Opening Acapella

Posted: August 10, 2011 in Acapella
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..every good journey starts with a tunnel

For years I felt like I was a ghost. Tossing & turning in my soul. I couldn’t bear to be, after that was all I knew as the bright little flame I was in my youth.

7 ½ years is a long time of wanting to connect to people, but not wanting to out of fear of being whisked away. A long time to not plant any seeds. To hug your roots carrying them from station to station.

7 ½ years is a long time to feel like your head is stuck in a guillotine & you’re waiting for the blade to drop.

Torture.

Doesn’t come close.

It all started in October 1999 as I was walking into the AUC SS building gate on Mohamed Mahmud St. The exoneration I received on the steps of High Justice Court Dar El Qadaa El Aali on the morn of 22.02.2007… In between I spent 60-something days in ’99, receiving bail on Dec 25th [my mom’s birthday], but released on the 26th and such caught the millennium party at the pyrmaids with Jean Michel Jarre & Mounir

After taking up journalism due to all the BS I read about myself [Ros Al Youssef takes the cake], I finally stood trial for the allegation over 2 years later on May 27th 2002. Needless to say I wasn’t alive for those 2 plus years.

I received a 6 year sentence.

After 2 ½ years of which 2 I was managing the main hospital in Wadi El Natroun area of prisons [Liman 440 Prison Hospital], the Supreme Court threw out the criminal court’s decision for the first time, and everything was to return to the way it was before the criminal court ruling was made.

This meant I was to be freed again.

And for a full year I tried to learn how to become a human being again and further my journalistic career..

During this year my father passed in August less than 2 weeks after my birthday..

In October, in my retrial the criminal court judge once again issued the same sentence- I was to go back in and complete the 3 ½ years to round up the 6.

This time it was Liman Tura.

Liman means Maximum Security Prison.

Not Tura Mazra3ah. Or even 3anbar Zera’a

And all of this for something I didn’t do

Less than a year later I was released on 04.06.2006, I remember Egypt was playing an important game that night. We won.

Since then I’ve been writing and rediscovering who I be after all I have had to see. Everything happens for a reason, I believe.

Those of us true to ourselves live their lives battling with the questions.

And now a divine revolution has caused a portal of light to crack through the darkness that was, and in many ways still is…

Finally a real chance

 *******

But it wasn’t always like that. We weren’t always free to decide how we want to be.

To recheck ourselves in light of trying to live a democracy in Egypt for the very first time. Figuring out which details are missing to fill the gaps towards a fully-functioning nation. Us, through our ever-creative arsenal of dreams, song, muscle and humor.

Where does one begin?

Money. It’s where it all flows to and also where everything comes from. The Alpha & Omega of our times.

But first…

 ACAPELLA

Acapella is a story about prisons.

There are prisons all around us; some we were born in, others we willingly choose to enter, while other prisons still require a moment of lucidity or clarity for us to realize that we have been trapped in our whole lives.

Islam is an Egyptian child, nothing special, who grew up in Kuwait with the oil boom as families from all over the world converged on this tiny desert nation floating on oil looking for prospects of financial gain and a better life than back home- The American dream in the middle of the desert.

With Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Islam was woken up from his dream to trying times. Little did he know then that this war set the stage for a new order of things to come in terms of shifting of power, wealth and sovereignty.

 

 

 

 

This section of Acapella was written in Oct. 2008

When  everything else is gone.. the lies.. the hate.. the indifference..

We-the essences of us- continue .. essentially one yet many fold.. the one in the many.. the many one

So as all manmade instruments are taken out of this symphony.. all that still resonates are our voices.. in a true & loving Acapella…

PROLOGUE

“How the fuck is he talking to us with a cigarette in his mouth?!!!”

What followed was not necessarily the finest Egypt’s police had produced lately; a general trampling of human rights- which seem to have become mythical creatures in our beautiful land.

As I got into the back of the fabled buks [hard-back covered police pickup], I looked out at theCairo I love, with its little stories and weaving traffic, wondering if I may be seeing it in this light for the last time…

The bedouins tell me there is a mystical time between the end of may to mid june, named ‘the disappearance of the star’ [ghoyyoub el najm]..

 

Just a thought

 

 

 

There are doors that we know will only bring trouble in the end.. perhaps peaks of pleasure, yet deserts of pain…

Another thought

Step 1: Get off Heroine

I had managed the longest heroin run of his life.

I was sick of the stuff.

Sick of the scene, the people, the language, applications.

Sick of being with a sexy lady that was funding my habit. Sick of my state- sick of it all.

I’d been feeling for some time it was time to be out in the sun again.

So I took the steps. Or rather the stairs.

Thus, it was during coming down that I came to clash full force with a more-renewed understanding of the state of human rights in Egypt.

I felt the blow of what it was like to be an Egyptian caught in the crude clockwork of the legal system of our fine establishment.

Ouch.

I managed to get myself into trouble with the law of this great land yet again…

This time – a fight with an officer.

I had already developed a clear distaste for oppressors from the ‘brass family’ or eilet el nesr [ lit. family of the eagle -which adorns both the Egyptian flag and the uniforms of police personnel ].

I couldn’t stop myself from speaking up against an officer cussing to his heart’s delight at the white-haired cabdriver who was kind enough to give me a ride to my job interview with some TV channel… 

It was a Wednesday when I stepped out at 9.30 AM, hailed a cab. Rickety and probably slow, the cabdriver was an old guy and looked short on hope. I jumped in.

 

Sixth of October bridge, the main lifeline between two buzzing parts of the city, was at a standstill, In these conditions superior motors and state of the art aerodynamics lost their perk, old rickety here was standing toe to toe with all the new juiced-up car makes.

 

10.17 My old new-friend and I arrive at our destination: Lebanon Square. Some difficulty spotting the clothing store that was supposed to denote the building where the Al Hurra TV channel was; so I innocently ask an average-looking bystander for directions- if he maybe recognizes the name of the store.

 

I had no idea it was a plain-clothes detective I was asking.

 

‘Excuse me, we’re looking for a fashion store for veiled women called Al Mutahajjibba in the area?’

Detective [ignoring me and talking to the driver] ‘get the fuck outta here’

‘Hey we’re just asking for directions…’

‘Didn’t you hear me you old son-of-a-fuck? Move the fuck on.’

‘There’s no need to be rude to him..’  I said going through my pockets looking for the correct cab fare.

 

Then a voice bellows from behind this undeclared detective. A guy in blue jeans, blue and white pin-stripe short-sleeved shirt and big RayBans:

 

 “Is he talking to us with a cigarette in his mouth?!!!”

…‘Drag him out here, check him out’

 

As I was fidgeting for change I had apparently perched my cigarette on my lower lip while speaking to the detective who was busying himself with insulting the old cabdriver. Apparently also quite a no-no.

 

The source of the bellowing voice has got to be a police officer. Not that he produced any identification; just the power-trip resonaniting in his voice descriptive of the bad apples of our highly-trained police officers.

 

In his books, he’s got every right to toy with anyone as he pleases, unless of course they outrank him or seem to have dhahr [lit. back, well-backed].

 

The detective that had initiated the whole situation had tried to drag me down by gripping on my jacket, but the jacket had slipped my frame and the detective lost balance and fell on his back.

 

Stood before his superkool athletic –looking superior officer in RayBans, I made the mistake of criticizing the officer’s tone and use of language.. and if you know anything about the psyche of a power-tripped police officer dealing with a measly civilian.. you would know that naturally the officer brought my mother into it. At which point I might have brought up his.. but in an instant the mostly vocal scene was suddenly alight, and before you’d know it I was hurled into the back of a police truck.

 

The old driver was threatened and sent on his way, and after a brief ride I was taken to Agouza precinct where the officer had me handcuffed to the floor of a large room on the second floor. Yes to the floor, I swear they had metal rings coming out of the marble floor.

 

The room was lined with old wooden desks in an ‘L’ shape with the short and long corners meeting at the door. 3 unwashed adolescents in rags were crouched in the corner hidden behind a large filing cabinet.

 

My job- interview was in an area called Mohandiseen which was an upscale main shopping area of Cairo, thus anyone that could be pictured as a beggar, pickpocket or thief was rounded up in the hopes that they would either be guilty of something or escaping a sentence, or better yet with no one to care for [maqtoo3een men shagra] so it would be an easy frame-up if cases existed that needed culprits.  Just a normal day on the streets under Agouza precinct’s jurisdiction of which Mohandiseen was a part.

 

Patrolling your jurisdiction picking up anyone that fit the profile.

 

It was better for business.

 

When you’re out there spending a fortune on stuff you don’t need.. you don’t want to be looking at some poor dirty kid.  

 

Yes some were beggars and whatnot, but most where kids who were just walking and either had no Identification or were just ‘lucky’ and eventually got thrown into the back of the buks.

 

There was no one else in the room with the kids till I was brought in and fastened to the floor, yet they still sat crouched in their respective corners occupying the least space possible.

 

Like even I in my incarcerated state, could prove a threat.. something that would probably end up hurting them.

 

 I was swept by the violence of it all.  Another curious part of me seemed content to sit there and watch and try to absorb where all of this was going,

 

I snapped to consciousness as I realized that I was fastened to the floor and started talking to the infantryman who had just done the fastening, as if I was trying to talk some logic into a crazy situation. ‘Hey, what’s my crime?! Let me go! I want to use my phone! This can’t be legal!’

 

The kids looked at me with eyes that begged me to be quiet .. in moments I understood why.

A giant walked in and took a long look at me.

 

‘Shut up or you know …’ he said looking my clothes over. It seemed the giant hit a wall of hesitance. Before I could reply the giant kicked one of the kids in the stomach and reached down and, with his hand that looked more like a foot, he slapped another across the face.

‘I told you to keep it clean’ he shouted to the 2 kids closest, who were now bundled in a foetus position close to each other, on the tiles with their backs to him after his brief touch. It was an effective way to get me to keep quiet.

 

Minutes later the giant returned and looked me over again from the doorway, obviously trying to figure me out. From his silent expression you could see that he already somehow concluded that I was well-educated, cultured and well to do, as apparent from his assessment of the worth of my clothes and slotting me in a socio-economic strata with my choice of words and manner of speech.

* There was probably something about when I chose to keep silent and when I chose to speak up and what I said when I did, that irked this oversized mukhber. That and the fact that I didn’t simply start throwing names around of government officials that would come down on the precinct for treating me this way, when I clearly seem of the type that had the resources and contacts to walk in there with guns-a-blazin.

This inspector Colombo was clearly thinking that I looked like someone who had knowledge of how to stir up trouble if his family or people came asking what had happened. In fact I could even be running along with them to further incriminate them the way I was so quiet at times- maybe that’s why I was only talking and arguing using words like constitution, legality and rights *

… A fat man in glasses holding a big ledger pushed across him, bursting the giant’s transparent thought bubble, and sat on one of the two desks facing me and forming the short side of the ‘L’. He looked up from his ledger, which he had placed on the desk, to give me a once-over of his own.

 

‘This the guy they brought in?’ he asked rhetorically, as me being tied down to the tiles was obviously the only new addition to the office since he had stepped out. Then he spoke in general not specifically to me, but in my general direction…

 

‘Insulting an officer on duty and hitting a detective? Pretty stupid…’ He turned to the giant ‘They want him in the office’

 

The giant motioned slowly approaching me while keeping his eyes on me the whole time, perhaps even wondering if I would pull something. His expression somehow clearly stating his dilemma, and questioning what the least self-incriminating protocol would be if I actually did do something. He slowly unfastened me from my cuffs and led me to one of the adjoining offices on that floor.

 

The officer I had had words with was sat on a desk bent over a piece of paper examining it closely as a second officer who was in uniform was adding more lines to it. They looked up at the giant and his much smaller package- me.

 

‘Where’s your ID?’ asked the officer who had engineered this crazy situation.

I reached inside the coat of my jacket and handed it over. The other officer busied himself copying details onto the sheet of paper.

 

‘Just wanted you to know that we’re writing this up so you won’t be seeing the street again for 3 years’ said the same officer addressing me in an all-knowing, all-powerful manner, intended to torture me with the foreknowledge of my impending doom.

 

And in time I would find out how the 2 conspiring officers, the one without a uniform and his friend in uniform, planned to do that.

 

I was sent to the DA with a tiny piece of hash, so ‘the people’ could build their case against this perp that was caught in time. The hash was just a little token from your friendly neighborhood police officer. And of course there was no mention of the fight between us at all.

 

Apparently the officer I had the scuffle with was from the Modireyya [Security HQ for the Governorate] and was there to secure Habib El Adly’s residence and area. Since he did not want to say what had really happened, he brought me here to Agouza precinct where a friend of his could help him ‘cook’ something up…

 

In my current predicament, something as strange as giving hashish to someone and sending them to the DA seemed so matter of fact to the officers of the system, I knew I stood to witness only more.

