The American flag consists of 13 horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with six white. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies and the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. It has three colours; red symbolises hardiness and valour, white symbolises purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice. As you travel around the country or walk down the street in your neighbourhood; you see the ominous American flag waving everywhere, including on restaurants, businesses, boats, bikes, underwear, cars and in people’s own private spaces. Wal-Mart recorded the biggest sale of American flags this year.
The American flag has not just become a part of the American patriotic landscape, but also a perennial part of their front yard landscape. Americans show their patriotism through flag posting and seem to show their affection to their flag regardless of their political or religious affiliation; and this was even before the 9/11 tragedy. The American flag will rise and the national anthem is sung before every national or local sporting event, even between two high school teams in the same town with the same nationality.
The American flag has become a symbol of the national identity as Americans; it is becoming the patriotic polygraph test and is now becoming the Republican Party mascot. This sense of flagrant public patriotism is absent in the Arab and Muslim world. Growing up in Egypt, flags fervour is replaced by leader fervour – Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, Morsi, and now Al-Sisi – their pictures are posted everywhere, on every building, street, public or business office, square, and now even on chocolate, cheese, clothes and jewellery.
The perennial president’s face, with his confident look staring at us wherever we go – you can still see it on all the cover pages of the mainstream media (whether governmental or privately owned), thereby providing us with our daily patriotic fix. The only places devoid of this presidential invasion are Egyptians’ private homes and mosques; these Egyptians own private spaces where the presidents’ pictures are replaced by verses of the Quran, or a family picture. Do you get the picture?
This goes on in all Arab countries, and with all Arab leaders, as evidence of national insecurity. The president is acting as a father figure; a symbol of our identity, he is the head of our tribe. A friend of mine told me that before Syria had been destroyed, the picture of President Assad was so prominent that he grew up having never seen a picture of a bird or any form of art. Pictures of human faces are not encouraged in Islam, so only our leaders can break this religious taboo with such unbridled fervour. Americans experienced this phenomenon firsthand when they invaded Iraq and experienced Saddam Hussein’s pictures, with his dominant moustache posted everywhere. When the Iraqis felt secure enough, these pictures were the first to be attacked and torn down by the Iraq people – no longer to be seen.
Arab leaders may own the public spaces, they may own the power and governments, media, banks, courts, police and authorities; and they can impose their will on anything and everywhere. Private spaces, however, remain sovereign and out of their firm grip, and while those leaders may own the public conversation, they can never touch the private conversation or people’s faith.
In the Arab world, freedom of expression is a private affair; where the Arab leaders get their real pictures and private names. President Mubarak was the “laughing cow” (La Vache qui Rit), President Gaddafi was the “lunatic”, King Abdullah was the “royal idiot”, Saddam was the “Butcher of Baghdad”; Nasser was the looter, Sadat was the “drug addict”, interim president Adly was the “idiot”, first civilian elected president Morsi was the “spare tire”, and now Al-Sisi has earned a nickname that took this private conversation to another level of vulgarity, the “Pimp”.
Flags don’t mean much to most Arabs – the flag represented the past and serves as a symbol of disgrace and disappointment in their leaders and nationalism. Flags waving in dictatorial systems take a different meaning. You don’t wave the national flag when you protest against your state; you burn it. Lately, and for the most part, we only saw Al-Sisi supporters, remnants of old dictators and paid thugs who wave the flags in Tahrir Square.
The interrogators at Guantanamo Bay may have desecrated the Islamic holy book to force a confession; however, they would never have considered desecrating a national flag. That would have never worked. On the other hand, when Arabs are protesting against Americans they burn the American flag, and not the constitution or even the Bible for that matter. For Americans, and in a consumer culture, the flag remains the larger symbol of unity and an overzealous belief that we are all Americans, at least under the flag, regardless of our race, religion or socioeconomic status. Even in a land of moral relativism, where nothing is sacred, where most of what we use is disposable; the American flag stands tall everywhere, and unlike the Quran, it is illegal to treat it with anything but absolute respect.
Someone once said: “When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.” In Egypt, it came wrapped in the picture of dictator waving a gun.
Ahmed Tharwat is host and producer of the Arab-American TV show Belahdan (with open Arms), a weekly talk show that airs on MN Public TV. He blogs at Notes From America www.ahmediatv.com. Follow him at Facebook, Twitter and YouTube: ahmediatv
In Egypt using the court system as an oppressive tool
The International Coalition for Freedoms and Rights sends an international human rights and legal delegation to attend President Mohammed Morsi s trial and document human rights violations. – See more at: http://www.icfr.info/en/#sthash.FituA…
The Virginity War… Never bowed”
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate: 15
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley. 1849–1903
A glorious 18 days of massive demonstration in Egypt, 18 million people went to street to demand their dignity and freedom, on February 11th, 2011 Egyptian Ex dictator Hosni Mubarak stepped down, marked the end of 30 years of absolute dictatorship,. The chant In Tahrir Square that night, changed from “The people want toppling of the regime” , to the “Military and the people one hand” … a month later, and on March 9th . 2011, the Egyptian Military who seized the power has its hand tainted forever, not just arresting, torturing, killing protesters in Tahrir Square… but and for the time in Egyptian Military history… forced women activists to go under virginity test.
