Thursday, April 19, 2007

Egyptian Faithful Crave New Islamic Gadgets

Egyptian Faithful Crave New Islamic Gadgets

An Egyptain salesman holds up a digital Koran in Cairo. Cairo residents, already summoned to prayers five times a day by a chorus of scratchy loudspeakers, are now clamouring for a new line of portable electronic devices to show their devotion to Islam. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Ines Bel Aiba
Cairo (AFP) April 18, 2007
Cairo residents, already summoned to prayers five times a day by a chorus of scratchy loudspeakers, are now clamouring for a new line of portable electronic devices to show their devotion to Islam.

Digital Korans, automatic prayer reciters and headphones dispensing religious advice are all part of the growing wave of outward religiosity that is increasingly defining daily life in Egypt.

"As a Muslim, I find that hearing these prayers bodes well for the rest of the day,"said Osama Abdel Hamid, an economics professor at Cairo University, as he searched through a busy car parts market for an electronic prayer-reciter.

The little black speaker box that appeared a few months ago is catching on quickly among Cairo's cab drivers, who wire it up so that the prayers pour out the moment they open the door or turn the ignition.

It's slightly more pious than the "It's a Small World After All" jingle that are heard from taxis when they hit the brakes, melding with the constant din of horns and shouting in the city of 16 million people.

Mohammed Mahmud, a seller of car parts and gadgets in the city's Tawfiqiyah market, says the Chinese-made devices have become very popular in recent months.

"You can also put them in elevators," added Mahmud, from his stall in one of the city's oldest markets, where fruit and vegetable sellers are slowly giving way to the peddlers of the trinkets, noise-makers, and assorted kitsch that adorn Cairo taxis.

The little black speakers sell for only seven Egyptian pounds (a little over a dollar), but Abdel Hamid, the economics professor, admitted he was actually looking for a better quality Thai-made model since the Chinese one he bought "fried after about an hour."

The devout can find a more upscale model in the "Ayat," which was recently exhibited at the GITEX exposition in Dubai, the largest information technology and communication fair in the region.

Resembling a fancy pair of earphones, the Ayat can give the wearer advice, in Arabic or English, on the number of prostrations necessary for each type of prayer. It also plays Koranic verses.

"The idea came to me on a plane when I was listening to my iPod," said developer Sherif Danesh, an Egyptian living in California's Silicon Valley.

"Many people of all religions are hungry for information on their religion these days," he told AFP by e-mail. "The availability of small portable inexpensive audio and video devices is making it very easy to access such information anywhere, anytime."

Putting Koranic verses and prayers into electronic format can be a fraught enterprise, however, as a number of manufacturers discovered in 2005 when Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa condemned the use of verses as ring tones.

Gomaa, one of the highest authorities for Sunni Islam in Egypt, described it as "a devaluing of the sacred book."

Danesh said he was careful to get the necessary approval before developing Ayat, and said he had already sold several thousand of the devices, which cost 380 pounds (67 dollars, 49 euros).

The proliferation of Islamic gadgets cuts across markets, ranging in complexity from an alarm clock for the five daily prayers with a built-in compass pointing towards Mecca, to an entirely digital Koran accompanied by the hadith (traditions) of the Prophet Mohammed.

At 1,200 pounds (210 dollars), however, the electronic Koran is pretty far outside the average Egyptian's reach.

Many see the gadgets as part of the public piety that increasingly pervades Egyptian society, where the vast majority of women wear religious headscarves and an increasing number of men sport the "zebiba" -- a prune-like bruise on the forehead that supposedly comes from vigorous praying.

Dalal al-Bizri, a columnist for the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, sees the devices as evidence of the importance of appearances in contemporary Islam.

"It's a religion whose followers seem to need to touch, to feel the beyond -- much like the pagans they once condemned," she said, adding that such outward displays betray "an insistence on belief, as though some deeper conviction was lacking."

Sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, on the other hand, thinks the trend is more indicative of the "naivety of the consumers and the intelligence of the merchants."

"It also says a lot about how quickly the Chinese economy reacts and adapts to the desires of the consumers -- whoever they are," he said with a smile.

Source: Agence France-Presse

From TerraDaily

Monday, April 16, 2007

Running 111 days in the Sahara

"you know if you ask me today that I do it again knowing what i know now. the answer is No. i wouldn't do it again!" Charlie said. "unless it was air conditioned 4wd" Ray added.

Flamenca - A Marriage of Spanish and Oriental Music

For the last few months, the only "local" music I've listened to or heard were of the Lebanese Music Video variety, which at its best is comparable to an "Item Number" and at its worst is worse than those Punjabi videos on ETC.

Fortunately this entire imagery associated with local music has been completely replaced by an infinitely superior quality and variety of music. Flamenca Cairo, a group of nine instrumentalists and a vocalist perfomed to a full house at the El Sawy Cultural Center last Friday.


The group was founded by Wael Khedr (who is also the Lead Guitar/Guitar Soloist) in 2003 with traditional Flamenco music and some Latin themes. It was slowly developed to have more oriental flavor with the addition of some oriental instruments. Now, Flamenca has several unique pieces of music where this marriage between flamenco and oriental music is clearly evident.

Amr Darwish plays a mean Electric Violin. The jugalbandis between him and Wael were outstanding.

Raaft Farahat plays an instrument called the Kawla which is an Arabic Flute.

Yamen Abdallah plays the Qanon which sounds like a Santoor - reminiscent of water trickling down a slow waterfall.