 

Once known for their undeniable free-spirited camaraderie, Egyptians are being driven to the ground. It is probably one of the worst times in history to be an Egyptian living in Egypt. And it’s threatening to explode. One of the main reasons has to do with the huge gap in realities between that of the everyday man, and the reality of those laying down the rules for him, importing his food, deciding at what percentile he is best defined etc. There is a clear dividing line between two totally different realities; one that owns, and one that is owned.

 

The people are bubbling, and the police are supposed to keep a lid on it. It’s like that game with the holes and the gophers, every time one sticks his head out- KAPPOW, or simply  ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered’.

 

Hold on this part was supposed to be about drugs, especially heroin. Smack. Or more likely in Egypt- brown sugar. To be clearer, it’s about giving it up.

 

 

What drove me to quit was something as basic as a need to survive. In younger moments of desperation I tried not to care and ride the wave the substance creates and end up dead in some ditch, but I couldn’t do it. So at some point I focused on how to best preserve my body to further me through the harsh competitive climates of the world we have created today.

 

Whether we want to bring about positive change, or simply survive, we have to physically as well as mentally be prepared for whatever life can throw in our direction.

 

 As we all continue to run our laps, in our small familiar cycles.

 

There is a reason why mostly disasters momentarily link common consciousness nowadays and not dreams. I know, for I was paraded as one such disaster.

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October 4th  2008

Today someone called to thank me for saving their life. Coincidentally, this was the guy that first introduced me to heroin. He’d paid me a visit last week and seeing me ‘on the stuff’ must have sent him on his own rollercoaster. He asked, and was denied. Time and time again.

His name is M. He’s a good kid that’s made some choices he’s not particularly happy with- but then again, aren’t we all?

At the moment he asked, he could not see the sense in my finality to his small request, but in time he acknowledged it was probably best…

“Thank you”

“I thought you’d appreciate it a little once you could get your mind to think differently”

“not a little.. a lot”

-day 2 coming down cold turkey for the umpteenth time I’m kicking heroin this year.

I look all washed out. Black circles under my eyes, my skin running further away from the pink of normalcy than usual. My stomach heaves and churns, as my back all shot up, feels in need of constant support. I pause to think of the dynamics of what had happened. …Even my friend M knew it at the time; heroin would be a dark pit that would require a huge amount of energy to escape its clutches or orbit. Heroin addicts spend their days moving through this iridescent membranous tunnel, briefly making contact with the world, like a stone skipping water. All the while watching the wealth, energy and trust in sight burn around them. It is pointless, self loathing— generally, a waste. So why was I having such a hard time staying clean?…

I need coffee, black coffee and lots of it. I wait for the kettle to boil as  I look for something to blame.

… the events in my life, the push and pull of circumstance? Is it the space I allow my insecurities, a combination of all the above and more? Doesn’t matter now, it’s day 2 and I’m still clean. Just keep your focus.

The coffee tastes bitter, and hot- like my ex, I make a mental note.

 …I had recently resigned my job as editor/writer in a new, ‘cutting edge’ socially-aware lifestyle magazine [as if such a hybrid is possible without sacrificing one or the other], all in a bid to escape the clutches of my ex-girlfriend as well as that of the substance. I realized that I associated each with the other; my only hope of quitting was in letting both go.

She worked for the same magazine, so I decided it was I that should leave. Despite my efforts, she was smart enough to have another job lined up for when she decided to jump ship. She left the magazine at the same time I did, so all the time I had tormented over deciding what would be the least painful or damaging way to slip out of this loophole, had effectively left only me; remote, fatigued, and without a source of income.

Yet I was free if I chose to be.

…So after that inspiring phone call with my friend M, I showered, dressed, and I met him. We drove around, eventually arriving at the doorstep of my heroin-dealer, and such, I naturally shot up.

This time I used some twisted excuse that I fashioned out of a mix between the ‘final hit’ concept, and a self-fashioned myth; of throwing myself in front of the wheels of the evil substance in an attempt to defend & save my friend.

BS. Bullshit- that’s what the letters stand for, not brown sugar. The amount of BS you have to feed yourself and everyone around you in order to justify perpetuating your habit is phenomenal.

My ex-girlfriend used to say she believed that ‘heroin came straight from the devil’, yet she helped finance my habit for over a year. In some ways I believe her when she says she was addicted to me. Addicted to me addicted to the stuff that is.

This is why it is such a powerful drug. Heroin.

All the talk of freedom, of choice, of will and way doesn’t matter. Your body, your mind, words, love, life- do not matter enough in the face of that next hit. When you’re hooked, anything you could perceive can be used as an inciting stimulus to use more. You tell yourself things like ‘My life isn’t working out for me’, and use that to turn to heroin, ‘feeling awful since I woke up’.. ‘oh I’ll give up tomorrow or the day after’ as you make your way to heroin again. And you can explain your way through a thousand hits, never really realizing that you’re doing so or just not caring; that your logic is impaired, your perceptions faulty.

Some people have their versions of heroin; their own greedy secrets that are in ways damaging, yet they prefer to keep these secrets close at times and even defend.

I guess that’s why I was a lousy junkie; I never got the greed part down, even the secret part became a bore.

It’s day 3 and I keep drifting with images of shit being cooked up in a spoon..then the essence of that filling the syringe.. and then all that’s left is to find a vein and listen to the calling…

 

Gotta keep that door closed

I guess part of the reason I hit was my need for a sense of something that functioned in life. Something I knew and understood. In some sick way, scoring holds a sort of security in knowing what you’re getting, and feeling that you had achieved something tangible in your day.

When you go to ‘score’, besides the adrenaline laced encounters and dark, underground corners where deeds are done, the actual product is almost guaranteed. No one wants to fuck around with a junkie’s hit if they have the money for it.

This first reason in itself holds a security seldom found in our ‘in it for me’, ‘help you if I have to, fuck you if I can’ world. That’s why many guys prefer the hazy but firm hold of ‘H’ to the many interpretations the words & actions of some females can have. There is an element there of something you can rely on.

The second, and in my opinion more important reason, is the fact that in our suburbia many miss getting to do something that feels meaningful, and where the fruit of their labor is instantly there to be enjoyed.

Unless you’re a doctor or nurse, everyone else has to wait to see their efforts ripen or have faith that their contributions have made this world a better place. In heroin, not only do you see the fruit of your efforts bloom, you get to eat it instantly and it feels orgasmic. This sensation is a by-product of the endorphin spike your body experiences- a huge increase of the ‘feel-good’ hormone experienced during sex and other ‘pleasures’.

So an Adrenaline-testosterone fix for the adventurer in you, mixed with a tangible result/a good score for the achiever in you, and the quasi-spiritual endorphin experience provides solace and inner-peace. And of course you understand that when your body is used to getting its fix from outside, the levels of the natural occurrence & production of these chemicals by your body falls, and stays down.

So you can’t feel like an adventurer, an achiever, or at peace and spiritually enlightened anymore, or any of the other feel-good feelings these missing chemicals produced- even if you do live an adventure, achievement, spiritual experience.

Your body has first got to relearn how to adjust production levels and stop relying on an outside source to introduce these chemicals into your bloodstream.

If someone were in the business of making a drug that feeds off humanity’s insecurities and in turn feeds them, they would produce heroin.

I never call myself an artist or a writer, but I will call myself a journalist. It actually started with a rather tormenting feeling of being unjustly vilified by a whole society, from the papers to your own family. One magazine for instance, Ros Al Youssef [a self-titled publication initiated by a 1940s starlet living inCairo], dedicated a 7 page feature to describe the horrors of my alleged ‘activities’.

Besides my debut in all the governmental newspapers, I proved a popular item with their weekly crime roundups; “the doctor-to-be who was dealing drugs to AUCians”— so juicy you want to bite.

It was well known, that during the time in question, people did not sell drugs to AUCians, they asked them where they could get some.

And all the while, I was never asked one question by any reporter, never photographed or given a face. I was the big bogey-man who thanks to ghostbusters was finally and effectively vanquished to the hell of your closet, never to bother you again. I was the media’s version of a drug- sel’aawa [an Egyptian urban mythical creature publicized only in random attacks, or as a burnt, unidentified carcass to seal speculation]. Only I didn’t burn. Well not enough to kill me anyway.

It is heroic that Egyptians go through their days being treated as badly as they are, without taking someone’s life, or their own.

If you take a look around you’ll see that there is a substantial need for fall guys; someone to take the rap in a schoolyard brawl, someone to blame for the relationship ending, a reason why a deal went bad, someone to call the enemy. There has to be at least this one person to blame, in a plausible story-frame, so everyone can sleep better at night with the knowledge that the universe is in order. That’s why rules exist.

You need the fall guy so the laws you can’t/ don’t want to really enforce – can seem purposeful and believable.

Laws against drugs are made to nail nasty drug lords, but snare only the small end users or petty dealers. How many big fish do you see in the news? And when a big fish falls isn’t it sometimes convenient for the big fish community to have a fall guy too; a sacrifice of sorts, someone to balance the scales, so to speak?

A way of announcing the acknowledgement of their mortality, that they do not plan on declaring themselves gods just yet- even if they do act that way-especially if the fallen big fish had pissed off enough of the big fish community that he was voted out.

My point is the ratio of poor and middle class upon which laws are executed in relation to the elite shows obvious tampering. I guess increasingly anywhere around the world today the international global elite reside on a totally different tier of services, luxuries and applicable laws.

Living by a code might have been appreciated in the days of knights & samurais, but it’s evident more and more everyday that it has become out of time & place. You stand out and unknowingly invite unfavorable energies. You’re a dinosaur in a digital age- and in an age of blips dinosaurs take up too much space.

Besides, a moral code does not compute with today’s world leaders towards a strategy for profit.

If you ask anyone that knows me they’d tell you that I’m not too bad of a guy. Yet somehow I’ve always managed to get my fair share of notoriety stepping in trying to be protective.

Growing up, it was the honorable thing to do sticking up for brothers, family, the team, the gang- you get the picture… I wasn’t stupid, maybe too many Japanese samurai cartoons and kung fu movies instilled some untimely sense of a ‘code of honor’, but more rather than less I had the illusion that I knew what I was walking into. My personal explanation is that I was somewhat obsessed with this force of dying a hero. Clearly a Jesus complex.

*A piece of prison graffiti comes to mind: ya rab le khalaqteni asad el nas tekhaf mennu ‘God why did you fashion me into a lion, of which people are fearful’. I think by asad [lion] he meant someone who is different or will not conform without convincing, and by the people being fearful- non-acceptance for what questions they may need to ask themselves in hand with their acknowledgment.

I guess anyone living below a certain invisible line in society nowadays can be considered a hero for simply existing. For going through their days under the constant oppression of living in a country immersed in Emergency Law since the assassination of its last president, for more than a quarter century.

So I bit the bullet a number of times, for people I love, people I know and don’t know. Like so many others in our fine land.

In the immortal words of a sage who had seen it all- Who cares.

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Needless to say that the previous section bounded by ‘…….’ is but a trivial glimpse into the dynamic, self-absorbed and sometimes random motion of an addict’s mind as he’s giving up cold turkey. It’s been 27 days since I last hit. This is the longest I’ve been off since March.

When you sober up long enough to start really entertaining a functional perception of your environment a few things may creep up on you as you reacquaint yourself with the world you left behind in favor of your train of escapades. At this point you have all the choice in the world, and it is you that can make anything out of your current station- if you will disregard the illusion of things and your fears.

You have to first realize that the door to the cage has always been open, and you have to amount your resolve to push yourself through that open door. To try life outside of this cage.

But that is a personal journey for each of us at every point, so let’s not delve into that just yet. I was here to tell a story; a contemporary story with real people, shaped by the system we choose to live by and allow to define us. This story is only a symptom of many symptoms of what it means to be living at the turn of the 21st century in a world such as we know, in a region like the middle east, in a country like Egypt…

This is a story that has claimed a large part of my life- and will still claim even more. I’m no revolutionary, it’s all there, I’m just speaking of what I see.

I am pro-peace, life, equality, knowledge, reaching out, pro- respectable and honorable existence.

In my opinion, anything less may be lively, but not alive.

At this stage I don’t claim to know who I am, but I know who I have not been; and that is I haven’t been the embodiment of my parent’s hopes and dreams. I have faltered and fallen, and now one of them has left our world.

We hope, we pray, explain things in every which way that we may feel more in control of a destiny increasingly not shaped by us. Yet all one can do is try.

This one goes out to my father. A man who tried, till the day he died. Verily the brightest flame burns quickest.

CHAPTER – I

His name is Islam Mohamed. He was 23 when he was framed.

…….

...The Gift...

