent adult be accounted for his parents (legal) actions?!

Beside the phone calls, there was an exchange of emails hoping to get my case to a higher level, but all went in vain. The email replies were a set of predefined answers to the extent that I got the same reply twice despite trying to explain my issue. Not to mention that these replies were almost irrelevant, explaining how to prove strong ties rather than addressing my real problem: "how to prevent getting rejected in future?".

That said, I must say that the lady in third call showed great amount of empathy and understanding (thank you!). I felt she tried her best, and asked someone on a higher level, but again, all went in vain.

Not only did the embassy hold me guilty for something I didn't commit, but also they had no answer on how I'm supposed to avoid this in the future. When I asked the lady in the second call "After how many years can I apply and successfully get a visa?" (In other words, after how many years I'll be considered no more guilty for my parents attempts to immigrate) she said "we can never know".

Friday, February 7, 2014

Four reasons for throwing down a gauntlet to El Sisi - openDemocracy

Now that it seems imminent that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El Sisi will run for Egypt's presidency, some argue that it’s a done deal and that there’s no need to compete with him, especially due to the overwhelming support he is getting from both state institutions and media outlets, and others argue that anyone else’s participation in the elections would only be for decorative purposes, only further legitimizing the whole process.
Last week left-wing politician Hamdeen Sabbahi officially announced his presidential bid. Khaled Ali, the youngest presidential contender in 2012 may also announce his intent to run soon. The Tamarod (Rebel) movement, known for backing the military, is split over which candidate to support. Two of its three leaders support Sabbahi, while the third supports Sisi. This is excluding two other contenders, namely Sami Anan and potentially Ahmed Shafik, both military men, as they are very unlikely to gain support from any kind of progressive camp.
The political scene is not encouraging many to engage, especially with widespread arrests, unfair competition and the consolidation of power by state bodies. However, I would argue that there are several legit reasons to take the risk and challenge El Sisi in the upcoming presidential elections.

Read more here.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

الكنيسة والدولة وثورة يناير


في نوفمبر 2012، عندما تم تنصيب البابا تواضروس الثاني بابا للكنيسة القبطية خلفاً للبابا شنودة الثالث، كان الكثيرون يضعون امالاً عريضة لبداية حقبة جديدة للكنيسة القبطية. وبالفعل لم يمر الكثير من الوقت حتى حدثت تطورات كبيرة منها على سبيل المثال: إعادة تنظيم المجمع المقدس وعودة بعض اساتذة اللاهوت للتدريس في كلية اللاهوت القبطية "الاكليريكية" بعد ان تم استبعادهم سابقاً بسبب آرائهم المثيرة للجدل. إلا أن الامل الأكبر ظل معقوداً على اعادة النظر في العلاقة بين الكنيسة والدولة المصرية.

لمدة تزيد عن الثلاثين عاماً، تعاملت الدولة مع الكنيسة كممثل سياسي للأقباط ولاقى هذا الوضع قبول الطرفين نظراً لحالة الجمود السياسي الطويلة. ففي حين تعهدت الدولة بحماية الكنائس والمؤسسات المسيحية (او هكذا ظن البعض) من المتطرفين، ضمنت ايضاً تحييد وربما ولاء معظم افراد الاقلية. بالطبع كان هناك هزات تحدث في هذة العلاقة لكن الحالة ككل كانت مرضية للطرفين.

وعلى الرغم من ذلك لم ينتهي التمييز ضد الاقباط في المؤسسات الحكومية ولا حتى توقفت هجمات المتطرفين. على العكس، ازدادت الطائفية توهجاً مما اثبت ان الاتفاق غير المعلن بين الطرفين اتى بنتائج عكسية لم تزد الا من جراحات الاقباط.

في ابريل 2013، سئُل البابا عن استخدام الدعاية ذات الطابع الديني في الانتخابات من قبل بعض الاحزاب الاسلامية، فجاء رده: "الدين لو دخل في السياسىة تلوث" ثم اضاف "الكلام دا عام على اي دين".

لوهلة تستشعر ان هناك املاً يلوح في الأفق، فالكنيسة على ما يبدو قررت اتخاذ موقفاً جديداً بالابتعاد عن أي ممارسة سياسية. لكن سرعان ما تبخر الأمل، فبعد ثمانية اشهر ظهر البابا في فيديو صادم يطالب الاقباط ليس فقط بالمشاركة في الاستفتاء (وهو ما يمكن ان  يكون مفهوماً)، ولكن ايضاً بالتصويت بنعم لأن "نعم تعطى بركات وخيرات" على حد قوله. استتبع الفيديو مقالاً في جريدة الاهرام الرسمية مكتوباً بخط يده يحمل نفس المعنى.

