Thursday, January 31, 2008

Internet Down in Cairo

Large swaths of the Middle East and Southeast Asia fell into internet darkness after two major underseas fiber optic links were damaged off Egypt's coast on Wednesday.

Early reports blamed an errant anchor for severing the cables.

The cuts hit two fiber optic links: FLAG Europe Asia and SEA-ME-WE-4. The two cables are competitors that carry traffic from Europe through the Middle East along to Japan (and vice versa).

FLAG runs about 17,000 miles, stretching from London, through the Suez canal, around India, along China's coast to Japan.

AUC sent out this email today to their internet users :
"The main Internet Service Provider (ISP) for Egypt, FLAG, is experiencing traffic delays on their international lines linking Egypt to the World Wide Web. This is affecting AUC's Internet access.

After contacting our local ISPs, we were assured that FLAG is working on resolving the issue but cannot predict when the recovery time will be.

Please bear with us, and we apologize for any inconvenience."

Intra Cairo Transportation

Muhammad tells me :

I think the metro starts at 5:00am or 5:30 and that is the first metro from any of the four terminals (Helwan, Al-Marg, Shobra, Giza). Which means it will take some time to get to Maadi, Also if you miss a train you will have to wait for a while since in the morning there is about 15mins (sometimes more) between one train and the next one.

Microbuses usually run all night though. The last Metro goes out of the terminal round 12:00am. The 4 trains as far as I remember meet in Tahrir (Anwar Al-Sadat) Metro station round 12:30am.

The public transportations, other than the metro, tends to end by 11:00am so you’d better be aware of that. I’ve heard that the Airport buses run all night, but I have no confirmation for this peace of information. The new green mini-buses tend to run a bit later, but that would be line dependent.

First Arabic Booker Prize

From The Daily Star

Six finalists named for first 'Arabic Booker'
State-owned Emirates Foundation is bankrolling Abu Dhabi's latest cultural foray, which seeks to bring a wider readership to Arabic fiction
By Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, January 30, 2008 Six writers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt have been shortlisted for the first annual International Prize for Arabic Fiction, jury chief Samuel Shimon announced Tuesday during a news conference in London at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Egypt censors book fair !

CAIRO (AFP) — Egypt has banned a number of Western and secular books from the 40th Cairo International Book Fair, including works by Czech author Milan Kundera and Morocco's Mohamed Choukri, publishers said on Monday.

The Cairo book fair, the Arab world's largest, is dominated by Islamist and educational works, an AFP correspondent reported, and the authorities have not said why the other works were seized at Cairo airport.

"The Egyptian authorities have given no explanation, we were neither informed nor consulted about this measure and the books have not been returned to us," said Rana Idriss, director of Lebanese publishing house Dar al-Adab.

She said that four works by Kundera, including "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting," were barred from the fair.

Germany's Al-Jamal publishers said the authorities had seized copies of Moroccan author Mohamed Choukri's autobiographical "For Bread Alone" which contains references to teenage sex and drug use and is banned in several Arab countries.

The taboo-busting "Love in Saudi Arabia" by young novelist Ibrahim Badi has also been banned, along with "Women of Sand and Myrrh" by Lebanon's Hanan al-Sheikh.

The story deals with the position of women in the Gulf and mentions homosexuality.
Elias Khoury, a renowned Lebanese writer who describes himself as atheist, secular and left-wing, had his "As If She Were Sleeping" seized.

Egypt's State Information Service says that the Cairo book fair has "over the past years become a great cultural event, and a spacious scene for conducting dialogue among intellectuals, men of letters and artists."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hard Rock Cafe, Cairo

Hard Rock Cafe, Cairo

It started with an Eric Clapton guitar and 30 years later it opened in Cairo.

........The Jumbo Combo (59LE) is a great appetiser with a mix of Onion Rings, potato skins, Santa Fe Spring rolls (although I prefer The Southwestern egg rolls from Chilli's) Buffalo wings & chicken tenders with 4 different sauces. A little bit of everything for everyone on the table to taste.....

