100-Hour Republic

Last Sunday, we were having another boring ass lecture on jihad in Islamic ed when the topic inspired me to yet another one of my brilliant ideas: I’m going to found a micronation of my own.

Considering my existing nickname as “Sheikh a7a” (fitting Egyptian derogation for an cleric who gives unreasonably permissive rulings), it was only fitting for my new nation to be similarly styled.

And so, on March 8, 12:37 AM, the Republic of a7a (lowercase required) was born, with four citizens: Me and four of my friends who happened to sit around me and tolerate (to varying degrees) this kind of bullshit. And it was that – New Nation, new beginnings, infinite opportunity. Completely blank slate, waiting to be molded into any kind of crazy shape we wanted to make out of it. As the founder and the only person who gave a damn at that point, I took it upon myself to do that.

My Republic was going to reflect my own real life views (sorry i’m lame), so I decided it’s going to be an direct democracy with a secular/liberal constitution, creating a strong legislature and a weak executive branch in the form of a mostly powerless prime minister (me). This separation of powers wasn’t immediately intuitive to the other a7a citizens; everyone’s idea of a national leader was “guy who calls all the shots” (one guy went so far as to suggest I turn it into a monarchy). Convincing them of the obvious virtues of glorious master race parliamentary democracy wasn’t quite hard, but it was interesting to have that conversation at all.

I wrote up the 8-point constitution with the above values at the night of the founding, and showed it to the citizens of a7a the next day. They were pretty impressed with the fact that I wrote anything for this thing, let alone a decent, sense-making document; which was unanimously approved (even though half of them didn’t care to read it first). But really soon, a7a was about to have its first national crisis.

I was kind of anticipating this when I went with the liberal model for a nation with a predominantly Islamist/conservative populace (especially the kind that goes to my school), and, well, it happened. The great destroyer of nations crept upon us, and the first issue the young little noob of a prime minister had to tackle was…

-“So are there gonna be girls?”
=”um, maybe.”
-“…are there gonna be girls or not, dude?”
=”I’ll see if I can get a bunch of my friends to join us, it’ll be fun too”
-“So there’s gonna be girls? If so I’m heart and mind with you man!”
÷”whoa, there’s going to be girls? bro, you’re my Jesus” not exact words
= shudder

… yeah, the primary incentive for my citizens was to be able to score chicks (for reference, our school is an all-male hell). Yet having totally expected this from my classmates I didn’t make much of a fuss over it, and the republic’s sail over the next day was quite smooth. We had a parliamentary meeting in the bus where we determined basic laws for the privileges of citizens, the citizenship test law, and introduced a national anthem (not 100% approved). We also discussed plans for expansion; one of our citizens privately suggested taking over the nearby market in order to generate trade and tax income, and my minister of defense came up with a quite viable plan to overthrow and take control of the school by a sneak attack with water guns. The plan was, unfortunately, cut short by the state treasury’s lack of the QR 100 ($27.5) required to fund the operation. Considering how everything besides that has been going more or less OK, I considered inviting others in other schools to create their own local a7a-style republics, out of which we can form our own USSR EU-esque a7a Federation. Nothing came out of this plan, however.

The national craze about girls (and the inability of a few of us to make a distinction between rape and nonmarital sex, which I will not discuss in more detail) having more or less been dealt with, the republic faced a threat from Islamist and communist one-man factions who wanted to sabotage the pluralistic character of the state. Islamists made a brief nuisance about how our republic must be an Islamic Republic (one guy from outside told us that we will never succeed without Shari’a), but the communist guy was pretty nice about it. Except for the part about siding with the Islamists in social issues, like wanting to outlaw gay marriage (the entire nation is made up of 6 straight guys, but they gotta assert Islamic identity and piss off  the liberal).

The Golden Age of a7a, or whatever we had of it, was over by the third day. My minister of defense resigned and defected (into nowhere in particular) out of the blue, saying that it’s a “failed republic” – possibly due to our inability to coordinate proper expansion (or proper anything). The question of girls was prompted (again), but not much came out of it. Nothing else of note happened on the third day, and I was left with a broken nation with a shit economy, a polarized populace, and a quietly approaching civil war. On the fourth day, a7a was to meet its fate.

My ex-minister of defense, joined by our friendly republic communist and an apathetic dude, formed their own republic.

-“Republic of Dar es-Salam. Peace House.”
=”Peace House…? Whatever. What’s your form of government?”
-“We’re an anarchy. Anyone can do whatever he wants.
=”So-”
-“Except gays being married.”
=”…fine. I want to form relations. Who is your executive?”
-“No. Each person is their own executive.”
=”…fiiine.”
-“Yes. And our republic has an economy. And chicks. A lot of chicks.”
=”Dude, just because your republic is named after your shitty local mall doesn’t mean you’re going to have that.”
-“Watch me. The Communist Islamic Democratic People’s Arab Republic of Great Dar es-Salam is going to be glorious, and will eclipse you and all other competition. The miserable days of your sinful failure of a republic are over.”
=”K”

And before I knew it, all but one of a7a’s citizens had defected to Dar es-Salam. The one remaining guy lamented that it was actually a promising project ruined by not so promising participants, at which he’s not exactly wrong, but it was in the end a pretty good social experiment. I formed a nation, given all its 6 citizens free rein to do whatever they want including but not limited to using popular support to usurp the government and turning it to a monarchy (sadly, no one explored that option), and sat back to watch what they did with it. I wasn’t impressed, but I was more or less prepared for the worst. The Communist Islamic Democratic People’s Arab Republic of Great Dar es-Salam was something I totally did not see coming, though.

