A Photo Essay: Street Children – The Achievements where Little is More than Nothing.

This post will be regularly updated to collect the happy moments that the children enjoy as a result of all your incredibly responses to this blog – thank you for being the alternative world, a world we’ve created to work parallel to the one that subjects these children to daily oppression and violence.

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One day I was accompanying a street girl to a doctor to see what we could do about her "rape scar" (a hanging piece of flesh under her right eye - a result of a knife wound she suffer after her first gang rape to mark her as no longer being a virgin). On this three hour bus ride, one of the stories she bravely shared with me was of her birthing experience. She was praising the cosmetic surgeon who had seen her before for this rape scar and who she said had "treated me like a human being, not an animal". When I asked what she was comparing him to she said the doctors that were there during her birth. She recounted the experience that included over 20 medical students checking her dilation without her consent, her horror as the fingers roughly forced their way through her vagina of both male and female students who never spoke to her or explained what they were doing. She told me about one midwife who kicked her because she was screaming too loudly when she was pushing. What seemed to hurt her the most though were the questions and accusations of why she was having a baby so young if she was unmarried and why was the father not with her. There are many horrifyingly painful stories that the street girls live and have shared with me; but this birthing one haunted me the most. The vulnerability and the fear that a child must feel giving birth, facing an unknown that even full grown, fully supported women find difficult was beyond my comprehension.... I went home and wrote in a simple blog about this conversation and about the state of the world in which we live. A beautiful medical student wrote to me, not an emotional email of how upset my post had made her, but a well thought of plan about what she was going to do about it to fix it. We went through her plan of who she was going to contact for access and permissions to admit the street girls to the hospital she was training at. We arranged meetings with shelter staff and she met the girls that would go in to give birth under her care. The photo in this post is of the first street baby to be born in dignity. The street girl arrived at hospital supported, respected, soothed and cared for and delivered her healthy abd beautiful baby in a caring environment, for the first time ever. Thank you Yara for being the change we want in the world, thank you for being part of a new generation of medical students who give me hope that there is still good worth writing for, worth fighting for. Nothing quite beats the sense of achievement this brings. Here's to academia and knowledge that matter. Xx

One day I was accompanying a street girl to a doctor to see what we could do about her “rape scar” (a hanging piece of flesh under her right eye – a result of a knife wound she suffer after her first gang rape to mark her as no longer being a virgin).
On this three hour bus ride, one of the stories she bravely shared with me was of her birthing experience. She was praising the cosmetic surgeon who had seen her before for this rape scar and who she said had “treated me like a human being, not an animal”. When I asked what she was comparing him to she said the doctors that were there during her birth.
She recounted the experience that included over 20 medical students checking her dilation without her consent, her horror as the fingers roughly forced their way through her vagina of both male and female students who never spoke to her or explained what they were doing. She told me about one midwife who kicked her because she was screaming too loudly when she was pushing. What seemed to hurt her the most though were the questions and accusations of why she was having a baby so young if she was unmarried and why was the father not with her.
There are many horrifyingly painful stories that the street girls live and have shared with me; but this birthing one haunted me the most. The vulnerability and the fear that a child must feel giving birth, facing an unknown that even full grown, fully supported women find difficult was beyond my comprehension….
I went home and wrote in a simple blog about this conversation and about the state of the world in which we live. A beautiful medical student wrote to me, not an emotional email of how upset my post had made her, but a well thought of plan about what she was going to do about it to fix it.
We went through her plan of who she was going to contact for access and permissions to admit the street girls to the hospital she was training at. We arranged meetings with shelter staff and she met the girls that would go in to give birth under her care.
The photo in this post is of the first street baby to be born in dignity. The street girl arrived at hospital supported, respected, soothed and cared for and delivered her healthy abd beautiful baby in a caring environment, for the first time ever. Thank you Yara for being the change we want in the world, thank you for being part of a new generation of medical students who give me hope that there is still good worth writing for, worth fighting for.
Nothing quite beats the sense of achievement this brings. Here’s to academia and knowledge that matter. Xx

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This photo will forever remain incredibly dear to my heart… It was taken this week after the SAFE team had delivered training to my street babies on how to protect their bodies from sexual abuse and had just received their certificates of completing the training Thank you Sara Aziz and your lovely team for agreeing to deliver the training completely free to the shelter… i love you xxx

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Perhaps nothing in the world that I have done, or will ever do, could feel as good as being able to facilitate this… This is the angel reconstructive surgeon who generously invited me and my street girls to remove the scars I often talk about… I have blurred the girls face for obvious reasons… He performs these procedures for free… these are my alternative communities and the reason why I don’t fundraise. Up till 2012 Dr Hany Hamam had performed 137 reconstructive surgeries free to Libyan and Syrian refugees… he has since then also honoured my requests that he extend his offer to children who get bitten by stray dogs in Cairo, but are not necessarily street children. The one glimpse of heaven on earth, is to fight a losing cause; and not lose it.

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The great Rugby club in Egypt, moved by the blog offered training, donations and access to their grounds for the street kids they met.

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Mia who once wrote to me saying: “Hi Nelly, I just wanted to say that I am a huge fan of your work with street children and I was wondering if there is anyway I can help.” Mia has since been a reliable and dedicated friend and art teacher not just to the one girl I was looking for a mentor for, but to the street girls at shelter more generally. The feedback from the girls has been wonderful. It always means so much to them to have volunteers. They told me knowing people helped them for no money was the closest thing they felt to having good family. Mia is another beautiful example of how skills, and not money, build a more beautiful world, how we have the power to create kinder alternative communities to the ones we sometimes find hateful or unsatisfactory. Thank you Mia for helping me still believe in this world and for not just reading the blog and thinking it’s a sad world but for getting in touch and giving your all. You literally made the world a better place xx

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I personally believe that one of the best things that we can give these children, beside the basic rights and services, is love. The comfort and love that Shariff shares with the children is next to none… You honour and humble me with your gentleness towards the children and it’s no wonder you are able to calm the most irritable and comfort the most distressed of them… I love you for this xx

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A beautiful photo of the hands of little children in Canada and the bracelets they have been making for me to give to the other beautiful street kids that I meet along the way… what a happy moment this is to know that little hearts across the continents are touched and giving to other little souls so far away… These little children were so touched by the stories of street children in Egypt that I shared and wanted to make something they could post and that would be easy for me to carry around… They have an afternoon club called HOPE (helping other people everywhere) and they make stuff to sell for local charities… their project this time was for the street kids

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When the coldest winter hit Cairo, I used the blog and social media to ask everyone to share their winter clothes with the street children… An incredible effort started and the people involved are too many to even start to mention here… but the photo shows where the clothes were collected in London (thank you Judy and Tara) and packed and organised in Cairo (Thank you Ahmed Nader)… and the getting them from one country to another involved strangers and friends and everyone was just incredible with this… special thanks to Rabia, Tom, Su Zee who carried luggage… and all those who donated their kids clothes!!!

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The night before my wedding party in Cairo, I was at the hair dressers getting my hair done (yes, the local one, the night before lol|). Afterwards, at around 11.30pm I was meeting Nawara, Roba and Shady for the first time three angels who had been reading my blog who I had never had the pleasure of meeting before. After a couple of hours sharing some stories of the street children I had known, after they were moved to both laughter and tears, we agreed they would visit the shelter to meet the street children. What they did not know at this point was that I always have a filtering session with people while I was in Egypt to make sure the children would not be “used” by anyone for their work and projects (a decision I had taken when I dedicated my time away from PhD research to make sure I could give back to the children and not use them as mere subjects for my PhD data). But I loved Nawara, Shady and Roba. I loved the passion with which they spoke of their plans. Caravan – the group of story tellers and performances these three were part of, planned to engage university students, amateur story tellers, with the street children to tell their stories. A few sessions were arranged at the boys and girl’s shelters. None of the children’s stories were changed or edit. 13 children’s stories were told with the exact words and expressions chosen by the children, creating a new avenue for the most marginalised voices to be given a window of expression to an audience that would normally not have access to it. It was only when Shariff came looking for me and said “we’re getting married in a few hours, do you wanna go home get some rest” that I had to leave and that they realised I had a wedding in a bit But I left my heart and passion with the three who did an incredible job and something I am so proud of having somehow contributed to just by writing a blog, and they took this, turning it, through their weeks of practice and hard work into something extremely real, extremely valid and credible. One of the beautiful reflections made by the team was team: “By the end of the rehearsals period and performance date, we were able to identify a conceptual change to the tellers personal commitment towards the kids and their stories, and to identify with the show as an ethically challenging responsibility towards those kids and the acknowledgement that by telling these stories we are only connecting dotes between the young boys and girls and an audience of not more than 150 attendees.”

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The ability and the opportunity to inspire people into action, is an incredible gift.. The photo below is of two 14 year olds in America that I have never met. The children have been reading my blog posts on street girls and were moved into action. Diana, one of these 2 girls wrote to me over the last few months on how her and her church friends spent their spring break baby sitting, doing yard work and “hiring (themselves) out” to raise enough money to buy feminine hygiene stuff to put these bags together for each one of the street girls at the shelter. They’ve asked me to find a way to get these bags across so the children I work with know that other children think of them, care about them and are working towards helping them in some way. In the midst of all the horrific statuses and news and pictures shared on Facebook these days, these photos and this status are equally important. This is a reminder that you can inspire and be inspired and that you have the power to do and not just be ‘done to’… There is still good in this world; if you can’t find it or see it, then do it and be it.

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This photo was drawn by a girl who has been raped by her step father since she was nine years old. The incredibly brave mother gave up the little security she had in the form of a home and husband and having no shelter to turn to, left to the streets with Amal and her 4 sisters. The sisters got separated in different shelters catering for different ages, while the mother searched for a hospital who would issue a report saying Amal was no longer a virgin due to rape, so she could be admitted to a shelter. Having been subjected to two virginity checks at their local hospital where her step father worked, he was able to bribe the administration to change the report. Amal’s mother did not give up and took her daughter to a different town and after the third virginity check, Amal was admitted to Hope Village for Young Street Mothers (a shelter that homes non virgin girls – and yes, this split is necessary in a culture where a woman’s value is hinged on a thin membrane between her legs). Each of the girls was at a different shelter and their mother had nowhere to turn to but the streets, highlighting another gap in services that vulnerable women in Egypt must face. After reading the post about this girl, an amazing human in Egypt paid a very long period of rent upfront and we bought the woman off the streets and she is now in her own home with her daughters around her again – I’m currently working with Esraa on getting her trained on a handy craft so she can generate her own income.

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I received a call about a girl in Alexandria that was burnt so badly her bones were showing through. 3rd degree burns in over 80% of her body meant she was a liability to any hospital. Added to that was the fact she was a street girl so had no papers or ID. After 6 hours of media pressure, I received a call from the Minister of Social Solidarity who assured me that in the morning, an ambulance would pick the girl up and take her to hospital for admission. True to their words, the girl was admitted, her daughter allowed to visit and she has been promised a kiosk to be able to live off once she’s recovered. Thank you Nesma for being affected to get the right people on board 🙂

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Donna Coyle is one of the beautiful souls who having read about the street girls in my blogs got in touch to offer to be a part of this parallel world we create Since being in touch, Donna has faithfully and regularly visited the street girls shelter, after getting her friends to donate shampoos and creams. She arrives with her gifts to pamper the girls, do their hair and also teach them the skill of hair dressing so that they may pick it up and maybe earn an independent living from it themselves… Thank yoy Donna for reminding me of the absolute beauty that humanity still has to offer us… and on a personal note, thank you for giving a very real meaning to the impact of the work I do that sometimes leaves me frustrated, heart broken and poor you remind me it’s all worth it xxx

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a few days before Eid, one of the older girls asked me what time I would be arriving on the day of festivities… then she stopped speaking and looked at me for a moment before saying “Of course you’re not going to come… you have family and friends outside of here that you’ll be spending the day with”… She had shamed me without knowing because I hadn’t thought about Eid or who I would be spending it with… but in the end, me, Shariff and Adelazim bought the kids gifts and balloons and spent the day with them… it was the best Eid ever!

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After a day out, the little ones in the shelter who are starting their first day at school, were trying on their school uniforms bought by the lovely May AbdelAzim. New starts and hopefully a new life where these little ones can be spared the pain of their mothers… Also… thank you for the IceCream trip that was made to the kids 🙂

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It’s such an incredible achievement that this blog is being read in over 172 countries by over 105,000 people… The amount of awareness raised and help shared through it has been incredible… thank you xx

When Hope Dies, Nothing Blooms in that Land

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A generation of youth laying their friends to rest
A generation of mothers with an empty nest

A story about Egypt, and its struggle for hope
A story of millions defying the tightening rope

The struggle for Freedom, Dignity and Bread
About the punishment they got instead

Take Alaa for example who got sentenced 15 years
For being moved to revolt against torture and tears

Thousands of others also, to prison were sent
A handful of supporters protesting wherever they went

Others gave up and they carry the shame
Because the search for freedom…… was done in their name

They’ll squint and say “I’ve seen you’re face before
But they’re so many of you taken, I’ve lost the score”

Those ‘taken’ are strong now with a mission inside
They’re a window to the misconduct authorities try to hide

Slowly but surely stories behind bars are coming out
And you need to keep listening to what this is all about

Loss of physical freedom to become an independent voice
To those on the other side kept in, against their choice

The stories of torture and wrongful detention
Of people ‘too insignificant’ to grab your attention

Till its one of your own who gets dragged by the mob
Until it’s of your loved ones that you get robbed

I understand your desperate need to glorify the army
But their songs and flowers just don’t charm me

From virginity testing to death by beats
From promising not to, but running for presidency seats

From crushing Christian sisters to gassing Muslim brothers
Forcing you to take allegiance to justify violence against the other

Yes I’m talking of the barbaric handling of Rab3a and Maspero
When did the villain ever become your hero?

I’m talking of a generation that solemnly fought
That were betrayed by their protectors but kept afloat

If you’re not part of the revolution don’t be part of the betrayal
Don’t give in to the oppressors and join those who hail

Of course it’s not easy to keep fighting but that’s the cost
which we must pay for years of silence that we’ve lost

Those still fighting for tomorrow have reason to believe
And yes change will come, no, no that’s not naive

It’s a struggle for justice, one that will continue
Thousands of heroic sacrifices that can’t but win you

Of course it’s a long rough journey, yes, I understand
But when hope dies, nothing blooms on that land.

الحل البرازيلى

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نشرت صحيفة «المصرى اليوم» مقالا لكاتب أرى أنه ينبغى إلقاء القبض عليه بتهمة استخدام خطاب يحض على الكراهية؛ تحت عنوان «أطفال الشوارع: الحل البرازيلى».

ويبدأ الكاتب مقاله، بسرد الأخطار التى يمثلها أطفال الشوارع على المجتمع؛ محددا الجرائم التى يحملهم مسئوليتها، ومن بينها فيروس نقص المناعة البشرية/ الإيدز، إلى جانب الاغتصاب والقتل وما إلى ذلك. وبعد هذا السرد، يذكرنا بـ «الحل» البرازيلى الذى، يقول إنه قد يكون مؤسفًا، ولكنه شجاع! فى ضوء ما تعانيه البرازيل من مصاعب اقتصادية.

وأشاد بالقرار الصعب الذى اتخذته السلطات البرازيلية، موضحا كونه لا إنسانيا ويائسا، ولكنه ضرورى! ويذكر أيضا أن السكان على الرغم من معرفتهم بما كان يحدث، قرروا غض الطرف، من أجل المصلحة الكبرى للعمل الجاد، والمواطنين الذين سوف يستفيدون من هذا «القرار المصيرى» لإعادة النظام الى المدينة. ويقول إنهم كانوا يدركون أن التصرف الأكثر أخلاقية هو مساعدة الأطفال على الاندماج فى المجتمع، ولكن هذا من شأنه أن يتحقق بتكلفة اقتصادية عالية لا يمكن تحملها. ويخلص نصار عبدالله إلى الزعم أنه بفضل اتخاذ تدابير «شجاعة» من هذا النوع، نجح الحل البرازيلى فى تخليص الشوارع الرئيسية من أطفال الشوارع، ودفع ما تبقى منهم إلى الأحياء الفقيرة، ويشير إلى أن ما يسمى «نجاح» لا يبرر هذا العمل، ولكنه يبرهن على وجود إرادة حقيقية لتصحيح علل المجتمع، ويربطه بما تلاه من ارتفاع معدلات العمالة.

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وبالنسبة لمن لم يتابعوا الأحداث التى يشير إليها المؤلف، إليكم ملخص الوقائع: أطلقت فرق الموت فى البرازيل النار على الأطفال بينما كانوا نائمين خارج الكنائس. وقتل 50 طفلا مشردا أثناء النوم على أرض كاتدرائية كانديلاريا فى وسط مدينة ريو دى جانيرو، عندما أطلق مجموعة من المسلحين النار على الأطفال العزل فقتلوهم. وتم خطف أولئك الذين لم يموتوا، وضربهم وتعذيبهم وأطلقت عليهم الأعيرة النارية، فماتوا بعد أيام قليلة.

ولست متأكدة من المستوى الذى يفيد فى التفاهم مع هذا الكاتب، ولكن اسمحوا لى أن أتحدث بشكل مختصر وبسيط: على الرغم من كونك أستاذا للفلسفة فى مصر لم تفعل المبادرات النازية على مر العصور سوى جلب العار على كل من القادة والأتباع ومن يغضون الطرف عنها، من أولئك الذين يعيشون داخل خطاب تلك المعتقدات. فليس أطفال الشوارع مرضا يتطلب علاجًا؛ وإنما عرض من أعراض علل؛ ليس فقط المجتمع ولكن الحكومات والدول الوهمية والضعيفة التى تعجز عن وقف هروب الأطفال المعرضين للخطر، من البيوت والكبار والبحث عن ملجأ فى مخاطر الشارع.

ولتعلم، أن الأطفال الذين تتحدث عنهم، وحملتهم مسئولية فشل المجتمع، هم نفس الأطفال الذين كنت أعمل من أجلهم، لأكثر من عامين. وهم الأطفال الذين هربوا من التعذيب؛ من تقييدهم وإلقاء الماء المغلى على أجسادهم، لعدم قيامهم بأعمال التنظيف جيدا، أو عدم الانصياع لأوامر الآباء جيدا، والأطفال الذين هم أصغر من أن يتحملوا الانتهاك الجنسى والعاطفى والنفسى والمالى. أدعوك، يا سيدى، أن تأتى ولتعمل معنا لبضع ليال، وتقوم بزيارة الأطفال الذين ينامون ويتجمعون معا ـ طلبا للأمان ـ تحت الكبارى، الذين يتعرضون للاغتصاب كل ليلة ولكنهم لا يزالون يشعرون بالأمان، أكثر مما كان عليه الحال فى منازلهم، أو فى المؤسسات الإصلاحية؛ حيث يتم تقييدهم فى السرير، ويتعرضون للضرب بأخشاب السرير. أدعوك لمرافقتنا، نحن الذين نعمل مع هؤلاء الأطفال، إلى أجنحة الولادة والتعرف إلى تعامل الموظفين هناك مع الفتيات اللاتى تتراوح أعمارهم بين 13 أو 14 عاما، المرعوبات، اللاتى نأخذهن للولادة لأنهن يحملن، وحدهن، عار الاغتصاب من قبل أحد أفراد الأسرة، أو رجل شرطة، أو موظف الرعاية، أو أى شخص فى الشارع. أدعوك، سيدى، أن تأتى معنا ونحن نحاول استخراج شهادات الميلاد أو الوفاة بالنسبة لأولئك الذين لا يعيشون كمواطنين من الدرجة الثانية حتى. عندها فقط، يا سيدى، هل يمكن أن تكون فى وضع يسمح باقتراح حلول «شجاعة»؟

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ولكن، دعنى أتحدث إليك، على نحو ربما يمكن أن تفهمه بصورة أفضل. نشكرك على اقتراحك لكيفية تحسين علل مصر، لكنه حل لم ينجح فعليا. ففى 30 أبريل 1996، صدرت أحكام بالسجن على الضباط الذين تورطوا فى إطلاق النار لمدد تصل إلى 309 سنوات. كما توضح الإحصاءات الأخيرة أن هناك نحو ثمانية ملايين من أطفال الشوارع فى البرازيل (800 ألف منهم يعملون فى دعارة الأطفال) وكان معدل البطالة فى البرازيل عام 1993 نحو 5.4 فى المائة، بلغ هذا العام (5.2 فى المائة (بعد مرور 21 عامًا). وأوصيك بالبحث قبل أن تعتبر أن سرقة حياة الأطفال، نصيحة لإثبات جدية الدولة فى اعتماد نهج إصلاحى لمشاكلها. وأنا أتفق معك فى شىء واحد: حاجة الحكومة لإظهار الشجاعة. ولكن، يا سيدى، نحن لسنا من أهل الكهف، ولسنا نازيين. يجب أن تبدى حكوماتنا الشجاعة فى الاعتراف بأنها لم تدرك منذ البداية كيفية حل المشكلات التى تدفع بالأطفال إلى الشارع. يجب أن تتسم بالتواضع وتعترف بحاجتها إلى مساعدة من الباحثين المحترفين والعاملين فى المنظمات غير الحكومية، للعمل معا ومعرفة ما يقود الأطفال إلى الشوارع، وأسباب بقائهم فيه، كما ينبغى أن تظهر شجاعة فى استثمار الأموال من أجل تجربة الرعاية البديلة الخاضعة للمراقبة، حيثما تسىء الأسر معاملة أطفالها خارج المنازل! ولاشك أن هذا الكاتب يمثل حلا مفرطا فى الشجاعة!

‘Hunting Street Children Like Dogs and Shooting Them” is NOT the Solution! My Response to the Horrific Op-Ed in AlMasry AlYoum Today

I am writing this blog post today out of pure and simple RAGE!!

 

An article published in Al Masry Al Youm (regrettably, but appropriately named “The Egyptian Today”), an Op-Ed contributor, whom I contest should be arrested for hate speech and locked up pending investigation of being a dangerous psychopath, wrote an article entitled “Street Children: The Brazilian Solution”.

 

In this article, the author starts out by listing the dangers to society that street children contribute to; naming HIV/AIDS among the ‘crimes’ that they are responsible for, alongside rape, murder, etc. After listing these, the writer reminds us of the Brazilian ‘solution’ which, he says may be regrettable, but bravely, in light of it’s economic hardship. He applauds the difficult decision the Brazilian authorities took, noting how inhuman and desperate the measure was, but how necessary. He also mentions that despite the population knowing what was happening, they decided to turn a blind eye for the greater good of the hard working, worthy citizens who would benefit from this ‘determined decision’ to bring back order to the city. He says they knew it would be more ethical to help the children reintegrate into society, but that this would come with a high economic cost that they could not afford. He concludes by saying, it is by taking brave measures such as this, that the Brazilian solution worked in ridding the main streets of street children and pushing what was left over from them in to favelas. He notes that the so called ‘success’ may not excuse the action, but what it does do is demonstrate a real will for correcting the ills of society and he links this to a following rise of employment.

 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the events the author is referring to, here is an unemotional, factual summary. Death squads in Brazil, shot children whist they were sleeping outside churches. 50 homeless children were sleeping on the grounds of the Candelaria cathedral in downtown Rio de Janeiro, when a group of gunmen drove past, shooting unarmed, sleeping children, to their deaths. Those who did not die, were abducted, beaten, tortured and shot. They died a few days later.

 

I am unsure as to the level I need to engage this author with but let me keep this brief and simple, as I am unsure he has the intellectual capacity of understanding much of what I will say – despite the fact that you are a professor of philosophy in Egypt (apparently). Sir, Nazi initiatives have done nothing over the ages but bring shame to both the leaders and followers and blind eyes of those who live within a discourse of those beliefs. Street children are not a disease for which you try to find a cure. Street children are but a symptom of the ills, not only of society but of delusional and weak governments and states that cannot stop the vulnerable children from escaping abusive homes and adults and finding refuge in the dangers of the street.

 

The children you speak of and whom you place the burden of responsibility on, for a failing society, are the same children I have worked for, for over two years. They are children who have escaped torture, ran away from being tied and scorched with boiling water for not cleaning well, for not giving blow jobs to step parents well, children who are too young to endure sexual, emotional, psychological, financial abuse. I invite you, Sir, to come and work with us for a few nights and visit the children who sleep huddled together for safety under bridges, who get raped every night but still feel safer than in their own homes or the correctional institutions where they are tied to beds and beaten with their wooden frames. I invite you to accompany us, who work with these children, to the maternity ward and see the abuse of the staff there towards the frightened 13 or 14 year olds who we take in to give birth as they carry the shame, alone, of being raped by a family member, or a police man, or a carer, or someone on the street. I invite you, Sir, to come with us as we try and issue ID, birth or death certificates for those who do not even make is as second class citizens. Only then, Sir, can you be in a place to suggest ‘brave’ solutions!

 

But let me speak to you, in a manner that you may understand a little better: Thanks for your suggestion of how we might improve the ills of Egypt, but it DOESN’T actually work. On 30th April 1996 those police officers involved in the shooting were sentenced to 309 years in prison – not so much of a blind eye after all. Also, the latest statistics show that there are almost 8,000,000 street children in Brazil (800,00 of them child prostitutes) and the unemployment rate in 1993 in Brazil was 5.4%, this year it’s 5.2% (21 years later). I recommend you do your research before suggesting that stealing the lives of children is the recommendation for demonstrating state seriousness in adopting correctional approaches to it’s problems.

 

I agree with you on one thing: a need for a government to show bravery. But, Sir, we are not cavemen, neither are we Nazi’s. Bravery must be shown by our governments in admitting they have not got the first clue on how to solve the problems that lead children to the street. They must be humble in admitting they need help from professional researchers and NGO staff to get together and find out what’s leading the children to the streets, why they stay there and they must be brave in investing money to trial solutions of monitored alternative care where families have abused their children out of their homes! This Mr Op-Ed writer is a far braver solution.

 

Below are a couple of photos of some of the street children I have met, none of them have committed crimes, none have raped anyone, none have HIV/AIDS, none are stealing anyone’s jobs. Does your suggestion for brave measures include ‘fishing’ and ‘shooting’ these little ones? Or will the cute ones escape the executioner?!

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Update: The article has been successfully taken down from the Newspaper’s online website!! Well done for the public outrage that made the newspaper bring it down!! For those who missed it… Here is a copy

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Des histoires… indicibles… Les “chanceux” enfants des rues.

