Showing posts from 2012

Divided Egypt

Tomorrow (Friday), we can expect a series of demonstrations - pro-Morsi/pro-Constitution and anti-Morsi/"just say No" to the Constitution.  These will occur in Alexandria and elsewhere outside Cairo, plus here - especially in Tahrir and perhaps even more so in the square outside the Presidential Palace (known here these days as the Qasr al-Ittihadiya, Federation Palace).  (See the grandeur that this used to be, before "Hosni" turned it into his private "White House.")

If last Saturday's results from round 1 of the referendum continue, it is nearly certain that round 2 (this Saturday) will confirm a "yes" vote - but not by a great majority.  The expectations are about 55-58% yes, to 45-42% no. 

So - not really a huge mandate to create an Islamist-oriented Constitution for all 85 million Egyptians!

Even without the statistics of a vote (and who knows if these are even true results? Nearly all Egyptians I speak to don't believe them), it i…

Tahrir & AUC

We took a stroll through Tahrir, and past AUC, on 16 December.  Afterwards, I kept asking myself: "what the hell were we thinking?!"

There were no demonstrations, no tear gas, no protests.  Yet, we were clearly in the wrong place (even if at the "right time" - i.e., a time of no imminent danger).  Still, when a fight did break out on the street, a fight that "in normal times" would be handled easily, and ended peacefully - this one started boiling over and getting more heated.  We simply got out of there before it got worse.  And we were being "nudged" (firmly!) to get a move-on by an elderly gent who was pushing us down a side street, where he was headed also.

So, we moved back through the side streets, past McDonald's and AUC-of-old, and as we did so, a very young boy started pulling the barbed wire across the street.  (The next morning we learned from the newspapers that Tahrir was "shut off" from what few streets still had tra…

Results of Referendum, round ONE

The pro-Muslim Brotherhood press, and the Brotherhood itself, claim that 56% of Egyptians voting in Round One of the Referendum process voted YES.  Opposition press and parties and individuals who are against the "new regime" say that votes were stolen, the process was rigged, ballots were "stuffed" into boxes with "YES" already marked. 

In short - nothing terribly new for Egyptian election politics. 

But then again ... Egypt is indeed striking out in fundamentally new directions.  a new Constitution is being presented to the public; there are splits between a seeming majority of Islamists or pro-Islamists and "the rest of Egypt."  And the polls that I saw were filled with "real voters" - people of all "walks of life" coming out to express what they feel will be their accurately recorded vote, one way or the other.  That spirit of democracy building seems very real, even if there is pessimism about the end result: an Islami…

Egypt's Referendum Day (part 1)

It's a chilly, smoggy morning in Cairo as Egyptians (how many?  and of what "persuasion"? - these are 2 of the biggest questions) go to the polls today to begin voting on an Islamist-crafted Constitution.  Only about half of Egypt votes today; the other half next Saturday.

My friend Abduh is already out at the polls with reporters.  He (and I) will update things as the day progresses.  Stay tuned!

(above) Cops sharing a cup o' tea - no demonstrators here to worry about...
(below) "NO to the Constitution" on the Egyptian flag
 (below) long lines of men (on left) and women (on right) in our area of Cairo (Zamalek)

 (below) "le" (no) on a waste-basket on a light pole.  Women queuing up to vote.

CANVAS day 3 - thanks to Milan and Sandra

Milan and Sandra, our trainers for the past 3 days are pictured below.  Milan is to my right (your left) and Sandra is right next to him.  Mladen, Elise, Tori, Will, Marie and Demi joined us all on the roof deck of our beautiful Hotel Prag, which also served as our conference room.

We wrapped up today with lessons on:
developing "the message" (for your campaign, movement, group)"Recruit-Train-Act" (recruiting techniques to grow your organization)perception analysis (what do we say about us?  what do we say about 'them'?  What do THEY say about us?  and What do THEY say about themselves?) - all designed to create your message and to counter "their" attacks on our credibilitystrategic planning and action implementation - developing goals and objectives, and making them happen  In keeping with the confidentiality of CANVAS, I am not about to divulge any of the action plans developed here in Belgrade!  If any of these happen in Boston or Arizona or Vi…

The Man, the Legend, the 'Rock Star' of Revolutionaries

I am speaking (in the title above) of the one and only Srdja Popovic.  Here he is with our group today:

(from the CANVAS website):
Srdja Popovic was one of the founders and key organizers of the Serbian nonviolent resistance group Otpor! Otpor!’s campaign to unseat Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic found success in October 2000 when hundreds of thousands of protestors converged upon and took over the Serbian Parliament, effectively ending Milosevic’s rule. After the revolution, Popovic served a term as a member of the Serbian National Assembly 2000-2003.

