Thursday, May 20, 2004

More and more Egyptian stars take the veil

Yomna Kamel and Sara Mashhour

Abeer Sabry’s beauty and style of acting captured the hearts of her audience when she co-starred in last year’s Ramadan television series Hawanem Garden City. Then earlier this year, the promising young actress suddenly decided to desert her fame and wealth, take on the veil and devote her life to serving Islam.

"I have been reading religious books and deeply thinking about my life," said a veiled and conservatively dressed Sabry to Ala Waraq (On Paper) host Mahmoud Saad on the Dream TV program. She made the life-changing decision while co-starring in one of the most successful comic plays of the summer, Do Re Mi Fasouliya (Do Re Me, Beans) with Samir Ghanem and Shaaban Abdel Raheem. "I had this feeling that life is too short. Now I am on the path to either good or bad and I told myself I want the good and I’ll have to work to get it."

This radical lifestyle change hasn’t been as much a shock to her fans as it could have been since many other young, talented and beautiful actresses have recently done the same. One thing they all have in common: they attended religious lessons given by popular young Egyptian Sheikh Amr Khaled or Yemeni Sheikh Al Habib Bin Ali.

"Listening to a religious lesson given by Al Habib Bin Ali and then being invited by some friends to attend a religious lesson given by a retired actress was the turning point in my life," said Sabry on the program. "Immediately after the lesson, I decided to wear the Islamic dress and asked my friends to bring me one. I went home wearing the veil and the Islamic dress and I was extremely happy and satisfied," she said.

For Ghada Adel, a former actress known for her role in the hit 1998 film Saidi Fi Al Gamaa Al Amrikiya (An Upper Egyptian at AUC), attending Amr Khaled’s lessons brought change to her life. Though Adel’s husband, film producer Magdi Al Hawari, is totally against her decision, she says she will never return to acting and she is happy and convinced of what she has done.

Mona Liza, a young actress who starred in another Heneidi film Hammam Fi Amsterdam (Hammam in Amsterdam) followed in Adel’s steps and quit acting. She explained that she decided to wear the veil after she had a strange incident on the beach when she was listening to some music. Suddenly, the music stopped and seconds later she heard Quranic recitation. A few weeks after the incident, Mona Liza went to Mecca for the omra (off-season pilgrimage) and this, she says, is where she found herself, decided to wear the veil and give up acting.

Mona Abdel Ghani, another retired singer and actress who preceded Sabry, Adel and Mona Liza in getting veiled, participated in recent concerts and fundraising campaigns to aid the Palestinians. She performed wearing the veil, reminding people of the retired veteran singer, Yasmine Al Khayyam who took the veil in a previous wave.

"I decided to put on the veil when my brother died in Paris," Abdel Ghani said. Her brother was a bit conservative and always wanted her to quit singing and get veiled. When he died she began thinking it could have been her and fulfilled her brother’s wish. Marital problems ensued because her husband, a musician, did not want her to give up singing and acting.

Abdel Ghani is still chased by production companies trying to persuade her to change her mind. But the singer is adamant. She recently refused LE750,000 to record a new album and said she would never take back her decision to retire from the music business, but she does not mind singing for the sake of the poor or for any other good cause like building the children’s cancer hospital, or singing for the Palestinians.

Besides learning and teaching the Quran, she started a television program called Mona wa Ikhwataha (Mona and her Sisters) about the role of the Muslim woman towards her kids, her husband, society and herself. It will be televised on Iqraa, the religious education channel on the ART satellite network, and perhaps on Dream TV.

"We call it the bandwagon syndrome when one after another of the same group adopts the same behavior or change," said Madiha Al Safty, professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo. "I see this happening at the present time and it happened years before," Al Safty said.

The phenomenon is reminiscent of a similar religious wave that hit Egyptian actresses in the 1970s when Shams Al Baroudi and her husband Hassan Youssef quit acting. and then in the 1980s when actress Hana Tharwat, popular belly dancers Zizi Moustafa, Hala Al Safi and Sahar Hamdi all took the same path.

After wearing the veil and covering their faces, Al Baroudi and Tharwat never made any more public appearances and both actresses have stayed out of the public spotlight, dedicating their time to teaching women about Islam.

What distinguishes the new generation of veiling actresses is their willingness to continue appearing in public acting and singing, though now for a good cause, to serve Islam and to present a moderate Islamic perspective.

The new generation of young actresses, Al Safty explains, often come under the influence of a young sheikh who is modern and good-looking. They feel he is one of them and hence listen carefully to his lessons.

While it was aged Sheikh Muhammad Metwalli Shaarawi who influenced actresses in the 1970s and 1980s, this time around it’s the young and photogenic sheikhs like Al Habib Bin Ali and Amr Khaled that are bringing girls to cover their heads, explained Saad of Dream TV, who is also editor-in-chief of entertainment magazine Al Kawakeb.

"These sheikhs are good communicators and are gifted with glamour and influence over others. They remind me of [famous actor] Ahmad Zaki’s influence and attraction," Saad said.

Young actresses, however, do not necessarily have deep religious culture or education and are therefore more vulnerable to religious influence especially when topics like death, torture, and hell are brought up, explained Saad. Some sheikhs use these alarming words to frighten the young actresses and push them to abandon acting while other sheikhs like Bin Ali captivate them by narrating moving stories from Islamic heritage, he said.

In addition, some of the new sheikhs present moderate views of Islam that encourage the young to be more religious. Khaled, for instance, told young actor Ahmad Al Fishawi, the son of famous veteran actor, Farouq Al Fishawi, not to quit acting, but to be more careful in selecting the kind of work he wants to present.

"Personally, I do not find actresses wearing the veil wrong or badly affecting their acting career," said Saad. "It is their right to put on the veil, as it is also the right of actress Youssra to wear whatever she wants. But they would be mistaken if they claim that acting is haram [forbidden by Islam]," he said.

Saad does not believe the rumors that say some countries or extreme groups pay the Egyptian actresses to quit acting. Having some retired actresses returning to acting simply because they do not have any other source of income to support them and their families is clear evidence against these rumors. Sawsan Badr, Farida Seif Al Nasr, Afaf Shoaib, and Zizi Moustafa are examples of actresses who returned to their profession after veiling, he said.

The phenomenon isn’t limited to the glitz and glamour crowd, regular young girls are also taking the veil. At a press conference at the Rabat International Film Festival, actress Leila Elwi confirmed that taking on the veil has spread from actresses to the rest of Egyptian society.

Heba Reda, a university student, decided to put on the veil after listening to some religious lessons given by Amr Khaled and Al Habib Bin Ali. "A veiled friend talked to me about the value of wearing the veil and gave me tapes of Amr Khaled and Al Habib Bin Ali. It took me few days to make up my mind and take the decision of wearing the veil," Reda said.

In Reda’s circle of friends, five out of ten girls put on the veil in the past few months. "I think there is a trend to wear the veil but here at the university we see some girls wearing it some of the time and then change their mind. Other girls who are really faithful and deeply believe in what they are doing, never go back on their decision," Reda said.

Sarah Nedal, another university student, put on the veil last year after losing some of her close friends. "I see young people losing their life and I believe it can happen to anyone anytime regardless of his or her age," she said. "I was not able to sleep well for a week and I felt there was something missing and I found it when I put on the veil."

An issue often stressed by charismatic preachers in their arguments behind veiling has been the possibility of sudden death. While it is difficult to guess the numbers, Saad estimates that at Cairo University, for example, 80 percent of young women are veiled. At AUC, the veiling movement is also growing.

Life insurance unacceptable

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff
 Despite the number of societies that encourage life insurance as a wise move, the concept is frowned upon in Egypt, many people seeing it as going against their religious and traditional beliefs.

Although insurance is not a new business in Egypt, there are only 10 companies operating in the field, a number that reflects the low demand for this industry.

Some insurance experts think that Egyptians do not like the idea of life insurance simply because they are not aware of its benefits and policies.

"It was not until the 1980s that Egyptians started to know something about life insurance, but still the prevalence of some social and religious beliefs along with a lack of awareness explain their reluctance to go for it," says Khaled Zaher, a marketing representative at Misr Insurance.

Company representatives like Zaher are trying hard to explain to people how life insurance can help them and their loved ones.

"We strive to convince people to go for life insurance. Most customers are not aware of its benefits. First, we have to explain what life insurance is and the different policies we provide and then try to convince them to go for it," he says.

Institutional Investor on-line magazine reported in 1998 that Egypt's insurance industry has been burdened by widespread public ignorance of the benefits of private insurance.

Life insurance premiums were an insignificant 0.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1995, compared to a world average of 6 percent, according to a World Bank economic memorandum, the magazine stated.

Unfortunately, Zaher thinks that very few people are convinced by life insurance even after they become fully aware of idea. They are willing to get their cars and property insured, but not their lives, since other religious, social and economic considerations control their thoughts.

"Clients usually say it is haram [forbidden by religion], but we don't understand what makes it haram. By getting life insurance, we do not intervene in God's will, but provide financial support to the deceased's family. Sometimes I feel they say it is haram just to end the discussion," he says.

Zaher thinks life insurance does not differ a lot from the Bayt Al Maal, an Islamic Fund (founded in the early years of Islam) where the zakat (a percentage of Muslims' annual income) and sadaqa (donations) were developed to help people in need.