I declared the republic obsolete at around 1 PM Wednesday – at an age of about 97 hours. The Republic of Dar es-Salam is the successor state to a7a, kind of in the same way that the Qing succeeded the Ming. I hope they all rot in hell can continue the legacy of a7a.

TL;DR: No. If you want a short version read the last conversation and the following paragraph.

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Ferguson Across Cultures

I wanted to write this a long time ago, but had too much work. Anyway:

In order to understand this post, take exactly 10 seconds to gloss over each of the articles here, here, here, and here. Assuming you’ve done that…

To anyone who’s unfortunate enough to be subjected to Egyptian TV for a substantial amount of time, it’s not hard (even a little fun, if you don’t have problems with blood pressure) to see the undisguisedly smug Egyptian anchors’ perspective on global events that they don’t really quite understand. And for them, the star of the season has without a doubt been the Ferguson unrest.

After the US Dept of State called out the Egyptian administration for mowing down protesters in more than one occasion, particularly the infamous Raba’a massacre, loyalists of the current Egyptian regime seem more than happy to be giving Obama a cynical smile and amusedly watch as the US fails to practice what it preaches.

condescendingwonka.jpg

Pictured: The collective consciousness of Egyptian loyalists.

Except (surprise!) it’s not really like that.

Egyptian media tends to look at the Ferguson unrest from a perspective that is so thoroughly Egyptian that the reporting ends up being skewed and highly unrepresentative of the actual situation.

The main thing that they tend to get wrong is the system of command and leadership in the US government. It’s automatically assumed that, like in Egypt and other third world countries, there is one guy who calls all the shots – a tradition that goes largely unquestioned in the mainstream of most Arab cultures, particularly in Egypt, and one that is (at least subconsciously) upheld even in the presence of laws and institutions put in place to deter it. Consequently, the lines between a nation and a state are often blurred, and everything remotely within the apparatus of government is condensed into the power of its leader.

However, in a state that is deeply rooted in the practice of democracy concepts such as decentralization, rule of law, and separation of powers are observed in all of the state’s actions – except in cases of corruption. Egyptian media doesn’t seem to think much about that, somehow lumping up the U.S. president, the police force in Ferguson, the U.S. Department of State, and to an extent American civil society in the same pack, holding them all responsible for the snafu that is the Ferguson unrest – which not only speaks of the level of professionalism of Egyptian media, but also implies tons about the crude nature of the Egyptian political environment.

I never thought too highly of Egyptian media, and I didn’t really think I could possibly hold them in lower regard than I already do. I was proven wrong. Their lack of concern about human life was something I’m accustomed to, and so was the nationalist posturing that accompanies every piece of news about pretty much any other part of the world. I guess just being reminded of how little hope Egypt has for a serious political reform (even though I’m kinda used to it by now) is as frustrating as it was the first time it hit me.

TV, the radio, newspapers, etc. is where most Egyptians look to confirm their biases, and that’s where they learn about new ideas and develop opinions about concepts they’re not yet familiar with. Media, basically, forms culture. And in Egypt it’s mostly controlled by, or aligned to, the new state. And it’s not like we have any serious alternative media either – most of the opposition to the state are Islamist conservatives, which leaves the Egyptian anti-authoritarian rally to a few satirists, bloggers (ohai) and columnists.

And, while it’s depressing to have to listen to the anchors’ opinions on the infallibility of the Father Knows Best state, it’s worse to know that this is what the collective mind of Egypt will look and think like, for the most part.

Money & the Ballot Box: A Summary

In a representative democracy, politicians who want to get elected often have to rely on fundraising to get money for their election campaigns. Additionally, politicians in power often receive donations from interested parties, in order to convince said politicians to support or oppose a certain law or take a particular stand in an issue.

I think this is bribery What this article is not is a report on the moral and political repercussions of this.

This post is a breakdown of the short-term economic effects of freeing or limiting campaign donations/spending, summarized and simplified. This does not include effects from the shift in economic policy influenced by campaign donations, because this is too speculative and too broad to be predicted with economics.


Here I assume two types of donors, corporations (which donate to politicians to influence business-friendly laws, such as tax breaks), and unions (which donate to influence labor protection laws, such as higher minimum wages); and two conditions of receiving donations, a politician in the process of campaigning, and a politician already voted into office.

A. Corporate donations to a campaign

Corporate funds → Election campaign → Broadcasters (i.e. TV Station)

  • The corporate funds donated could have (and most likely would have) been used for more direct investment purposes. For example, a fast food chain could have kept donation money and opened up a new location.
  • The money spent by the campaigners is given to the TV station (or the radio station, or the newspaper, or the store they bought their megaphones from), resulting in an upsurge of income to these firms which they are likely to use for their own investments too.
Summary: Corporations lose, Media firms win by the same amount. No effect on investment.

There are unpredictable, long-term effects of this too. See case C.


B. Union donations to a campaign

  • Unions don’t do much in the way of investment. By the nature of unions, the money they spend is almost always on lobbying and other political activities. No investment lost.
  • Broadcasters earn money, this money presumably used for investments as in case A.
Summary: Media firms get money. Boosts investment and the media industry.

