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  • Antipope Charlie Stross takes a look at the parlous state of the world, and imagines what if the US and UK went differently.

  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait takes a look at Sirius, including white dwarf Sirius B.

  • Centauri Dreams considers Cassini's final function, as a probe of Saturn's atmosphere.

  • D-Brief notes the discovery that diamonds rain deep in Neptune (and Uranus).

  • Bruce Dorminey reports on a NASA scientist's argument that we need new interstellar probes, not unlike Voyager 1.

  • The Everyday Sociology Blog looks at the way a course syllabus is like a Van Halen contract rider.

  • Language Hat takes a look at the palimpsests of St. Catherine's Monastery, deep in the Sinai.

  • Language Log looks at the etymology, and the history, of chow mein.

  • The LRB Blog recounts a visit to Mount Rushmore in the era of Trump.

  • Marginal Revolution takes a look at the question of why Mexico isn't enjoying higher rates of economic growth.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw considers the extent to which politics these days is just sound and fury, meaning nothing.

  • Mark Simpson links to an essay of his explaining why we should be glad the Smiths broke up in 1987.

  • Speed River Journal's Van Waffle considers the import, to him and the environment, of a spring near his cottage.

  • Starts With A Bang's Ethan Siegel looks at the abundance of black holes in our galaxy, more than one hundred million.

  • Unicorn Booty notes that smoking marijuana might--might--have sexual benefits.

  • Window on Eurasia shares an argument that ethnic Russians in Russia share issue in common with whites in America, and reports on an argument made by one man that ethnic Russians in republics need not learn local languages.

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  • D-Brief considers if gas giant exoplanet Kelt-9b is actually evaporating.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper that considers where to find signs of prior indigenous civilizations in our solar system. (The Moon, Mars, and outer solar system look good.

  • Joe. My. God. reveals the Israeli nuclear option in the 1967 war.

  • Language Log shares a clip of a Nova Scotia Gaelic folktale about a man named Donald.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the ongoing deportations of Hispanic undocumented migrants from the United States.

  • The LRB Blog notes the brittle rhetoric of May and the Conservatives.

  • The NYRB Daily mourns the Trump Administration's plans for American education.

  • Savage Minds considers the world now in the context of the reign of the dangerous nonsense of Neil Postman.

  • Strange Maps shares a map documenting the spread of chess from India to Ireland in a millennium.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that the Russian government needs to do more to protect minority languages.

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Al Monitor's Ayam Aman describes the continuing controversy in Egypt over the proposed transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

“Tiran and Sanafir islands are still Egyptian, and the Egyptian flag still flies above them.” This surprising statement was made by the Egyptian government’s lawyer during an Oct. 18 court session in which Cairo was appealing the April 21 verdict of Egypt’s administrative court that annulled the maritime borders agreement signed between Cairo and Riyadh earlier this year. The latter agreement, which led to widespread public outrage, effectively transferred ownership of the two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The statement of the government’s lawyer, whereby he recognized that the islands are Egyptian territories, has sparked widespread criticism within Egypt’s political and judicial circles in the past few days. This coincided with the ongoing disagreements between Cairo and Riyadh about the intervention in the Syrian war and the decision of Saudi Aramco to stop oil supplies to Egypt in October, which threatens harmony and coordination in relations between the two countries.

An official in the Council of Ministers told Al-Monitor, “The government represented by the prime minister signed the maritime borders agreement, whereby the islands of Tiran and Sanafir would be transferred to Saudi Arabia. The government’s decision was based on the deliberations of a specialized committee that studied the issue at the political, topographical, engineering and historical levels.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, went on, “The government, however, is bound to commit to the judiciary’s decision should the appeal against the ownership of the two islands be overruled. Parliament has to consider another matter and has yet to vote on the agreement. All these procedures would delay the transfer of the islands, and therefore they remain thus far under Egypt’s sovereignty.”
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Bloomberg's William Davison reports on the Ethiopian allegation that ethnic Oromo protesters are being covertly supported by Egypt.

