Showing posts from 2011

Merry Christmas Eve!

Christmas Eve in Cairo, and all is well (as well as can be expected).

Egyptians did indeed take to Tahrir Square yesterday, as mentioned in my previous post. Upwards of 50,000 people (estimate by Dostor news site) demonstrated against SCAF ("the military"), in particular their tolerance toward those in the army and police who killed, beat, and otherwise abused protesters over the past week.

The protest was dubbed "Friday of Reclaiming Honor", given that the police and army were especially abusive of women protesters, ripping their veils off, exposing their bodies, kicking and beating women - both protesters as well as passers-by, who sought to help their Egyptian sisters and save them from the boot of the army.

See today's report in almasryalyoum (by clicking here)

Also demonstrating on Friday were those who support SCAF. They appeared in the thousands in Abbasiya Square chanting pro-military slogans, and denouncing those in Tahrir as "thugs" and vanda…

All eyes on Tahrir tomorrow, Friday

Greetings from a subdued Cairo. Remember that "still waters run deep". Egypt is calm, which doesn't mean it's at ease or fully secure.

Egyptians went to the polls yesterday (Wednesday) for the second round of Parliamentary elections, and Tahrir Square was quiet. However, a friend of a friend of mine was killed in Tahrir the night before, having been shot by live ammunition. He was shot in the stomach and by the time he got to hospital, they could do nothing for him. He bled to death. The young man was a student at Ain Shams University, an athlete, and a huge fan of Ahly, the national football (soccer) team.

Today (Thursday), Egyptians of various walks of life tell me they will go to Tahrir tomorrow - first, to protest last week's brutal crackdown, which lasted at least 5 days and resulted in at least 13 demonstrators killed, and which targeted women in particular. Young men (teenagers and 20-somethings) and "older dudes" (50+) tell me they are go…

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Earthquake in DC: 5.9 quake and MLK Stone of Hope

Nevenka and I came to DC today. As we met an Egyptian friend in the Mayflower (Marriott) lobby, the world shook and it was obvious what it was - a major earthquake. People screamed; people rushed out of the ballroom and restaurant; we just sat there and acknowledged what it was ... I texted Jo and Grace to tell them we were fine; Nevenka called Ali and Hassan. And we continued our talk about Egypt "post-political earthquake" (i.e., post-"Revolution").

We later took a walk to the Mall and we discovered that the new Martin Luther King memorial was being prepared for its official opening by President Obama later this week. But we were allowed a "sneak peak", before the official ceremony. It's an inspiring memorial, on a beautiful spot along the Tidal Basin, with Dr. MLK looking across to Thomas Jefferson (former slave owner, but otherwise great guy!!).

If you can read the side of the monument, it states what MLK stated - and why the artist/sculpture …


While many students continue their travel in Europe and the Middle East, most of the rest of us arrived safe and sound at Logan tonight around 8:15.

Soooooooo nice to be home!

Wrap-up pictures coming soon. Meantime, off to sleep.

From Plitivice Lakes to Zagreb

After our adventures in Dubrovnik, we headed for Split. 1 night there, then off to Plitvice Lakes region. We spent 5 hours hiking in this National Park - with its "layered" lakes and countless waterfalls. From there, we headed to Zagreb (sleepy Zagreb). We had 4 meetings in 2 days. The highlight for me was our first meeting - with the Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Croatia (spelling of this Professor/Advisor's name is pending ... coming soon!). Zagreb in August is dullsville. No one is here (is anyone around otherwise?) and the streets roll up and things shut down around 9:30 pm. The upside of that is students also are bored silly, so have been hunkering down in the hotel lobby (the only place to get wireless!) doing their final papers/projects for us.


A lot more to our visit to Dubrovnik than these beautiful pictures ... I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Medjugorje, for Mom

My Mother always spoke of this place and hoped to visit it some day ... I got to do that for her. It was a rainy day, and the St. James Church was packed with people, so I could only get this one picture. I did get to step away from the church and find the alcove off to the side, and lit candles for Mom, Kathi and Grandma.
The students I spoke with afterwards - Catholics, Protestants, Muslim, others - were very happy to have seen this pilgrimage site.