HOWEVER, the money donated by the union could have been circulated in the economy as consumption money, making for a stronger economy overall. Therefore the overall effects cannot really be calculated. However, investments are the better option to bolster an economy in the long term. Make up your own mind.


C. Corporate donations to an active politician

  • Corporation loses money as in case A.
  • Politician pockets the money, presumably using it to power their own consumption.
Summary: Corporation loses money, some guy in power wins money by the same amount. Weakens investment.

However, the politician in question is more likely to propose, and vote in favor of, laws that serve the interests of this corporation, making for an overall more business-friendly environment in the long term. This is however one thing that cannot be predicted with any accuracy.


D. Union donations to an active politician

  • You know the drill.
Summary: Union loses money, some guy in power wins money by the same amount. No effect on investment.

However, this leads to labor unions getting more power in legislation, as corporations did in case C. This would mean that businesses would be worse off on the whole, therefore weakening the economy in the long term. But again, as in case C, this is not cut and dry, and cannot be accurately predicted.


Take aways:

  • Donations from corporations are forgone investment money, and therefore are bad for the economy
    • Similarly, donations from individuals are forgone consumption money, and therefore bad for the economy too.
  • Donations to broadcasters and advertisers are often used for investment – or just to keep the firm alive – and therefore are good for the economy
  • Donations from unions aren’t lost investment money, because unlike corporations unions don’t invest in an economic sense but usually spend their money for political and community purposes. This means union donations don’t affect the economy in the short term.
  • Donations to politicians are almost exclusively meant as an influencing factor to business legislation, and consequently have no short term effects, and no effects at all that can be predicted for the whole set.

Again, these are only the short term effects on an economy. There are effects on society, the political playground, and legislation that probably far outweigh the economic effects, but again, this isn’t the point of this post.

I may or may not write a follow up to this post about alternative ways of funding political campaigns. Maybe.

Let me know what you think. And if I missed anything, or got anything wrong.

Also, if you’re reading this and got some free time, I’d appreciate it if you could craft the basic points of this piece into an easy infographic/flowchart.

Until next post.

Indicator of Civilization

If you like lists and/or comparative sociology, you’re going to like this.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking of the factors that make one society/nation/herd/group of people more or less civilized than another. This index looks at Human Development in a more cultural way, independent of how rich the group is on average or how clean their water is, even though there is usually some correlation.

And since most of these are intangible and consequently very hard to measure, I’m not going to do any kind of ranking. But some obvious comparisons will pop up in your head while reading this.

Of course, this is subjective and by no means authoritative. So any comments, suggestions, or notes; especially critical, are welcome and encouraged.

(and sorry about the formatting. blame wordpress.)

  • Prevalence of “national ills”
    • Prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual repression
      • Prevalence of marital abuse and arranged marriage
    • Prevalence of Religious zeal/fanaticism
      • Acceptance of unbelievers and heretics into mainstream society
        • Admission of unbelievers and heretics into key positions
    •   Prevalence of smoking, alcoholism, and drug abuse
    • Prevalence of littering, vandalism, public urination, etc.
    • Prevalence of homelessness
    • Prevalence of administrative corruption
    • Social acceptability of any negative points in this list
  • Popular social consciousness
    • Consciousness of global, national, and local current events
    • Consciousness of mental disorders and illnesses
    • Consciousness of environmental issues
    • Consciousness of recent and current scientific breakthroughs
    • Consciousness of the basics of civics, sociology, psychology, economics, and political science
    • Consciousness of safe sex & birth control
  • Technological, scientific, and intellectual advancement
    • Literacy rate
      • Digital literacy rate
        • Prevalence and strength of digital security
      • Percentage of adults fluent at a second language
      • Percentage of adults with a tertiary education degree
        • Percentage of adults with a post-tertiary degree
    • Availability and accessibility of non-degree educational resources
      • Popularity of non-degree educational resources
    • Relative number of scientific innovations/publications
    • Relative severity of brain drain
      • Relative number of students pursuing degrees abroad
      • Relative number of international students hosted
  • Income inequality
  • Prevalence and strength of inexplicable traditions
  • Relative strength of artistic and cultural productions
    • Relative number of cultural or artistic works influential abroad
      • Value of cultural tourism
        • Average satisfaction of tourists
  • High average health & fitness
    • Popularity, prevalence, and esteem of sports and physical activity
      • Relative competence of national sports teams
      • Prevalence and acceptability of hooliganism
    • Universality, accessibility and strength of public healthcare
    • Obesity rate
  • Prevalence of volunteer culture
    • Prevalence of community-serving or environmental hobbies (i.e. Gardening)
  • Population explosion
  • Prevalence of discrimination in popular psyche/mentality
    • Discrimination according to gender, age, religion, caste, national identity, etc.
      • Established hierarchies or assumed superiority, based on or influenced by any of the above factors
  • Prevalence of censorship
    • Number and severity of social taboos
    • Number of banned, censored, or taboo books or works of art
    • Prevalence of censorship in the media, Internet, etc.
      • Freedom of the press
  • Crime rate
    • Violent crime rate
      • Rate and severity of terrorist activity
        • Relative number of terrorists generated
      • Relative size of arms/weapons industry
    • Relative size of drug/alcohol industry (incl. legal)
      • Relative size of tobacco industry
    • Relative size of prison population
    • Number of victimless crimes punishable by law (e.g. recreational drug use)
  • Strength of cross-cultural/international relations
    • Cross-border trade value
    • Cross-cultural communication and dialogue
    • International cooperation and contribution to world order (e.g. Contributions to UN peacekeeping forces; mediation in international crises; development aid)
  • Popular understanding and application of civics
    • Established, sacrosanct, and respected rule of law
      • Equality before the law
    • Universal distribution of decision-making power, through voting or otherwise
      • Accessibility and approachability of government to the average person, i.e. through community policing
      • Directness of democracy
    • Transparency in government processes
    • Universal Trial by Jury
    • Stability of government
      • Inclination towards violent rebellion
    • Balance of laws concerning business, labor, and entrepreneurship
    • Size of bureaucracy
  • Prevalence of renewable energy use
  • Relative strength of military
    • Privileges granted to the state military, relative to other government institutions
      • Degree of independence given to military
      • Privileges granted to service(wo)men, police officers, and/or veterans
      • Military participation in government
    • Occurrence of unilateral military action abroad
  • Smoothness of debates and arguments
    • Possibility of the escalation of an argument to a riot
  • Relative number of citizens with depression, PTSD, etc.
    • Relative number of suicides caused by these diseases

Largely inspired by the Good Country Index, so thank you guys.

Thoughts?

The Fault in Our Democracy

One of the goals of our Revolution in 2011 was ending the tradition of military presidents-for-life and adopting an honest civilian democracy. From the day Mubarak stepped down and handed power to the military, things seemed to be improving, albeit very slowly. At a certain point of time (That point is different for each person – most commonly June 2012, August 2013, or June 2014) the vast majority of Egyptian progressives lost hope that Egypt will see a democracy in their lifetimes.

Of course, there are a lot of standby factors we can blame this lack of progress on. You know, widespread illiteracy, poverty, income inequality and the rest of this song. But those aren’t enough to explain our situation; in fact, there are even more important factors buried in the Egyptian social dynamic and culture; some are embraced, some are obvious, and some are mostly unnoticed.

And in this piece, I’ll do my best to explain as many of those as I know.

Disclaimer: by “Egyptians” I’m referring to the mainstream, not all or even most.
Now that this is out of the way…

5. Egyptians are authoritarian by nature

A (perhaps negative) characteristic of our collectivist Egyptian culture is the lack of compromise – this ship will go my way and none other, or I’ll sink it. Egyptians tend to reject different opinions (often due to inflexibles such as religion or family tradition), and the imposition of popular tradition or mass culture – by diplomacy or otherwise – is the norm; anyone who strays from the ways of the elders is shunned. In the political scene this translates to strict statism and a moralistic government (fully supported by the people, of course), and it means that tyranny of the majority is considered a basic part of popular sovereignty rather than something to avoid.

It also means that if democracy doesn’t go the way I want it to, you’ve got a coup coming your way.

Besides that, it turns the Egyptian political field into a do-or-die competition (sometimes literally) for power, like we’ve seen for about a year or so now. Polar politics, especially in Egypt, mean that a voter will strongly back whichever election candidate who looks like he can fulfill a particular wish of theirs, even if they are apathetic to the rest of their election platform. This sometimes results into the voter viewing this particular candidate as a messiah, and consequently shaping their own convictions around the messiah’s. More on that in point #2.

4. Government rules us, not the other way around!

Since antiquity, Egyptian peasants have been ruled by elites who employed them and had authority over where they could live, ergo, controlled their lives. This system hasn’t changed much in the modern day for many Egyptian farmers, but for many of the rest it has continued to live on as an idea, only reformed to get with the times of urbanization and active government.

Today, most Egyptians (perhaps including me) view and treat the government as a somewhat godlike entity. Distant, vaguely defined, and cannot be communicated with except through very special channels. The Egyptian god government rules over us, so we thank or blame it for what happens to our people, but we can’t really do much about its actions. Of course, this mentality has somewhat changed since the revolution, especially in the urban population due to its access to popular mobilization and mass politics (and the Internet, of course). But for 90% of the population, opportunistic voting remains the only opportunity to influence the government. And that is a new trend, even.

3. National security first, everything else later

This one actually makes some sense. Over the last three years Egypt has seen rampant crime, bombings, sabotages, attacks on police stations, and the state’s security power gradually fading away. Egyptians are exhausted. Many would give unyielding support to any authority figure who can show potential to put things back together, to let people sleep at night without fears that their apartments will be broken into. This “unyielding support” basically gives him the ability to do whatever he wants as long as he is capable of dangling national security over their heads – and the most accessible decision in that range of actions is to eradicate the opposition in order to bring peace, a power used and abused many times in the history of the Egyptian republic, especially during Sisi’s zenith.

Similarly, Egyptians have an obsessive fear of foreign involvement in their country, especially from western powers (or Israel). Mere suspicion of foreign support can render a candidate practically unelectable, and if an opposition party (or even a political current) is alleged to have foreign support, its reputation will be tarnished for a very long time. Therefore, the “independence” card – as well as promises of cold relations with Israel – is often played by presidential candidates in their campaigns. This promise, unfortunately, is never realized, but that doesn’t mean it won’t get you elected anyway.