The lack of a clear Islamic stance supporting or rejecting life insurance confuses people and makes them more reluctant to have their lives insured.

"Life insurance is still a controversial issue even among members of the Azhar fatwa (religious opinions) Committee. A group of them, headed by the Sheikh of Al Azhar, thinks it is not against Islam, because they build their fatwa on the Islamic principle of takaful (social support) where Muslims should help each other in times of crisis," says a sheikh on the fatwa Committee at Al Azhar, who requested that his name be withheld.

Other Muslim scholars, like Suaad Saleh, professor of jurisprudence at Al Azhar University, prefer what they call "Cooperative Insurance," where a group of people donates a sum of money and place it in a fund that will be given to people in need in case of death.

"There are two reasons that make some Muslim scholars consider life insurance against the tenets of Islam," she says. "First, it seems like gambling since it connects the payment with the occurrence of a future accident. Second, the fixed interest it pays to life insurance holders is not accepted in Islam."

Saleh says that it has to be variable interest to avoid being a form of reba (lending a sum of money and earning money when it is returned) which is clearly prohibited in Islam.

"For scholars who don't say life insurance is haram, they consider it a legal contract between two parties: the insurance company and the life insurance holder and as long as both parties are satisfied, it is fine," she says.

Such controversial Islamic views towards life insurance are not the only reason hindering its acceptance in Egypt.

Zaher says that some families do not like the idea of life insurance because they consider it a bad omen. They relate it to losing someone close to them even if this is not logical because death has nothing to do with life insurance.

Such ideas about life insurance are common among middle-class families who prefer to give these kinds of excuses to keep insurance salesmen away from their homes. However, the monthly installment that goes with the insurance is seen by insurance experts as the main reason why Egyptians don't buy it.

"Most life insurance clients are either businessmen who can afford to pay the installment or vendors who pay a smaller installment, and don't expect as large a return as businessmen for example," says Zaher. "For middle-class families whose monthly income does not exceed a few hundred pounds, a E£200 monthly installment is impossible."

According to Zaher, the only solution to encourage more people to go for life insurance is to make them aware of the benefits and dedicate part of the insurance industry's budget for media campaigns.

"If the number of life insurance holders increases, insurance companies might be able to reduce installments and make them more affordable to different social classes," Zaher says.

A mufti of their own


While Egyptian women can be ministers, lawyers, doctors, and hold many other prestigious jobs, they are still shut out of the upper levels of the religious hierarchy. Now one religious scholar wants to become a mufti which is a high level cleric charged with giving out religious opinions on a wide variety of matters.

Professor Suad Ibrahim Saleh is one of many female experts in religious jurisprudence who considers herself qualified enough to work as a mufti at Dar Al Ifta - the official body responsible for religious rulings.

She and her female peers have received the same education as the male muftis and studied at the same university.

"Since Al Azhar University accepts male and female students to study jurisprudence at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, this makes both qualified to give fatwas," said Abla Al Kahlawy, a professor of jurisprudence at Al Azhar University.

To some extent these women already give out religious opinions, but only informally, and Saleh insists that they must work for the Dar Al Ifta itself, since it is the source people trust.

"We are professors teaching jurisprudence at Al Azhar University. Many of us are so qualified that we supervise PhD theses. Some of our male students, with the proper qualifications, work in Dar Al Ifta, while we are not allowed to practice this right simply because we are women," she explained.

"I personally talked to the Grand Mufti Farid Wasel and he promised to consider the matter. He seemed receptive to our demands, but nothing has changed," said Saleh.

Officials at Dar Al Ifta, however, were less positive about the fitness of women to be appointed to the prestigious body.

"We are not against having qualified women giving fatwas to the public, but they cannot work from Dar Al Ifta. Muftis of Dar Al Ifta, known as consultants or researchers, are appointed by the Ministry of Justice. It is the system used since the Dar was established in 1895," said Qassim Al Sherif, a mufti there.

"The minister of justice is the only government figure authorized to appoint muftis to Dar Al Ifta. It is a judicial post as well as a religious one. So, if Saleh wants to work in Dar Al Ifta, she has to be working for the Ministry of Justice," Sherif added.

The responsibilities of Dar Al Ifta and the kinds of fatwas they issue are different from those that are issued by Al Azhar and other religious bodies because they deal primarily with legal areas. New laws from the People's Assembly or sentences of capital punishment have to be approved by the Dar.

"They [the Dar] require a person who is qualified to judge according to Islam and to the law. This means he has both the religious and the judiciary experiences," he explained, concluding that the women were just interested in "social prestige."

Saleh maintains, though, that this is not the issue. Rather, she wants to be based at the Dar in order to be more accessible to women so as to be able to help them.

"I am not looking for a prestigious position. I just want to be there and meet women at Dar Al Ifta to answer their inquiries," she stressed.

In fact, something Kahlaway, Saleh and other female scholars emphasize, is that there is a concrete need for well-qualified Muslim women to work as muftis.

All of the muftis at Dar Al Ifta are men and many women are embarrassed to seek their counsel, especially if they are seeking fatwas about matters related to marital life. Women prefer to have female muftis address their personal questions, Saleh said.

Sherif, however, said that the Dar welcomes all of the public's inquiries and many women call them asking about very personal matters. "I think women are used to asking male muftis with no embarrassment," he maintains.

Some female Muslim scholars are actually already giving fatwas, but in an informal way. "We are guest speakers on many religious programs that appear on Arab satellite television channels like ART and Orbit where we give answers to questions," Kahlaway said.

She added that they also have their gatherings in mosques, and sometimes in their houses where hundreds of women come to seek counsel. "Some of these questions have simple answers while others are new and might a need a fatwa," she said.

Muslim women, according to Kahlawy, have the right to occupy any position as long as they do not neglect their roles as mothers and as long as they do not have to deal directly or privately with men. For example, Al Kahlawy said, female muftis should give fatwas only to women.

The controversy surrounding the appointment of female muftis is the second in as many years over women's attempts to enter a field that is the exclusive domain of men. Last year, the issue of appointing female judges was raised when lawyer Fatma Lasheen sought to become the first female judge in Egypt. Her application continues to be denied and the controversy surrounding it involves many of the same elements of clashes between proponents of conservatism and liberalism and religious and secular views.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Crocodiles and fishermen in competition for Lake Nasser

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff

With several laws implemented over the years for their protection, the crocodile population in Lake Nasser south of Aswan has been rapidly increasing much to the pleasure of tourists and to the thriving crocodiles themselves.

This may be good news for the crocodiles but many of the lake's 5,000 or so fishermen are not to happy about it for several reasons said Salib Fakhry, a tour guide for a cruise line operating on the lake.

"It is becoming a bit dangerous. A fisherman was killed last year after being attacked by a crocodile and attacks are becoming more

frequent," he said.

Adult Nile River crocodiles average between five and seven meters in length, and can weigh up to 600 kilograms. Such large animals eat their share of the 32 species of fish found in the lake.

"Unfortunately, around 30 percent of the types of fish in Lake Nasser are eaten by the many crocodiles residing in the lake and fishermen have begun to complain about their increasing numbers," Fakhry said.

With their catch of some 80,000 tons of fish a year threatened, it would seem that the law should be on their side but it actually backs their reptilian rivals.

With the implementation of an Egyptian environmental protection law in 1983 that bans the hunting or killing of the Nile crocodile among other species like the Nile turtle, crocodile numbers have notably increased in the lake.

Falling under this law, which mandates the protection of 7 percent of Egypt's territory and the wildlife within is the 6,200 square kilometer lake created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam in 1971. This has become a refuge for many types of animals, birds and fish.

Egyptian Law number 102 for the protection of reservoirs was promulgated to ban practices that might lead to a decline in crocodile populations, like poaching for crocodile skin and water pollution.

Egypt also joined an international agreement on the protection of rare species, some ten years ago, to protect a number of species including the Nile crocodile.

Kamal H. Al Batanony, professor of ecology at Cairo University and board member of the Egyptian state's Environmental Affairs Agency, said that the environmental protection law of 1983 and the international agreement are effectively helping to protect Egypt's wildlife.

"The law has been appropriately implemented in a number of Egypt's natural reservoirs among which is Lake Nasser," Batanony said. "The aim of such agreements is to keep the world's ecological balance. By having good numbers of Nile crocodiles in Lake Nasser we are protecting other species."

The importance of crocodiles to their ecosystem cannot be stressed enough.

According to the online Sea World Organization, "Nile crocodiles are ecologically important as predators [having 66 sharp teeth]. They help the environment by eating barbel catfish, which are predators themselves. Barbels eat other fish which are the diet of more than 40 species of birds. If birds leave an area because there are no edible fish, the amount of bird droppings, which provide nutrients for the fish, declines, and the food chain is disrupted."

Still, a need to protect fishermen's harvests and their livelihoods has also been recognized.

"There should not be an absolute ban on hunting the Nile crocodile, but then again it should not be done on a large scale," said Batanony. "If a fisherman catches a group of small crocodiles while fishing, there is no problem, but hunting them in big numbers is banned."

According to the "Wild Egypt" Web site, crocodiles range from dark green or brown to a black tone on the dorsal side and are much lighter and softer on the ventral surface.

Crocodiles can be distinguished from alligators by their long narrow snout and their fourth mandibular tooth, which protrudes from their lower jaw rather than fitting into their upper jaw. Nile crocodiles have been known to reach speeds of up to 49 kilometers per hour in the water.