Medjugorje was on our way out of Bosnia and Herzegovina, heading to Croatia. We also stopped at a Serbian Monastery (photo below) and had intended to stop at a Muslim site as well (sadly, the latter was under renovation, so we had to miss that)

Mostar - a city destroyed, revived, still divided

The famous old bridge, or Stari Most, was destroyed by Bosnian Croat forces (aka, bastards) in November 1993; it has been rebuilt thanks to the World Bank, UNESCO, and Agha Khan Foundation. It thus has reconnected the two halves of this beautiful city of Croats and Muslims, primarily. Mostar in general was largely destroyed in the war and while there is a lot of reconstruction, there remains a great many gutted buildings (mostly on the Eastern bank, the Muslim half of the city).

We met with the Croatian Democratic Union today and found that the divisions remain between these two "confessions" - Catholic Croats and Muslim "Bosniaks" - at least from their perspective. Others work to promote the "unity" within the diversity (Muslim, Croat, Serb, "other") that existed under Tito; he remains a hero among many in Bosnia, especially Muslims and those from mixed families and non-religious backgrounds who found his "unity and brotherhood" wo…

Genocide, War Crimes, and Bosnia's search for Justice

On Sunday, we rode nearly 4 hours by bus to Srebrenica, site of the July 1995 genocide against Bosnian Muslims and now a cemetery and memorial to the victims.

After walking among the headstones and the graves of the 8,372-"plus" victims, one of our students, Ali, told me: "you cannot read about this. You can only experience it. You have to be here so you can 'feel it' yourself."

We spent a long time at the cemetery and memorial, including the warehouse across the street from the cemetery. In that abandoned factory, a makeshift museum has been constructed. It consists of maps, pictures, and a timeline of the massacres that befell Bosnians (primarily Muslims) from 1992-95, especially July 1995. And it contains artifacts and personal effects of a large number of the victims.

In these small memorials to individual victims, we can connect with each person: read something about their life, see their picture, and see a small personal item - pocket watch, wedding…

The Road to Sarajevo - Part 2 of "You can't get there ..."

10 pm Friday night. We've been on the road 12 hours, minus 3 hours or so of bathroom breaks, lunch, gas-fillup, but still ... 12 hours on the road. We are 20 Kilometers from Sarajevo and we pull into a gas station to make sure we're on the right road to Sarajevo. By chance, a policeman was at the station and said, "Yes, but you can't go any further. There's been a rock-slide on this road and no buses are allowed to pass."

Once I got this translated from Serbian/Bosnian, I could only laugh at this point. And laugh I did - a bit too much I think. At this point, what else could I do but laugh at the one-two-three-four "punch" we've been getting on this particular journey.

I immediately explained to the students what I was laughing about - and most of them joined me! As one told me, "better to laugh than to cry."

And still, we had an easy "Plan B" - take the winding, less-traveled road that would take about an hour (instead …

You can't get there (Serbia) from here (Kosovo) - go to Montenegro!

“You can’t cross this boundary from here [the Kosovo “border”/Administrative boundary].You’ll have to go to Montenegro and then enter Serbia from there.”Thus sayeth the Serbian policeman at the boundary/border, yesterday (Thursday) around 3:30 pm.The reason?We had a stamp on our passports that read “Republic of Kosovo”, which Serbia does not recognize as independent nation-state (nor do a small number of nation-states of the international community – Russia, Spain, Greece, and 6 other members of the EU).“Kosovo is Serbia.”What he was proposing was for us to “re-enter” Kosovo (1/4th of a mile back from where we came); return to the town of Mitroveca (where we just left 90 minutes ago); cut over to the West, and enter Montenegro (another 90 minutes-2 hours); then drive to the Montenegro-Serbia border (another hour); then drive until we catch up with the road we could have been on – only one hour from the point on the map where we were standing that very moment: the “boundary/border” bet…

"Tito Land" - Museum of Yugoslavia, Tito's Grave

January 1956, Cairo: Tito and Nasser at a party hosted by Yugoslavia's Ambassador to Egypt

"Communist Chic" - what the best-dressed Comrade was wearing, according to the exhibit at the Yugoslavia Museum

Tito and Jovanka (Tito's putting on his gloves; Jovanka, wife of Tito, is gorgeous as usual)

Balkans group in front of Museum entrance

Students at Tito's headstone

"Week in Review"

It's been "too darned hot" (as the song goes) to do much except plug along through the Dialogue, through our meetings with speakers (most of whom have been great!), and otherwise help students survive this brutal heat wave. These students have been "troopers" - amazing, really. No complaints. None! I don't get it ... are they really that nice? That understanding? That appreciative? (Yes is the answer - they're a great group, they are 23 great people.)

