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I have a parallel blog in French at http://anniebannie.net

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March 13, 2011

Story of a Jan 25 Martyr

We are all Khaled Said
par We are all Khaled Said, samedi 12 mars 2011, 11:42

Writtern by: Marwa Abdelrahman (The martyr’s cousin)

The hardest part of a story to write is always the end. The writer sits and wonders how best to phrase their final words and touch the audience that is to read their story. The hardest ending to a story of all is when you’re talking about the end of someone’s story: their life.  Harder still is to write about the violent end to a life. Words cease to become adequate. These words are about the end of one man’s life. A man who gave the ultimate sacrifice for expressing his desire of change like any human has the right to. This man was Tarek Abdelatif Mohamed AlAktash.

Tarek was 36-years-old. He was happily married with kids and had a wonderful job and a loving family. He lived his life according to his faith and values and always lent a helping hand when needed. He was a man you could lean on in difficult times and a man you could rely on to make you feel better when you were sad. He had no political leanings to the left or right and was not affiliated with any political party, much like countless others living in Egypt prior to the events that began on January 25th 2011. On January 28th, Tarek, along with millions of others in Egypt, took to the streets to express his want of a new governmental system and for change from the 30-year rule of one man and his cronies. Late in the morning he marched towards Tahrir Square to shout out his longing and yearning. He was full of life and vibrantly participating in a revolution, but devastatingly, by eleven p.m. that night, Tarek was dead. Later, it was to be revealed that he was shot in the neck by a 4mm bullet that severed his arteries, killing him instantly. However, Tarek’s story was not over.

By the morning of January 29th, Tarek’s wife had alerted his brothers and family members that Tarek had not come home the night before. Worry hadn’t fully set in for them all yet because during that time, cell phone service had been shut off inside Egypt so it was assumed Tarek had spent the night in Tahrir Square. By the morning of January 30th, with no sign of Tarek and no contact from him, his family and friends began to mount a search for him by looking for him in the local hospitals, expecting that he had been injured. Their search led them to the French Qasr Al-Ainy hospital where they were told that all the injured and deceased they had treated and received had been identified and that Tarek was not one of them. Needless to say, relief was the prevalent emotion, but its close companions were worry and the beginnings of fear. If Tarek wasn’t there, where was he?

The next chapter in the story spans almost a month and a half. From January 28th to March 9th, Tarek became one of the most searched for people in Egypt. His story was on local and international news stations. Prominent journalists in Egypt spoke of him on their TV programs. They even had contacts within the military and state security that they exhausted day and night asking about him and his whereabouts. The answers they were given by these governmental entities were conflicting and vague at best.  Some claimed Tarek was being held as a prisoner and others said they did not where he was. As the days went by, the hopes of finding Tarek dwindled. Tarek’s wife and family left no stone unturned in the search for him. They became frantic, almost obsessive when looking for him. They knew that every day that passed with no Tarek meant that the likelihood of his wellbeing was jeopardized. The trips to the morgues and hospitals became more frequent and the calls to the military slowly ceased.  Tarek’s family could do no more in their search for him.  All they could do was pray and hope for a miracle.

On March 9th, Tarek’s brothers received a phone call from a stranger telling them that they knew of Tarek’s whereabouts. When asked where, the man on the phone told them his body was at a morgue. The jarring news hit hard. No one had fully expected that Tarek had died but rather, that he was being held prisoner in an undisclosed location.  Tarek’s brothers rushed to the morgue and it was there that the ending to his story was written.

On January 28th 2011, at around eleven p.m. at night, Tarek was shot and killed. His body was transported to the Qasr Al-Ainy hospital and was ID’s as “unknown”. On February 26th, his body was moved to the morgue where it was found by the stranger who made the phone call to Tarek’s family. This stranger was there on March 9th to claim Tarek’s body as the body of his missing brother, but was told by the mortician that this was not his family member; it was Tarek Abdelatif Mohamed AlAktash. Why hadn’t he contacted the family, the stranger asked? He was told that Tarek’s family was repeatedly called but no one had answered. This Good Samaritan then took it upon himself to contact the family and within hours, Tarek had been found at last. His journey had ended in a morgue with a bullet wound to the neck; violently and ruthlessly.

