Now seems as good a time as any to revive Jerk of the Week. The funny thing is that I was considering doing it earlier in the week when former rower, come Senator and Liberal Party heavy weight, Cory Bernardi linked violent protests in Sydney to multiculturalism. (full comments available here)
Compare and contrast his racist and ignorant comments to the nuanced and thoughtful comments of Waleed Aly (it’s ironic that a conservative like Aly has become such a darling of the left, but I feel that says more about Australian political spectrum than anything else). The problem with most things that come out of Bernardi’s mouth is that they are just so fucking dumb that it’s hard to know where to start.
… but before I had a chance to start, he came out with this beauty:
The time has come to ask, when will it end? If we are prepared to redefine marriage … what is the next step?
The next step … is having three people that love each other should be able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people. There are even some creepy people out there, who say that it’s OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step?
I don’t think I really need to say anything else on the matter do I? It’s pretty hard to overlook him for the title of Jerk of the Week especially as he is unrepentant even after being sacked as shadow parliamentary secretary to Tony Abbott.
What I will say is that it is heteronormative and homophobic to deny Australians in same sex relationship the right to Marriage and I think we need to start calling saying that it is homophobic. It is necessarily saying that their relationship is less valuable than the relationship of a hetrosexual couple and that is discrimination, plain and simple. How a large majority of MPs and Senators in Parliament can vote as they have is of deep concern. Who votes for these people anyway! (Increasingly I think I oppose compulsory voting but we’ll save that for another time)
So for epitomising the racial, religious and sexual intolerance that should have been well and truly stamped out a long time ago and has no roll in our society, let alone the houses of parliament, you Cory Bernardi, are: Jerk of the Week!
He’s in London at the moment, so perhaps I’ll go and award him the prize myself.
It’s a proposal that has been pushed by law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world for a while now. There have been similar proposals here in the UK, other EU countries and the US.
Meanwhile, in Minneapolis and other places, law enforcement agencies are scanning licence plates using infrared and storing the data from these scans for up to a year to help with investigations into a range of criminal offences. You can listen to On the Media‘s podcast about it which I highly recommend.
(While we’re on podcasts, I’d also highly recommend Stilgherrian’sPatch Monday which dealt with the data retention issue recently and where privacy concerns are a regular topic.)
This licence plate data is also being shared with insurance companies which is consistent with the alarming growth in the flow of potentially sensitive information from Government to Business which, amongst other things, are far less accountable.
Privacy has limits. If you are being investigated for criminal offences, then it is reasonable that law enforcement get permission (ie a warrant) to investigate you. So I would be less concerned about the retention of telecommunications data or licence plate scans if it was only the data pertaining to a criminal investigation that was being retained. But it’s not, it’s every bit of data.
Which brings me to Victoria’s acting Privacy Commissioner, Anthony Bendall‘s, response to the data retention proposal:
Not only does this completely remove the presumption of innocence, which all persons are afforded, it goes against one of the essential dimensions of human rights and privacy law: freedom from surveillance and arbitrary intrusions into a person’s life.
The presumption of innocence is pretty fundamental, I’m sure you agree and yet another reason to remain vigilante about privacy.
I’ve been trying to write a post on the importance of privacy because I feel like it’s been forgotten but I just can’t get it to come out right. The crux of the point I want to make is that privacy is a civil right and it’s an important one. It protects us, as individuals and members of a community for the excess of government and business and is one of the things that allows people to scrutinise government without fear of reprisals. If governments know everything they can make life very difficult for those that disagree with them… you know, like in Syria, China, Iran, and a whole bunch of countries it’s very easy for us in the west to wave our finger at.
But that’s the thing, we do a lot of finger wagging because, for the most part, we live in a democracy and can take a certain amount of free speech for granted. Moreover no one fortunate enough to live in most western democracies (or at least the anglosphere – one can always think of examples to counter these blanket statements about geographical regions can’t they) has a living memory of anything other than what can globally be considered a fairly high level of freedom.
So we don’t value it. We don’t think anything bad could happen here because for most of us it hasn’t ever happend. We’ve lived during peacetime and have never really had to watch what we say. We trust government too much – an institution that has (or should have) built in checks on it’s power because it is so easy and tempting to abuse.