It was 1990. Toto Schilacci was the top scorer in the Football World Cup in Italy. Islam enjoyed following the football with his father, and come end of school, was excited to visit his grandparents and extended family in Cairo during the summer months. Though it was only a three and a half hour flight, he almost never slept on the day he arrived. The night was spent between the conversation and catching up, fooling around with his grandma’s parrot- seeing what new words and tricks he’d learnt, or simply sitting on the balcony trying to absorb the feeling of being in Cairo, in Heliopolis, watching the tram car break the silence of darkness while attempting to remember what was different from the last time he’d been there. To him Cairo had always been a magical place compared to Kuwait. His father was to join the family on the 2nd of August, just in time to catch Islam’s birthday on the 5th.

August 1st 1990, the world woke up to news that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. It was surreal to see news footage of tanks and troops scattered in the tiny desert country Islam had come to call home. Iraq had just come out of an 8 year war with Iran over the fresh water resources between the 2 countries.

Saddam drained by the years of war, attempted to man-handle the oil-producing countries in the gulf to help rebuild Iraq and redistribute the wealth in the region. The Gulf countries had refused, and one morning his army appeared in Kuwait.

For decades the US had sought military presence in the Arabian Gulf, both to protect the oil fields and to keep a closer eye on Iran- the Gulf countries had always refused, they had learnt their lesson well from the colonial British. It seemed that with Saddam’s move, the US dream was about to become a reality. For years the US administration hailed Saddam- who was trained by the CIA- as the only Arab democratic leader. Some go as far as saying the invasion of Kuwait like the Iraq- Iran war was suggested and sanctioned by America, as a necessary step to create- in the words of Bush Sr.- a ‘New World Order’.

Islam was happy to hear on the news that Iraq had declared that it would retreat and move its forces back to Iraq on the 5th of August- Islam’s birthday. What a wonderful birthday present- peace. But it was not to be; it would be over 7 months of darkness before Kuwait was liberated and Saddam’s forces vanquished. Islam, his mother and younger brother Safi moved to Dubai to stay with his aunt, in a bid to continue the British educational curriculum they had started in Kuwait. His aunt was married to a local- an Emirati man, Sileem who still carried remnants of the air of respectability and hospitality Bedouins are known for. The modernization of Dubai had not completely corrupted him yet.

The mother and two children stayed with her sister for three months- just enough time to enroll in a school- Cambridge High School. Then one December night, Islam, Safi and their mother found themselves on the street. The aunt had flown to Cairo and convinced her father [Islam’s grandfather] to sign over the deeds to Islam’s mother’s house. The grandfather had legal custody over the house to finalize all sorts of governmental fees and papers etc., as Islam’s mom was living and working in Kuwait. The aunt had argued that with the invasion, Islam’s dad’s fate was unknown, for all they know he could be dead, so how would her sister, Islam’s mom, ever repay the money she had borrowed over her 3 month stay. Hesitantly Islam’s grandfather signed away one daughter’s property to another daughter.

Once back from Cairo to Dubai, the aunt broke the news to Islam’s mom. The argument that followed saw the three: Islam, Safi and his mother out on the street with their bags. The first night they spent at the airport huddled on some chairs. Then come midday they checked into a cheap hotel, near Abdul Nasser Square in downtown Dubai. The ‘hotel’ was one of the venues known to cater to the prostitute industry Dubai had become renowned for. Safi was too young to understand, but even at 14 Islam and his mother could see what was happening, they noticed the dynamics, the sounds and the fights inherent to the flesh trade. The prostitute industry provided one form of ‘under the table’ release for all the population working to build this spectacular city. Drugs were punishable by death at times, so that was out of the question as a form of release. Paid-sex for the male work force was more palatable.

A few days after arriving at the hotel, Islam had found a classified in one of the local papers advertising a studio apartment that was up for rent. The 14 year old went and checked it out, and later met with the building owner- a local by the name of Saeed.

Saeed was a bit taken that Islam wanted to sign the contract in his own name, he questioned Islam’s motives and listened to what Islam had to say…

‘it’s only that I want to keep my mother’s name out of any legally binding documents’
‘yes, but you know that you’re not of legal age, so any papers that you would sign would be meaningless…’ pointed out Saeed.

‘Mr. Saeed, we’ve lost contact with my dad since the beginning of August with the invasion of Kuwait. We pray he is still alive, but all we have to go on is the accounts of people who had escaped Kuwait to Egypt… It’s been a month now since we’ve heard anything from people who fled Kuwait and may have seen him before they left… but I’ve got a feeling he’s ok’ … ‘in any case my mother has a good job as a private English tutor, so rent should not be a problem, but still I would rather not use her name for anything legally binding. I would never forgive myself if something were to happen to her as well…’

Saeed broke his silence by telling Islam that he and his mother were welcome to stay in the flat for as long as they like- free of charge- until they got news of his father being well and safe…’ Don’t worry, all will be ok’ said Saeed.

For nine months Saeed allowed the family to stay in his flat, and only when they got news of Islam’s dad being safe, and only once Islam’s dad was in Dubai himself, did he sit with Saeed and settle accounts and thank him for the warmth and hospitality he had extended to his stranded family.

It was through CNN that Islam came to know that his father was alive and that he had survived the months of the Iraqi invasion. The flat Saeed had rented out to the family was located close to Diafa Street, a main shopping street in Dubai boasting all major labels and franchises.

Islam had become friends with the owner of a video/CD/audio tape stor on Diafa street. The owner had once given Islam a gift, an audio tape that Islm was checking out- Pink Floyd’s ‘Delicate Sound of Thunder’. So Islam returned the favor by presenting the owner with a sketch he did in charcoal of Bob Marley. The owner hung the drawing in his store.

The owner now had sort of become friends with Islam, especially after learning about the story of Islam and his family. The owner would share little snapshots of Islam’s life whenever a customer would stop to admire the Marley portrait. One time when Islam passed by, the owner proposed that Islam make more sketches, as customers kept asking if the Marley sketch was up for sale. One customer had offered a thousand dirhams in an attempt to persuade the owner to let go of the drawing. Islam went home that day and started working on sketches of musicians. His first five sketches were: another Marley, a Jimi Hendrix with a sort of psychedelic background, Vanilla Ice whose ’91 ‘Ice Ice Baby’ became the first rap song to reach Billboard’s number one spot- a white boy nails the first number 1! The remaining two were Nuno Bettencourt, the guitarist from Extreme whose ‘More Than Words’ had become a romantic anthem for teenagers worldwide, and finally, Jon Bon Jovi whose Young Guns II soundtrack was also a popular item and growing in following. The drawings were a hit, and Islam had his first lucrative step in deducing consumer patterns and mentality. Some sold for as much as 900 dirhams, but 350- 500 Dhs. was the going rate. Islam used some of the money to help out his mom with finances, but really most of the money was spent on music CDs and tapes.

One time when Islam was delivering a new batch of sketches, he stood in front of one of the giant TV screens that now filled Dubai and were always playing CNN. Islam was waiting for some customers to finish paying for their CDs, so he could present his new collection to the owner and ask if customers were asking for anything in particular. During the Gulf War- the first Gulf War in ’91 that is- CNN had gone on 24-hour a day live transmission for the first time in its history to cover what was happening in Iraq, Kuwait and the world.

The past few days were intense. The giant screen was now showing ‘Scenes of Kuwait after Liberation’; Iraq’s army was being driven out of Kuwait- this was before news of the bombing of the Iraqis during retreat in Mitlaa and more and more footage of jubilation next to famous Kuwaiti landmarks was trickling out. Islam was glued to the screen hungry for any news that he may relay to his family.  In his hand he held a paper cup of cola from a burger franchise store called Hardeez. He sipped away quietly at his drink trying to absorb all the information being presented. And then he saw him. Dressed in a sweater he knew all too well and grey trousers, his hair was long down the back despite his bald patch, and he was holding a Kalashnikov casually while standing with a group of Egyptian army officers, huddled around him posing for the camera crew. It was Islam’s father. 

Islam put his nose to the oversized screen- yes it was his father. He was alive. The paper cup fell from his hand and cola splashed across the floor. And as people turned around to see what was happening Islam started calling out to the strangers in the store ‘hey, that’s my father!’ pointing to the figure on the screen. The snippet of footage now playing on the screen was titled ‘Egyptian Forces Celebrating after Liberation’. The strangers registered the bald man with long hair, who was out of uniform and standing with the officers as Islam’s dad and proceeded to shower Islam with hugs, kisses and congratulations. The store owner’s tears and warm embrace reminded Islam that he needed to let his family know and he ran across the street to the flat they were living in, and turned on the TV. He sat his mother and Safi in front of CNN, praying that the segment would play again soon.
His mother started to get impatient, but Islam would not hear of anyone getting up, even to use the bathroom, And then it came on- the same segment. Islam pointed to his dad. His mother and Safi at first did not recognize the long-haired man sporting the ‘Klash’, but in a few moments it dawned upon them and the tears came running, signaled the end of a hardship. There was no need for words, the tears were washing away the pain of separation and what they had been subjected through since, what they needed to survive.

In a few days they got in contact with the father; they were given a satellite patch to Kuwait, which required dialing something like 40 digits followed by the number in Kuwait. A couple of weeks later Islam’s dad came to visit in Dubai. It was magical. Seeing his father in the flesh after all the nightmares the family had survived carried an instant healing. His father showered them with kisses and love, then it was time to get down to business.

He paid Saeed the money the family owed him for the stay and thanked him for taking them in at such a time. Then he went to the aunt who had kicked out his family and negotiated the amount of money she wanted to sign back the deeds to his wife’s apartment. His wife’s sister demanded 5 fold the money that his wife had borrowed to give back the property- he gave it to her without a word. After debts were settled, he took out everyone that was nice to the family out to dinner, and took this as a chance to build lifelong bonds to some good people. This was the father’s last formality, and now it was time to settle. He took a deep breath, and out came the stories.

He spoke of the atrocities, the torture, killings, bodies hanging on cranes and lying in the streets. He spoke of how his colleague tried to shoot him when he interrupted him and walked in when this colleague was robbing the company safe. This one colleague, Islam remembered, would be picked up every day on the way to school, so his dad would then drive with him to work. He remembered how his father had reprimanded him for raising an objection to picking up this colleague because it meant that Islam had to give up the passenger seat to him, and squeeze in the back with the other children. He remembered how much his father had helped that man settle in and start up a life in Kuwait. He remembered that he never liked him. And yet this man did not hesitate to fire at his dad- yet thankfully the bullets missed. 

The dad spoke of getting involved with the Kuwaiti resistance; distributing food, petrol, information and Kuwaiti money- all against Iraqi occupation legislation, and punishable by death. He told of how he had smuggled the wounded resistance fighters across Kuwait and past the border into Saudi where they were picked up and taken to safety and medical attention. He also spoke of how cigarettes saved his life.

Islam’s father despised cigarettes. He always spoke to Islam as a child of how cigarettes had claimed the life of Islam’s grandfather. How the doctor had told him that his next pack would be the end of him, and yet in spite of his angina, his pain and his pleading children, he proceeded to smoke himself to death. Yet the cigarettes Islam’s father hated so much would eventually save his life…

Cigarettes offered him another chance to see his wife and children.

At a point in time towards the end of the invasion, the situation in Kuwait was getting intense. There were rumors that the Iraqis were setting the oil wells on fire. There were fears that they may release biological and chemical weapons if they were forced to exit Kuwait. During that time Islam’s father was very active with the Kuwaiti resistance. At that specific moment he was distributing anti-Iraqi flyers and other flyers with instructions on how to react in case of a biological or chemical weapon attack. Then he was stopped at a checkpoint…

The Iraqi soldier asked for his identification, driver’s license, car registration, and finally asked to search the car. The flyers were found underneath the spare tire in the trunk, and Islam’s father was whisked away to a school that was turned into a make do regional headquarters for the Iraqi forces. Islam’s father was processed quickly, and in no time he found himself stood on a chair, black bag over his head and a rope around his neck. Only then did the Iraqis care to fill in the blanks…

‘Name?’ said the soldier filling in the blank boxes in his big ledger..
‘Mohamed Safiyyudin Mohamed Mustafa’..
‘Nationality?’
‘Egyptian’
‘Occupation?’
‘General Manager of Al Babtain Corporation’ replied Islam’s dad

From behind the voice that had been asking him the questions thus far appeared another, more distant voice.. ‘Al Babtain? Isn’t that the company with the franchise on all the cigarettes?’ asked the distant voice
‘Yes’ replied Safiyyudin
‘Are there still cigarettes in the warehouses, do you know?’
‘Yes there are’
‘Do you know where the warehouses are, do you have keys?’
‘Yes I do’ said Islam’s father
‘Bring him down off that chair and let’s get some cigarettes’ decided the distant voice.. So for the love of tobacco, Islam’s father, Safiyyudin was spared an instant execution.