 

 

Je viens de trouver par hasard cette photo, sur Facebook. C’est l’une parmi celles difficiles d’ignorer, n’est-ce pas. Cela fait longtemps, chaque fois que je ferme mes paupières, je vois cet enfant en guenilles dormir sur le coffre d’une Mercédès, parallèle à un chien errant, dormant par contre au-dessus d’une Kia. Mais cela ne dure pour de vrai que quelques jours; comme vous, lecteur, le reflet va disparaitre comme j’étais prise par la vie quotidienne, son va-et-vient ou probablement par la politique ou les désastres naturels. Je dirais que c’est normal…

Pourtant il y a une autre chose qui me vient à la tête lorsque j’examine la photo. L’histoire. Je n’ai jamais vraiment pensé a cela, mais en tombant sur cette photo, je me rends compte à quel point sont incroyablement chanceux, les enfants avec lesquels je travaille. Je n’arrive pourtant pas à croire que je viens de taper cela! L’ironie! Mais ils sont chanceux, ils sont plus chanceux que ce petit puisqu’ils ont, plus qu’un refuge, ils ont trouvé malgré tout une oreille a l’écoute de leurs histoires et une passerelle de leurs voix.

Cela m’a fait penser a quelque chose que Stephen King a autrefois écrit dans “Différentes saisons” alors qu’évidement il écrivait sur une autre chose : ” Les choses les plus importantes sont les plus difficiles à dire. Ce sont les choses dont tu as honte, parce que les mots les réduisent- les mots réduisent les choses – qui ont semblé sans limite quand elles étaient encore et seulement dans ta tête – a plus rien lorsqu’elles s’expriment. Mais c’est plus que ça, n’est-ce pas? Les choses les plus importantes se trouvent tellement proches de ton “cœur secret”, comme un point de repère à un trésor que tes ennemies aimeraient le filer en douce. Et il se peut que tu fasses des révélations qui te coutent très cher, rien que pour avoir des gens qui te regardent bizarrement, ne comprenant rien de ce que tu as raconté, ou pourquoi tu as pensé que c’était aussi important que tu as presque pleuré pendant que tu le disais. C’est le pire, je pense. Quand le secret reste enfermé a l’intérieur, non par besoin d’un conteur mais par besoin d’une oreille compréhensive.”

Je regarde de nouveau la photo et je vois les chaussons, gardées en une telle haute estime, bien supérieure à l’enfant lui-même. S’agit-il sans doute d’une possession de valeur dans l’impitoyable dureté de la rue qui est devenue leur premier nom – “Enfant de la rue”… Je vois la bouche ouverte et me demande quels mots s’évadent de ces souffles, et les pieds croisés et en raison de mon travail avec les enfants des rues je sais que cet enfant les a vu décroisés de force. Toutes les histoires racontées et jamais racontées dans ce seul paragraphe me tourmenteront comme celles que j’ai écoutées. Les histoires de ces fenêtres qui regardent cet enfant mais n’ont, semble-t-il, pas d’espace pour embrasser cette enfance.

Pourquoi suis-je en train d’écrire cela? Parce que j’ai réalisé qu’a défaut d’adopter ces enfants, de mener des actions de lobbying en leur faveur ou de leur fournir des alternatives, il y a autre chose que les gens puissent faire pour les aider; c’est au moins d’être là et de les écouter. Quand bien même que les enfants mentent, leurs mensonges ne sont souvent aussi sadiques que la réalité qu’ils cachent. J’ai bien appris cela au centre d’accueil quand Sarah nous imitait comment elle mendiait et racontait aux gens que son père fut tué et qu’elle était devenue responsable d’une mère handicapée et de 4 petits frères et sœurs. Cela m’a ébahi parce que sa vraie histoire, qu’elle s’est enfuie car son père avait l’habitude de verser de l’eau bouillante sur son corps, rien que pour les plaisirs de sa belle-mère, aurait secouée plus profondément les passagers. Rien qu’écouter les histoires qu’ils veulent raconter et voir une photo pareille, pour se rendre-compte qu’il y a des histoires manquant une oreille compatissante.

 

Article original: www. Par Nelly Ali. Titre: Stories… Untold… The “Lucky” Street Children

Traduit par: Nourhane Agamawy

 

“Break a Girl’s Rib and She’ll Grow 24”: Egypt and Children’s Rights in the New Constitution

Flickr: أحمد عبد الفتاح Ahmed Abd El-fatah

I wrote this post originally for Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and can be found here: http://timep.org/commentary/break-a-girls-rib-and-shell-grow-24-egypt-and-childrens-rights

Whether it is in the face of personal or structural violence enacted in the forms of physical, sexual, emotional, cultural, verbal, or financial abuse or neglect, children in Egypt face a rocky road. Many children do not have clear access to their rights and encounter limited recourse in pursuing them. The dreams of political and social improvement that the January 25 uprising embedded in those who care about the plight of children in Egypt were met with infinite amounts of disappointment. In actuality, the situation for the most vulnerable continued to get worse, and lawyers and activists found themselves occupied with fighting for—and trying simply to maintain—the very basic rights of children. Rather than engaging in the lobbying and other efforts needed to enhance and improve children’s rights, these advocates have struggled merely to hold on to the status quo.

One of the first phrases I became familiar with during my work with street children in Cairo was: “break a girl’s rib and she will grow 24.” This was a colloquial saying I often heard during my mediations with parents of street children whom we were trying to reintegrate into society by supporting reunions with their families. The idea that violence towards children is not only acceptable but actually good for them is encountered—and fought—at the grassroots level, where laws protecting children against domestic abuse are not actively implemented.

The saying above illustrates a gap between legal protections and their social contexts, and it is a prime example of the different layers of obstacles that a children’s rights lawyer or activist must combat when tackling any rights abuses that children encounter. Of course, an added difficulty is that children cannot actively engage in the fight for their own rights. Members of the working classes, ethnic and religious minorities, and women have all led struggles for their own rights, but children simply cannot effectively organize in support of their rights. Consequently, children’s rights are often only codified as long as they never conflict with those claimed by adults. Each time a new constitution has been drafted in Egypt’s recent history, it seems as though human rights defenders have been disappointed in general, and the most recent constitution is no different. Specifically, those who have dedicated themselves to protecting children have a few grave concerns with the new document.

In 2011, Amira Qotb and others registered Manadeel Waraq (“Paper Tissue”) as a nationwide popular campaign for the protection of children’s rights in Egypt.  The group’s main responsibility is to lobby for the implementation of international and local laws protecting children in Egypt. However, even as I and other members of Manadeel Waraq were being asked our opinions regarding what would become the 2014 Constitution—which appears to grant basic human rights to children (despite lacking information on their implementation)—we were petitioning against the arrests of children, their detention with adults, and the public distribution of their pictures by the police and press. The distance between the words and actions we continue to encounter speaks volumes on the actual value of the proposed changes when not accompanied by detailed implementation schemes.

Among the articles that concern children are articles 97 and 204, respectively regarding arrests and military trials. Article 97 states that civilians should be brought before their “natural judge”, who for children would be a judge in a juvenile court. This is already somewhat problematic, as the juvenile justice system in Egypt is not a place where fair legal procedures regarding arrest, trial, and detention are observed. As for Article 204, it states that civilians can be tried before a military court under certain circumstances. It appears that this article will lead to a continuation of past treatment for children, as they have stood before military courts for years now. Manadeel Waraq and the No Military Trials for Civilians campaign are engaged in the fight against making children stand before a military court, though with limited real success.

On a slightly more promising note, Article 52 is a positive addition to the constitution in that it criminalizes violence in all forms, regardless of the victim’s position on pressing charges. However, it remains unclear whether this includes cases of abuse that occur within the family or whether such violence is still considered a domestic matter. As it stands, only a member of a child’s family can file a complaint based on physical violence towards a child if the violence involved is neither sexual nor life threatening. Another positive note is found in Article 60, which criminalizes any act that mutilates a human’s body. This article can be seen as laying the foundation for a fight against female genital mutilation, a practice that has affected the vast majority of female Egyptians. However, it is not clear how this article could be specifically invoked in practice. Finally, Article 53 references anti-discrimination principles that should guide the country in general; I and others hope that the guarantees made will be applied to schools that currently refuse to enroll street children with “mainstream” children because of the former’s history and experiences. Of course, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by Egypt, requires such non-discrimination in its second article.

The 2014 Constitution’s Article 80, which focuses particularly on children’s rights, was welcomed by the Egyptian Coalition for the Rights of the Child in Egypt. This article reiterated the state’s responsibility for protecting children from violence and preventing sexual and economic exploitation, including limits on vocational work that puts children in any danger. It remains to be seen how this article will be implemented, though, taking into account the complex economic circumstances that have led to a widespread level of child labor as a source of familial economic support. The article also states a right to identification papers for children—this is a very welcome move from the view of NGOs. Many NGOs working with street children have had their hands tied in attempts to enroll children in school or to get them necessary medical attention because of a lack of proper identification. Such situations present a catch-22: street children often ran away from their parents because of abuse or exploitation, yet previously they could only obtain official papers in the presence of their parents. Finally, Article 80 promises a comprehensive juvenile justice system, including legal aid for children and detention areas separate from adults. Again, we can only hope this will be a priority in the midst of the instability that the country is experiencing.

Article 89, which criminalizes human trafficking in all its forms, is another welcome addition. Though laws that already exist have done little to eradicate trafficking, the placement of a prohibition on the activity in the constitution is a necessary step to battle the violent abuse of young, female domestic workers. Many such workers are effectively “sold” by their families, as they are placed in other’s homes to work and their salaries are paid to their parents. Another area of work that may result from these laws is an investigation of the prevalence and details surrounding the stealing of organs from street children. It also includes criminalizing the prostituting of children whether covertly or in the form of a “child marriage” that lasts a few days. An example of an organized child-marriage-brokering network was portrayed in a secret documentary film done by journalist and former parliamentary candidate Gameela Ismail.

The writing of a constitution that includes explicit acknowledgments of children’s rights is the first step on a long journey to ensuring the safety that children deserve and to providing them with the opportunity to grow and develop into adults who are ready to face the challenges of life. One hopes to see improved methods of implementation and monitoring of these rights. There is also a need for broader recognition of the importance of academic, impartial research that investigates the roots of the social problems that harm children and how those problems can be solved at the earliest stages. Such a need exists because, in the words of Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

A Letter to Alaa in Prison, Where he is Free

 

Dear Alaa,

“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.” Gandhi. And so I will start my letter again,

My dear, honest friend, Alaa

I am writing this letter to thank you and to apologise to you.

I attended a workshop in Bristol last year. One of the professors speaking referred to you as a “problem” for new regimes that came into power in Egypt. They used you as an example of a “new type of youth”, one the repressive governments could not buy nor silence with power or promises of personal gain. I felt so proud at that moment. You were never one that trod on blood that was not given time to dry. You lived the expression of your understanding and conviction that innocent blood would not dry except with accountability, quick justice and with plans on how more blood would not be shed in the name of any flag or any religious book. It is with pride that you should know that this stand you take is not unnoticed, that it resonates in many consciousness’s as a reference point and that you have constructed in your own fight, a truth about what freedom and justice should be by taking this position. Rare are the opportunities to meet someone who is that brave, I do not take that for granted.

I am holding on to the image of you walking around in large groups during Tweet Nadwa giving the microphone to those who had gathered for a chance to have their dreams aired and heard and respected. You handed them in that microphone a tool of expression; literally and practically giving a voice to those who are often ridiculed for what others may call utopian dreams or naïve solutions to life’s complex problems. I hold that image of you because only when I saw how scared of you they were did I realise the power of what you were doing was. The value of that walking around in public spaces celebrating the agency and potential of your equals was a threat to the fragility of those who rule by terror and manipulation. It only made sense that they would try and find any way they could to put you in their cages, believing – foolishly – that those metal bars could keep in the value, the importance, the power, the affect of what you were trying to do. They thought, foolishly that they could imprison the ideas in your head that spread to us like dandelion heads every time they so much as walked past you or your cell.

Often, those who support my work, will attack me if I show discontent at a violation of the rights of someone with whom they, or indeed I, do not sympathise, as if rights were or should be reserved only for those with whom we associate. This often demoralized me and made me feel I was lucky to have an option not to be in Egypt, that I had the option to call another land “home”. But the idea that you represented, the philosophy that’s embodied in what you fight for, is part of what bought me back. The possibility of “fair”, or a collaborative “I”, that had to come together, gave me hope. I needed that the determination to work with the most vulnerable at home, my street kids. The justice and equal opportunity that I felt would come if everyone really heard, really understood, really lived what you were saying, was worth returning for. You made me feel that people at “home” understood the underlying values of equality, access to opportunity, freedom, dignity, integrity, they were free and so were asking for their freedom. It is people like you who gave people like me, with something to offer, no matter how big or small, the chance of coming back and offering it despite it not being profitable, not being progressive in a capitalist way.

I am incredibly humbled by your strength, by your determination and by the honour with which you live to remain true too your fundamental principles. I see how you are never compromising, never meeting an oppressor half way, never being silenced in the guise of neutrality. I admire that you are always taking sides – always – with the oppressed; no matter who that was because it was – always – the principle, not the idea, not the person, not the situation, that mattered to you. The abstract notions of justice and integrity that many construct in ways that suit them, were clearly well grounded and defined as far as you were concerned and I write now to reassure you that all those lessons are in my and many other hearts and continue to inspire us and give us hope. Hope is not a gift that is to be taken for granted in the world in which we live. It is the idea that is embodied in all those things that you do; which bought me back to my “home” country, it’s principles and potential like yours that kept me going was I worked with the street children.

Your family are incredibly lucky that they have you to support the remarkable work they have done, both in and out of prison. I was not surprised when I first found out that Ahdaf Sueif was your auntie. She had been my role model since I first picked up her book in 1992. I was only 12 at the time, and her message of merging the public and private, making the private political, has stayed with me 20 years on. I wanted to grow up and be like her. Then, one day, in a march for Michael Nabil, a lost cause in Egypt at the time, I found myself walking next to her, chanting for the freedom of someone whose ideology we both were not only unsympathetic towards, but fundamentally opposed to; both of us taking sides against the oppressor despite having nothing in common with the victim. I cannot begin to describe my euphoria in that moment. Mona and Sana are also incredible in what they do and when anyone compares my passion for street children with Mona’s work for her civilians tried in military courts, I am humbled beyond words. Your parents must be so proud of you all. It is true in your case that the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

Thank you for fighting the battle long before people had an avenue to express their opinions. Years before the squares and streets welcomed this generations protests you were out there fighting for freedom and getting punished for it. Thank you for the times you grew up without the presence of your own father because he was doing the same thing. Thank you for not being silenced, for being more than you had to be and making it like that was the only way to be. Thank you for not giving up and reminding me that abandoning the cause was an option, but one we did not have to take and one; which you refused even though you had so much to lose. Thank you for being and living the thing that you believed in.

And as I have said right at the beginning of this letter, I am also writing to apologise. I apologise, not only for not being in that cell with you since I share almost all of the ideas that you are in there for. I do not just apologise because you are missing out on so many “first times” your only son is performing without you cheering him on. I do not only apologise for every morning you are not waking up with Manal in your arms. But I am apologising because so many cathartic moments I have lived, have come as a result of all that has made you physically behind bars. My only consolation is that you are truly free, freer than the wildest birds could ever hope to be. And those things you say break inside you every time you are in prison, they are nothing more than the shell that reveals the next layer, the shiner, more refined spirit that brings about hope as soon as it is let go.

I watched a video of you saying that your greatest fear is to grow old one day and look back and see that the results of what you have done would bring sorrow and not joy. Fear not ya Alaa, because that will never be. What is happening now should not dishearten you, or me or anyone else. The truth is, the closer we get to justice, the clearer and purer the concept of justice is, and because of that, our struggle for it increases and the harder our fight becomes.

I am humbly your inspired, grateful and hopeful friend,

Nelly

Laura, 11 years old writes her 6th grade project on street children, inspired by this blog.. Thank You!

A beautiful 11 year old girl by the name of Laura was inspired by my blog to write her 6th grade project on street children.. Thank you Laura for having a heart that cares, that seeks to understand the pain of others and from such an early age being engaged in their worlds… your love has honoured and humbled me… your direct, simple and sincere message of hope and change are real and the world would be a better place if we could all remember how easy and simple it is to help..

I am proud to share your little project on my blog…

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Egypt – Sexual Abuse of Children: A Change in Curriculum

Her little arm flew up in the air with courage and enthusiasm as she said, “my daddy does that!!” Salma, the little 4 year old, did not have a clue of the shock and pain that her words were to cause the trainers for the next few years. This eager response came to the trainer saying “no adult can touch the private parts of my body” as they bravely (of course bravely, were in Egypt after all) touched their own breasts and pointed at their own bottoms and vaginas to indicate to the little people in front of them what they were talking about. Continue reading

Street Children: She was rosy cheeked and bright eyed. But she was raped at 9.

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“A faraway place… where there are no people, only the sea and trees. Where people live very far away, because people are bad and they hurt each other and those who are good aren’t able and don’t know how to do anything about the bad people and they can’t help me”. This was Amal’s description when we asked the children at the shelter to draw a picture of what the best place they could think of (her picture is above). Continue reading

: الائتلاف يتهم المرشد العام لجماعة الاخوان المسلمين … بالمتاجرة بأطفال مصر واستغلالهم وتعريض حياتهم للخطر

Below is a copy of the report submitted to the prosecutor general from the Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of the Childhood in relation to the use of children by the MB in their protests.

الائتلاف يتهم المرشد العام لجماعة الاخوان المسلمين …
بالمتاجرة بأطفال مصر واستغلالهم وتعريض حياتهم للخطر
تقدم اليوم الائتلاف المصرى لحقوق الطفل والذى يضم عدد 100 جمعية أهلية معنية بحقوق الطفل على مستوى الجمهورية – ببلاغ الى النائب العام المصرى تحت رقم (10929/ 31 يوليو 2013 عرائض النائب العام ) ضد كل من : السيد / محمد بديع – المرشد العام للاخوان المسلمين والسيد / صفوت حجازي – القيادى بجماعة الاخوان المسلمين و احد قيادات الاعتصام برابعة العدوية والسيد / محمد البلتاجى – القيادى بجماعة الاخوان المسلمين و احد قيادات الاعتصام برابعة العدوية والسيد /عاصم عبد الماجد – القيادى بجماعة الاخوان المسلمين و احد قيادات الاعتصام برابعة العدوية ، يتهمهم فيه بالاتجار بالاطفال واستغلالهم وتعريض حياتهم للخطر ، إستناداً إلى نص قانون الطفل المصرى المعدل بالقانون 126 لسنة 2008 فى المواد ( 1 ، 3 ، 96 ،291 المضافة الى قانون العقوبات ) …
كما طالب الائتلاف فى البلاغ الذى تضمن اتهام وزارة الداخلية بإعتبارها الجهة المسئولة عن إنفاذ القانون بضرورة إلزام وزارة الداخلية بإتخاذ كافة الاجراءات القانونية نحو تقاعس الدولة ممثلة فى وزارة الداخلية عن حماية هؤلاء الاطفال و دورها نحو توفير حقوق هؤلاء الاطفال فى الحياة الامنة المستقرة وحقهم فى التنشئة الصحية و الاجتماعية و النفسية السليمة وفقاً لنص اتفاقية حقوق الطفل فى المادة 19 …
كما أكد الائتلاف فى البلاغ على مسئولية أسر الأطفال المشاركين فى اعتصام رابعة العدوية وفقاً لنص قانون الطفل المصرى وطالب بتوقيع العقوبات عليهم لمسئوليتهم عن تعريض حياة أطفالهم للخطر.
وأخيراً يؤكد الائتلاف أن ما يحدث فى ميدان رابعة العدوية وميدان النهضة من استغلال ومتاجرة بأطفال مصر ما هو إلا تدمير لمستقبل أطفالنا وغرز لقيم العنف والأرهاب فى نفوسهم وسلوكياتهم وإزدراء المجتمع ودولتهم وتأصيل الكره والعداء الى وطنهم وقواتهم المسلحة وهى جريمة يجب أن لا تمر دون حساب.
الائتلاف المصرى لحقوق الطفل


Mr.Hany Helal
child rights expert
President of Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of the Childhood Condition(EFACC)

أطفال شوارع و الإعاقة وبيع الجسد للنجاة.

prostitutionThis post was translated from the original post: http://wp.me/p1sf3y-gH by Aziz Arafat (@MikoBello8) and edited by Ahmed Fouda (@Fouda_) – many thanks to your generous efforts.

كانت ثالث زيارة لى إلى الملجأ, كانت الأجواء سعيدة ذلك اليوم وهو ما علمت به لاحقاً باقتران ذلك بوصول مولود جديد. فقد عادت شادية ومعها مولودها الجديد إلى البيت بعد يوم من عملية قيصرية أَجريت لها. طَلَبت اذا كان من الممكن لى الدخول لرأيتها , فانا لم ارى شادية من قبل , دخلت إلى غرفة النوم والتى كان بها ثلاث أسِرّة بطابقين و ستة خزانات كل منها مقفل بقِفل على حِدَ. شادية مستلقية على السرير وهى ترتجف. شعرت بالفزع , فلم يسبق لى وان قابلت شخصاً مصاب بمرض باركنسون ( وهو مرض يسبب ارتعاش في اطراف الجسم ). فجهلى لكلٍ من المرض وأطفال الشوارع لم يجعلنى مستعدة لرؤية طفل مصاب بذلك المرض. كانت شادية تبدو جميلة على الرغم من أنه بدى على عينها اليسرى من انه تم اقتلاعها.

كنت جديدة  في العمل ببحثى مع اطفال الشوارع وأيضاً كنت غير مهيأة للشعور بالألم الذى كان يجلبه لى هذا العمل ولكن على الرغم من ذلك لطالما كنت جيدة بإخفاء مشاعرى ورد فعلي , لذلك ابتسمت وسألت شادية اذا كان من الممكن لى بلمس طفلتها هانّا. ابتسمت لى . كم كانت هانّا رقيقة ! كم واثقة وهادئة بدَت لى تلك الطفلة الصغيرة  وهى ملفوفة ببطانية صفراء اللون مُتبرَع بها. كانت مستلقية بسعادة بجانب والدتها غير مدركة لما كانت تفقده في ذلك الحين. اخبرتُ شادية كم جميلة بدَت ابنتها وتمنيت لها بان تنشأ ابنتها بحياة سعيدة. الان استرجع ما قلته في ذلك اليوم وتصيبني القشعريرة .

خَرَجتُ من الغرفة لأتحدث مع شيماء فهى أخصائية نفسية رائعة , والتى شعرت بانى أرتجف فحاولت طمأنتي. أخبرتنى بأن هانّا هى المولودة الرابعة لشادية كمحاولة منها لإقناعى بان شادية معتادة  على مثل هذا الشيء. شعورى بكونى متطفلة لوجودى هناك بالإضافة إلى صورة شادية التي كانت تراود ذهنى وهى مستلقية مع انعدام الحس الأسرى والتي كانت بحاجة له حولها. علمت بأن ذلك الشعور سيطاردنى مدى العمر ولكنى لم أدرك بأن هناك المزيد لقصة فتاة الشارع تلك بالتحديد سيكون مصدر أرق لي، مسبباً ندماً مؤلماً مثيراً للكثير من الأسئلة في ذهنى عن القيمة الحقيقية للعمل الذى ذهبت هناك لأقوم به (أو عدمها).

تركت الملجأ وأنا أقوى مما كنت اعتقد. تذكرت من هى شادية, فتم اخبارى بشكل بسيط عنها وعن ظروفها, هى شابة صغيرة تعيش في الشارع بعد أن تركت والديها المتعسفين تبيعجسدها مقابل مأوى . اعتادت شادية المجيء إلى الملجأ لتلقى الرعاية الضرورية عند كل حالة حمل لها بحيث تتركه ومعها رضيعها أو رضيعتها بعد أربع أشهر من وضع جنينها. أنا لست من هواة الإحصاءات ولكن عاملى الملجأ يقولون لى بان 20% فقط من الفتيات اللواتى يقدمن إلى الملجأ يتم اعادة تأهيلهن مجددا داخل المجتمع ولكن بقية الفتيات كشادية يعدن إلى حياة الشوارع , فلا يوجد فهم كامل لتلك المشكلة لقلة الابحاث التي تتناول هذه المشكلة الاجتماعية.

كانت شادية قد هربت من منزل ابويها وذلك بعد تحمّل رهيب لسوء معاملة اهلها تجاهها كإبنة تعانى من إعاقة حركية ومنذ ذلك الحين وهى تعيش لسنوات في الشارع (وهو ما علِمت فيما بعد أنه شيء مكروه أو تابو). ثقافة تملك الأطفال تلقى بظلالها الخطيرة على الصدمة التي يعانيها اطفال الشوارع ذوي الإعاقة في مصر وشيء كهذا عادةً ما يُنسب إلى الفقر والجهل , ولكن ذلك ليس صحيحاً , فأنا أعرف مهندساً ناجحاً يعانى من إعاقة حركية وهو من عائلة ثرية جداً معظمها من الأطباء , فخلال طفولة هذا الشخص كان يتم تجاهله وإخفائه من قِبل عائلته امام الزوار والضيوف علاوة على استبعاده من الانشطة الاجتماعية كالزيارات إلى اصدقاء العائلة ولكن بخلاف قصة شادية , لم يكن يُعتدى عليه جسديا من الأهل. فلا تزال قسوة وسوء معاملته العاطفية والنفسية التي تسبب بها والديه كرد فعل على إعاقته تسبب له المشاكل في الكثير من مجالات حياته حتى هذه الأيام.

انا اعتقد بان شادية اكثر حظاً من غيرها من الفتيات الفقيرات واللاتى لديهن إعاقة ويشعرن بالضعف الذي يجعلهن غير قادرات على تخيل حياة بديلة أجمل. سبق وأن اتخذت شادية العديد من القرارات التي أدت بها إلى الاستلقاء بجانب طفلتها الرابعة والتى تعرفها بأنها لن تحتفظ بها. ولكن على من نُلقى نحن اللوم ؟ ففي مصر, لا يوجد نظام رعاية واهتمام بديل لاطفال الشوارع, فاتجاه شادية لحياة الشارع كان الخيار الأسهل لها, كذلك الحال للكثير من الأطفال الآخرين على الرغم من المخاطر التي يواجهوها. شادية تبيع جسدها مقابل بعض الطعام. أنا اتعجب وأسأل نفسى, من يقبل على نفسه ان ينام مع فتاه لديها اعاقة مقابل ساندويتش او توفير مسكن مؤقت لها ؟, هل هم نفس الرجال الذين أتطلع إلى ان يقوموا بالمساعدة في ادارة الحملات معنا لإحداث التغيير وتوفير الأمن للأطفال المحتاجين، الأكثر تعرضاً للمخاطر؟

كانت جميع محاولات الملجأ قد فشلت لإعادة تأهيل شادية , كانت أولها إعطاء شادية قرض صغير لتفتح كشك للبيع ولكنها قد فشلت في إدارته, أيضا حاول الملجأ ان يُزوج شادية لرجل أيضا محاولة إقناعها لترك طفلها في ملجأ يسمى  ملجأ الأحلام وهو للأطفال تحت سن الخامسة بحيث يتركن الفتيات اطفالهن هناك ويزرن أطفالهن متى شئنَ , على الرغم من ذلك, باءت جميع المحاولات بالفشل مع شادية .