Tarek’s family now must wait for a DNA test to undoubtedly prove what they know: that the body they found is indeed Tarek’s. This is typical procedure according to the local law enforcement, when there is more than one family claiming a body as that of their loved one. As far as Tarek’s family is concerned, it was their son.

The events that started on January 25th in Egypt captured not just the hearts and minds of the millions in Egypt, but the hearts and minds of millions around the world. The revolution lasted 18 days and claimed hundreds of lives. Each life a loss and yet each life was a gift to those who would survive after it. Tarek gifted his life to his country. On January 28th, he became the greatest thing a person can become; he became a martyr. His memory will live on in his children and his family and his sacrifice will never be forgotten.  His death will be mourned but it must also be celebrated. Tears of sadness should become tears of happiness and gratitude for a man who cared not for himself, but for the greater good of his fellow brothers and sisters. It was what he would have wanted, and, as he now rests in a much better place, gone and missed but certainly never forgotten; it must become what everyone wants as well.

source : facebook

Dear Free People of Egypt

The Free Republic of Egypt

It’s a lovely day to be talking to you all in a Mubarak and NDP free Egypt. It’s been quite the undertaking, and many people were terrified, injured or killed, but we somehow managed to do it. Congratulations on that to all of us. Pats on the back, everybody!

Naturally, we (the revolutionaries) still don’t think the battle is over. The Mubaraks are still free, so are Fathy Surrour, Zakaria Aazmy and Safwat ElSherief, alongside with all the corrupt NDP officials in all branches of government, not to mention all the state security and police officers who spent the last 3 decades terrorizing, monitoring, torturing & killing those they were supposed to protect. The Political prisoners and detained Jan25 protesters are still unlawfully in prison, the stolen money is still in foreign countries, and the Minimum wage of 200 dollars a month for all Egyptians is still not enforced. There is also the matter of transparency of the government (financially & operationally and having the country run by civilians instead of a military Junta, a new constitution to be drafted instead of one that gives absolute power to the head of state, political freedoms to all Egyptians, enforceable bill of rights to all Egyptians, equal rights to all women, equal political rights to Egyptians living abroad and/ or born or married to a foreigner, freedom of the media, etc..etc.. I don’t want to bore you, but, yep, lots of work is yet to be done, and it’s taking far too long by those in charge to get done, which is making us unhappy. And Unhappy protesters usually protest. It’s just a fact of life.

But we are hearing that some of you are unhappy with all this protesting. We are hearing that you think we are kids with no purpose or jobs, who are currently destroying the country and the economy by all of our protesting and demands. We are hearing that you just want stability & security, and that we are not listening to all of you or your concerns and that we are no different than the dictator we just toppled. Please be assured, this is not the case here, because you are our people, and your concerns are the same as our concerns. We must admit that we are surprised by such accusations, & some of us are not taking it well, while others don’t have time to respond because, let’s face it, trying to find out whether your friends are killed or not, and trying to free them from being court-martialed in the new democratic Egypt, all the while addressing a the new referendum, and the issue of Copts getting murdered, churches being burned and such other sectarian strife issues that plague us, well, it could become a consuming full-time job. Our sin might be that we are so used to fighting those small (in your opinion) battles that we are not focusing enough on explaining our point of view to you and how we are on the same side. For that we apologize and we hope you forgive us. Now, on to your concerns.

You are concerned about the lagging state of the economy and the losses that were caused by the revolution and all of our protests, and you just want everybody back to work, without asking yourself how is it that our economy was so weak that all it took to destroy it was less than two months of protests, while a country like France has nation-wide protests all the time, and their economy isn’t collapsing because of it. You are also forgetting that that the other main causes of the lag in economy is the complete & total corruption in all government institutions (state, municipal & local), the military curfew that’s completely destroying our logistical operations and Tourism, the absence of Security (more on that later), and the total confusion of (the many many many) foreign investors- who want to come to Egypt now and invest- in regards to who they could talk to in order to come here and invest, given that the civilian government has no power and the military council isn’t exactly approachable.