For months Kuwait would live in perpetual darkness. The oil fields the Iraqis set alight before leaving the small oil nation of Kuwait, cast clouds of soot over the country. So much so in fact that if one was to embark on a small journey to the supermarket in their car, they would wipe all the windscreens, windows and mirrors pristine clean to be able to get to their destination, then wipe it all again for the return trip home. Longer trips may require that you disembark and give it a second or third cleaning before reaching your destination, as the rate at which the soot settled over surfaces was too quick.

Islam, his mother and brother returned to Kuwait on the 1st of August- exactly one year after the invasion and just in time to celebrate Islam’s birthday on the 5th and that of his brother Safi on the 20th. The sky was dark grey at noon still. Since the middle of February till August it had gone through lighter shades starting with midnight black in February till the charcoal grey now displayed in the skies. But it was much better than before, everyone was saying. Everywhere children played, one could find remnants of a war. Sometimes it reminded Islam of collecting shells while walking along a shore. Anti-tank artillery, bullets, even used RPG launchers, as well as mines scattered around everywhere. The wildlife was damaged to a degree that would necessitate years, if not decades, to reverse the effects.

On his first trip to Kuwait’s mini-hypermarket in Salmiyyah- called Sultan Center, a place where Islam had visited previously on a school trip, the first thing that hit him was the mountain of gas masks piled in front of the cash registers as soon as you enter. Yes, a lot of people were wearing gas masks to minimize the effects of the oil residues of the burnt oil on their lungs. These specific ones boasted the flags of both Kuwait and the US on the nozzles on the sides.

Then came the stories. Everyone seemed to have a good story or two about the invasion or their escape.

Islam’s uncle was a pediatrician who had escaped the carnage and was one of the first doctors to return to Kuwait following the liberation. He spoke to the other adults of a ledger that was found in Al Jahra hospital.  This ledger was kept by the Iraqi troops during the invasion and detailed all the women they had raped; name, nationality, address, and mostsickening was the comments column where they detailed special information such as beauty marks like ‘big breasts’ or ‘a mole on her left ass cheek’, or even remarks to the effect of ‘gives good head’ or ‘loves it up the ass’.

Being an active member of the Kuwaiti resistance, everywhere Islam’s father Safiyyudin took his family, people seemed to know him and run to greet him with due respect. Islam felt his father was an urban warrior of sorts, a redeemer to the wronged. Islam was proud.

In Kuwait and in most of the Gulf, Arabs usually had a little annex to their houses where guests could be received- kind of a living room for guests. This annex was known as a diwaniyya. The diwaniyya is where the man of the family would receive his male friends. The luxuriousness of the means available to the guests spoke of the wealth and status of the host. This is where the males conversed, discussed ‘politics’, watched TV or played cards, while drinking tea or gahwa [coffee].

Mostly diwaniyyas consisted of cushions on the floor, with a cushioning propped against the wall so one’s back can rest, plus of course other cushions that were sometimes cylindrical in form that posed as armrests. This description is probably true of most diwaniyyas yet some diwaniyyas were so much more luxurious.

When the Emir of Kuwait returned to Kuwait following the liberation, he stayed in the diwaniyya of the Al Babtain family. The Emir’s palace Qasr El Seif, ‘The Seif Palace’ was ransacked and burned down during the first moments of the invasion, which prompted the royal family’s escape. The Emir’s brother, Sheikh Fahd Al Ahmed Al Sabah, who was head of the Olympic committee in Asia stayed behind and was gunned down at the hands of the Iraqi forces while attempting to defend the palace.

Kuwaitis had originally migrated from Nejd in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and that is how the Babtain family had almost royal statute in Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Amongst the tasks Islam’s father had performed, was the safe-keeping of the family’s holdings, estates and property during the invasion of Kuwait. A task that at many instances almost cost him his life. So when the Emir, Sheikh Jaber Al Sabah, returned to Kuwait and started receiving guests in the palatial Al Babtain diwaniyya, and when it was Islam’s father’s turn to shake the hand of the Emir and welcome him, congratulating him on his safe return to his homeland, someone whispered in the Emir’s right ear, telling the Emir of the heroism of Safiyyudin and how he had risked his life countless times with the resistance during the invasion. Standing next to the Emir were his advisors, the senior of Al Babtain family, then the consuls/ faires d’affaires to the US and Egyptian consulates. The Emir Sheikh Jaber Al Sabah looked to Islam’s dad and told him that Kuwait would be proud if he were to choose to become one of its citizens. Safiyyudin was being awarded the Kuwaiti citizenship by its legitimate ruler. The father simply thanked the Emir, replying that he was proud to be Egyptian. Out of the corner of his eye Safiyyudin saw the Egyptian consul beam with pride.

It would be more than a year later that Islam would meet with the Egyptian consul himself, while helping to raise aid for Egypt following its earthquake, to present the consul with the check of donations raised.

Exactly 9 months to the day after Safiyyudin came to visit the family in Dubai, Islam’s mother was giving birth to the latest addition to the family- Ahmed, a beautiful child with fair skin and blue eyes. At his birth on May 21st Islam was almost 15, Mohamed was almost 11. Their mother would refer to the trio as the 1/4 dozen gang, and in many ways they were one.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 

Arriving in Cairo in October of ’93 unprepared for all that lay ahead, meant that Islam took a crash course in failing, mostly himself; what once were to him everyday expectations all of a sudden became unrealistic unattainable dreams.

It was like something in Islam’s spirit snapped.

The choice of Cairo came as there was family from Islam’s mother’s side living there, where Islam initially shacked up in his grandfather’s place in Heliopolis. Islam’s father’s relatives who were in Egypt were a short train or bus ride away in Alexandria.
 
Islam’s grandfather’s house was next to the Meryland gardens, these gardens always carried a touch of magic whenever Islam remembers summers spent in Egypt in school break.

Before the gardens were gardens, before they were the paradisial-rainbow-painted gardens since the 70s, with their awkward miniature zoo, vast cloud-shaped ponds with ducks and pedal boats, along with that cult-type restaurant where the adults sometimes sat and enjoyed a quick beer and laughs. Before all that, the gardens were the races. In the 40s and 50s they were the racehorse tracks where all the betting and romantic scenes in every third Egyptian black and white flick were filmed. That was before Islam’s time. Now they’ve been invaded by franchise pubs and restaurants, and private discotheques.

Its amazing how pleasure is redefined within the span of a generation.

Well at least for his first year of university the Meryland was still a garden, but somehow it had lost its magic. The smiles that Islam had always admired in the people working there were gone. It was his first time back since the earthquake had hit, and in retrospect Islam might entertain that maybe after the earthquake somehow all of Egypt was changing.

The Meryland provided some comfort but not enough to make Islam stay indefinitely. A few months in after starting medical school, Islam decided to move out on his own to his mother’s place in Nasr City; 1 blanket, 1 pillow, 1 1100 P.M.P.O stereo Hi-Fi [the shit in his days],a kenwood 4way speaker on each side of aforementioned pillow, a ton of study books, 1 skeleton [first called bora’iy then, after its sex was reestablished, named after an ex so therefore, once again, better left unsaid], no bed, no fridge, no AC. or fan, [it was winter anyway]- besides who needs all that when you have music.

Islam was set to embark on rediscovering the real Egypt. Only once you begin to see you may end up wishing you’d never asked.

Islam was still getting used to the idea of cramming for a clinical exam and rushing after his umpteenth pot of coffee, shaky with caffeine and lack of sleep, to get drilled by some unforgiving professor who is critical of all that Islam [student i.d. number 650] stood for, as the aforementioned professor simply turns around to ask Islam’s friend and colleague Sherif Hawass [student i.d. number 651] to say hi to his dad as the professor demonstrates that they both got the full grade. Apparently being a doctor was not about what you know, but whose son/daughter you are perceived to be.

Don’t get me wrong Sherif was an ok guy, he kicked my ass in snooker, I kicked his in pool [well sometimes], and I was polite enough to laugh to his father’s self-same joke no matter how many times I’d heard it.

‘If a terrorist started an air-travel company, what would he call it? Air-habby [which means terrorist in Arabic]. His father Zahi Hawass, just happened to be the country’s leading authority on Egyptology, and now the most-recognized voice on the subject worldwide with his newfound love for Indiana Jones-style hats. But the truth of it was, as for anyone else who’s parents were a leading figure in medicine or matters of the state, they weren’t required to do much studying, especially not trivial things like clinical or practical exams, while the rest of us lesser mortals had to earn every half point.

At that point, to make matters worse I am told that the new head of the anatomy department had decided that a group of my fellow colleagues and I were not to be allowed to enter the Anatomy finals for 2nd year for not meeting the required attendance in clinical anatomy sections, a condition that automatically meant that we had to repeat the year.

Contrary to my classmates facing the same harsh judgment I go about the legal University channels to obtain a medical certificate of absentia. My class mates preferred to sue the staff of the faculty.

When I had then Dean of Cairo University, Dr. Mofeed Shihab’s, signed testimony stating that all my documents were in order along with his personal recommendation that I was to rightfully be allowed to sit my anatomy finals, I thought I had this thing buried. What I didn’t see coming was the deputy dean for student affairs of med school calling me in to his office immediately after presenting him with that recommendation obtained the day before my anatomy exam, to lay this epiphany on me explaining how my colleagues who were suing the faculty may have legal grounds if I were allowed to sit the exam and how we [students and faculty] were all responsible to never allow a ‘group of undisciplined kids’ [irresponsible few out of the whole], to scandalize the names of noted professors through courts, the papers, and the legal system.
Bottom line: We will not allow you to sit your anatomy final no matter what the Dean of Cairo University says.

The final blow was that as a reprimand for my esteemed colleagues who decided to sue, the ban from sitting the anatomy finals was extended to two years. This meant that neither my colleagues nor I could pass to 3rd year for another two years that is until we were allowed to sit our anatomy finals and hopefully pass them.

It was like something in me snapped.
 
I had two years to kill. So pretty soon a lot of the Egyptian recreational drugs were incorporated into my vocabulary.

Coda, Dihydro, roofies, cold medications, sedatives, pain killers and good ol’ Sinai born and bred Bango [hemp], all found their way at sometime or other to my bloodstream.

I started smoking it to kill time waiting for the day to finally arrive. What I wasn’t told was that once that day came I’d be too stoned to do anything about it.

It was like something had snapped.   

I lost track of time, lost my bearings in life. I started harboring the mindset that the government was trying to cultivate in the population.

We were no longer human beings, no longer ‘the people’, we became pawns on their chessboard, silent to any move or loss, always ready to serve where we were needed next, hoping to go through our days without any major events; simply because big happenings needed big people to see them through, and we were starting to feel pretty small.

The term for responsibility in Arabic is Mas’ouliyya, hence making a responsible person a Mas’oul, yet in  Arabic now it is taken to be more representative of the words ‘official’, ‘officer’, or ‘governmental position of power’.

Figuratively, and if in terms of speech only, us normal everyday people have had all responsibilities lifted off our backs by the government; I was no longer a mas’oul, for what in the grander scheme of things could I be responsible for.

In the past decade, even the tagline for the ministry of interior has been amended to fit the New Order of things; first it was ‘AlShorta fi khedmet alSha’ab’,[police is in the service of the people], to the more recent ‘AlShorta wa alSha’ab fi khedmet al Watan’ which translates to [the police and people serve ‘the nation’]- which apparently is no longer constituted by ‘the people’ alSha’ab.

Somehow in the past decade word came out that they exist simply to serve the state and not the other way round. Taken for granted, persecuted, terrorized, de-sanctified, ruled & governed by an uncaring, unforgiving, favoritist system- ‘the people’ have been made obsolete.

I started my second year of year 2 attending the anatomy sections that had gotten me banned in the first place, but soon enough discovered that attendance was not really an issue. The faculty’s gotten its way, nothing further was required. So it was going to be a couple of years of moseying about..

I spent my two years flitting from one group of people using drugs to another. Nothing changed except the cocktail of banned substances, even the faces were starting to look the same. At that point very few people and times seem noteworthy. Perpetual limbo feeding on a young nation is what it was, just wasted youth. And it was in every home.

At the time the AUC was getting smeared all across Egypt. And it wasn’t just bad press, yet truth be said a major part was the fact that these were the sons and daughters of those ‘favored’ by the system.

Most people from all walks of life may be had a couple of personal accounts detailing the lack of moral and ethic fiber in the student populous of The American University in Cairo [A.U.C], not to mention what they heard, or read in the papers.

The common denominator in all those stories was the students’ lack of any moral or ethical obligation or responsibility towards society, to their own education, to their elders, to their friends and families, and even less to themselves. With stories like ‘drug house raid, all users apprehended students at A.U.C.’ or something like ‘Drunken A.U.C. student kills family in collision’ all over the papers on a frequent basis, no wonder popular dissent for A.U.C. started to form.