In 2003, Popovic and other ex-Otpor! activists started the non-profit educational institution the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS)

In 2011, Srdja was named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the year's "Top 100 Global Thinkers":  CLICK HERE FOR FOREIGN POLICY

Srdja joined our two workshop leaders/trainers, Sandra and Milan, to discuss one of OTPOR's most successful ta…

Revolution 101 - overthrowing a dictator or health-care for all

Whatever your issue, whatever your cause, whatever your need - as long as you subscribe to attaining your goals and creating a better tomorrow through non-violent action, then CANVAS will be happy to help.
CANVAS - the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action & Strategies - is the rebranding of the famous OTPOR, the Serbian youth group that planned and executed the non-violent overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
Now CANVAS has helped dozens and dozens of organizations and movements around the world with their causes - most notably, Egypt.  See how that worked?
I arranged for CANVAS to give our students a 3-day workshop/training program to help us understand how CANVAS and its like-minded revolutionaries around the world think, plan, operate, and execute their campaigns.  It was a strange beginning for all of us today - all of us knowing we don't have a dictatorship to overthrow.  But we all want to effect positive change in our world, so we went with it.  
The primary objective …

BELGRADE - history and politics "on foot"

No pics today; my camera's batteries died :-(

Students had the morning off (to sleep, mostly, after that long drive yesterday).  We met at 2 pm at the Hotel Prag for our walking tour of old Belgrade.  Mladen took the lead and I added my own information and guidance along the way.  We walked first up to St. Sava Temple, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world, named for Sava, who founded the Serbian Orthodox Church.  From there, and past the national Library, we walked past the military buildings that were bombed by NATO (and yes, by "us"/U.S.) in 1999, to a small park next to the Serbian Foreign Ministry.  That park is dedicated to Knez Milos (Prince Milos) who led the 2nd Serbian rebellion against the Turks (Ottomans) in 1815.  In this same spot, we heard of the March 2003 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the founder of the Democratic Party of Serbia and a leader of the opposition against Slobodan Milosevic.  From here, down to the 'square&…

arrived in Belgrade, safe and sound!!

It took a while, obviously, but all is well in Belgrade.  Students are checked into the Hotel Prag (with A/C and wireless!).  Given the 11-hour journey (Moster to Sarajevo; 90 minute break in Sarajevo to eat, get luggage, say good-bye to Maja at Sokak; then 7 hours or so from Sarajevo to Belgrade) - given all that, I gave students the morning off tomorrow (to sleep or more likely, to explore the city) and then we meet at 2 pm to give them an overview and a walking tour of the old part of Belgrade. 

So, that's it for now.  No cool pictures until tomorrow :-)

Mostar - divided city

Mostar is still divided - mostly Croats (on the western side of the river Neretva), mostly Muslims (on the eastern side), with very few Serbs living here and there. 

This gorgeous bridge was originally built between 1557 and 1567 by an Ottoman bridge builder, Mimar Hayruddin, student of the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent.  At the time it was built, it was the widest man-made arch in the world; it was an engineering "mystery" for years - how was the scaffolding erected?  how were the stones transported from one bank to the next? and bottom line - how the heck was it held together?!  There were no metal braces or suspension of any kind.

The old bridge, "Stari Most", served the peoples of Mostar for 427 years until it was completely destroyed by Croatian forces on November 9, 1993.  Croatian military leaders said they destroyed it for "strategic military reasons."  That of course is bullsh**.   There was …

Tito's bunker

Awesome stop!  And a strange sense of "back to the future", by walking into the 1960s-70s.  In this bunker, you get the sense of what Tito and his generals were planning to do in the event of nuclear war - and that was to "hunker down" in a bunker, for up to 6 months, under a mountain.  The engineers claimed this bunker would withstand a nuclear blast up to 20 kilotons.  hmmmm .... having seen the insides and the "steel trap doors", I'm not so sure.  But I am glad the world never had to find out. 

"sayonara" Sarajevo ... for now

We're wrapping up our stay in Sarajevo today.  It seems like we just got here and that we've been here for months.  I'm not eager (not even happy) to leave, but can hardly wait to get to Mostar later today!  On the way to Mostar (only 2 hours away), we plan to stop at "Tito's bunker", an underground, top-secret (in the 1950s-60s) bunker designed to hold Tito and his top military and political officers, should there ever be need for it.  Think "Cold War", think "Balkans", and think "Tito's non-alignment" policies - all of which led Tito to think he would need a bunker in the likelihood (in his calculations) of a(nother) war.

Mostar is a divided city - mostly Croats and Muslims.  It also has one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, albeit with one of the more sad aspects of the 'death' of Yugoslavia.  More on that in the days ahead.

Student blogs - check them out!!

on the right side of this blog, run your cursor over the second box down from the right - you should see "Student Blogs Balkans 2012".  As students send me their URL (addresses) for their blogs, I will add them here. 

the students have unique insights into much of the same thing I discuss - but then again, so much more!  Check them out when you can.