You are concerned about the thugs attacking and robbing you of your property & demanding the return of the police & security, but you are forgetting that the police (who acted no different than the thugs except having a shiny uniform) used to rob you every single day. And about those thugs who are terrorizing you, who let them out of their prisons in the first place and then refused to arrest them? Oh yes, I remember, the Police. Silly us for demanding that they get held accountable for their actions. We should beg them daily- like you- to come back to work unconditionally after they betrayed their oath to protect us & put us all in grave danger. Our bad.

You are concerned about your kids getting killed by thugs (who, again, reminder, are unleashed by the police), but you were not concerned that they were getting killed daily by the polluted water, the poisoned meats & fruits & vegetables, the completely unsafe roads & public transportation options, the complete and utter catastrophe that is health-care and Egyptian public hospitals, where far more people die than get better and where any Egyptian would rather not step a foot inside if they can afford to go to a private Hospital (which isn’t always incredibly better). Lest we forgot, even the grandson of our former President died in one of them. But yes, the thugs are the problem. Our bad.

You are concerned that the Islamists are going to take over the country and turn it into Afghanistan, and yet don’t seem concerned with taking concrete steps to ensure that this won’t happen without impeding their rights. A good way to do so is to demand the overhaul of the Egyptian education system, the end of bigotry & discrimination against minorities in all job positions (private or public), the removal of hate-inciting Imams or Priests from Mosques and Churches, and in case all of the aforementioned are too much for you to handle, you could simply stand for religious freedom and equal rights to all in Egypt, especially Egypt’s Christians, who in case you didn’t hear are getting attacked and their churches are getting burned and you don’t seem to care. We would recommend you take a small visit to the Maspiro protest and talk to “those people” and understand the issues at hand, but we also should understand that this would take some time from your busy schedule of complaining about us ruining everything. Our bad.

We get it. We see how we are irresponsible. How we are ruining the country. How we are not concerned about you. We are evil. A cancer that plagued this fine and healthy nation. 25 Khasayer. You are right not to like us. You are right to hold protests against protesting and only 500 of you would show up on a Friday and then claim you are talking in the name of the silent majority. Those millions of us who went down to support those demands are only from every social class and religious background and from both genders. We are in no way representative, especially that the majority of people in Tahrir right now are now the poorest of all the protesters, who are told to go home & live on 20 dollars a month salary until we figure all of this out in 6 month to a year, and all of your Korba Festival buddies are too busy to go there anymore. You want the ones who are still there to go home and leave u alone. After all the ones in Tahrir now are poor. They smell. Can’t have that! Egyptian people are not smelly or poor, of course. Shame on them for defaming us all.

So, since we are such a public menace and refuse to listen to reason, I have a proposal to all of you that will surely make you happy: How about we take all those people who took part in the revolution and supported it, and give them a piece of land in Egypt to create their own failed state on? Maybe somewhere in Sinai, on the beach, say Sharm el Sheikh for example? Yes, give us Sharm and some backland and leave us there, so you can continue living your lives in Peace and stability. We will give you back the Mubarak Family (we are not big fans) and we recommend you give us all those people you don’t like in return: you know those annoying minorities, like the Copts, the Bahaai’s , the Shia, the jews, the Nubians even. Yes, get rid of the races you dislike as well. We will take them all. We will even divide the people up fair and square and ensure that none of us remain with any of you. Ok? Let’s start right now.

You can have Ahmed Shafiq as your Prime Minister and we will take Essam Sharaf as ours.

You can have the NDP and its officials and we will have all the new political parties that are starting up all over the place.

You can have Aamr Moussa as your ideal Diplomat; we will take Mohamed ElBaradei as ours.

You can have Zaghloul elNaggar as your top Scientist; we will take Ahmed Zuweill.