Read the Entire review on my other blog :

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Peterson's article on 'Dance Music in Cairo'

From Arab Media Society

Sampling Folklore: The re-popularization of Sufi inshad in Egyptian dance musicIcon indicating an associated article is peer reviewed

By Jennifer Peterson

January, 2008. Beneath the looming limestone precipice that borders the old city of Cairo stands the shrine of Omar Ibn Al-Farid, a 13th century Sufi mystic and poet. Much of his verse is metaphorical love poetry, and, now deemed classic, is most typically

Dancing at a Cairo street wedding.
photo by Ahmed Kamel,

recited in the Sufi lyrical genre called inshad. Most poignantly, perhaps, it is performed live at the late-night celebration held annually in Ibn Al-Farid's honor.[1] Revered as a saint since the generation following his decease, Ibn Al-Farid is today venerated with a mulid, or saint festival, held in and around his shrine.[2] [Music Clip 1: Sheikh Yassin Al-Tuhami performs Ibn Al-Farid lyrics live]

Although relatively modest in scale, the mulid of Ibn Al-Farid is a festival much like those held for hundreds of other saints in Egypt, combining spiritually-focused ritual with fairground fun.[3] Pilgrims visit the shrine to pay their respects and make supplications amidst crowds praying, socializing, singing Sufi poetry, eating, and even sleeping in the mosque area. Near the shrine and throughout the festive space, Sufi patrons provide charitable "services" of food, water, hot drinks, and sweets to the public. Outside upon a stage draped in colorful cloth, a professional performer of inshad provides the musical and lyrical setting for dhikr, an emotionally-charged, rhythmic swaying movement whose practice is meant to engender a heightened spiritual state. Dervishes in eccentric dress converge on the mulid space, sometimes sporting ornate canes, flags, and symbolic props such as wooden swords. Families picnic on the pavement and children frolic among the fairground attractions, rambunctiously riding swings and playing at shooting galleys. Youth swagger in their most fashionable clothes, makeshift caf├ęs fill up, and itinerant vendors hawk snacks, toys, party hats, trinkets, and cassette tapes of inshad and other music genres. ..........................................

Its a long article but really interesting and comprehensive.

Read the entire article at Arab Media Society

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo

The The Egyptian Museum, Cairo was established by the Egyptian Government in 1835.

The present museum building at Tahrir Square near Downtown Cairo, was built in 1900 in the neo-classical style by the French Architect Marcel Dourgnon.

The museum pieces are scheduled to be shifted to a new venue closer to the Giza Pyramids as soon as the building is complete.

The current museum exhibits over 1,20,000 objects, some of the important groups of these objects are : Artifacts from the tombs of kings and members of the royal families of the Middle Kingdom found at Dahshur in 1894. The contents of the royal tombs of Tuthmosis III, Tuthmosis IV, Amenhotep III and Horemheb and the tomb of Yuya and Thuya. Artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun, consisting of more than 3,500 Pieces, of which 1,700 objects are displayed in the museum (the rest are in storerooms)

Some of these objects can be viewed online on the museum website.

Entry to the museum is 50LE for tourists.
Students with ISIC cards can avail a 50% discount.
Entry for locals is 1/2 LE.

Entry to the mummy rooms (1st Floor) is an additional 100LE.
You get to see about 30 mummies of Pharaonic Royalty. These are split across 2 rooms at opposite wings. So do remember to visit the mummies in the opposite wing too. There is no prominent marking about the second room.

(If you aren't that serious about mummies but want to see at least one Egyptian mummy on your trip to Egypt, then the museum at Sakkara has one on display & entry to the museum is included in your entry ticket at Sakkara)

The museum is open from 9am to 5:45pm everyday.
Washrooms are reasonably clean, but better to carry your own kleenex.

Cameras aren't supposed to be used inside.
Food can't be consumed inside.
You can carry in water and small chocolates/nutrition bars.
There is a left luggage counter outside the museum where you can leave your cameras
and food stuff. This service is complementary.

There is a Cafeteria on the museum premises which is overpriced.
The ticket that you buy for the day, allows you to go out on a break to eat lunch and return back on the same day.
A better option for food is one of the many Koshary joints downtown, which are just across the road.

Avoid the tourist trap souvenir & book shops in and around the museum. Most of the books they sell are from the AUC Press which you can buy at source across the circle for less than 1/3rd the price.

Souvenirs you can get dirt cheap at the Khan el Khalili depending on your bargaining skills.

There are plenty of licensed guides available inside the museum in case you do not want to carry a guide book along with you. My personal favorite guide to navigate the museum is the Lonely Planet, Egypt. (Please note : Not Lonely Planet, Cairo) The Lonely Planet, Egypt succinctly and quickly captures the highlights of the museum in an orderly manner.