2. Carpe diem!

Since the revolution, we’ve had quite a few elections and some referendums. Many of the candidates in these elections stood for a vaguely defined ideology, such as Abu l-ʿizz el-Hariri of the Socialist Popular Alliance. But he’s the exception. We have dozens of parties, with meaningless names like the Egyptian Will Party, Pioneer Party, Victory Party, and many others, but they don’t represent a particular ideology. And this is the way Egyptian politics work.

Perhaps due to the current sociopolitical climate, Egyptians rally around singular, short term causes rather than comprehensive ideologies. Inevitably, this devolves into a rally around a single person, determined to be the messiah of this cause. It’s happened every single time; In the 2012 elections Morsi was an Islamist’s wet dream (spoiler he was elected), Abu’l-Fotouh was the man for slightly more moderate Islamists, Hamdeen Sabahi was a hero of the downtrodden, and Shafik was the last hope for supporters of Mubarak’s Old Guard. Similarly, in 2014 elSisi was elected (by 97% of the vote, but still) simply because he’s a military man who showed the best potential to restore national security. Also because he delivers a mean speech.

In local politics, this means that simply whoever with the most campaign money (or whoever’s most popular in the district, for whatever reason) will win a seat in the parliament, and all the power bonuses that go along with that. Egyptians usually have an understanding of basic political discourse, but Egyptian society hasn’t quite evolved to the point of applying it properly. And until we can do that, our “democracy” will continue to be a fashion show.

Corollary: the current unrest is mostly over Morsi supporters (sometimes rudely) expressing anger over the forced ouster of their elected president. Note here that Morsi’s platform is exclusively centered on Islamism and more Shariʿa, ergo, appeasement of the Egyptian conservative bloc. Around the time of his election, elSisi declared that he will continue to guard Egyptian morality, ergo, appeasement of the Egyptian conservative bloc. If it weren’t for personality and power politics these two would be BFFs.

1. The Government isn’t even in power

The elected posts of government, that is.

Look at two of Egypt’s most powerful “governmental” institutions: The military (and its branches) and the judiciary. Both of these, as per tradition (and law, in the judiciary’s case) are independent of the interference of the government, yet continue to hold significant sway over the direction of Egyptian politics, especially the military. Think back to the beginning of the unrest in 2011, when according to legend, Mubarak wanted the military to crack down on the protesters because the police wasn’t enough, but they refused. and only sent military vehicles in the Tahrir square to protect the protesters and prevent anything chaotic from happening (true story). This resulted in a huge surge in their popularity, allowing them to begin their rule with a relative lack of opposition.

The simple notion that the military had the power to refuse says a lot. Its independence is guaranteed by unwritten law, and in mainstream Egyptian circles, its integrity is unquestionable thanks to Egyptian military tradition and that war they won against Israel 40 years ago. Except that since it’as taken power, it proved to be as ruthless and pragmatic as any other independent institution, primarily concerned with its own power. And this concern has had wide ramifications; it led to a military coup of Egypt elected (albeit unpopular) president, and his eventual replacement with yet another man from the military.

It doesn’t stop at that. Many of Egypt’s “public” land is administered by the armed forces and unused, and on top of that, “analysts have predicted the Egyptian military control anything from 15 per cent to 40 per cent of the economy.“, and many national development projects, such as trade roads, are handled by the military’s engineering department rather than a state owned company or a contractor. Note that military spending (or any other inner workings of the military, even veterans’ clubs’ management) isn’t subject to governmental oversight because it’s considered a state secret, and the military gets billions of dollars in military aid from the US., allowing it to expand its influence even further.
Not sure if the US knows that, but that’s undermining democracy even more.

Before democracy can get a firm hold in Egypt, national institutions must controlled – or at least held accountable – by the legitimate government, not the other way around. The military cannot continue to exist as a state within a state, its citizens a different caste from the rest of us and enjoying a higher status. Similarly, national institutions must be governed according to the spirit of democracy within themselves, i.e. instating a jury in court instead of leaving it up to the whims of a judge.


Many of the above five factors will naturally change over time, as Egypt becomes more stable (if it does) and as popular awareness solidifies. But others are inherent in our popular culture, going unquestioned – even unnoticed – as if there’s nothing at all that’s strange with them. Most of them have something to do with each other as well, forming a complex web in which if one point is destroyed, the others are weakened. Unfortunately, it also means that each one factor is strengthened by the existence of the others.

And of course, this list isn’t exhaustive – and probably at least one point of those is wrong. But it’s the best I could come up with. I’m open to further discussion and additions in the comments.


The system our country had lived in for about 60 years now may have been okay with our elders, but our generation needs a reformation. Not like the one we did in 2011, where we overthrew the government and walked back home because we didn’t know what to do next. Each person must contemplate the changes they need to make in their own mentality, know what you want and what course of action you think is best, because nobody can do that better. Start with yourself, and move on to your close ones, speak out and spread out, because the only democracy that works is one which all can agree to build, together. And this is what makes the difference between democracy and mob rule.

Priorities

I’ve got this friend. Let’s call him Amir. Amir is from Palestine.

When the latest row in Gaza happened, Amir and I often clashed (read: hotly debated) on specifics of the conflict. One of the more memorable debates between us was over the sanctity of Israeli life and infrastructure.