The crocodile's eyes and nostrils are on top of the head so it can see and breathe while the rest of it is underwater. As an added advantage, its ears and nostrils can close when it dives, and a transparent eyelid closes over its eyes to keep water out.

Don't blame the khamaseen for asthma problems

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff

 While some Egyptians are enthusiastically waiting for April and May to enjoy the country's temperate weather, it is not a good time of the year for many others, especially children who suffer khamaseen asthma.

Although Egyptians have become used to these spring storms, it seems that coupled with the rise in pollution over the last couple of years, it is causing an increase in cases of bronchial asthma.

"Egyptians expect the khamaseen by April and they last until end of May. This is approximately 50 days and hence the name which means 'fifty'," said deputy head of the Egyptian Meteorological Organization Sherif Hammad.

These storms come from the Western desert carrying sand and dust. For the street observer, it is possible to know a khamaseen is on its way by a sudden rise in temperature. It lasts for about one to three days and is followed by light rain and then a cool period of clearing.

Hammad advises people who are asthmatic to stay home and minimize their outdoor activities as much as possible. Aside from this, he says there is nothing more they can do to protect themselves from the conditions.

For respiratory specialists who see an increase in patients suffering from asthma, the khamaseen is not the real culprit. As this phenomenon has been around for thousands of years, they are sure the asthma is being caused by something new in the air.

"It's not only the khamaseen that helps increase cases of bronchial asthma, but the pollution. The number of people, especially children, who have become allergic to dust is dramatically increasing. Around a 30 percent increase has been noted this year when compared to previous years," said Dr. Tariq Al Sherbiny, a respiratory specialist at the Mamoura Chest Center in Alexandria.

According to a report in Al Ahram newspaper citing the World Health Organization on March 21, about 50 percent of the world's population suffers various kinds of allergies with 10 to 12 percent of these being asthmatic in nature.

Sherbiny's center receives some 200-300 patients with bronchial asthma daily. Unfortunately, most of them are children. This number increases dramatically during the khamaseen period but the doctor thinks that the normal numbers are far too high. He does not blame the khamaseen for this increase, but the pollution.

"Don't think pollution is a problem only faced by Cairo's residents," he said. "Alexandria and many other cities suffer from heavy pollution caused by factories located in the middle of residential areas and automobile exhaust."

It's not just factories and traffic causing asthma among children, in fact the doctor says that economic factors are playing a role. In the past, doctors believed that asthmatics' children were at risk for developing the affliction but now it appears that children with low living standards get hit the hardest.

Although asthma can be found among children of upper and middle class families, it is much more prevalent among the lower classes says the doctor.

"Children of poor families usually have malnutrition, which weakens their immunity system and puts them at greater risk to developing allergies," he said. "A poorly-fed child in a polluted environment can easily develop bronchial asthma."

Cairo doctors also agree with their Alexandrian colleague.

"There is a link between our modern 'man made' environment and the increasing number of allergy sufferers. For example, most of the cases of asthmatic children admitted to Abu Al Reesh Hospital live in Helwan, a neighborhood in Cairo surrounded by several large cement of factories," said Dr. Muhammad Khalil, a professor at the pediatric school for Qasr Al Aini Medical College in Cairo told Al Ahram.

He pointed out that living in a clean environment is the best remedy for asthma sufferers since around 15 % of them were not born asthmatic, but developed it due to heavy exposure to sources of pollution.

Protecting their works abroad

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff

While Egypt has succeeded in controlling exploitation of its intellectual property rights in 115 countries, stealing Egyptian melodies and lyrics and violating copyright law are still common practices in most Middle East countries.

With the exception of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel, Middle East countries do not cooperate with Egypt to implement protective measures of property rights.

Lebanon and Israel have associations for authors, composers, and editors that cooperate with their counterparts in Egypt to keep an eye on violations. In Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, their respective ministries of information ensure the implementation of intellectual property and copyright laws.

Mahmoud Lotfy, legal consultant for the Egyptian Society for Authors, Composers, and Editors said the Saudi Interior Ministry does not permit presenting or selling any Egyptian artistic work not registered with the society.

"The Egyptian society, founded in 1959, is a member of the Central Society for Authors, Composers and Editors in Paris. There are 126 organizations of the same kind cooperating to protect original artistic works," Lotfy said.

When there is a case of copyright infringement, the Egyptian society contacts similar organizations in countries where the infraction is taking place.

"In cooperation with the society, we collect 'copyright fees.' They are paid by the party who violates the copyright of any production. Exploitation of copyrights can be comprehensive or partial [through] use of an Egyptian melody, lyrics or both," Lotfy said.

It is the organization's task to ask the copyright violator to pay 8 percent of the profit, half of which goes to the author and half to the

composer. The Egyptian society's counterparts facilitate measures taken to ensure the violator pays the percentage owed to the original artist.

This phenomenon is not limited to the Arab world, as infractions take place on an international level as well.

This happened with Abdel Halim Hafez's song, Qareat Al Fingan (The Fortune Teller) for which the lyrics were written by the Syrian poet Nizar Qabany. A Belgian composer used the song's melody without asking for permission. The society contacted its Belgium counterpart which forced the producer of the recording to compensate the composer.

In some cases, the Central Society for Authors, Composers and Editors in Paris takes charge of collecting copyright fees from the European parties exploiting Egyptian works.

According to the Egyptian weekly magazine, Horreyati, the Egyptian society received copyright fees of E£1.750 million in one month from their French counterparts. Tens of thousands of Egyptian pounds were paid because of violations concerning Egypt's late composers Baligh Hamdy and Abdel Wahab in other instances.

Lotfy said that infringement violations could be collected and given to family members up to 50 years after the author or composer's death.

The most famous case the Egyptian society dealt with was concerning the present-day composer, Hani Shenouda.

In 1979 Shenouda composed the hit, Zahma Ya Dunya Zahma (Crowded World) which was sung by Ahmed Adeweyya. In the early 1980s, this melody was taken by the Spanish band, Gypsy Kings, and made into their hit song, Rouna. They performed it at numerous concerts and it made the charts throughout the world.

The Spanish producer did not ask for Shenouda's permission and as a result, the Egyptian society contacted its Spanish counterpart and finally resolved the situation. Fifty percent of the profits were given to Shenouda and the author.

Shenouda was more than surprised when he heard his composition performed with Spanish lyrics.

"I was shocked to find my melody being used by the Spanish band who sold their albums in Egypt. They included the song in their album under the title Egyptian Folklore. I took legal measures against them to protect my rights," said Shenouda.

Shenouda's song, Zahma Ya Dunya Zahma, continues to be recorded by artists in Israel, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus.

In Israel, for instance, the song is used in a television advertisement about milk. Shenouda thinks this means it is very successful and has a kind of universal appeal. He still insists that his works should be protected not only for him personally, but because they belong to Egypt.

Shenouda affirmed that Zahma Ya Dunya Zahma is not the only song exploited by other artists abroad.

"My song Lunga is also being used by others in foreign countries. While, such exploitation can be controlled in some countries, in others like Turkey, it is very difficult," said Shenouda.

Agreeing with Shenouda, Lotfy said many countries don't cooperate on the government level and they don't have associations. That is why many Egyptian songs are reproduced by Turkish musicians with no chance of compensation.

"We hope all countries will cooperate to protect intellectual property. In countries that do not cooperate with us, in turn we do not take any legal action against Egyptians exploiting artistic works produced by their musicians," Lotfy said.

United they stand - if they're allowed

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff

When leading Egyptian feminist Doria Shafiq and a thousand Egyptian women occupied the parliament in 1951 and demanded the deputies' support for women's rights, they did not expect that the Egyptian women would have to fight for another 50 years to establish their first union.

Shafiq, who founded the Bint Al Nil (Daughter of the Nile) Union boasting two hundred women trained in the military arts and expert in strikes and demonstrations, would also have found it hard to believe that the female-headed Egyptian Ministry of Social Affairs is still reluctant to approve the establishment of such a union.

Though it has been meeting since September 1999, the new Women's Union, an umbrella organization to bring together the large number of women's NGOs, remains unrecognized and unwanted by the government. Instead, the government has gone ahead and set up its own official umbrella organization for women's groups.

This reaction from the government, however, is not so strange for the new union's head Nawal Saadawi – an active feminist jailed by President Anwar Sadat and released only after his assassination. For her, it is a reflection of a general political atmosphere where only a small amount of room is open for democracy.

"There is fear from any popular initiative to form an umbrella under which a large number of strong NGOs can operate, especially if it has independent leadership that is not obedient to the government," Saadawi says.

It was these fears that motivated former

Minister of Social Affairs Mervat Al Tellawy to change her initially positive attitude to one totally opposing the idea of establishing women's union. The ministry even went on to launch a media campaign against the founders of the union since last year.

The ministry publicly stated in the press after the first meeting that the union was illegal and subsequently there were more articles condemning its formation and members. Saadawi points out, however, that the meeting and the procedures they followed were exactly according to the new law on NGOs, passed in May 1999.

In fact, the idea of establishing women's union has been in Saadawi's mind for years, but it only became public last year when she applied to register the union with the Ministry of Social Affairs after giving up on her earlier organization.