So these days we just hand over all our personal information to reasonably unregulated corporations – at least as far as protection of private information is concerned – and assume that everything will be fine. I don’t have anything to hide, I haven’t broken any laws, what could possibly go wrong?
So I want to yell from the roof tops: “Don’t take this for granted. We need to protect our privacy so we remain free. Give them an inch and they’ll use it to take the next inch.”
But instead I feel like I’m being conspiratorial when I even try to say that legislation around cookies is important and all these ‘cyber security’ laws that have been implemented since 2001 are dangerously eroding rights that took centuries of fighting to gain. But instead I log back into my google account so that one of the richest companies in the world can keep an eye on my every move to sell me things that I don’t want, I was just looking them up for a client at work.
Today I quit Facebook. I’ve been mulling over it for quite some time now and, in a moment of impulsiveness, I clicked the delete button.
It was time to stop complaining and put my money where my mouth is (was?). I’d actively withdrawn from it anyway, so why not take the final step and leave?
Of course my account won’t actually be deleted for another fortnight, that’s just how FB rolls. They’re worried that I might change my mind in that time so have, very thoughtfully, decided need a bit of a cooling off period.
So why did I do it?
We all know Facebook are essentially a company that trades in a very valuable commodity – highly targeted marketing. Facebook know a lot about you and sell that information to anyone that wants it. Like any of these services, that’s the trade off. You get access to the world largest social media service with a user-base of around 800 million and in return Facebook sells information about you to advertisers. (So why do I keep getting weight loss ads served to my Facebook page?)
So the question is: do I feel that is a fair trade. Is it worth commodifying my personal information so that I can keep up to date with what my friends just ate for dinner? Truthfully, it is up to a point, and up until today I’ve been happy to pay that price. I’m living in London at the moment and the vast majority of the people I know and love are living in Melbourne so I want to see pictures of them and their kids.
I’m also someone that likes to think of themselves as an activist. Whist I’m not as active as I used to be, Facebook is a really handy tool for an activist. When I put together martinfergusonisaratbastard.com it got about 300 hits in the first day – most of which came from Facebook. So I’m reluctant to let that go.
Finally, as far as my reluctance to leave Facebook goes, I’m a web developer. Facebook is central to the online world so I feel like I should do my best to keep up with what is happening on Facebook, at lease from a technological perspective.
So, with all these good reasons to stay on Facebook, why would I leave?
Ownership, commodification and privacy, to name three. Facebook has never really been satisfactory in any of these areas and I’ve finally had enough.
I’ve always disliked iPhoto and iTunes. Their default status (and I know you can turn this off) has the program managing your files. That bothers me. They are my files and I’ll do with them as I please thank you very much. My first MP3 player was a 40 Gig iAudio that was essentially just a hard drive. It would simply play every song in the folder you navigated to. It had a horrible interface and was quite clunky but I loved it. It played every format under the sun (critically, including ogg) and I could move files on and off it as I pleased without a program or anything like that. They were my files, why wouldn’t I be able to?
The same can be said for Facebook. I can’t just take my data and go home. I can’t just get a copy of every photo and video I’ve uploaded and do with it as I please.
In contrast, I’m heavily integrated with Google. They aren’t perfect either but at lease with Google I can take my data and go elsewhere whenever I wish. Ironically, it will be when Google take this capacity away from me that I’ll feel the need to leave.
There are also intellectual property issues here that are probably beyond the preview of this post. But who owns the copyright over a photo that I upload to Facebook or a status update? What can the images I’ve uploaded be used for? I don’t have control over that and, fundamentally, I should.
All of this combined with Facebook’s persistant changing of the rules and defaulting everything to public has eroded my faith.
Of course Google commodifies my personal information as well, but with Facebook it seems far more intrusive. The information is less anonymised, more readily available for sale and just seems more insidious than other services. Surely this will only get worse with it multi-billion dollar Initial Public Offering
I don’t think it is necessarily problematic to sell things in a targeted manner to users of a service if they have opted in. It’s something I would consider exploiting for Sommelier.net.au. But Facebook take this too far. The information that can be bought by advertisers is far more detailed than I am comfortable with a corporation having.
Which ties into my final point.
Facebook knows a lot about you. A lot. A terrifying amount. More than I am happy for any one person, let alone corporation, to know.