You can have Alaa Mubarak, Ahmed Ezz, Mohamed Abu Elenein, ElMaghraby as your businessmen, and we will take Naguib Sawiris and the Bisharas and all the other businessmen in Egypt who want to run legitimate businesses without unnecessary bureaucracy and bribing 18 different entities to open and continue to run one.

You can Have Adel Emam, Yosra and Samah Aanwar, we will take Khaled Abulnaga , Basma and Yousra Ellouzy.

You can have Tamer Hosny and Mohamed Fouad, we will take Mohamed Mounir, Mariam Aly and Ramy Essam (and we will make sure no one tortures him while he is in their custody).

You can have Farouk Hosny, and we will take the artists that the revolution brought out.

You can have the Supreme Military Council meet your demands on their schedule and discretion; we will take the Revolution Trustee Council any day of the week.

You can have a country where women suffer from oppression, sexual assaults, genital mutilation and honor killing, we will have a country where women are in all positions of power, sexual harassment and FGM absolutely not tolerated, and where one gender doesn’t see that it has the right- in the name of honor- to oppress , beat and violently murder the other gender. We won’t tolerate that happening to our women; you can do with yours what you please.

You can keep a constitution that got amended so much in the past 7 years and still discriminates against many Egyptians and gives the President absolute Power, and we will have one that ensures the rights and equality of all of our citizens (no matterwhere their parents come from or whom they marry) and where there are checks and balances against executive Power.

You can keep an economy that is plagued with inefficiency, corruption, poverty and Monopoly. We will have one where entrepreneurship is encouraged and supported, our country open to all investments, and our workers are guaranteed a living wage.

You can keep a public school system in shambles and half of the population being illiterate, and be forced to pay for public schools and private tutoring for your children. We will have public schools that are well funded and teachers who are well-trained and well paid.

You can have your healthcare system being a complete and total fiasco where apathy and complete lack of concern for the patients’ well-being is what defines it, while our public Hospitals will be properly funded and staffed and those who due to negligence harm or kill a patient will be held accountable.

You can have a country where people believe that being civilized is to go for one day and clean Tahrir Square up, while we will believe that true civilization is ensuring that our government cleans our street up and as for us, well, we just won’t litter.

You can have Your Internal Security services spying on you, arresting you indefinitely, collaborating with terrorists to attack your churches (if you will continue to have any) torturing and/or kill you, and your Police to bully you and blackmail you. Our internal security service won’t do that to us and our Police will protect us, will uphold the law, and, god forbid, reduce crime and put criminals in jail instead of letting them out.

You can have an Army that dictates orders to you; we will have an army that obeys us.

As you can see, what we are asking for is totally unrealistic and we are completely dedicated to destroying ourselves. If we are truly such a problem, we urge you to help us make that happen, so we can get out of your hair as soon as possible.

But if you are insane and unreasonable like the rest of us, please join us and help us. We don’t want our own state, we want to do this here. We want our Country, Egypt, to be the best country it can be. One where we all can live and co-exist; one where the state is healthy and functions and all are represented and have rights. That’s what we always wanted and called for, and we don’t know when that message stopped being clear to you.

We are not saints. We make mistakes and we are not above criticism of any kind. You have the right not to help rebuild the country, and you have the right to criticize those who are trying to do it, but you don’t have the right not to help and only criticize that things aren’t exactly to your liking. If you don’t like something, change it. That was the lesson of the Jan25 revolution after all, you know?

So please, if you agree with our vision, join us, and if you can’t, simply defend us. We have achieved so much, that it would be a sin to stop now.

Help us! We need you!

Sincerely,

Mahmoud Salem

(A Jan25 Protester)

‘We don’t have another country’

As migrant workers’ children await deportation, some Israelis are preparing to hide them from the authorities.
Mya Guarnieri
Many children of migrant workers are awaiting deportation from Israel [GALLO/GETTY]

Last week, as Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, was calling a South Tel Aviv school to congratulate it on its role in an Oscar-winning documentary, the state was preparing to expel 120 of its students, including the star of the film, Esther.