على الرغم من عدم قدرتى على معرفة قصتها بالكامل منها , اختارت شادية على أن أقدم أنا لها بعض المساعدة , طلبت منى ان احضر لها بعض الأشياء كمزيل العرق, شامبو وسماعات لمشغل الموسيقى لها. كان ذلك أقل ما يمكن أن اقدم لها . طلبت منى شادية خلال زيارتى لها في فترة العيد ان أقدم لها مساعدة لم أتوقعها , طلبت منى ان آخذ هانّا , قمت بحملها وضمها إلى صدرى ظناً منى انها تريد اخفاء ما تلقت من نقود يوم العيد في مكان ما, ولكن لا لم يكن ذلك ما خطر ببالى. هى أرادتنى أن اخذ أبنتها.

حَمَلت “هانا”، ظنا مني أن شادية تريد الذهاب لتضع نقود العيد (العيدية) بعيدا، فوضّحت أنها تريدني أن آخذ إبنتها معي، لأربيها، مدى الحياة

قضيت ساعة كاملة وانا أُحدث شادية عن مدى براعتها باعتنائها بطفلتها, كنت صادقة بذلك , فقد كانت هانّا وامها دائماً تفوح منهن رائحة جميلة  , وبدى لى مدى اهتمام شادية بطفلتها فهى دائمة هادئة لا تبكى ودائماً ما تكون مستلقية بالقرب منها, أخبرتها عن مدى حب هانّا لها وهو ما كان واضحاً بالنسبة لى، وكيف أن هانا ستكبر لتقف بجانبها وتكون سندا لها . كان قد بدى علىَّ مدى سذاجتى بعد أشهر من وجودى معهن, ولكن في المرة اللاحقة التي زرتهن بها, كان شادية وطفلتها قد إختفيتا.

لاحقاً وبعد بضعة أشهر, خلال جولتى بصحبة تغريد التي استغرقت 3 ساعات إلى الجرّاح   , وجدت أن شادية قد باعت طفلتها مقابل 500 جنيه لزوجين, وان ذلك الزوجين قد أخذا هانّا ولكنهما لم يدفعا لها مقابل ذلك.

بطريقة ما… شعرت بأنى قد خذلت شادية وشعرت بأننى السبب لما حدث لشادية لعدم قبولى باخذ طفلتها. ولكن المجتمع والحكومة محاسبين ايضا لجعله من المستحيل قانونياً لى أخذ هانّا. أُدرك أيضاً ان المسؤولية تقع على عاتقنا جميعاً بأن بلدنا لا توفر نظام رعاية بديلاً ومُرَاقباً افضل من الحالى للعناية بالأشخاص كمثل شادية. هانّا سوف تظل تطارد افكارى، وأتمنى أن تطارد أفكار كل مصري كان في إستطاعته وفي سلطته توفير بديل افضل لشادية وأطفالها وسلامتهم، ولم يحرك ساكناً

أطفال الشارع الذين يستعطفون الهبة مننا اليوم، سيتحولون للخارجين عن القانون الذين يضعون رقابنا تحت أنصالهم، وهذا ما نستحقه [إحقاقاً لتجاهلنا لهم]

Straatkinderen: de ketenen van kwetsbaarheid

Street Children and the Shackles of Vulnerability: translated kindly by Maja Mischke (original post in English here  http://wp.me/p1sf3y-ge )

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Deze blog is voor Farah. Haar ongelofelijke moed en kracht blijven voor mij onovertroffen.

Eén van de dingen die me steeds weer frapperen bij mijn werk met straatkinderen is hoe uitgesproken ze zijn. Ik ben iedere keer weer verrast, zelfs met stomheid geslagen door hoe goed ze zich uit kunnen drukken met woorden, met een enkele zin.

Terwijl ik met Maya sprak (ik kende haar al een paar maanden), voelde ik dat ik een stapje dichterbij durfde te zetten: “Ik weet dat je stiefmoeder wreed was en je vader altijd haar kant koos. Maar soms klinkt het alsof het leven dat je op straat leidde nog veel wreder was. Veel mensen vragen me:  waarom kiezen kinderen zoals jij voor de straat als het thuis minder gevaarlijk is?”

Waarop ze antwoordde: “Omdat het gemakkelijker is om de straat te vergeven: je verwacht niet dat de straat van je houdt, zoals je dat van je familie verwacht.”

Maya’s leven –zowel op straat als daarbuiten- is vervuld met redenen om alle geloof in de wereld en de menselijkheid te verliezen; haar veerkracht en lach is voldoende om het te herwinnen. Het is één van de dingen die ik van Maya heb geleerd: de keuze tussen twee nadelen, tussen twee slechtste scenario’s. Straatkinderen als Maya roepen verschillende reacties op bij de mensen die haar ontmoeten en haar verhaal horen, omdat ze in een opeenvolging van keuzes vaak de verkeerde heeft gemaakt. De minder toleranten zal het ontgaan dat de verwaarlozing en het misbruik waaronder ze heeft geleden sinds ze drie jaar oud was haar mogelijk niet hebben voorzien van de vaardigheid om het beter te doen. Voor andere kinderen is de straat niet een keuze tussen twee onfortuinlijke wreedheden, maar de enige manier om te overleven.

Het is een misverstand dat armoede de voornaamste oorzaak is voor het feit dat kinderen op straat leven. Het opbreken van gezinnen en geweld zijn de echte valkuilen. Misbruik. Waarom zou Farah anders op straat zijn?

Farah is een ongelofelijk mooi 14-jarig meisje. Toen ze 12 werd vond Medhat, haar oom van moeders kant, het hoog tijd dat ze deel ging uitmaken van zijn prostitutienetwerk. Hij deed haar geen voorstel: ze werd gewoon geacht in de voetstappen van haar moeder te treden. Farah’s moeder had jarenlang geld in haar broers laatje gebracht en Medhat verwachtte dat Farah flink aan zijn inkomen zou kunnen bijdragen. Zo moedig als ze was, weigerde Farah. Klant na klant klaagde erover hoe Farah naar de ontmoetingen gesleept moest worden en uiteindelijk nam Medhat zijn toevlucht tot geweld.

Farah werd gedurende 8 maanden aan een ketting geklonken die aan het plafond was vastgemaakt. In deze eenzame wereld die haar nieuwe thuis werd, in deze positie, werd Farah dagelijks door haar oom verkracht. Ze kreeg hangend te eten, ze deed hangend haar behoefte, ze sliep in haar ketenen. En in haar opstandige veerkracht weigerde het kleine meisje toe te geven.

Nu moeten we het in verband met veerkracht even over kwetsbaarheden hebben. Het lichaam van een kind, de zwakheid ervan, de beperkingen die het heeft, maar ook het vermogen een stem te laten horen en keuzes te maken om de eigen realiteit vorm te geven, alsook de fysieke kwetsbaarheid van een kind: al dat is juist hetgene dat door de volwassen wereld dient te worden beschermd, als was het een dure plicht.

Het ontbreken van die bescherming heeft ertoe geleid dat de moed van Farah afnam om beslissingen te nemen die ze niet vol kon houden. En het was toen haar lichaam nog verder verzwakte, toen de ketenen nog strakker waren gemaakt, het metaal door haar huid heen knaagde tot op haar botten, dat ze haar volgende beslissing nam.

Farah vertelde haar oom dat ze het opgaf, dat hij had gewonnen. Ze vertelde hem dat ze het ‘brave meisje’ zou zijn dat hij zich gewenst had en dat ze zou doen wat hij wilde. Terwijl hij haar losmaakte, terwijl hij de sloten opende van de kettingen die haar polsen en dunne enkels gebonden hielden, plande ze haar ontsnapping. Farah rende naar het raam en gooide zichzelf naar beneden vanaf de derde verdieping.

Hoe ze het heeft overleefd is voor ons allen bij de shelter onbekend. Het aantal gebroken botten was het bewijs voor de wanhoop en de prijs die dit kleine meisje betaalde voor die fysieke kwetsbaarheden en veerkrachtige keuzes. Ze werd niet alleen om haar gebroken botten naar het dichtstbijzijnde ziekenhuis gedragen, maar ook voor de doorgesleten plekken in de huid bij haar bovenbenen en billen, veroorzaakt doordat ze zichzelf maandenlang had bevuild. En voor de brandplekken daar waar ze was vastgebonden. Maar hoe zat het met de verkrachtingen? Hoe zat het met het trauma? En met de toekomst? Wiens verantwoordelijkheid was het om dat alles te helen?

Toen ze voldoende hersteld was, vertrok ze. Naar de straat. En toen verwees de politie haar naar onze shelter. Het moment dat ze binnen kwam lopen is onvergetelijk voor iedereen die daarbij aanwezig was. Shaimaa heeft me verteld dat ze soms nog over Farah’s polsen droomt.

Waarom ik u dit verhaal vertel, lezer? Het is niet alleen om zomaar even uw hart te breken. Ik heb het niet eens geschreven om u eraan te herinneren dat achter elk meisje dat op straat leeft een individueel en persoonlijk levensverhaal schuilgaat. Ik heb dit geschreven zodat we andere vragen kunnen gaan stellen. Ik deel dit om te laten zien dat het ineffectief is veel kinderen ervan te proberen te overtuigen dat het leven op straat slecht voor ze is. Voor kinderen zoals Farah, en helaas zijn er velen zoals zij, staat de straat voor hoop, vrijheid en vriendschap en onvoorspelbaarheid. Totdat wij begrijpen wat de straat echt betekent voor deze kinderen, totdat we NIET meer als eerste proberen ze te verenigen met hun families zodat we onze subsidies veilig stellen, totdat we ze alternatieven kunnen bieden…zouden we wel eens meer kwaad dan goed kunnen doen.

Street Children: Resilient Decisions and The Shackles of Vulnerability

Slave-trade-shackles-001

This blog is for Farah, whose incredible courage and strength remain unmatched in my mind.

One of the things I’m most taken aback by with my work with street children is how articulate they are. They often surprise and humble me with how well they can express themselves in narrative. Whilst speaking with Maya, whom I had now known for a few months, I felt I could pry a little further “I know your step mother was cruel and your father always took her side, but it sometimes sounds like the life you led on the street was so much crueler. A lot of people ask me why kids like you choose the street if it’s not as dangerous at home?” to which she replied “because it’s easier to forgive the street, you don’t expect it to love you.”

Maya’s life, both off and on the street, is one filled with reasons to make you lose faith in the world and humanity; her resilience and laughter, enough to make you regain it.

It’s one of the things I learnt from Maya, the power of choice between two harms, between two worst scenarios. Street children like Maya can, and do, generate different responses from people who meet her and hear her story because in a series of choices, she’s often made the wrong ones. The less tolerant will fail to see that the neglect and abuse she suffered as she spent years in an imaginary circle since 3years old, may have not equipped her with what it takes to make better ones. For other children, the street is not a choice between two unfortunate cruelties, but the only choice for survival.

Poverty is often unfairly made guilty as the prime reason children are pushed to the streets. Family breakdown and violence are the real culprits. Abuse is to blame. Why else would Farah be on the street?

Farah is an incredibly beautiful 14-year-old girl. When she turned 12, her maternal uncle, Medhat, decided it was time for Farah to join his prostitution ring. He offered her no proposal; she was merely to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Farah’s mother had been bringing in money for her brother for years and Medhat had high hopes for the young Farah to add more to this income. Brave in all her decisions, Farah refused. Client after client would complain hearing Farah being dragged to where they were and eventually Medhat had to resort to violence.

Farah was chained for 8 months, hanging from the ceiling, supported by a chair, with wrists tied behind her back. In this solitary world that became her new home, and in this position, Farah was raped daily by her uncle. She was fed hanging, went to the toilet hanging, slept in her shackles; and in her resilience, the little girl refused to give in.

It is here were need to consider vulnerabilities when talking of resilience. The body of a child, it’s weakness, it’s limitation, that despite everything agency and voice can do to shift positionalities, the physical vulnerability of children is the very thing the adult world has a duty to protect. It’s this lack of protection, which let down the courage of Farah making decisions she could not live through. And it was when that body became even weaker, when the shackles had become tighter, the metal gnawing it’s way past her skin through to her bones, did she make her next decision.

Farah told her uncle that she gave up, that he had won. She told him she would be the “good girl” he’d wanted and she’d do as she pleases. Unchaining her, turning the locks of the chains that had bound her thin ankles and wrists, her escape was planned. Farah ran to the window and threw herself from the fourth floor.

How she survived is unknown to all of us at the shelter. The number of broken bones was manifest of the desperation and the price this little girl paid for those physical vulnerabilities and resilient choices. She was carried to the nearest hospital not only for the broken bones, but also for the skin infections on her thighs and buttocks from having wet and soiled herself all those months, from the burns where she was tied. But; what of the rape? What of the trauma? What of the future? Whose responsibility was it to heal these?

When she was well enough to leave, she left to the street. It was then the police referred her to the shelter. The moment she walked in is a moment all who were there will never forget. Shaimaa tells me she still can see this girl’s wrists in her dreams.

Why have I told you this story, reader? You are mistaken to think it is merely to break your heart. I have not even written it as a reminder of the individual stories of each of the girls on the street, like I often do. I have written this so that we can start asking different questions. I am sharing this to demonstrate that trying to convince many children that the street is bad for them is ineffectual. For children like Farah, and unfortunately, there are many, the street is hope, it is freedom, it is friendship, it is unpredictable. Till we understand the meaning of the street for children, till the first thing we do with them is NOT to reintegrate them with their families as a priority to secure more funding, till we can offer alternatives, then we may be doing more harm than good.

Egypt: Where Muslims think heaven is not under the feet of Coptic mothers… and Coptics think to love a muslim is to live in Sin…

“Heaven is under the feet of mothers” says the veiled teacher in Arabic telling us, students, the prophets words; in attempt to exemplify the importance of motherhood and illustrate the reward God will give these good mothers for all the suffering. This particular teacher goes on to say, “Except for Nelly’s mother; because she is Christian.” As a six year old sitting in a religious education class at the King Fahad Academy in 1986, England, I remember being horrified as I, with the big imagination I had, imagined my most loved mother walking on that thin rope they told us you had to cross between hell and heaven – and not making it to the other side… It is, no doubt the same thing my sister felt, 15 years later from the Egyptian Saturday school teacher, also in London, who said the same thing. We both had nightmares of the fall into a pit of fire they told us was waiting, where your skin would heal every time it was burnt so that you could suffer its excruciating pain of burning again and again, and having been informed, by a figure of trusted authority, that the mother we both so much love, would not find heaven under her feet, was simply harrowing.

On both occasions my very brave mother, who I know will be making it to heaven, should heaven actually exist, took herself to our respective schools and demanded to meet the, now quite embarrassed, bigoted, teachers and I loved watching her put them in their place. But who was my mother really fighting? Was she fighting these two small minded, brain washed, unprofessionals? No. The fact that both my sister and I, over the course of 15 years, in two different schools, by different teachers, suggests that what was happening here was a deep rooted, systematic otherisation of Christians in the Muslim/Arab context and that the worrying thing was that it did not get better over time, nor worse, it was stationary, like it was a taken for granted fact repeated over the years. This suggests, perhaps, that you cannot fight sectarianism from the top down, it needs to be grounded, from the roots up, a cleansing of the rotting and decay at the very bottom that is manifest in Egyptian and Arab schools from the day they enrol and are asked what religion they are, not for equality assurance purposes.

Let’s get even more uncomfortable with this, because it’s easy to point fingers only at the Muslim inter-dimensional failings and oversee the problems which the Coptic congregation itself. Before I share my opinion on this, I would like to clarify where I am coming from to justify why I feel credible. At the age of 13, I decided to leave the King Fahad Academy and I started going to the local Coptic Church in the UK where I learnt many wonderful qualities of love, forgiveness, solidarity etc. I spent 8 years going to church, totally taken by the sense of community that was lacking amongst the muslim equivalent. During this time, I enjoyed all the good this community taught, but also was made acutely aware of the biting sting of forming a tight community where the congregation closes it’s gates high to outsiders seeing everyone “muslim” (not other, but muslim) as a persecutor. Of course, there are many reasons the Copts feel justified for feeling this, but it is unhelpful to adopt the “excuse of abuse” to reinforce, in new generations, the divide, the difference and accept it through normalising it, joking about it and sharing secret tapes of muslim converts to christianity being abused by their muslim families, for example, or creating this space where your Coptic children only played football with your coptic friends children, went to the cinema together, trips together etc. etc. The church, too, is guilty of ostracising it’s own followers if they fall in love with non christians, especially muslims. I, for example stood in confrontation with my pastoral Father (now Bishop) and asked him if I was, in the eyes of the church, a bastard child and he stood silent. The first boy to fall in love with me was advise against marrying me because of my muslim father and what this would mean for his children. Any christian woman married to a non christian could not “receive the grace of god” in the form of holy communion should she feel an urge to go to pray because she was having sex, in the eyes of the church, outside marriage.

Passiveness on the part of both Christians and Muslims is also a stamp of shame, guilt and oppression. If you, as a Muslim have done nothing more than recount the times you’ve had a Christian friend or had breakfast with a a Christian neighbour, if you’ve not protested every time they’ve had their churches burnt, if you’ve not been outraged every time they have had to hit walls getting licences to get water into their churches, or building them in the first place; if you have not stood protecting their churches during their festivities to ensure their safety, if you don’t actively teach your children about equality, then you too have contributed to the persecution and death of Copts in Egypt. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to think this way, but its time we stopped giving government more power than it deserves, we, along with the state need to be held accountable.

But the Copts need to step up their game of inclusion too… let me give you an example. When I was getting married, my husband and I decided we would include a quaranic verse and a verse from the bible in our wedding invites. This way, we would be doing something out of respect to all our christian and muslim family and friends. Everyone in our families thought it was a great idea and I was pleased. I went to get these designed and printed at a Coptic wedding stationary store. The assistant took our orders and one day before collection, the manager called and told us he removed the quote from the bible because he was scared of state security – this was two years after 25th Jan!! After lots of fights and tears and frustration – not because I could not have the wedding invites the way I wanted them, but because this guy gave in after my uncle from “state security” called him and his tone was now full of fear, respect etc. I was sickened by this man who epitomised everything wrong with the Coptic community who were scared and lacked the bravery to stand and merge into wider society. The same reasons perhaps that many would not admit led to the poor turn out at Al Khosoos funeral – and of course, the Copts were right… the mourners were indeed attacked – so how can you convince them they are wrong? It is a vicious circle we have allowed ourselves to be drawn into, in Egypt.

The recent deadly attack on Coptics in AlKhoso, Cairo was not solely state responsibility.  The state has a duty of care, and a duty to ensure justice for the church and the Christians murdered in the recent clashes – both which the state has miserably failed in so far; the list is long with offences against the Copts in Egypt where the state has not performed its role, or anywhere near avenged the people it is meant to include in its rubric of protection and security. Of course this is the role of the state, and it’s the role of the government to ensure it is not systematically enforcing its persecution of minorities in, say, the curriculum – many are turning a blind eye that year one religious education books now mention the Muslim Brotherhood ten times etc.

However, we need to very clearly distinguish responsibility so that we, as a society reproducing culture and discourse, can also be held accountable for the role we play in these horrific incidents, because if you’ve asked someone their religion, if you’ve asked your child if the person they’re marrying is of the same religion, if you’ve justified being unfair in your dealings with someone based on their religion or domination, if you’ve refused to employ someone because of their religion, if you’ve preferred to have your children play with kids from the same religion, then I’m sorry to say, you are also responsible for the deaths of the Copts in this country. And… let’s be even more honest, it’s not the Copts burning down mosques, or killing etc etc. So yeah, they have it worse…

Everything needs to be addressed simultaneously; the churches getting burnt and attack is one story, the patriarchal attack by Muslims also needs to be addressed, e.g. the Salafi men harassing Christian women, the Muslim men killing the Christian engaged couple for holding hands, the Muslim men cutting off the ear of the Christian man to teach him a lesson. This superiority Muslim men are giving themselves over children, women, Christians and other minorities is beginning to stink. The Copts too need to start teaching their own children not to carry chips on their shoulders, that it’s not each for their own, to risk integrating outside their congregation. Once the people themselves have been brave enough to address and affect change within their communities, then they will be strengthened to start asking for justice from the state when their churches are burnt and their mourners are attacked. Oh Egypt… what a confusing mess.

Broken Boned, Bitten and Burnt and No Foster Care in Egypt.

This is what the email Manadeel Waraq received said:

“Dear all,

Today the hospital admitted a three year old girl. Her mother and father bought her into hospital saying she had suffered a fall from the second floor. Upon examination, the doctor issued a report with the following:

– both arms broken
– concussion
– cigarette burns all over the three year old’s body
– second degree burns caused by an iron on both legs
– deformities in the body where the girl has been bitten, needing reconstructive surgery

We have called the police and the mother and father have been arrested.”

That was the email… A string of words that I am not ashamed to say made me cry while translating for this post. The email was so cold in its lack of emotion, it’s “factualness”, its rawness. But it had to be, because what words can ever capture the feeling the person who had gone to see this girl and writing to us reaching out for help, has experienced. What words could truly represent the fear, the pain, the cruelty, the injustice that this three year old girl had suffered, is suffering and will suffer? Damn words for being so limiting, damn her parents for their cruelty and damn life for making them so heartless.

The email was sent out to us, a group of individuals around the word who could do nothing but coordinate help, working with a reality that while we advocate for real social change towards children, we were working on the premise that we will save one child at a time. But what was to save here? We were a group of individuals working against a system bent on the victimisation of children, a government that’s every attempt to talk about children oppressed them further, a country whose children aren’t and never have been its priority.

I try, as much as I possibly can, to write my posts without emotion, without coercing my readers to feel a certain way, and definitely without trying to portray the children as mere victims but as agents capable of change, capable of influencing there own world. It’s what I teach, it’s what the new sociology of childhood is all about. But this three year old? How can I not ask you, reader, to cry with me? Or not ask you whose victim she is? Or your role in what’s going to happen to her if not what’s already happened.

I managed to enlist the help of one my heroes (Dr Hany Hamam) the reconstructive cosmetic surgeon who performed the rape scar surgery for one of my girls. He said he’d take care of that bit. Manadeel Waraq’s Amira Qotb enlisted the help of the head of the Coalition for Children’s Rights in Egypt lawyers, for the legal aspect of the case. Emails going back and forth throwing about ideas of which shelters we could move the child to temporarily. Great.. But then what?

If this little three year old girl miraculously gets better, she will need two things that will not be available to her: psychological help and shelter/ alternative care. Perhaps with the amazing twitter response I get to my call outs for help we’ll find the former, but what of the latter? There are only two types of child alternative care systems in Egypt: orphanages for biological orphans and street children shelters for social orphans. So what of abused children? What of foster care, kinship, adoption?

There is no where suitable for this three year old to go if she gets better. It cannot be up to our mailing list at Manadeel Waraq to deal with this alone or to forever continue working on a case by case basis. This is we’re we as a society must get together to advocate and be part of change – all of us. This is what we need to do:

– we MUST admit that familial abuse happens, torture, incest, gendered violence
– change the deep rooted idea that children somehow “belong” to their parents so that it is not society’s role to interfere
– we need to campaign for a foster care system that is well planned, structured and monitored

If you think what I am calling for is unrealistic, please let me remind you that in 1988 it took one Englishman, Richard Hemsley, to look around and notice that the only forms for alternative care in Egypt were old people’s homes and orphanages and he set up the first home for street children. We need to be progressive, it will only take a few of us to look around and see the truth that perhaps with a monitored, foster care system, we can not only get appropriate shelter for our three year old once she’s better, but perhaps a whole system that may mean kids have an alternative to the street.

Please, please let’s get the conversation going, please don’t think that you cannot help, you can, we all can… We all have to. It’s only a coincidence that it isn’t you, as a baby that’s waiting, burnt, broken boned, bitten, alone in hospital waiting for help. We have a responsibility we can no longer ignore. I hope you can forgive my first emotional call for help, I had no other choice.

In the end it seems that even the three year old can be an agent for change, if only we’ll let her

She was only 5 years old at the time and her little legs weren’t long enough to jump after her mother from rooftop to rooftop after the last violent beating her mother had received, tied up from a father high on drugs. She’d managed to jump six roof tops, but the distance of the seventh jump, was just too hard, she would have fallen and died if she had even tried. She tells me that she should have tried, she might as well have been dead than go back the six rooftops she’d managed, back to her father who sat in the corner, crouched over, crying in regret for what he had done to his wife…

It was three days before Eid, I sat, now casually after the group therapy session and the TV was on playing Sha’abi songs in the background, amused at the affect the music had on the little ones, 5 year old Maher bent on the wooden, loose legged coffee table, drumming out of beat, as 1 year old Noor bobbed up and down in her nappies – both blissfully enjoying what little life had afforded them. There was a good spirit in the shelter today, the special Eid clean was well under way and there was talk amongst the girls of new clothes they’d saved up for, what they’d do and where they’d go.

Sarah asked me what I would be doing for Eid. The truth was, I hadn’t really thought about it, my celebration of all religious festivals (and yes, I try and celebrate as many different ones as I can) was something that was decided on the day, spontaneously. So, with the honesty I had learnt to deal with the girls with, I told them I wasn’t sure yet. Maya, for the first time since I had come to the shelter, looked sad, though she was smiling. She told Sarah while looking at me, “she’s going to spend the day with her family of course, ya Sarah, that’s what children of people (welaad elnaas) do” and she jokingly slapped Sarah on the back and swore at her saying that bastard children like them should be grateful that they had each other. To which Sarah, of course, got up and hit her back till they ran around the whole room and made it back to their seats so composed, it was almost like this conversation didn’t happen. And I, as casually as they had acted, said, I will come one of the three days here for sure. I could not hide how touched I was at the excitement this promise was met with.

And I did come to them in Eid. I was thinking most of Sarah who had said she wished she had been in the shelter long enough to save money like the other girls to afford new clothes for Eid. She had only been there for a week and had 20 LE (£2) to her name. Shariff and Abdelazim had both given me lots of money to share amongst the girls for Eid. We went and bought toys, balloons, masks, sweets, fruits and cakes for the children and we were already enjoying this Eid more than any other – and we hadn’t even got there!

We walked in and the squeals of happiness and hugs and kisses we were met with are something that will stay with me forever. It was like the children, all ages, were taking this one day out in time to truly enjoy themselves. I was so grateful that they had wanted me to share it! I quickly gave the money out equally and got in trouble (just as quickly) by management who said it should go through them! But nothing was going to dampen today.

Except that Sarah wasn’t there. Maya told me she had a fight over the babies milk and… I didn’t hear the rest of Maya’s recollection of the incident, I was devastated she wasn’t there to share the day with us, to take the money and buy her and her baby some Eid clothes, to eat the mangoes and make an absolute mess with us… I couldn’t get over that she was missing today. It’s the way it is in the shelter, one day a girl is there and you get to know her, love her, build a future for and with her, but one day you’ll go and she’s gone and you know that more likely than not, you wont see her again. Often, you may only hear about her again if she’s been arrested, or has passed away. This thought made me achingly uncomfortable for the rest of the day. I worried for her, for her daughter that she was begging with.