Ethiopia’s government suspects Egyptian elements may be backing Oromo protesters as rivalry over control of the Nile River intensifies, Communications Minister Getachew Reda said.

Authorities in Cairo may be supporting the banned Oromo Liberation Front, or OLF, that organized a spate of attacks last week across Ethiopia’s most populous region, which led to the declaration of a state of emergency on Sunday, he told reporters Monday in the capital, Addis Ababa.

“We have ample evidence that trainings have happened, financing has happened in Egypt, the jury is still out whether the Egyptian government is going to claim responsibility for that,” Getachew said. “Nor are we saying it is directly linked with the Egyptian government, but we know for a fact the terrorist group OLF has been receiving all kind of support from Egypt.”

Egypt’s government has claimed Ethiopia’s construction of a hydropower dam on the main tributary of the Nile contravenes colonial-era treaties that grant it the right to the bulk of the river’s water. Ethiopian officials reject the accords as obsolete and unjust.
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  • Bloomberg notes political despair in Japan's industrial heartland and looks at Argentina's statistical issues.

  • The Globe and Mail reports on Morocco's continued industrialization and describes the fear of a Vancouver-based pop singer for the life of her mother in China.

  • The Inter Press Service notes the recent terror attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital.

  • MacLean's notes the good relations of Israel and Egypt.

  • The National Post reports on recent discoveries of quiet black holes.

  • Open Democracy looks at the connections between migration and housing policy in the United Kingdom.

  • Transitions Online notes how Brexit has wrecked central Europe's relationships with the United Kingdom.

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  • Bloomberg notes a report of Egypt's discovery of the wreckage of the crashed EgyptAir jet, reports on the visit of a IMF team to Mozambique, and looks at Vietnam's success in capturing Southeast Asian trade with the European Union.

  • Bloomberg View notes that Donald Trump's candidacy can mean bad things for the Republican Party.

  • CBC looks at how a top export from Tibet is a parasitic fungus, and looks at controversy over a CSIS evaluation of diaspora communities and terrorism.

  • MacLean's looks at the wife of the Orlando shooting.

  • The National Post notes the retraction of an ASEAN statement about maritime borders with China.

  • Open Democracy carries an ill-judged radical Brexiteer's statement. All I can say is that socialism in one country is not likely, certainly not with the Tories in charge.

  • The Toronto Star notes the fears of tax authorities that Conrad Black might abscond without paying his taxes.

  • Universe Today notes the discovery, in a Swedish quarry, of a type of meteorite no longer present in the solar system.

  • Wired reports on the second LIGO discovery and notes the import of The Onion in times of trouble.

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I read Bethan Staton's Quartz article as a followup to last month's post looking at abandoned hotels in Egypt. That post, based on a 2006 book, looked at Egyptian hotels in the desert which never went back past initial construction. Staton looks at the state of the Sinai's hotels now, after the collapse of the tourist industry under the pressure of (among other things) the Sinai insurgency and the destabilization of Egypt generally.

From the canopies and huts of his beach camp, Msallam Faraj can stroll to the ruins of several resorts like the Seagull—places with signs like “Dessole” or “Gulf Paradise,” where naked intersections of floors and walls expose the usually hidden geometry of floor plans.

But Faraj has built his shaded hammocks to face away from the hotels, toward the Gulf. “For me they destroy the beautiful view,” he says, gesturing toward the latticed shade of the ruins. “They took the land, which is mine, but they don’t use it.”

Many Bedouin like Faraj would have preferred to see the Sinai developed as an ecotourism hub. Before the hotel building rush began, the coastline was flooded with tourists and backpackers paying $10 a night to sleep on the beach. Many of these ad-hoc beach camps were run by local Bedouin whose families had lived in the Sinai for centuries. In the 1990s, Faraj had built a previous beach camp, “Bedouin Dream,” the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition to use his ecological knowledge to create a backpacker’s paradise.

