Cairo: Early in 2006, Transparency International, a Berlin-based assessment bureau, announced that Egypt’s corruption index had improved from “highly acute to “rampant. Economist Ahmed al-Naggar wasn’t the only one to remark that “rampant isn’t good enough.
January headlines descried a ruling-party member’s sale of expired dialysis equipment to state hospitals, retirement funds used to cover national budget deficits, and the embezzlement of a million Egyptian pounds from a fund to provide university students with computers. There was a “Cabinet reshuffle, a euphemism for the sacking of a few outstandingly crooked officials. The ferry that sank in the Red Sea in February reflected the state of the nation. It was overloaded, its lifeboats, life jackets and fire extinguishers all shoddy. When informed of a fire onboard the ship, its owner, Shura Council member Mamduh Ismail, neither contacted the authorities, nor encouraged nearby vessels to help. He was probably too busy packing, since he left Egypt shortly after the disaster that cost 1,000 people their lives. The case was referred to the misdemeanor court, as opposed to the criminal one, perhaps because the latter is occupied putting on trial journalists critical of the regime. The judges themselves were in trouble in February, and several had their immunity stripped so they could be interrogated for having the temerity to demand an independent judiciary.
On the bright side, Egypt’s soccer team won the Africa Cup; indeed, hours after the ferry sank, the nation was glued to the tube watching a match. March brought Mother’s Day, a moment of gratitude and respect for women, a welcome respite from the rest of the year when they were assaulted in the street, paid less than men in the workplace, and virtually excluded from government. The minister of social affairs awarded 53-year-old Loza Ismail the title of “Mother of 2006. She was described in Al-Ahram Weekly as having “one of those rare wrinkled faces that oozed age and melancholy. April was the cruelest month, with sectarian violence in Alexandria, in which three churches were simultaneously attacked by knife-bearing Muslims, who killed one and injured several other Christians. The Sinai resort town of Dahab was bombed: 24 people lost their lives and dozens more were injured. Two days later, suicide bombers attacked the Multinational Force and Observers base near Al-Arish killing only themselves. A controversial fatwa condemning statues incited a man to enter a sweet shop and smash the sugar dolls and horses traditionally eaten on the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. There was more confusion when Sudanese cleric Hassan al-Turabi said that, contrary to popular belief, it was alright for Muslim women to marry Jews and Christians.
Egyptian cleric Youssef al-Badri set things straight by observing that “Islam is the highest religion . it is therefore impossible for a Muslim women [to marry outside of her faith, since] what is higher cannot go below what is lower. President Hosni Mubarak, a Taurus, celebrated his 78th birthday in May. On the occasion of the World Economic Forum, held in Sharm al-Sheikh, Al-Wafd published a cartoon by Amr Okasha featuring the prime minister escorting a toothless old man on crutches, labeled “the economy.
The caption read: “Don’t conk out on us now, especially in front of the foreigners. There were more demonstrations in support of the judges, more beating of protestors with sticks and shoes, more arrests and detainments. June brought an unlikely array of summer fashions; fake-gem encrusted t-shirts, bikini-strapped mini-dresses, and crocheted halter tops. In short, the season’s raiment reflected everything Egyptian girls don’t have–wealth and the possibility to air their bodies. Some responded to the challenge by layering. Others donned the abaya, a traditional ankle-length black garment that appears to be making a comeback.
The abaya is the favored outfit of Fulla, a popular new doll comparable to Mattel’s Barbie. Beneath her head-covering, Fulla has long black hair with burgundy streaks. She comes with a hair-brush, jewelry and a pink prayer mat. Optional accessories include lace underwear. Within six weeks of Israel’s July attack on Lebanon, health offices in Alexandria reported that 128 newborns were named after Hizbullah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. The Egyptian version of Viagra hit the market, though smuggled Viagra reportedly remains popular, especially the one made in America. The monolith of Ramses II was finally moved from central Cairo, to a quieter place in the country. Many Cairenes wished they could follow him and thousands did for kilometers along the way. The capital’s downtown area was crammed with frenzied boys who seemed less interested in historic moments than in groping female behinds.
Several standers-by said that the statue’s moving marked the end of an era, but oddly, it did not seem to mark the beginning of a new one. Meanwhile, Egypt and Sudan worked together to contain unprecedented flood waters issuing from the Ethiopian Blue Nile. On the last day of steamy August, pedestrians were astonished when a 25-square-meter chunk of the downtown caved it, dropping a full five meters. Authorities blamed what they called “the descent, on a crack in the sewer system. There were train wrecks in August and September, resulting in some 58 passenger deaths. September was also notable for Mubarak’s announcement of Egypt’s wish to pursue a nuclear energy program, which prompted filmmaker Youssef Chahine’s quip “we can’t even pick up our garbage. Ramadan began in September, the tail end of a suffocating summer. It was still hot during the October Eid al-Fitr, when mobs of aimless males ripped the clothes from women’s and girl’s bodies. The price of onions, meanwhile, rose. In November, 3,000 workers shut down a Port Said shipyard, demanding compensation for a colleague killed on a crane; 2,000 pharmacists protested police raids on their shops; hundreds of Al-Azhar students protested the suspension of fellow students who had joined the Free Students Union, an organization formed to combat state security’s campus incursions.
FSU members were photographed by Al-Masry al-Yom practicing martial arts and wearing uniforms bearing the slogan “steadfast. In December three men were sentenced to death for taking part in the Taba bombings; three men were arrested for allegedly murdering 18 street children and disposing of their bodies in the Nile; three fishermen were killed by police for refusing to take their fishing cages out of the fetid waters of Lake Manzala, and 20 more were suspected “lost in the river.
There were demonstrations in Giza protesting the mountains of trash on city streets. On a semi-positive note, some 30,000 striking textile workers, including around 4,000 women, cowed the government into paying a portion of the paltry bonuses it had promised and attempted to withhold. Mubarak spoke before the Shura Council and People’s Assembly at year’s end, promising great things for 2007: constitutional amendments galore, the curtailing of presidential powers, revamping of the electoral system and introducing anti-terror laws (to replace the existing emergency law). He also swore to “continue with [us] on the path [to] the future, bearing the responsibility and burden of it, as long as my heart beats in my chest and I draw breath. We know, we know. Maria Golia is author of a book on Cairo titled “City of Sand. She wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR