Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Cairo’

Gaza, Giza and the Gorgeous Geezer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th January, 2010

George Galloway, ‘Respect’ MP for Bethnal Greeen and Bow, has got himself into the news again by being thrown out of Egypt. Things are never dull where the former Big Brother spectacle is concerned. Predictably, news of his expulsion (for trying to return to Gaza, to which he had earlier been with an Palestinian solidarity aid convoy) has provoked a welter of reactions, from the adulatory to the damning. Just take a look at the comments after the relevant news article in today’s Guardian online ( to get a flavour. I am sure that when he next visits Tower Hamlets he will give a stirring speech full of righteous outrage.

The sad thing is that, not for the first time, the personality and performance of Mr Galloway is actually detracting from the cause which he genuinely supports. The aid convoys to Gaza have been a very worthy endeavour, bringing practical relief to a population which has suffered a prolonged blockade and military assault (including another air attack today). There are some very fine people involved in the current convoy, including some of my friends from Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Committee.

The Egyptians have behaved badly by making the convoy go through geographical contortions to get to Gaza at all. But what is needed is strong diplomatic pressure from Britain on Cairo to be more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Annoying them so much that they expel you from the country is not helpful, alas, George. But of course it is all good publibity for the man who now hopes to bring his political show to my home constituency of Poplar and Limehouse.

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North Africa’s Football War

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd November, 2009

Football matches can be a tribal affair and in several parts of the world the ‘beautiful game’ can turn into a battlefield. In Lebanon, so I am told, many games are played without crowds of supporters in case they break out into sectarian fighting and restart the civil war. In case you think that sounds far-fetched, remember that the Central American states of Honduras and El Salvador did indeed go to war in 1969 in a conflict triggered by their qualifying match for the 1970 FIFA World Cup (though of course there were political issues at stake as well). In an alarming development over the past few days a similar stand-off has been brewing between Algeria and Egypt following their recent 2010 World Cup qualifier replay in Khartoum, Sudan. The Algerians say some Egyptians threw stones at them, while the Egyptians claim Algerian fans set on them. Whatever the truth of the matter, there have been angry demonstrations in both Cairo and Algiers and many injuries. Ambassadors from the two countries have been called in by their respective host governments for a dressing down and the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has waded into the affair, basically saying that it is normal for people to hit someone who insults their country. All this is a useful distraction for him, of course, to turn people’s minds away from Egypt’s own internal problems and the big question about what will happen when he dies or retires. Meanwhile, the new ‘football war is a depressing reminder not only of how tribal soccer can become, but more seriously of how disunited the Arab world is, even within North Africa.

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The Egyptians’ Fear of Swine Flu

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st November, 2009

Swine flu EgyptA fourth Egyptian has died from swine flu (H1N1 virus): a tragedy for the person’s family, of course, to whom one can only extend sympathy. But it hardly adds up to an epidemic. Death tolls are far higher in parts of Asia, Europe and the Americas. So why the sense of panic and all the media hype in Cairo? School trips have been cancelled, some schools are only open three days a week, university students are missing classes (well, it provides a good excuse for them, I suppose) and in the Metro at rush hour you can see men pushing handkerchiefs to their faces to keep out the germs. The minority of Egyptian women who wear the niqab (full veil) must feel very smug. Alas, there is a tragico-comic side to the swine flu scare in Egypt, too. When the disease was first publicised, some Muslim activists went on a rampage and killed any pigs they could find, pigs being the preserve of Coptics Christians. The Copts say this is all part and parcel of the discrimination that they face on a daily basis. Whatever the truth of that, it certainly gave some Muslims the chance to rid their neighbourhoods of ‘unclean’ animals.

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Istanbul: The Arabs Have Come!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th July, 2009

Istiklal CaddesiGulf Arabs who can afford it tend to flee their region during summer. Given their climate, who can blame them? Since the 1960s, London has been a favourite summer destination — many Gulf families own houses or appartments along or off the Edgware Road and in Mayfair — but Beirut and Cairo date back even further. There are Lebanese villages like the ‘cherry capital’ Hammana up in the mountains behind Beirut that become Little Kuwait in July and August. However, this year’s vacation location of choice for Gulf Arabs appears to be Turkey. There were loads of them on the ferry that took me across the Sea of Marmara on my way from Izmir to Istanbul last night and Istanbul’s top hotels are awash with Gulf families: the fathers and the (often depressingly fat) children kitted out in standard US leisure gear, the mothers swathed head to foot in black abbayas. What on earth these ladies make of the scenes around them, God only knows. One couldn’t possibly ask. Last night was more boisterous than ever along Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s main pedestrianised drag, with its side streets housing innumerable bars, restaurants, nightclubs and saunas catering to every possible taste. Or even on the more sedate avenue, Halaskargazi Caddesi, north of Taksim Square, where I have been staying on this visit to Turkey’s main city. Outside a car hire firm, whose widow posters of special offers are all in Arabic, a spectacular blonde transvestite prostitute was standing late last night in a gold lamé dress cut low to show off her sumptuous breast implants. The male punters walking past, both Arab and Turk, had no doubt at what they were looking at — and in several cases, clearly panting after; but what about the Arab ladies in their black shrouds?

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The Museum of Islamic Art

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th December, 2008

museum-of-islamic-art    I spent yesterday afternoon at Doha’s brand-new Museum of Islamic Art, which seems destined quickly to be acknowledged as one of the world’s great museums. The building itself — designed by architect I M Pei — is positvely pharaonic in its simple grandeur. The setting is stunning, on an artifical island just off the Qatari capital’s sweeping Corniche. Water is a central feature of the context, the view across the bay from the vast windows of the central atrium is literally breath-taking.

But as befits a museum, it is the contents of the Museum of Islamic Art which really give the place its special value.  Ranging widely from calligraphy to pottery, carpets to paintings, they are drawn from across the Islamic world past and present: the Middle East, North Africa, large swathes of Asia and important European outposts such as Andalucia and Sicily. In stark contrast to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where thousands of exhibits are crammed together in a chaotic jumble, the Doha galleries have chosen a limited number of examples of the very best, many cabinets displaying just one exquisite piece, perfectly lit.

Anyone who doubts the contribution that Arabs and the wider Muslim community have made to world civilization — one thinks of the notoriously ignorant and bigoted remarks of the independent British MEP Robert Kilroy-Silk — will soon be disabused when marvelling at the wonders from Moghul India, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and the Arab nations. Interestingly, despite the museum’s name, there are several examples of Christian art too, including, fittingly at Christmas, a magnificent Levantine Madonna and Child.

The Royal Family of Qatar was actively involved in getting this museum built as part of their strategy of turning Qatar into the Gulf’s cultural and intellectual centre. They can be proud of the result. It is a triumph.

(photo courtesy of the Museum of Islamic Culture)

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Euro 2008 on the Nile

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th June, 2008

I’m in Cairo for a political seminar, but this evening the organiser took me to one of the riverside restaurants on Zamalek island, right on the point, with a wonderful panorama of the Nile and its rivercraft. Being Thursday, and thus the start of most people’s weekend, there were lots of lively parties going on on boats, and at one point a surreal gigantic illuminated Sprite can drifted past. Maybe not the most sophisticated form of advertising, but highly effective!

The restaurant is popular with an upmarket shisha crowd, but today it was all laid out for Euro 2008. As we were greeted we were asked to choose either Russian or Spanish flags to wave, and given whistles. As my own adoptive team this year, Turkey, has already been disqualified, I opted for Spain, who deservedly won a thumping victory. It was obvious from the noise at the end of the match that almost everyone else in the restaurant had opted for Spain as well. Odd, really, considering that Egypt now receives more than one million Russian tourists a year. Or maybe it was because  Egypt receives more than one million Russian tourists a year… 

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