I didn’t have to wait long though, three days after all the Eid festivities, Sarah was back with her little baby Lamees at the shelter, laughing at herself and how the week at the Sayeda Zainab was just too much for her this time under the “supervision” of Hafeeza, the infamous street leader who most of the children in the area beg and sell paper tissue for and are absolutely terrified of. None of what she was saying is funny, but she and the girls all sat on the floor around me cross-legged laughing, in tears laughing. I force myself off the chair to sit on the floor with them; something they’ve been resisting for fifteen minutes now out of respect. Sarah tells me “ya Miss!! You wont believe it, but I held a dollar!! I swear on my daughter’s head!! I held a dollar and when Hafeeza saw me she ran after me and I ran and ran but had to go back because I’d forgotten Lamees and had to go back for her and when I went back for her, she told me if I don’t give her the dollar she’d cut my hair”. To which, all the girls laughed. She then started to act, changing her voice – a skill all the girls had, to show how she begged from passersby retelling all the stories she’d been using to gain their sympathy.

It was amazing she had to think of stories to make people sorry for her. I was sitting in front of her by this stage and I could see the wrinkled, burnt skin covering the full length of her ankles and two feet. This was a scar; which had been there for ten years now. Sarah had gone shopping and came home late, her step-mother had convinced her father he needed to teach her a lesson she’d never forget, so she held her for him in the bath and watched the drugged father pour boiling water from the kettle over the little tender skin till it burnt.

One thing you’re trained to do when working with the street girls is to not show emotion as they recount their stories, but to this I could not but cry. Listening to her speak about it, about all the reasons she had to forgive him when he, sober the next morning, held her and cried and begged her forgiveness, this articulate, pretty, well spoken 16 year old street mother that she is today, the only thing out of all her contradictions that I am finding hard to not be surprised about, is how much she forgives her father. At the end of every recount of abuse, she ends with, “I hate how weak he is, and I feel sorry for him that he often can’t stand up straight, probably like his willy”.

She told me she was sorry she missed Eid, passed me Lamees and told me to look after her for an hour, it was her turn to go out and buy the babies their rationed nappies.

INTERVIEW: Nelly Ali: Fighting for Cairo’s street children and mothers – Bertelsmann Future Challenges

Nelly Ali: Fighting for Cairo’s street children and mothers – Bertelsmann Future Challenges.

Bertelsmann Future Challenges

Nelly Ali: Fighting for Cairo’s street children and mothers

Egyptian Journalist - Nelly Ali. Credit: Sara Elkamel.

Egyptian Journalist – Nelly Ali. Credit: Sara Elkamel.

Nelly Ali sometimes carries a magic wand in her bag. She uses Twitter to fundraise for clothes for those kids (Cairo street children and mothers).

She’s a strong woman tirelessly fighting for the rights of street children and young homeless mothers to physical, sexual, emotional and psychological safety.

An International Childhood Studies PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London in the department of Geography, Environment and Development, Ali is currently working on an ethnography of street girls and child street mothers in Cairo, Egypt.

Her research interests are the prevalence of violence in the day-to-day life of street children and their experience of resilience, vulnerability, gender identity and sexuality.

Nelly Ali has recently been volunteering at Hope Village, a shelter for young street mothers in Cairo, where she developed deep relationships with the girls. She has been writing and tweeting about their stories and fears, keeping a promise that she would put a human face on the “problem” of street children and mothers living on the city’s streets, swiftly marginalized by society. Nelly Ali is a dreamer, and she now shares her dreams with the girls at Hope Village.

In an interview with Future Challenges, Ali speaks of the challenges she faces, and the hope that keeps her going in this battle for the rights of street children and young mothers.

FC: You are a strong advocate for street girls and young street mothers in Cairo. When was the moment you decided you would fight for this cause?

NA: I started by doing my PhD research. My fieldwork was with street kids in general and so I found an NGO that would let me work under their supervision – it’s hard to just take to the streets as the kids are managed by a whole community of street adults that don’t take kindly to researchers. It was during the fieldwork that I got to know the street girls and realized that very little academic or social work was being done with this marginalized group of young women and as I built my friendships with them, I realized that I was being read and listened to about other issues I was commentating on, on Egypt at the time and so I took this opportunity use social media and blogging as a channel to which they could be heard.

FC: As an anthropologist, how can you explain the ailing situation of street children in Egypt today?

NA: The children have developed their own language, terminology, defense mechanisms, dress codes, survival strategies and society seems happy with the “otherness” this creates. It was interesting too to learn how the government upon being offered 17,000,000 LE for the street kids “problem” they did not consult a single NGO that works with street kids and instead decided they would build a city where they would move all street children to. This highlighted how marginalized this group of kids are, how they are perceived as a threat to society and also highlights that their situation worsens by mainstreams perception and lack of understanding.

FC: Can you describe the plight of street children in Egypt, particularly girls and women?

NA: This is a really hard question to answer in just a few words, but I’m going to try. I think it would be useful to talk about the plight of street girls and young women in terms of the different stages of their life cycle, so to speak.

These girls come from families who have been violent to them in one way or another and have found no support at the time, before migrating to the street in an attempt of reconciliation and of course, where inappropriate, then a lack of appropriate alternative care.

Then they move to the streets; which are even harsher than their home circumstances at times where they are subjected to a whole new range of violence and abuse and deprivation. One extremely articulate street girl answered me, when I asked her why she wouldn’t go home if the street was worse: “you can forgive the street because it’s not supposed to care for you, but how can you forgive your mum and dad who are supposed to be nothing but love and care”. This really threw a new light on the issue of rehabilitation and why it is, often, unsuccessful.

Then the violence and struggle at correctional centers and institutions where the monitoring of staff is catastrophic and lacking to say the least.

And then to the challenges they face when they fall pregnant, lack of antenatal care, humiliation at the hospitals they go to give birth in, lack of support with the paper work and the huge emotional and practical responsibility of having a child when they are children themselves.

FC: You are a volunteer and project manager at Hope Village, a day-shelter for young mothers in Cairo. What are the biggest challenges you face at the shelters?

NA: The biggest challenge is fighting the feeling that I just want to take them all home with me! But there are more challenges of course, treating them all fairly, listening without surprise – remember these kids have more experience in their small number of years than we have in a lifetime. One of the greatest challenges is standing around helpless as a parent of one of the children comes in to take his/her son/daughter and we know they will bring them back in a very bad state, but we have our hands tied by the laws which allow abusive parents to take their children away to beg with them for instance.

FC: Encountering the agony of homeless children day after day, you must often be overcome by a desire to stop. What keeps you going?

NA: I need to keep going because I realize on the days I don’t tweet and blog about them, no one is. When I went to speak to the girls about my research, I told them I had no questions for them, all I would report on was what was important for them that the world knew, the stories they wanted others to hear and know. If I stop that, all they will have are the sensational stories and numbers and statistics that totally dehumanize them. Many other things keep me going, the way they hug and kiss me when I come in through the door, the same girls that flinch at the slightest gesture from a stranger.

FC: In one of your articles, you revealed the story of Taghreed, a girl who ran away from her abusive father and now lives alone with her baby on the street. You wrote she only dreams of issuing a national ID. How have your dreams as a person changed, in light of the unorthodox stories you encounter everyday?

NA: Yes, definitely. I’m glad you asked this question because it’s been playing on my mind for a while. I was wondering recently where my “future plans/dreams” were and couldn’t find any… I realized that after working with the girls I have started to dream “collectively” so to speak, every dream is for a group of people, for families, for nations, etc. I find this really interesting and I am still figuring out what it’s about.

It isn’t just my dreams that have changed, though. Working with the street girls has changed me as a person. I try and write in all my bios now “I go to university to teach and I go to the street kids to learn”. They have taught me the most important lessons in friendship, love, maternal matters, struggle, resilience, resistance and they have also taught me the power of dreaming, that without holding on to dreams, you wouldn’t have the way to carry on.

I feel like I am so privileged to live these girl’s lives with them for many reasons. One of the things I’ve learnt is that once you start living for a cause, your personal problems aren’t an issue anymore, you learn to let go and be far more reasonable, forgiving and willing to compromise – you are armed with the “bigger picture” through their stories.

FC: If there is one human right you are fighting for, what would it be?

NA: The right to sleep with both eyes closed: the right to physical, sexual, emotional and psychological safety.

FC: Let’s dream for a minute. If you had a magic wand, what would you change/fix in order for those street children and mothers to lead normal lives? 

NA: I love magic wands… do you know that I actually carry one in my bag often! If I had one that would work for the girls, though, I would wave it at two things, the first would be their parents to push them to the street and the other at society who cannot embrace their misfortune.

Street Children: Reem and the Four Year Old Eyes that Haunt Me

She looks at me very seriously every time I walk through the door to the children’s room on the third room. As the other under fives come crawling or running towards me, depending on which they can do, Reem stays where she is looking me, piercingly. It’s hard not trying to interpret and analyse Reem’s looks, her tone, her words. She looks at me as if she is waiting to see if I have delivered a justice she is expecting. I ache at these looks and I want to tell her to stop looking at me. I want to tell her the burden she is expecting me to carry is one too heavy. But when she eventually joins the other children to either fight to hold my hand or crawl up on my lap, the warmth of her small body balances out the cold with which she had looked at me.

She never speaks till she is spoken to – a lesson; I imagine she has learnt a hard way. Heba who speaks with a vulgarity that is shocking to those who come for visits for the first time and endearing to me for it’s unpretentious spontaneity, tells me “mama, Reem was holding a glass and she was going to cut herself and the Miss took it off her, she wanted to do it because she was angry”. Calmly, but with a hint of defensiveness, Reem tells me, “No, I’m going to do it because I want them to know I want to be with me sisters!” Not having the slightest idea how to deal with the issue of self-harm with a four-year-old, despite years working in a child helpline, I say, “you must miss them very much… you only have one more year Ya Reem to join them in the big girls shelter, did you know that?” She nods once, not humouring my attempt at making her feel better.

But I’m not going to give up. I am here for Reem as well as all the other little ones. Despite the way she looks at me and questions me, her little fingers wrap around mine, her little head rests in competition with the others over the parts of my body that they fit themselves on and around. I’m amused by a thought that jumps to my head: for a moment I am grateful that I am fat so there is more of me they can sit on! I laugh and Reem asks me if I’m laughing because I’m happy to be with them. I tell her I am. I tell her that I am happy because I am around children that I love. She responds without compliment, “I am happy when I am with my big sisters. They cry when they know what Hassan does to me”. I ask her who Hassan is and she tells me that’s her father’s name. “Hassan did this the last time, look” and her little fingers leave my hand and she jumps off my knee to give me her back as she lifts her little hand-me-down t-shirt and shows me some bruises.

Is it because Reem’s story is so fresh, so current that I cannot deal with it the same way I am able to absorb the older girl’s stories that they relay from their past? Or is it because Reem, unlike them, has not had the years to teach her to accept it, deal with it, and sometimes laugh about it? I’m not sure, but when Reem is at the shelter I know that for nights to come I will not be able to sleep, I will call my mother and cry about injustice and I will hear her little voice and see her beautiful, accusing black eyes stare right at me asking me what have I done since the last time we spoke. I will her those frightening words she says in the little innocent four-year-old voice that will keep ringing in my ears and which I cannot shut out.

Without having asked for anything else, Reem says “Om Ashraf came in and kept saying “leave her ya Hassan, she’s only small, leave her and God will be pleased with you if you leave her,” and when he didn’t listen to her, she came in and pulled him off me and she carried me and hid me in her house till she bought me here.” I pulled her back up on my knee and 1-year-old Maria passed her a crisp right into her mouth; which Reem took. Reem rested her head on my chest and said “one day the police will come and get him and put him away so my mum can rest and if they don’t I’ll grow and be strong and kill him.”

Why am I writing this? Because I want to you, reader, to be outraged like me that there is nothing that the shelter can do to protect Reem from her abusive father. There are no laws implemented that can stop us handing over Reem when he comes to take her on “family visits”. We are campaigning and we are fighting for children’s rights… all battles so they can access services and are afforded protection they are entitled to. Money isn’t going to help us save these kids; rather, having a rights based understanding of how to help them will. Funding won’t ensure their inclusion in society, a will to include them, will.

کودکان خیابانی در میدان تحریر :نویسنده نلی علی /ترجمه آزاده ارفع

خیلی از کودکان خیابانی دقیقاً می دانند که تو چه چیزی می خواهی از آنها بشنوی. به تو نگاه می کنند؛ سخنانی بر لب می آورند که به دلت بنشیند ؛ در یک چشم به هم زدن داستانی را برایت نقل می کنند که برای شنیدنش به آن جا آمدی . آنها خیلی زیرک هستند. این راز بقای آن هاست.

یادم میاد خبرنگاری به من گفت که چگونه از حرف های یک دختر بچه خیابانی حیرت زده شده است. دختر مورد بحث به خبرنگار گفته بود به تظاهرات خیابانی ژانویه 2011 پیوسته زیرا خواهان دگرگونی های سیاسی و اجتماعی در کشور است. من دختری را که خبرنگار مزبور درباره اش صبحت می کرد می شناسم . برای او دگرگونی سیاسی معنائی ندارد به این دلیل ساده که اصولا» درکی از معنای دگرگونی سیاسی ندارد.من ماه هاست که این دخترها را می شناسم. آشنائی ام نه یک آشنائی کوتاه نیم ساعته برای انجام مصاحبه بلکه آشنائی طولانی است. هنگامی که می رقصند برایشان کف می زنم، هنگامی که در گروه درمانی صحبت می کنند با علاقه به حرف هایشان گوش می دهم، با آن ها مشترکا» به داستان ها و اتفاقات خیابان می خندیم و هنگامی که به خود شان آسیب می رسانند، زخم هایشان را پاک می کنم. من با آن ها به طور واقعی زندگی کرده ام و به همین علت احساس کردم می توانم از «تکرید» یکی از دختران خیابان به پرسم که آن ها واقعا» برای چه به میدان ها می روند.

دو نفری در لاک مصاحبه کننده و مصاحبه شونده رفتیم: «تکرید» با خوشحالی دستگاه ضبط mp3 را در دست گرفت، آن را روشن کرد، و از این که می تواند کمی بعد افکار خود را دوباره بشنود سرشوق آمد. از من خواست برایش یک دستگاه ضبط مشابه بخرم تا خاطرات روزانه خود را در آن ضبط کند زیرا نه خواندن بلد است و نه نوشتن. پس از آن، من در موقعیت مصاحبه قرار گرفته و دختر چهار ماهه او را در آغوش گرفتم ؛ نوزادی که تنها چیزی که یادگرفته لبخند زدن است.

هر کس داستان های دختربچه های خیابانی را از من شنیده بلافاصله گفته من لابد باید خیلی قوی باشم که توانسته ام زندگی با آن ها را تجربه کنم و به داستان هایشان گوش بدم. هر بار که من این داستان ها را می شنوم از لبخند های این نوزادان آه از نهادم بر می آید. آری، هیچ چیز به اندازه این لبخندها قلب مرا به درد نمی آورد. تاب بستن لبخند برگرد لب های این نوزادان ، بزرگترین تجلی نابرابری میان ما می باشد، نشان از آن دارد که در آغاز این لبخند ها به طور دردناکی شبیه هم هستند، اما در ادامه برخی از این لبخندها ارزش بی همتائی پیدا می کنند زیرا زندگی با همه قدرت در صدد درهم شکستن آن ها بر می آید و لذا از آن ها جز یک لبخند، هیچ چیز دیگری باقی نمی ماند.

«تکرید» شروع به صحبت کرد ودر باره انقلاب گفت ؛ درباره این که چگونه کودکانی که در میدان «رامسس» (Ramses) می خوابیدند به میدان تحریر نقل مکان کردند. او این نقل و انتقال را به عنوان یک مهاجرت توصیف کرد. تو گوئی تکه زمین سبزی- که سبز هم نیست ولی قاعدتا» باید سبز باشد- که بر روی آن گذران می کنند شهری است که به آن ها تعلق دارد؛ شهری با شهروندان کودک، کودکانی فاقد شناسنامه، فاقد سرپناه، فاقد خانواده بیولوژیک ومحروم از حمایت.

«تکرید» می گوید روزی یکی از کودکان دوان دوان به نزد آن ها در میدان «رامسس» آمد و خبر داد که میلیون ها نفر در میدان تحریر جمع شده اند. دو نفر از کودکان خیابانی که با هم ازدواج کرده بودند( ازدواج و تشکیل خانواده در میان کودکان خیابانی از سن چهارده سالگی شروع می شود و با آنچه که ما با آن آشناییم تفاوت دارد) تصمیم می گیرند که این فرصت بزرگ برای دزدیدن تلفن های موبایل را از دست ندهند.او هنگامی که به این جا رسید خنده اش گرفت و گفت باید دید که عکس العمل خبرنگاران درباره دلائل واقعی رفتن بخشی از کودکان خیابانی به میدان(تحریر) چه خواهد بود.

در ادامه اضافه کرد: البته همه بچه ها برای دزدی به آن جا نرفتند. این را برای خنده گفتم! مدت ها مردم به ما می گفتند که خیابان بد است و ما باید خیابان ها را ترک کنیم. اما به یکباره همه به خیابان ها ریختند، به میدان تحریر ریختند بنابراین ما هم از میدان «رامسس» به میدان تحریر نقل مکان کردیم.مردمی که آنجا بودند با ما صحبت می کردند، به ما غذا می دادند، با ما شوخی می کردند و برخی نیز تلاش داشتند به ما خواندن و نوشتن یاد دهند. ما حتی در آن جا در کنار کسانی که بوی خوب از بدن شان به مشام می رسید، خوابیدیم. ما هم به آن ها کمک کردیم. وقتی که غذا تمام می شد ما به آنها می گفتیم که از کجا می توانند ارزان ترین غداها را تهیه کنند. ما به آنها بهترین راه فرار از پلیس را نشان می دادیم. برای این که بازی آتاری (Atari) بازی مورد علاقه ما می باشد.از قیافه من متوجه شد که این جا را درست نفهمیده ام و توضیح داد : ما به ماشین پلیس آتاری می گوئیم و تمام روز در حال دویدن و مخفی شدن از آن ها هستیم .ولی برای همه ما روشن شد که پلیس میدان تحریر با پلیسی که ما می شناختیم متفاوت است ؛ آن ها وقت شان را با دودیدن به دنبال ما تلف نمی کنند؛ آن ها راستی راستی شلیک می کنند.

داستان ها و تحلیل های او در باره آن چه که کودکان خیابانی را به میدان تحریر کشید مغرضانه نبود.همه دلایل ، حتی دزدی تلفن های موبایل برای من قابل فهم بود و من همه این ها را با این واقعیت ارتباط می دادم که تازه شرو ع کرده بودم به شناختن کودکان خیابانی.

با این وصف، پس از سپری شدن دو سال، پاسخ کودکان خیابانی در باره این که چرا در انقلاب شرکت کردند، مرا شوکه کرد. کودکان درحال صحبت با همکار من عادل بودند؛ کسی که در هجده سال گذشته زندگی خود را وقف کار با کودکان خیابانی کرده بود. او به پائین نگاه کرد و به من گفت که نحوه صحبت این ها(کودکان) تغییر کرده و او نمی داند که چه کسی با بچه ها صحبت کرده است ولی قطعاً کسی بوده که با او تفاوت دارد. بچه ها در حالی که شیشه های کوکتل مولوتف در دستشان بود از کنار عادل دویده و از او می پرسیدند» زندگی من چه ارزشی داره؟ من می خوام مثل یک شهید بمیرم ، بطوری که خدا تمام اعمالی بدی را که در این دنیا انجام دادم بر من ببخشه. من می خوام بمیرم برای اینکه معنایی به زندگی ام بدم چرا که زندگی من هیچ معنایی نداره. من می خوام بمیرم تا تمام مردمی که در میدان تحریر هستند در باره من صحبت کنن و در مراسم تشیع جنازه من شرکت کنن. من می خوام بمیرم تا کسانی به یاد من باشند و قیافه مرا بر روی دیوارها نقاشی کنند. بابا من دیگر از مرگ نمی ترسم.»

رابطه کودکان خیابان با انقلاب در دو سال گذشته تغییر کرده است. با این وصف اگر فکر کنیم که بچه ها با آگاهی در خط مقدم جبهه قرار گرفته اند دچار نوعی رمانتیسیسم شده ایم .نمی توان برای افکاری که کودکان را به خط مقدم می کشاند آن ها را مقصر دانست.

در باره عمر پسر 13 ساله ای که کشته شد چه باید گفت. عمر با شلیک گلوله به قلبش توسط سربازان ارتش، که در پی حفظ خط فاصل سربازان با مخالفین بودند، کشته شد. آیا او برای دزدیدن تلفن موبایل به آنجا رفته بود؟ نه .آیا او به آنجا رفته بود برای آن که می خواست صورت کوچکش در تصویر های گرافیتی میدان های اطراف تحریر کشیده شود؟ نه. به عمر شلیک شد به خاطر آن که اون جا بود. به عمر شلیک شد برای آن که می خواست از خیابان ها خارج شود و زندگی شرافتمندانه ای داشته باشد. می خواست از خیابان هایی که اکنون محل زندگی بسیا ری از طبقات، مذاهب ، سنین و ایدئولوژی ها شده خارج بشه. عمر مورد اصابت گلوله قرار گرفت برای آن که در حال پیمودن این راه بود. ولی بیش از هر علتی عمر برای آن مورد اصابت گلوله قرار گرفت که برای کشتن او هیچ کس مورد بازخواست قرار نمی گیرد. قلب کوچک عمر هدف گلوله قرار گرفت به خاطر آن که بسیاری آن قدر زبون و ضعیف هستند که حاضر نیستند مسئولین را مورد بازخواست قرار دهند. این مقاله برای همه عمرهائی است که دستگیر و یا به گلوله بسته شده اند صرفاً به خاطر آن که در آن جا بودند، صرفاً به خاطر آن که جای امن دیگری سراغ نداشتند.

18 فوریه 2013

«نلی علی» کارشناس جغرافیای انسانی است که دکترای خود را در کالج بیربک(Birkbeck) در دانشگاه لندن می گذراند. او با دختران و مادران جوان خیابانی در قاهره کار می کند.

Street Children and the Big Dream of Citizenship

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There was no mistaking the horror this six year old girl was experiencing. Nothing more telling of the fear than the warm yellow fluid running down her short, scarred legs as her knees started to visibly shake. There was little mistaking the heaving chest as her heartbeats escalate while the quiver of her small, cracked lips began. Following her gaze to the door of the drop in centre for street children she was at, an angry man with blank eyes stood gazing right at her. Her father had found out where she was spending the day.

There is little the staff at day care centres can do to stop fathers or mothers coming to take their children, little they can do even if they had signed them in to permanent shelters. The law handicaps those who are trying to protect vulnerable children from abusive parents. Staff had to watch Taghreed be pulled by the wrist as she wet herself leaving the shelter which she had escaped one afternoon’s scorching sun to. All they could do was pray that they would see her again, minus the scars and bruises she had returned to them with previously.

Taghreed is not a lone street child. She has lived all her small number of years on the street with her father and mothers and siblings. They are travellers living on the streets of the cities they migrate back and forth between depending on which had a “mowlid” that the father could use his kids to sell little plastic toys or to beg if that didn’t work. Our society is one of alms, of course, but to care about where those alms went or what would be more affective than giving a few pounds, rarely is the case.

Taghreed didn’t like selling stuff for which her father took all her money; she didn’t like her father either – understandably. And when she found her way back after a couple of weeks to the day care centre, the psychologist asked her why she was so afraid of her father when she was such a strong little girl herself. Without shame, Taghreed recounted the ways in which her father ties her up in metal chains, locking the shackles at her ankles and wrists and beating her till he can no longer lift a finger. Many street kids lie to gain sympathy in hope for a pound or two. But Taghreed knew Shaimaa was not going to give her money; her body also bared witness to the genuineness of her account.

Eventually, the exploited girl ran away. She shaved her hair, bound her breasts and lived as a boy trying to protect herself on the streets. She tells me she could forgive those who did her wrong on the street far more than the parents she knew were meant to protect her. Taghreed is one of the most special and beautiful girls I have known. She is trustworthy and loyal and never forgets a good deed done for her. As she sits holding her cheerful 5 month old baby, she tells me her dream is to get ID for her and her child. That’s it – that is what she dreams of. But it’s a dream none of us who love and care about her have found easy to realise for her. Taghreed’s parents are not married; her father beats her every time she goes to try to convince him to go with her to get an ID issued and bureaucracy means she cannot get it done without him.

So unlike women fighting for equal rights, for employment rights, for child care rights, for divorce rights, Taghreed is a young woman fighting for the right to exist in the state, the right to be recognised as a citizen, the right, in her own words “to be human”. These are not things that we, as a society, can cure with giving a few pounds to passing street kids we feel sorry for, or a few pounds of meat during Eid to satisfy religious obligation.

We must, as the “honourable” citizens we like to think of ourselves as, be outraged that some are still fighting to be missed when they are dead, to hold pieces of paper that ensure the basic treatment at hospital if they fall ill, a basic education even if wont take them anywhere. We must be so outraged that this rage brings about change. We must refuse the social contracts we are in if they do not embrace those too poor, too weak, too scared to fight their way into our worlds – worlds in which we have become so blind that we are surprised to hear that some do not hold ID. I know someone who had their ID issued the same day it was requested while they were in a foreign country because they had the money and connections. Taghreed has spent ten years of her life being beaten and abused, travelling back and forth with money she has hated making and to no avail.

If you are reading this and know any way to help Taghreed get her ID without her father having to be there, without her parents having to be married, email me: nelly.ali@gmail.com – Taghreed and I need to hear from you. If you can’t, then tell everyone you know – tell them that before we concern ourselves with which hand to eat with so the devil doesn’t join us, we must extend that hand to those whose wrists are tied in chains, before we concern ourselves with never entering the toilet with our left foot, we must first concern ourselves with lifting the feet that step on the weak because their voices don’t make their way to our ears.

Taghreed once gave herself to a violent gang rape to save a new virgin on the street – the least that sort of loyalty deserves is ID.