They were labeled a bunch of rich and powerful brats, who did not hesitate to use the power of their parents and families to breach the safety of not-so-privileged classes of society, classes already crushed by an unsympathetic system, simply to have their way, to prove a point, or prove that they were important and in fact ‘could’.

Soon the media had turned the AUC student body to the embodiment of all that was wrong with society, demonizing their every move, and unjustly throwing their accusatory noose round the whole student population.

But were AUCians relatively and in truth any more corrupted than any other segment of Egyptian society? Or were they in part judged harshly due to the greater population’s inability to escape their cold-concrete realities and mimic the AUCians’ coveted ‘way of life’?

Another common belief at the time was that AUC was more a place to party than partake in any serious education, which is an untruth that the media managed to slide in, helped by the actions, or rather scandals, of that ‘irresponsible few out of a larger praise-worthy population’, which very importantly was both socially and politically aware. And furthermore politically active.

This of course posed a problem to the credibility of the eternal echo of ‘we-got-everything-running-100%-smoothly’ always stated by our very able government criticism of government policy was a matter of concern. They didn’t want politically-aware rich and powerful individuals to stand up for society’s rights and beliefs. In cases such as this, they come down and they come down hard. Nothing is to threaten the appearance of the ‘100%-smoothly’ policy.

For example, civil disobedient AUC students that sat in the middle of the street in peaceful protest were cordoned, as elements on the periphery were picked off with batons to the head, legs and body. This led to the body of protestors somehow doubling-up on itself as the Amn Markazi [Central Security] forces inched in. Most of the guys would get it worst on their backs, as they huddled to protect others who had been picked off in calculated ways; such as a baton to the face of some beautiful girl.

A sufficient number of students was later arrested, and the parents would have to come in to collect them, turning their political activism into a grounding-proper, or a reprimand or house arrest of sorts to most. That is if they weren’t already in hospital or tending to stitches, cuts, contusions and bruises.
 
‘100%-smoothly’.

That’s roughly when I come in. Or rather stopped on my way in.

 
When times are uncertain, we flock to what we know for the illusion of security. We seek fleeting pleasures, pain, food, drink, sex, spending money buying trips and things, securing promises- all in the hope that our assertiveness can be restored, that we may feel once more in control of our destinies.
I actually should be happy to be out of a job at the moment for it’s a chance that comes in the nick of time, as I’m leaving the dark cloud of heroin behind me. It’s an opportunity in and of itself to evolve uninhibited by the constraints of a 9-5, having to be someplace at a certain time, or cater to work that should otherwise occupy my mental, physical and eventually spiritual capacities. This is a rare chance, I am at liberty to simply exist in our giant planet and contemplate what to really do with my once again emerging consciousness, my renewing lust for life.

I remember vividly walking out of prison, and how the appreciation of every experience seemed to fall on virgin senses. Such that sunlight had never looked so bright; the way it falls on each leaf, or how it captures the colors and hues. It’s the same, when you’re leaving drugs.

I remember how people always fought, in prison vans and trucks, over the 4 existing [20x20cm, wired inside-and-out, barred] windows, to get a glimpse of the outside world [el malakiyya], before being swallowed up by the system or el meeri.

How the prisoners used to fight over tap-filled water bottles brought by visitor’s carrying food to some of the people inside. To the prisoners, tasting someone’s home in the water was like throwing a lifeline past the walls in a bid to not forget what the outside world was like, in the hopes that this connection may be the bridge that leads them back outside one day.

And as you leave the pre-digested, pre-consumed, re-circulating atmosphere of prison, there’s a breakthrough in your senses as well. For never has anything been so vibrant, so fresh, like a wild flower breaking through asphalt of a less-traveled road, reaching, growing to the sun.

Once you decide to leave heroin and reclaim your thoughts and perceptions, it helps to use a logic that develops step by step leading your way out of this maze of your addiction and build upon it day by day. And most importantly you need faith in yourself and in goodness. And in time, with enough steps you realize that you were never really caged and all the despair you once allowed to consume you was a waste. You could have walked out at any point in time.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
I was lead midst a crowd of other convictees with water blurring my sight, out of the courthouse across a little barren parking area for the police trucks and cars, judges and court administrators, to a wall with a doorway in its side. The mouth of the monster, so much closer than people could possibly imagine. Already I was about to be an unwilling party to feed that monster, another harmless wart on this mutative creature that governments use to drive fear into the hearts of its citizens.

‘6 years. 6 fuckin’ years’

That silent hum seemed to be in the air, with my eyes continuing to run with almost-oil like streams of tears as I was lead through the doorway, down a long corridor. The left side was all wall, the floor filled with potholes, the right side had a few old woodscrap shaped doors indicating rooms that looked like you don’t want to know what’s happened inside. Towards the very end of it another doorway led you past a metal bar door which swung open to reveal four big metal doors with small slits at eye-level. Then the sound of the soldier  sliding the large dark metal deadbolt and letting it drop slamming against the hollowed metal door.Clunk. Then the screeching moans of the door welcoming you as it parts it lips to receive you.

This was the habsakhana of the court of Bab el Khalq [jailhouse of Bab el Khalq court]. The expression bab el khalq, literally means the gateway to creation, habsakhana is the remnant Ottoman term, still in use in Egypt. Facing the door was a cramped doorless latrine, [I would later notice that such is the case with all prison layouts, as it revokes any privacy, which unchecked may lead to uncontrolled behavior, perhaps suicide or homosexuality, or unmonitored banned substance processing- simply a doorless latrine infront of the eye-slit in the metal door]. The more the holding space or cell caters to a changing collection of prisoners, the more likely it is that you will find the tap broken in the latrine, the pipe leaking just enough water to provide an amply constant stream to appease whatever you were to put in that shithole in the ground.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Al Hallaj said ‘Ana Al Haqq’ [‘I am The Truth’] and that was reason enough for his execution. The story goes that through his spiritual feats in his life, many accepted the statement. These feats continued through to his execution where not a sound was made as his limbs were severed piece by piece, yet when one of his students threw a flower at him, he screamed with agony that carried the pain of the world.

‘I am The Truth’

And what is truth but that which endures, that which remains past the push and pull of cause and effect and circumstance, that which transcends time. In such regards he was telling the truth for he remains to this day still as I write his name – Al Hallaj.

I heard today that because of a new law, a man called Mtawwa had been visited by the police, who came to his home and left with his Egyptian passport, in effect stripping him of his Egyptian Nationality- his only one.

Days ago while I was staying at a beach camp in Nuweiba in South Sinai, one of the Bedouin waiters came to show me a message he had received on his mobile phone from a newspaper wire service that sent you news bulletins throughout the day. The message simply said:
‘The Supreme Executive Court upholds decision to strip the Egyptian Nationality off any citizen married to an Israeli’

The number of those affected- close to five thousand.

Actually Mtawwa was not one of the five thousand. Mtawwa is a Bedouin that owns the Castle Beach camp in Ras Shitan in Nuweiba, on the Taba – Nuweiba strip of beachfront. He is not married to an Israeli, but he has a son from her.

His next door neighbor and cousin Ayach did not fare much better. He had a love story with an Israeli woman that blossomed two beautiful children Iliam and Samai, but he was not married to their mother Segal, though everyone treated her as his wife. She was Israeli of Jewish Moroccan descent. She married off the father of her children Ayach, to a friend of hers who is a Swiss national. He got a Swiss passport while she got free room and board at Ayach’s camp in a strip of paradise.

If you were seen to have close ties to an Israeli you were warned verbally at first, more extremely the Israeli ‘partner’ would receive a ‘black stamp’ barring them entry to Egypt.

Whether or not Mtawwa’s passport was taken ‘in truth’, or whether it was simply a rumor passed along by this friend, remains to be verified. What stands though, is the status quo between Egypt and Israel- as one Israeli friend puts it ‘the phony peace’.

In Camp David a ‘peace accord’ was signed following the ’73 war between Egypt and Israel. Israel was to return Sinai to Egypt, and Egypt was to uphold the peace and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Months before the transition of Sinai back to Egyptian power, Sadat, who had signed the peace agreement, was assassinated. His Successor Mubarak handled the transfer.

‘In Truth’ today’s borders stand at the ceasefire demarcations and not at the actual historic borders, though most Egyptians, Arabs and Israelis for that matter would not know it.

When Sadat signed for peace with Israel, Egypt was regarded as having ‘betrayed’ the rest of the Arab countries. And so since Camp David and up until Sadat’s assassination, Egypt was almost excommunicated by other Arabs. Some even closed down existing Egyptian embassies and for years Egyptian nationals residing in Arab countries managed all their paperwork and visas through the Sudanese embassies in Arab countries.

…….
I must have been four.

I remember the grownups huddling around with an overwhelming sense of urgency. Everyone was waiting for a certain someone and discussing something, asking each other if they’d ‘seen it’.. ‘Bullets flying’..’president’..’Sadat’ was all I could make out.

Then the person everyone was waiting for arrived, and my father ushered him to the VHS player. The man produced a video tape and my father propped it to play as everyone assumed a vantage point in front of our TV screen.

My mom was carrying my baby brother and as soon as the tape started playing everybody was quiet- even the baby. At first it seemed like a military ceremony, then Sadat was sat in the stands watching over a military procession.

RAT TAT TATTATTTATAAAAAAAAAAT

The camera was all over the place. Little blips of fire were flashing across the screen- ‘the bullets’. Seconds later, the camera was less frantic, but nonetheless shaky, swimming between imagery of dead and wounded strewn across the stands that were organized into rows and well structured only seconds earlier.

‘Fein El Rayyes?!’ [‘Where is the President?!’] the guys in military uniforms on the screen were screaming at each other.

Then his body was found.

…….

The Head of The Peoples’ Assembly, Sufi Abu Taleb, automatically became president until Vice-President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak was sworn in as Egypt’s 3rd president in 1981.

After assuming the reins of power and overseeing the transfer of Sinai back to Egyptian rule, Mubarak started lobbying, trying to fix relations between Egypt and the other Arab countries.

In months Egypt was seen as ‘less of a traitor’ amongst the other Arab countries, and Egyptian embassies started popping out in all the Arab countries to care for Egyptian citizens- and so relations were normalized. ‘In Truth’ nothing much had changed in Egypt’s ties to Israel, or in the way Egyptians thought and reacted. No drastic change had occurred overnight. Yet the media and politics were manipulated to convince Arab populations that ‘the betrayal’ was put to the ground with Sadat’s passing.

For decades there was tension between the Arabs and Jews. This non-acceptance translated to the minority, the Jews, apparently being prosecuted all over the Arab world. This started the trickling of Jews to Palestine. Iraqi Jews say it started to get bad in the 20s, and then again in the 40s and 50s and also in Morocco, Yemen, Egypt and other countries, leading up to the Belfor promise and the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948.

Abdul Nasser was somewhat of an idealist. He created an ‘Arab Dream’ as he came to power by overthrowing King Farouq in 1951, only a few years after the declaration of the state of Israel. Nasser’s ‘Arab Dream’ played on nationalization of sovereign wealths, such as the Suez Canal, oil, crops and industries, but in part it also played on the rising Arab sentiment against the prosecution of Palestinians at the hands of the Jews. This led to the war of ’67, where Egypt lost Sinai to Israel. Months later Nasser passed away himself.

What Nasser did was inspirational for the rest of Arabia. He showed Arabs that he, and hence they, could step out of the cage they had always known, be it an unjust monarchy and its elitist structure, a colonial power, or simply to build something that works without being dictated by a blonde, blue-eyed ‘other’. Yet mostly that flame of clarity faded with his death.

Sadat was more of a strategist. He forged alliances that saw new doors open up between Egypt and other countries; in trade, in political and defensive affiliations, and military prowess. Many blame him for his ‘open door’ policy that numbed national industries, instituted by Nasser, but which were not yet sufficiently developed to compete with international goods that the open door policy invited in. But most of all, he is blamed for giving Egyptians the virus of ‘materialism’. In his reign everyone was taught to buy, buy, buy. People that had existed perfectly before found themselves in a race to provide for their families: TVs, VCRs, and other ‘stuff’ that became a way of defining ‘who you are’ and ‘how respectable’ you are deemed by society. Things became the prerequisite to proving that you exist and are ‘In Truth’ ‘Alive’ 3ayesh ya3ni.

Through a well developed media industry that persisted since the days of monarchy and the revolution, Egyptians under Sadat set the beam for living standards, of perceived pleasure that proved you were ‘someone’, and soon Arab audiences followed. Once Arabia had its taste of materialism, there was no going back. With all the advertisers shouting at Arabs their spectrum of ‘new and improved’ goods that should define the ‘modern, cultured Arab’, Arabs were locked into the rat race for bigger, newer, shinier. And all the qualities that defined their essence began to fade, leaving a discontented materialism grey.