Even though I’m opposed to the concept of a Jewish state built on what is effectively a Palestinian graveyard (Sderot was built on the ruins of the exiled Palestinian village of Najd, for a micro-example), as liberal hippie trash I hold the belief that each person is important (in general) and that all life is sacred. Amir doesn’t concur; he believes that in the pursuit of the liberation of Palestine it’s necessary – even desirable – to drive out the Jewish occupiers by any means necessary whether military, psychological, or otherwise; since Israel did that first back in 1947, and because “whatever’s taken by force can only be retaken by force”.

Amir’s not wrong, because what he says doesn’t violate any established universal laws – he’s not saying that the earth is flat or anything of the sort, but neither am I. We can call each other creative names such as fascist, murderer, peacenik, slave, Zionist, brainwashed, agent, barbarian, and others, but that wouldn’t mean anything. And they’d be grossly exaggerated too.

We simply have different opinions, and different visions of the best course of action to take in any particular situation based on our priorities. My top priority in that particular situation was to keep the loss of life and property to a minimum and end the conflict as quickly and smoothly as possible. That mindset can be linked to my background, influences and preexisting convictions. Amir’s top priority was jihad; to do whatever’s necessary to drive out the invaders. He flaunted Gazan military/political successes in the conflict and overlooked Gazan casualties, always exuding an air of victory, because a resilient people is a triumphant people no matter what the cost. His mindset, just as much, can be deconstructed by his own formative environment.

The Theory of Priorities (or law, as I like to call it) can be applied to pretty much any other debate. Liberty vs Security. Reform vs Status quo. Android vs iOS.

And even though this theory might sound like common sense, it’s not necessarily something you’re aware of. Maybe something you think you know, but don’t, like the fact that people who party all night are generally less successful than people who spend their nights studying or whatever. But whether you knew that or not or whether you were aware of it, I hope I gave you a fresh perspective on the differences in opinions. Every belief held by any given person is held for a reason, even if that reason is simply emotional filter. And the next time you’re holding or witnessing a debate, try to deconstruct what leads each person to think the way they do… Especially yourself.

Peace.

P.S. Commenters, please refrain from making the ideologies mentioned in this post the central topic of a comment. Stay on topic, and that topic is the theory itself.

Sherif N’ the Bedouins

Five years ago in a Qatari public school, I was walking into my first class of middle school. New building, new teachers, new system, but the same students I was raised with. As is custom, I walked in and gave a blanket greeting before taking the last empty seat. It was special that time, though.

My classmates got a slightly different greeting than they expected. Sure, I used the usual “peace be upon you” that my generation of Arab Muslims was raised to use, but not the way they knew it. The speech they heard was light and smooth, almost cheeky compared to the hardness of their peninsular dialect.

What they heard, for the first time for many of them, is a kid in their class speaking a foreign dialect.


As a stranger among the citizens of a society as chauvinistic as Qatar, there was an immense amount of pressure on me and people like me to conform to the dominant culture. And unlike Subcontinental or Sub-Saharan African immigrants who lived in relative isolation and mostly within diaspora communities that shared the same language (or English), Arab immigrants operated in the larger Arabic-speaking network dominated by the native Qataris, allowing them the chance to assimilate but also exposing them to the intimidation associated with that.

Maybe you’ve already guessed, but before the day that I decided to greet my class in Egyptian, I spoke their dialect all the time (well, except at home). And so did everyone else; because nobody really had a choice. Bullying, in whatever forms these kids could discover, was a serious problem; and as a kid, how much of it you get was largely determined by your social status, which was mostly determined by race, nationality, and bloodline. As immigrants, we had the worst of each; and nationals of certain countries, like the dark-skinned Sudan, had it worse than others. Sometimes a neutral adjective would be used as a pejorative (“Sa’idi” and “Battani” are my personal favorites), as if ethnicity or national origin was something to be ashamed of.

Needless to say, this led to shame and self-hatred. I remember in primary school once sitting with myself and trying to figure out a way to assimilate completely, to immerse myself and others fully in the illusion that I am in fact a Qatari; It shouldn’t be too hard, given I’m brown like them and can speak their dialect like I’m one of them. It didn’t work, because my name is Sherif, and Qataris never name their kids that. Some of my friends were more successful. I looked down on them for it, but inevitably, also envied them for it.

I’m not entirely sure what exactly it was that prompted me to take the decision to get real that day, but it was bound to happen. I was growing more confident of myself then, and my tongue, as well as my spirits, were getting tired of it. I made that decision with a lot of uncertainty, and I was often teased for it – just as expected. But the teasing subsided, and the satisfaction of newfound liberation lingered.

Today I remember it as one of the best decisions I’ve ever taken in my life, and one of the things I’m most proud of. One thing I’m equally proud of is that I was the first immigrant that I know of in my grade to speak his own dialect, and that by the end of the year, about half of the immigrants in my grade had followed suit. And maybe I’m giving myself too much credit here, but I like to think that I was the inspiration for them too.

In the end, Sherif and the crew still had to wear the Qatari Thawb, because it became the school uniform. But that was okay.

We had already won.

Introducing the Internet.org App

Amazing. Free essential Internet to the depths of the third world.

