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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Egypt exploded yesterday.  Governorates as diverse as Alexandria, Cairo, Giza, Suez, and Port Said went up in flames. Why? Because too many here know that life without justice is death in disguise.

At this time of writing, at least 450 Egyptians are walking around maimed, bloodied, or bullet ridden. And we know of at least 22 who have become corpses.

For 30 years the Mubarak administration created a hell for the poor and marginalized in this country.

Political and social repression, police brutality and torture, and economic marginalization of communities were standard. And today, two years on from the toppling of Mubarak Egyptians continue to suffer much the same regardless of the switch of heads of state whether they be military or Brotherhood, both of whom did little to change this reality if not expand it to another level.

Morsy like a true president made a grand attempt to express his condolences to the families of the people who died yesterday with a single tweet on the social networking site Twitter…

Newspapers also report he and his administration promised to send the state security apparatus after those “criminals” who have disrupted the order he calls peace.

It’s an unavoidable fact that revolutions will always appear a lot more criminal from a seat in the position of power than it does when one does not sit there and President Morsy and the Brotherhood seem to characterize this completely. To paraphrase Black Agenda’s Glen Ford, the last thing that a president or an aspiring political party wants is a people’s movement in their country. The only kind of movement that these public officials want is people moving towards the ballot box once every two or four years, and then they want them quiet the rest of the time.

As for the part of the land of the free and brave, my country and the land of my birth which I came to know the world in… they have done their part to export the appropriate necessary materials for democracy building in Egypt. This includes hundreds of tanks and a set of fighter jets to the Egyptian army, tanks which we can suspect are not too different from those which a little more than a year ago crushed bodies of those Egyptian Coptic protesters at Maspero who had the nerve to protest against military rule, discrimination, and injustice.

But for many American policymakers and commentators these facts are very petty.  Debates and talks about Egypt in America are limited in scope and generally cannot venture any further than the security of Israel, an apartheid state which occupies an indigenous peoples’ land in the region. The economic, political, and social security of the actual people living in Egypt is not even an afterthought, a concept, or a concern…

Egyptians know quite well that their right to live lives of dignity with bread, economic security, and social justice has been subordinated in favor of a class of domestic and international property owners whose interests often leave them physically and economically displaced. They know that their right to live lives of self-determination and political freedom are subject to the interests of an apartheid state and a world hegemon that could care less if their military exports are used on innocents and would be quite frankly happy to refill the stocks. They know that a life like this is no real life at all.

And now as the Egyptian armed forces deploy tanks and soldiers in Cairo, Giza, Suez, Ismailia and Port Said, Egyptians prepare themselves yet again for the state violence that always accompanies resistance and refusal.

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Every now and then I meet curious people who come up to me and ask… How does it feel to be black in Egypt? More interesting than my answer to the question, however, were their own ideas surrounding it.

 The speculations and suppositions range from overdramatic exaggerations of abuse, to happy feel-good pat-you-on-your-back flat-out denials of the existence of racism and its impact, to a suave and an educated watering down of existing racism from both Egyptians and white expats alike.

So when I ran across Fatima Ali’s piece a couple weeks ago I was happy to translate it.

Though it’s essential that this narrative be given to the Egyptian Arabic audience it was addressed to first (which is why I leave it in Arabic too), her situation is much larger than Egypt as girls painted darker shades everywhere from Brazil to Holland to the United States can relate to the hyper-sexualization, the denial of legitimately belonging to our faiths, and the constant ridicule we receive for having the audacity to walk into a room and be black at the same time.

So such a story should be added to the canon of the writings of the women of the African diaspora who can not only relate to this story but carry this story and stories like this with them every day wherever they go. Hers is one of the many voices which could easily go untranslated and often do here in Egypt…

* Note: I am by no means a professional translator, my Arabic is quite average, and the writer speaks in Egyptian slang quite liberally so until a real Arabic-speaker becomes so angered with this translation and he or she slams their mouse down and furiously edits this, you will have to settle for this unique creation of mine.