Lured by the Bedouins’ success, investors started building hotels. But they rarely included the Bedouin in their work. Instead they built on land the tribes claimed as their own, while competing with existing businesses. Between 1992 and 2007, for example, all the plots of land in Sharm el Sheikh–a former Bedouin village that became a sprawling, loud resort town—were allocated to Egyptian and foreign investors, while the Bedouin were relegated to the desert.

Land disputes between new investors and locals sometimes turned nasty, and many developers found themselves paying protection money or employing members of local tribes as security. But the money Bedouin made from these arrangements didn’t make up for the marginalization they felt.
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  • Bloomberg reports on Dutch losses from Brexit, looks at the scene in Fallujah, observes the fragmentation of Venezuela's opposition, and notes the positive impact of a solar energy boom on Japan's fuel consumption.

  • Bloomberg View notes the lack of regional pressure on Venezuela, reports that Brexit would hit Britain's poor and British-based banks hard, and suggests Russian support for the European far right is secondary.

  • CBC looks at Canada's restrictive Internet packages.

  • The Inter Press Service notes Thailand's progress in controlling HIV/AIDS, looks at Peru's elections, and notes Uruguay's hopes to be an offshore oil producer.

  • National Geographic notes the sperm whales in the Caribbean seem to have a distinctive culture.

  • The National Post notes there is no such thing as wilderness, that the entire Earth is touched by human activities.

  • Open Democracy looks at Egypt's fear of the urban poor and considers what can be learned about the failure of the Swiss basic income initiative.

  • The Toronto Star notes a stem cell-based treatment for MS that offers radical improvements, even cures.

  • Wired notes that AirBnB is unhappy with new San Francisco legislation requiring the registration of its hosts.

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Late in March, Dangerous Minds featured an evocative post showing photos of the skeletons of abandoned hotel projects in the Egyptian desert.

The word ruins ordinarily conveys a connotation of scarcely delineated brick walls and rubble dating back hundreds if not thousands of years, but the work of German artists Sabine Haubitz and Stefanie Zoche serves as a powerful reminder that unfortunate events, especially economic ones, can easily create ruins of much more recent vintage almost anywhere.

Haubitz and Zoche’s 2006 book Sinai Hotels vividly documents hotel projects in the Egyptian desert that were commenced in good faith but then, for reasons unknown, were abandoned. In virtually every case, the failed investment projects resulted in concrete foundations but remarkably little else, stranded in an otherwise vacant landscape of sand.

Caitlin Peterson has written that the buildings in the series

have proven to be the ruins left by misinvestment in state-funded tourism projects. The sculptural shells point to one of the consequences of a tourist industry that encourages uncontrolled urban development of whole landscapes and, against the backdrop of current political developments, amounts to a socio-political fuse. In their promise of holiday idylls, the names of hotel chains, which the artists have adopted for their titles, jar with discrepancy against the abandoned concrete skeletons in the pictures.

Much more, including many more starkly beautiful photos, can be found at the site.
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  • Bloomberg notes continuing anger in Egypt at the cession of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, and looks at the travails of Sweden's Greens.

  • The Guardian reflects on the devastation of a generation of artists by HIV/AIDS.

  • Newsweek looks at the gentrification of San Francisco.

  • The Washington Post looks at the American living in Tokyo who is a leading publisher of crime news.

  • Wired notes the travails of subcription music service Tidal.

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  • Bloomberg reports on how the weakening yen is hurting some Hong Kong retailers, notes how Chinese are visiting Hong Kong in the search for approved vaccines, and observes Brexit may not change British immigration much.

  • MacLean's notes a court ruling which states the Confederate flag is inherently anti-American, and reports on the Swedish Tourist Association's new campaign which offers people around the world the chance to talk to a random Swede.

  • Juan Cole at The Nation reports the exceptional unpopularity of Egypt's transfer of two islands in the Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia.

  • National Geographic considers the concept of dam removal in parts of the United States.

  • Open Democracy examines the awkward position of Russian culture in the Ukrainian city of L'viv.