But my Israeli friend that called this a ‘phony peace’ was speaking only in the context of how much Israel is recognized by Egypt and the Arabs. She did not stop to think that Israel isn’t helping the peace by its non-acceptance of the Palestinians, the atrocities witnessed by the world in Gaza, Sabra and Chatilla, and other milestones in the Zionist agenda. Yet sadly, with the atrocities being a routine regimen of any news roundup, people have become desensitized to the pain and suffering, disconnecting themselves by either reacting at a non-commital level, or avoiding such images or news completely. Our silence is compliance and acceptance to this modern day coliseum at the push of a remote control button.

Though Arab countries try to feed its populations a fear of Israel, which at times is simply referred to as El ‘Addu [the enemy], these countries continue to honor diplomatic and trade ties with Israel. Gas is sent from Egypt to Israel for pennies per cubic meter, at a time where a gas canister in Cairo reaches 70 LE and more [almost 15 USD]. Water is sent to Israel from the Jordan river. Oil and gas lately from Qatar.

Yet Arab state media always finds a way of brushing over, justifying, obscuring, manipulating the truth to seem in line with the policies voiced to the people and their ‘Arab Dream’. And there is a version of each event for every class of clearance from high up in government to the lowliest of the poor; each with a different spin that is intended to fill the listener with a sense of purpose and destiny.

There is money in war and the weapons trade. There is also money in constructions that rebuild a place after being bombed to bits by SMART weapons.

Governments have learned to rule their citizens through fear; fear of the ‘other’- be it Israel or any entity that is not politically correct, fear of bird flu, swine flu, mad cow, fear of poverty, or not having enough to take care of your own, or put your children through school, the fear of doing or saying something ‘wrong’ and being prosecuted and tortured. All this fear helps shape us and others to a form and direction more easily manipulated. It has almost become as if we need that daily dose of fear to feel that everything is as it should be in the world.

So when the TV tells you to get scared.. get scared, when it tells you that it’s OK now, the danger has passed..then you can close your eyes and go to sleep. In truth? Who knows what the truth is?
…….
‘Islam is that you?!’ asked one of the inmates pointing to a page in the magazine he was holding. Perplexed Islam extends his hand towards the magazine as the dark-skinned man from Luxor hands it over.

‘It sounds a little like your story..and the initials match your name..’

The magazine is one that Islam knows, Rosa Al Yousef; it was started out in the 30s by a starlet in the movie business to promote herself, her friends, as well as the movies she produced. The magazine grew a following by covering Egyptian events in a lighthearted manner and less formal style that contrasted the stark monotone depictions of state-owned media.

It was 1999 and Rosa – the star who had awarded her name to the publication, was long gone.

Islam glanced at the page in question; it was the first page of a 7-page feature. On that first page was Islam’s passport photo with the eyes stricken out with a thick black line, the title read ‘Medical student dealing drugs to the American University’. Islam flipped through the pages.

‘How can someone write a 7-page feature about me when they’ve never seen or talked to me, or having even stopped to ask my name?’ thought Islam out loud.

Feeling a little intimidated and half-expecting what is to come he started reading as the majority of inmates turned their focus to him while upholding the silence. They saw Islam laugh out loud only lines into the article- the absurdity of the claims of the author of the article caused Islam to laugh uncontrollably. But then the laughter died down and they noticed Islam’s expression change..the smile was still there but it had dampened, frozen in mid expression and his eyes were streaming.

Despite the laughable lines of the author, Islam couldn’t help but feel the sting of the author’s false accusations. Every other sentence Islam remembered that this all-bad, fictional character that is responsible for every ill, is in fact supposed to be him, and that was enough for his eyes to swell up once more. The author who had never met Islam or even spoke to him over the phone felt the need to ‘beef-up’ his description of this ‘real-life’ character to warrant a 7-page report on the world of this global criminal- without a single fact.

The author of the article quoted the falsified police report where the officer brilliantly creates pages of ridiculous confessions, on Islam’s behalf, that boast of how the officer interrupted Islam in the middle of a deal.

What happened was that basically the cop took the pieces and tried to fit them in a ‘plausible story line’; 20 LE, medical student, some weed. Then for added shock value benefit the officer picked up some syringes from one of the bathrooms and threw in some more weed that had been confiscated from the university students to emphasize and in his opinion, give authenticity to his story.

So the 20 LE in Islam’s pocket became his sole income for the day by selling two ten LE bags [when no 10 LE bags were found in his possession]. Then the cop made up a whole side of the story based on Islam’s medical student identity card, where Islam ‘confesses’ to selling drugs to the students and offering to ‘safely’ inject them with any drug of their choice as he was a soon-to be doctor. The cop had no idea that in universities and hospitals it was the nurses who administered all the injections.
This behavior of the officer was a rising trend since Habib El Adli, the then new minister of interior who still holds that office, had instated a new legislation to promote officers based on the number of cases, and especially ‘high-profile’, media-popular cases, that they busted. This caused a lot of officers to frame people, and more-so it got officers to attempt to exaggerate any small bust they came across, to inch them closer to the next promotion. Habib El Adli was the head of security in Luxor when terrorists attacked the temple in Karnak and killed many tourists. The Minister of Interior, El Alfi, was removed from his position following this sad incident and Habib El Adli took his place. 

Throughout the 7 pages Islam fluctuated between laughter and sobs, tears streaming down the whole time. The inmates felt his pain but were at a loss as to how they could help.  They had come to know Islam. He tried to be helpful, modest and giving, sharing what little he had not out of fear but out of conviction. He had talked to them of world politics, and the ways of men and powers, he tried to show them that they had lost their ability to see, and therefore dream, of another way. He had wanted good things for them and shared good things with them.

He had taught them that they were human beings, with values, value and rights, he spoke of the structure that governs them and him, and he spoke with a tone that could not mask his surprise at how much more unjust it was than he could have possibly imagined. He spoke of the choices they had if they chose to believe in themselves and their ability to create something that brings goodness where there was nothing, or only destruction before.

Now they watched him suffer in silence at the injustice of it all- a journalist that had never known or met him, feeling justified pouring out 7 pages of lies about him, and propagating someone else’s lies for thousands and millions to consume. Islam had become a kharouf, the proverbial lamb sacrificed to the media gods so that we can have the necessary dose of self-righteous indignation needed to allow us to fall asleep knowing that the world is as it is.

They had read the article, those who knew how to read, and those who did not listened to the man from Luxor read the 7 pages out loud, before he showed the magazine to Islam. They themselves had ‘consumed’ Islam as a media lamb, before realizing how they contributed. And Islam cried as he consumed himself.

They waited until Islam finished before they rang out with promises to have the journalist dealt with, but Islam simply brushed such notions aside, saying ‘may God forgive him and us’

‘Can I keep this?’ Islam said after a long pause.
‘Of course’ said the inmate from Luxor, relieved to find something he could contribute.
‘Hey, God is great’ said another inmate ‘it’ll be just fine, God will not forget about you or us’ he continued placing his hands on the sides of Islam’s shoulders and rubbing them as a mother would to help her child forget the pain of a fall.
‘Yes, it’ll be just fine’ echoed Islam.

In the first stages of being processed after one receives a sentence, prisoners are taken to Al Khalifa precinct where your papers are processed and you are printed; fingers, hands and feet. Then you are taken to a warehouse type holding area with two cubicles designated as bathrooms, with taps and soda bottles sliced at the top third as make do pitchers, and two holes in the ground.  People are already lined up inside and sitting on the wall separating both cubicles out of lack of space. So much so that one would have to usher people out if he needed a cubicle to do his thing or shower- the people on thewal stayed.

There are numerous areas for lock in transition prison or Khalifa precinct. Almost any medium to large space has been transformed to a lock up area there. And in each, people are piled up purposely on top of each other, that there is hardly enough room to sit let alone sleep or lie down. There would be empty cells available, but only one would be used to accommodate the high-rollers, only one- for even they weren’t allowed to get too comfortable. Comfortable enough to have to pay for the privilege but never too comfy.

This was a soft introduction- a buffer zone to prepare you for jail. Concepts were introduced but not implemented as harshly. Your sleeping space was minimized to close to the 30 centimeters you would encounter in jail. You got introduced to the concept of paying for every comfort. And most importantly you got your first whiff of the prisoner hierarchy and the unspoken code that directed actions and reactions inside.

You passed by Khalifa on your way in and on your way out, or if you were to be transported to another governorate. On your way in, you stayed in Khalifa for a couple of days to one week being processed before being sent to Isti’naaf prison, which in turn was considered ‘Prison Central’. People arrived there before being shipped to whatever prison anywhere in Egypt.

On your way out you are released from prison to also arrive at Khalifa precinct, where you embraced a short to medium stay before being shipped to the precinct where your cri me was committed and from there and after another stay, to the precinct under whose jurisdiction you reside.

One morning the cell door opens and you have a few seconds to organize yourself and your belongings before you are taken away to Isti’naaf prison. Once there you disembark the prison truck, as you are ushered on with canes so you start running carrying your bag and blankets while handcuffed to another, through corridors of concrete with no ceiling which end at a large black metal gate with a door carved out of one of the sides of the gate, close to the hinges. The large gates are opened  to allow trucks and big crowds to enter the prison. Then there is a small door that is cut out of one of the 2 sides of the big gate, this small door allows only one person through and is used as an entry and exit point for officers, detectives, infantrymen and people working in the prison.

Once you and your fellow inductees pass through the large gates you are sat in rows, with your bags and blankets placed before you. The slightest indication that of any of the new jail birds not being in a state of total submission to his new masters, the people running this prison, is seen as an invitation to be broken in.  Breaking in a new free spirit and making an example of them has been known to have preventive powers, so that no others in the group of new prisoners gets any bright ideas.

Lined in rows, one by one you are called out to the front, stripped to your boxers or briefs, checked for distinguishing marks; scars, tattoos, while the clothes you are wearing are searched with extreme prejudice. Besides the normal fears of a prisoner smuggling narcotics in, the new obsession of officers in prisons is the fear of somebody smuggling in a SIM card and parts of a cellular phone, thus enabling them to place calls from inside the prison walls.
 

…….
In the late 90s The Economist had managed to gain footage and photographs of torture during an inspection of a prison in Tura. An old man, Mustafa, who was one of the two sole traders of Toyota in Egypt, was busted with a few kilos of cocaine, 7 I think he’d told me. He had just supplied the police and the ministry of interior with a shipment of Hilux pickups, which were then covered with a tarp roof to form the famous ‘buks’ the police use to collect suspects.

In spite of appearances, the 7 kilos this businessman had on him were for personal use. He usually went through many grams in the course of his day and jubilant nights. He went to pick up the suitcase from someone who had arrived from Europe and while he was starting his car with the bag in the back seat all hell came raining down and the arrest was made.

At DEA headquarters, Mustafa was still high off his head and missed an opportunity to buy his way out. The new top officer had insisted that they knew each other from before, and perhaps at the cost of a few new Toyotas, Mustafa could have remained free and enjoying the fruits of his business ventures.

To make short of a long story, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

While he was still in a prison in Tura, he had himself sorted. He had a water pipe to smoke the cocaine that was smuggled to him inside. And most importantly, he had a mobile phone. The warden gave him a special cell, and they arranged for a thug that didn’t have much to both protect and serve him; cook his food, clean his clothes, and make sure no one stepped on his toes.

One day the warden came running to tell Mustafa that Mustafa needed to get rid of his mobile phone and stash of cocaine- the Department of Prisons had gotten word of calls being made from inside the prison walls and a surprise inspection was scheduled for the next morning to uncover the phones in the possession of prisoners, and exactly which prisoners had them. Any drugs or illegal things found in the process would be a plus.

Mustafa and his helper busied themselves with destroying the mobile phone and getting rid of anything illegal they had in their cell. And after a long night of straight shooting on his glass pipe, Mustafa destroyed his water pipe as well, along with any remaining cocaine.

True to their word, come morning, the prison was swarmed with forces looking for phones, SIM cards and anything else that was not permitted.  Within minutes the insides of the prison were turned out. Officers, soldiers in riot gear, dogs were slicing through the prisoner population like a knife through butter, while those entrusted with looking for the phones were going through everything with a fine-toothed comb. Prisoners were asked to carry one another on their shoulders and run on the spot while being caned and their items searched. Whatever you did, you didn’t dare say no to these guys, or even stop whatever they ordered you to do to take a breather. The last thing you wanted was to be singled out by these guys or become the focus of their undivided attention. They could very simply let the dogs have their way with you.