"In early 1990s, the government closed down Egypt's office for the Arab Women's Solidarity Association, which I headed, because of our stance against the Gulf War. We sued the government for this, but the case has been going for years with no verdict given. Lately, I was advised to give it up and forget all about it," she says.

Despite the fact that the government established other women organizations, like the Arab Women Association, Saadawi felt there was still a need for a non-governmental union to gather together all NGOs operating in the field.

"So, we formed a committee to discuss the establishment of the union and we met with Tellawi last year, who expressed her support for the initiative. Twenty one organizations held a meeting in the summer to declare the union. We were then shocked by a media frenzy against us, particularly attacking me," Saadawi says

Although the ministry has not yet decided to register the union or reject it, Saadawi has been taking more serious steps towards its formation.

On January 31, a few days after the People's Assembly passed amendments of the personal status law, Saadawi invited 35 women's organizations from the entire country to attend the union's meeting at the Egyptian Human Rights Organization's headquarters.

"We declared the establishment of the first Egyptian Women's Union since we do not see a reason for the ministry to reject it. The union has three main committees and comprises 90 members, 35 percent of them are men helping and encouraging us," she says.

One of the union's committees is concerned with deepening the understanding of women's issues, especially women's emancipation, and relating them to Egypt's political and economic issues. The second committee works on studying laws and suggesting amendments that serve the interests of women. The third committee organizes women's work inside the participant organizations and communicates with them to form links with each other, Saadawi explains.

Through such committees, the union will act as a legally recognized political umbrella that protects women, she adds.

Saadawi and the 35 organizations comprising the new union seem set on gaining official recognition for their work and not accepting any alternatives offered by the government.

It was in reaction to the union, Saadawi thinks, that the government recently formed the National Council for Women headed by First Lady Suzanne Mubarak. The organizations are made up of female figures who originally worked for the government or are members of the ruling National Party.

"Establishing such bodies should not come through a governmental decision, but by an initiative from the people themselves," Saadawi stresses.

Fabric, spare parts and dates only in name

Just a few steps from the World Trade Center and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' skyscraper, is one of Cairo's most intriguing souqs. Here, at Wekalat Al Balah, people come from all around Cairo to buy some of the cheapest clothing, fabric, make-up and all sorts of new and used automotive spare parts.

Wekalat Al Balah (Market of Dates) is a more than one-hundred-year-old shopping center which was established late in the last century by merchants trading in a variety of goods. According to area shop owners, there were lots of palm trees at the time from which sprung the market's name.

In front of the Wekalat there was a small port where sinking ships were towed. People living in the nearby areas used to sell the salvageable cargo from these ships at very cheap prices. Sometimes this included clothing and fabrics, and at other times, boats were stripped of parts which could be refitted to other boats or put to other uses.

"The business then was expanded as some traders began selling used clothes and second hand spare parts. Some merchants prospered and the area developed such that shops selling additional types of products were established in the Wekalat," says Qadry Attalah, owner of a shop which sells new clothing.

The Wekalat is divided into areas according to the kind of products they sell. Clothing and fabric stores are found near the area's center and spare parts are found on the periphery near the bank of the Nile.

"We sell more because of our cheap prices. I have customers coming from other governorates," Attalah explains. "I sell clothing in my shop of the same quality as that sold in downtown shops."

Some of Al Wekalat's customers, like Nadia and Wafa Khalil, disagree with Attalah concerning the quality of products sold there.

"Stuff like new clothing is cheaper than any other place in Cairo, but I think they are not of the same quality. We call such product farz thany (second grade)," Nadia says.

The Wekalat sells second hand clothes as well. It is not unusual to see villagers coming from other governorates making their way through the area.

"They get very good imported and Egyptian-made clothing. They are so clean and ironed that you can't tell they are used," says Nadia Said who works for Mugama Al Tugaary store in the Wekalat.

Wholesale items in bulk are also sold in the Wekalat to retailers around

the country.

"There are well-known bulk traders in the Wekalat. Because of their reasonable prices, shop owners buy up from these stores," says Magdy Amin, the owner of a fabric shop.

A new breed of merchants crowd the streets of the Wekalat when the majority of stores are closed on Sundays. These itinerant vendors carry their goods from one market to the other making a circuit around the city.

"We buy used clothing from Port Said each week and sell it in Wekalat Al Balah, the Thursday Market in Al Mataraya, the Tuesday Market in Al Mounib [near Maadi] and the Friday Market in Imbaba," says Mahbouba Ali, a clothes vendor trying to sell her goods in the open air.

"We don't pay more than E£2 for any item of clothing and we can sell it for more than E£3 sometimes. Our customers are very poor people who cannot afford to buy new clothes even from the Wekalat's shops," she adds.

The atmosphere of the area may be completely transformed when the governorate begins carrying out a renovation and renewal project. Wekalat Al Balah may be removed and relocated to another location.

It is not a problem for traveling vendors since they can go to any other market, but for Wekalat's shop owners, the situation is not so simple.

"We don't know when or where we are going, we have to wait and see. We have only just heard rumors saying the Wekalat will be moved from this area," says Attalah. Yomna Kamel

Egyptian comedian combines art and agriculture

Rasha El Ibiary and Yomna Kamel Special to the Middle East Times

Motivated by his belief that artists play a significant role in developing their countries, Mohammed Sobhi, one of Egypt's most popular comedians, has launched a landscaped cultural compound on the Cairo­Alexandria road.

The project, Sombol's City for Arts and Flowers, opened by Sobhi a few months ago, took 50 feddans in the desert and turned them green. It comprises a theater, summer cinema, movie studio, hotel, house for the elderly, an orphanage and an art school for homeless children. Although business projects headed by artists, actors or singers are not uncommon in Egypt, Sobhi's charitable project is the first of its kind to be carried out by an Egyptian actor.

"I've been dreaming for more than 18 years of establishing such a project through which I can present something unique to people. But due to financial considerations, it was delayed," Sobhi said.

"The project was just an idea, an imagination," he added. "Walt Disney started with an idea. One has to have ambitions that should be almost equal to his ability, or else his efforts will be in vain."

Sobhi's project may be unique, but so are the 14 plays he presented as an actor and director they are distinguished marks in the history of Egyptian theater. His plays successfully illustrate the feelings, suffering, dreams and fears of Egyptians. He is the first to present two plays at the same time: "Mama Amrika" (America: My Mother) and "Yaowmiat Wanees" (Wanees's Diary). "Mama Amrika" is a political play illustrating the relationship between Arabs, the United States and Israel, while "Yaowmiat Wanees" narrates the story of an Egyptian man and his family.

Sobhi graduated from the Academy of Art in 1970, where he taught for 14 years. In 1984, he resigned and began teaching his theater team.

When he felt it was the right time, Sobhi said he started looking for a spot of land for his project. The Ministry of Agriculture offered him a spot in Nasr City. "I wanted to establish my project in a new area away from Cairo noise" he said, which is why he chose an area in the desert.

"Although people said I was crazy [since it is difficult for Cairo residents to go there], I strongly believe in my idea. And based on that, I went on building my cultural compound," said Sobhi.

The project has a philosophy. If it was measured by the material benefit, it would never have been tackled, added Sobhi. "I want [the project] to succeed at the level of the idea. I want to improve the thought and feelings of the Egyptians, to make them more civilized and proud of themselves," he said.

Some say they do not expect Sobhi's project to be profitable. Sobhi, however, believes his project will be a success even if it will not make much money.

"I'm looking more for the success of the idea," Sobhi stressed.

By building in a remote area, he said, he wanted "to draw people's attention to a new beautiful life outside Cairo and Egypt's major crowded cities and encourage them to start a new life away from noise and pollution."

Sobhi plans to build a house for himself and his family in the same area. "When I stay here and see the sunset, I hate going back to the city [Cairo]," he added.

The art school for street children will house around 20 girls and boys from six to seven years old. The kids will study dance, music, singing and acting.

"I want to prove that providing a healthy and proper environment for the child at an early age contributes a lot to making him a useful member in society," Sobhi explained.

Another reason for his project is its spacious theater where Egyptian, Arabic and non­Arabic plays will be performed. The theater is expected to encourage people to show their love and respect for art "by getting out of their cities purposely to visit Sobhi's compound and attend the plays they like," Sobhi said.

Sobhi is also planning to host a number of veteran artists in a house adjoining the compound. "I thought about providing accommodation for veteran artists who cannot afford to live in a proper house after years of dedicating themselves to art," he clarified. Sobhi remembers Fatma Roshdy, an actress who was famous in the 50s but later died in poverty.

In addition, Sobhi is planning to construct a 10­building hotel representing different countries' architectural styles.

"I want to have a summary of the world," he said.

According to Sobhi, the hotel will include Arabic, American, Indian, African, British and Italian styles. The reason for setting up that hotel, pointed out Sobhi, is to encourage visitors to stay overnight and see the place.

"Visitors have to feel [like they are] in a unique atmosphere," he said.

Believing that agriculture is as important as art in feeding people's mind, Sobhi dedicated large areas of his land to planting wheat and grapes. That is in addition to the vast green area of the project.

Getting art and agriculture together in one project represents Sobhi's ideology for improving life in Egypt: "We should control our thoughts and produce our wheat." In other words, we should not let anyone dominate our minds and we should not be waiting for others to send us our food, he explained.

Sobhi's art city project was named after his popular television series "Sombol," which narrates the story of a simple peasant who had numerous problems with the government because he decided to move to the desert and cultivate it.