  • Science Daily notes findings suggesting that the genes which influence homosexuality are found in most people in the world, explaining why homosexuality is common.

  • The Toronto Star reports on a thankfully foiled, but still horrifying, suicide pact involving 13 young people in Attawapiskat, and notes Denmark's turn against even people who help refugees.

  • Wired describes Yuri Milner's proposal to use powerful lasers to launch very small probes to Alpha Centauri.

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Al Jazeera's Mark LeVine has an inspiring piece about popular culture and its impact on democratic politics.

In the past five years, the West African nation of Mali has suffered through a military coup, an attempted countercoup and the eruption of a major insurgency in the northern part of the country. But the capital, Bamako, still pulses with the culture of music, from traditional kora and ngoni to slow Songhoy Blues jams and from Touareg rock to West African hip-hop. Two festivals ran concurrently there last month, the Festival Acoustik de Bamako and a Dogon heritage festival.

Meanwhile, Egypt is in the midst of the most invasive crackdown on citizens in its modern history, five years after the overthrow of the dictator Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of people have been killed, and tens of thousands have been imprisoned, tortured and disappeared. Police are breaking into people’s homes around Cairo’s Tahrir Square and searching their Facebook and email accounts, looking for anyone who might still espouse the goals of the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution. On once occupied streets, the music has gone silent. In the Sinai desert, an anti-government insurgency rages on, but the government has little incentive to end it, since it functions as a justification for suspending freedoms.

Why are these two countries in opposite circumstances five years after what should always have been understood as an Afro-Arab Spring? In theory, the situation should be the reverse. Egypt’s GDP per capita is triple Mali’s; its human development index rating, literacy rate and level of industrialization are almost double; and its life expectancy is 20 years longer. Egypt has a relatively educated population and a historically strong state that at least has the potential to govern and develop the country. For its part, Mali remains by almost every measure one of the poorest countries on earth.

The two countries both contain ungoverned desert regions, home to disaffected and marginalized populations who for centuries have been engaged in long-distance trade outside the bounds of state control. More recently, as the level of state neglect and broken promises became intolerable, foreign-influenced religious insurgencies have been able to infiltrate and take over some of these areas.

Mali is certainly not the economic African success story it was once described as, and its government and security forces are not free of corruption and abuse. Yet it is experiencing a renewed democracy and a cultural renaissance, both pitted against the religious extremism that nearly ripped the country in half. In Mali some of the most beautiful, complex and virtuosic music on earth is being weaponized in the struggle against Islamist extremism.
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Al Monitor's Ayah Aman writes about the continuing tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter's plans to build a dam on the Nile that might threaten downstream water consumption. It does not seem to me as if Egypt is in the best position, honestly.

Negotiations between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have entered a decisive stage in which the parties must express their final stance concerning the controversy and disagreement caused by Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam, which threatens Egypt’s annual share of the Nile waters. Meetings involving the parties’ foreign affairs and water ministers have intensified, as Ethiopia and Egypt are preparing by finding alternatives that speed up the implementation of the studies should the feud deepen and the negotiations fall through.

On Dec. 11, the foreign affairs and water ministers met in six-party talks in Khartoum, after the failure of technical initiatives to break the deadlock over a mechanism to reduce the dam’s repercussions on Egypt and Sudan. These talks represent a new attempt at direct political negotiations to reach an agreement or a mechanism guaranteeing no harmful effects for Egypt and Sudan will come from the dam. However, construction is underway regardless of the results of the negotiations or studies, which are supposed to modify the construction standards if needed to mitigate the damage.

The parties exhibited anxiety and tension, especially the Egyptian and Ethiopian delegations, throughout the closed meetings on Dec. 11-12. The talks concluded with a brief statement read by Sudanese Foreign Affairs Minister Ibrahim al-Ghandur, who declared, “The parties did not reach any agreement, and meetings will be resumed on Dec. 27 and 28, at the same level of political and technical representation.”