The virginity test allegations first surfaced after a March 9th rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that turned violent when men in plainclothes attacked protesters and the army intervened forcefully to clear the square. Amnesty International further documented the abuse allegations in a report that found 18 female detainees were threatened with prostitution charges and forced to undergo virginity tests. They were also beaten up and given electric shocks, the report said.
As was reported in the news, Major General al-Sisi said that ‘virginity tests’ had been carried out on female detainees in March to “protect” the army against possible allegations of rape, but that such forced tests would not be carried out again. He also added that the army would avoid detaining women in the future. This wasn’t the only perverse excuse we heard from the generals. The Amnesty International report continued, “The general, speaking on condition of anonymity, justified the abuse by saying that the women “were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters.” Guilty of what, he didn’t elaborate. With the help of Karim Reda, a fBook activist friend in Egypt, I was able to get the phone numbers of two of these young women who had lived the “forced virginity test” ordeal. Rash Abdelrahman, a 28 year old college student and Jihan Mahmoud, a 29 year old social worker.
I called Rasha Abdelrahman, introduced myself as Ahmed Tharwat, an Egyptian American, doing a TV story about the Egyptian revolution and the role of women. I continued, “I would love to talk to you about the …” (I wasn’t sure if I should say virginity test in Arabic in our first conversation) so I asked her, “Can I talk to you about the ordeal with the Military. She got my drift. “Ohhh, you mean … ‘Kashf Elozrayah’,” (virginity test) she causally said. “Sure, give me your number and I will call you back.”
I was a little taken aback by her forthcoming attitude considering the cultural taboo and the ordeal. I was the one who held back, but, sure enough, two days late she called and asked if she could bring her friend, another young lady who was also a victim of the “Kashf Alozriay” ordeal. “Of course, I would love to talk to you both.” I chose a public place for our first meeting, the famous Groppi Café in downtown Cairo. I took my small FLIP camera and went to the café on a Tuesday afternoon. The time we set to meet was 2 pm, but knowing Egyptian time I freed up the whole afternoon for this meeting. Groppi is an old-fashioned café. Its glory days have passed by; nothing in the interior or exterior has changed since about the sixties, the spacious entrance, the breeze coming in the open doors, the tall windows, the smiling dark waiter, the broken tiles, the leaky faucet, ceiling fans, and, of course, the man with the tissue in the bathroom. Rasha called, “I’m in the subway now, another half an hour at most,” she explained. Of course, the Egyptians use the traffic as a pretext for anything out of their control although, ironically, the subway is the only thing in Egypt now that is working and is actually under control, but once you are in the subway, there is nothing you could do, but wait; it is your fate. An hour later she called again and asked if I could meet them outside the café. I stood up and headed outside. I had never seen them before, and they never seen me. They had never talked to the media or had a presence in YouTube universe. I expected to see broken women in traditional dress. Wandering outside, looked around and saw none of the kind of women I imagined. Finally, I spotted two young ladies talking, smiling and walking back and forth in front of the café. “Are you Rasha?” I asked them. “Are you Mr. Ahmed?” she giggled. “Yes, Ahlan Wasahlan. Welcome, and thank you for coming.” Rasha was wearing a stylishly modern hijab, the one that just covers the head, and not the face, and a red dress over her jeans. She had an infectious laugh, and did most of the talking. Jihan was the quite one; she had stylish short hair, a scarf around her neck, and magnetic deep dark eyes. Her dress was of a rebellious nature. “Anything to drink?” the waiter asked. Everyone ordered lemonade. “There is no lemonade.” the waiter said. .. … why? “The blender is broken.” The dark skinny waiter said with a shy smile. . The Groppi cafe has been known for its excellent fresh lemonade since the sixties, It is a very comfortable homey place, where a waiter can give you excuses like this. We ordered drinks that don’t require blender work, which is tea. Jihan never touched her drink; she was very quiet, and she didn’t say a word for more than 30 minutes. Rasha took control of the conversation.