While I'm "here", I'll post just two more pictures from July 9.  First, a picture of our meeting with Ambassador Rod Moore, former US Ambassador to Montenegro, career foreign service officer, and now works as the 2nd in command at the OHR - the Office of the High Representative.  OHR is essentially the "authority of last resort" in Bosnia.  We met with Ambassador Moore just after we witnessed the ceremony honoring the 520 souls who were to be buried today in Srebrenica.  Here is one more picture, below, that shows the flowers that were placed on the 3 semi-trucks, carrying the 520 coffins that were la…

Sarajevo - the "Jerusalem" of Europe?

I've heard this comparison many times over the past week and a half.  And our visits with religious leaders reinforce the notion of a city of many faiths: Jews, Muslims, Roman Catholics, Serbian Orthodox, and all forms of secular, a-religious, non-religious, agnostics and others who form the fabric of this beautiful city.  (I haven't met an atheist yet, or if I have, they haven't declared it; I'm reminded that "there are no atheists in fox-holes", and from 1992-95, all Sarajevans were in a virtual fox-hole, living under siege.)

Unfortunately, the "Jerusalem" comparison is not always positive, even as it remains apt, given the divisions that bubble up on the surface all too often -- because this beautiful city, and more so the "country" of Bosnia-Herzegovina far beyond the city, is riven with factions, rivalries, distrust, mistrust, and all the way down the road toward fear and hatred.  Yet, more than anything, there is life, hope, joy, la…

Srebrenica - our visit on July 6

The people of Srebrenica, and the Memorial Center dedicated to the victims of the July 1995 genocide against Muslims of Bosnia, are preparing to bury the remains of another 510 or so victims next week.  Why 17 years later?

Many or most of these bodies have already "seen" 2-3 other gravesites -- starting with the places where they were first buried, after being shot or otherwise murdered by the armies of Ratko Mladic.  Knowing that the world was discovering (in 1995) the extent of their genocide, Bosnian Serbs dug up the remains of their 8,300-plus victims (or most of them) and reburied them.  And often, they did it again.  And sometimes, they did it again.  One victim's remains were located in 4 separate burial sites.

Now, for these 8,372-plus souls, their remains are finally together and can finally be laid to rest. Yet there are thousands more missing people from this period - Muslims mostly as well as Croats and Serbs - as we learned on "day 1" of th…

A Jewish President of Bosnia? Why not?!

Today, we met Jakob Finci.  Finci is 70 years old or so; born in an Italian detention camp in WW2, after his parents were sent there (rather than Auschwitz).  They survived the war and the detention camp and returned to Sarajevo after 1945.  But the rest of Sarajevo's Jews were not so lucky.  85% of Sarajevo's Jews disappeared during the War.  Today, there are only 1,000 Jews in all of Bosnia; 700 or so of these are in Sarajevo.  And Jakob is their community leader.

Jakob is a lawyer by training.  During the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo, he stopped practicing law and turned his attention to La Benevolencija, the Jewish community NGO that served as shelter, soup kitchen, pharmacy, and even post office to all Sarajevans, regardless of religion.

After the Bosnian war ended, Jakob worked to establish Sarajevo's Inter-Religious Council.  He served as the Jewish representative, as there is no full-time Rabbi in the city.  He also served as the Council's first president (from…

Bosnian President Izetbegovic and NU Dialogue

As mentioned yesterday, we had a surprise visit at one of our meetings (with the foreign policy advisor to Bosnian President Izetbegovic).  Here are a few images from that visit.

A surprise visit from President of Bosnia!

We had 2 planned visits today – first, with Elvir Camdzic, the chief foreign policy advisor to Bakir Izetbegović, the Bosniak President of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH).
The presidency of BiH is a tri-partite entity, with one Bosniak (or Muslim), one Serb, and one Croat.  All 3 are elected at the same time and serve for a 4-year term, collectively.  All 3 people serve as “President” for 8 months at a time, on a rotating basis.  The current ‘troika’ of presidents was elected in 2010. 
The politics of BiH are so complicated that even in planning our visits with speakers we have to work around the politics.  Should we meet with advisors to all 3 different presidents?  Even those advisors recommended against that – saying that such collective discussions with foreigners (like us) just doesn’t work.  So, we were very happy to have time with Mr. Camdzic. 
We were only about 5 minutes into our 90 minute meeting and the door is pushed open and in marches the president himself! Bakir Izetbegović…

Jumping into the "deep end of the pool"

Students arrived yesterday; we spent 90 minutes together last night to get them acclimated and prepare them for the week ahead.