So, this week we have:
met with Special Prosecutor for war crimes and organized crime (see below)
had lectures (Mladen, Yiannis)met with two MPs of Serbia's Parliament, both of whom are with the progressive Democratic Party, and both of whom I hope to welcome to Northeastern soon! (see below)met with two women from CANVAS (below)visited the NGO Center for Security Policyvisited with Professor Radovan Bigovic, a Serbian Priest and authorsurvived the heat by heading to Usce mall (and some students ca…

Serbian Parliament; Democratic Party

No, not that Democratic Party, but pretty close!

On Tuesday, we had the honor of entering the Serbian Parliament; this beautiful building was the destination of so many peaceful demonstrators in 2000 when hundreds of thousands of Serbs fought (non-violently) to overthrow the "elected Dictator" Slobodan Milosovic. The two MPs (Members of Parliament) we met were among the youth fighting for democratic change. And now they are MPs! How the world turns ...

The Democratic Party (not the "Democratic Party of Serbia", which is something else entirely) is the leading party in the governing coalition in Serbia's Parliament. It also is the party of Serbia's President, Boris Tadic.

Right after our tour of Parliament (which included us going into the main Chamber) and our 70-minutes discussion with these two great young leaders, we had a meeting with two other great young leaders, two women who work for CANVAS, the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action & Strategy.…

Special Prosecutor for War Crimes and Organized Crime

We met with the office of special prosecutor today. Mr. Vladimir was a brilliant speaker, a passionate advocate for human rights, legal procedures, and justice. He gave us a great presentation and overview of his office and how they are pursuing war criminals and organized crime bosses; how they are attempting to cooperate with similar offices elsewhere (Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Hague); and how they face political battles inside Serbia - both from the politicians as well as the public at large.

Students were blown away by the talk; one person told me how she was "energized" by the discussion and excited to keep learning about Balkans' histories, wars, conflicts, and efforts at promoting justice and development after the conflicts.

Belgrade - the hottest city in Europe

Beograd (Belgrade) residents would say this anyway ... "hottest" as in "coolest"; but this weekend it's more the temperature sense - it's hotter than blazes here; hotter than any place in Europe; even hotter than in Cairo! 41 degrees C; over 100 degrees F.

Needless to say, there hasn't been much motivation to blog.

Yesterday/Saturday, students spent the day (another hot hot day) in Novi Sad, capital of the Serbian province of Vojvodina and Serbia's 2nd largest city. And it's on the Danube. And it's the home to the "Exit" Festival - an international festival that brings hundreds of thousands of people to Novi Sad.

Today, most students found their way to Ada, the "lake" (a man-made lake, engineered out of a bend in the Sava river). It was refreshing to get out of the hotel and out of the city, but too many of them ended up with "too much sun". We all met tonight for coffee at an outdoor cafe, and I raised their …

Wednesday - down to business

ever-so-slight difference between pictures :-)

We're in it, full-speed ahead.

Yesterday (Tuesday), we visited the B92 Radio & TV station, the best radio station of the '90s and 2000s (and now still the 'best', but holding the 2nd spot among the other 400-plus broadcasters in Serbia).

We met with Sasha, the CEO and one of the early founders of B92 (founded as 92 FM radio in 1989). We had a tour of both the radio and the TV studios and then met on the roof for a Q&A (the roof being the only space large enough to hold all 23 students plus Mladen, Yiannis and me). Sasha ended our discussion with a detailed history of the role of B92 as a voice of challenge to Milosevic (first and foremost, throughout the 1990s until 2000) and even as a challenge to "our former friends" (as he called the political opposition to Milosevic). In short, B92 Radio & TV are what you would expect from the media - a "4th Estate" as we'd say in the US; an institut…

Walking tour of Belgrade + Archbishop (Roman Catholic) of Serbia

We started our walk from the Hotel Slavija, up the hill to the St. Sava Temple. St. Sava was the 12th Century founder of the independent Serbian Orthodox Church. Other sites along our way were:
Library of SerbiaTheater Park the bombed-out ruins of the Ministry of Defence (thanks to NATO, 1999)Knez Mihailova streetKalamegdan fortressSerbian Parliamentand home of the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church of SerbiaAs the Archbishop spoke no English, and we spoke no Serbian (or German or Latin!), Mladen translated for the 90-minute discussion.

In one of the pictures of St. Sava Temple, I was aiming for the grandeur of the building, so forgive the fact that these people are in "miniature"!

Djokovic - "King of Tennis"

So say the daily papers here in Belgrade.

"In other news ..."