Strangers No More was produced and directed by American filmmakers Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon. The film focuses on South Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin school, which is attended by children of refugees and migrant workers. The film side-steps the subject of deportation and focuses, instead, on the story of three children who adjust, successfully, to life in Israel.

Despite the fact that the film is American-made, Israelis have widely celebrated the Oscar win as their own. The ministry of foreign affairs – the government body that, among other duties, actively promotes a positive image of Israel – was quick to add a congratulatory headline to its website. And Peres called Bialik-Rogozin’s principal, Karen Tal, to remark that the school “had cast a beam of light on the country’s humanity”.

But, in reality, the picture is bleak. After a five-month delay, 400 children of migrants face imminent deportation, along with their parents, while African refugees are facing growing violence inside the country. As the government lauds “the country’s humanity”, some Israelis are preparing to hide the children and their families.

‘Moral stain’

On the same day that Strangers No More won the Oscar, the Israeli media reported that the government had put its final touches on a detention facility at Ben Gurion International Airport where the children will be held as they await expulsion. A local news station ran images of the jail, which is equipped with family games and features drawings of Sponge Bob and Pooh Bear on the walls.

But, besides these images, the interior ministry will not reveal additional details of the deportation. Ronit Sela, the spokeswoman for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), points out that the interior ministry is obligated to publish its policies.

“Will children be separated from parents? Would a time limit be set for keeping a child in detention?” Sela asked. “The authorities have refused to elaborate.”

Al Jazeera posed numerous detailed questions to the interior ministry, but received a vague response. “The interior minister [Eli Yishai] has clarified a number of times that he is determined to carry out the government decision …,” the interior ministry spokeswoman wrote.

She pointed out that the first phase was naturalising the children who met the government’s criteria, as determined in August 2010. Since then, 701 minors have received legal status.

“In the coming weeks, the second half of the decision [the deportation] will be applied.”

Rotem Ilan, the co-founder of Israeli Children, a non-governmental organisation that has been fighting the deportation since it was first announced some 18 months ago, is afraid that the children could face lengthy detentions before expulsion.

“It’s important to understand that most of these children don’t have passports,” she said. “Some don’t have documents because they weren’t born in their parents’ home country. Many of them are citizens of nowhere. And [obtaining passports] can take a long time.”

“It doesn’t matter how many decorations you put up, a jail is a jail. There’s no picture that can erase the trauma of deportation,” Ilan added.

“When all the newspapers talked about the Oscar, they used the word ‘us’. ‘We won the Oscar.’ But the second you start talking about the deportation, it’s ‘them’,” she continued. “So [the children] aren’t Jewish. But they’re Israeli. And if we deport them, the moral stain will stay with us forever.”

Struggling to survive

Activists and human rights groups also consider the planned expulsion unjust because many of the parents facing deportation are migrant labourers who arrived legally on Israeli-issued work visas. While Israel lacks laws regarding non-Jewish immigration, it revokes the visas of migrant workers who have children in Israel – a policy many critics consider inhumane.

“The deportation is a continuation of the state treating [migrant workers] as though they were machines,” Ilan remarked.

Some Israeli officials, including Yishai, have labelled migrant workers and African refugees a threat to the Jewish character of the state. Similar language, of course, has been used about the country’s Palestinian population, which as finance minister in 2003, Binyamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister, referred to as a “demographic problem”.

And this political climate is fostering more than the deportations.

Among other recent incidents, just two weeks ago, a Sudanese man was attacked in the centre of Tel Aviv, while in February, two Sudanese men were beaten and stabbed by a gang of Israeli youth in an attack the police considered to be racially motivated.

Two of the stars of Strangers No More are African asylum seekers – one from Darfur, the other from Eritrea.

While asylum seekers are safe from deportation – and this seems to be an acknowledgment of the fact that they are, indeed, refugees – Israel does not grant them any sort of status. Without work visas, they struggle to survive. And it is not uncommon to see asylum seekers sleeping on the streets or in parks.