موقف البابا تسبب في موجة غضب عارمة على مواقع التواصل الاجتماعي خاصة بين المؤمنين بثورة الخامس والعشرين من يناير.

افرونيه عازر، عضوة بحركة "لا للمحاكمات العسكرية للمدنيين" كتبت على صفحتها على فيسبوك تقول: "النظرية دي أثبتت فشلها بعد كل اللي مر بيه المسيحيين في السنين الأخيره، وإن السياسة لازم تتساب للي بيفهم وبيشتغل فيها والدين يتساب لبتوع الدين". فيما قارن آخرون بسخرية بين تعاليم المسيحية وتصريحات البابا. بسنت ماكسيموس، طالبة بفنون تطبيقية، قالت: "المسيح قال ليكن كلامكم نعم نعم لا لا و البابا حب يضيف التاتش بتاعه فقال "قوّل النَعم يزيد النِعم". لكن لاحقاً تسأل بشكل اكثر جدية: "احنا المفروض مانكونش يأسنا من معركة تنظيف الكنيسة، صح؟"

قد يرى المدافعون عن موقف البابا انه كان يعبر عن رأيه كأي مواطن. بالطبع البابا كمواطن له كل الحق في التعبير عن رأيه، ولكن السؤال الذي يطرح نفسه هو ما هي التدابير التي اتخذها البابا ليؤكد ان هذا مجرد رأياً شخصياً وليس رأي لـ"رأس الكنيسة"؟ الاجابة: لا شئ. على العكس، خطاب البابا تضمن كلمات ذات طابع ديني من قبيل: "نِعم" و"بركات" و"خيرات".

"لما كانت بتستخدم المساجد فى الدعاية السياسية رفضنا السلوك ده لكن عملنا نفس الغلطة ديه" كتب كريم ممتاز، مطور برمجيات. "الكنيسة ممكن تشارك فى كتابة الدستور و تشجع الناس على المشاركة لكن من غير توجيه".

في كتابه "الكنيسة والدولة"، أسس الاب متى المسكين للعلاقة بين الكيانين حيث يقول: "المفروض على الكنيسة أن تترك للمواطن المسيحي الحرية الكاملة فى قيامه بأعبائه الوطنية حتى لا تكون الكنيسة مسئولة أمام الدولة عن تقصير ابنائها فى أدائهم الواجب الوطنى."

"يلزم الكنيسة أن لا تأمر رجل الدين أن يتكلم إلا فيما يختص بالشئون الكنسية وفي دائرة اختصاص المسيحية حتى لا تقف الكنيسة مسئولة أمام السلطان الزمني، لأنها لا تسأل قط إلا أمام المسيح روحياً."

تقترب تعاليم الاب متى المسكين من مبادئ "لاهوت التحرير" الذي ظهر في امريكا اللاتينية في السبعينات والثمانينات إبان قيام الثورات هناك لمعارضة التقارب الحادث بين الكنيسة وبين الانظمة الفاسدة، بالاضافة الي إعادة تعريف دور الكنيسة في المجتمع.

ربما تكون عودة تلاميذه الى التدريس بالكلية الاكليريكية مرةً اخرى فرصة لتخليد تعاليمه وافكاره. غير أن أكثر ما يبعث على الأمل الآن هو رد فعل الشباب القبطي حيال تصريحات البابا. حتى اصدقائي المتدينيين الذين اعتادوا الدفاع عن مواقف الكنيسة الخاطئة ابدو امتعاضاً من موقف البابا الأخير من الدستور.

بالطبع هذا احد المكاسب التي صنعتها ثورة يناير والتي يصعب، ان لم يكن مستحيلاً، الرجوع عنها.

OpenDemocracy مقال مترجم من موقع*

Friday, January 24, 2014

Egypt: church and state - OpenDemocracy


In November 2012, Pope Tawadros II was ordained as the new head of the Coptic church after late Pope Shenouda III, who had been the head of the Coptic church from 1971 through till 2012. Many had high hopes for a new and fresh phase for the church. It didn’t take long before major reforms took place, such as the restructuring of the Holy Synod and the return of some theology professors, who had been excluded previously because of their controversial thoughts, to the Coptic theological college. Yet the most anticipation gatehred around the propsect of recasting the relationship between the church and the Egyptian state.

Read more here on Arab Awakening page.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Egypt’s mythical ‘law and order’ - openDemocracy

As the controversial protest law was put into action, government officials as well as local media apologists justified the consequent repressive police measures as an innocent attempt to impose “law and order”. While the government is immersed in its ‘war against terrorism’ (sometimes rightly so and sometimes not), it’s also doing its best at alienating revolutionaries who took to the streets in protest as soon as the law was enacted.

Read more here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Three reasons the current regime benefits from the Brotherhood


More than four months after Morsi’s ouster, the Muslim Brotherhood fails to adopt a strategy that reduces the rift happened between them and the revolutionaries, no to mention the public. In fact, the current reckless moves appear to be in favor of the current government’s rule. Here are three reasons why:

Violence gives mandate
Two weeks the Brotherhood members in Al-Azhar University stormed the administration office & reportedly fired bird shots inside the campus on the university security.
The head of university dean asked police to intervene after violence erupted and the Cabinet granted police forces the right to be present at university gates and furthermore to enter campuses upon universities heads request.


Aftermath of Muslim Brotherhood clashes in Al-Azhar University



Many fear that such violence would be followed by more harsh security intervention in universities that was banned by Administrative court in 2010 even with Minister of Higher Education denying the return of security to campuses in the old fashion.

With violence either committed or condoned by the Muslim Brotherhood or their Islamists allies since Morsi’s ouster in universities, neighborhoods and villages as well as the ongoing violence in Sinai, no one seems to be winning except the security apparatus, this time with a wide public support.

*Update: In a couple of days, we will witness the second anniversary of Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, and the Brotherhood shamelessly called for commemorating the clashes. Many fear the violence that might take place especially with presence of the Brotherhood.

Helpful defamation campaign?
One of the few things the Brotherhood conducts in a good way is PR campaigns. Across Europe & the U.S. the Brotherhood held many campaigns to market their case, delegitimize defame the current regime (sometimes immorally).

While this seems to be working, as major Human Rights and international organizations keeps pressuring the government (HRW: 1, 2, 3 - Amnesty), it also helps it to prune its repression instincts and prevents the old regime practices from a total comeback in order decrease criticism. In other words, helping the government to rule progressively and democratically.

In addition to that, the Brotherhood members disrupted Alaa Al-Aswany’s conference in Paris, a couple of days later the same happened with Tamarod’s conference in London University. Whether is it directives by the group to expats to prevent pro-government activists from explaining their views to the world or just MB supporters expressing their anger, it’s clearly not helping as Jack Lang, the president of The Arab World Institute in Paris which hosted Al-Aswany’s event expressed in his tweet:

[Yesterday at the Arab Wold Institute, the pro-Morsi militias attacked the writer Alaa Al Aswany. I condemn this intolerable infringement on the freedom of expression.]


Redefining allies
Two days after Sec. Kerry’s first visit to Cairo since the June 30 uprising, Voice of Russia reported the Russian Defense Minister & the Foreign Minister will be visiting Cairo the week after to meet their counterparts.

Russia offered Egypt major arms deal that includes helicopters, air defense systems and modernization of previously purchased Equipment. The visit was met with a red carpet welcome.

Russian FM Sergey Lavrov speaks to his Egyptian counterpart Nabil Fahmy

After the visit the Egyptian president had a phone call with the Russian president, in which the latter expressed support for Egypt and in return, Mansour invited him to visit Egypt.

While a total independence from U.S. may seem unlikely to happen in the near future, the Egyptian officials look adamant to restore relations with the old ally, Russia and the latter is warmly welcoming.

The Russian-Egyptian rapprochement comes after Egypt’s Foreign Minister described the relations between U.S. Egypt as in “Turmoil” after the U.S. administration suspended F-16 delivery to Egypt. President Barack Obama announced canceling Bright Start exercise amid Morsi’s ouster and the violence that followed.

With new ties with Russia, Gulf economic aid and deteriorating relations with Turkey and Qatar, Egypt is definitely redrawing its relations with partners.

Unless the Brotherhood rethinks its current strategy dealing with the regime, it will continue to lose support for the benefit of the government on contrary to what they plan.

*article was planned tp be published earlier

Saturday, November 9, 2013

On AJE's Listening Post giving my views on media


I appear on 9:19 on Global Village Voices where I give a quick take about Media under the Brotherhood regime & the current regime. Video here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dalga: The Brotherhood's Doublespeak Continues - Atlantic Council



The Brotherhood’s penchant for doublespeak is nothing new. In April 2013, in the aftermath of the Boston Bombings, and in September 2012, in the wake of the attack on the US embassies in Libya and Egypt, the Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, were quick to condemn the attacks, in English. In Arabic, however, they often take a much less conciliatory and more aggressive tone. The armed forces’ raid on Dalga, a town in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya, has proved to be yet another example in how the Brotherhood is presenting two different narratives.

Read more here