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Egypt

Free Kareem - Free Speech is a Human RightFree speech is a human right.  It is something that most people don’t even think about as the go about their daily lives.  I know I don’t.  For the most part we can say whatever we want, in whatever snarky tone we want, and we won’t get in trouble for it.  Matters get sticky when you talk constantly about hate or you threaten individuals, the government, or society on some level, but for the most part we won’t get put in jail for saying what’s on our minds.  Not everyone is so lucky.  There are people around the world who get tossed in jail for doing what I do everyday, blog.  I found out about the large number of bloggers in jail (over 60) after reading a post on Polo Bastards.  Polo Bastards is an interesting site, unlike the usual travel sites you will find, that writes about parts of the world most people don’t think about visiting.

Yoani Sanchez writes her blog Generation Y from Havana Cuba in an effort to “let me say, in this space, what is forbidden to me in my civic action.”  She writes mostly from hotels where internet often costs upwards of $7 an hour.  In Cuba only senior officials and foreign residents can contract an internet service, leaving most of the population isolated.  The Cuban government filters her blog on the island, however their are greatest risks than silence, where some countries inhibit free speech by using jail time and even torture.

Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman is an Egyptian blogger who was sentenced to 4 years in prison for speaking his mind on his blog.  He is charged with.  “(1) Spreading data and malicious rumors that disrupt public security; (2) Defaming the President of Egypt; (3) Incitement to overthrow the regime upon hatred and contempt; (4) Incitement to hate Islam and breach of the public peace standards; (5) Highlighting inappropriate aspects that harm the reputation of Egypt and spreading them to the public.”  On the Free Kareem website you can find out all the information you need about his case.  On the site’s blog you will get up to date information, such as how he has been denied visits from his lawyer for the third time.  You will also find pictures, videos, music, and letters in support of Kareem, such as the song written by Ethiopian singer Meklit Hadero.

Free Kareem - Free Speech 2Free Kareem - Respect Human RightsFree Kareem - In all LanguagesFree Kareem - MediaFree Kareem - RallyFree Kareem - Blogging in not a CrimeFree Kareem - Speech is no CrimeIf you want to get involved or wish to contact Kareem you can do so through the Free Kareem website.  In order to keep up Kareem’s spirit’s, the Free Kareem Coalition, a group of young bloggers and college students committed to free speech, appreciates any letter sent to Kareem.  You can send a letter directly or through their contact page which they will mail to him.  If you decide to write a letter make sure not to write anything that will aggravate prison officials (they read all letters first).  It will only make matters worse for him.  Did you write to Kareem?Write to KareemAll images via: Free Kareem

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Cairo Nights Travelogue

by Elena on November 19, 2009

The cab driver weaves in and out of traffic accelerating and decelerating in a matter of seconds.  I reach over the driver seat and point to the small piece of paper the receptionist gave us at the hostel.  “This is our address,” I repeat for the second time, accenting my voice ever so slightly, as if imitating the Egyptian accent would help him better understand me.  He nods his head again and smiles at my persistence.  I resign myself to my seat, further digging my fingernails into the cushion each time he brakes suddenly.  The city is chaotic, there is no doubt.  Goats sprint down the road that runs parallel to the Nile River, along with men on bicycles holding large crates full of fresh bread.  There is a car to our left filled to the brim with people, speeding along at our same pace.  If I wanted, I could reach out and touch the hand of the man sitting in the driver’s seat.  I am tempted to try but decide not to test my luck.

On a quest for something truly Egyptian, we make our way to the souk, the famous street market.  No matter our efforts to dodge the crowd, we end up bumping into every person walking by.  You learn quickly that there are two currencies in Egypt, the tourist price and the Egyptian price.  Lesson number one, you will always pay the tourist price, unless accompanied at all times by an amicable Egyptian friend.  Lesson number two, you shop at your own risk.

Cairo Egypt 2

Photo © Elena Vazquez

The vendors are extremely anxious to get us to spend our money.  “Hello! Hola! Bonjour!” they shout from their stands.  Immediately one vendor jumps up and takes matters into his own hands.  He rushes over with a handful of shawls and dutifully places one over my head.  “I give you good price,” he says with a smile.  I politely decline seeing as I already bought one from another vendor; but he is insistent.  He showers me with compliments and occasionally he throws in a habibi, the Arabic equivalent to darling or sweetheart.  Finally I agree to buy another shawl.  Did he charm me into buying something I don’t need?  No I convince myself; after all I could always use an extra shawl.

As the sun begins to set, we hear the familiar chanting we’ve heard each day this week.  It is Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.  Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset as a gesture of self-restraint and piety.  The crackling of intercoms echoes throughout the city as a reminder to everyone that they must go home to pray.

Cairo Egypt 1

Photo © Elena Vazquez

Cairo Egypt 5

Photo © Elena Vazquez

Cairo Egypt 6

Photo © Elena Vazquez

After prayer, Egyptians get together at cafés to talk, play cards, and smoke hookah (a water pipe used to smoke flavored tobacco covered in molasses).  Going by a tip from one of our friends, we go in search of a particular floating restaurant along the Nile, a favorite amongst Egyptians themselves.  We find ourselves in a huge space, filled with unfamiliar sights and smells.  Brightly colored fabrics hang from the ceiling so low you could jump up and pull them down if you ever got cold.  Arabic words murmur throughout the crowd as Egyptian pop music plays in the background.  A group of men sing and laugh at the table next to us.  One of them takes in so much smoke from his hookah, it seems virtually impossible to fit in his lungs without him bursting at the seams.  But then again he has had lots of practice.  They get together to tell stories, laugh, smoke almost every night.  After what seems like an eternity he blows out every last puff of smoke contributing to the sugar, fruit, and jasmine scented cloud hovering above our heads.

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Weekly Photo: The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

by Elena on November 19, 2009

The Egyptian Museum Cairo Egypt

Photo © Elena Vazquez

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