I’m a strongly libertarian sort of person. Civil liberties are central to everything I believe in and key to protecting one’s rights is privacy.
Facebook knows too much about me already and has a tendency to broadcast that information whenever it can. It’s key to their business model.
In addition, I don’t have enough trust in a corporation like Facebook to protect my privacy. It isn’t in their interest to do so. I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a government department in the world that knows as much about me as Facebook and they are far less accountable. Hell, the FBI have admitted to being able to make staffing reductions due to the amount of information they can now get just by looking someone up on Facebook.
Moreover, Facebook track you by stealth when you’re away from the site. Every ‘Like’ button on a website is another little spy for Facebook. And Facebook aren’t playing fairly in this realm. You simply shouldn’t be able to track someone once they have left that site. But Facebook do it incessantly, even once you’ve logged out. Hell, they keep ‘shadow’ profiles of people that don’t have Facebook accounts. To quote George HW Bush, “this aggression will not stand.”
As part of my discontent with Facebook’s surveillance techniques, I will also be removing ‘Like’ Buttons from any website I run. Especially Your Voice in House so people can use the service without a fear that they will be tracked by a corporation. It’s only ego-metrics anyway.
So that’s it. I’m sick of being sold, I’m sick of being spied on and I’m sick of not being able to control my own data. I cannot tolerate this social compact any longer. I quit. I’ll miss knowing what my friends are up, but they’ve all got my email address, they all know my blog and they are all welcome to follow me on Twitter. Hell, Google me if you need.
So who knows. Maybe I’ll utilise that 14 day window and reactivate my account. Maybe I create a new account with a nom de plume so i can continue to spy on ex-girlfriends friend’s children as they grow. But for now at least, I’m feeling quite liberated.
I started the new-year well. On New Year’s Day I drove form Antwerp in Belgium, across the Netherlands to Aachen, just over the German boarder. It’s home to the ‘Imperial Cathedral’ and I had wanted to see it ever since seeing the list of the original 1978 inductees to the UNESCO World Heritage list on the wall of a salt mine just outside Krakow Poland (which also happens to be on the list). Its an astonishing building, was well worth the drive and I can now say I have been to all three European sites granted World Heritage listing in the initial round of allocation. Tick.
So 2012 is feeling pretty good for me on a personal level at least. I’ve got pretty high hopes for the year. While last year was one of great adventure, it was also one of extraordinary loss.
I was tempted to follow in the footsteps of more than one blogger and bemoan ‘the state of the union’ – rightly so I might add, this shit isn’t getting any better – but I’m left with a great sense of optimism for the year ahead. Having relocated to London, established a pretty sweet crew and have the rest of Europe on my door step things are looking good. Between now and Summer, I’ve got 3 confirmed overseas trips and up to 5 on the cards.
I’ve got a good job which has cemented a career change that has been on the cards for some time now and there are no shortage of possibilities for what the year may hold.
In 2012, as the shit hits the fan with the welfare state being dismantled in the UK, the eurozone collapsing and Australian politics desperately searching for yet another way to assert its irrelevance, I fully intend to milk this puppy for all it is worth.
Oh yeah, and while I’m at it, ‘tip of the hat’ to the Occupy movement and any other general shit stirrers that don’t have a rightwing or nationalist agenda. I hope you guys keep it up in 2012 – someone has to.
I was lounging by a friend’s pool in the South of France a couple of weekends ago, enjoying a last minute surge of summer.
The issue of our energy future was raised and our gracious host stated in a matter-of-fact manner that nuclear energy was clearly the only option left available to service out energy needs. What struck me more than anything else about the statement was that there was an assumption that I had naturally adopted this position – it was the only logical conclusion.
My gut reaction to nuclear is a steadfast ‘no’. You just don’t mess with something that has the potential for destruction on the level that nuclear does. But the problem with nuclear goes beyond that.
To be able to produce as much energy as we are currently producing then our choice is basically either coal or nuclear. But we in the west need to reduce our carbon emissions my something in the order of 90% to 95% of 1990 levels by yesterday at the latest which would naturally lead us to the conclusion that nuclear is the only answer. After all, Global Warming is probably the most serious issue humanity has ever faced so we must stop emitting greenhouse gases immediately.
I’m not sure that I entirely agree with the assertion that nuclear could meet all our energy needs, or that coal and nuclear are our only two choices, but it is certainly fair to say that we cannot produce the amount of energy we are currently using use of renewables. There’s just no way.
The issue for has always been, not how the energy is produced, but how much we use. In a sense I don’t care if we’re using coal or nuclear providing we reduce our energy consumption by 90% to 95% (possibly even more). However if we only need to produce 5% of what we are currently producing then sourcing our energy from renewables is suddenly feasible and should be done for a wide range of health and environmental reasons.
Needless to say, such a drastic change in energy consumption means massive changes in the way the world operates going far beyond major infrastructural changes.
To create a low-carbon world we need to continue to produce enough energy to do the work necessary to reduce the amount of energy we use, keep as many people as possible from starvation and start building the required renewable energy generators. Activities such as the construction of a wind farm requires time and energy which is why we’ve left all this far too late. For now, the only way we can generate that energy is through existing sources of energy, ie coal (or nuclear if you’re in the USA, Japan or France).
Which is why all this nuclear business bothers me. Even if we could, hypothetically, mine uranium in a manner that doesn’t destroy the environment and had a genuine solution to the storage of nuclear waste, the lead time for a nuclear power plant is at least a good 15 to 20 years, probably more. And the lead-time only gets longer when you start talking about wide spread rollout. In 15 or 20 years, it’s all too late.
Where are you going to put all these plants? I don’t want them in my backyard and I’m pretty sure you don’t, but they need to be close to urban centers where most of the energy is consumed. They also need to be near fresh water supplies. Similar problems exists for the storage of nuclear waste. Sorting all this out takes time – lots of time – and then you have to actually build a nuclear power plant which is a time consuming task unto itself.
The pro-nuclear argument also seems to assume significant technological advancements in the breakdown and storage of nuclear waste – technologies which may be available but remain largely untested because very few nuclear power plants have been built of late.
But ultimately what bothers me about nuclear is that it is very 19th Century, industrialist thinking. It’s a ‘science will save us’ or ‘we command nature’ sort of position. It’s a technological fix to a problem caused by an over reliance on technological solutions.
Our energy future has to be low tech. Windmills are reasonably low tech. Mirrors focusing the sun’s rays to heat something up is low tech. We need to use the technologies that are available to us now and nuclear just isn’t one of those.
This leaves me in the awkward position of supporting a coal fired renewable energy future.
It’s the late 50s/early 60s, things are good! Taxes are high, wages are high, inflation is high unemployment is almost non-existant and everyone is happy. We’ve never had it this good.
Oil is cheap, the population is booming, there is disposable income and the war is a distant memory for a young generation who are enjoying a level of prosperity with a wide base – the likes of which we haven’t known before. Take off your clothes, smoke lots of weed, go on a road trip with no money, it’s a revolution you know.
Working class people can own a house and a car, health and education are free, there is a massive expansion of the welfare state. And it’s all affordable because everyone is earning a good wage, the population is still quite diminished (although rapidly growing) so less people are placing demands on the service.
Tax and government are highly centralised thanks to the war effort, the top marginal income tax rate is just below 70% and there is loads of money to throw around. Lets make tertiary education free!
Then the mid-late 70s happen. The brutalised and over simplified version of Keynesian economics
we’d grown so used to fails us. Stagflation! And just when it couldn’t get any worse: Oil Crisis!! God damn it, it’s expensive to drive places now. How am I going to get to work if I am lucky enough to even have a job?
Quick, someone pick up that book written by Hayek, something about surfing, he said this would happen!
Roll on the 80s, a time of excess. Business is booming but everyone I know is still unemployed.
Globalisation! Deindustrialisation! Off shore the shit out of that industry! I’m rich!!
So on through the 80s and 90s: cut spending, lower tax rates and flatten them out while you’re at it. How did we get so bloated, sell everything! Business can run telecommunications infrastructure more efficiently than a government. Business is good, government is bad. Oh look, selling everything has meant that we’ve now got a pile of cash. We can still afford schools and hospitals, especially since we’ve cut all their funding as well.
Come to think of it people should really pay for the services they use, let’s cash in our future and start charging for a tertiary eduction. All these Art’s Degrees are just costing us money. Everyone I know got a free education, why should I care if ‘the kids’ get one or not – particularly kids whose parents didn’t go to university and can’t pay for their kids to attend. How did we get so carried away with upward social mobility in the first place?
Fast forward to the last five years: Debt crisis! The pursuit of growth has left the economy significantly over stretched. There are skills shortages. Our universities are propped up buy foreign students whose parents undergo extraordinary financial hardship to send one child to university in Australia giving Australian Universities enough revenue to function.
Unemployment rates spike, there’s a housing bubble created by baby boomers that decided to cash in on the 1960s boom period they grew up in and spend our inheritance investing in the now bloated property market. And who can blame them?
The population keeps growing at ever increasing rates despite birthrates being below replacement level. As it turns out it is much cheaper to have people in the majority world absorb the cost of training a doctor and then letting them immigrate to Australia. Poor countries pay for their education, we reap their fruitful and taxpaying years!
And we can do this for any trade with a skills shortage! I knew it was a good idea to cut spending on education. Importing the future of other countries is much easier.
So tax rates a low, the population is growing faster and faster – we need it to, how else do we ensure that the economy keeps growing. But how do we pay for the growing demands on public services? We can no longer afford to fund the services that people have become so accustom to.
Austerity measures! Cut public spending, it only benefits those that are still reliant on public services anyway. Pass on the burden of debt to those that struggle to get by while the wealthy hid behind tax loopholes. Come to think of it, the rich wen’t paying much tax in the first place, so why don’t we cut their taxes some more – that’s sure to stimulate growth.
So now the people are getting angry and taking to the streets. They’re occupying Wall Street! Their rioting in Athens!
Reading The Guardian today (from my new abode in London) I came across an article about a group of British academics that were starting trials on a hot air balloon ‘the size of Wembley stadium’ that would float 20km above Earth and pump ‘hundreds of tonnes of minute chemical particles [sulphates and other aerosol particles] a day into the thin stratospheric air to reflect sunlight and cool the planet.’
That sounds pretty hi-tech to me. And just think, we’d be able to keep burning up fossil fuels and pumping as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as we want!
Am I the only one that can see this going wrong? Since when has pumping chemicals into the stratosphere been a good idea? Not to mention the fact that I’m sure it requires a huge amount of energy (hence more carbon pollution) to get the balloon up there as well as producing the chemicals and then pumping them up 20km of hose.
When will we stop trying to come up with these high-tech fixes to the problem of global warming? Technology will not save us, we just need to use less energy.
Wind farms are a low tech solution to our energy needs which, if coupled with a huge increase in energy efficiency across the state of Victoria, could provide enough energy to ensure we all lead comfortable, carbon free, lifestyles.
It’s also concerning the journalists aren’t picking up on these well established links.
It all reminds me of an Arch Druid Report article from 2009. The article compare’s the viability of two potential renewable energy sources: Fusion reactors which have had billions of dollar spent trying to development and are yet to produce one kilowatt of usable energy; and micro-hydro systems built from recycled washing machines which required very little research and development and are currently producing small amounts of energy with a high level of efficiency.
Well, I’m currently sitting on a flight from Cairo to Frankfurt which was chartered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade after 8 days of civil unrest in Egypt. It certainly isn’t where I’d expected to be a week ago.
Yes, I’m afraid the ‘witnessing a revolution’ phase of our trip has finally run its course and it’s time to try and get on with being a tourist again.
Last Friday (28th Jan) we left Cairo for Alexandria. There wasn’t really any plan, we just thought we’d see if Alexandria was a little quieter than Cairo and would therefore be safer to see a few sites. How wrong we were. Egypt’s ‘second city’ turned out to be a flash point for this significant moment in Egypt’s history.
That day, further protests were planned to take place following the morning prayer which usually finishes around 12:30 or 1. We got to Alexandria nice and early to avoid any trouble, checked into our hotel and went off to find something to eat.
When we arrived the place was very quiet so we ended up walking quite a way along the foreshore before finding a fancier restaurant which seemed to be the only one open in town.
After some fine dining with a beautiful view over the harbour, we walked out onto the street. Immediately our eyes started watering and our mouth and nose started to burn. Tear gas. This wasn’t going to be a quiet trip to Alexandria.
