Why is chance so unexpected?

North Korea and Egypt

Naguib and friends

Memory’s a funny thing; in Egypt, where I’ll be living a month from now, it’s everything.

As I pack my bags and prepare to leave America, I’m spending more time than is mentally advisable on Twitter.

Can’t think of a better, more immediate way to catch the very latest gossip and tips before going to Egypt, where information is tightly controlled, and many independent news sites blacked out on the Internet.

Yesterday, an item related to the latest Trumpian blowhard bullying caught my attention.  It was posted by Declan Walsh, Cairo Bureau of the New York Times, and was simply a link to a POMED article titled Egypt’s North Korea Connection.

The piece provides a history of Korean/Egyptian ties, some intrigue-laden Lord of War details on Pyongyang’s use of front companies to conduct illegal arms deals in Africa via Egypt, and discusses, at some length, the Naguib Sawiris/Orascom’s connection to the hermit nation.

You can read all about that here.

But shifty arms deals, though fascinating, or Turmpian braggadocio, which is far less so, are not what I wish to discuss.

Rather, this post is about how the chance mention of Orascom, one of Egypt’s largest companies, unexpectedly jogged my memory to Ayam Zaman, a stock phrase used by most Egyptians to evoke their country’s Belle Époque days.

Let’s go back there, if only for a moment.

Mawlan in ’46

In the days of the English, and the last years of the reign of King Farouk, there was a very bright young man named Ahmed who graduated first in his class in 1948 from Cairo University.

His academic record at university was extraordinary, as he achieved perfect scores in all his courses. But what he truly excelled (and loved most) was the field of electrical engineering.

King Farouk bestowed a medal on this promising young man upon graduation, and Cairo University wanted him to become a professor and teach advanced, pure mathematics. He was widely recognized as one of the most gifted young men of his generation.

That man was my father.

My Dad in ’48, pic from the memoirs of the late Ibrahim Khalifa, who emigrated to New York before us.  Khalifa was one of the founders and a managing director of the first wire and cable company in Egypt, Electro Cable, and later became a senior executive in a major US corporation. A classmate of my Dad’s, he also  received a degree in electrical engineering from Cairo University, and was part of the great brain drain that occurred in Egypt during the Nasser years.

But my Dad declined the offer to join academia.

Instead, he travelled to England, and began an apprenticeship, under the direction of renowned writer C. P. Snow (who served as physicist-director of scientific personnel for English Electric between 1944–1964), in the company’s various factories that produced transformers and turbines in the Midlands.

My father hated the British occupation, but he wanted to learn applied engineering skills in order to help move Egypt into the 20th century.

So while many of his peers at Cairo U. took on cushy managerial jobs back home, Ahmed learn how to build things on a factory floor in a foreign country.

Upon his return from England, the revolution of 1952 took place.

Like most young men of his generation, Ahmed supported Nasser’s Socialist dream.

Though he came from an elite, land-owning family, he supported the confiscation of the vast farms of the idle, decadent Turko-Egyptian beys.

He threw himself into the national. project of modernizing Egypt from the ground up and abandoning its relegation to the status of a mostly agrarian nation populated by backward fellahs.

By the late 50s, my father had acquired a reputation for incomparable honesty (in a country where corruption was the norm), as well as, more importantly, the ability to  oversee successfully large, complex electrical power projects.

While still in his early 30s, he had formed his own company, and bid on and won the contract to build Cairo South in Helwan. This plant — which of course has been upgraded and expanded many times since — still powers the capital of Egypt to this day.

Dad supported Nasser, but then the dream began to turn sour.

People began to disappear. Phones were tapped. The army never relinquished power, as General Naguib had said it would, and Egypt became a police state that drove out all who had once given the country its elegance and style and sense of cosmopolitanism.

Slowly, the best of Ahmed’s generation began to leave.

Many came to America, but my Dad stayed on.

After his company was nationalized, he was appointed chairman of a company that was the equivalent of GE.

Gamal Abdel Nasser

My Dad, right, with Nasser, at a famous mid 60s technical exhibit on Gezira Island. Sidki is lurking in the background, whispering in Nasser’s ear.

He turned this failing company around in a year, and many thought he would replace Aziz Sidki as the next minister of industry.

And then, suddenly, just like that, my father one day took his family to New York, only a few months before the Six-day War.

But many stayed and found golden opportunities — especially now that much of the serious competition had left the country — to work with Nasser, and, later, Anwar Sadat, whose Open Door policy created the corrupt, avaricious oligarchy that flourished under Hosni Mubarak and which exists in Egypt to this day.

This world has all kinds of people in it.  Not all, of course, are venal.

Osman Ahmed Osman was a shrewd businessman who prospered in Egypt from the late 50s on; Onsi Sawiris, another — though each had long stints of  seeking their fortune outside the country during the Nasser regime.

Perhaps they each discovered they could sidestep ethical niceties, and made huge fortunes accommodating the military regime, while others, like my father, and Ibrahim Khalifa, and many others like them, left much behind, to start over in a new, inhospitable country with $15 in their pockets (which is what Nasser allowed them to leave with), all for the sake of giving their children a chance to grow up in a place where people were supposedly free.

Fifty years later, we now have Trump as President of the United States, and the naive dream of freedom, as envisioned by my father and many Moslem immigrants to the Untied States, has turned to ashes.

Was it all for nothing, then?

Should my father have remained — he, by far the most brilliant Egyptian engineer of his graduating class —  looked the other way, and made a cynical king’s ransom in a country that was ripe for the taking?

Possibly.

Many did, particularly those whose ethical fidelity to the ideals of the ’52 revolution was far more ambiguously situational than my father’s, as evidenced by the various travels bans and other judicial interventions over the decades, which were typically circumvented with the passage of time and the nostrum of state bribery.

Let’s come back to present realities.

Naguib Sawiris, who is Onsi’s eldest son — we are roughly the same age — is sponsoring the premiere of the El Gouna Film Festival next month.

As of this writing, I plan to be in attendance.

I’ve bittersweet feelings, as do most long-term, political emigrés, about returning to live for six months, or so, to the place where I grew up. But I doubt, should I actually run into Naguib Sawiris at his festival, in the town his brother founded, that I’ll mention my father.

My sense of it is that deeply felt memories are often the eidetic product of the vagaries of chance, but should never be dismissed as mere nostalgia.

Their emotional permanence, however, is usually without personal substance to even the most well-meaning of strangers.

Paladi, or is it baladi?

I’m writing this during the wee hours of the morning, shortly after John McCain cast his Gladiator style thumbs-down vote on the Skinny Repeal.

From my perspective, which is the POV of someone who’s already booked to leave the United States for an extended period of time, this development removes the likelihood of my wife’s health insurance premiums skyrocketing way out of control.

Naturally I fully expect this loathsome White House to  kneecap the individual mandate, which experts predict will cause a premium rise of around 20 per cent. Not good, but it could be much worse, and probably will be, over the next 4 years.

However, for the time being, our rationale to up sticks to France for cheaper, better coverage has diminished.

Plus, counting on Brexit is risky.

For now, I don’t have to hope that 10 Downing and Brussels negotiate amendments that would allow UK/EU passport holders newly resident in the EU to secure affordable insurance, even if they never paid into Britain’s National Health system.

Unfortunately, the reality remains that Florida is a cultural desert filled with old people, hustlers, and drug addicts.

Not to mention the Islamophobic vibe.

Overall, in fact, the United States remains populated with a significant number of bigots who hate not only Moslems, but Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, Sikhs, you name it.

It’s a country where around 30-40 per cent of the voting population are just a few paychecks or Social Security and Medicaid stipends removed from the inbred, vacuous opiod dullards who subsist on venison, federal welfare, white lightning stills, and cooking meth deep in the mountains of Appalachia — most of whom reliably vote Republican and love them guns.

feels good, man

feels good, man

But that does mean 60 per cent are not that way.

Not everyone in Florida grows a horseshoe stach and dons a red bandana to cover up the balding pate while riding around in costume party hog packs.

Red State Gen XYZs no longer automatically follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents, which gives me hope for the eventual forced removal from the White House of the national fiasco that is Donald Trump.

McCain, the war hero, may have already started this endgame.

With respect to my immediate plans, I do look forward to visiting Nice, a few weeks from now, particularly as I’ve a long history and romantic association with that town.

It shall no doubt be an enjoyable 10 days; however, la Bella Nissa long ago moved very far away indeed from the days when it was a winter pleasure palace for the English.

Blame it on the EU Gypsies, the pieds noirs, the Arabs, the Africans, or blame yourself, Mr. and Mrs. Tourist for a state of affairs that was well-articulated by a person commenting on a recent article in the Guardian about the decline of Venice:

Towns that solicit tourism dollars usually wind up selling their souls. You cannot have tourism dollars without the impacts – rich second homeowners, overcrowding, loss of local culture. We all crave culture, true culture, what is organic to the place. When present, one gets a sense of place, which is what make a place special. Industrial tourism is based on more, more, more, squeezes out what is precious. And suffocates that sense of place.

After a short stay in the South of France, I shall move on to Gouna (whose residents ought heed the above quote!) in mid September, soak up the atmosphere there for a while, then most likely return to the States around April.

One can glean a cursory idea of the real Egypt by reading Mada Masr, Amro Ali’s bomb-ass blog, or some of the other Egyptian/Arab World-related pubs listed on the blogroll in the sidebar.

A deeper understanding can be obtained by wading through heavy duty think tank articles from outfits such as the Tahrir institute for Middle East Policy. Foreign Policy mag pieces on Egypt, or even this paper from the hopelessly right-wing Hudson Institute.

The Internet offers an abundance of such material, which is typically unread by the weekend sun worshippers out for a little action in elite cocoons such as Gouna.

The degree of corruption, lack of economic transparency, and secretive control of all major aspects of Egyptian government and commercial activity by the armed forces would normally be astonishing, if it weren’t for the cynical world view most people with working brains have adopted vis a vis governments in general, and third-world cabals in particular.

It’s rarely good news when a country is racked by social upheavals and terrorist attacks and general paranoia and mass executions and the long term incarceration of any liberal voice that dares speak out.

Clearly if the current Egyptian situation becomes too much of a political liability, there will be changes (just as Republican lawmakers will start to go after Trump, following the looming, almost certain 2018 midterm election debacle) initiated by the shadowy claque of generalissimos and their pleasant friends that constitutes Egypt’s so-called deep state.

This is kind of an Arabian Mafia that has kept my beloved Egypt in a stranglehold since the 80s.

It’s composed of typically crass foraging types (originating from various fetid “baladi” backgrounds, in contrast to, say, the former Turko-Egyptian aristocracy that once ruled Egypt, which was the outwardly benign world of my long-deceased relatives) who ensure that their prized first-born sons attend the AUC to pick up bogus American accents and learn how to pretend to be Western and mimic American slang and culture.

The whole point of Life for these toady goombahs is to have a Swiss bank account, a boat or two, lots of nice houses in places like Gouna and the South of France and London, and, most importantly, no shortage of foreign skanks (usually Russian, but sometimes European) to hang out poolside, like the ones you see in the Salud episode of Breaking Bad, where Gus Fring takes his revenge on the drug cartel.

breaking bad

Salud!

Their pointlessly material world fascinates me!

Beyond the obvious superficiality of this particular crowd, I also look forward to immersing myself in and enjoying being at the source of the post revolutionary creative zeal that has blossomed since the collapse of Jan 25 and the demise of the Arab Spring.

The chaos of wars and dictatorial regimes and suffocating religions and massive social injustice has often lead to the emergence of a resistance that consists of subversive fiction, cinema, cartoons, and music.

This outcome, albeit at a horrific price, has already commenced in the Arab world.

It’s probably the only positive upside to what is clearly a very dangerous moment in Egypt, and elsewhere.

The bottom line for me is that Trump is a disgusting animal.  I choose not to live in the Disunited States during his illegitimate “presidency.”

Luckily, I have other options.

 

Image

52 Days Away!

map of Gouna and Hurghada

A map I picked up 4 years ago in Egypt

The obsession with Trump in the media and commentariat such as Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald and David Frum is reaching epic proportions.

This does not include the thousands of liberal/progressive (this is the mealy-mouthed version of Liberalism that is too ashamed to say its own name) bloggers who rant daily on the Internet on the malediction that is Trump.

Without seeming to realize it, the entire country has gradually drifted into terminal lunacy, like a frog sitting in a saucepan of cold water on a lit stovetop burner. As the water heats up, its body compensates for the gradual rise in temperature, and the frog doesn’t jump out. Eventually, Pepe is boiled alive.

nyc antifaThe Thinking Man or Woman is the anti-Pepe that jumps out.

He does not waste words or time bemoaning Trumposis, or embracing the doomed antifa cause.

Nor does he attempt to make sense out of an insane system that is guided by a loathsome agenda.

He recognizes a brown shirt when he sees it.

He pities the economically naive and politcally gullible segment of the Trumpian base that is “conservative” about everything except saving the planet.

But he is not a fool.

He knows voting is for suckers, that the game has always been rigged.

Instead, he stands apart — noble, and tall, with a firm and manly jaw line — from the general madness of peasants, hands unsullied by voting levers that even industrial-strength sani wipes would fail to decontaminate.

From his aristocratic perch, The Thinking Man evaluates the situation objectively.

If, on an overall basis, the policies of a particular country seem unsuitable, he will leave for more temperate pastures. This particular stance is of course only possible with multiple passports, and a bank account that provides an escape hatch from doctrinal suffocation or provincial entrapment.

厂-pepe-the-frog-is-getting-boiled-i-guess-with-4599930

How’s that “Fuck your feelings” thingie workin’ out for ya, Pepe

The Thinking Man does not attach himself too closely to any one country; an exit strategy must alway be in place.

After all, all countries, like most people, have more or less sordid histories to one degree or another.

Moreover, The Thinking Man is an agnostic, in politics, business or especially in spiritus. When it comes to religion, he will, at best, cautiously murmur something about agápē, for all religions, too, have lurid pasts.  All saints have skeletons in their closets, and many sinners, as the song goes, were once saints.

If you are young and idealistic, you might tell yourself: no, that is so wrong.

You might instead cry out: I will stay in America! I will change the system! I will make the world a better place!

This is of course a complete waste of time. My generation attempted to change the system once. There were millions of us who wanted to do so. Nothing changed. What chance do you have, junior?

Everyone knows the world is set up is to protect the connected and the well-heeled.

Everyone knows the primacy of sex, money, and power.

If you are young and smart, you will have ample opportunities to enjoy these illusory pleasures.

For instance, there has never been a better time to become rich through technology. Solar, for example, is now huge.

With the knowledge that comes with a deep mastery of cutting edge technical skills, be it advanced solar panel research, or designing driverless car systems, or whatever opportunities one chooses to target, it’s possible to achieve relative financial independence at a young age. But then what? Give it all away? Move to New Zealand? Sue Internet ‘zines? Become a serial entrepeneur? Trade out for another, better wife or husband? Buy a bigger brownstone in Brooklyn?

If, on the other hand, you come from money, you will seem to have all the advantages. This is another illusion, of course, for you will most likely sink into a drug-addled, alcoholic morass, or engage in a parasitic lifestyle that is otherwise depraved and pathetic. This almost always happens.

The Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard are bursting at the seams with vile bodies who, er, embody Balzac’s dictum:

Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente
est un crime oublié, parce qu’il a été proprement fait.

Leaving the United States in the age of Trumposis is the Thinking Man’s only reasonable option.  Better keep thy counsel and stay far away from the obsessions, the lies, the constant agita, the fruitless investigations, the wild accusations, recriminations, molestations, and drama queen bullshit.

Obviously the Republican party is out to screw the poor, the old, and the defenseless.

Obviously a significant percentage of white Americans are racist anti-Semites.

Obviously the United States is a war mongering nation that cannot get over its love affair with guns.

Obviously there is no respect for personal privacy in the United States, unless (1) you have the money, time and inclination to occlude your digital and public footprint in a variety of tedious ways that will complicate your existence exponentially, and (2), had the foresight and perspecuity, as I did, to deregister your vote from your state’s election database (in some states, you will have had to have refrain from voting for at least two successive presidential cycles in order to foil Trump’s operatives).

Now what about being a first generation Arab immigrant in America in the age of Tromposis?

Some say, the hate is normal. Each generation of immigrants dumps on the next one. Soon, Arab-Americans will start to vilify some other Yahya-come-latelies.

Except that Arab Americans are not new to this country.  They didn’t just get off the boat yesterday. In fact, they have been around since the 19th century.

One hundred years ago, downtown Manhattan was a thriving Syrian enclave.  Right where they banned the building of a mosque after 9-11.

But still the human garbage that appears on the Australian Rupert Murdoch’s various hate mongering media outlets talk about Arab Americans as if they are not part of the fabric of the United States.

So, if you are an Arab-American, as I am, the choice of becoming an expat is a no brainer.

The drumbeat of some sort of heinous “Moslem registration” system is getting louder, and various travel bans and increasingly intrusive facial scanning for US citizens exiting Gulag America at domestic airports will soon become a reality.

“Denationalization” is being peddled in the White House by grotesque hate scumbags, such as Frank Gaffney, Pam Geller, and the rest of the despicable crew that trades in Islamophobia for a living.

So… you could leave…. or… remain costive in America, accept second-class citizenship, and forever look over your shoulder, every time you leave your house, for fear of some alt-right thug lurking in the bushes.

Is this a life?

I do not define my existence through any religion, nor do I practice one. But I need to know that I have that right, should I choose to do so. I need to know I will not be discriminated against when I travel, or apply for a job, or am up for promotion, or wish to buy a house, or belong to some club.

This is no longer possible in America for many; not just Arab-Americans.

I will spare you the soap box rationale, and cut right to the point.

Following the election of Donald Trump, I decided I’d finally had enough.

I’d had it with putting up with my ethnicity being endlessly reviled in the media and slurred with impunity by local and national right-wing politicians; or with being made to feel by neighbors that I somehow do not belong here — even though I have owned the house I live in longer than most of them. I’d had it up to here with being made to feel, in ways large and small, somehow less than, a ticking menace to society, a suspicious Other.

If America chooses to betray its own alleged principles, so be it.

Perhaps the noble experiment turned out to be the biggest illusion of them all.

I no longer care.

After all, the Thinking Man never forgets that Patriotism is nothing if not a provisional game, played by knaves and fools.

Look at the map up top. That is where I shall be chillin’, exactly two months from now.

There, in my troubled country of origin, I shall be far away from the Trumpian confederacy of nunces that has overtaken America. There I can finally be in touch, again, with my inner Epicurean.

hurghada

Tee patch, from better days

I plan to kick back in Gouna, where the beauty in the surrounding desert can take your breath away, maybe sip a cool glass of Stella beer once in a while, perhaps after a pleasant day spent writing fiction or movie reviews. I shall snorkel in crystal clear water over pristine reef. I may join the Rotary Club and engage in charity work with Bedouin children. Most of all, I look forward to visiting with friends from time to time, friends who would never think of labeling Islam, or any other religion for that matter, in deeply insulting ways.

America?

It shan’t be missed; and though I have lived here for half a century, I’ve made no plans to return.

 

Late breaking news: This is of course a rather disturbing, if not ominous development. I’ll be hanging out in Nice first, come early September, before flying to Hurghada, then taking a private car to Gouna. If Egypt is too unstable, my UK/EU passport allows me to reside in, say, France, should I choose to do so — at least while Brexit negotiations drag on.