This morning, we met at 10:00 am to prepare them further for our very first site visit (see below) and to give them an overview of the complexities (understatement of the year) of Bosnian politics.  Dr. Esmir Ganic, of the American University of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), spoke at length about BiH politics, governance, and international relations.  Wow, is it confusing!  Even he was having some difficulty making sense (for us) of the seemingly non-sensical.  One "state" (BiH); two "entitites" - a "Federal entity" (51% Bosnia) plus Republica Srbska (49%), along with 10 "cantons" within the 51% Federal entity.  Oh, and there are 3 Presidents (so to speak) within BiH.  And there is a High Representative for BiH, an international official overseeing civilian governance.  (And this is the "short and sweet" descript…

Sarajevo - Balkans Dialogue begins

Students (and their fearless leader, Dr. Will Lovely) all arrived safe and sound today in Sarajevo.  All are settled in their respective hotels (2 different ones, given that no one affordable hotel could fit all of us in one place).  We had a brief orientation to the program, and then students were free to begin their discovery of this amazing city.

We have our first lectures tomorrow, starting 10 am.  More on all of those, and so many others, in the days and weeks ahead.

Here's a quick pic of Will and me in front of an Austrian-style Church on the edge of the "East-West" (as in Ottoman-Austrian) divide of the old city.

Military Dictatorship in Egypt - now fully in place

What is determining Egypt's future is not happening at the polls.
- Sherine Tadros, Al-Jazeera
[SCAF’s] new constitutional declaration completed Egypt’s official transformation into a military dictatorship. - Hossam Bahgat, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Egyptians were depressed leading up to this weekend’s presidential elections – from business men to college students to waiters and taxi drivers, people I’ve met all week keep using this word: “depressed.”It reflects the horrible political situation, and it reflects the dismal, “depressed” economic situation.And for all of them, personally, it reflects their moods.And so, there was zero enthusiasm for either of the two choices Egyptians were facing at the polls on Saturday and Sunday: the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Mursi and the regime’s candidate Ahmad Shafiq.
There is nothing to boost Egyptians' spirits now that the results are coming in.No matter who is declared the “winner”, the military will remain in nea…

Election Day(s) in Egypt - a new President?

Egypt's political system continues to shock and surprise us. 

A few days ago, the supreme constitutional court ruled that the Parliament was not elected according to the constitution, and therefore it was invalid and should be disbanded.  The court also ruled that the constitutional assembly, which was supposed to write the new constitution, also was invalid as it was chosen by the Parliament.

Of course, if that were the case, then the presidential elections going on today and tomorrow also should be declared invalid, right?  These candidates came out of this process, so why should these two candidates be considered legitimate?

Egypt's military (SCAF - the supreme council of the armed forces) holds all power - "SCAF" is the president and it has assumed (as of yesterday) all legislative powers and control over the budget.  It will appoint the 100-member constituent assembly, to write the new Constitution.  The only check on the executive and legislative powers is the…

His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal

What a day it's been.  Our meeting with Prince Hassan lasted nearly 3 hours.  We expected 2 hours at most, yet the questions and discussion with HRH, the Prince, was so rich, that he extended his time with us another hour.  I can't really give an account of the talk (at this time); it was so wide and deep a discussion (plus I'm 'spent' from all the work, excitement, and efforts everyone put into it to make it a success). 

for the moment, I'll simply post our group shot with HRH, after the talk.  And will put up other pics in the days ahead.

Huskies got Talent! (Final Arabic presentations)

Today, Sunday, was the day for Arabic students to make final presentations, in Arabic.  Some danced Dabkeh (Sam, Eric), sang (below), made a cookbook and read it out (below), wrote a children's book (below), drew and wrote a poem (Ian, below), or made videos (to be posted soon). 

Tonight is our farewell dinner, hosted by SIT. 

AND TOMORROW, we have an audience and Dialogue with His Royal Highness Prince Hassan, brother of the late King Hussein.  So, WATCH THIS SPACE tomorrow night, so I can report back and show some pics (insha'Allah).

June 5-8 Southern excursion, discovery, reflection

June 4-5:  After visiting Dana Village (see below), we made camp in Rumana Camp for the night.  Here are a couple pics from my 6:30 am hike around the “words-can’t-describe” canyons and valleys and mountains of Dana nature preserve.
After this, we headed to Petra.  Students were escorted to the opening of Petra at 2 pm, where they were guided into the area and given the time and freedom to roam, hike, climb, and otherwise just enjoy the stunning beauty of this Nabatean wonder of the world.  The Nabateans, nomads from Arabia, arose as a culture and an economic power some 2,400 years ago.  They carved their way across Arabia, and what is now Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and into the Sinai.  The most famous of their architectural wonders is Petra.  In 106 A.D./C.E., the Roman Emperor Trajan effectively annexed the Nabatean Kingdom into the Roman Empire. 
June 6:  After Petra, we left the next afternoon to visit a school for the deaf community and other ‘at risk’ children, women, and men.…