Facebook Newsroom

By Guy Rosen, Product Management Director

Over 85% of the world’s population lives in areas with existing cellular coverage, yet only about 30% of the total population accesses the internet. Affordability and awareness are significant barriers to internet adoption for many and today we are introducing the Internet.org app to make the internet accessible to more people by providing a set of free basic services.

With this app, people can browse a set of useful health, employment and local information services without data charges. By providing free basic services via the app, we hope to bring more people online and help them discover valuable services they might not have otherwise.

The Internet.org app will be available first to Airtel subscribers in Zambia and we’ll continue to improve the experience and roll it out to other parts of the world.

Internet.org App

Through the Internet.org app, Airtel customers in Zambia will have basic access to:

View original post 48 more words

Death and/or Taxes

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started as a militia seeking to establish a new Caliphate that governs all Muslim land by the Shari’a, and then move on to do other wonderful and romantic things, like conquering Rome. The group is known for ridiculous atrocities done in the name of Islam, for example, destroying shrines and Christian churches.

And about a week ago, they presented a very traditional Islamic ultimatum to the Christian population of Mosul.

Unlike in my last post, I’m not going to write a full explanation and background of this because it makes the article unnecessarily longer (like this sentence). But I’ll still link to an excellent introduction because I love you so much.


The Caliphate ordered the Christians of Mosul to choose one of the following, in order of preference:

  1. Convert to Islam
  2. Pay the infidel’s tax (a.k.a. Jizya)
  3. Die

Besides a hidden fourth option, of course, which is to get the hell out of there (and leave your property as spoils of war).

Reactions to this ultimatum from the Muslim and non-Muslim Arab networks on social media had ranged from condemnation to shameful silence to contentedness, with a few rare cases of acclaim from more extreme circles. Like with most other ISIS crimes, almost all condemnations were accompanied by assertions that this is not “true Islam”, and that Islamic law is one of tolerance and peace. Such an assertion conveys the intrinsic kindness of most moderate Muslims, but unfortunately, it is undeniable that this ultimatum is completely in keeping with both the spirit and the letter of Islamic law, and is not unprecedented in the history of the early caliphates.

Legality

The primary reference to Jizya comes from the Qur’an:

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

Al Tawbah, 29 (9:29). Translation by Yusuf Ali.

However, the jizya and the context surrounding it are not well defined in this verse, leaving the definition mainly up to Hadith and the life of the Prophet Muhammad, in his dealings with both subjects of non-Muslim independent states and individual subjects within the Islamic realm. For foreign states, Prophet Muhammad’s standard process was to send a military commander on a task to do exactly the above: Fight the opposing army until the ruler agrees to either convert or pay a tribute (i.e. Jizya). There are also accounts of foreign kings paying this tribute of their own initiative in exchange for being left alone.

As for internal subjects, the practice is pretty much the same. Infidels in the early Islamic caliphate were mostly tolerated as long as they paid Jizya, and paying this tax guaranteed them certain rights as well. Non-Muslims who paid were considered full subjects of the state, and were guaranteed protection and exemption from military service. Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad had maintained that the life of a dhimmi (Non-Muslim subject) under protection is sacred; saying that anyone who kills somebody under this protection will not even smell the fragrance of heaven. Additionally, non-Muslim subjects who were slaves or too poor to afford the tax were exempted from paying it and granted the full rights of a “taxpayer” anyway.


I want to reiterate that ISIS, by its foundation and the force driving it, is by no means a successor to the legacy of the Islamic Caliphate; at this stage it’s no more than a ragtag bunch of ambitious warlords and exasperated fighters with a black banner. However, it is just as much the purpose of this post to confirm that not all of ISIS’s barbarity is baseless. The ultimatum given to the Christians of Mosul is indeed brutal, but it’s Islamic just as much. It’s exactly the same as stoning those accused of adultery, only a lot less popular.

In the same way that Bucaille’s theories strengthened Muslims’ faith by reconciling the Qur’an with their respect for Science, the shock of ISIS’s atrocities – particularly the ones based in the Qur’an – will push Muslims to reconsider the relationship of Islam with the basic human values of compassion, tolerance, and peace.

Humans of the Holy Land

It’s easy to get the facts mixed up in a topic like this. If you find errors in my narrative, please let me know (and attach a source).


The latest rage in social media in the past few weeks has been the escalation between Gaza and Israel. In this piece, I’m going to explain why it came together, why it was coming together, and why this madness needs to stop.

Buildup

If you already know enough about what happened, scroll down.

It was just another normal week of Hamas firing toy rockets into the middle of nowhere in Israel, but on the night of June 12, something unusual happened: Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the occupied territories. As per tradition, Israeli PM Netanyahu blamed Hamas without any evidence.

But this time, contrary to their tradition, Hamas denied responsibility.

Palestine_Map_2007

You would have to look up a map if you’re not familiar with the topic, but I just gave you one instead.
Wikimedia Commons. 2007.

The next day, the IDF initiated Operation Brother’s Keeper in order to rescue the three boys. Villages and homes were raided at night by Israeli security, and the Israeli government was accused of stealing (“confiscating”) $3 million worth of property from Palestinian homes, businesses and charities. Israel maintained that the confiscations were only from sources that fund terrorism, but failed to back that up with evidence either.