Like anything in Egypt there was a two tier system; before all hell broke loose, an ‘officer’ in a smart jacket picked up the VIPs [Very Important Prisoners] from their holding cells and escorted them to the top level of the prison- to avoid being run down by mistake. One of those prisoners bestowed with exceptional status was Mustafa. The ‘officer’ took these eight or so prisoners to the top level to watch the circus below. Then he instructed them not to breathe a word of anything they see. They first thought he was talking of the torture happening two levels down…

In moments the officer took out a small camera from his breast pocket and adjusted the settings then perched it on one of the many steel railings, pointing it at the carnage below. Prisoners stripped and beaten, fists flying, dogs, batons, bones breaking, electric sticks, canes, kicks, and prisoners’ cries for mercy.

Mustafa said he never thought he’d hear such hardened criminals wail like women. And so many of them.

A few weeks later the images appeared in The Economist and the magazine was banned in Egypt for quite some time. To the point where the ad campaign for The Economist boasted that it was “so good that it was banned in Egypt”. Ever since, the Department of Prisons had become over-sensitized to mobile phones; they never wanted anything that happened inside to ever make its way outside.
…….
 
After searching your clothes, you may get singled out for a personal search which may involve asking you to take a shit in front of an officer, or to place a finger down your throat and throw up. All just to check that nothing illegal was hidden here or there. Of course your humanity could be respected and your dignity preserved, and you could just be taken for an X-ray  to confirm whether or not you were carrying- but that would require a totally different mindset and defy the purpose of the exercise- breaking you. And the others.

Once the preliminary search is over in front of the officers’ office next to the prison gates, the new prisoners in Isti’naaf are then allowed into the prison building itself. Isti’naaf prison is unique in the fact that part of the main building and inside the mosque is a mausoleum built for one of the descendants of the prophet Mohamed PBUH. Her name is El Sayyida Safiyya, or like the prisoners have come to call her- Sheikha Safiyya. She is a direct descendant of Al Hussein Ibn Ali [the prophet’s grandson]. Ali was adopted by the prophet and later he married him to his daughter Fatima which then gave birth to Al Hassan and Al Hussein. At the mausoleum for Al Sayyida Safiyya, you’ll find many prisoners asking her to help out, beseeching her to put in a good word for them with God, that their incarceration or injustice be lifted.

Inside Isti’naaf’s ground level you are lined in rows once again, while you wait to be called out so your photo can be taken. Three prisoners are lined next to each other on the wall, each holding a little piece of blackboard with their names and prisoner number chalked out. One picture is taken for every three, and later cut into three to save on film.

On the ground level, it is normal to see a prisoner tied to one of the circular columns and being whipped across the soles with a car engine conveyor belt. Whether or not it will stop the guy tied to the column seems likely, but one thing it sure does is dissuade the new comers lined up in rows of ever developing an attitude or a personality for that matter, save that of a foot mat to the people running the prison.

On the ground level is also the infamous tabliyya, which in Arabic refers to a wooden table with short legs usually used for meals while sat on the ground. But tabliyya is also the name given to the wooden platform with a trap door where executions are carried out. A bag is placed over the head of the sentenced, followed by the noose and then the trap door is released. The bones in the neck break, the hyoid and perhaps cervical vertebrae, fracture at the snap of the rope tightening around the neck wringing it, and they are left hanging. When they are brought down the ankles are slit to drain the blood and any life left in a process called ‘arqabba- basically slitting the ankle vessels.

Those on deathrow were dressed in red overalls- seems to have been decided at an international prison department fashion convention. They patrol the floor holding their cells for the brief time they are allowed each day in shifts, so not much chance of interaction is available. Any object that could be used to hang/ injure themselves, or commit suicide or harm someone else on death row were strictly screened and confiscated. They were the living dead walking in red forecasting the fire and brimstone society has sentenced them to. And being watched as they went.

Every day spent on death row was calculated as two days in the overall total of days spent in incarceration. So on the slim chance of your sentence being eased down from execution to a prison term; every year spent in red overalls counts for two. One can only imagine the personal battle of attempting to allow yourself to believe in the possibility of a change of verdict, yet oddly enough one does meet such people inside. But infinitely less are those who’s verdicts are overturned while serving terms and are freed.

While sitting in these rows, one by one you are called out and the details of your prison ticket, your identification card inside, are filled out on the respective blank spaces; name, prisoner number,  date of birth, date of beginning of sentence, duration, date of release or end of sentence, aliases, cell number and a place for the photo. Comments and warnings went on the back and as Islam would later learn highlighted in red next to the top close to your photo. After all prisoners in all the rows are detailed, you are marched into your first taste of prison, a holding space behind a cell door at the far left end of the ground level, a whole newest of rules apply here- welcome to the Iraad ‘the incoming’.

The iraad’s iron door swings open to reveal a wall of flesh. There are so many prisoners inside that you cannot fathom that the 30 or so prisoners that have just been searched and photographed could be added to the mix. This equation of physics is soon solved by a few whips on your back and somehow to escape the lashing you find yourself trampling your way into the cell in a manner that defies the laws of physics regarding how two objects can occupy the same space.

Inside a sea of faces and flesh greets you; of every color and creed save European. Yet every face holds a common blank hopeless stare that implies some sort of sorrow at being here and a sorrow for what you are about to experience.

Some of the zombies are sat, but most are stood for lack of space. Once you enter this oversized cell you find it extends a little to the left and a fair bit to the right. Those whose words are law inside this cell are sat to the left of the door. Those who have become somewhat established and older tenants are sat on the right. Facing the cell door is a doorway that leads to another larger room also filled with people with the same malnourished look.

This second room’s left wall holds another doorway to another smaller room. This 3rd room is the most crowded of the three and once again holds two cubicles, designated as bathrooms, separated by a brick wall in between. It is so crowded in this 3rd room that prisoners are asleep inside the bathrooms and on the 10 foot wall separating both shitholes. This 3rd room was the proverbial ‘belly of the beast’. The closer you got to it the more crowded and hopeless things became. Here almost everyone was stood, except for a crowd of ten to the right of the doorway leading in from room 2.

The most prominent figure in those 10 sat crushing pills and sniffing them, rolling joints of weed and more joints of a mix of weed and the crushed pills. He ordered everyone around and gave the others sat in the 10 the joints to pass around after he was done smoking. After a few pills and joints, it was time to address the 30 or so prisoners that had just embraced the already filled room 3…

‘So you want to sleep?’ he asked rhetorically

The prisoners looked at each other and then at the room already filled with standing people with the shortage of space, they looked at the bathrooms with people spilling out of them, they looked at the wall between the bathrooms already populated with 4 prisoners, between perched and lying down on their side. Then the new prisoners looked back at him questioningly.

He took that look to be his confirmation and started pushing his way through the standing crowd…

‘You.. there, and you.. there’ he started pointing people to imaginary spots of space- probably borne of the pills and joints. His half-crazed look and his bulging neck veins prompted people to try and follow his almost impossible orders, by moving their bodies in the general direction he’d pointed out. Until one prisoner questioned him…

A young Sudanese man, with barely room to stand, questioned him half-heartedly, ‘where ya zol?!’ [where man?!]. The slim Sudanese was answered with a fist flying into his neck. The crazed guy started beating him up, followed by the people the Sudanes fell over while trying to escape this retribution. Within seconds the frustration of everyone standing beside this young man found its way to him in the form of blows to his face and body, for moments he had become everyone’s punching bag, simply for questioning the laws of how two objects can occupy the same space. In actual fact most of the blows missed the Sudanese and landed in his vicinity hitting innocent bystanders. It wasn’t really the Sudanese they were hitting and they knew it, but they kept on till they were tired.

That first night everyone found their hypothetical points in space and mostly fell asleep standing. There were those that hugged each other and placed their foreheads on each other’s shoulders. Others had their backs to each with the backs of their heads on each other’s shoulders. Some alternated, one sleeping while the other stayed up. And some tried to stay up and just collapsed on everybody else at some point.

The next day an infantryman came fighting his way in using a cane all the way inside to room 3. He lashed at a few in room 3 designating them volunteers and ordered them to follow him. Once outside he was waiting for them with his cane, once again letting them know who’s word was law, and directing the traffic of inmates he had chosen from room 3 in the direction of outside. Of those picked were Ashraf and Islam. The shawish tried to strike at Islam with his cane twice, and twice Ashraf leaped to intercept such that the blows fell on Ashraf’s shoulder. The baffled shawish ushered them on ahead.

Ashraf was a thug born and raised in Abdeen. He thought he would lose his hand which had grown to three times its natural size, but Islam had utilized his medical background and doctored the forming abscess and the hand to health. They had sat and talked on a few occasions and Islam had tried to explain to Ashraf that he didn’t necessarily need to terrorize people with his power, even if these people assumed that Ashraf would, simply by judging his looks and his giant body filled with scars. Ashraf had asked Islam about a few things he didn’t quite get with world events and politics in Egypt, and Islam had tried to explain to the best of his ability. They had become ‘friends’ or as friendly as one can get in a situation like this, where at any one moment fates were transformed, and your ride could be directed to a completely different direction.

Ashraf and Islam were both assigned to moving a mountain of trash from one end of the yard to the opposite end. A couple of hours of work later, they were each given a disc of bread and some cheese. They were also given some free time to walk around in the yard, or sit in the mosque before being rounded up again and led back inside to the iraad.

Once back inside, the hustles began, but seeing how closely the big Ashraf stuck to Islam, they approached with extreme caution trying to decipher what kind of connection bound the two.

The man with the bulging neck veins approached Islam a couple of minutes after he and Ashraf returned to room 3 of the iraad…
‘You want some proper sleeping space?’
‘How much?’ interjected Ashraf before Islam could even register that the question was directed at him.
‘5 packs..’ said the man with bloodshot eyes.

This man ruling room 3 was called Sami, and as demonstrated the night before with the little incident involving the young Sudanese, he didn’t take no for an answer.

Ashraf looked at Islam in a way that asked if Islam wanted to pay the 5 packets of cigarettes. Islam could afford it at that point in time and so he nodded his approval. He wanted to try one of the comforts this place had to offer. Besides, they had no idea how long they had to stay here.

It would be another 5 days before the mass exodus of prisoners leaving that cell on the far left end of the ground level, before the iraad was emptied. These hundreds of inmates would each be assigned a new cell on another level of the prison. The prisoners swarmed out of the cell door to automatically assimilate into rows. They had been taught well- none had forgotten the cane in the shawish’s hand or the man tied to the circular column.

Islam was assigned to one cell on level 3- cell 5/3. Ashraf was taken to level 2. This would be the last they would see of each other.

Over the course of an hour and a bit, the inmates were organized into groups of 2 to 7 that were then assigned a cell and led to it using the stairs. The stairwell to these stairs was used as an open- air garbage shaft, so the prisoners going up the stairs to their new respective quarters had to be careful not to allow anything valuable to hang over the side or risk it receiving a smelly surprise.

The stairs were bounded on the north side by a wall with a pattern formed out of interrupted or missing bricks. Through these reliefs in that side you could see, even in the dark, how close the balconies to the buildings facing the prison were.

During the day, this stairway was a place to be. You actually bribed the shawishs to be able to stay on the staircase. Thanks to the missing bricks and the proximity of the balconies opposite the prison, the prisoners’ families rented out the balconies from the people in those apartments to meet with their jailed kin. For 20 LE – 50 LE you got use of the balcony for an hour or so, and on the other side the prisoner would pay 1-2 packs of cigarettes for access to the staircase.

At a decided hour both the prisoner on the staircase and those visiting him in one of the balconies would meet. This was a loophole invented by the prisoners. The Prison Authority allowed prisoners 2 visits a month, one every 15 days and visits usually lasted anywhere from 10-25 minutes. Staircase visits beat the system, in the sense that you could stay chatting with visitors for up to 3 hours and if necessary you could do it every day.

Levels 2 and 3 consisted of cells that were more like wards. They were spacious, with high ceilings, and bounded by bars from floor to ceiling. In the side with the bars was the actual door to the cell where everyone entered and exited. Facing the cell door were 2 elevated cubicles- the bathrooms/ shower stalls. Starting from the end with the bars people laid their blankets on the floor, folding them meticulously one blanket on top of another. Once done they could then lay their body on their blankets. Blankets and bodies lay side by side, border to border. Islam was starting to understand that one kept to the borders of his blanket space to avoid trouble, and even then trouble could trickle in, but definitely honoring your borders and respecting the borders of those near you saved you a world of trouble.

The folded blankets and bodies formed a U-shape, with an island in the middle to allow for people to walk to and around their respective blankets. All you owned inside had to exist within the borders of your blanket. Isti’naaf being somewhat a transit prison, inmates were less die hard about a couple of centimeters here or there. In big-boys maximum security prisons, known as Liman, blood would be spilled over a few millimeters in dispute. Yet even here, the location of where you slept still fell to a hierarchical system of status inside these walls.