“Red Square”. Painting by the incredibly talented Mohamed Negm – mo*star art http://www.mostarart.com

“Red Square”. Painting by the incredibly talented Mohamed Negm – mo*star art http://www.mostarart.com

This post was originally translated from my original blog into arabic by Ekram Khalil for Shorouk News

قرأت فى الصحف وعلى مواقع الإنترنت، عن الاعتداءات الجماعية على المتظاهرات فى الشوارع، ولو لم أكن قرأت العناوين، لظننت أن الكتاب اهتموا فجأة بالحياة اليومية لأطفال الشوارع. وكان من المنطقى أن افترض أنهم أصبحوا مراقبين حريصين على المتابعة، نزلوا إلى الشوارع لتسليط الضوء على مدى انتشار وطبيعية ثقافة الشارع التى يحياها كل طفل صغير فى كل ليلة. ولكننى قرأت العنوان؛ الذى تشير مفرداته إلى أنه يتعلق بالفتيات، والشابات والسيدات الأكبر سنا من «ولاد الناس»، والطبقتين العاملة والمتوسطة (لأن أطفال الشوارع هم الطبقة المستبعدة). وقد تم تدبيج هذه المقالات لأن «المواطنين» تعرضوا للضرب، وتعرض شرف «المواطنين» للانتهاك، وانتهكت حقوق الإنسان الخاصة بالمواطنين. أما أطفال الشوارع؟ فهم ليسوا بمواطنين، بل إنهم حتى لا يحملون بطاقات هوية. وعندما يتعرضون للاغتصاب، والقتل بالرصاص، والموت، على أبواب الملجأ، فليست هناك جريمة، لأن الأمر لا يتعلق بمواطنين. وهكذا، لا يتعلق هذا الطوفان من المقالات بشأن التحرش، والاعتداءات الجنسية، وعصابات الاغتصاب فى الشوارع، بأولاد الشوارع.

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ولكن، لأن هذا هو الواقع اليومى لأولئك الأطفال، فقد عرفت بنفسى الشوارع على النحو الذى اكتشفه الآخرون مؤخرا. ومن ثم، أعتقد أننى أستطيع أن ألقى ضوءا مختلفا، أو نظرة من زاوية مختلفة، على ظاهرة تثير فزع الكثيرين للغاية، ويشعر كثيرون بغرابتها. وأرى أن هذا أحد الأوجه القبيحة للشارع. وكما أن لكل إنسان ولكل صديق، وجها قبيحا، لا تراه، أو تعرفه، أو تزدريه، إلا إذا أمضيت معه وقتا طويلا كافيا. فلا يمكن إخفاء حقيقته، وفجاجته إلى الأبد، كما أن نشوة الصورة المتخيلة، عن التضامن الذى يحققه الشارع خلال فترات الثورات، يبدأ فى التآكل، ويصبح الشارع وجميع سكانه غير المواطنين حقيقة، لا يمكنك أن تهرب منها، وهى الحقيقة التى شاركت بنفسك فيها والتى أثارت مخاوفك أيضا.

وبمناسبة الحديث عن الفزع، فقد بدا الكثير من الاهتمام والرعب، إثر الاعتداء بشفرة على أحد ضحايا هذه الاعتداءات. وقد تعجبت للمفارقة فى توقيت هذا الاعتداء. ففى الشهر الماضى، كنت قد اصطحبت احدى فتيات الشوارع اللاتى أتعامل معهن إلى جراح تجميل كريم، عرض على فتياتى، إجراء جراحة مجانا لمعالجة الندوب التى عانين منها، فى أثناء مثل هذه الاعتداءات فى الشوارع. ويعتبر الرعب جانبا من جانب ثقافة الاغتصاب فى الشوارع؛ حيث تسجل علامة على وجه كل طفل أو فتاة تعرض للاغتصاب. وتكون هذه العلامة عادة على شكل منحنى تحت عين الضحية، تعنى أنها لم تعد عذراء. وسوف يتم تسجيل الاعتداءات اللاحقة وهى كثيرة عبر ندوب أصغر، فى أى مكان آخر على الجسد. ولا ينسى أى منا فى الملجأ فتاة كانت محظوظة؛ حيث فلتت من الجرح فى الوجه، لكنها احتاجت لخياطة 16 غرزة أسفل ظهرها، حيث تم طعنها بالسكين عندما كانت تهرب من مغتصبيها.

وأنا لست خبيرة بنظرية المؤامرة، لكننى مستشارة فى مجال أولاد الشوارع، ومخاطر الشوارع. ومن ثم، عندما قرأت التفسيرات حول أن الحزب الوطنى الديمقراطى والإخوان المسلمين هم من دفعوا الغوغاء إلى هذه الاعتداءات الجنسية، كنت مترددة. فقد تذكرت أنه ما من أحد دفع أجرا للرجال الأربعة فى الثلاثينيات والأربعينيات من أعمارهم لاغتصاب مايا ذات السبع سنوات، والتى كانت تعيش فى الشارع منذ أيام قليلة فحسب. حيث يعتقد المعتدون أنه كلما كانت الطفلة صغيرة فى السن؛ قلت مخاطر الإصابة بالإيدز.

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ويجلب العيش فى الشوارع معه الكثير من المخاطر، وكلما عشت فى الشارع، كلما زادت احتمالات تعرضك للخطر. فهل يجعلنا ذلك نوافق على ما يحدث؟ بالطبع لا، ولكنه يلقى الضوء على محنة الأطفال الذين لا يلقون نفس الاهتمام، والرعب عندما تقع عليهم هذه الاتهامات، يوميا. كما يركز على أن الشوارع أصبحت تثير الرعب، لأننا سمحنا لها بألا تكون آمنة. ويوضح كيف يتم دائما تجاهل القانون وإنفاذه فهل يستحق هذا الرعب أن يعامل بقدر أقل من الغضب لمجرد أنه صار واقعا يوميا؟ لا، ولكن الغضب، والدعم الذى ينبغى أن يأتى بعده الإصلاح، يتعين أن يمتد إلى أولئك الذين لا يحظون بالاهتمام الرسمى فى هذه الاعتداءات لأن الاعتداءات فى الشوارع منذ بداية العام لم تكن 25 اعتداء فحسب. وقد شهدت للمرة الأولى الرعب من الاعتداء الجنسى فى التحرير، وكنت أشعر بالغضب مع كل قصة أسمعها. وقد حان الآن الوقت كى نستيقظ على حقيقة الشوارع، فبينما أصبحنا سباقين إلى الحفاظ على الشوارع آمنة من أجلنا «نحن»، نحتاج أن نوسع كل هذا ليمتد إلى الأطفال الذين ليسوا ضمن حساباتنا، من يحتاجون أن ينقل الكبار ألمه وتجربتهم، لأنهم يحظون باهتمام بالغ.

وسيقول لكم أولاد الشوارع، إن الاغتصاب الجماعى ليس سوى مجرد البداية بالنسبة لهم، ويأتى بعد ذلك مباشرة الدعارة وتهريب المخدرات والمواد الإباحية. وما تشهده الطبقة الثورية الآن، ليس سوى بداية ما يشهده آلاف الأطفال فى شوارعنا، بنين وبنات، هل تتخيلون ذلك؟

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ومازالت بوصلة اللوم مختلة، فكما يوجه الناس اصبع الاتهام إلى أطفال الشوارع، لأنهم فى الشوارع وليسوا فى البيت، متجاهلين كل الأسباب التى دفعتهم إليه، يوجهون الآن نفس الإصبع إلى الإناث اللاتى يتعرض للاعتداء فى التحرير وغيره من الأماكن، بدعوى أن خطأهن أنهن لم يقرن فى بيوتهن آمنات. القضية هى المساءلة؛ فبمجرد أن نتعلم معنى هذه الكلمة، ريما يكون الشوارع أثر أمانا بالنسبة لنا جميعا.

كونك فتاة يدفعك للشارع أحيانًا

This little girl ran away to the street after refusing to give sexual favours.

This little girl ran away to the street after refusing to give sexual favours.

This post was translated by Al Shorouk and was published by them on 19 Jan 2013 and can also be read here

يشير العديد من التخمينات والإحصاءات والكثير من الأبحاث الأكاديمية والتطوعية إلى أسباب مختلفة تدفع الأطفال للعيش فى الشوارع. وتراوحت الأسباب بين ما إذا كان فقر أسر الأطفال المدقع هو الذى يدفع بهم إلى الشارع، أم مثلما اكتشف بعض الباحثين أن العنف والأسرة المحطمة يفضى بهم إلى الانتقال إلى حياة أكثر عنفا وتحطما فى الشوارع.

ولعل ما لم يشر إليه كثيرون أو لم يلحظه، أن مجرد كونك فتاة يكفى لدفعك إلى الشارع. «اكسر للبنت ضلع يطلع لها 24»، هذا قول شائع بين أبناء الطبقة العاملة فى مصر. وهى أيضا عبارة، نسمعها نحن العاملين فى مجال خدمة أطفال الشوارع عندما نحاول التوسط بين هؤلاء الفتيات الهاربات وأهاليهن. وغالبا ما تكون الفتاة التى تنام فى العراء، ولدت لأسرة كانت فيها والدتها ضحية عنف من رب الأسرة، وقد دخلت هذه الدائرة لمجرد لفت النظر إليهم.

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ويمثل كونك فتاة، تحديا فى كل مكان. ولكن، الأمر يزيد سوءا عندما تكون الفتاة مصرية، من الطبقة العاملة الفقيرة، نشأت فى عائلة تتسم بالعنف، وتعيش مع أحد الوالدين. وليس هذا تعميما شاملا، وإنما هو تصوير ديموجرافى لمعظم الأطفال الذين أتعامل معهم. حيث تنام الفتيات تحت الكبارى، وفى منعطفات الشوارع، أو بجوار السكك الحديدية، وهذه الأعين الواسعة، اللاتى تراها وتسبب لك غالبا اضطرابا، أو تخيفك، هى عيون لأطفال مذعورين، جياع، وحيدين. وربما يسهل علينا أن ننسى ذلك. لكنهن مسحوقات فى سن الطفولة.

وغالبا ما تهرب فتيات الشوارع من الأسر التى عرضتهن للسفاح أو الاعتداء الجنسى من الإخوة والآباء وأزواج الأمهات. ومن بين الفتيات العشر النزيلات حاليا فى الملجأ، تعرضت فتاة عمرها 14 عاما، للاعتداء الجنسى من قبل زوج أمها منذ أن كانت فى التاسعة من عمرها، وعندما اكتشفت والدتها ذلك، أخذتها إلى المستشفى لإجراء فحص العذرية بعدما نفى زوجها الاعتداء. فقام بدفع رشوة للعاملين فى المستشفى، لإصدار تقرير وهمى. وفى القاهرة، خضعت لاختبار عذرية آخر، فصدر تقرير بأنها لم تعد عذراء، وبموجب هذا التقرير تم إدخالها إلى ملجأ «الأمهات الصغيرات».

أما الطفلة لمياء ذات العام الواحد، فهى ابنة سميرة ذات الثلاث عشرة سنة، التى تعرضت للاغتصاب من قبل كل من والدتها ووالدها. وقد تركت سميرة طفلتها فى الملجأ خشية المسئولية، ولا يعرف أحد إلى أين ذهبت. وربما كان من أكثر الحالات المؤلمة التى تتعامل معها قرية الأمل منظمة غير حكومية حاليا، حالة هايدى، الفتاة فائقة الجمال ذات الأربعة عشر عاما؛ فقد قام عمها بتكبيلها فى نفس الوضع لمدة ثلاثة شهور، وكان يغتصبها يوميا. ولم يطلق سراحها إلا عندما وعدت بالانضمام إلى شبكته للدعارة، التى أجبر أمها وشقيقته على العمل بها. وما أن فك قيودها، حتى جرت وألقت بنفسها من النافذة. ونقل المارة الفتاة التى تكسرت عظامها إلى نقطة الشرطة، فحولتها إلى الملجأ.

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ولا يتوقف العنف الجنسى فى البيت ضد الفتيات. ويعتبر الاغتصاب والتعامل بعنف مع الفتيات جزءا من ثقافة الشارع. ويحمل معظم فتيات الملجأ ندبة مقوسة على أحد جانبى الوجه، أو تحت العين؛ وفقا لتقليد معين للاغتصاب فى شوارع القاهرة، لم يستطع أى من العاملين مع الأطفال فهمه تماما. فبمجرد أن تغتصب فتاة للمرة الأولى، يتم عمل جرح عميق منحن فى وجهها، بواسطة مطواة أو قطعة من زجاج عادة، لتسجيل إنها لم تعد عذراء، ويتم تسجيل وقائع الاغتصاب التالية بواسطة جروح أصغر مساحة على وجهها. ويحدث نفس الشىء عندما يتم اغتصاب صبى. ويسجل مدير الملجأ، وهو يدير الإسعافات الأولية فى مركز استقبال الرعاية اليومية المزدحم بالسيدة زينب، أن هذا النوع من العنف هو الأكثر شيوعا بين ما يتعاملون معه، حتى إنه يتم تسجيله أكثر من مرة يوميا. وقد أجريت لفتاة كانت تسعى للالتحاق بالملجأ خياطة 16 غرزة لجروح فى ظهرها، نتجت عن محاولتها الهرب من مهاجميها لإنقاذ وجهها.

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وفى جميع قصص الفتيات التى تعاملنا معها، كان مجرد كونها فتاة يجعلها إما عرضة للمعاملة بعنف فى المنزل، والتسرب من التعليم للمساعدة فى أعمال المنزل، أو أن تصبح مسئولة عن العناية بإخواتها، أو الاغتصاب فى الشوارع بسبب انعدام وسائل حماية نفسها، أو تحمل عبء ما يترتب على الاغتصاب، حيث تصبح مسئولة عن طفل، بينما هى نفسها مازالت طفلة، وتحمل عار كونها أما غير متزوجة.

وربما لا يكون هناك ما هو أكثر تعبيرا عن العنف الذى عانت منه فتيات الشوارع، أكثر من مشاهدتهن يقفزن من فراشهن إلى ركن الغرفة ليجثمن على أطفالهن عند فتح الباب من قبل أحد الإخصائيين الاجتماعيين. ويصعب التعامل مع هذا ومع ارتعاد الأطفال من أى حركة مفاجئة أو سريعة، حتى بالنسبة للإخصائيين الاجتماعيين الذين يعرفون قصص الفتيات ويشاهدون ذلك يتكرر فى كل مرة. وتهدف قرية الأمل إلى مساعدة هؤلاء الأطفال على النوم بعينين مغمضتين.

Who Let The Street Kid Down?

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This picture is drawn by one of our street girls, our artist. All her drawings feature a child crying, except one, a girl in a wedding dress smiling. But, in our society, will a fifteen-year-old, ex street girl mother, get to wear one?

This post was originally published in the weekly print of Egypt Independent (AlMasry AlYoum) 16th January 2013 and can also be found here

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A lot of people have recently started asking me what the hardest moment working with street children has been for me. As soon as I am asked this I am flooded with choices. My mind quickly scans the children and I try to decide which story to tell. In a matter of seconds I go through the ones that have moved me the most. Moved me, not so much because of the pain and horror a child has gone through, but because I, as part of “main stream society”, have either been blind to, oblivious of, or – as is often the case – not quite sure about and so ignore.

Was it Maya who tugged at the cords of my heart the most? Maya is a great example of our failure as a society on many, many levels. No one was there to notice or to follow up her familial situation after the divorce of her parents when she was three years old, so no one found out for the next three years her step mother had drawn an imaginary circle that she put her in to sleep, play, eat, drink, wee and soil herself in. When at 6 years old she was allowed out of the circle to become the house maid to clean and cook for her family, and new sisters when she accidently burnt the rice and paid the price with the metal garlic crusher thrown at her head, when people saw her run out blood streaming down her face to the local coffee shop to find refuge with her father, when he, high on drugs took her to the roof and tied her and beat her, stripped her naked for upsetting her step mother, no one could get involved because we are a closed society, because what business did you or I have to interfere in their family affair? Was it her family?

Oftentimes people make fun at Egyptians; saying that if anyone were to lose their nose they could be sure to find it in someone else’s business. But this is not true when it comes to children. There is a sense of ownership that parents have over their children that has not, till today, been adequately challenged. Maya’s story is not an extreme example when it comes to her father. Her stepmother is sadistic no doubt, but her father? Maya and her family come from our society which where the saying “break a girls’ rib and she will grow twenty four” is common– a father beating his daughter is often seen as a form of discipline that will do her more good than harm. Maya suffers coming from a society where it’s more honorable for a father to see his child on the street than in an institution. Maya is (not) protected by a law that states no one can report familial abuse except from someone with in the family; a social care system that wont accept Maya into alternative care without the signature of her father. Was is society?

Did Maya’s story hurt my conscience the most because when she ran away to the streets, getting on to a train to another city where she knew no one, she was raped by four adult men 6 days later? Was it because I did not hear of the story, campaign outside the local police station till someone, somewhere was held responsible for the scars, mentally and emotionally this resilient, fragile little girl had been subject to in the last four years of her life? Was it the street?

Or was it that Maya spent three years in an adult prison when she was thirteen years old that angers me the most? Having tried for over two years to get herself into a shelter that couldn’t accept her without her fathers signature, Maya returned to her street family who told her they would only accept her if she gave herself up for a mugging that they had committed. The police accepted her confession with no thorough investigation, accepted the fake name she gave with no idea and she spent three years in the most high profile adult women’s prison in Egypt. Was it the police?

Is it her continued bad luck that makes me often wake up in my sleep teary? That when she finally got married, she married a man who in her own words “made me miss my step-mother and all the pain my father inflicted remembered like tickles” – the only happy thing about this story was that her husband was put in jail for fifteen year for a drug related crime; two days after Maya fell pregnant. Was it her husband?

Or is that the two hours I held Maya’s daughter Summer, rocking her after her mother had thrown her across the room and she had bounced back on the hard floor, her one year old body already crippled from the physical abuse. Was it because I couldn’t blame Maya, because I couldn’t protect Summer, or because Maya was inside cutting herself to rid herself of what she told me later was her guilt for what she did to her daughter? Was it her daughter?

By the time I just go through one story in my head, the conversation is already changed, we’re now talking about the Coptic 10 year old boys being arrested, whether FGM is really that bad, what age a girl should get married. These are the topics people are concerned about after a revolution. But street kids? Street kids, the ones running around burning building and throwing molotovs? Because after all, when did society let the street kids down?

Sometimes Being a Girl is All the Reason You Need to Migrate to the Street.

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This little angel was so many times offered to me to take… I couldn’t because I thought she’d always be better off with her mother. I heard later that her mother tried to sell her for (£500).

So many guesses and statistics and much research, both academic and by well meaning NGO’s have pointed to different reasons for children being on the streets. There have been arguments back and forth whether it is the dire poverty of the children’s families that push them to the street or, whether, as some better placed researchers have found, the violence and family break down that lead them to migrate to a more violent and broken life on the streets.

What many have not suggested or noticed is that for some, all the reason they need to be on the street, is being a girl.

“Break a girl’s rib and she will grow twenty-four”. This is a common saying between the working class of Egypt. It is also a phrase we, those who work and serve street children, hear often when we attempt to mediate between these children and the parents they have escaped. A girl who is sleeping rough, will often have been born into a family where she has seen her own mother be the victim of violence from the male head of the household only to enter this circle as soon attention is directed at them.

Being a girl is a challenge – everywhere. But, it is more so when you are an Egyptian, poor, working class girl who comes from a violent family and lives with a stepparent. This isn’t a sweeping generalisation; it’s the demographic of most of the children I deal with. The girls sleeping under bridges, on street corners, by the railway tracks, those wide-eyed girls you see and often feel unsettled by, or often scare you, are the eyes of terrified, hungry, lonely children. It has become so easy for us to forget that. But they are children; crushed as that experience of childhood may be, they are children.

Street girls have often escaped households that have subjected them to incest or sexual abuse from their fathers, brothers and stepfathers. Of the ten girls currently at the shelter, one fourteen year old girl was sexually abused by her stepfather since she was nine years old, on discovering this, her mother took her to hospital for a virginity check after her husband denied the abuse. He paid the hospital staff to issue a fake report and in Cairo, subjected to another virginity test, a report was issued that she is no longer a virgin and with this report she has been submitted to the “young mothers” shelter. One-year-old Lamia is daughter to thirteen year old Samira who was raped by both her mother and father. Lamia has abandoned Samira at the shelter from fear of the responsibility and no one knows where she has turned to. Perhaps one of the most severe cases the NGO is currently dealing with is of Heidi, an incredibly beautiful fourteen-year old girl whose uncle had chained her for three months in the same position, raping her daily. He only let her go when she promised to join his prostitution ring; which he had his sister, her mother, working for. As soon as he undid the chains, she ran and threw herself out of the window. Passers by took the broken boned girl to the police station that then referred the girl to the shelter.

Sexual violence does not stop at home for the girls. Rape and violence towards girls is part of the street culture. Most of the girls at the shelter bare a curved scar on the side of their face or under their eye. There is a specific culture of rape on the streets of Cairo which none of those working with the children has been able to fully understand. Once a girl is raped for the first time, she is then deeply cut, usually by a pen knife or a piece of glass, in a curved manner, to mark that she is no longer a virgin, subsequent rapes are recorded on her face by smaller cuts across her face. This is the same if a boy has been raped. Administering first aid at the busy Sayeda Zainab day care reception center, the shelter manager records that this type of violence is the most common that they deal with, one that they record more than once a day. One girl seeking refuge at the shelter received sixteen stitches on her back as she tried to run away from her attackers, saving her face.

Perhaps there is nothing more telling of the violence the street girls have suffered than to watch them jump out of bed into the corner of their rooms crouching over their babies when the door is opened by one of the social workers. This and the flinching of the children at any quick or sudden movement is very difficult to deal with, even for the social workers who know the girl’s stories and who have seen this repeated every time. It is the NGO’s aim to help these children sleep with both eyes shut.

أحفاد الشوارع… يزحفون في ظلال الصدقة

لم أكن رأيت ريم من قبل. وكنت قد سمعت عنها عندما حدثتنى شيماء عن أسماء غريبة لبعض الأطفال، وكيف يطلق عليهم الملجأ أسماء أخرى. وكان اسم الطفلة ريم ذات السنوات الخمس، «أم حامد» فى شهادة ميلادها. وراقبتنى ريم بعيون تشع ذكاء. وقد تدربت، لأنها عاشت فى الشارع طوال سنواتها الخمس، على ملاحظة الغرباء وتحديد ــ خلال دقائق قليلة ــ ما إذا كانوا يمثلون خطرا أو لا يضمرون أذى. وهى موهبة يتمتع بها معظم أطفال الشوارع الذين قد تقابلهم.

وقد شاهدتنى وأنا ألعب مع الأخريات، وتابعت بعضهن يأتى ليعانقنى وأعانقه. ورأيتها بطرف عينى، وهى تستمع باهتمام إلى تعليقاتى، وهن يحكين لى ما حدث فى الملجأ خلال الصباح، وعن آخر رسوماتهن، وكيف تعرضت سالى للعقاب لأنها أهانت إحدى «أخواتها»، وعندما تأكدت أننى لا أمثل تهديدا، سارت نحوى مترددة. حملتها وأثنيت على ملابسها وسألتها عن اسمها. فقالت »أنا ريم». قلت «آه.. ريم، سمعت كثيرا عنك، أخبرتنى ماما شيماء وماما ناهد كيف افتقدتاك، وظلتا تتحدثان عن جمالك وأدبك». وكان رد فعلها مؤثرا. فألقت بذراعيها الصغيرتين حول عنقى وقفزت لتجلس على ركبتى. ولاحظت لأول وهلة أن لديها قمل فى شعرها، وكنت خجلة من نفسى لأننى ابتعدت قليلا حتى لاتزحف الحشرات إلى شعرى. وفى مثل هذه اللحظات أود أن أذكرك، أيها القارئ، بالإعجاز والتفانى الذى يتسم به هؤلاء الذين كرسوا حياتهم لأطفال الشوارع، واختاروا العمل معهم بشكل يومى، وينتقل إليهم فى كثير من الأحيان القمل، والطفح الجلدى، والالتهابات والعدوى من الأطفال، ولا يخجلون من معانقتهم، ورعايتهم، وتقبلهم. و لهؤلاء الناس ارفع القبعة بكل إحترام لأنهم يعرضون حياتهم للخطر بشكل يومي و هم يدافعون عن أطفال الشوارع الذين هم في الأصل مصدر دخل من الشحادة و الدعارة لبلطجية و زعماء دوائر شحادة او دعارة في الشوارع.

ويدور هذا الموضوع عن أبناء أولئك الأطفال فى الشوارع جيل جديد أكثر تهميشا من الأطفال الذين أنجبوهم. ولأنهم لا يندرجون تحت التصنيفات التقليدية لـ«الأيتام»، فهم إما يباعون، أو يقتلون، أو يستخدمون للتسول، أو إذا كانوا محظوظين للغاية يتركون فى الملجأ، الذى يتعلم، من خلال التجربة والخطأ، التكيف مع حاجات أطفال الشوارع بسبب عدم وجود مثال يمكن اتباعه.

في أغلب الأحيان يضطر الإِنسان أن يكتم صوت صريخ ضميره عندما يسمع هذه القصص بأنه يشير بأصبع الإِتهام على أطفال الشوارع و يتهمهم بالإِهمال كأنهم كانوا أصحاب القرار أن يحملوا و هم في هذا الوضع من المعيشة و يقولوا “كيف لهم أن يفعلوا هذا؟ الا يروا مدَى سوء وضعهم الحالي الذي سيولد فيه الطفل؟”  لكن ردّي على من يخطر بباله ذلك السؤال و على من لا يصل إلى أن يفكر في هذه الأشياء من الأساس أن اسألهم “و كيف لهم أن يروا؟ هؤلاء أطفال يعيشون في الملاجئ بعدما إغتصبهم والديهم أو بعدما تحرش بهم و إغتصبهم أزواج أمهاتهم أو إخواتهم أو من يعملون عنده.  أطفال تعاني من مشاكل نفسية و ذهنية، أطفال إغتصبهم من كان الأصح منه أن يرعاهم. هذه الأمثلة التي في الأرجح سببت لك الإِستياء موجودة لكن الإِغتصاب من قبل الأهالي أو في المؤسسات أو من الشرطة لا يعبر في حديثنا اليومي كأنه سر أكبر من كل الأسرار، لكن صدقني، عزيزي القارئ، أن الفتاة التي تحمل في الحالات المذكورة مسبقاً وضعها و حظها أفضل من غيرها فالإِغتصاب الذي يحدث في الشوارع ضرره و خطورته و ألمه اكبر بكثير.

وهناك ثقافة معينة للاغتصاب فى شوارع القاهرة، لم أكتشفها إلا عندما بدأت بحثى عن العنف الذى تعرضت له هؤلاء الفتيات. فبمجرد أن تغتصب فتاة الشارع للمرة الأولى، وإذا اتضح أنها عذراء، يجرح وجهها من تحت العين أو فوق مؤخرتها. وقد تم عمل 16 غرزة لإحدى الفتيات التى كانت تبحث عن مأوى فى الملجأ، بعد تعرضها لمثل هذا الاغتصاب. وهى إشارة إلى أن الرجال الذين اغتصبوها للمرة الأولى «علموا عليها» و«حطموها»! وينجم عن عمليات الاغتصاب التالية ندبة رأسية على جانب الوجه.  معاناة بنات الشوارع لا تنتهي عند تعرضهم للإغتصاب فالعلامات التي تنحت عليهم و الحمل ليسا إلا شيئين من أشياء أخرَى كثيرة بشعة سيواجهونها. إذا إستطاعت البنت ان تصل إلى ملجأ فمن الممكن أن تلقَى رعاية ما قبل الولادة في العيادة التابعة للملجأ لأنها لو لجأت للمستشفيات العادية فإِنها تتعرض للإِهانة و المعاملة القاسية من الموظفين الذين يسبوها و يعتدوا عليها اكثر.