I'm here in Belgrade (Beograd), eagerly awaiting our students, who arrive tomorrow (Sunday) around 1 pm at Tesla International Airport.

And as soon as they're here, I'm sure they'll be swept up in Djokovic fever! He plays in the Wimbledon finals Sunday around 3 pm.

Home in Cairo

The Jordan-Turkey Dialogue has finished, in terms of our collective time on the ground and in the field, for our reporters, photographers and socio-political analysts. The students all still have some work for me - mostly finalizing their Reflection papers and debriefings; that will give me a ton of work - when I receive 32 such papers (each around 2,400-2,500 words per paper) and have to finalize their grades within a week.

I'm also starting to prepare my first couple of lectures for the Balkans Dialogue, preparing as well for our first days on the ground in Belgrade, and preparing for the financial side of the Dialogue as well.

All in all, a busy time. But it's Cairo, and I'm with my wife, and our days are full of work, albeit at our own pace and in the overall setting of Egypt - a "naturally" slower pace for all.

I've not even been here a week, yet I'm finding things distinctly different from my last visit - February 19-28, and the glory days after t…

Pre-election and wrapping up Istanbul

Turkey's Parliamentary elections are tomorrow (Sunday). For today's assignment, I put on our Calendar that students should spend the day "getting the 'pulse' before elections." I had no precise idea what I meant when I wrote that, but I knew today would be important somehow. And sure enough, many of us did exactly that - we saw marches, parades; heard (but didn't understand) loudspeakers blaring out messages of who to vote for tomorrow; and some students talked to the "average Mustafa" on the street to ask who they would vote for.

Also, I wanted to repeat our fun walk of last week - to Ortakoy - and invited anyone/everyone to join me. Once again, we had 5 students (3 of whom went with me last week) plus "one bearded guy" (last week it was Rob; today it was Jon) and me. Once again, we stopped in at Four Seasons for some fresh juice (and a "pit stop"). And once again, we ended at the art district of Ortakoy. The picture ab…

Final days ...

On Thursday, our focus was on art and culture, especially modern art. We had a great lecture from Dr. Aslihan Erkmen, art historian, as well as a visit to Istanbul's Modern Art museum.

Today, the Arabic students and I focused on Turkey and the EU. Plus chocolate ... lots of chocolate, hand-dipped in Istanbul. Plus coffee (what goes better with chocolate than coffee?). No pictures, unfortunately, but I'll let all the Arabic students tell you in their own way how we went from Turkey and the EU to chocolate-heaven, a.k.a., Kahve, my new favorite coffee & chocolate mecca.

And tomorrow (insha'Allah), I lead the group back to Ortakoy (see last week's blog on this trip).

As the days are quickly coming to a close, I'm not sure if I'll be blogging again from Istanbul. We'll see what adventure/experience presents itself tomorrow ...

Our last day at Dogus University

The A-Team had 2 lectures today at Dogus; and I made a presentation about Northeastern to the Vice President, a few Deans, and several faculty.

We had a brief dialogue with a couple of Turkish students over lunch - the main topic being Sunday's parliamentary elections. We also took advantage of the time with Itir, who mapped out the main parties, the electoral system (the complicated system of proportional representation and the 10% threshold needed for parties to secure full representation).

Eyup Mosque and the Golden Horn

Another full day for the "A Team" ... we started at a Church/Mosque/Museum - crazy-packed with tourists. Got out of that quickly, then off to Eyup (Ayub) Mosque, a pilgrimage site for Muslims. This is at the "top" or perhaps the head of the Golden Horn, the waterway/inlet that divides European Istanbul from itself.

I'll post the mosaics of the church/mosque/museum soon ... but before turning in, I wanted to post some pics of our day.

A-Team (formerly "A-13") and mosque-hopping

Another great day of discovery and learning-while-walking and experiencing the unexpected. I had a plan, and once again, the primary plan fell apart and the result was even greater discoveries, more "jewels" of Istanbul, more connections with Turkish history, culture, and people. We expected to tour a major complex known as the Fatih (“The Conqueror”) Mosque (named for Mehmed II who conquered Istanbul).That is now under construction.Instead, we discovered two other “off the beaten track” mosques, with no tourists at all!We had one mosque completely to ourselves, and I was able to do another of my “snap lectures,” while seated at the front of the mosque, explaining architectural features, Islamic designs, history, and some politics (always some politics!).I'll be brief and just load up a few pictures. The one of the "A Team" (with me behind the camera) is especially impressive - to a person, each and every one of these great students are smiling and showing …