The exhibits are grouped in historical sequence. But to avoid museum fatigue, I would recommend visiting the Tutankhamun galleries on the first floor right in the beginning. The BBC Galleries have a lovely photo collection as a trailer of what to expect.

Then you can go back to the start of the First Floor or to the ground floor to finish up the rest of the museum.

If you are following a book guide, don't be worried if you can't find things exactly in the rooms were they are mentioned to be. Articles are often temporarily loaned out to other museums.

Browsing the museum could take anywhere between 1 hour to several weeks depending on interest levels. Hitting the highlights would take about 2 hours.

After the Pyramids of Giza, this is the second most visited site in Cairo and is definitely worth a visit.

Note : Summers can get very hot within the museum as only some rooms like the Tutankhamun galleries & the mummy rooms are airconditioned.

This article was originally published at

A Quick Guide to moving to Egypt - for Expats

Added on 5th Mar 2008 : An edited version of this guide was also published in the BCA Chronicle for the month of March 2008.

Was writing a Guide for Expat Women - City Experiences and thought of posting the information here too to benefit my blog readers

A copy of this post is available on their site at

City Description:
Cairo if described in one word is "Chaos" But you soon realise there is some innate method in the madness & things somehow pull together & work.

It has extreme weather conditions. Temperature reaches almost upto 50C in Summer and down to 3-4C in Winter. March is the month for the Khamseen (sand storms). You can expect light rain in January.

Pros and Cons:
How do the locals feel about foreigners?
Locals have mixed feelings about foreigners and its not easy to generalize. I have met with all kinds of receptions ranging from curiosity to resentment. But for the most part, foreigners and their dollars are welcomed by majority of the population that I have come in contact with.

What are the positive and negative aspects of living in your city?
The city is rich in culture and heritage. From the pyramids of the Pharaonic era (5000 years ago)to the Citadel of Saladin to the Cairo Tower.

The traffic, the pollution, the dust, the lack of respect for time and the cacophony can be nerve wracking at times.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples/gays and lesbians?
Children of all ages will feel welcome in Cairo and its easy for parents with kids to develop support networks. Singles and couples also have a lot on offer. (If I'm not mistaken homosexuality is either illegal or believed not to exist at all in this country.)

Problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
The only 3 religions that are believed to exist are the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Islam & Christianity. The others aren't recognised.

Women have a lot more freedom and rights in Egypt than I have noticed in other Middle Eastern countries. Quite a large number of women in Egypt work outside their home.

Is there a specific dress code?
Many women in Egypt cover their heads with a veil, some do wear other forms of Islamic dress like the abaya and niqab, but it is not expected to be worn by all women.
In general it is a good practice for women to cover their forearms and knees when out in public. This is more to avoid unwanted attention than anything else.
Tourists do wear everything from halter to bikini tops, but keeping in mind local sensibilities it is better to avoid this display of skin.
Many Mosques and Coptic Churches will insist on arms and knees being covered for both men & women visitors. Some will ask you to cover your head. A loose shawl or cap will suffice.

Are there any Security concerns? (car jacking, robberies, kidnappings, etc.)
Egypt is relatively crime free. If you do not consider blatant overcharging by touts a crime :) There are a lot of security measures in place at most locations that expats/tourists would visit, including malls, heritage sites and hotels.

Advice to help avoid problems?
Respect local sensibilities (this is applicable in any country that you move to)
Avoid public displays of affection like kissing and hugging.

Immigration / Visas / Work Permits:
Visitors from some countries require visas before arriving whereas passport holders from USA and some other countries can apply for visas on arrival at the airport for about 15USD.

If you are hired by a company before you arrive, try and get your work permit from this company before you actually arrive in Egypt. Its not as easy to find a company to hire you and sponsor your work permit after arriving in Egypt.

What is the typical housing for expats?
Apartments, house boats (on the Nile - limited numbers and extremely basic) and villas are available for rent.
Apartments range from unfurnished to fully furnished. Fully furnished means all the furniture, AC's in every room except the kitchen. A TV, washing machine, refrigerator, cooking stove and dishwasher.

Where are the best places to live?