ومن أكبر الإنجازات التى تفخر بها «قرية الأمل»، الدعوة الناجحة لتغيير قانون الطفل فى عام 2008 فيما يتعلق بالأطفال الذين يولدون لأمهات من آباء غير معروفين. فقبل عام 2008، كان الطفل المولود لفتاة الشارع، يبعد عنها، ويسجل تحت تسمية «مجهول الأبوين»، ويفصل عن الأم التى توصم بعد ذلك بالداعرة وتحبس فى مؤسسة إصلاحية بناء على هذا الاتهام، ولا يلتئم شمل الأم وطفلها مرة أخرى. وبعد حملة واسعة وبذل الكثير من الجهد، تم تغيير هذا القانون، وقرية الأمل الآن قادرة على مساعدة أمهات الشوارع الصغيرات على تسجيل أطفالهن باسم « مجهول الأب»، وتقديم المأوى للأم الطفلة وطفلها حتى تستطيع العيش بصورة مستقلة.

وبعد زيارتى الأولى إلى الملجأ قبل بضعة أشهر، سألت نفسى كيف يمكن لهؤلاء الفتيات الصغيرات ذوات البطون الكبيرة التعامل مع حالة الأمومة، هؤلاء الفتيات اللاتى هربن فى كثير من الأحيان إلى الشارع بعد اعتداء عنيف بدنى وجنسى، ارتكبه الأب أو زوج الأم. وهناك تاريخ لكل من هؤلاء الفتيات حيث تمثل كل منهن قصة رعب فى حد ذاتها، فكيف بعدما إغتصبها من قبل والديها ستتعامل “سميرة” التي تبلغ من العمر ١٢ عام  مع تلك هذه المسؤلية التي هربت بعد يومين من عملية قيصرية، وكيف سيكون التعامل بين “مايا” و بنتها “سمر” بعد ما تعرضت “مايا” لخلع ملابسها و ضربها و تركها على سطح المنزل مغطأة بالعسل من قبل والدها! كيف ستستطيع شوشو” التي تبلغ من العمر ١٤ عاماً أن تستيقظ كل يوم لتطعم طفلها الذي يبلغ من العمرشهرين عندما يجوع بعدما حرقوا عينيها في موقف من مواقف العنف الكثيرة التي واجهتهم من أهلها لكونها معاقة؟”

وبعد شهرين، جلست فى جلسة علاج جماعى، وشاهدت هدير (14 عاما) تلقم ثديها لوليدها الجديد فى حنان لم أره من قبل ولم أقرأ أو أسمع عن مثيله أبدا. ورحلت ذلك اليوم وأنا أشعر بالألم من ظلم هذا العالم الذى نعيش فيه وأدعو سامع الدعاء ألا يتخلى عن هؤلاء الصغيرات، وأن يمنح أطفالهن الفرصة التى لم تتح للأمهات. غير أن الواقع يختلف كثيرا عن ذلك الدعاء. فلا يقيم فى الملجأ و«يتخرج» منه سوى 20 فى المائة من أطفال الشوارع. وتعود الأخريات إلى الشارع خشية هذه المسئولية الكبيرة، التى اضطررن إلى تحملها.

وحتى الفتيات اللاتى تعلقن بأطفالهن، غالبا ما لا يستطعن البقاء. ومن أكثر الأمثلة التى تمزق القلب الطفلة منال ذات الثلاثة عشر عاما وتعانى من فصام عقلى، التى أنجبت الطفلة هند. وتعتبر منال أفضل طفلة أم على الرغم من أنها تترك ابنتها فى الملجأ. فقد تعرضت للاغتصاب من صبى فى منطقة ريفية بمصر، وأمضت شهور حملها فى الملجأ. وقد ظنت أنها إذا أخذت طفلتها معها، سوف تحرك العينان الصغيرتان اللامعتان مشاعر أبويها ليتوليا رعاية طفلتها الصغيرة. وبعد يومين، تم استدعاء الإخصائية النفسية إثر استغاثة من منال لإنقاذ هند من حبسها فى مزرعة الدجاج، فى محاولة من الوالدين لإخفاء ما اعتبروه العار الذى لحق بالعائلة. واستقلت شيماء الرائعة حافلة لمدة تسع ساعات، ثم حملت على صدرها الطفلة الصغيرة طوال تسع ساعات للعودة. وتحضر منال كل شهر لتمضى يومين مع هند. وهى تعمل بقية الأيام الأخرى لشراء الطعام والملابس لها. وانا أتحدى من يرى صراعها النفسى كى تغادر فى نهاية اليومين، أن يستطيع النوم فى تلك الليلة.

ويبدو أن حياة هؤلاء الأطفال لا تفتقر فقط إلى التمويل بعد الثورة ولكن إلى الاهتمام والوعى المجتمعيين. وهناك أمل فى نجاة أحفاد الشارع من الاغتصاب والجوع، والعنف إذا كنا، كمجتمع مسئول عن ظروفهم، نشعر بالغضب من عدم وجود قوانين تطبق لحماية هؤلاء الأطفال. وأنا أريد منك أيها القارئ، أن تغضب لعدم وجود قانون يسمح بأخذ الطفلة جودى ذات السنوات الأربع من أم الشارع التى أخرجتها من الملجأ لتتسول بها، بعد أن أحدثت فى رأسها قطعا من شأنه أن يكسبها نجاحا أكبر فى نيل تعاطف المارة. وعندما تمر أيها القارئ بجودى وآلاف من أمثالها فى الشارع، ولا تشعر بالغضب معنا، فعليك أن تدرك أننا جميعا السبب. فلتساند حملتنا لحماية هؤلاء الأطفال بحيث لا نواصل تحويلهم، مع جميع الأقليات الأخرى فى بلادنا، إلى السكان الأصليين فى مصر.

ولكن الآن، عودة إلى ريم ذات السنوات الأربع، فبعد أن تسلقت إلى حضنى واستسلمت لعناقها، واختلط شعرها الموبوء بالقمل بشعرى المغسول، وعندما تذكرت بارتياح أن لدى شامبو للقمل من لندن يحقق نتيجة خلال عشر دقائق، قلت للطلفة الصغيرة أننى كنت أنتظر لقائها، وقد سمعت أنها كانت بالخارج فى زيارة عائلية. فنظرت إلى بجدية بعينيها المستديرتين اللامعتين، وقالت: «أكره الزيارات العائلية، لقد اوقعت هبة الكوب، فربطنا والدى نحن الاثنتين معا، وضربني بالحزام هنا (و أشارت على ظهرها و العلامات الكثيرة التي تملأه) وتوقف عن ضربى عندما بللت نفسى. عندما أكبر سأصبح شرطية. وسوف أقتل أبى”.

thank you to Ahmed AboElhassan (from Tahrir Supplies) and Gameel Mattar (from Al Shorook News) for helping with the translation

Street Children: The Hymen and the Stamp of Shame

I sat rocking baby Summer, I held her vertically so that she could lay her head on my chest while I hugged her in her entirety. The rocking and the hug were calming me. As my tears fell on her face, she began to smile at the funny feeling of teardrops touching her skin. Despite the burning pit of anger, fear and pity they came from, these droplets must not have landed on her cheeks with the cruelty of the blood her whole body was covered in only moments earlier. She reached out with her little fingers that, unlike other babies, were rough, covered in rashes, to touch my eyes. This was a huge achievement for baby Summer who’s been receiving physiotherapy; calcium deficiency and crooked bones make it difficult to sit up, reach and hold things. The baby who had not completed her first year smiled looking right into my eyes. It broke my heart that she was smiling. I kept whispering to her how sorry I was. How incredibly sorry I was that I could not save her. I repeated it over and over again to the child now smiling, unaware that her mother, who was also still a child, was packing their well-worn hand-me-downs and would spend the night on the street; that if her mother did not leave her at the shelter, she would be her begging tool.

Today I learnt that I was braver than I thought, and that I was more of a coward than I had thought. Life as you live it every day limits this self-discovery. Only when you are pushed into the depth of darkness of human nature, when you are exposed to the rawness of human cruelty, pain and fear do you discover who you really are. I have been working with street children for a while. As a writer, you will notice that I have not written about the children, even on my blog. It has become too personal, I become too angry at the writing because of how sensational it may unintentionally sound. I want to protect the children I have grown to love and their stories from reducing them to words. No matter how skilled you are, no matter how much excellence you have in the craft of writing, you can never do justice in portraying the injustice of life and humans towards these children.

But I want to write today. Not because I have gained some extra writing skill over night, and not just because there is a societal concern and lesson from the incident I will write about, but because I have not been able to stop crying. I have not been able to sleep. Because, selfish as we humans are, I need to escape. It is no lie, no exaggeration when I tell you, reader, I am dipping the pen into my heart, and the blood of it, is the ink that writes this post.

The shelter today had a different vibe. The more I go, the more natural things seem to be, the less acting “happy family” there is. Today there is an “institution” feeling bouncing off the walls, each for their own, survival of the fittest. I am taken aside by Shaimaa, the shelter psychologist who has been working with street girls for over six years. She asked me not to give Shosho the headphones she has asked for because she listens to her mp3 all night and she doesn’t hear her two month old baby cry and so doesn’t feed her. I hear past what is being said and wonder how many girls are unlike Shosho, who have all the comfort and safety in the world to listen to their music when and how they wish, who do not have their an eye poked out by parents who abused her for being a disabled child with Parkinson’s, who have not had to prostitute themselves in the street for survival. This could have been a topic on it’s own for a blog, really. But Shaimaa went on to tell me that she was worried for the safety of Laila. Laila was the only virgin at the shelter.

Usually, the virgin girls are separated from the street mothers. The virgin’s are kept at 10th Ramadan Shelter for girls and Moqattam is home to the young mothers and their babies. Before working with the children, I was horrified at the split, I condemned the NGO for it’s segregation and joined a human rights campaign meeting where we, well meaning good doers tutted and shook our heads pointing fingers at the NGO heads who had taken this decision. Today, I went home understanding why this decision needed to be made, and that you had to start somewhere else. You had to start with society before you could keep the girls safe together. I understood today how very sick our society was. We are a hypocritical society concerned with which hand we should teach our children to eat with so that the devil doesn’t eat with them, who point out how heinous it is to walk through the door with our left foot while we forget the children that eat with their right hands out of the rubbish bins and we turn a blind eye on the children who get walked over with both feet. In the name of religiosity people condemn the broken hymen regardless of the circumstances a girl will carry that burden to her grave.

Shaimaa told me that she was worried Laila will be attacked by the girls tonight who were conspiring to break her hymen. Laila is due to get married in a few months. In a society that judges a girl’s suitability as a wife and mother based on a hymen that is in tact, this would be a catastrophe for Laila who would be rejected by her fiancé and will be sentenced to a different life than the one she wants. The hymen, even if broken in an attack by other girls who decide that they would seek justice by destroying something that was valuable to a girl who had been spared their trauma, the hymen, broken, was a stamp of shame to the girl in a society that kids itself into thinking it is pious, kind and merciful.

In the group session, things today were different. None of the girls were asked how she feels. Instead, sat in the circle we always sit in, we went round, each of the girls being asked to explain what was different in the shelter the last four days. Each girl said that Laila was annoying her. When asked how or why, no one gave any concrete answer, no one could put their finger on the reason. Sarah said “Laila is a clean freak, she can’t see something dirty and shut her mouth, but does she think she can remind us to clean just because she’s a virgin and better than us?” Pregnant Rania said “I could pay 500 pounds and come back to you tomorrow a virgin and better than Laila.” Maha said, “Laila annoys me, I don’t know why she just annoys me I don’t want her to talk to me”. Maha is a new arrival at the shelter that has been in many institutions since she was 5 years old. It unfolds in the end that Maha is responsible for planting the idea of attacking Laila. I am shocked at this because she appears the quietest, the sweetest of the lot. The same story about Laila is repeated till we get to Maya. During the time I have spent at the shelter I have noticed Maya has two voices, one she uses when she wants something and is trying to act feminine, and another when she is being defensive, when her body language is like that of a wounded animal. She was using this voice now. That was not a good sign. She said, “I hate Laila, she is better than me, I know she is better than me and I hate her”. Shaimaa told her she admired her honesty but that we should work with that and find out where that feeling was coming from and what made her feel Laila was better than her. She was not getting a response and so she said, “So far you’ve all spoken and I don’t feel there is any valid reason why you have all ganged up against Laila”.

At this, Maya stood up pointing her finger right between Shaimaa’s eyes telling her “I don’t need a gang to help me deal with Laila, I will give you institutions here, I will break her so she is like us, so she is not better than me, I will show you what real institutions are like. I will do it on my own, I don’t need anyone’s help, you can lock her in a cell and I’ll still break her.” At this, she stormed out of the circle, she grabbed baby Summer by one arm slamming her into the wall as she stormed passed, tore the curtain that separates the humble living area and the bedrooms. Shaimaa got up and asked all the girls to sit on the other side of the room. They all obliged, not saying a word. Everyone was somber but no one looked worried. I sat where I was, right in front of that curtain. I usually am one good for emergencies. Maya has grown attached to me and I’ve been used often to encourage her to behave well, I sat praying this friendship would support me in helping her. She appeared out of the bedroom with something in her hands that she unwrapped and threw the wrapper on the floor so we could see it had seconds ago covered a blade. When Maya grabbed Summer off the floor I got up to take the baby but Shaimaa told me not to, that Maya would harm the baby if we gave her attention. Shaimaa banged on the toilet door and told Maya she can cut herself, but not to hurt the baby. As Maya stormed out of the bathroom, we all tried to get the blade out of her hand, I kept saying, “for me Maya, for me, we all love you”. You could tell from the way her eyelids drooped she was not hearing us.

The shelter manager was called for. Maya returned to her room waving the blade in the air, dripping blood as she moved from the bathroom to the bedroom, she leaned on the wall covering it with blood. As soon as the shelter manager walked in, she stripped her clothes off so that he would leave. He walked out waiting for her to put something on. I told him we needed the baby out of there. Shaimaa walked in, I walked in behind her, as soon as she saw us, she took Summer and swung her across the room, the baby landed on the floor, her face and body were covered in blood. I grabbed the baby and as I picked her Maya came for me, I crouched over Summer in the corner, and Shaimaa screamed for Sami to come in, Maya had just slashed Shaimaa’s arm with the razor. I guess he saved us by storming in and slapping Maya. I took the baby and ran out almost crawling on the floor. But as soon as I had passed those curtains back into the living room, I froze. I carried Summer away from her, blood dripping off her, I could not move.

A younger child came up to me and said “we have to fix her, come to the bathroom”. I followed this little human who appeared far braver, far more experienced than I was, she skillfully held the baby over the sink and cleaned her, she told me where the antiseptic was, I went to get it and we covered the baby in it. We dressed her, and I sat with her back in my chair where Maya could see her child as she went back and forth. I could tell she was sad for Summer; she wanted to make sure she was ok. I was going to give her that. Sarah sat next to me. She said, “this reminds me of the institute days. But this is much better, in the institute; there were at least four girls who cut themselves every night. You don’t get help like you do here, its just girls after 4pm, there’s no supervision after that, so the girls wait till we’re all alone. You need to try and not learn that. You know, she can’t feel the pain at all; it’s like a chronic illness. What day is it? 10th September? It’s a black day, my mother was born on the same day.”

Shaimaa asked Sarah to help. Sarah, without saying a word got up and in seconds had Maya held against the wall. Such skill, so fast, so effective. These children had fought for survival, this was clear. They held Maya to the wall as they emptied her pockets to make sure she wasn’t hiding anything else she could hurt herself with. Stripped now to her bra and trousers, the scars across her stomach were clear. As she swore at them, telling them they shouldn’t waste their time with her, but go to the virgin they all loved, Shaimaa kept stroking her head telling her she loves her, that she cares about her, that she wouldn’t leave her till she cleaned the wounds and bandaged her.

Maya waited till they helped her, but she felt that she had to go through with what she had started and she packed her stuff to leave. There is no law in Egypt that can help us stop Maya taking her child and leaving. Child protection laws in Egypt mean Shaimaa hears her neighbour electrocuting their son every night and there is nothing she can do to help him. Maya came up to me shaking saying she was sorry I had seen this, she said “you came here to find out about us, there is nothing you can find out in those stupid conversations and interviews of yours, this is us, this is our life, this is the real story.” She hugged me. I, articulate as many think I am, could not say anything but, “please don’t hurt Summer”.

We sat in reception downstairs watching Maya leave. She had been in the shelter for years. They were all sure she was coming back, she’d done this before. Everyone was exhausted. I sat in awe of Shaimaa, arm now bandaged, Sami who had hugged Maya after hitting her sat justifying why he had to slap her across the face, worried that my zero tolerance to violence towards the girls would mean I would sit here judging him. Maher, the manager who had been called in, smoking, planning the session he was going to have with the girls to make sure Laila was safe that night. None of what happened had sunk in. I said, “where’s Jude, Mirna and Menna? I was here when their mother came to take them three weeks ago for two days for a Eid family visit, why aren’t they back?” I was concerned most for four year old Jude who has hepatitis C and recently developed a lump in her head. Shaimaa answers, “Family visit? Hmm. When they stop bringing in money from begging she’ll get tired and drop them back off.”

From the Diary of a British-Egyptian Girl: First Working Day in Egypt – Queues and Personal Space

Nathan Destro and his “personal space protector” on the streets of Johannesburg. Photos by Christo Doherty

I left him to speak, as he leaned over me and with his well moisturised arm reached out with the money having invaded my personal space (a concept that actually does not exist in Egypt), was paying for three canned drinks. Only when he spoke to the kiosk vendor saying “a pack of tissues” (without saying please) did I realise he was not, in fact, after a piggyback ride. Just before this, I had bought a bottle of water and was waiting for my change.

As the man (who was very smartly dressed and sported a pair of D&G sunglasses and smelt rather awesome) abused the notion of taking turns, I turned around – while he was waiting for his change – and I said, with the sweetest smile I could muster, “excuse me, can I please ask you something?” Feeling quite smug, he looked at me with an I-know-I’m-hot-and-you-couldn’t-resist-but-find-an-excuse-to-speak-to-me smile, replied “sure, of course”. “Thank you! I’m new to Egypt and I am really excited to learn about the customs here… and I was wondering if you could please explain to me (the smile now quickly disappearing off my lips) why it is you are completely unaware of anyone’s presence but yourself, what is it that went through your head that made you possibly think it was OK not to acknowledge someone else, what about you is so amazing that you felt it was not a problem to take my turn in the queue?” Completely taken aback he mumbled something about his car. I looked around and saw he had left the door of his BMW open and I went on to say “Ohhhhh, I see, so I am supposed to feel better about having walked half an hour in the scorching sun, been harassed about 15 times in the walk, because you are worried the a/c effect was decreasing? I apologize”. He didn’t reply.

I was angry. I realised this was a huge problem on the streets of this beautiful city. No one cared about anyone else’s feelings, anyone else’s priorities, efforts, problems. People didn’t give you personal space because as soon as someone else saw it, they would think it was a gap for them to push into. This is so contradictory with the nature of Egyptian people who if they saw you in distress or in need all get together to help you in anyway they can. However, it seemed that the idea that there is “not enough” – of whatever it is, time, food, etc. drove people away from that helpful, kind nature into one demonstrated by the good looking but nasty natured man of this morning. It had nothing to do with how well educated or cultured you were. Manners in Egypt are one of those mystic things; there are no rules and no patterns of behaviour that are common to any one class, group, or creed. Each person in each of these grouping had his or her own set of rules of conduct – and it is beyond me what this is based on.

This was the topic of conversation with a working class girl from the suburbs on our way home. Her interpretation of the behaviour was that people “where you come from” are involved in setting the rules that govern them and their behaviour and so they respect it and respect each other, but, she went on to explain, over here in Egypt, people were never involved, they never had a say in what rules should govern them and so they each created their own that suited them, that would get their stuff done with the least amount of hassle in the shortest possible time. It doesn’t really matter if she was right or wrong, what mattered was how political that comment was and how her being so analytical cheered me up. There are clearly boundary issues that need to be dealt with, but I’ve decided not to be so angry with those who are on their feet sweating for hours to get to and from work when they push in anymore, but elitists who step out of their BMW’s and push in, will not stop getting a piece of my mind. Every time. “Queuing in Egypt” is just as much an Oxymoron as “British-Egyptian” and apart from the option of walking around in hula-hoops from head to toe; I can forget this British etiquette in Egypt altogether.

Betting on Egypt

At the strangest of times when I am in London, I remember Egypt – and vice versa. I am sitting in anticipation, like millions of people around the globe, awaiting the announcement of the presidential elections. I am irritated that instead of thinking of what everyone else is thinking, I an entertaining silly thoughts, like, for instance, how the English love to bet on everything and that walking past Paddy Power shop windows, I would, no doubt, be seeing “Morsi vs. Shafiq” signs. It’s different in Egypt though; not just because betting is prohibited (at least in public), but also because when you bet, one thing happens and not the other. And, as any politically aware person will tell you, the two candidate’s running this presidential race are not set to “win” anything. Whoever is announced, as being 50.9% in the lead and the people who are inclined one way or the other, will not “win”. This is the first election between two runners up where someone entirely out of the competition is in the lead.

Hysteria is gripping anyone who is thinking politics. Normality and apathy are the lived experience of anyone whose life in Egypt is a daily struggle to put food on the table that they have forgotten what day of the week it is. Many are bored and just as many are angry without really understanding what the results will actually mean. What do I think? I think that the results will mean nothing at all in terms of political relevance. Either president, who will be doing the victory dance for going down in history as the 5th President of Egypt, will really be celebrating becoming the new mask for those who really are in power – the mask for the next few months (yes, I do not think that this one will last the four year term).

People have turned an eye from the Constitutional Declaration issued by SCAF recently and are concentrating on which area (Nasr City) or (Tahrir) will be pulling at the fireworks (a lucrative business this time of year). This is the same mistake we are guilty of repeating for the last 18 months. We are a bunch of people easily distracted – rumors, shootouts, parliament (yes, even parliament turned out to be a distraction too) and we are not focusing on the real game. We were even recently distracted by how Mrs. Morsi chooses to dress – this highlighted the acute inconsistency we suffer. It is important to note that Khalid Saeed’s mother, who the very same people look to with the utmost pride, wears the same attire. It was also a shame to see that the liberals fighting for civil freedoms were the same ones poking fun at her.

The rat race – oh sorry, the presidential race – is not entirely political. It has been an opportunity to highlight the social differences people are battling with in Egypt. While there are no official records of the election results, indications show that Morsi won the vast majority of Upper Egypt’s votes (mainly impoverished areas) and Shafiq won most the Delta’s large constituencies (the urbanized affluent who have material things to protect). While people are occupied with legitimacy, it is these differences and the underlying fears and motivations that interest me and should interest all those who care for the long term welfare of this country; because, even if the results are non representative, the incentive behind voting for one candidate over the other is more than relevant.

The position taken by the activists was confusing. The race saw the Social Revolutionaries back Morsi – they would have backed the devil if he was the only opponent to any one at all connected to the old regime, but later changed position once Morsi refused to withdraw his candidacy after Parliament got dissolved. Some supported Morsi out of principles and others were accused of selling out their revolutionary spirit because their hatred and mistrust for the Brotherhood blinded them, so much so, that they began seeing ex air force commander Ahmed Shafiq (with SCAF behind him) will be the guardian of a ‘civilian’ state.

So we sit here with the same feeling you have when you are in a hospital waiting room knowing that you will get bad news shortly, just not knowing how bad. The only thing that’s keeping my spirits up is Egypt’s history of having a “brush your self off and get up” culture. I’m betting today, not on the politics of Egypt, but on the people who’s kindness, generosity and humor are mentioned in every book I have ever picked up that has been written on this magical land.

** Nelly Ai is an anthropologist who teaches at the Institute of Education, University of London and Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. She is currently in Cairo for her PhD research and is an active observer and commentator on Egypt and the Arab World.

This article was originally published on Bikya Masr here: Betting on Egypt.

Egypt, the Elections and a Culture of Waste

 

Piece originally published in Bikya Masr. Egypt, the elections and a culture of waste.

Everyone in Egypt is playing the guessing game. Conspiracy theorists are of one opinion one day and another the next – a great indication that win by either candidate is a disaster to both the future of Egypt and to the revolution. If the Muslim Brotherhood wins, it is the end of a dream towards a secular state and a blow to the struggle towards equality. If Shafiq wins, then it’s the end of the freedom of expression and many of us will probably be rounded up, legally of course, and we will be sold the idea of stability at the price of civil freedom. There is currently one thing that is occupying my mind more than the question everyone is trying to guess the answer to, of whether Moursi, or Shafiq will win the current Egyptian Presidential Elections. This thing is: waste.

I cannot get over the idea of waste in the last 18 months since the start of our fight to overthrow the 60 year old dictatorship in Egypt. The waste of life is self-explanatory – those who died during these months were peaceful protestors, mostly young with many dreams of a future with the most basic of rights demanded. They were part of a wider group of people that were counted in millions. Killing these hopefuls did not curb the numbers. The oppressors we are still fighting today wasted these precious people’s lives. But this is not the waste I am speaking of today. I am writing about material waste – money, time and opportunity. We have had, in the last 18 months, 3 occasions where the people of Egypt were granted official days off approved by governments which were not approved by the people and millions of scarce Egyptian pounds spent on campaigns, on the process – only to be told a few months later that their vote actually did not mean all that much and either the result was invalid or they were voting for something unconstitutional etc.

We were all proud in March 2011 when the queues for votes were longer than the queues for bread. I am not sure who went out counting either queue, but we were proud, nonetheless, and we saw this as the first fruit of democracy that we were reaping. People watched closely and began to lose focus as we started to lose understanding of how these votes were being used. The constitution; which the referendum was about got beaten and baked into a completely sour dish and not the cake people were expecting. Then, last winter, 9 months after the referendum, perhaps this is the length of time for Egyptians to get over their disappointments and forget, a huge Parliamentary campaign began for candidates whom we have never seen the faces of before. I was part of one of these campaigns. I was not advocating a party or a particular candidate; I was tagging along networking and grabbing the chance to visit parts of Egypt for my own PhD research. Again, all I could think of was “waste”.  Other than the obvious mishap this is for real democracy, whatever that term actually means, what angers me the most is the amount of wasted money in a country whose economy has been crippled by the uprising! I’m here doing research with street kids for my PhD. One of the most reputable organizations, Hope Village who does phenomenal work with these kids for the last 24 years has seen its donations fall by 50 % over the last year!

Everyone was complaining about the “wheel of production” (which, by the way, no one speaks of now since this wheel is not being touched by protestors any longer) and that Egypt was at the brink of a devastating economic fall. And here were candidates who spent millions for a chance of gaining and securing more votes in constituencies they knew nothing of, candidates who burnt their own campaign offices to create negative press for their opponents. The vote resulted in a parliament that was non-representative of the people and definitely not representative of the whole population – one look and you could not find Wally – where were the Copts? Where were the women? Actually, stop, where were the representatives of the revolution – and I am talking about the all the revolutionary youth, including the Muslim Brotherhood revolutionary youth? They were scattered and weak in numbers, weak in power and weak in support. If this was not enough to dampen the spirits of the voters who tuned into their TV sets to the embarrassment of a Parliament with no political experience, with no history of debate of compromise flooded their sets, then what did flood their enthusiasm was a ruling, backed by SCAF, 6 months later, which saw the entire parliament dissolved, as being unconstitutional. People were quick to call this a smooth military coup – umm, where were you on the 11th February 2012 when the smoothest of military coups was taking place?

This was all after the voters had taken their third leap of faith and gone out, again in millions, to vote for the next president. Here came the waste of opportunity. The final results showed that a vote for the “revolutionary” candidate’s far outweighed those that went for the votes towards fake stability (or candidate’s that had ties to the old regime). Now my question is, why did they not unite? Why were no coalitions formed, when four out of the twelve, yes twelve, candidates were revolutionary leftists?! And now we wait to see which twist of fate awaits us, for in Egypt, there is no logical sequence of events, it seems that the results, just like constitutional declarations are “divine” and cannot be predicted.

So here we are here awaiting the results of our wasted opportunities, we are kept busy by conspiracy predictions (did you know that a case that may see the Muslim Brotherhood declared void as a political party and have their assets confiscated was adjourned to September this year?) And of course, we are kept more then occupied with rumors. Do you have any idea, reader, how many times Hosni Mubarak died in the last fortnight?!

Even if we are to assume best intentions of all involved, Egypt today is in a complete political mess. I abstained. I boycotted – and, may I add, I did so proudly. I said it before, I will say it here for the record: voting for Moursi was like amputating the legs and arms of the revolution; voting Shafiq was like giving it a shot in the brain, close range. Depending on your views on Euthanasia, you would have voted. Personally, I don’t think we should have either maimed or killed the revolution. I believe that all things worthwhile take time, and we should be willing to sacrifice during this time and fight for a tomorrow that we may not live to see, but one which we would be proud of creating for generations to come, as long as we are insisting on bring them into this world.

FGM: Mutilating the Female Spirit

This is a picture of a 10-year old at the local barbershop used by the CNN in 1995.
Please note: details have been changed to protect the identity of those I write about.

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She asked me if I liked her, a lot – not only if I liked her, but also if I liked her “a lot”. It’s hard breaking her good heart. But the truth is, I could not see past the fact that this woman she was asking me about, had made the decision to mutilate the genitals of her five female daughters. This woman had made the choice of subjecting all her daughters to a procedure she herself had gone through, one that I was afraid to imagine. She had decided to deprive them, forever, of full sexual pleasure because, she argues, “females are prone to being horny”.

I took the metro to visit this family in a part of Cairo I knew I would be frequenting during my stay here; a key site for my PhD research with street children. I would, of course, be dressed differently when I came for my fieldwork. There would be no designer flip-flops, no low cut maxi dress and no flowers in my hair. I would try to blend in the background, as “decent” women, here, are expected to do. Impressed with how clean, calm and courteous the metro was, one man, well into his 70’s and on a walking stick, got up to offer me his seat and would not have me turn down his offer. My friend had marked the house as the building next to the barbershop.

There was much going on that I know in any other circumstance, would have made me sit here, passionately writing. I would be typing away either about the gender roles and the non-patriarchal household (despite the presence of a husband and father); about the five young ladies that came scurrying out of the shared, tiny, cramped bedrooms with their big dreams; I would have written about the generosity of the poor compared to the rich we’d been visiting. I would have been sitting here being judgmental about a whole range of different things. But, none of the above, could motivate me to write today more than FGM. I walked into this house knowing that all the women in it had suffered something I was lucky enough to escape. It wasn’t only that I sat there knowing I would enjoy sex in a different, fuller way to these girls that outraged me, but more than this, that the mother, herself, had inflicted this.

I sat between them remembering a procedure I had undergone as a child in a clean, relaxed London hospital to check on my kidneys and the “reflux” they thought I was suffering from. The procedure involved a doctor inserting a sterilised tube up my urethra to see inside my bladder. It was done with my legs open in the air. I can still remember the details of the room; how big it was and considerably empty with just the seat i was on, a tray with wheels and a screen. I remember the offensive, but reassuring smell of disinfectant, the doctor’s gloves freshly picked gloves from the box in front of me, and his professional, but kind reassurance. I even remember the length of the hair on his eyebrows and the thickness of the frames around his glasses. It was more embarrassing than painful, but it was a procedure that 24 years later, I have not forgotten. It was also a procedure that meant it took many years before accepting that anyone could touch me “there”. I wondered what smells these girls could remember; could they recall the smell of the rusty blade, the impatience of the local barber, the dirt under his nails, and the humiliation at having lots of people watching? Could they remember the feeling of trickling blood down their thighs, fainting under the pain? I could not imagine how these girls felt at the thought of being touched “there” again.

I have often dismissed engaging with the fight against FGM, arguing to myself that there were plenty others who had taken this fight on. FGM wasn’t personal, I didn’t know enough about it, and I had my sleeves rolled up facing other human right violations. Today, however, I didn’t know how to deal with myself. I could not concentrate on any of the things that usually amaze me in these situations. I came home and couldn’t write about something I didn’t know, so I started doing some research. I wanted to start just by sharing a chronological commentary on FGM; which in many countries where the procedure happens, became known as one of the “Three Feminine Sorrows” – the first was the actually circumcision, the second was the wedding night when the woman had to be cut open again, and the third was during childbirth, where again, she had to be cut open.

The term “Pharaonic Circumcision”, which most girls who suffer FGM in Egypt are subjected to, originates from its practice in Ancient Egypt under the Pharaohs. Leonard Kuber and Judith Muascher, document that circumcised females have been found among Egyptian mummies, and that Herodotus (c. 484 BC – c. 425 BC) referred to the practice when he visited Egypt and there is reference on a Greek papyrus from 163 BC to the procedure being conducted on girls in Memphis, the ancient Egyptian capital, and Strabo (c. 63 BC – c. 23 BC), the Greek geographer, reported it when he visited Egypt in 25 BC).

It wasn’t just Egypt, or Africa that practiced this, though for the purpose of this blog I did not research more about the history of the practice elsewhere. It was interesting to find, however, that gynecologists in England and the United States carried out FGM during the 19th century to “cure” insanity, masturbation and nymphomania. It is important to note thee pivotal date, June 1993, when the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights agreed that FGM was a violation of human rights.

It took some time for Egypt to catch up, even if only superficially. The health ministry banned FGM in 2007. The five girls would have not benefited from this ban, even though it is naive to think the ban actually made a difference on the practice, in fact, it probably made the procedure worse because it had to be done in hiding. The ban came to save face the Egyptian government after a photograph (above) of a 10-year old girl became public. She was undergoing FGM in a barber’s shop in Cairo in 1995. The image was broadcasted on CNN and caused a public out roar. The photograph was taken in a barbers shop. As soon as I read that I could not stop thinking about the barber’s shop beneath the house were in. The head of the household kept speaking about them being long life neighbours that loved her. I started to feel sick hoping to god it wasn’t here the girls had become “pure, ready for marriage”. 2007 also saw the case of 12-year old Badoor Shakir who had died of an over dose of anesthesia during an FGM procedure in the southern town of Maghagh for which her mother had paid a physician in an illegal clinic the equivalent of $9. After this news broke out, the highest religious authority in Egypt, Al-Azhar, issued a statement that FGM had no basis in Islamic law, enabling the government to ban it – ban it, not outlaw it and hence it’s enforceability is problematic.

There is much to speak of, of course, other than historical dates that bought about change. There is the procedure, the experience, the cultural resistance of women, more than men, to give it up. There is the link between the ideas of mutilating the female reproductive system with a pure maternal being. There is link between FGM and the cultural expectations of some for women and the unnatural immobility during intercourse and their efforts to hide orgasms should they be lucky enough to experience them.

The physical and psychic trauma that these girls I visited have gone through and that which still awaits them makes me ashamed of all the times I have turned away from this debate. Education and awareness is key. For them, I start judging. For the children whose bodies are still being mutilated, I start writing.

Judges Holding Grudges

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Sometimes it seems appropriate that the title “Judges” should be changed to “Lawdges” (don’t try to look this word up, it doesn’t exist – yet). It’s time we added it though, to our dictionaries as a way of keeping up with the changing times. When the word “judge” came to our vocabulary it meant to provide “justice”. This is no longer what the judges in Egypt provide. They occupy courts of law (at their best), and not courts of justice, and, as such, “Lawdges” seems a much more appropriate title.

When the execution of the law becomes unpredictable, it’s nerve wrecking. Committing a crime and getting caught, waiting for the proportionate punishment that you subconsciously calculate, is not as terrifying as the anxiety you suffer when the law and the personnel that execute it are unpredictable. That’s what’s wrong with Egypt today for the activists; unpredictability. The recent unrest in Egypt is ignited by different events and during the aftermath of each of the tragedies that the country has witnessed has always included and ended with questions of cleansing the judiciary of corruption. The photograph above is of a sign hung up in Tahrir Square on many Fridays saying: “The People Want Purification of the Judiciary”.

Illustrative Case 1: Maikel Nabil

Maikel Nabil Sanad, Egypt’s first prisoner of conscience after the revolution, was arrested on 4 February by military police and tortured, but released 27 hours later and again arrested from his home in Cairo at 10pm on 28 March 2011 for a blog he wrote titled “The army and the people were never one hand” – a slogan that the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets chanting for months later. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on charges of “insulting the military. It was no coincidence that Maikel was singled out. In April 2009, he founded the “No to Compulsory Military Service Movement”. Maikel demanded that he be exempted from military service after declaring his conscientious objection and as a consequence was arrested on 12 November 2010, also by the military police. He was released two days later and finally exempted from military service, but on medical grounds.

Maikel Nabil’s trial, like most others relating to the same conviction, was void of many of the international legal guarantees of a fair trial. There is no appeal against a military court’s judgment for any of the violations to be rectified. It is imperative that Egypt addresses its human rights violations if it is to provide its people with the climate necessary for progress and if it is to fulfill the guarantees it has given in every human rights instrument, which it has signed and ratified. This is perfectly summarized in the recommendations made by Human Rights Watch in their 2002 report on Egypt: “Abolish Military Order No. 4 of 1992 and seek regular legislative approval of all new laws, or amendments to existing laws, that the government considers necessary to protect the security of Egyptian citizens. Ensure that all trials conform to international standards of fair trial, including granting the defense adequate time to prepare their defense and ensuring that the defense is granted full and prompt access to all relevant court documentation at every stage of the proceedings. · Amend Article 80(d) of the Penal Code to bring that law into compliance with international human rights treaty law protecting freedom of expression and the rights to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Abolish the Supreme State Security Court and all other extraordinary courts, and insure that all Egyptian courts meet basic international fair trial standards, including by guaranteeing a right to appeal to a higher judicial body. Propose new legislation that grants legal recognition and guarantees full independence to non-governmental associations.”

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As the regular six protestors stood outside the Military Prosecutors, better known as C28, news came from Maikel Nabil’s lawyer, Amir Salem, that the judges had given Maikel an ultimatum. He came out of court frustrated telling us the verdict would be postponed for the third time. The judges told Maikel that they were willing to pass a verdict of pardon should he accept logging on to his blog and publishing a public apology. Steadfast in his conviction that he had done nothing wrong, Maikel refused and the judges holding grudges, sent him back to El Marg Prison and a rehearing planned for the 14th December. There are no laws in Egypt that result in pardon when a criminal “apologizes”. The frustrations at the unpredictability of the law here drove Maikel to escalate his hunger strike to include medications and liquid.

Illustrative Case 2: Alaa Abdel-Fatah

Alaa, one of the most prominent and level headed revolutionaries, was released Christmas morning pending further investigations for 15 crimes attributed to him, the most serious including inciting secular violence and stealing weapons from army personnel. While he was missed during his time in prison, his smiling photos made their way around twitter and news channels. His smile, one confidence of having not done wrong, and his heart breaking letters to his wife after she gave birth with him inside to his first son, touched the hearts of those who knew him and those who had just read about him each time his 15 days were renewed.

Manal and unborn baby Khaled had held on. Alaa wanted to be there by Manal as she was giving birth to their first baby. Named after Khaled Saeed, the little baby was the product of a decision his parents had made during the 18 days of revolution in 2011. Manal and Alaa had at last felt this was a world they would not feel guilty having a baby in. Every hearing Alaa’s family had hoped he would be released and would be able to attend the birth. The judges postponed every hearing ensuring that Alaa would miss it. Alaa’s smuggled posts out of prison spoke of his fear when he realized how unpredictable, how random, how unfair the trial was. Both military and civilian courts ignored international human rights organisations pressure for the release of Alaa due to a lack of evidence and because of a multitude of witnesses and evidence proving his innocence. And true to the expectations of those who noticed the pattern, Alaa was given leave the hearing after Khaled was born.

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Whether or not the charges against Alaa are dropped, the judges holding grudges against Alaa took away something they knew he ached for; in his own words to his wife, “to see your face as you see Khaled’s face for the first time”. The good news is that unlike the people who lost their sons and fathers in this revolution, Khaled would grow up knowing his father and living amongst the revolutionary family of which he is part.

Illustrative Case 3: Mohammed Jamal

Political activist Mohamed Jamal, member of a coalition of committees defending the revolution, was murdered 21 January 2012 at dawn, in front of the High Court, while he was on his way home after a protest in front of the public prosecutor’s office demanding judiciary reform. Mohamed is reported to have left the protest at 4am after organising more marches calling for judiciary independence leading up to bigger protests 25 January. Only minutes after leaving his friends, he returned to the sit-in in front of the public prosecutor’s office bleeding of a stab wound. He fell dead pointing towards the High Court. The murder was recorded against anonymous.

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On the same day, political activist Kareem Abo Zed, member of the revolution coalition in Algharbya governorate, died in an accident on the desert road, on his way to El Menya governorate to attend the 2nd Conference of Egypt’s revolutionaries. No murderers were arrested and the coincidence between the deaths of two activists calling for peaceful demonstrations was not investigated. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said that “The government is the body responsible for the safety of citizens, and its failure to bring the perpetrators to justice is considered to be collusion”.

The judiciary has so far been unaffected, despite the challenges and efforts of those working to raise awareness of the need for reform. The continued protests, related murders and accidents indicate that till the need for cleansing is addressed with urgency, integrity and transparency, then Egypt will see a continued increase of cases that raise a multitude of question marks and grievances that cannot easily continue to be ignored.

Flags of Loyalty: The Football Massacre

 

“Some people think that football is a matter of life and death; I think they are stupid. Football is far more serious a subject than that!” Those were the words of Bill Shankley. You will often find them in the humorous quotes section. But I found no quote more appropriate to start off this post after the recent events in Egypt where 13,000 home fans stormed the football pitch in Port Said armed with knives and machetes claiming the lives of 74 young men.

Loyalty to country and to football club! These are the two loyalties in Egypt which cross sectarian, social and class structures. The main flag and the sub flags. But it was still hard to write about football, fans, revolution and death all in one post. It wouldn’t have readily occurred to me what they all had in common. However, links between football and politics are not new – some more serious than others and some more deadly than others. Egypt is not unique in this. Keeping aside the difference in detail and circumstance, one only needs to remember the infamous Winnie Mandela’s United Football Club and their bloodthirsty rhetoric in South Africa. Winnie’s bittering relationship with the Mass Democratic Movement in the 1980’s involved the conflict centered largely by her infamous Mandela United Football Club.

Coincidentally, the Port Said disaster took place on the first anniversary of the camel battle of Mubarak’s loyalists into Tahrir Square. It made the seventy-four deaths personal to those holding not only the football team flag but also the flag seen at the top; the flag held over and above. The ultras had used their experience confronting police at matches to play a significant role in defending Cairo’s Tahrir Square – the heart of the Egyptian uprising – against Mubarak’s security forces. Many on the streets saw the deaths of the Ahly Ultras as punishment for their role in the revolution and not an unfortunate accident.

Tahrir Square once again became the home of the angry, the bereaved and the helpless. Rivals Ahly and Zamalek put hostilities aside and fans stood side by side once again at the frontlines. They marched from outside their respective clubs to Tahrir and, faithfully, Egypt demonstrated its solidarity. Again the square made its calling and again it claimed more lives – at least four more people were killed on Friday and the Ministry of Health announced around 1500 injured between Wednesday and Friday.

[“Facing the Tear Gas” Moment perfectly captured by @lilianwagdy flic.kr/p/bo7zHx]

The lack of security has been at the centre of public debate since the overthrow of Mubarak. It has been the reason the silent majority has remained silent; in hope that quietening the revolution would have it returned. But, subsequent disorder, from attacks on Coptic churches to the abductions, robberies and muggings, has been seen as characteristic of deeply uncertain times. Whether or not the Port Said massacre was deliberately coordinated should not be the focus. The truth of why this happened may always remain unknown, but how it happened is clear: in a city where the head of security was changed four days before the match, in an audience that did not include any officials, 6000 men, without tickets, were allowed into stadiums with weapons, doors were closed on an unarmed crowd, and as a result 74 young men were stabbed and crushed to death.

Whether the conspiracy theorists have, or haven’t got it right, responsibility for the Port Said events should lay with those who claim responsibility for the countries safety and security. Failure to acknowledge this, on the part of the government or the people, poses further threat to the future of Egypt’s stability. The police know, from past events, that they will not have to answer for the fatalities. The massacre and the lack of responsibility raise grave issues of competence, accountability and trust. Political crime or football riot, the consequences will have a big part to play in the fast paced shifting of Egypt’s political landscape.

The Blind and the Blindfolded: Why I wont be Celebrating Jan 25th

Blood is often not given time to dry in Egypt before the betrayal of authority and the silence of the majority begins. It’s because both have not been close enough to smell that blood, to have it splattered on them while they help those braver than they are, to have pleaded for it to stop the death of a friend, to stare at it dried on the clothes they were wearing when attempting to be more influential than the laws of the universe. They betray that which has not hurt them, and that which has not been directly relevant. They forget the closeness of those who have.

There is much that revolution steals from the country it comes to free. 2011 is proof.

The very first day of the year the Two Saints Church saw a bombing that cost the Coptic community around 40 of its congregation celebrating the New Year. The Muslims came out in their thousands condemning the act, that the betrayal was not in their name. Then, 7th January, the Orthodox Christmas saw churches in Egypt surrounded by Muslims holding hands making sure the Christians felt safe inside the churches if not their country. Some say that how this catastrophe was dealt with is worthy of celebration. That this is how the Egyptian come together in distress and show the best of solidarity.

These shows of solidarity are always moving, always necessary and always temporary.

The events of this year moved at a pace too fast for anyone to stop at any one disaster; too fast for those who needed sympathy over the loss of a loved one to receive it before they found they had to be offering it to someone else with a more recent loss. There was a revolution in the winds that blew over Egypt. There was a freedom that would be taxed. The angel of death this year was the tax collector, demanding the debt on a freedom over due to be paid, by the young. And all year Egypt’s bravest were paying the price for generations that had lived and died on the land without ever questioning why it was embedded so deeply in their conscience that they did not deserve the rights so many had lost lives struggling for in other parts of the world.

I go through a continuum between rage and cringing when I hear people speaking of their plans for “celebrating” the coming 25th January. My immediate response is: celebrating what? Celebrating the death of hundreds of Egyptians killed at the hands of those who were meant to be protecting them? Celebrating the humiliation of those arrested/kidnapped by the forever present men of Mubarak’s regime? Or are you celebrating the good aim of the officers who blinded your youth? Perhaps you are celebrating the beatings of elderly women? No? That’s not what you’re celebrating?

Freedom maybe? Celebrating the 12,000 men, women, children on military trials? Thinking that freedom exists on the side of prison bars in which they sleep. As long as freedom fighters spend the night on the cold asphalt the other side of the bars we’re on, then we are not free. If we think we are, then we have not only deceived ourselves, but have betrayed those inside, whose only hope is that we remember them and don’t let go of the fight still waiting to be fought.

At any celebratory event in this age, we usually see a display of photographic shots that capture the essence of the journey towards that moment of triumph we’re celebrating. Which of these pictures will fill the square?

The one of the soldiers dragging the dead into the rubbish piles?

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The one of the Blue Bra Girl

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The one of the two old women beaten by the army while they crouch unarmed on the floor?

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The one of the soldiers urinating on the protestors?

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But even if these aren’t the pictures you’ll be using, even if you use the ones where the people are giving the army roses in February, then you are putting on display pictures that capture betrayal of the confidence obviously misplaced.

I’ll be first to wrap my hips and dance in celebration of this revolution when I don’t hear of hundreds unable to find gas for their homes, when they don’t stand hours for their share of bread when my fellow citizens are not more concerned why I was protesting than what I was protesting for. I will ululate when the execution of the law is predictable and reliable. When there is social justice and I am respected for my humanity then I will draw the posters of celebration myself.

The Egyptian flags that will be raised in triumph “celebrating” this revolution will not be big enough or bright enough to cover the blood and shame of killing the unarmed innocent, not big enough to cover up the lack of reason for locking away the brave who risk and give up much to say “NO!” to injustice. Those who lost their lives fighting for this revolution died for something we still haven’t had a taste of; were blinded and blind folded to give it life and hope. What they exchanged their lives, limbs, eyes and freedom for has still not been delivered, the deal has not yet been sealed. Only one side has paid and so as far as I’m concerned, there is nothing yet to celebrate.

Egypt: The Thugs That Nursed Me

“Please mind the Gap”. I haven’t heard that in months. I’ve been away from London long enough to have forgotten what is perhaps one of the city’s most famous phrases. My mind holds on to those words for a few minutes thinking about the safety London Underground are trying to afford me. I smile as a silly thought comes to my mind: if it had been the English tear gassing us during a protest, they would probably have prepared megaphones “please mind the tear gas canisters” repeated over and over again.

It feels quite surreal being here. Egypt and my experience there seems a life time away. The people I met and the circumstances we met in feel like some one else’s life. Here I meet people at coffee shops, libraries, Universities, conferences. In Egypt I was making the closest friends outside military prosecutors, dodging rubber and live bullets, carrying the injured, dying and dead, sharing sparse water during sit ins and sometimes in coffee shops having met off twitter. I made friends in Egypt from Cairo to Sohag. I lived a million life times during those few months and I took away with me so much experience and memories, so many laughs and tears, enough to last me this life time and more.

On New Year’s eve, I introduced my dear friend Ghali to a friend from London “meet Ghali, the first time we met was outside the Military Prosecutors.” I wanted to say more but I couldn’t remember which one of the civilians being tried by the military we were standing in solidarity with. This wasn’t the most bizarre introduction. Previously there had been “the first time I met Nelly, I was holding her head as she was vomiting after her first taste of tear gas in June” and there’s also Asmaa who I always introduce as the girl who threw herself in front of me as a tear gas canister was coming my way, the same girl I literally lifted out of Mohammed Mahmoud St when the shooting began. This is how you’re introduced to a different type of friend in Egypt. And I wasn’t even one of the brave ones. I sit on the platform in Euston Square now and I wonder how people like Alaa, Amr, Islam and hundreds of others introduce their 2011 friends.

The most significant of these friends and those who I dedicate this post to, are the thugs that nursed me. I remember the first day I went to Tahrir during a confrontation between the central security forces and the protestors; the night of June 28th. I sat at home watching the news of protestors being gassed by the CSF and that thugs were on motorbikes hurting people and stealing from them. I went on twitter and my timeline was filled with calls for revolutionaries to make their way to Tahrir. This call was to protect each other through our numbers. I saw that Lilian Wagdy was calling for people in Nasr City to meet at the Holiday Inn at 2am and we’d leave together. I called Asmaa ElHadary, who I’d met only once before at the Maspero sit in earlier this month and told her I’m going and to meet me there with Lilian.

Being the organised person I am, I packed my backpack with a phone charger, blanket, vinegar bottles and as much tissue as I could fit in. I got into what I thought was suitable clothes and left my flat to a very quite and empty street. No taxi’s were in sight. I hadn’t thought of this and I still didn’t know my way around Cairo well enough to know alternatives or if it was safe enough to walk to the Holiday Inn (funny isn’t it that I’m thinking of safety when I am going to a site of violent confrontation, but you do). I saw a taxi on the other side of the road quite far from where I was, I quickly put my fingers on my rolled tongue and whistled so loud I actually surprised myself! I remembered all the hours spent in the balcony with my guy cousins teaching me to whistle and being told off that I needed to be more feminine. I was glad today I never gave into that. The taxi driver waved out of the window in acknowledgement and drove round. I jumped in and he asked where I was going. I told him. He drove me to the Holiday Inn and wouldn’t let me out till the others got there so I don’t stand on my own and wouldn’t take a penny in solidarity. I found this incredible. I had missed this spirit in January/February and felt privileged I was being given a chance now. Lilian, her mother and Asmaa turned up and we got into another cab. We bought a box of bottled water and made our way to Tahrir. The streets were eery quiet today. Tahrir seemed like another country with another culture and law unto its own. As soon as we got close we could smell the tear gas, the remains of the smoke from earlier attacks was lingering around; a grey witness of aggression. Mixed in the smokey air, you could smell the sweat of bravery also.

We got out and the water bottles were devoured within a minute buy men whose eyes were watery, rimmed red. There was a police car that was circling the square. An officer was speaking through the megaphone saying: “You want the press to see what we’re doing? We’ll fuck you here first you sons of a bitch before they come”. We caught this on video.

I instantly felt afraid. When the people who are meant to protect you speak with such vengence against you, what hope of safety do you have? What hope of justice can you disillude yourself with? But I quickly realised that this call for solidarity was the best thing. As our numbers grew, the megaphone profanity stopped. Things seemed calm and everyone decided to stay in the square to protect those who weren’t leaving. We spent a few hours sitting around, people getting to know each other, exchange stories of violations witnessed. During the calm a few songs were sung, “Yahabebty Yamasr” (Egypt My Love) and a few patriotic poems. It was like we were being charged with patriotism for what was to come. Alaa was here (always at the front lines), he was telling us that this was a revolution, that he was hopeful, that what was happening today convinced him that we had to be optimistic, that we would win. The only thing that broke the calm were a few rumours every so often that thugs with swords were storming down and everyone would scream out “Selmiya Selmiya” (peaceful, peaceful).

What struck us all were the “thugs”. These men on motorbikes worked throughout the night and early hours of the morning. Two men on each machine going right to the front lines of the confrontation at Mohammed Mahmoud to pick up the casualties that the ambulances would not dare go in to get, place the casualty between them, take them out to the ambulances that were parked in their tens by the metro station exist and back again. They had nothing to drink, to eat and no time to rest. They faced the tear gas, the bullets the canisters and there was nothing else that provided any of us with any comfort other than that these “thugs” would have our back if anything would happen to us.

