Tahrir Square, The Encore

At this point you may think to yourself “Is Mark still talking about Egypt more than 2 months since returning home?”  The answer is yes. Proudly.

Lawyers on Kasr al NileAs I have now published all the interviews I have to share with you from the journey, I realized there was still audio that I had never put together and released to the public – the audio from Tahrir Square, as Chris and I, together with inspiring friends and people who just came right up to us, speak about what was going on around us.  It was, and remains, a unique moment in my life and clearly from listening to people, an unforgettable moment in their lives as well.  Part of a long struggle where there are beautiful and terrible days.  This one, I believe, was a beautiful one.  Take a listen, one last podcast from the Arab Artists in a Revolution series, one last chance to be transported back to a time and a place that captured the imagination of the entire world. Special thanks to the dear friends who every time we came to the square, stuck with us made us feel at home.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali: Population Explosion and Water in Egypt

As part of the Arab Artists in a Revolution series, during our three weeks in Cairo, we had the pleasure of meeting up with the former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He may not be an artist but at 90 years of age, he is an extremely experienced observer of Egypt and the world, who is passionate about humanity and its problems. In this interview we meet in his living room over looking the Nile, the river that is “like a god” to him and who’s present and future crisis he see’s as 100% tied to that of Egypt.

On the occasion of his 90th Birthday, Dr. Boutros and I in Cairo.  November 2012.
On the occasion of his 90th Birthday, Dr. Boutros and I in Cairo. November 2012.

Unlike previous interviews in this series, you may find (as we did) that this one does not go smoothly. Dr. Boutros doesn’t always like the kind of questions where you have to use your imagination, the “Academic questions” as he calls them, “that help fill pages of the newspaper”.  Yet despite his frustration with the media, he lays out the state of Egypt on the global scale; what is happening, why it is happening, and the key questions that people inside and outside the country should be – but are not- asking.

Growing Up Palestinian in Lebanon

With Ashraf in TyreThe name Tyre was one I remembered best from the days of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 when the city was bombed and that standard war-map would appear on news reports.  While in country this past December, when I was offered a chance to go down there and speak with someone who lived in a refugee camp- I immediately said yes.  But what I didn’t realize until I got there, was just how many people not only live in the camps, but were born and have lived their entire lives there.  In a situation that has existed since 1948, there are stories that would be hard for some people to believe and too much for others to think about.
This podcast features a conversation we had with a young artist by the name of Ashraf.  After taking us to see the city and some of its amazing history, he sat down with us to answer our questions about his life, the situation for residents of the camp, and what the prospects are for people who have been referred to and treated as non-citizen “guests” for over 60 years.

Education, Art, and Diversity in Lebanon

RMOver the course of my week in Beirut I had the good fortune of spending time with teacher and performance artist Raghda Mouawad.  Through her I learned a great many things about the country and its people, including details about the education system and the harsh reality for artists during an economic crisis in a country that offers little support.  We also get back into that now familiar topic, the contradictions of Beirut when it comes to identities, ethnicity and beyond.

The following podcast was recorded in a car late at night in Beirut on the eve of my departure last month.  Special thanks to both Raghda and our silent passenger in the back seat, Krystel Khoury, for taking the time to explain and show me their city.  Friends like these in far away places make doing what I do, not only possible, but a pleasure.

Kamal Hakim: Beirut, A City and Life of Contradictions

Circus, by Kamal HakimKamal Hakim grew up in an era of reconstruction after the civil war in Lebanon. As the son of a Greek Orthodox – Sunni Muslim marriage, he recalls eating sour-kraut cooked by his protestant grandmother. His life was marked by all the struggles of a city of contradictions, contradictions which he recognizes in himself as well. As an illustrator, Kamal has a dream, a dream he must reconcile with the financial demands of life during an economic crisis in a country that lives every day not knowing if there will be a tomorrow.

This podcast was recorded on one of the exciting days I spent in Beirut last month, as Kamal and I met for the first time in the 1 and only city park. We quickly moved from the details of his personal life and professional training, to the big picture questions of life, art, the shadow of war, and the things that happen in between in such a fragile country. Meanwhile all around us children chase pigeons, old people occupy park benches, and men yell greetings at each other. All in a days work while getting to know Beirut with the help of a wise new friend.

Check out more of  Kamal Hakim’s work on his blog Kamatopia. And remember his name, so you can say you knew him way back when…

Personal Revolutions in North Africa

This week I find myself in the Northeast of the United States, home for the holidays and also to process all the audio, video, and photos from the Middle East – North Africa journey. Being back in the US means being subjected to the local and national media context, which makes American stories seem larger than life, and Egypt feel like another planet. At holiday gatherings and reunions with old friends I am often asked things like “So is it all falling apart in Egypt or what?”  Sometimes its put in nicer terms, but the tone is most often one of skepticism and as if their minds have already been made up about what is happening in that part of the world.

Images from Mohamed Mahmoud St.
Images from Mohamed Mahmoud St., Tahrir Sq.

In the American press I see the other standard reaction towards the events taking place in Egypt, including conclusions about what took place in the weeks that I was in Tahrir Square – the revolution has been hijacked, a new dictatorship has emerged, the opposition is falling apart. When I read and hear such analysis, by both intelligent and less well-informed individuals, I again feel like I left Egypt and landed on another planet.  In this world everything has to fit into categories and boxes. There are either winners or losers. Things are either successes or failures. So whatever those countries are going through, they must fit into one of these easy to understand categories.

What I wish most is that I could, even beyond my work here on the website and on radio open source, show them examples of the changes that have taken root on the personal level in Egypt and Tunisia. (and beyond I suspect) It never makes it into headlines or fancy mainstream news analysis, that metro workers went on strike last month, an action that would be unthinkable under the dictatorship.  Women, long plagued by street harassment and oppression at home, are now organizing themselves to adopt tactics to neutralize such harassment and get out of abusive situations.  Lower class people, long barred from ever working in higher skill and prestige jobs, are starting to demand equal opportunity and an end to prejudice based on what your father’s profession is.  The list is actually much longer than this, but in my many conversations over the course of three weeks in Cairo, it was impossible to avoid stories of individuals carrying out personal rebellions against an old and oppressive tradition.

Is the process complete and successful? Are the oppressed finally getting the justice they deserved? No. Sadly, these changes are slow to reach everyone and there is no guarantee that they will take hold for everyone everywhere.  Is there resentment and push-back from those who don’t want to see these changes come to fruition? Yes. Many people fear what is to come and would prefer to keep things the way they were.   But beyond all of this, no matter what happens in the future or what is happening now, something has changed in Egypt and that something is the individual mindset. And as so many people reminded us, over and over, once you reach this change and start thinking like a free person, there is no going back.