February 26, 2007

Kuwaiti Embassy celebrates in Stockholm

The Kuwaiti Ambassador to Sweden cutting the cake
with the very excited Saudi Ambassador to Sweden.

At the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, in the beautiful Spegelsalen (Mirror Hall) the Kuwaiti Ambassador stood lined up at the entrance with his wife ready to greet the guests. Kuwait celebrates 46 years as a state today and among the many people invited to this banquet and musical evening we found the ambassadors of Mocambique, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Syria, Egypt as well as representatives from Palestine, Iraq, the UAE and Pakistan among many more intellectuals and journalists in Sweden.

February 24, 2007

The Prophet*, cats and dogs

As I was walking with friends on our way to a café in Alexandria, we met with these two darlings. One of them was limping and the other stood by its side all the time, leaving only to try and find something to eat by the boats that had been put on the corniche by a busy road. there was nothing but sand and dust.

We searched the corniche for a place with raw meat to feed them with, and as I fed the injured one, I noticed that this was the first time it had seen real fresh food, and thus wouldn't approach it. After patiently sitting with my arm stretched out holding the piece of meat, it slowly approached limping, taking small bites off it.

In Cairo I remembered the children sleeping on the side of the busy roads, homeless and dirty. Was it wrong of me to give the food to the cat? Maybe the children would have had better use of it. Don't they deserve it more?

I then remembered the saying of Prophet Mohammad* about kindness to animals which was narrated by one of his companions who was in fact nicknamed after his love for cats, Abu Huraira;

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may pace be upon him) as saying: "A prostitute saw a dog moving around a well on a hot day and hanging out its tongue because of thirst. She drew water for it in her shoe and she was pardoned (due to this act of hers)." Sahih Muslim, Book 026, Number 5578

*May peace and blessings be upon him

February 21, 2007

Swedish terrorist?

Meet Hassan Asad. Palestinian/Jordanian born father of triplets, one blind, one in a wheelchair and one healthy son. He himself has undergone several operations and has a pacemaker. His whole family recently became Swedish citizens but for some reason he was denied it. Apparently the Swedish Secret Service, SÄPO had given confidential material to the immigration officials.

Asad is now to be sent back to Jordan (where he will no doubt be tortured) on the grounds of being a "threat to Swedish Scecurity". And what is he accused of? No one knows. Nor him or his lawyer have been told, nor do the Swedish public or media know.

Sweden is running errands for the US no doubt, just like they did a few years back when they let masked CIA agents take away Ahmed Agiza and Muhammed Al-Zary on Swedish soil! to Egypt without a trial, without being informed of what they had been accused of and being humiliated and tortured by both the agents themselves and Egyptian authority.

The Swedish public went into an uproar when they found out and apologies were made left right centre by the Government saying they were told by the CIA that the men would not be subjected to torture (which by International Law is a prerequisite if one is to leave out ones citizens). Both men returned to Sweden after being away for years.

A big campaign has been initiated, the Swedish Red Cross and many Muslim Organisations and other Swedish professionals are behind it. Let us hope Sweden doesn't make the same mistake again when his case is decided by the supreme court. We could all be in his shoes...

Read more about him on the private site that has been set up to support his case.

February 20, 2007

Bush starrs in Arabic Music Video

In my hotel room in Cairo I saw this music video by singer Shams, Ahlan Ezayak (Hi, how are you). It criticizes in a comical way the whole Bush Administration's dealings with Iraq and Guantanamo as well as touching on the topic of plastic surgery. Refreshing for a change. Watch it here.

February 19, 2007

Tinku's World

I have earlier blogged about American-Indian Muslim lawyer/comedian Azhar Usman and his hillarious ensemble of Allah Made me Funny. I recently stumbled upon a side project he has been working on with two short pilot episodes where he plays the character Tinku Patel, outsorced by a Chinese company from India to make a documentary in the US about the American Dream. Hillarious!

Episode 1
Episode 2

Bibliotheca Alexandria

The library in Alexandria, Egypt.
Covered in letters from the world's alphabets.

February 18, 2007

February 15, 2007

Shaykhspeara meets Hans Blix

If you had a chance to ask Hans Blix a question, you know, the former UN Weapons Inspector to Iraq, the man who told President Bush that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, what would you ask him?

I was in Alexandria earlier this year together with a group from Sweden and we were in luck because Hans Blix had decided to go there for his vacations as well as hold a lecture at the Bibliotheca Alexandria on his WMD report. So the Swedish Institute in Alexandria were kind enough to host us together with Blix for a lunch and a small lecture/discussion.

He talked about the importance of not claiming to have the truth but rather be in search of it, pointing towards the US Administration's persistent claims (backed by both CIA and MI5) of the existence of WMD's contrary to the finds of the UN. Also Blix described how sophisticated the techonology has become in detecting if there is nuclear action in a country through what is called environmental sampling, just by analyzing water samples.

Iran is the latest name on the Nuclear discussion agenda. I decided to play it dumb and ask Blix, why exactly everyone is on Iran's back and is there any law or resolution or agreement that would prohibit Iran from developing nuclear power for energy purposes?

In 1968 a non-proliferation agreement was established which meant that those who signed the agreement were not to posess, produce or fight with nuclear weapons. Iran signed this agreement. The agreement does not say anything about forbidding refinement of Uranium or using that nuclear energy for energy purposes. Even Sweden uses that.

-"No you are right," Blix answered, "there is no agreement or resolution that prohibits Iran."
-"So why does the international community hold one tone with Iran whilst other countries remain in posession of fully developed nuclear weapon capabilities? How do you justify it legally?"
-"Well", he continued, "legally we cannot, however we do not want the region to become destabilized and also there are concerns that if Iran posesses the capability to refine Uranium they can also produce nuclear weapons. I do not think they will and we haven't found enough evidence to prove they are hosting illegal activity."
-"But don't they have a right to deliver energy resources to their growing population just like Sweden does?"
-"Yes of course, we are not against Iran having nuclear energy. We have been presenting a solution where Iran can purchase the Uranium at a low cost from a controlled market and then use it for its nuclear energy plants."

I do not wish to see yet another country with nuclear weapons or capabilities however, I cannot help but see the absurdity in the rhetoric against Iran. There is clearly no international law or agreement to restrict Iran yet one has chosen to use another tone and treatment against Iran that I see will inspire nothing but a disrespect for International Institutions and the world community at large. How do you tell Irani youth (and all other Arab and Muslim youth who have been drilled with the idea of a "western" conspiracy and double-standard against them) that one set of laws apply to them because they are Iranis (or whatever else is the fashion to dislike at the moment) while Israel, Pakistan, the US and India have fully developed nuclear weapons?

This is the challenge all of us who wish to work for a more balanced and peaceful world face. Peace Organisations, International Institutions and world leaders wont be able to convince people to follow international law when they adjust it to whatever winds are blowing at the moment.

February 13, 2007

"My little paper boat"- Woh kagaz ki kashti

Do take my gold, and my fame, if you must

You can have my youth if you so do will

But do give me back my childhood showers

My little paper boat, the fresh rain's thrill

Do take my gold, and my fame, if you must

You can have my youth if you so do will

But do give me back my childhood showers

My little paper boat, the fresh rain's thrill

My little paper boat, the fresh rain's thrill

She, who, lived here as old as the road

She, whom we children, called granny

She, who wrapped fairies in sweet songs

She, whose wrinkles of years so many

And who, try as much, could forget them

Her fresh long tales filling nights so tiny

My little paper boat, the fresh rain's thrill

To walk out in the scorching heat

To larks and those jays and chasing butterflies

We'd marry our dolls and fight over it

High in our swings jumping far from watchful eyes

And those little trinkets of copper and bark

Those deep scarlet marks of broken bangles and cries

My little paper boat, the fresh rain's thrill

To drag our feet over smooth high dunes

A castle here, a hillock there

Our innocence filling every picture and tune

Our life of toys and dreams

In a world of joy, relations none did prune

Wasn't it beautiful, that life of ours?

Lyrics to the song Woh Kagaz ki kashti, currently playing on Al-Baal Café

Translation by S.A.A.R, with many thanks for a fantastic translation of the Urdu original.

February 12, 2007

Anafora in Pictures

Anafora, Egypt: Bishop Thomas whom I wrote about earlier, created this haven during the past 20 or more years. Where the food is home grown and organic and nothing but natural light during the day and candles at night is used to light up the interior.