“These are the stars of the movie: Children whose parents can’t work and a girl who is supposed to be held in jail,” Ilan said.

Offering shelter

South Tel Aviv schools were half empty last Sunday as parents, terrified of the immigration police, kept their children at home.

Yigal Shatayim, a 44-year-old painter who lives in Tel Aviv, has been at the forefront of plans to hide the families facing deportation. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, the plight of migrant workers’ children has struck a deep personal chord.

When the expulsion was finalised in August of 2010, Shatayim says he was “very angry”.

“I wasn’t aware of any organisations working on the subject,” he said. “I just opened a Facebook group.” He called the grassroots organisation “The group for sheltering the 400 children to be deported from Israel” and included images of Nazi-era deportations of European Jews.

“I wanted everyone to look at this situation as a human condition and not something having to do with migration,” Shatayim said. “It was provocative and that was my intention.”

Over 2,000 Israelis have joined Shatayim’s group. Hundreds are willing to open their homes to those facing deportation and the Kibbutz Movement has also offered facilities.

Hiding the children and their parents on the kibbutzim is the best option, Shatayim explains, because the Kibbutz Movement has empty houses and “a whole system to support the community … It’s better than having people as guests in flats”.

But Shatayim, who says he is waiting until the “last minute” to start hiding families – is hedging his bets. He keeps a long, detailed list of Israelis who are willing to help.

“Activists isn’t the right word for them,” he says. “They’re regular people.”

Some are parents with children in the army who have their children’s old bedrooms ready to accommodate the families. Landlords have also stepped forward to offer empty properties to those facing deportation and one family in the north of Israel plans to donate two houses, rent-free, to the cause.

Bringing ‘honour to Israel’

But activists and volunteers are somewhat paralysed in the face of the interior ministry’s vague plans – the deportation was announced in July of 2009, postponed, finalised in August 2010, slated to begin in October 2010 and still, the details remain unclear.

And although the public is widely opposed to the deportation, it also seems exhausted – while a May protest against the deportation drew 10,000, less than 1,000 turned up for a rally held on Friday.

Among those present was Esther Aikephae, the now 12-year-old star of Strangers No More. After her mother was murdered, Esther and her father fled South Africa out of fear for their lives.

Esther meets most of the government’s criteria for naturalisation – she attends a state school, speaks fluent Hebrew and entered Israel before the age of 13. But because she and her father arrived four years ago – and the criteria applies to children who have been in Israel for five years or more as of August 2010 – Esther faces deportation.

Speaking at Friday’s rally – where protesters held signs saying ‘Eli Yishai doesn’t deserve an Oscar’ – Esther remarked, in fluent Hebrew, that she was “very happy” that Strangers No More won an Oscar. The award brought “honour to Israel and the city of Tel Aviv,” she said.

But, she added, the state has “different plans” for her.

“I speak Hebrew, write Hebrew and read Hebrew. In the name of all the other children who find themselves in this position, I call on the state of Israel to let me stay. We don’t have another country,” Esther said, referring to an extremely evocative folk song that most Israeli school children know by heart.

‘Because of my daughter’

It is another Sunday morning in South Tel Aviv – a week after the Oscar win, a week after the media aired images of the children’s jail at Ben Gurion International Airport – and the streets remain quiet.

Christina Ongpin, a 35-year-old migrant worker from the Philippines, holds her daughter’s hand as she walks her to school. The little girl, who is almost four, wears a pink sweater. Her black hair is in pig tails.

Ongpin, who is eight months pregnant, says that she is just as frightened now as she was August. “But I try not to think about it,” she says.

Ongpin adds that many of her friends are keeping their children at home. When asked if she has heard about the Israelis who are willing to hide families, Ongpin says that she has not.

When other mothers facing deportation are asked, many also reply that they were unaware of such plans.

But Ongpin says that she will not hide. “Because of my daughter,” she says. “She loves to go to school. She is speaking Hebrew already and she doesn’t want to miss one day.”

source

Michael Heart – “Freedom”

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