The main problem between the Egyptian and Ethiopian delegations during the meeting concerned the clauses under discussion. While the Egyptian delegation demanded to speed up the technical studies of the dam’s effects that began more than 18 months ago with the formation of a tripartite technical committee, the Ethiopians stressed the importance of the technical studies, as per the Declaration of Principles.

The Egyptian foreign affairs minister demanded that the meeting focus on discussing a new mechanism to agree on the dam’s administration and operation policies and fill the reservoir directly, without wasting any more time to reach a written agreement.
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  • blogTO notes Yonge Street probably beats out Davenport Road as Toronto's oldest street.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes simulations of Earth's early atmosphere that might help us determine if exoplanets host life.

  • Joe. My. God. notes an American Christian who thinks France deserved ISIS.

  • Language Hat notes how song lyrics help preserve the Berber dialect of Siwa, in Egypt.

  • Languages of the World's Asya Pereltsvaig reposts an old article of hers on the English language of the islands of the South Atlantic.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the complexity of solidarity with France in our post-imperial era.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer suggests well-timed American aid helped Greece enormously.

  • Savage Minds notes the return of the Anthrozine.

  • Window on Eurasia notes that Russian is now widely spoken by ISIS and looks at the exact demographics of traditional families in Russia (largely rural, largely non-Russian).

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  • blogTO ranks Toronto's newest neighbourhoods from best to worst.

  • The Dragon's Gaze suggests exoplanets which receive between 60 to 90% of the energy the Earth received are likely to be Earth-like.

  • The Dragon's Tales links to a paper suggesting the solar system likely did not eject a fifth gas giant and looks at what happened to the very early crust of the Earth.

  • Language Hat talks about the language use of writer Raymond Federman and tries to find a story with an unusual method of inputting Japanese.

  • Marginal Revolution notes dropping fluency in English in China.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer describes how he kicked a man dressed as Adolf Hitler out of a Halloween party.

  • Towleroad notes an interracial German-Thai gay couple mocked on social media has married.

  • Window on Eurasia wonders whether Russia will use the recent crash of a Russian plane in the Sinai to justify a widened war.

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Al-Monitor's Khalid Hassan reports on the worrying state of Egypt's industrial sector.

Faced with various economic challenges, the Egyptian government now has to protect its national industry from Chinese goods, which are both cheaper and made to better suit the population’s needs.

Although the quality of Chinese products might be at times questioned, they were met with large demand because of their low prices, as the number of Chinese companies in Egypt rose from 1,000 in 2010 to 1,198 in 2015.

The market for these products has grown considerably and become a primary factor behind the current economic downturn, leading former Egyptian Minister of Trade and Industry Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour to decree in April 2015 an import ban on all Chinese imitations of Egypt's traditional handicrafts in an attempt to curb this invasion of the Egyptian market.

[. . .]

Not only are Chinese goods found at local shops, but Chinese vendors now visit Egyptians in their houses to sell them their goods, which mainly include clothing, pottery and electronics.

In terms of foreign investment in Egypt, China ranks 24th, with 1,198 Chinese businesses investing a total of $468.5 million in the country, mainly in the industrial and financial services sectors.
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Ayah Aman's Al Monitor article looks at how many of Egypt's Nubians, despite their displacement from their ancestral homeland on the current Egypt-Sudan border by the Aswan High Dam, are facing assimilation.

It has been 51 years since the Nubians were displaced by the 1964 building of the Aswan High Dam in southern Egypt. Back then, waters flooded their homes and ancient Nubia disappeared into the depths of Lake Nasser. Yet, the Nubian people refused to allow their heritage and culture to be forever lost under the water that flows behind the High Dam.

In the town of Kom Ombo in the Aswan governorate there is the village of Balana (meaning “beautiful queen” in Nubian), the inhabitants of which were the first to be displaced as the High Dam rose. Amina Ibrahim, a village woman in her 60s, still carries vivid memories of the old country that thrived on the banks of the Nile — memories that form the essence of stories about her family’s heritage and past, which she never hesitates to recount to neighbors, sons and grandsons.