February 11, 2007

Strange Street Signs

Global Themes Photo Blog, for those of you who have missed out on its existence, has been revamped and updated. The past week the theme has been Street Signs, and we have displayed signs from Kabul to Cambodja and Bosnia. The latest publication from Dubai is particularly hillarious and worth seeing.

Join us over at Global Themes!

February 09, 2007

One voice, two people

Read more about the Israeli-Palestinian movement, and sign the petition: One Voice Movement

Proverb in the sand

-Man ya3eesh yara; he who lives shall see

I was flying back to Sweden from Alexandria when we got the news at 1 am that no plane had landed or taken off from Alexandria's Burg el Arab airport in more than 3 days. Off to the Hilton courtesy of Lufthansa for a 3 hour nap. At 9 am our bus was to take us to Cairo Airport and subsequently home. No bus arrived and no word from Lufthansa. I did what any sane person would do; ran out at the back of the hotel to the amazing beach and played around in the water. The sand was like soft cake so I decided to cover as much of it in Arabic writing as I could.

Literally living in a Box

Cairo: Taken on my recent trip to the "mother of the world". I stopped as I saw Ahmad arranging his bottles in his makeshift home.

-"Can I take your picture please?" I asked him.
-"My picture? But why? You know you can get into trouble for that. The authority doesn't want scenes like this to be spread around the world."

As odd as it was the he lived in a box, what was even more remarkable was his resigned attitude towards his situation. He didn't ask for a penny although he was clearly in need. What do you say to a man like that?

To the Egyptian authorities however I would like to say, "3eib 3aleykom". (Shame on you)

February 04, 2007

Shaykhspeara in Egypt: Bishop Thomas

Irini: Peace in Coptic.

In a small area between Alexandria and Cairo, Bishop Thomas has created Anafora. A spiritual retreat and getaway for people of all religions to meet and get to know eachother.

In the fall of 2006 he was in a car accident on the road to Cairo with a Swedish family. The mother and daughter passed away and the father and Bishop Thomas made it with serious injuries.

I met with him more than a week ago at his place in Anafora. I was informed he wasn't to be tired out so brief was the word. I had questions about the situation of the Copts in Egypt, being a Christian minority in a Muslim majority.

"Layers, it's all about layers" he started. "On a social level things may seem OK, people meet, socialize attend each others parties and gatherings."

He turned to me and my group and asked us "How frank can I be with you?"

"I wanted to set up a school for the poorer children at Al Qusayr where they would be able to learn foreign languages like English, French or German. At the bottom of the list of languages that would be available to study I had placed Coptic."

Apparently the man incharge of supervising the project in that particular area had taken one look at the list and said; Coptic? What's that?

Bishop Thomas was asked to remove it saying it was not allowed to teach it in the school.

"In my area (Asyout, Al Qusayr), a new church hasn't been built since 1932, it is next to impossible to get permission to build one or restore an existing one there and yet when I travelled to Uppsala (Sweden) and a new mosque was about to be approved to be built I got the question whether I thought it was a good idea to let the Muslims in Sweden build a mosque or not. I told them, let them build it. Why not?"

And yet in Cairo you see many new churches. It was never clear whether it is Egyptian law that discriminates or Egyptians in charge themselves. In Cairo I met with Hisam, a young Coptic Egyptian who had a different view on life as a Coptic in Cairo. It was clad with far less reservations against the ruling majority.

However Egypt is a vast land and one area can differ from the other in attitude and implementation of laws.

Bishop Thomas left me with a slightly worried feeling, of the increasing polarization in between Muslims and other Muslims and non Muslims, brought on by the growing media influences of islamo-political channels in the Muslim world. Each channel with its own message and direction indirectly not letting its viewers accept any other message or point of view, being far from self-criticism.

The issue of the situation of the Copts in Egypt was raised by our group with a local muslim NGO and they were all surprised and upset to hear about the attitude towards the coptic language. Hopefully they will carry on investigating the why's and why not's.

In this globalized world it is ever more clear that you can be a minority and a majority at the same time. A Muslim minority in Sweden a Christian majority in Sweden, and a Muslim majority and Christian minority in for example Egypt. In a position of dependance and power, all at once. With added awareness and responsibility as a result of that, but do we take heed?