That said, I invite all suggestions, corrections, and contestations!*

يوميات بنت سمرا ( 2 )..بما أن: بنت حلوة وسودا ومش محجبة!!.. إذن: كده التحرش حلال

The Diary of a Black Girl (2) A girl is pretty and black and not veiled!!
License for Acceptable Harrassment

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Fatima Ali

ناس كتير قوي اتكلمت فى موضوع التحرش بالبنات فى الشارع.. أنا بقى جاية أحكيلكم عن اللفظى والجنسي، وزود عليهم كمان التحرش ” العرقي ” اللي بتعرض له فى الشارع المصري الجميل..

A lot of people have talked about the harassment problem girls face on the street… Today, I am going to tell you all about the verbal and the sexual harassment and also add to this the “ethnic” harassment that also appears on the beautiful Egyptian street.

يعني إيه مثلا أكون ماشية فى الشارع و مجموعة شباب يشتموني بمجموعة قازورات منتقاة من الألفاظ القبيحة.. لكن اللى خلانى اتنح وسط كل السخافات دي، لما كلب فيهم قال:” يلا يا تريزة يا مسيحية يا بنت الم****ة”.. مش عارفة هو قرر إزاى إنى ” تريزه”هل مثلا عشان أنا سودا فيبقى أنا مسيحية.. ولا علشان مش محجبة؟.. طيب فرضا إن أنا مسيحية.. ليه بقى اتشتم .. يعني لو واحدة مسيحية شكلها ” عادي ” و لابسة صليب كبير كانوا هايشتموها كل شوية في الشارع ؟!..الحقيقة إنه ما كانش هايحصل، وحتى لو بيحصل بيبقى مرة ف الشهر مثلا مش كل يوم..

What I mean, for example, is I am walking on the street and a group of guys insult me with the worst choice of obscenities possible and while I’m walking in the middle of all this stupidity, one dog from the group says to me “Come on Mother Theresa! You Christian! You daughter of a “f**ker!”

First, I don’t know how he decided that I am a “Mother Theresa.” Could it be, for example, because I am black so it must be that I am Christian?  Or is it because I am not veiled? Ok , let’s presume I am a Christian… Still why would he insult me? I mean if I was a Christian girl with a “normal” appearance and wearing a big cross would they still insult her on every little street corner? The truth is that it doesn’t happen to Christian girls all the time and even if it were to happen it would be one time in the month not every day.

يعني إيه برضو أكون في الشارع _و دي بقى بسمعها أكتر ما بسمع إسمي فى اليوم الواحد_ الاقي حد يقول وأنا ماشية ”السود دول بيكونوا جامدين قوي ع السرير وسخنين ما تيجي !!” .. الغريب إنهم بيكونوا واثقين بنسبة كبيرة إني ممكن فعلا أروح معاهم لأني ياعيني محتاجة ده جدا، لأني ” سخنة ” طول الوقت وهو كده بيخدمني بمجهوده.. يا عين أمه.. ده غير أصلا إنه متصور أن كل السوداوات عاهرات طبعا من غير كلام..

What I’m trying to tell you all, is that in just one day when I am on the street I hear these kind of insults more than I hear my own name. Once, I found someone saying as I was walking “Those blacks they are very good in bed and very hot.  Here one comes!”

The strange thing about all this is that when they see me, they are very confident to a large degree that maybe I really will go with them because I really need this because I am “hot for it” all the time and of course he would just be doing a favor for me… This goes without saying that he pictures that all black girls are naturally prostitutes…

سيبك من ده كله.. طب عمرك شفت بنت في الشارع الناس بتشد شعرها عشان يضحكوا عليها خلق ربنا.. ده برضو بيحصلي طول الوقت، إن كان ف الشارع أو في المترو أو أى احتكاك بيني وبين قطيع منطلق يرعى سخافة..لأن المفروض إن السود دول ما عندهمش شعر.. يبقى أنا أكيد لابسة باروكة.. طب هو عايز يتأكد والموضوع شغله يعمل إيه؟؟ أو تعمل إيه؟؟ طبعا يقوم شادد هو الباروكة، ولما هو يشد الباروكة و تقع ينبسط هو أو هي، و يبسط خلق ربنا اللي محتاجة تتبسط معاه، لما الباروكة تقع

But it’s not just this…. Have you ever seen a girl in the street and people are pulling her hair and laughing at her, this girl, who is our God’s creation… This also happens to me all the time, indeed it happens in the street or in the metro or any place that I find myself between a pack of idiots.

This is because it must be that these blacks don’t have hair so of course I am wearing a wig and the matter is after all their business. They want to be sure of this so what do they do?  Naturally, they must take it upon themselves to pull the wig! And when they pull the wig and it falls they enjoy it! And simply the black girl, our God’s creation, is left with no other choice but to enjoy it with them when the wig falls….

ساعات بقى أكون ماشية في الشارع مع حد من اصدقائي اللي شكلهم “عادي” ومش ملفت، و تسمع الناس بتقول بصوت عالي “وإنتوا اتلميتوا على بعض فين؟!”.. كأني من كوكب المريخ، و صديقتي من كوكب الزهرة و المواصلات مقطوعة بين الكوكبين.. ياجدعان ده أنا مرة كنت ماشية في الشارع أنا وخطيبي اللي هو برضو شكله ” عادي “، لقينا واحد بيوقنا و قال لخطيبي ” يا شيخ حرام حرام عليك.. ده أنت أبيض و هي سودا؟!”.. وماتسألنيش يعني إيه!..

Another time, I was walking in the street with one of my friends that look “normal” and not at all eye-catching or conspicuous-looking and she hears people say in a loud voice “How did you all even become friends?! ” as if I was from Mars and my friend from Venus and transportation between the two planets is prohibited.

Still another time, I was walking on the street with my fiancé who is also “normal- looking” and we found someone hollering at us. “Hey sheikh!” he said to my fiancé “This is great shame for you! It’s forbidden! You are white and she is black!?” And don’t even begin to ask me what that means!

طب جربت تبقى واقف ف المترو و الناس كلها بتتكلم عنك بصوت عالي؟.. اللي يقول يا عم السود دول ريحتهم بتكون وحشة قوي مش عارف بيعملوا إيه في نفسهم عشان تكون ريحتهم كده.. اللى أعرفه إن الناس بتعمل حاجات عشان تبقى ريحتهم حلوة، مش يعملوها عشان تبقى ريحتهم وحشة.. و اللي يقول يا عم السود كلهم مسيحين.. أي والله كلهم.. واللي يقولك سودا قوي ؟!!.. و إذ فجأتن يجيلك تليفون و تتكلم ” عادي ” زي ما البشر بتتكلم، و تلاقي الناس كلها اتخرست فجأة.. و مش طالعلهم حس، لأنهم طبعا كانوا متخيلين إني من بلاد الهنولولو و مش بتكلم عربي “عادي” يعني زيهم..

Have you tried standing in the metro before and all the people are talking about you loudly? One says “Hey man these blacks their smell is always very bad and I don’t know what they are doing to themselves for them to smell like that… I know that the people do things to improve their smell, but they don’t do things to make themselves smell bad…” Another one says “Hey man all blacks are Christians… I swear all of them!” Another one says to you “You are very black!” Then… suddenly the telephone rings, speaking “normal” and like a human, I speak.  I find that everybody is suddenly silent and not one of them continues to talk because, of course, they all imagined that I am from the country of Honolulu and I don’t speak “normal” Arabic like them…

هاقولكم الخاتومة بقى.. أنا مرة كنت راكبة المترو و قاعدة جنب الشباك.. اذ أفوجأ بتفة عظيمة نازلة على قورتي من ناحية اليمين فوق حواجبي.. هل ممكن أي مواطن ” عادي ” يتعرض للموقف ده من لا شئ؟.. يا سيدي صلي ع النبي كده ف سرك .. و لما تشوف حد إسود_ أو أحمر حتى_بيحصل له أي حاجة من دي.. ابقى اتفرج زي عادتك و إفتكرني.

I’ll end all this with the time that I was once riding the metro and sitting next to the window and a huge spit fell on my right side of my forehead above my eyebrows… Really, ask yourselves, is it possible for any “normal” citizen to find themselves in this situation from nothing? Everyone, pray to the Prophet quietly when you see a black or dark person when any of these things happen to him then watch your own behavior and remember me.

*Ali describes herself as a Nubian from Sudan and an Egyptian-Sudanese. Her original blog can be found here.