18 days later, the three boys were found dead.  A day after they were buried, a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and burned alive by Jewish extremists in revenge. This attack, however, was nowhere as widely condemned. On July 3, Israel launched 15 airstrikes onto Gaza directed at Hamas targets (15 injuries) in response to Hamas airstrikes into Sderot, a city adjacent to the northeastern edge of the Gaza strip. However, that did not keep Hamas from firing into random sidewalks (and occasionally community buildings) in Israel.

And on July 8, without a specific reason, Israel launched an air campaign on Gaza – Operation Mighty Cliff – Known in English as Protective Edge. In one day, Israel had hit 50 targets in the Gaza strip, and Hamas declared that every Israeli is a legitimate target. From this point, it was on.

On July 15, Egypt (oh hi) officially proposed a basic ceasefire to end the war and resume ordinary trade and movement to and from Gaza. This ceasefire was readily accepted by the Israeli cabinet, but rejected by Hamas who called the ceasefire “in its current form” tantamount to surrender. Hamas countered this offer with a proposal of its own, a 10-year peace deal which demands the release of prisoners re-arrested in Brother’s Keeper, and more power to the UN in the area among other things. Israel ignored this offer, but agreed to a UN-brokered 5-hour ceasefire the next day.

As of July 18,  268 Palestinians were killed, at least 72% of whom are confirmed civilians, and 2296 were wounded, in addition to thousands displaced by damage to their homes. On the other side, Israel had a total of 2 deaths (including one civilian) and 45 injuries, 28 of them civilian. Also, some buildings were fired on with varying degrees of damage. About 48 Palestinian children were killed by the Israeli attacks, some of whom went viral. Netanyahu simply waved off the civilian loss of life, stressing that “no international pressure will prevent Israel from continuing its operation in Gaza … The leaders of Hamas are hiding behind the citizens of Gaza, and they are responsible for all casualties.”

As of this posting, the IDF had just escalated the conflict into a ground operation while stressing the above excuse, and the war is still on with the same intensity.

Why they fight

If you have a broad understanding of this too, scroll down some more.

There is a reason why Hamas is known to Arabs as The Resistance.

Arabs consider the region of Palestine a land stolen from its inhabitants; the state and nation of Israel is consequently nothing more than an occupying power no matter how long or how well it can control the land. By this logic, more nationalistic Arabs believe that Israel and the Israelis must be expelled from the holy land at all costs to make room for the return of its original inhabitants, the Palestinians. The majority of Arabs support the rocket attacks on Israel, as a way to cause fear in Israel and encourage the Israelis to leave. On the other hand, Fatah, Hamas’s #1 domestic enemy which primarily controls the West Bank, is not popular with most Arabs because they are willing to settle for a Two-State solution, which implies abandoning the land.

From the Israeli point of view, the Land of Israel is a divine ancestral right to the Jews. The region of Palestine is considered the historical homeland of Jewish people, to which they have a right of return. Israel brilliantly exercises that right through existing, but complements it by building settlements – through private or state-sponsored endeavors – that usurp territory legally under Palestinian authority; a practice hotly debated between secular and religious circles in Israel. The story of how Jews came back to Palestine in the first place and the subsequent founding of the State of Israel is a long story for another day (and it’s one that you can look up).

Analysis

Stop scrolling now. Now read.

Regardless of the triviality of casualties it caused, Hamas had no business shooting into Israel. Even though the kind of rockets used by Hamas are on average about as strong as party fireworks, they are hard to control and the kind of damage they do cannot be predicted (in fact, one of the rockets fired from Gaza killed electricity for 70,000 Gazans). Still, against all odds, Hamas refuses to accept a ceasefire and Gaza continues to be pounded.

But Israel’s response, while ostensibly to punish those responsible for the attacks and create a period of relative peace in the area, cannot be labeled anything less than collective punishment. In and of itself, the proportion of civilians killed or displaced by Israeli attacks screams “state-sponsored terrorism” under the guise of Israeli counter-terrorism. It takes a smarter man than the present-day me to accurately deconstruct Israel’s motivation for this, especially considering the cost of such an operation to the Israeli economy, but at the very least the basic principle of Cost efficiency comes into play. It’s in Israel’s interest to neutralize its enemies (read: Hamas) in Gaza, but targeted killings or real precision strikes would be too expensive. The go-between is shelling, which takes hundreds of lives.


Some truths are self-evident. I could go on for much longer on how the heartless terrorism of the IDF, or the childish lack of statecraft displayed by Hamas in their willingness to keep fighting at the peril of the people of Gaza. But you’re probably smart enough to figure that out by yourself (and this post is getting pretty long).

The most important call right now is the one to cease fire. Enough lives have been lost. Israel is fighting a political war; the threat of Hamas could have been largely mitigated if they were allowed legitimacy, a notion that has been promoted by the Palestinian Authority in the form of a unity government that would recognize Hamas as the ruling “party” in the Gaza strip. Instead, Gaza is under a constant blockade because Israel refuses to recognize the rule of an Islamist group over it.

This could be avoided. The missiles can be stopped. If Israel accepts the sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority over its land, if the encroachment into the West Bank is stopped, if the residents of Gaza are allowed to live a normal life, free from the shackles of the blockade and the constant fear of death or displacement, the hatred will subside, slowly but surely, and there will be room for understanding. I can guarantee you that our generation is going to die hating each other, but the next generation will be smarter.

And one day, maybe centuries from now, the humans of the holy land will live together without barriers. And the rest of the world will do the same.