"Sombol is the symbol of invading the desert. That is why I called my project after his name," said Sobhi.

Sobhi's project is expected to be officially inaugurated by a group of ministers in November. The whole project is expected to be completed within two years.

Did Albright take home a replica or the genuine article?

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff


Egyptian press reports claiming that a senior official at the Supreme Council for Antiquities presented a genuine pharaonic statue as a gift to an American diplomat recently reopened the discussion over the thousands of Egyptian antiquities lying in the museums around the world.

Some opposition papers claimed that the statue had been presented by the head of the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria to US Foreign Minister Madeline Albright during her visit to Alexandria a few months ago. It was said to be a statue of the Sheikh Al Balad's wife, an Ancient Egyptian character also represented as a statue. If true, this would be the first known case of genuine antiquities presented to foreign governments since the promulgation of a law passed nearly 20 years ago banning such gifts. Speaking to the Middle East Times, head of the Supreme Council for Antiquities Gaballah Ali Gaballah denied that any officials had presented authentic antiquities to foreign diplomats.

"They [the press] just made up the story, but nothing like that has happened simply because it is against the law. This is well known by the council officials," Gaballah said.

According to Gaballah, prior to the 1983 law prohibiting such gifts, Egyptian officials did give away a number of artifacts to foreign governments and diplomats.

Agreeing with Gaballah, Abdel Halim Nour Al Din, dean of the Archeology Faculty of Cairo University and former head of the antiquities council, was surprised by the press claims about the gift.

"We all know that the statue presented to Albright was a replica like those usually presented as gifts to foreign diplomats," he said.

Nour Al Din had never heard about cases of violation of law 117/83, stating that antiquities are state property and that no one is allowed to sell, donate or present them as gifts.

"Even people who possessed antiquities before the promulgation of the law are not allowed to sell or donate them to any foreign party. The newly discovered antiquities must be handed over to the council," Nour El Din explained.

"This does not mean that the law is not violated by certain corrupt people. A few years ago, three council officials were caught selling antiquities and were sent to court," he


However, since the time of the French occupation over two hundred years ago, thousands of genuine antiquities have been stolen or donated by excavation groups and have found their way to the world's biggest museums. British museums formerly received regular donations from the Egyptian Exploration Society, which carried out major excavation works, and also from the Egyptian government.

According to Nour Al Din, until the mid 1970s, archeologists and societies carrying out excavation work in Egypt acquired some of the objects they unearthed almost as a matter of course, and this is how many Egyptian antiquities found their way into foreign museums.

In addition, Muhammad Ali's family donated many Egyptian antiquities to European governments. The majority of which are currently in the British Museum, the Louvre, the Antiquities Museum in Vienna, the Dutch Museum and others, he stated.

"Also, President Gamal Abdel Nasser presented some Egyptian antiquities as gifts to four European countries in appreciation for their major contribution in the project of saving the Nubian monuments in the 1960s. Some of the antiquities given were small constructions from temples," said Nour Al Din.

President Sadat also extended a generous hand to foreign diplomats, he added.

Antiquities donated by official and unofficial parties, in fact, helped museum collections to grow. For example, the British Museum alone hosts more than 100,000 Egyptian antiquities while the museum of the University of Wales in Swansea owns 2,000 pieces.

The British Museum has always supported excavation work in Egypt, which helped boost its collection.

"Active support by the [British] Museum for excavations in Egypt continued to result in useful acquisitions until changes in the antiquities laws in Egypt led to the suspension of the policy of allowing part of excavation finds received from the work of the Egypt Exploration Society to be allotted to the excavators," reads the online web page of the British


Although it already hosts around 100,000 Egyptian objects, the British Museum promises that the collection will grow. "It will continue to increase over the years as new acquisitions are made, principally from excavations, but also from donations and occasional purchases," it added.

The same is true of the museum of the University of Wales in Swansea, which boasts a collection of 2,000 Egyptian antiquities. According to museum management, some 250 of the Egyptian antiquities it holds were donated by the Egypt Exploration Society. Most of them were finds from the society's excavations at Tel Al Amarna and Amant.

For the Egyptian law criminalizing the sale and donation of antiquities to be implemented properly, there is a need for other countries' cooperation. "There is a gentlemen's agreement between Egypt and Britain to fight the illegal market in antiquities and we hope they will abide by it," said Nour Al Din.

Meanwhile, negotiations have been going on between the Egyptian and British governments to return Egyptian antiquities to their home. The Egyptian government has, in the past, sued the British government to reclaim its historical property.

Another legal dispute is raging over the head of King Amenhotep III, currently kept at the British museum, pending the outcome of court proceedings, the Times reported on January 22.

Industries unaware of CFC regulations

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times

While the Egyptian authorities have succeeded in reducing the amount of ozone depleting substances used in large scale industry, monitoring the use of these materials by small workshops and repair centers has been out of their reach.

These neighborhood businesses use CFCs (Chlorofluororcarbons), locally known as pherion, with no consideration as to their environmental consequences.

CFCs, among the major ozone depleting substances, are widely used as a coolant in refrigerators and air conditioners, as solvents in cleaners and as a blowing agent in the production of foam.

"Using CFCs depends on the person managing the workshop himself. If he is well aware of the hazards it brings to the environment, he will use other substances that are environment friendly," says Hosni Mahmoud, director of Hoover Maintenance Center. "I used to use CFCs, but I shifted to nitrogen, a less damaging substance to the environment."

Mahmoud, whose shop specializes in refrigeration repair, thinks he is among the few who have stopped using CFCs. He doubts though that the thousands of small shops and service units run by uneducated technicians know anything about the CFCs' deleterious effect on the ozone.

"We have not received any order from the government banning the use of CFCs. Also, no brochures or information sheets have ever been distributed to workshops and maintenance centers telling them about CFCs. So, if actions are taken by some of us, they are due to personal awareness of the issue," he says.

Mahmoud thinks there is a need for an awareness campaign that includes visits to workshops by environment educators and training courses, which target workers in this sector.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), "increasing public awareness to combat ozone depletion and achieve sustainable development is crucial to change, and to influence others to change existing values and behavior."

Distributing information regarding the effects of CFC emissions and a list of CFC-containing products will help. Another effective way to increase public awareness is by organizing seminars addressed to a defined target group and focused on a specific set of issues. Such seminars could be done in connection with other public events, the UNEP's on-line newsletter recommends.

For the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, making the public aware of the ozone issue is also very important, but in terms of priority, the large industrial sector should be the focus of the agency's programs.

For this purpose, the Ozone Layer Protection Union was formed in the early 1990s to carry out all activities related to phasing out the use of the CFCs from the industrial sector.

"We started with the industrial sector, which comprises factories using enormous amounts of ozone depleting substances because it is a major base of the Egyptian economy," Salwa Al Tayeb, head of the Ozone Layer Protection Unit says.

According to Tayeb, the Egyptian government has shown sustained commitment to reduce the consumption of ozone depleting substances used by the industrial sector. Activities to protect the ozone layer started as early as 1986.

While projects targeting the industrial sector continue, by July of this year, the focus will be turned to two other sectors.

"The first are the small enterprises who use these substances as an integral part of their business. The second group is the general public who range from housewives to supermarket managers and technicians working in small workshops repairing refrigerators and air-conditioners," says Tayeb.

Tayeb expects it will not be difficult to get the message out to the first sector since they can be made aware of the situation by giving them brochures covering the subject.

"However, it still takes time to ensure that all companies working in the field are well aware of the issue before we take further steps to firmly ban the use of ozone harmful substances," she says.

For the other group, it is more difficult and time consuming because of the broader base. Tayeb thinks the ozone is an important topic, which makes it uneasy to launch an intensive media campaign to make people aware of it.

Egypt was among the first countries that signed the UNDP's Montreal Protocol Program in 1998 banning the consumption of ozone depleting substances and their gradual elimination. Around $14 million was allocated by the UNDP for Egypt to implement a number of projects designed to phase out CFCs from industrial businesses of all sizes.

Youth forced into drug dealing to survive

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff

An eight-year old girl was arrested by narcotics police and put into a rehabilitation center away from her family and friends, totally unaware she had made a mistake. As far as she was concerned, she was dutifully obeying her father who asked her to deliver some packages.

The girl, arrested a few years ago, was the youngest person to be caught in the drug trade at the time. According to a social researcher at a center for juvenile delinquents, the girl was nabbed by police in Boulaq Al Daqrour, a low income area of the Giza governorate, while delivering drugs to an addict.

"She had no concept of what she was doing, she felt she might be doing something wrong but had to obey her father," said the social researcher who wished to remain anonymous.

This girl is one of the hundreds of young people arrested each year in and around Cairo for distributing drugs often at the prompting of parents, or peers and are considered by experts victims of social and economic circumstances.

Samah, on her way to serving a three-year jail sentence, is another example of children pushed by adults to distribute drugs. Police caught her delivering heroin to a coffee shop owner in Boulaq Abou Al Ela, a poor district in Cairo.

"My step father was a bad man. He used to beat me and my mother, forcing us to work with him in drug dealing. My mother is now in jail for drug dealing," said Samah.

The social researcher said that adults exploit minors in order to escape the harsh sentences they could get if caught doing the same activity.