Maadi is the number one choice for most expats. Zamalek, Mohandaseen, Katameyya, 6th of October City, Heliopolis, Rehab are some other areas expats may choose to live in. I have a detailed article posted at Where Should I live in Egypt/Cairo

What is the typical cost in rent?

Rent could range between 500USD to 6500USD per month depending on various factors.

Is there a typical payment process?

The typical payment process is a one month security deposit and quarterly payments in advance. The agreement is typically for one year. At the end of the year, they may ask for a 5-10% increase in the rent.

What is important to look for and/or negotiate when looking for accomodation?

When looking for accommodation, always get all the jobs that you want done in the house accomplished before you move in to the house. Thats when most landlords/landladies will work the fastest. Once you move in and ask for things to be done then it could take weeks even to get them to change a lightbulb.

Look for water pressure in the taps.
Check for earthing of the electrical connections.
Check who pays which utilities.
Parking is a pain in most areas, check if your landlord/landlady has any ear-marked parking of the apartment (almost impossible but worth a try)
Every price in Cairo is negotiable including house rent. You can try to negotiate rent downward or ask for extra utilities like a 2nd TV, a microwave etc.

Household Help:
Help is easily available in Egypt. Finding good help is a matter of trial & error and requires patience.

Help is available from locals, rest of Africa (mainly Sudanese) and South East Asian.
Maids charge upwards of 30LE per hour. Monthly rates to be negotiated.
Drivers 800LE upwards.
Gardeners and Nannies are also available

You will have to pay more for English/French speaking staff.

You can give your clothes out for ironing/pressing at the rate of 1LE per item of clothing.
Dry Cleaning is also pretty reasonable.

The best way to call home is mobile telephony (better connectivity & clarity) or over the internet if you have a decent speed connection.

Vodaphone & Mobinil are the 2 long term mobile players in the market. Etisalat has just come in last year.

The fixed line is only available from the government provider, if I'm not mistaken.

Internet Access:
It is possible to connect to the internet using a dial up from any land line telephone at about 1-5LE per hour. Link DSL and TEDATA are the 2 major ISP's. Depending on your area of residence you can check which one provides better band width.
Free Wifi is available at most McDonalds, Cilantros and other cafes and restaurants.
ISP's provide various packages starting from 45LE per month.

Nilesat provides you with plenty of free to air local channels plus Dubai based English channels MBC4, MBC2, MBC action, Dubai One, BBC, Fatafeat, Selevision among others. MBC4 & MBC Action show programs like According to Jim, CSI, Oprah, Dr Phil, 24 etc. MBC2 shows pretty recent Hollywood movies through the day.

You can pay for bouquets from Showtime and Orbit among others.

Al Ahram and a couple of other English language newspapers are available.

I personally prefer the magazines to the newspapers.

Local Language :
Learning the local Arabic language will be an extremely huge advantage when living here. All Egyptians speak to each other in Arabic. Doctors and other professionals speak English quite fluently. But to deal with taxi drivers, shop staff, bowabs and other help you will need to speak a little Arabic. The more Arabic you learn, the easier you will find it to fit in.

Tutors and language schools abound. Kalimat is quite reliable as are locations like the CSA.

If you are here for a short while then a translation book will be enough to get by.

Utilites for the Home:
Tap water is reasonably safe for water if it is thoroughly boiled. I personally use it for cooking, but for drinking I find its easier to buy bottled water.

I buy Aqua Fina 1.5 litre bottles. My local neighbourhood grocery guy delivers 2 crates of them to my house at an hours notice.

Water is available 24 hours a day from the municipal connection and doesn't need to be stored.

Gas is piped and hardly costs 3LE per month (yes three) but this is for cooking only. Heaters/air conditioners work on electricity.

Gas and electricity are both supplied by the government.

Electricity bills vary with usage but a family of 4 can expect to pay about 100-250LE per month.

Local Employment:
Not too easy to find a job if you aren't a local. Your personal network is better to help you than any other source.

There are plenty of volunteer opportunities available.

Money and Banks
The local currency is Egyptian Pound/Lire Egyptian or LE.
Currently 1 USD is roughly 5LE.

Setting up a bank account was pretty simple as far as I remember but it was done through my husbands company. Passport and visa and letter from company is what they required.

Doctors are very good for the most part. Some hospitals are good. You need to check and find the best hospital around the area that you live in. Dar el Fouad in 6th of October City is supposed to be the best.