We decided the only thing we could really do was get into a cab and try to get back to the hotel avoiding the protests. The cab driver took the long way around but we kept running into groups of protesters and having to change course. Our driver eventually gave up trying to and told us it was impossible for him to drive us back to the hotel which was two short blocks from the main protest area so we would have to walk the last few ourselves. We got out of the car, only to have every passing Egyptian tell us not to go in the direction of our hotel – great.
We eventually made it back with a few long pauses to let the protesters march by. Eventually we made it up to our room where we bunkered down, running out onto the balcony every time we heard the protests go past. It was really starting to get serious.
Initially, everyone was keeping the more rogue protesters in line but this was less and less effective throughout the day. Increasingly the groups of protesters were carrying large sticks and baseball bats and had taken to breaking things as they went. As the day wore on police riot shields and helmets started appearing in the crowds – trophies from their clashes with the police.
At one stage a group went past carrying a body above their heads. We didn’t need a reminder of the seriousness of the situation, but there it was.
As the afternoon wore on, huge black plumes of smoke appeared throughout the city and we started noticing small pieces of ash floating through the air. Some of the streetlights came on early as the sky darkened with smoke. The next morning the streets contained the burnt shells of the cars that had fed the fires.
As we sat down to eat dinner that first night in the hotel restaurant we rushed to the window when we heard a terrible scraping noise coming down the street, getting louder and louder. It was the sound of a tank’s caterpillar tyres on the asphalt. The military had been deployed.
The police had just disappeared although we got conflicting reports as to whether they had been instructed to do so by the government or if they had done so of their own volition. What ever the case, nearly every police station in the country had been set on fire and then looted for weapons and tear gas.
Surprisingly, most people in Egypt seemed to think that military intervention was a good thing and they are well respected. The same cannot be said of the police who are almost universally despised.
The protests continued the next day – Saturday – and on an even bigger scale, but this time the mood was celebratory. Before the protests started we went for a walk to see some of the sites in Alexandria (all of which were closed along with nearly every shop) and buy train tickets back to Cairo for the following day.
On the way back to our hotel we passed a coffee shop with CNN playing on their TV. Some locals changed the channel to an Arabic station shortly after, but CNN was on long enough for us to learn that the President, Mubarak, had appointed a new Prime Minister and totally reshuffled his ministry. Whilst it fell well short of what the protesters wanted, it was clear evidence that for the first time in this dictator’s 31 year reign, he was having to pay attention to the concerns of Egyptians.
The scenes on the street that day were really moving. Huge crowds – tens of thousands of people living under an oppressive dictatorship – all chanting, dancing and hugging in the streets. Many of them signalling to us to come down and join them (an offer we politely refused).
It really struck me how open everyone was about their displeasure with Murbarak. Everyone took the time to tell us how they had had enough of him and it was time for change – something I certainly didn’t hear last time I was in Egypt. In fact, it’s illegal to criticise the government. Many were apologetic that it has interrupted our holiday – they are all so hospitable – but all were genuinely pleased to hear that we supported their protests.
Later that afternoon a group gathered around a car with speakers on the roof, when the Call-to-Prayer went out. The group stopped, formed lines facing Mecca, and prayed. They then stood up, sang the National Anthem (or some presumably nationalistic song), and continued with their marching and chanting. Yet another moving scene.
As the tanks rolled down the street on the second day, they were met with cheers from the crowd. A few days later the military would make it clear that they were on the side of the protesters by announcing that they would not use force against any peaceful protesters which meant that hundreds of thousands later turned out on the streets of Cairo.
On that second night in Alexandria men stood guard at each intersection, armed with bats and sticks. It was quite intimidating however we later learned that they were just good citizens preventing looters from running riot.
We didn’t realise until that night that the bottom floor of our hotel was a Military Hospital which also happened to be where the military were taking people for interrogation. We made the mistake of thinking we’d be able to go out for dinner only to pass a particularly horrifying scene. When we got outside we were told that a curfew was in place and it wasn’t safe for us to be outside. In any case, nothing was open. So back past the interrogation we go. Ho hum.
We arrived back in Cairo the next day – Sunday – to find tanks at every major intersection, the burnt shells of police trucks and the city almost completely closed for business. Back at the hotel, we flicked on the telly to find every station was now broadcasting the state television station which included an English language version. Al Jazeera had been banned and it’s journalists kicked out of the country which was, interestingly enough, one of the news items on the Government’s propaganda channel.