My first taste of tear gas came as one of the canisters landed just cm’s away from my foot. It was chocking. You cannot understand the contraction of the throat and the panic unless that evil white smoke raked its way up your nostrils, in your eyes, blasting itself unwelcomed through your mouth right to the back and down till it rests in the pit of your stomach. I gagged. I stood at the corner and vomited like I’ve never done and one of the “thugs” came to me and held my head hard (one of the old myths I think that if someone holds you this way they’ll stop you getting a headache, or something). He encouraged me to keep going, threw water on my face and as soon as I was done, he cursed that there was no vinegar.

Having remembered my bottles of vinegar I took them out and was quickly positioned a little before the ambulances so as to act as a filtering for the cases and help those who came out suffering the choking effects of the tear gas. It’s amazing how people organise themselves in such sophisticated ways during these situations. It was fascinating how you didn’t really notice yourself thinking about any of it, you just “do” as does everyone else to complete a task. I suddenly had tens more pieces of cloth to spill the vinegar on, someone else next to me with water and a full, functional working relationship to ease pressure off the ambulances.

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There was a young guy who couldn’t make it towards us after having just come away from the front lines and collapsed on the ground. I decided to run to him to drag him to the side so that when the next tear gas bomb was thrown and everyone ran back he wouldn’t be crushed. But I went in too late. The next canister was thrown and just missing us, it hit another guy; right through the mouth and out the other side. There was chaos. He died.

That was the closest I have ever been to death, mine or someone else’s. I’m not sure if the tears flowing were tears of fear and anger or if they were just a reaction to the tear gas. Hysteria was the enemy now and I could feel it creeping up. It can make you piss yourself in terror or it could kill all fear. It did the latter and you somehow find the people that hysteria has had the same effect on. We decided to go forward and call the guys back. We didn’t know what we were fighting for and the throws were getting closer and the bullets had started. We went in in our hundreds chanting “Erga3, Erga3” (Come back, Come back). We weren’t allowed anywhere near the front. The guys there who had also been labelled “thugs”, pushed us back desperately, labelling us “the Facebook lot” they wanted to protect us saying we were the only hope of saying the truth and what we saw and not allow the state media to fabricate stories of what had happened here that night. We were literally pushed back.

Then the stomping started. I didn’t understand it. I had never been to anything like this and I didn’t understand what everyone was doing. The sound of hundreds of people holding rocks and stomping against lamp stands and metal fences is harrowing. My heart was thumping inside my chest and I was sure it would escape my terrified body and jump out. A guy gave me a rock and said “hit the fence!!! Hit it hard!!!” I did. With all my might. There was no time for questioning. I trusted everyone here and they told me to stomp, then that’s exactly what I was going to do. I later understood there were three reasons for the stomping. The first was so the CSF would realise our numbers, so that we called for help from those around the area and for adrenaline. The chants did the same, the thundering sound of “Elsha3b Yoreed Eskaat Elmosheer” (the people want the fall of the Field Marshal) were not to be forgotten. The chants engraved an echo inside you. Sounds that would ring in my ears for weeks to come. For today, the chants were met by more tear gas.

In Mohammed Mahmoud St itself, a boy of about 8 years old was seen flying across from pavement to pavement having been kicked by one of the CSF. The guy who kicked him was cornered by the revolutionaries into a store, beaten and his shields taken off him. It was the biggest humiliation for him and it was cool water to scorched dignity. It wasn’t the right thing to do in hindsight. At the moment, it was the only thing to do. The state TV later bought images of the CSF personnel getting beaten but no commentary of why or what he had done was seen.

We saw a group of men and women in white coats. The doctors had come out in solidarity. This bought much comfort to us in the square. June was still a time that saw the doctors protected. We were so organised that we took rounds. When things calmed a little some of us left the square to get something to drink (I was introduced to a drink I later became addicted to, Enaab. The ice and the sugar were soothing in the heat that was beginning to scorch us – a taste I associated with comfort after trials for many months after). We went to charge our phones, went to get some perspective, lose some perspective and then go back again. I met Ahmed Fouda who’s alarm went off at 5am, he laughed sarcastically saying that he was meant to be getting up to study for his exam that started in a few hours. He’d been with us all night. We got word from the pharmacies that they were selling medicines we needed in Tahrir for half price in solidarity. On our way in and out of the square we were subjected to much abuse by passers by. Some spat at us, some swore. They were blaming us for the lack of work and lack of stability in the country. This threw me. People in the square were fighting for them, for their dignity, for their safety. It was a slap in the face but one that wasn’t going to hold us back now, but definitely one that would need much discussion later. The night had passed and the day light broke and hundreds of Egypt’s bravest men were injured and today one died. All night on twitter people were following and a new group of people were coming to replace us in the morning. They did. One of the guys, Olva Tito, arrived around 11am, he got shot with a rubber bullet in the neck within minutes of arriving. June was still a time your eyes were safe.

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Everyone knew there was no going home today . This was definitely going to turn into a sit in and a long one. As we tried to find some shade from the sun that was now betraying us, I heard one man say to Asmaa “I’ve lived a chicken all my life, I want to die a man, if not a martyr, at least I die a man!”. The next Friday was a big one. It was a tribute to the “thugs”… People had painted on their arms and faces and wore stickers that read “I’m a thug and proud”. Little babies had stickers on their clothes saying “Thug in the making”.

It hurt to see, during the past months, the classism that had become so unashamed. The poor whose appearance betrayed their social class as working were bizarrely labeled thug and automatically a cause for concern and somehow their appearance and social class allowed the police and military to pick them up and try them as criminals. Months later Belal Fadl was on a TV show and said: “go to Tahir and ask people there what they want, they’ll spend at least 15 minutes speaking to you about politics. Have you ever met a thug who has political demands? The real thugs seemed in sync with SCAF, let out during the protests and sit ins and bought back in during the elections later in the year. SCAFs continued underestimation of the people’s intelligence was cringeworthy.

Having come back to London and having time to reflect, here’s to the thugs that nursed us in Tahrir that day, those who protected the entrances on other days and who were at the front lines every time. The world would be a much better place if it were full of people like you.

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Kafr Elzayaat – Where Women Don’t Hang The Clothes To Dry

They say the delta of Egypt is where She gets her life. It may be true; but it’s not where She necessarily gets her freedom. I came to Kafr Elzayaat on my second trip as part of the election campaign, that I have joined, in a bid to see a different side to Egypt while out here doing my research with street children; one I would otherwise not have access to. I took off on this road trip trying to see the delta with fresh eyes, uninfluenced by my awe of Upper Egypt and all the things it changed in me. But, it was hard to step back and embrace it objectively. I admit I had to remind myself often to make space within me for the beauty and pain that this place might reveal.

The road was new. This road didn’t pass through the agricultural Egypt, instead, it cut through the desert. Unlike the air that was thick with human stories in Upper Egypt, the air here carried a guilt of sudden death. Is was one of the most dangerous roads in Egypt, claiming a large number of lives every year. Everyone knew someone who knew someone who died on this road. Mostafa also was not the same. The animated man full of stories of struggle and hope was tired. He was being pulled thinly across Egypt in different directions. He hadn’t slept for days, started taking heavy painkillers every few hours and was starting to taste the sting of criticism as he gathered both supporters and critics. We temporarily swapped roles on this journey. But as soon as we arrived and our hosts welcomed us, I was amazed at where he gathered all the strength from. He was back! Optimistic, faithful in delivering his message and sincere in his support for the people he met.

The man running for elections in this constituency was a character that filled me with such a strong compulsion to create a caricature of him or one of those flick books to capture how comically serious he was and how quickly he spoke and moved. You could almost see the ideas fly by in is mind and you had to be super quick to catch up with both his thoughts and words. I loved him and didn’t believe a word he said all at the same time! His optimism was endearing but his lack of awareness or conversation about anything other than how many votes he was sure of securing made me wonder if he was the best candidate for this part of Egypt. I felt we should have carried a responsibility away with us to take back and talk about, write about and fight for. This man was not going to give us the humanistic tour or answer questions about neither struggle or needs.

The generosity we we’re offered in this home matched that of Upper Egypt and the food was delicious! We had already eaten and tried to explain we couldn’t possibly eat now but it was almost like those were words that did not make up any part of the vocabulary of an Egyptian home and all that was said was “That is not my concern”! So we sat and ate.

After the food I started to learn what I had come here to learn. About women. Where were the women? While Mostafa was taken to a separate part of the Villa to change his clothes, I was introduced to Nadia (her real name has been changed for her privacy). A very beautiful 27 year old who opened the door to greet me. She stood behind the door gracefully in a long white and sky blue Abbaya, earrings that were so big and heavy I was in awe at how she didn’t have to bend over to carry them. She was white with the blackest hair sleekly brushed back from her face and she wore grey contact lenses that I was sure hid even more beautiful eyes. Nadia greeted me with the smile of an old friend and started chatting straight away, even before I sat on the very modern beige and cream couch, about my marital status and why I wasn’t married till now?! I loved her instantly.

A few minutes later I was “called for” (it felt like I was called for by my master which irritated me from the “messenger”) by Mostafa. I went over to where he was dressed (very smartly may I add) and he, with a very embarrassed look on his face said: “I’m really sorry Nelly, I didn’t know, but no women are coming to the conference. You’re not going to be able to join us”. He seemed more irritated than I felt and so I decided not to express my outrage immediately. But at the same time this was relevant. This spoke more about this candidate who had earlier left out the most important stories of the place. His second mistake quickly evident; his marginalising the women who were going out to vote in a couple of weeks. It was crazy.

What struck me as surprising was the comparison to my recent visit to Sohag. Sohag, a part of Upper Egypt, known for its conservatism, and it’s need for gender equality awareness seemed to be years ahead in terms of their involvement of women in the political scene. So much so that in my post about Sohag, I very naively did not mention that the 1000 strong crowd was half women and that a woman from the constituency was running for elections! Today this seemed significant and very worthy of celebrating and mentioning.

While Mostafa went to the conference, I stayed with Nadia. Nadia taught me much in the couple of hours I spent with her and she unwittingly, through her small talk, gave me a bigger, clearer picture of what it meant to marry a man from here. Nadia has been married for just 3 weeks. “This was probably the worst time to get married to Mohammed because of the campaign”. She goes on to explain, “but, of course Mohammed can’t leave his brother to go through this alone”.
Her appreciation for solidarity that chewed into her honeymoon touched me. I asked her if she went out here and had made any new friends. She looked at me with a look that said “you’re a foreigner and I’m going to have to explain this to you slowly”. She told me laughing, “friends?! What friends? I’m not even allowed to stand out in the balcony to hang the clothes to dry!!” Then, she went on to tell me, lovingly, that sometimes her husband came home early at 8pm and she’d spend time with him. That seemed the highlight of her day. I asked if this made her miss Alexandria (where she’d grown up) and her friends there, and she explained, again very cheerfully, that she only had one friend since knowing Mohammed because “a man is always right in terms of his insight about the world and he had explained that most of her friends where “no good”. ”

I wasn’t sure if it was what she was saying or the cheerfulness she was saying it with, that was making me so uncomfortable. I decided to change the subject from personal relationships to her plans for the future. With every conversational manuver I was making I was discovering how arrogant I was. She did not have plans for the future. She told me that her family owned a series of makeup and accessory shops and that her mother had made each of the 7 children responsible for one of them. She giggled as she confessed that the one week she was in charge of hers she had been responsible for a loss of over 2400 Egyptian pounds and this was for goods that were usually under 5 pounds… She went on to explain to me that different people were made for different things and she was a failure at the outside world and was made for staying at home and shopping when she went to Alexandria.

What happened next was something I don’t know how to explain. I couldn’t just listen passively and I told her she can’t be so harsh on herself or call her self a failure simply because she didn’t perform well in retail, that the world was so big and there were a million and one other things that I was sure she could excel in. If you would be quick to accuse me that I was being pretentious, then explain how I broke all the social barriers of this extraordinarily cheerful woman and suddenly moved from a formal eating of gateau in the living room to sitting cross legged on her bed eating biscuits and her showing me her makeup and scarves and telling me intimate stories of friendship and love.

The bedroom we had moved into housed the large LCD screen where her favourite Turkish TV series (which she had watched three times before) was showing in an hour. This was also the only other room she had private access to. It did not match the modern minimalist look of where she received her guests. When she directed me to sit on the bed, I looked at its height thinking “will she pull out some garden ladders, or a stool perhaps to climb?” But I quickly realised no such assistance will be offered and so I jumped on the rich ruby silk and decided to enjoy her hospitality and the friendship she was offering me. As she was opening the drawers to show me her scarves, she explained that a few years ago she had tried a scarf on and realised she looked more beautiful in it so she never took it off since then. Her honesty was refreshing! She was veiled because it accentuated her beauty rather than her modesty and she wasn’t in the slightest ashamed.

I asked her if she was happy. She told me that she was. That though Mohammed would swear at her and take out all his frustrations at her, she “worshiped the soil he treads on” and that he was the best sort of man because though “he would hurt her when he was angry, as soon as she apologised, he would act like everything was ok again”. How I wanted to throttle Mohammed and society and everything that made this woman who had so much potential feel so weak and grateful for treatment that others take their partners to court for. I didn’t say what I thought, not only because there was not enough time, not because I didn’t want to intrude, but because….. oh so many reasons I regret now. But Who was I to impose what I thought a healthy relationship was. I say this, but at the same time I felt like screaming at the absurdity of it all, at the plight of women and at how damn hard it was living like this. This trip made me temporarily fall out of love with life.

We were interrupted by the maid who came in to the room to tell me “you’re being called for at the conference”. I didn’t want to leave. As I was leaving, Nadia insisted I freshen up my make up and use her perfume so I could be ready “should I bump into my fate on the way”. She stood next to me in the mirror inspecting a spot that appeared on her otherwise flawless skin and complained. I said it might be her period coming to which she took much offence and said “spit those words from your mouth, hopefully it won’t come and a baby will instead, what else has he married me for?”

I got in the car waiting for me with two strangers who drove me the 30minutes to the tent I did not want to go into. I wasn’t invited in. I was told I could hear them via the speakers from the car and the driver was instructed not to leave me alone to make sure I was “safe”. I felt suffocated and I hoped no one would vote for this candidate. The show (it all felt like a show now) came to an end and again Mostafa left the conference with tens of people around him, again trying to be as close to this man as they could. I hadn’t heard what he had said to them (the quality of the speakers wasn’t great) but the look on the faces of these men was different to the other people on the street. These people had been motivated and you could see it. why the women couldn’t be part of this was meaningless.

Mostafa got into the car and apologised to me for my having made the journey and not getting the chance to learn much of the socio political scene that I had come for via the conference. This of course was an unnecessary apology. I do not think I could have learnt more at an artificial set up where politicians play on dreams as much as I did in the coziness of the small room and the genuine sharing of Nadia that evening.

We were driven back to Cairo and I could not help but feel how lucky I was for the privilege of having choice. Not only the choice to participate or to disengage, but to not have someone like me leave my home after my being as hospitable as Nadia had been, feeling pity out of their arrogance at thinking they understood society or what was best for me as I had done. It’s never as simple as your convictions make it out to be; the truth is, it’s complicated.

[Photo by Neal http://www.flickr.com/people/31878512@N06/%5D

Maikel Nabil: Two Years and a Two Hundred Pound Note

After a nine-month struggle and over 100 days hunger strike, Maikel Nabil was sentenced to two years in a military prison and a fine of 200 LE. The crime? Offending SCAF. Offending?! It worries me that the military council that is meant to protect 85,000,000 people from all enemies is so easily offended! I would have also liked to know that the tax payers money was being spent on things more serious in this critical time the country is going through than the 9 month trial and retrial of a university pupil picked up from his home for writing in his blog! But apparently, licking wounds to their pride was more serious than investigating the murder of the thousands of people killed by the central security forces during the past year.

Maikel Nabil has said he will escalate his hunger strike to include liquids. This will be the end of him and no matter how strong he has been in holding on to all the principles he held dear, his body functions will betray him. Why do we live in a time where we see the heroes while they are alive and not recognise them or celebrate their struggle till they die? Why?! How is it that the days we went to stand in solidarity with Maikel, only an average of 6 of us turned up and when the sentence was passed twitter and the news were flooded with news and mentions of disappointment? There is such a big disconnect between the people and the belief in the power of their involvement and their actions. It is heartbreaking to see how little people remember of the power of solidarity and how much they can move things when they come together.

I was taken aback by the amount of commiseration I received after the sentence was passed. I got phone calls from my friends abroad and people on Facebook and twitter who knew how passionate I was about this sent me condolences. I found it strange that other people started off telling me that they were sure I was either related to Maikel or that I must have known him well and that they were sorry for how upset I was. This angered me. I am not related to Maikel, I have never once met him and you know what else? I have never read anything he has ever written. Why do I need to be any of those things to care? I care about freedoms, I care for the space I am fooled into thinking I am afforded to express my opinions when people like Maikel prove that I am not!

In 2003 I wrote my Master of Laws thesis on freedom of expression in Egypt. I found that The Egyptian Penal Code restricts constitutional freedoms. Forty-one articles criminalise the expression of opinion, including instigating hatred of the ruling system, humiliating the authorities, the army or Parliament, and arousing public opinion by means of propaganda. It is only the “tolerance” of the government that either allows, or disallows, such freedom. This “tolerance” depends on the political or social situation at the time. For example, between 1984 and 1988, forty-eight decisions were taken to ban publications, most of them dealing with political issues.

Maikel Nabil’s trial, like most others relating to the same conviction, was void of many of the international legal guarantees of a fair trial. There is no appeal against a military court’s judgment for any of the violations to be rectified. It is imperative that Egypt addresses its human rights violations if it is to provide its people with the climate necessary for progress and if it is to fulfill the guarantees it has given in every human rights instrument, which it has signed and ratified. This is perfectly summarized in the recommendations made by Human Rights Watch in their 2002 report on Egypt:

“Abolish Military Order No. 4 of 1992 and seek regular legislative approval of all new laws, or amendments to existing laws, that the government considers necessary to protect the security of Egyptian citizens. Ensure that all trials conform to international standards of fair trial, including granting the defense adequate time to prepare their defense and ensuring that the defense is granted full and prompt access to all relevant court documentation at every stage of the proceedings. · Amend Article 80(d) of the Penal Code to bring that law into compliance with international human rights treaty law protecting freedom of expression and the rights to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Abolish the Supreme State Security Court and all other extraordinary courts, and insure that all Egyptian courts meet basic international fair trial standards, including by guaranteeing a right to appeal to a higher judicial body. Propose new legislation that grants legal recognition and guarantees full independence to non-governmental associations.”

As long as people in Egypt will continue to fight for the freedom of people and not the freedom of expression, then we are a very long way of understanding this struggle or the lack of commitment towards basic human rights. As long as those who fight for freedom are not on the same side of prison bars as I am, then I am not free.

Voting in Egypt’s Elections: Celebrating Democracy, or Dancing on the Grave of Martyrs?

I didn’t know whether voting was the right thing to do or not. I didn’t know whether voting was a betrayal to the blood and tears that were spilt in Tahrir or not. There was no one to ask because it seemed that if there were, say, a 100 people I trusted, half thought it was in honour of the martyred and the other half believed, just as strongly, it was a slap on the face of those who gave their all. What would give one half credibility over the other when by mere location I changed my mind! When I was in Tahrir, I knew – not just thought but knew – that voting would be betrayal. As soon as I was a mile outside the square, I knew I was being rational in deciding not to boycott.

That too was how the 100 I trusted were split. The first 50 were the voice of stability and progression. They were the voice of reason. That we had to celebrate the achievements we had gained so far, choose what would make us “administratively credible” and follow the well-thought strategies that would match up to the political world building itself around us while the most courageous of us died and were blinded at the front lines. This half wanted to taste the cookie of freedom even before it had finished baking. They wanted their share and they had many arguments for it. All reasonable. All credible.

The 50 that spat at those who were building up pride for their ink stained fingers, were the ones with their friends blood still wet on their hands. The ones who had lost the light of their eyes so that their vision of what it would take for this country to be truly free became clearer. They were the ones whose tents got burned but stood there and warmed their resolve to continue the fight in the warmth of those flames; fueled by the injustice of being betrayed by their own. What legitimacy could be afforded to elections that were being run, protected and praised by the very people who killed their family and friends only hours ago? They wanted their share of justice, their right to life before their right to vote. All reasonable. All credible.

Up until till the moment I sent the SMS to get details of where I’d be voting, I didn’t know if I’d go to the ballots. Standing in the queue of no less that 5000 women, I still didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. Answering questions from old, poor, illiterate women about who to vote for because they were in this queue because they couldn’t afford the fine, I still didn’t know whether I was pushing along a new born democracy or hiding behind a mask in a farce festival of freedoms.

But I ended up standing in this queue for 5 hours and 45 minutes. I ended up voting for a party I knew not much about and a candidate to represent me only because he had gone through as many ideological changes in his political life as I have religions. In total there were three ticks. I walked out knowing I had ticked for a party, a member of parliament and a representative of the workers. In my dreams that night I had a tick beside betrayal, a tick beside allowing the villains to get away and a tick beside handing over part of the revolution to the enemy.

I am writing this post as a sort of confession. I write it to let the 50 I trust know that I took their word for it and gave my voice to a process that was full of violations from the start and with results that none of them voted for. I write it because I forgot to ask, more than I should have asked the 100, I should have asked: Who did the 12,000 Egyptians on military trials and several hundred killed by our government vote for?

I write it to the martyrs to tell them how sorry I am if they are watching me in disappointment. Either way, I write it because I do not know if by voting I was celebrating democracy or dancing on the graves of those whose blood and tears fell on the ground nourishing freedom on the land on which they fell.

End Sexual Harassment

On “End Sexual Harassment” blogging day, I am sure there will be lots of posts that will address the following: perverts; religion; experiences of harassment; women’s rights, lack of marital opportunity and pornography and so all these are outside the scope of my own post. I would, instead, like to look at sexual harassment from a few other angles; for in my eyes, it is a given that perhaps the rise of pornography coupled with the lack of sexual/marital opportunity and outlet encourages acts of perversion and harassment which are against religious teachings and result in violations of women’s rights – it seems these explanations have become somewhat redundant.

I think it would be naive not to discuss sexual harassment within an etiological perspective. Harassment of any kind is rarely the problem. In more instances than not, it is the symptom – perhaps the most inconvenient and overt – of far graver problems that society needs to address and deal with before we can be rid of it and sexual harassment is no exception to this analysis.

I want to go deeper than this. I want to talk about upbringing, I want to discuss culture, jokes, expectations and innocence. How often in Egypt do we hear aunties, uncles, parents joking with little boys about making passes on pretty girls and labelling him a little don Juan from an early age, every one laughs, the boy feels extremely proud and knows that this behaviour is what will get those he seeks approval from to give him just that. On the contrary, how often compared to this scenario do you find the same aunts/uncles and parents praising a little good looking boy for, say, the opposite? Children are far more intelligent than the majority of Egyptian adults give them credit for. The adults think it’s all in good spirits, a lightening of the general mood and actually often want their son to be the boy who knows how to woo the girls, who is the envy of his other guy friends and all this perhaps in the desperate hope that if he indeed does grow up into this boy, then they have successfully discouraged him as far as they possibly can from their ultimate nightmare of homosexuality. This is all my own interpretation of course, I hear these comments as jokes every so often, but there is a ringing truth beneath it that we need to be far more aware of if we are to get to the bottom of what it is that turns an increasing number our men into perverts.

One of the positions I fail to understand is “girls bring it upon themselves by the way they dress”. Look, don’t get me wrong; I understand the core of this argument, people who take this line are possibly arguing that provocative attire, chewing gum (or whatever other random thing they chose to focus on) attracts attention at best and harassment at worst. Despite the fact that some (and I mean JUST some) girls do dress, walk, act, laugh in ways that beg attention, these are cases that also need looking at in an etiological and a non judgmental way. But these girls are not the point of discussion here; 1. because there are lots of girls who dress up wanting to feel sexy because it makes them feel nice and 2. because what ever a girl does or does not wear does not strip the man of responsibility for his reactions and 3. guys who sexually harass women also do so to those wearing the nikab, those who are not provocative etc. and so for today’s post, at least MY post, I am talking about the guys who harass women who do NOT want to be harassed.

What’s important about my point above is that attitudes like this add to the disastrously increasing enacted inferiority of women. By thinking it’s HER fault we are raising the offender above his responsibility and so, in fact, also making HIM inferior that he is not capable of choosing a reaction to what he sees or what he feels about what he sees. You cannot make a women inferior without unwittingly placing the men in society side by side the level you have bought her down to. One of my recent examples of this is Egyptian advertising. Some butter gee advert (or washing up liquid, I chose to forget) claims that EVERY woman in Egypt’s dream has now come true because this brand is so amazing. How degrading is that? Not just for women who stand in the sun 7 hours in solidarity with another woman being questioned by the military prosecutor for ground breaking articles on corruption, or the women who devote their lives juggling between a 9-5 job, bringing up 2 or 3 kids, running a home, being a friend and wife, or the women who gather crops and suffer under the scorching Middle Eastern sun; but it’s also offensive to all the men who the ad is assuming marry women whose ultimate dream has been realised because the bubbles in this washing up liquid are far greater than the previous one. This is unacceptable.

Another thing I’d like to talk about, albeit very briefly, is the undeniable fact that multiple sexual/marital partners and a general fear of discussing this just in case we step on religious ground, is another one of those grass root factors that contribute to women’s inferiority in this society and also men’s eligibility to act in ways that do not honor monogamy not only in marriage, but in extra marital sexual and romantic relationships. A man is allowed to marry again, right? So he is justified, naturally, in “seeking” and “testing” the next partner that he “could not help but fall in love with”. I’m not sure what the way forward is in this particular instance but I just wanted to put it out there for discussion.

There is something else that is rarely discussed when we talk about sexual harassment and that is sex education; or indeed the lack of it. I went to school in London where we had compulsory PSHE (Personal, Social and Health  Education) Lessons and unlike people think, this is not all about how to have sex, protection and disease. It was also about feelings, emotions, aggression, results of unloving relationships, effects of perversion and harassment, accepting that both sexes know of desire and deserve sexual pleasure; without this meaning either was not honorable. The lack of sexual education here encourages the secrecy around sexual pleasure and the effects of harassment, both part of the circle we go round in, if indirectly – but I want to keep this for another post, you know, a special post about sex and Egyptian wedding nights, how all girls are expected to know nothing about desire, their own body or the body parts of the opposite sex (and, God forbid, what to do with it)… but, like I said, that’s for another time. For now, I just wish people took children seriously, the jokes they make with them seriously, their fears of what they could grow up to be seriously (and not so seriously) and then I’m sure in 20, 30 years time we’ll be writing different sorts of posts on the 20th June.