Those that were ‘least valued’, usually the newest to enter a cell, would get the spots near the bathrooms and the spots where its more likely to get trampled on, like near the cell door. The longer you stayed in a cell, or the bigger your sentence was, the more claim you had to a relatively ‘comfortable’ spot.

A young kid in cell 5/3 was in charge of allocating sleeping space, in addition to other hustles he could get away with, as Sami had done in the iraad. His name was Gahawi. He straight away made his way to the group of 5 that Islam had entered amongst. Straight away he started giving orders left, right and center, even before the shawish had a chance to close the door to the cell made of iron bars.

‘Hey shawish, get us a bottle of tea.. –any of you guys want a glass of tea.. you ? .. you? ..make it 2 bottles then’ said Gahawi in one seamless spurt, alternating his gaze between the shawish and prisoners, though he was not really speaking to the shawish or the prisoners; he was establishing precedent, an order. And there you had it, Gahawi had already found an ‘in’ to 2 of the 5 prisoners that had just entered his cell.

In a matter of minutes each of the 5 had an assigned spot and thus knew where they stood in the hierarchy of those sleeping in the cell. 3 of the 5 slept closest to the bathrooms. Islam and another were afforded places close to Gahawi. Sat on their newly assigned spaces, Islam and his fellow prisoner sat trying to relax and absorb all they had been trough thus far. And when they felt safe enough they fell off to sleep.

Islam awoke to being trampled in the midst of two inmates fighting. The two had grappled and tried to throw each other off balance not caring who or what they landed on.As the two stepped on a sleeping Islam, Gahawi flew and landed with his elbow to the side of one fighter’s face knocking him straight into the chest of the other he’d been fighting with. The second thrown by the unexpected weight of a head crashing into his solar plexus misplaced his footing as he fell backwards and both quarrelers fell into a bunch of people half sat up…

‘Bas yaw lad el mtnaka!’ [‘Enough of this you motherfuckers!’]

The people that the fighters had trampled soon kicked the fighters back into their respective holes, and all was quiet once more.

‘You..’ called one big guy at Islam who was still trying to make sense of what had happened.. ‘You..’ he called again ‘what’s your name?’

‘Islam’ croaked the still confused young man.

‘Where are you from?’ he pursued

‘Heliopolis’..answered Islam slowly lifting his head to the source of the questions, he was still working on his focus. It seemed that there was an identical replica of the giant asking the questions sat on his right. Twins.

The names were Mohamed and Ibrahim, and collectively they had the alias ‘el taw’aam’ [the twins]. The 2 giants had a younger brother,Mustafa- also nicknamed el taw’aam, though he was smaller and pretty slim.

Mohamed and Ibrahim called Islam over to the blankets they were sat on, which covered a fair bit more of floor space than any other 2 inmates’ space combined.

As soon as Islam was sat in front of them Ibrahim shoved a plate with a mountain of white powder and 6 thick lines already architectured…

‘What’s this?’ asked Islam

‘Abu Saliba’ replied Ibrahim. Better known as Rohypnol [chemical name- flunitrazepam]. This was the most in-demand pill with people abusing medication and illegal substances. It was the priciest of sedatives and hypnotics, and was produced by Roche Pharmaceuticals- the wonder company that gave the world TAMIFLU, the bird flu & swine flu vaccine, amongst countless other indispensable products.

Islam took two lines and passed the plate to the other twin..’Where are you guys from?’..

‘Imbaba’..

‘You guys got more of this?’ said Islam pointing at the mountain in the plate

‘Only three left’ replied one of the twins immediately diving his hand into his left shirt pocket and coming out with the three tablets.

‘How much?’ asked Islam already crushing one of the three adding to the existing mountain

‘6 packs each.. but for you you can have all three for 12 packs.. as we need to move them out as we might be going to jail in the morning’..

‘Fine then’ said Islam as he broke another pill in half, placed a half underneath his tongue and added the other half to the white mountain on the plate while pocketing the third pill. One of the twins assumed the responsibility of crushing the new one and a half pills and drawing a new batch of 6 thick white lines.

After the mountain was gone and after hours of conversation, Islam excused himself and made his way to his folded blankets two meters away from where the twins had theirs. He lay thinking for a while about all he’d been through in the past 10 days since he got sentenced on the 27th of May.. And as the collage of imagery and feelings reached a blur, Islam drifted away to the realms of sleep.

Islam came to thinking that he was being carried. For some reason everything was still a slow blur. He made out some faces; the twins he had met the night before, their younger brother Mustafa, and some other familiar faces- well in the glimpses of this blur that registered anyways.

Next thing he knew he was standing naked in the shower. Mustafa was holding him upright. Islam realized that for some reason he depended on Mustafa to stand; he felt no power in his legs to hold his weight upright of his own accord.

And the water – cool and soothing- had more of a healing effect than usual. Islam was weighed down with an intense fever.

Now it started making sense, even to his feeble brain. He was being saved by the thugs he had just met the night before; they were trying to bring his temperature down..

Something clicked or fell into place, and in that instance partial power returned and jolted through his legs. He reached out a hand to prop his frame against the wall as if he risked losing balance. Mustafa still held him firmly…

‘You OK?’..Mustafa rang out midst the high-speed shower jets.

‘Alhamdulillah.. what happened?’..

‘We noticed you were burning hot, the water will help.. you must have fallen asleep thinking about something which upset you…’ volunteered Mustafa

‘really? Something that upset me?.. yea, I reckon it wasn’t the food as well’

The two sleeping next to him had jumped up alarmed at the heat Islam’s body was producing. On consulting the others, the twins had decided that he needed to be put in the shower immediately, perhaps even to save his life. Islam was blessed. Everywhere he went, angels, it seemed, were waiting for him. ‘I’ll just get your towel’ said Mustafa.

Mustafa looked Islam in the eyes, sort of asking him if he will be alright..
‘Go..’ Islam said wishing power back into his knees. Mustafa disappeared from the shower stall and returned seconds later with Islam’s towel and started drying him. Islam didn’t even try to pretend that he could manage this on his own.

Islam came out of the shower with an arm slung around Mustafa’s shoulder. Islam barely had power in his legs to keep up. Mustafa and the twins cleared their larger, more comfortable sleeping space for Islam to lay down and covered him up heavily telling him to ‘sweat it out’.. as far as Islam can remember from that blur of consciousness…

He woke up and noticed that a group of prisoners were being taken to another prison, of them were the two older twins Mohamed and Ibrahim. They had to quickly pack their blankets that Islam had been laying on. This gave Islam a chance to properly thank them and wish them luck. Islam wasn’t 100% but he was feeling much better. He hugged the twins and wished them well until they met again.

Mustafa didn’t leave with his two older brothers. In fact he was convicted of another crime entirely than the drug charge Mohamed and Ibrahim were serving. Mustafa had carved out some guys kidney in the middle of a fight. So for the two days Islam remained in isti’naaf, Mustafa hung around, took care of him and gave him a crash course in ‘Prison Education 101’.

For two days and two nights Mustafa el taw’aam talked about everything he could think of that Islam might better understand the nature of prison. He told his stories, through his eyes, those of his brothers and friends. He told Islam what to expect and how to deal with it.

The main thing that Mustafa could not quite put into words was the gift of preempting an action- dealing with it before it even happens. His words and descriptions of situations that he used as examples, all operated on subtle telltale signs and symptoms. He was talking in fact about activating a consciousness and awareness that could ‘see’ on the invisible layer of intention. Thus by knowing what everyone’s intention was, you could feel safe enough to lay your head at night and go to sleep.

Mustafa talked of financial transactions, about confrontations, drugs, sleeping space, weapons, cops and shawishs and detectives. He explained about the nabatshis- the prisoners held responsible for their cell and the inmates in it, he talked of the muallemein- the kingpins that actually ruled the cells, nabatshis and prisoners, and thus the whole prison. He talked of the muallemeins’ footsoldiers who brought these kingpins’ visions to reality. Mustafa also talked of the lines of division between the prisoner population; which districts hated which region, and who had the upper hand in what.

Mustafa talked and talked and talked. And Islam listened.

One night a shawish came to the door and started whispering to Gahawi through the bars. Moments later Islam made out his own name being spoken by the shawish. Gahawi called out for Islam to approach.

The shawish brought news that Islam was to be shipped out in the morning to a prison on the desert road between Cairo and Alexandria- 440 Wadi El Natroun maximum security prison.

Gahawi had told the shawish to give Islam a heads up and the shawish had remembered.

The night was spent in preparation; Islam was given goods that would be deemed valuable in that desert prison. And after the bags and blankets were packed, the rest of the night was spent in conversation. Islam, Mustafa and Gahawi spoke of good times and promised to try and see each other outside the walls of prison. It was wishful thinking, but it was the kind that gave you hope. A lot of people died inside in more ways than one, their wish to meet was a sort of promise to stay ‘alive’ and come out at the other side…

>>>>>>>

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

‘Did I get you right last night? You did say that you had worked with the American military ?’

[truncated]

‘I was transported to the worst warzones the American military was active in.. actually it was on account of my Arabic.. so they sent me to any zone where they could not understand the language.. even if I didn’t myself.. I tried to explain to them I’d be of no use to them in some of these places.. but I was a paramilitary medic.. I had to follow orders..’

‘So where’d they send you?’

‘Somalia, Pakistan, India, Iran, the Irani-Pakistani-Indian border, Syria.. twice and Eritrea.. yea that was hell.. so 9 or 10 warzone locations in all’

‘As far as I know there isn’t any official American military presence in Eritrea? How was that hell’

‘Of course we weren’t supposed to be there.. We got an order to terminate with extreme prejudice.. it was a village with a population of around 1,800 people that they wanted leveled to the ground.. there was a church, a school there and everything.. one day there was a town, next day the biggest thing you could find there was a rock smaller than your fist.. they used cymtech charges placed around the town.. they used explosives whose basic compound was a form of thermite.. so the explosion generated temperatures in excess of 5000 degrees centigrade.. so after the explosion most of the ground was turned to a kind of glass.. the thermite melted the sand and stone to glass.. it looked like nothing I’d seen before..’

‘Was anyone saved.. was there a selection process?’

‘Yes.. some people were evacuated .. those who owned the land or had relatives in the states.. people that can create trouble.. that will be missed.. but the majority of the town vanished in a flash.. women..children.. elders.. gone in a flash.. 1 gram of the stuff is enough to create a crater the size of a 10-car radius.. and pretty deep as well’

‘Was there something below the town? Diamonds?’

‘Not diamonds.. there was 32 silver mines .. they’re all paid armies.. the F.B.I… the C.I.A. and they race each other to collect the franchise..’

‘Franchise?’

‘Of course.. first come, first served.. first one there has got first dibs.. Cash In Advance.. that’s what C.I.A. stands for..’

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
I woke up to the sound of someone ringing the doorbell repeatedly. The wife of the bowab carrying her year old daughter was looking for my mother. Leaving the magazine I had no funds to pay for a place of my own and had moved back to my mother’s house for the first time in 8 years. I told the bowab’s wife that she wasn’t in and proceeded in search of coffee. Lucky. Just enough to make one last cup of coffee, an empty house and oh lookie-here the paper. What a nice start to a Friday morning.

Settled down with the final brew and tried to appreciate every sip as the pages of the newspaper kept turning. Amnesty International opposes unjustified brutality by Egyptian police, calls for an Independent investigation into the latest events at Aswan. ‘Anger Campaign’ against the criminal prosecution of journalists of Al Masry El Yom, and the ignoring of governmental newspapers’ breach of the ‘no-print decree’ in the case involving Hesham Talaat’s alleged contract-killing of Suzanne Tamim [He is a parliament member and arguably the CEO of the biggest construction company in Egypt, she is a Lebanese singer and star with alleged ties to him and Prince Waleed Bin Talal]. Iraqi Parliament accepts security agreement with Washington. That’s just off the front page, the ‘more than 600 killed, injured and hostages in India and Mumbai Hotel bombings’ only made page 12.

By the time I got to the last page I realized there had been no Hawadith page [the crime & punishment page also extremely popular in Egypt].  Crime & Punishment has become our modern-day substitute for the collyseums of the Romans. The pace of our responsibilities that we need to slave through has become so fast that we can only afford sufficient coverage packaged and brought to us in the form of newspapers and TV bulletins. So instead of attending the marching of men and women through corridors to face beasts and steel, we now get it at the push of a button or by picking up a paper.

There was no need for a Hawadith page, the whole newspaper had been one long exhibition page of crime & punishment. Ultimately demand creates supply.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

…..TBC

Note: These are excerpts of the earliest draft of Acapella that are being posted on my blog.. try not to mind too much the errors : )

Comments
  1. I think some of this stuff may have been copied, it’s scattered across the web and other peoples websites, unless you’re the first author?

  2. Random Post Of The Day…

    Dear readers, this article has been chosen as the random post of the day…….

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