Omar El Toudy on Keyboards looked so much like those Senior Masterjis who play the keyboards in desi orchestras. Sameh Ismael and Sherif Kamal are the percussionists, who play a wide variety of instruments some familiar, some not so familiar and some completely tangential like the stool that Sherif was sitting on. Saief Eldawla on the Drums and Moustafa Geuida on Base Guitar completed the instrumental part of the ensemble.

Ahmed Samir intermittently provided vocals to the instrumental pieces. What a voice! Powerful and controlled. Although I could barely understand a word of what he was singing, I could feel the strong emotions and sentiments behind them.

The whole ensemble just blended together so beautifully. It has been a long time since any music has actually touched me. Flamenca's music was moving, it actually spoke to every member of the audience. So the repeated requests for an encore and the standing ovation that followed at the end was no suprise at all.

You can dowload and listen to some of their music on their site.

Image Sources:These pictures have been taken from the Flamenca website and through Google Image Search

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bua Khao Thai Restaurant

Bua Khao Thai Restaurant
12:00 to 23:00

No. 9, Road 151. Old Maadi
358 0126

Excellent Reasonable Thai food in Maadi.

Read my review of Bua Khao on my food review blog.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Taxi: Tales of Commuting - Khaled Al-Khamisy - a Book Review

This is a review written by my friend - Nael Shama - on Khaled Al-Khamisy’s book “Taxi: Tales of Commuting”. It was published in the Daily Star (Egypt) on the 23rd of March.

Cairo’s Taxi: Tragedy and Farce Juxtaposed
By Nael M. Shama
Eighty thousand taxis roam the Egyptian capital every day. They have become part and parcel of the city that has inspired and intrigued throughout history countless philosophers, writers and poets.
In “Taxi: Tales of Commuting”, Khaled Al-Khamisy lists 58 conversations he had with taxi drivers while traveling in the streets of Cairo in the period from April 2005 to March 2006. Doing most of the talking, the drivers indulged in various fields, such as religion, politics, economics, and sports in addition to recalling memories, dreams and stories. Naturally, the author bumped into different types of drivers, but whether he is witty, kind-hearted, aggressive or fanatic, there is always some interesting story to tell.
Since taxi drivers predominantly belong to the lower and middle classes, their words well-represent what is on the mind of a sizeable percentage of the Egyptian society; economic hardships, criticism of the government, and indignation at the injustice of authority, unsurprisingly, top the list.
The conversations also reveal many key features of the mindset of Egyptians. For example, traces of ‘conspiracy theory’ reasoning could be frequently detected, such as the deep-rooted belief that every decision the government takes to regulate public life aims at collecting money, or that hidden hands manipulate the stock exchange market to maximize the profit of business tycoons at the expense of small investors.
Also, many of Al-Khamisy’s encounters bring to light the patience and endurance with the help of which the majority of Egyptians lead their lives against the backdrop of harsh living conditions and austere economic difficulties. For instance, a heavy-eyed driver told the author that he had spent three unbroken days in his taxi to be able to pay its installments on time. Others complained of the back-breaking cost of private lessons and the rising prices of foodstuff, bills of utilities, etc.
Quite amazingly, the insightful political analysis given by some drivers is of no less quality than that provided by professional analysts who do not miss a day without asserting their expertise on television shows. This is, therefore, an invitation to reassess the dominant stereotype that Egyptians are, largely, inattentive to politics.
Social cleavages weigh heavily in the words of drivers. Hence, the African Cup of Nations that Egypt hosted in early 2006 is discounted as simply the “championship of the rich”. The belief that the society’s asymmetrical structure will endure is overwhelming; “Dinosaurs remain dinosaurs and flies remain flies”, one driver lamented. Another said that “our only right is to lick the dirt the rich step on.” Inevitably, a sense of social alienation ensues; “this is their country, not ours”, a frustrated driver said.
Undoubtedly, the original idea of the book comprises its major advantage. Nevertheless, its big success on the small Egyptian book market highlights a shocking reality, which is the wide gulf between social classes. What would, otherwise, interest book buyers (mostly well-off intellectuals or quasi-intellectuals) in the subject of the book, that is in what cab drivers have to say unless they both belong to two, both economically and culturally, different worlds? Said differently, to upper classes, taxi drivers are interesting alien creatures. What they say and do is worth attention and even documentation. Likewise, to taxi drivers, the wealthy are dissimilar in every way possible.
Al-Khamisy offers little analysis, and this is definitely one of the book’s great strengths. It leaves the job to the reader without imposing on him certain predisposed interpretations. This lack of analysis partially explains why the book could not be easily classified into any classical genre of writing, but this does not cut its importance in any way.
On the other hand, the organization of the book was not carefully selected. Al-Khamisy merely conferred a number to each conversation. This order could have been replaced with another where each conversation is given a title that epitomizes the main theme of the chat. To add a sense of coherency, moreover, dialogues could have been organized into separate categories, each with a distinct theme (e.g. perceptions of the government, complaints of economy, etc).
The book is a delightful journey into the psyche of Egyptians in the beginnings of the twenty-first century. The reader could effortlessly sense how lively and spontaneous the words of drivers are. Egyptians’ typical sense of humor makes it extremely amusing as well. Meanwhile, tragic narrations are, to say the least, tear-jerking. And that’s why the book mirrors so well life in contemporary Egypt, where tragedy and farce often go hand in hand.
Yet, the work is not only appealing to the general reader, for reading between the lines propels scholars and specialists to ponder about the Egyptian character, the changes it has gone through and the repercussions this would have on the future.
The book could be found at Diwan, Kotob Khan and Al-Shorouk bookstores. General information on the book could be accessed through the website (
Nael M. Shama
PhD Candidate
School of International Relations
University of St. Andrews, UK
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