I first asked them to tell me what actually happened that day of March 9th 2011. “The military wanted to break us, and humiliate us,” Rasha explained, “and as far as I’m concerned, Tantawi is a war criminal,” she said with a strong voice. “We were there at Tahrir for the general strike; we thought it would be like all other demonstration,” Rasha added. “We went to Tahrir, as usual,” Jihan explained, “the day was uneventful. Later at about 4pm, , we found people in plainclothes, started attacking us with rocks, and Molotov cocktails. I had to get a stick to protect myself,” Jihan explained.
Rasha and Jihan talked to me in more detail about the most tragic day of their life, about their abducted friends, who were being taken away to the Egyptian Museum and not returning. They went to find out what was happening. They were surprised to find themselves arrested, beaten, and verbally abused by military security. “You are whores, decent girls stay home and don’t come to Tahrir,” the officer told them.
“The beating started,” Jihan said. “I told the officer who I had seen before in another confrontation, no matter what you do to me, nothing will break me tonight.” This was a challenge to him and he wanted to break us. “You are my game tonight,” he told Jihan. They tied them to the Egyptian Museum fence like animals, beating them, and verbally abusing them. Four hours later, they took them away to the military jail in El Hexisteb, a military base in Cairo. “Once I saw a big picture of Mubarak hanging on the wall of the office, I told myself, this can’t be good,” Rasha remembered. “Then the general came and asked if we had any health problems. Next, a female jailer,” Rasha continued. (A social worker according to Jihan, who is a social worker herself with a degree in psychology.) They took them to room which was missing its door. The female security guard started frisking them, touching them all over. They complained about the overzealous security female guard. “This is wrong, sir,” Rasha told the male officer. “Either this female guard or we get a male one” he threatened them. “It was very humiliating,” Rasha said. The female security asked them to undress, they thought just jackets and scarves . No, everything, take all your cloth, off, even your underpants” the security ordered them with a firm voice.. “I could see the solders and officers standing outside watching what is going on inside the room” Jihan said. “All this was done by our military, the one who claimed they protected the revolution,” she said incredulously. “If it was the security police (known for their brutality and abuse), I would understand it,” Jihan interrupted, “but this our military.” “I just got rid of an old corrupt regime, to get this?” Jihan wondered aloud. “It is late into the night now. They were tired and frustrated, however, holding strong, their morale still high. “They really didn’t think we would be that strong,” Jihan explained. A military physician, Ahmed Adel walked into the room, and without saying a word, have their hymens checked. Later and on March 11, Dr. Adel was declared innocent by a military court.
They, in all, 18 women, suffering together through a long night of beatings and humiliation. Then the Military Security took them to the military administrative center where they put Molotov’s bottles on table on front of them, started taking pictures of them without any permission. “You are taking picture of us, so you can distort our images in your media,’ Jihan told the officer. “This officer did something I will never forget,” Jihan said in a defiant voice. He kicked me so hard. It was personal, between me and him, not a security issue,” Jihan explained. Jihan and Rasha believed that the forced virginity test was all planned; it wasn’t just an oversight or mismanagement by a few angry individuals. “They have higher orders,” Rasha said. In a such patriarchal society the Military wanted to discredit the young activists and the young revolutionaries movement all together as decadent young troublemakers. . Then Jihan looked at herself and said, “My clothes have to stay on my body until I get my day in court, but in the jail, I was forced to take my clothes off, and forced to have my virginity checked.” … it is raped, I was rapped that day” she added. The officers kept humiliating them, telling them angrily it is their entire fault, repeating, “Decent women don’t do this, they stay home, they don’t protest or go to Tahrir.” Rasha explained,
“This officer doesn’t read or understand history, Egyptian women played a major role in revolution, starting a long time ago, in the 1919 revolution, and Hoda Sharawi with her women rights movement that started in Egypt in the 30s.”
I asked them if we could meet again at Tahrir Square, ,, there was another Molyonia (one million man march) coming next Friday April 20th, “save the revolution day”. We met there at the famous Kentucky restaurant in Tahrir Sqaure, at about 1030pm, they were charged and energized, everyone was, this was the day where all the political factions came for one thing; to reject the Military mishandling of the country affairs. Rasha and Jihan walked through Square, visited the same places where they were taken away, beaten and abused, this is the first time they come back and talk about it. “This is the tree that I was hiding under when they attacked us” Rasha said. “I have a vey a great affinity to this tree, it saved my life”. She said as she stood under the tree in a playful way. We walked to the Egyptian Museum, passing all the Salfay tents and banners spreading allover Tahrir. , ‘Rasha was very talkative that nigh, meeting and greeting everyone there. Then she suddenly stopped by the Egyptian Museum fence, “Here is where we were dragged and tied to that fence”. as she reenacted the way she was tied to the fence, standing spreading her arms, her back against the fence as if she was crucified. Jihan who was a little quite, pointed at a spot inside the Museum and said “there, where the officer screamed at me and said, “on your mom soul, you are my toy tonight”
I finally asked both of them how this virginity test ordeal had affected their lives.