Pharmacies :
Pharmacists all speak English, but because of differences in accent, it is easier to write what you require rather than vocalise it.

The exact medicines you are looking for may not be available but they will search for something with similar composition and offer it to you. Imported medicines are available but expensive. Locally made ones are available for 1/5th the cost.

Pharmacies are available on every street. But check to find one that you are comfortable with.

Always check expiry dates on your medication.

Are there any health concerns that people should be aware of?
Stomach upsets (Pharaoh's curse) are common until you build up resistance.
It may be better to get Hepatitis shots before you arrive.
If you like playing with the many street cats on the road in your building - a rabies pre-exposure shot is also recommended.

All kinds of schools are available. Most expats put their students in the British or American schools. (See links in the bar on the Right Side for detailed list & websites of Schools & Universities)

Universities of America, Germany, Canada, and other countries are present in Cairo.

Some schools have their own buses. Most expats are provided with a car and driver by their company and sometimes use this to drop their kids to school.

Transportation :
Its pretty easy to own a car. If you have the money, you can buy a car.

Its not very easy to drive in this city. Most expats go for a course in Defensive Driving before they can drive in the less populated areas.

You have to apply for a local drivers license if you are in Egypt beyond 15 days. (Your IDL will be valid for 15 days) Present yourself for a simple driving test and if you clear it you get your license.

The metro is safe and reliable but does not cover all areas in Cairo. I have friends who have taken the mini buses but this is not recommended for the faint hearted. Taxis - black and white and yellow (air conditioned and metred) are available.

Shopping & Beauty Care :
Grocery Shopping in Cairo

I would carry my electric/electronic items that I cant do without from home. It may not be possible to get your brand or model in Egypt. Any specialty food or food items would be best brought from back home. Medicines that you are accustomed to. These are the things that may not be available or easy to find in Egypt.

Haircuts, manicure, waxing are easily available all over the city.

Sports and Entertainment:
Football is the number one sport in Egypt.

The expats have formed a ton of clubs for Rugby, Hash House Harriers and Cricket etc. There are local clubs for rowing, cycling etc.

Entertainment ranges from movie theatres, to book clubs. There are plenty of activities organised by locals, clubs, expat groups, churches etc. To be informed of local events, you can sign up to

There are very good veterinary doctors available in Egypt. I highly recommend my own - The Pet Clinic in 6th of October City.

I'm not too sure about documentation needed to bring a pet in. I think its mainly the vaccinations have to be in order.

Useful Resources:
My Blog - whazzupegypt
My blog has a ton of links that are useful.

Cairo Family Guide for sight seeing in Egypt.

These Maps

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cat & Dog Diaries


8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 PM - Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 PM - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 PM - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 PM - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 PM - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 PM - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 PM - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!


Day 983 of my captivity.
My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep
up my strength. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.

In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a 'good little hunter' I am. Bastards!

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of 'allergies.' I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow -- but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches.

The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

Ramses Statue, Giza

The huge granite statue of Ramses II arrived at its new home near the pyramids outside Cairo a liitle over a year ago on 24th August 2006.

For 50 years, it had stood near the Ramses Station surrounded by bridges, train lines and mosques. There were worries that heavy pollution was damaging the 3,200-year-old statue, which is 11 metres (36 feet) high and weighs about 83 tonnes.

It took 10 hours for the colossus to travel the 2km to its new home.

The statue was moved through Cairo at a stately pace on two flatbed trucks in one piece. A steel cage was built around the statue to hold it steady.

The whole operation was broadcast live on Egyptian television.

The statue's new home is a site on which a new museum of antiquities is being built.

The statue in June 2006 before it was readied for the move.

"Ramses will be happy now," said Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt's antiquities council. "He would have been unhappy in his tomb knowing that the statue was staying in such a mess where nobody can see him any more."

Mr Hawass said the statue originally stood in Memphis, one of the ancient capitals of Egypt, more than 3,200 years ago. It was found in excavations in 1882. In the mid-1950s it was cut into eight pieces and moved to Ramses Square in central Cairo.

Ramses II ruled Egypt for more than 60 years during the 19th dynasty of pharaohs 3,200 years ago. He was one of ancient Egypt's most prolific builders. Statues and temples dedicated to him have been found all over Egypt, but the huge figure that once adorned central Cairo is the best known of his monuments.

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