"Adults involved in drug dealing want to escape sentences that might reach 25 years of hard labor by using minors. Egyptian law does not penalize minors under 15 years-of-age, and does not expose minors above this age to such heavy sentences," said the social researcher.

In addition to parents who exploit their children, economic circumstances also drive youth to enter the drug business.

"Minors involved in drug dealing usually belong to poor and illiterate families, which makes money a motive to work in drug distributing. Drug dealers use those poor kids in their business to escape punishment," said Aziza Kamel, director of the Egyptian Society For the Protection of Women and Children.

According to Kamel, the majority of drug busts occur in areas like Boulaq Al Daqrour, Al Sayida Aisha, Bab Al Shaariya and Al Batniya all low income areas.

The case of Rehab, a 16-year-old girl sentenced to two years, is a perfect example of a victim of economic and social circumstances. Police seized six kilograms of hashish and a small amount of heroin that Rehab was carrying on her person when she was delivering them to a Sayida Zeinab drug dealer.

Rehab is from a poor family in Fayoum governorate. Her father, a part-time laborer, divorced her mother and married another woman who mistreated her.

"I ran away from home in Fayoum after I knew my stepmother wanted me to marry one of her relatives. I came to Cairo where I met an a nice old woman who agreed to let me live in her house," said Rehab.

"After a few months she asked that I work for her in return. I used to deliver drugs to other drug dealers in Cairo," said Rehab.

Young distributors can also help expand a drug dealer's customer base says Kamel.

"Using young drug distributors enables drug dealers to reach other young people who are more susceptible to becoming addicted due to their youth," said Kamel. "In many cases they are caught dealing near schools and universities."

In some cases, the minor distributor himself becomes addicted and begins to do business himself in order to pay for his habit, said a criminologist with a police department who wished to remain anonymous.

This is exactly what happened with Tareq, a 17 year old student from Port Said. Tareq said his parents were pinning their hopes on him to become a doctor or an engineer, but he disappointed them.

"I dropped out of school and joined a gang and tried many kinds of drugs. After a while I became addicted and one of my friends convinced me to work with his father, a local drug dealer," he said. "In return for working for him, I would get all drugs I needed," he said.

Tareq, slated to spend the next three years in juvenile detention, was caught injecting a university student with drugs. Medical tests showed that Tareq himself was under the influence of drugs when arrested by police.

Ancient aqueduct to be restored

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff


After being neglected and deteriorating for over a century, Cairo's ancient aqueduct will be restored and its waterwheels will operate again within two years.

Funded by the Ministry of Culture, the project for restoring the aqueduct comprises of restoring the wall for three kilometers from Foum Al Khalig to Salah Salem road in three phases.

"Putting the waterwheels back to work and restoring their building will be the first phase. The second and the third phases will include the actual restoration work to the aqueduct's wall from Foum Al Khalig to the old Al Gayara railway and from there to Salah Salem road," said Abdallah Al Attar, head of Islamic Cairo's monuments at the Higher Council for Antiquities.

For a thousand years, the aqueduct had been an important project for Egypt's rulers. It was originally built in 1193 by Salah Al Din Al Ayoubi, who ruled Egypt from 1169 to 1193. Al Ayoubi ordered the construction of the aqueduct to carry water from the Nile up to his citadel, which was the seat of his power.

The aqueduct was extended in 1318 by Al Nasser Qalawoun who constructed waterwheels at the end of the wall in the Foum Al Khalig area. It was then repeatedly restored by Egyptian rulers until Sultan Qunsua Al Ghouri's era who ordered the construction of another extension and six waterwheels in 1506. Remains of this can still be seen today.

"All Egyptian rulers since Ayoubi's time used the aqueduct to carry Nile water to the citadel where they had their offices. The importance of the aqueduct started to fade only when Khedive Ismail, who ruled Egypt in the 19th century, moved his offices to Abdeen Palace," Attar said.

Neglected over the past 100 years by Egypt's rulers, the aqueduct was exposed to natural deterioration and human encroachments.

"People seized parts of the aqueduct's wall, building houses and workshops with it. Some of the activities, like the tanneries [located in the area] produced chemicals that ate away at the aqueduct's stone," Attar said.

The Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with the Cairo governorate, managed to clear the area for 15 meters around the aqueduct before initiating the project. According to Attar, 68 families living close to the wall were moved from the area and were relocated in housing provided by governorate authorities.

The ministry has allocated E£38 million for the project, 1.2 million of which has gone to compensating the families which have been relocated.

The project not only comprises restoration work on the aqueduct's facade, but entire sections that are up to 20 meters tall have to be totally rebuilt, having been torn down to make way for more modern projects.

"A part of the aqueduct wall was destroyed by the government in the 1950s to construct Salah Salem road and another part was destroyed to make a path for the metro system which connected Old Cairo's neighborhoods to the rest of the city," Attar said.

The Ministry of Culture has contracted the Wadi Al Nil company to carry out the project. According to Muhammad Abdel Qader, head of the company, the ancient wall needs special treatment in places to avoid its collapse in other parts. For this purpose the company will use some of the expertise and equipment it recently used during the restoration of the Amr Ibn Al Aas Mosque.

Along with restoration and re-construction work, the area around the structure will be surrounded by parks and the old waterwheels in Foum Al Khalig will be put back in service. The water will be taken from the Nile and recycled through the aqueduct in an effort that aims to educate visitors about ancient water management techniques.

This idea will help boost tourism into the area.

"The project of restoring Cairo's Aqueduct aims at turning the area into a tourist attraction and is part of the ministry's plan to make Old Cairo an open air museum for Islamic and Coptic monuments," said Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni after signing the project's contract.

35 Islamic monuments are currently being restored by the Ministry. Al Ghouri Mosque, Al Khikha Mosque in Opera Square and Wekalet Bazaraa in Gamaliya are among the projects that have recently been finished.

Clubs meet new demands

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times

For many Egyptians living around the world, one of the most important things to do is to stay in touch with – or re-discover - their heritage. In the past, this may have been done by listening to shortwave radio, reading books, or by expensive telephone calls back home.

Today, in order to understand more about themselves, two groups, one in Egypt and one over the Internet, have emerged to meet their needs.

"To connect Egyptians to their rich cultural heritage, exchange cultural values and practical experiences from people of different backgrounds, age groups and geographical locations are among the aims of El Shella," says Egyptian born Sahar Al Nady.

El Shella is an on-line community founded by the brother and sister team of Muhammad and Sahar Al Nady. Raised in Saudi Arabia, the two saw a need through their life experiences to start the service which has grown to have more than 1,900 members a year and a half since its founding.

Proving to be a huge success over the Internet, several similar on-line clubs have been established that focus on bringing Egyptians in touch with each other and their culture. Nady thinks that a new club Roots, though not an on-line service, has a similar mission of keeping people in touch with who they are and where they came from.

Roots was established when a group of young men and women, who were brought up abroad but now live in Egypt, many of them the product of mixed marriages, decided to get together and talk about their experiences.

After spending a year in Egypt three years ago, Layla Tahoun wanted to meet people who were part Egyptian like herself and talk about their experiences.

"When I meet Egyptians, I feel a part of me is still not understood by them, and when I meet Europeans, I also feel a part of me not understood by them. So, I find it an amazing idea to have a club that makes people who are like me get together," says the Egyptian-British Tahoun.

Always busy at work, it was some time after she came up with the idea before Tahoun put an advertisement in Egypt Today for her club.

"I received some calls and e-mails in response to the advertisement and we managed to meet. We were seven people when we started meeting, but currently the club has 20 members and we meet twice a month on Saturday," she says.

Tahoun is used to hearing from new members "finally, I meet people like me," after joining her club. Joining people with similar experiences and helping them to adapt is one of the club's aims. Some people have no problems adjusting to life in Egypt, while others need support in dealing with life, she says.

The role of women in Egypt, the generation gap and work environments are some of the more frequent topics discussed at meetings by members like Marwa Hammam.

"Each meeting usually has a topic to be discussed by members to share their experiences and talk about their problems," says Hammam who was born in the United Kingdom and lived in Saudi Arabia. "When I meet other members, I feel I am not the only one experiencing such problems and this helps me adapt."

Motorists, engineers frustrated by accident-prone road

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff

With wide, well-marked lanes the newest section of the 26th of July extension, connecting Mohandiseen with the Alexandria desert road, would seem an unlikely location for car accidents.

However, since its opening on October 15, numerous wrecks have occurred on the stretch turning it into a microcosm of the nation-wide traffic accident blight and has motorists and companies trading blame over who is at fault.

"Without warning people, they [construction companies] closed parts of the road forcing drivers coming from opposite directions to use one lane," said Muhammad Salah who uses the new road daily to get to and from work.

Salah blames the companies overseeing construction for the injuries he sustained and the damage done to his car.

"I was driving towards the Alexandria Road when a car coming from the opposite direction appeared in front of me," he said. "It was totally unexpected and I had a head-on collision."

Workers for the companies allowed him to enter the road despite telling him it was not officially opened at the time.

The Arab Contractors, one of three companies (the two other companies being Hassan Allam and Mukhtar Ibrahim contractors) carrying out the project say that they are not at fault.

According to Ikram Fouad, an engineer with Arab Contractors and director of the E£540 million project, motorists speeding in areas undergoing construction are at fault, for not obeying signs posted in the areas.