Moreover the internet had simply been turned off for the past three days and mobile phones were only working intermittently.
Later that day, at about 4pm, two Mig Fighter Jets circled the city at very low altitude for about half an hour. It was deafening and the building shook.
So we phoned home and got a flight booked to Amman, Jordan. The flight was cancelled (as were most flights because the airlines couldn’t get enough staff together with the curfew in place). However that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We learnt later that day the King of Jordan sacked the countries entire government following widespread protests.
We arrived at the airport at 2:30 pm that day – Monday – because the curfew was in place from 3 pm to 8 am and our flight was at 8:30 am on the Tuesday which we would not have been able to get to if we left in the morning. Once our flight was cancelled we registered with Australian Consular Officials to get on the chartered flight scheduled to leave on the Wednesday and where I find myself now.
Many of the Reuters reports on the situation in Egypt I’ve read are running the following paragraph:
Egypt’s population of 80 million is growing by 2 percent a year. About 60 percent of the population — and 90 percent of the unemployed — are under 30 years old. About 40 percent live on less than $2 a day, and a third are illiterate.
It’s an appalling situation that Mubarak has let Egypt get into and the West must take some responsibility for its ongoing support of this dictatorship. These are the kind of statistics that damn a country for a generation. They are also the sort of statistics that set the stage for a government to be over thrown.
Politically, a really interesting facet of these protests is that there isn’t really any viable opposition party or movement as such. There isn’t one group organising these protests – it is a genuine grass roots outpouring – and it remains to be seen who will fill the political void in Egypt.
Mubarak actively outlawed opposition parties in Egypt which has left the country poltically bankrupt. The importance of opposition voices is hard to overestimate when considering the long term future of any nation-state. The only really viable opposition party in Egypt is the long-since-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood who have been linked to terrorist attacks (usually targeting tourists) and who do not enjoy widespread support but will surely benefit from these developments and Mubaraks opposition to pluralism. A pluralism the West seems only willing to support when it is convenient.
On reflection, elements of what I have seen over the past week, such as people taking the initiative and putting their bodies on the line to maintain peace (and undoubtedly, their own livelihoods), is evidence of the desire Egyptians have for control of their own destiny. They are ready to step up to the plate and take responsibility for the future of their country which is precisely what they have done with these protests. Inshallah.
We arrived in Cairo in the early hours of the morning yesterday (Tue, 25th). When I checked my email a close friend and former Cairo resident had sent me an email saying that we’d arrived just in time – it was a public holiday and large protests were planned.
Not particularly looking for any trouble, although always interested in civil unrest, we decided that we should keep our heads down and go to the Cairo Museum for the day.
So off we went, immersing ourselves in 6000 years of history and the gold of Tutankhamun.
As we made our way over to the exit we noticed a crowd gathering at the doorway. The Tourist Police were not letting anyone leave the museum and not providing an explanation for why we were being help captive. When we were finally let out we weren’t allowed to leave in the direction of our hotel so went out the other way and made our way around the museum and towards Tahrir Square which we needed to walk through to get back to our Hotel.
Everything became clear as we turned the corner and saw the large group of protesters that were gathering there. We did a quick about face and got in a cab to take us the long way round, back to our hotel.
A few hours later we decided to go out for dinner; somewhere close by and away from Tahrir Square and the protests. After our first Egyptian meal we took a short walk to Midan Orabi for a post-dinner ahwa (coffee house). As we enjoyed our coffee alfresco style, a commotion started up, with people running every which way and all the shop keepers started frantically packing up their outside tables.
Our fairly intense looking waiter assured us that there was ‘no problem, no problem’ and that we should stay put. Only to quickly usher us inside a minute later still assuring us that there was ‘no problem’, only this time patting his hip which seemed to imply that he was packing heat. But whether he was going to protect us or shoot us if we didn’t relax was unclear.
Welcome to Cairo.
That night as we lay in bed we heard chanting outside our 4th floor window. We went out on the balcony to watch as three different groups of protesters converged on the intersection beneath our balcony and continued marching down our street. The riot police to arrived 5 mins later to block off the intersection that the protesters had already marched through.
It sounds like a pretty ordinary street scene outside our window this morning but we’ll wait and see what the day brings.