Snitch on your servants!

The following notice (translated from Arabic) has recently been put up in the swanky Cairo neighborhood of Zamalek, home of the expat, rich and famous (and Gamal Mubarak):

Security Directions for the Safety and Security of Residents in the District of Zamalek

  1. Please do not give a copy of the key of any private residential apartment to any person working for its occupants (servant/cook/driver etc)
  2. In case of the owner/occupant’s travel or leaving the apartment please ensure it is completely closed and inform the watchman or security guard…
  3. In case of engaging (a servant/ maid/driver etc) please inform us in advance of their commencing work [so that] from our part we may check the identity of the worker and ascertain whether they have any record. (In this case please send a copy of the identity card to us with the building watchman).
  4. Please make sure the exterior door of your building is closed and not left open.
  5. The building watchman/ security guard is instructed not to allow entry to any person except after checking their identity and the identity of the occupant they wish to visit.
  6. The building watchman/security guard is instructed to register the details of any suspicious or unknown person in the security log.
  7. We are to be informed in case of the absence of a watchman/security guard or in case the exterior door of the building is not closed.
  8. In case of anything [unusual] at the property please contact us at any time.

We kindly ask all owners to implement these instructions for their security.

With thanks

Ministry of Interior

Qasr al Nil District

Zamalek Police Post

Captain Islam Abd al Aal

Rais Mabahith al Gazira

No one really seems to know why these are going up these days, but the fevered and irresponsible speculation is that security for the whole district has been put on alert for the possibility that Gamal Mubarak could be targeted for an attack as he circulates through the crowded streets of Zamalek. Naturally, if you can afford to live in Zamalek you are above suspicion, so security instead worries about servants taking control of a strategically located apartment to stage an attack on his motorcade. Or something. Or maybe someone recently got burgled by their servants, and that someone is well-connected enough to have put the whole district on alert. In any case, rest assured, big brother is looking out for you and your domestic help.

On that note, Eid al-Christmas Mubarak, Happy Greater Feast of Ritualized Abrahamic Sacrifice and Merry Jewish. Regular activity will resume in the Gregorian calendar year 2008.

Links for 12-18 December

Automatically posted links for December 12th through December 18th:

December 2007 ARB out

The December issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin is out (well probably a week or so now), and it’s worth taking a look at. Steven Cook (who wrote this book on the military in Middle Eastern politics) writes about the US presidential candidates and democracy promotion in the Arab world, a notion all the first-tier candidates pay lip service to. Steve notes however that:

More than any of the other candidates, Senator John Edwards situates democracy promotion within a policy to fight extremism. As part of a long-term effort to support political change, Senator Edwards has called for $3 billion in funding for global primary education, increasing microfinance programs, supporting health care in developing countries, and “dramatic increases� in the “promotion of constitutional democracies and the rule of law across the developing world.�

One may argue over whether democracy promotion should be the business of US presidential candidates (Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul don’t think so), but it’s good to see Edwards have a proposal with a bill attached and a focus on rule of law rather than elections. That being said, Obama and McCain have also made much noise about this, with Obama making clear that he would implement aid/trade conditionality as a tool of pressure:

Of all the candidates, Obama provides the strongest hint of how he would go about promoting political change in the Arab world. The centerpiece of his approach can be described as conditionality in which economic and military aid, trade deals, and debt relief would be coupled with an “insistent call for reform.�

I’d like to see how far he gets in applying conditionality in practice, since in most cases aid deals are tied to domestic economic interests.

This issue of ARB also has a piece on Lebanese civil society and the Khalass movement by Omayma Abdel Latif (we miss her in Egypt), finding it has had very limited impact in going beyond sectarian lines:

Five months into the Khalass campaign, it is not clear whether the organizers’ efforts to go beyond politics and sectarian polarization are bearing fruit. “It has not created momentum or attracted enough popular attention,� wrote Ghassan Saoud in al-Akhbar newspaper recently. Other observers have suggested that a photo-op between two political enemies such as Saad al-Hariri, head of majority March 14 bloc, and Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement and an ally of Hizbollah, would change the popular mood ten times faster than Khalass and other anti-war civil society activities.

There are also articles there on economic obstacles to further democratization in Mauritania, freedom of expression in Libya, and educational reform in Saudi Arabia.

In eigener Sache

Here’s Ulrich Ladurner of Die Zeit (one of Germany’s largest and most influential papers) travelling to a remote Iranian province to find out whether Ahmadinejad’s promises to improve life in the country’s regions were fulfilled.

(Which is a laudable intention, as few bother to look at the country beyond nuclear bomb issue.)

The article simply ends up being about how difficult it is to find information in Iran (title: The Persian labyrinth – Has President Ahmadinejad improved the situation of the poor in the provinces? To find an answer to that is as difficult as decoding the truth on
the Iranian bomb.

Continue reading In eigener Sache

Creative Chaos

 I just saw the movie that everyone is talking about in Cairo these days: Heyya Fauda (It’s Chaos). It’s the latest by Youssef Chahine, but unlike a lot of his work lately, it’s eminently entertaining. It’s also very political. The film opens with actual footage of the many street protests and altercations between demonstrators and riot police that shook Cairo in the last few years. One of the main characters is a police officer who steals, bullies and tortures his way through the film. In one scene, the officer re-enacts a well-known joke about President Hosni Mubarak: he buys something and of course is told it’s free for him, but he says no, he insists on paying. “How much is it?� The scared storekeeper says: “25 piasters for you, ya-basha� (a few American cents). To which the officer replies: “No, no. Here’s a pound. Give me four.�


The movie also has the almost obligatory allegory of Egypt as a victimized young woman, as well as explicit nods to (if not outright mentions of) the president’s national party, the tension between the police and the judiciary, and what Chahine clearly views as the hypocrisy of the Muslim Brotherhood. It all ends with a cathartic scene in which a great throng of Egyptians attacks a police station. It’s as riveting as revenge fantasies generally tend to be.


The movie has been predictably championed by the opposition press and criticized by state hacks. It’s not a masterpiece—it has some pretty unconvincing moments—but it has strong performances and great momentum. What I found most interesting is the way it manages to be a commercially successful thriller (the screening I saw was packed) with some substantive political content. I was genuinely surprised that some of this stuff made it past the censors. People laughed loudly at all the jokes about police prevarication, clapped at some moments of revolt, and by the end were calling for the odious police officer to off himself, already. 

There goes EgyptAir

It takes one of EgyptAir’s European offices more than three months to issue a simple refund (including what I thought were attempts to keep the money).

If it continues to refuse improving its services, the airline will be swept away by competition once Egyptian civil aviation is liberalized (which is why that hasn’t happened yet, but there are hints the government is losing its patience with the airline.)
Egypt has (except for regional airports) not yet signed the BlueSkies agreement with the EU (unlike Morocco, in a way a competitor on the Middle Eastern tourism market), which amongst other things allows foreign airlines to fly to Cairo and then on to other destinations, thus competing with EgyptAir’s domestic flights.

Continue reading There goes EgyptAir

Enter Nassef

Finally, Nassef Sawiris has moved out of the shadow of his brothers who made a lot of headlines with their emerging markets telecoms empire (Naguib) and Swiss alpine village (Samih), while Nassef’s Orascom Construction Industries (OCI) maintained such a low profile it could (reportedly) do business with the Pentagon and North Korea at the same time.

Now, France’s Lafarge has bought OCI’s cement operations in a 14.9 billion dollar deal, and in return Nassef gets an 11.4 pct stake in Lafarge plus two seats on the company’s board of directors.

Analysts say OCI wants to focus on construction and infrastructure, but – as you can never quite separate business from politics in the Middle East – I’m wondering whether the Sawiris’ truly believe the Middle Eastern cement boom is over or whether we’re rather seeing a long-term strategy of the three brothers to move part of their assets away from Egypt (and the Middle East).

Their relations with the ruling family don’t seem to be as strong as in the case of other Egyptian business tycoons (which means the impact of Mubarak’s death will not be as strong), but I guess we’ll have to wait for the full picture (on this one as on so many other things) until the Pharao has moved on to another life.

In any case, the proceeds from the sale will be paid out to shareholders as special dividend – i.e. mostly to the Sawiris themselves.

I’m wondering what the brothers are up to with so much cash.

Links for 12 December

Automatically posted links for December 9th through December 12th:

Links for 5-6 December

Automatically posted links for December 5th through December 6th:

Off to Brussels

I will be in Brussels for the next week, bringing some much-needed Arab advice on good governance to the people who were unable to form a coalition in SIX MONTHS. It is an initiative co-sponsored by Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh.

Blogging will be severely limited, as I expect Brussels has fallen to warring Waloon and Flemish factions and I will be busy avoiding projectile chocolate and beer, or blue oranges, or whatever it is that Belgians fight with.