"While the maximum speed on the July 26 extension, is 90 kilometers per hour, we see cars flying," he said. "They deal with it as a highway, especially drivers coming off the road from Alexandria who continue at the same speed."

Salah said that not only are cars hitting each other but many hit the equipment and signs marked warning them of construction zones.

"Most of the accidents we see on the road are committed by trucks," he said. "They speed and when met by road works, fail to stop their vehicles."

For Salah, the solution to this chaotic situation is to bring in law enforcement.

"We are suffering from these reckless drivers and demand the Giza traffic authorities to install radar on the road to control speed," Foaud added.

The Giza Traffic Department could not be reached for comment on the matter.

But part of the problem may be more than motorist irresponsibility and poor law enforcement. Fouad says that pressures to open the road before all construction was finished may be the cause of some of the chaos.

"The road should have been closed until everything was finished," he said. "With traffic pressure, however, we have to leave it open while closing only the parts we are working on."

The company admitted to closing parts of the road to install extension joints that protect asphalt from cracking but said this actually a normal situation.

"Throughout the world minor works like installing extension joints are usually carried out while the public is using the road," he said.

Another complaint has been that pedestrians may be causing some accidents.

People, sometimes with donkeys, have been crossing the road in the Mit Oqba neighborhood causing motorists to swerve in order not to hit them. This situation is currently being remedied with the erection of two pedestrian bridges in the problem areas.

Started in November 1997, the 26th of July extension is nearly complete.

The final stage of the project will include constructing a two kilometer bridge connecting the 6th of October bridge to the 15th of May bridge. This aims at easing traffic flow for drivers coming from Nasr City and Heliopolis heading to Alexandria.

The expected cost of this phase will be around E£80 million said Fouad.

Little better, one year after the traffic law

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff


After a series of horrific traffic accidents in 1998 prompted the People's Assembly to pass a tougher traffic law in January 1999, little has changed on the country's roads. Although the law is on the books, its application is nearly non-existent, a situation which is prompting motorists to continue their irresponsible driving.

"There is no problem with the law, but with its implementation," said Saad Al Khawalqa, head of the Transport Committee for the People's Assembly and major supporter of the law. "The problem with enforcing the law is that drivers simply do not respect it."

Major points of the law stipulate that drivers and front seat passengers must wear seat belts or be fined E£50 and that driving while using mobile phones without a hands-free was also to be penalized with a E£50 fine. A stiffer penalty of E£500 was to be given to drivers caught under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Although the legislation seems enforceable, traffic police, responsible with meting out fines are underpaid, work long hours and therefore are easily bribed. This in turn encourages motorists to disregard the law.

Lack of respect for traffic police and consequently the law can clearly be seen when accidents were tabulated for last year. According to statistics released by the Ministerial Committee for Traffic on January 26, some 5,000 people were killed in 22,300 accidents in 1999, nearly the same numbers recorded for 1998.

In an effort to reach the people, street signs were posted explaining the rules of the road and driver's etiquette. As is with the case of the new traffic law, these seem to have had little affect on motorists' behavior.

Horiya Ahmed, a psychologist at the American University in Cairo thinks that Egyptian drivers have become reckless with their driving for a number of factors.

"When young people see their fathers and other adults violating traffic laws without being punished, they grow up thinking it is acceptable not to respect the law," she said.

Abiding by traffic laws has even turned into an object of ridicule forcing those who may want to be law abiding citizens to cave into peer pressure.

"Sometimes, if they do respect it, they think others will make fun of them. That is yet another reason why we see the majority of people not respecting traffic rules," Ahmed explains.

Some of the most shocking accidents have been taking place on highways between trucks and buses, which have often been caused by driver negligence and are tied to drug and alcohol abuse.

While 31 percent of accidents are due to mechanical failure or poor road conditions, 69 percent happen because of driver negligence, a fact that has legislatures scrambling for ways to rectify the situation.

In reaction to this, the Transport Committee at the People's Assembly has suggested conducting random blood and urine test on long distance bus and truck drivers.

"It will focus on long distance public and private sector drivers," said Al Khawalqa. How and when this system is going to be implemented is still not clear.

But according to Ahmed, at issue in reducing traffic accidents are not laws, random drug tests or street signs, but comprehensive traffic education.

"Education is key to raising awareness of the importance of abiding by traffic rules," she said. "Children should be the target of awareness campaigns that reach them in their schools, since it is behavior passed onto them by their parents and peers."

But with millions of drivers currently on the roads, a massive media blitz promoting traffic safety could also make life a lot easier for everyone.

"Media also plays a role in making the public aware of the consequences of committing traffic offenses. However, traffic police need to be portrayed in a positive light and have to live up to that image," she said.

Egyptian women living with osteoporosis

Yomna Kamel Special to the Middle East Times

Fatma, like a number of Egyptian women, leads a busy life. Her day starts with a cup of coffee or tea. As time flies by rather slowly at work, she often grabs another cup of java. And she doesn't exercise like she used to since she's now too busy with cooking, cleaning the house or helping her children with their studies.

Today, Fatma is 50 years old. She's had two bone fractures in the last three years. She didn't realize until now that what was slowly eating away at her bones is nothing else than osteoporosis. She had never heard about the disease before.

At least half of Egyptian women over the age of 45 will likely develop osteoporosis, a bone disease caused by lack of calcium and exercise. "The problem is not only in Egypt but all over the world," say medical specialists.

"The World Health Organization (WHO) believes health awareness plays a very important role in reducing the percentage of women with the disease," says Dr. Omar Hussein Omar, osteoporosis specialist and assistant professor of radiology diagnosis at Ain Shams University in Cairo.

He adds post-menopausal women are at higher risk. Family history, smoking, low calcium intake, excessive caffeine as well as chronic and renal disease are other risk factors for osteoporosis.

Doctors say there has been a noticeable increase in the number of women afflicted with osteoporosis due mainly to lack of health awareness in Egypt and in many Middle East countries. The peak bone mass which osteoporosis slowly destroys is built up between the ages of 15 to 25. But young women are often unaware of the importance of a proper diet and regular exercise, doctors say.

They add female adolescents don't often drink milk, preferring soft drinks. "A poor diet may cause calcium deficiency and in later years create weak bones," Omar says.

Surprisingly, the disease is more prevalent in Egyptian urban areas. "It is a health problem generated by bad social habits. Village women, unlike women living in cities and in urban areas, do not suffer as much from the disease since they do not drink coffee, do not smoke and they exercise by working in the fields," says Omar.

As a result, Omar is thinking of establishing an osteoporosis prevention association that will give information to young women on the prevention and treatment for osteoporosis.

Unfortunately, a fourth to half of women afflicted with osteoporosis over the age of 45 will die within the first year of diagnosis. Osteoporosis is preventable and treatable if bone loss is detected early. WHO recommendations suggest bone density screening, particularly for post-menopausal woman. This may indicate a need for drug therapy, which will reduce the risk of life-threatening hip and spine fractures, the specialists add.

Osteoporosis is more common in northern countries, partly because of colder weather.

Media free zone opens Egypt to the world

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff

After decades of holding a monopoly over the ownership of radio and television broadcasting from Egypt, the Egyptian government last week opened a window of opportunity for the private sector to invest in broadcast media.

The policy change which will accommodate a media free zone to be set-up over a 3.5 square kilometer area in 6th of October is being interpreted by observers to be a knee-jerk reaction by Egypt to forestall similar plans under way in Jordan.

"Media outlets moving to the free zone will benefit from all tax and customs exemptions, privileges and guarantees granted to the zone. They will also benefit from the facilities of the Media Production City, which is part of the planned zone," said Minister of Information Safwat Al Sherif.

Egyptian officials vehemently denied any connection between the timing of the launch of the media free zone in Egypt and events in neighboring countries claiming that it has been part and parcel of Ministry of Information's strategy since the early 1990s.

"We have not decided to establish an Egyptian free zone for media as a reaction to Jordan's project. We are not competing with them, but cooperating and coordinating to attract more investment to the Arab world," said a former senior official at the ministry of information, speaking to the Middle East Times on condition of anonymity.

Certainly, Egypt set-up the Media Production City in the early 1990s in expectation of major Europe-based Arab satellite channels like MBC, ART, Orbit, Al Andalus and ANN relocating their production facilities to low cost production sites like Egypt.

In addition, as of June 1999, Arab ministers of information have been cooperating in drawing up a common code of info-ethics to attract satellite channels to be stationed and transmitted from the Arab world.

Egypt's Minister of Information Safwat Al Sherif last week called upon Arab and Egyptian private and state-owned satellite channels to make use of the newly planned E£3 billion media free-zone.

According to a statement released by the ministry, the media free-zone will comprise the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC), Egyptian Satellite Company (Nilesat), Cable Network Egypt (CNE), Nile Communications Network (NCN), Egyptian Company for Thematic Channels and transmission centers. Ownership of the free zone will be divided between the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), EMPC, and Nilesat. The private sector will take a 50 percent equity stake, while foreign companies will be allowed to own up to 20 percent of the project, the independent financial daily Al Alam Al Youm reported on January 20.

A Council of Trustees chaired by the Minister of Information will act as a committee of guardians supervising and controlling the flow of the project. Council members will be drawn from the founding members in addition to a selected representative from companies and bodies operating in the free zone. The secretary-general of the council will be appointed by the Minister of Information, the ministry statement said.

Operating licenses sought by Egyptian or non-Egyptian companies alike will require cabinet approval.