“March 9th, 2011, ”
this day was a great honor, and to me it was the first day of the Egyptian revolution,” Rasha said in a very deep, serious voice.
Jihan looked at me with her deep dark eyes, smiled and said nothing; until today her look still haunts me. This was their story, the story where two amazing young Egyptian women, exposed the Egyptian Military, the Egyptian military that lost its virginity on March 9th, 2011.
Ahmed Tharwat, Host of Arab American TV Belahdan TV
The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report has brought back painful memories. Now everyone knows that our government has “tortured some folks,” as President Obama has put it when he wanted to be homey and cute. As someone who was tortured himself in an Egyptian jail, such charm is wasted on me. And contrary to what CIA director confusing knowable and unknowable thing, nothing is unknowable about Torture; The emotional and physical details remain vivid in my memory even after more than 40 years.
I was a freshman at Cairo High School. Anti-government protests were a daily routine on Egyptian streets. I was too young to grasp the serious political implication of such events. Like most students my age, I was just glad classes were canceled that day.
Thousands of students poured into the streets from schools all over Cairo. But after shouting a few anti-government slogans at Tahrir Sqaure, my friends and I moved away from the crowd to a side street in the affluent Garden City suburb. Without any warning we were rounded up by the Egyptian secret police (The Mukhabarat), who were zealously trying to fill their daily quota of random arrests.
We were lined up with common criminals in front of the police station . A tall, handsome police colonel standing at the front started shouting the worst kind of profanities at us, his harsh words quickly extended to our families and parents. Without thinking and in a fearful voice I protested the excessive profanity, Unfortunately, the colonel took issue with my soft protest; what happened after that has changed my life forever and shattered my faith in authority.
The angry police colonel stopped his verbal humiliation and without looking at me, he ordered one of his guards to take me away to … “the room.” The guard knew exactly where to take me; inside the prison, it was a small, dark, smelly, windowless, cold room, stripped naked out of any human sign. The dark silence in the room seemed as if it has witnessed lots of broken souls.
Shortly, the colonel entered the room, where he calmly and without uttering a word or acknowledging my presence, closed the door, picked up a big riot stick and started hitting me savagely and indiscriminately. I stood helplessly, overwhelmed by the colonel’s outrage; the severity of the beating escalated until my skin started peeling off my body before my own eyes. I lost my feeling and any connection to my body. My confusing thoughts were trapped with no place to go.
I wasn’t trying to be a hero, I couldn’t muster any words, I couldn’t scream or resist. I couldn’t understand the colonel’s anger and outrage, but I knew he had a free hand to do to me whatever he pleased in that room.
He didn’t ask my name, he never looked me in the eyes, he never explained my crime.
I was a nameless, faceless object, as I stood motionless and void of any rights or expression.
I wasn’t the usual suspect — a communist, a Jihadist or a government agitator. This wasn’t a national security issue, it was personal insecurity issue; it wasnt an interrogation for valuable information, The Colonel, unaccustomed to the slightest challenge, needed to break my will. He wanted me to beg for mercy, he needed a complete conquest.
My silence was deafening, and as the colonel grew more infuriated, he started getting more creative in his abuse. His relentless physical torture made his early verbal profanity seem like a friendly conversation. There is nothing more humiliating than unjust physical abuse.
I couldn’t resist or retaliate, his savage hitting destroyed my ability to express my pain. At the time, I wished he would mix his severe beating with some verbal humiliation.
After what seemed like an eternity, the beating suddenly stopped and without saying a word, the colonel stormed out of the torture room. He couldn’t stay and face his unbroken victim. I found myself standing alone licking my wounds, only to realize for the first time that the guard who brought me to the room was still there; he was standing in the corner wiping his tears. His display of sadness brought a much-needed touch of humanity to the torture chamber.
I often wondered how my brief confrontation with this colonel could generate so much fury against a helpless young boy. He was not following any orders; he was the whole chain of command. I now realize we were both victims.
I was a victim of unjust violence and abuse. He was a victim of his sadistic obsession with violence and his intoxication with power. I was physically paralyzed for weeks. He was morally paralyzed for life.
There weren’t any digital camera to tell what happened inside the torture room that day; all these years, my own memory has had to carry the entire load … alone; … this is the real torture.
This piece written in solidarity of all political prisoners in Egypt, under Sisi Regime…including my 18 year old nephew… Hassan Aladawy
Producer/Host of the Arab American TV Show Belahdan
Until Today I haven’t been able to walk by that police station, or even in the area, …although my house not so far distant from there… I hope one day, be able to visit the police station and see that room, .. revisit, the smell, dirty wall the physical decays and changes in the 100 shade of grays in the torture room… that is the real closure!!