Al-Monitor met with Ibrahim at her home, which consists of four rooms overlooking a large central courtyard on the walls of which she tried to replicate and draw Nubian decorations and carvings that once adorned the ancient Nubian mud-brick dwellings of the village, with their distinctive domed roofs designed to dissipate some of the overbearing heat.

Nubian is the language of choice for Ibrahim, her children and her grandchildren. “Language is our life and the only legacy that remains of our ancestors. Preserving our language and teaching it to my children and grandchildren who never lived on their forbearers’ land became my main mission in life after our deportation, on my quest to safeguard and maintain our generational legacy. I always tell my grandchildren that losing our Nubian language would mean losing our identity and roots.”

The question of preserving the Nubian language is atop the priorities of most Nubians in their attempts to safeguard their heritage and identity. However, they do mesh with Egyptian society and utilize Arabic in their daily dealings, with new generations failing to practice this language that is barred from schools and public institutions.
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Al Monitor's Walaa Hussein looks at continuing tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter country's plans to dam the Nile.

Persisting differences among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan keep delaying the studies, which Egypt hopes will prove that the dam's construction will cause extensive problems for Egypt and Sudan. The differences revolve around details in the fine print of the offers submitted by the two consultant offices chosen to conduct the studies: the French BRL and the Dutch Deltares. The seventh round of negotiations ended July 22 in Khartoum without any signed contracts, however.

Alaa Yassin, spokesman for an Egyptian delegation of experts on the Renaissance Dam, said in an interview with Al-Monitor, “Our official position is that this dam is harmful to Egypt, and its storage capacity has no technical or economic justification. The differences remain unresolved, and a great deal of time has been consumed. We were supposed to finish the studies in no more than six months, but around a year has passed without signing the contract related to the consultants that will conduct the studies.”

[. . .]

From September 2014 until March 2015, the three countries managed only to select the two consultant offices, but never signed any official contract with them. Members of the experts committee cannot agree on the proposals submitted. The resulting delay prompted political leaders in the three countries — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Sudanese President Omar Bashir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn — to sign an agreement in March 2015 in which principles were defined in the hope of resolving their differences.

The disagreements also revolve around the office’s country of origin, as there was a Sudanese-Egyptian desire to exclude any consultancy from the United States. While Ethiopia proposed to select BRL, Egypt was leaning toward Deltares. Even after agreeing to hire both French and Dutch consultants, disputes over the division of tasks between the two intensified. While Ethiopia insisted that the French company be the main contractor and the Dutch the subcontractor, Egypt did not agree and insisted that the Dutch office take part in the process, with specific tasks.
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Open Democracy's Maged Mandour writes about the quiet immiseration of urban Egypt.

It has been almost seven years since I decided to leave my home, the once great city of Cairo. Since I moved to Europe I have been noticing changes in the city and its inhabitants, changes both subtle and sinister. This is, of course, to be expected, considering that the country went through the 'Arab Spring'. On my visit this time around, however, I found the change a lot more profound, and it struck me deeper than ever before.

Everything familiar is now gone; I feel like a stranger in my own city and neighbourhood. Four years after the start of the Egyptian revolt, and two years after the success of the counter-revolution, the city is lost to me.

This is a personal account of my experience on my last visit to my old home, and what it felt like to be in a country with the overbearing presence of a military dictatorship.

I had coffee with a friend and she asked me, “what is the most noticeable change you can see in the country?” I answered without hesitation, “poverty”. By this I do not mean poverty in the sense of a statistic, rather in sense of an increased level of social poverty among those considered economically comfortable.

Among the Egyptian middle class—the class I belong to—I noticed many indifferent and extremely demotivated faces. There is definitely a general deterioration in living standards. Traditional Egyptian middle class lifestyles, which were relatively comfortable, seem to have all but evaporated, especially for the younger generation, who are, due to economic hardship, being subsidised by their parents—often even if they are married with children.

The poor man in Egypt has become a two dimensional, almost fictional character.


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