According to a ministry source, who wished to remain anonymous, companies operating television channels at the free zone will have to abide by the media code of ethics. "The code of ethics is still being prepared by the ministry. [Both] Egyptian and foreign companies shall abide by this code," he added.

At times of crises such as wars, natural disasters and matters related to national security, Egyptian companies operating in the free zone will have to comply with rules and controls issued by the cabinet .

A monitoring body will be set-up at ERTU to follow up on broadcast Egyptian news aired by Egyptian joint-stock companies. The company capital will be determined by the cabinet with special attention given to transmitting public satellite channels. The cabinet may, however, require that ERTU holds an equity stake in Egyptian companies specializing in news channels.

According to the ministry of information source, Akhbar Al Youm, is among institutions that had already proposed the idea of setting-up a news channel in the free zone.

As soon as the free zone project was announced, a number of businessmen expressed their intention to launch media related projects.

Esmat Al Sadat, an Egyptian businessman and a member the Egyptian-British Businessmen Council (EBBC), told Alam Al Youm, that he would call for a consortium among businessmen in Alexandria to set up the first privately owned television channel in Egypt.

"I encourage the [EBBC] council's members and other businessmen to participate in a consortium to establish a private channel. It is better to invite a number of companies to invest in such projects since they need big capital," Al Sadat said.

Work is already under way on building Mubarak International Studio Complex inside the media free zone which will house 14 cinema houses, TV and video shooting studios.

"The complex will house 18 up-to-date studios. Vital facilities will also open in this city such as a 300-room hotel, a shopping center and theaters," Al Sherif added.

The studio is an extension to the Media Production City which was launched four years ago. It comprises a studio complex, outdoor shooting areas, an open-air major theater and an indoor theater dedicated for TV production. It also includes services complex, a film laboratory with a total capacity of 100 film a year, a 250-room hotel, a training center and a staff club.

Azhar scholars say one womb per woman and no transplants

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff


Egyptian women suffering from chronic womb ailments will lose the chance for a transplant operation to have children after a fatwa released last week denounced womb donation and transplantation.

The fatwa (religious ruling) came in response to a request from Egyptian doctors reluctant to adopt the medical technique of womb transplantation widely used in other parts of the world.

The Islamic Research Council, the major religious body authorized to issue fatwas, formed a committee to study the Islamic perspective concerning the issue. Citing a previous fatwa given by the same council, which bans the donation or transplantation of sexual organs, they gave the prohibitive ruling.

Sheikh Abdel Rahman Al Adawy, head of the council's Jurisprudence Research Committee, told the Middle East Times the opinion was given to fulfill the Islamic principle of maintaining the family lineage. If reproductive organs are transferred from one body to another, lineage would be difficult to trace.

"By giving the first fatwa against sexual organ donation, Muslim scholars wanted to avoid disrupting the Islamic conceptions of lineage," Sheikh Al Adawy said.

Sheikh Al Adawy explains that the womb has its own genealogical characteristics and it is not just a home for the infant as some people might think.

"As the infant takes its characteristics from the mother's womb, if it grows in a womb donated by a stranger, he/she will carry some of the stranger's genealogical characteristic. Then the question has to be raised as to who the child's mother is," Sheikh Al Adawy said.

The decision forbidding the transplant of sexual organs has its basis on other fatwas concerning organ donation. These rulings say that donating single organs like the heart, liver and pancreas are also not permissible."Since there is only one womb in a woman's body, we can use this earlier ruling to further justify why women cannot receive or donate wombs," Sheikh Al Adawy said.

Sheikh Al Adawy is personally against organ donation from a living person to another under any circumstances. He says that most situations he and his colleagues know about show that donor and recipient do not lead a normal life after the operation.

The fatwa for prohibiting the donation and transplantation of sexual organs is welcomed by Egyptian doctors like Dr. Shoreh Younes, a surgeon and internal medicine specialist. He says that donating organs involved in reproduction are haram (forbidden by religion) and the overwhelming majority of Egyptian doctors would agree with this point of view.

"For other kinds of organs, it is permissible under certain conditions. In case it comes from a dead person, it should be according to his will. If donation is from one living person to another, it is up to doctors to decide on this matter," Younes said. "From an Islamic viewpoint, donation is not permissible if it leads to any sort of total or partial harm to the donor's health."

Younes added that from his point of view, the buying and selling of organs is totally not allowed in Islam.

Despite these latest fatwas, other Azhar scholars and Muslims across the world encourage organ donation as long as it remains within the frame of donating what is permissible (not sexual or single organs) and donations are not made for the purpose of making money.

The Saudi daily Arab News reported that Muhammad Said Tantawi, the Sheikh of Al Azhar joined the ranks of those scholars who urge people to become organ donors.

Abdul Rahman Al Rashed, a senior columnist at the paper agreed with the Sheikh of Al Azhar regarding this issue.

"Certainly among Muslims, the case for organ donation has now been greatly strengthened," he wrote. "A large number of Muslim scholars not only approve of donating organs but also appeal to people to donate."

In fact, Rashed thinks that organ donation is one of the most venerable actions.

"The simple and obvious fact is that donating organs is surely one of the greatest acts of charity that one human can perform for another," he wrote. "Once its importance has been clearly understood by all, no one should ever again be reluctant to donate what has served him and what can continue to serve his brothers."

Damietta residents suffer from Nile pollution

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times Staff

Muhammad, a 32-year-old father of three children, used to work for a furniture workshop in Damietta. Last year, he suffered kidney problems and was later diagnosed with kidney failure. Since then, he has been unable to work because of his deteriorating health condition.

Hospitalized twice a week, his children quit school to work in the furniture shops of Damietta, which are renowned for their craftsmanship.

Lately though, Damietta has taken on the more dubious distinction of being known for high rates of disease attributed to water pollution.

A victim of such contamination, Muhammad is one of tens of cases Damietta Specialized Hospital receives on a rotating basis.

"More than half of patients treated at the hospital's Internal Medicine Unit suffer liver and kidney diseases and infections. It is all because of the polluted water they drink," said Dr. Abdel Rahman Al Refaai, head of Internal Medicine Unit at Damietta Specialized Hospital.

Chronic active hepatitis, bilharzial hepatic fibrosis, malignant liver tumors, infectious hepatitis and chronic renal failure are common diseases and infections among Damietta's residents. Water pollution and bilharzia are the main causes of these illnesses, explains Refaai.

Research on liver diseases carried out ten years ago by Dr. Shella Sharlouk showed that around 25 percent of Egyptians suffer from liver ailments.

According to Sayed Higazy in his article in the semi-official Al Akhbar newspaper, this is mostly due to water pollution. This pollution is worse at the mouths of rivers like in the Damietta and Daqaliya governorates, where it accumulates from various dumping sites.

River pollution includes municipal waste water, industrial 'black spots', and household rubbish that find their way directly to the 120 kilometer area (the river's length from Daqaliya to the sea) where the Nile ends its journey and meets the Mediterranean. Damietta's population of over 914,614 depends on the heavily polluted stretch of river as its only source of water.

"Not less than 50 percent of these governorates' population have developed kidney and liver problems. I am calling upon all local and international NGOs to intervene and give a helping hand. Blood test campaigns should be launched to accurately know the percentage of liver and kidney infections," Higazy says.

Despite the apparent need for help with this problem, it seems NGOs' efforts are focused more on the capital and surrounding areas.

"Our activities are carried out in Cairo, Giza and Qalyoubiya. Due to financial shortages we still cannot extend our projects to other governorates like Damietta and Daqaliya. We hope one day we willbe able to cover the whole country and contribute in solving their problems," says Ahmed Samy, an employee at a Cairo-based NGO.

Using filters or drinking bottled mineral water may seem like good alternatives but they are not feasible in this situation.

"I don't drink water directly from the tap and I advise people either to drink mineral water or use a water purifier. Unfortunately, most people cannot afford to buy water filters and purifiers. They are villagers and laborers working for furniture workshops," Refaai adds.

He thinks that fish farms in the Nile are a major source of water pollution in Damietta. They form a good environment for insects and develop a putrid smell. Additionally, Damietta lacks a developed sewage system and sewage water is drained into the Nile.

Fishing, considered one of Damietta's staple industries, seems to be badly affected by Nile pollution. Nile fish prices have plummeted and fishermen in turn have suffered financial, as well as health setbacks.

"We stopped eating Nile fish like catfish and bolti. Although bolti, locally known as the shabar, is our popular dish, we cannot eat it anymore. A kind of worm lives in shabar's gills and cooking does not kill them," Omayma Ahmed, a housewife, says.

The shabar's price went down from 15 pounds to three pounds per kilo.

"Only visitors and poor people eat the shabar these days simply because they do not know it is polluted," she adds.

While Cairo and major cities are the target of NGOs' activities and projects due to limited financial resources, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, which covers the entire country with its activities, is undertaking activities that may provide long-term relief.

The agency's efforts to decrease Nile pollution that include controlling industrial waste dumped into the river seem be showing some signs of success.

According to Amer Osama, New Industrial Cities Coordinator at the Unit of Environmental Surveillance, last year the agency stopped 34 industrial firms located along the Nile from dumping their industrial waste.

Such a procedure helped in decreasing pollution rates in the river and it comes within a framework of a series of measures to be taken by the agency directed towards solving the problem, according to Osama.