Graffiti in Egypt / Women on Wall


Graffiti culture is an urban, male-dominant sphere. Most popular graffiti work has been associated with New York City, where from the 1970s, youth-dominant “hip-hop graffiti” emerged as a means of “ghetto expression” of urban culture (and urban decay). Graffiti continues to be a means of “doing art” with explicit knowledge of its legal precautions, a.k.a. it’s now allowed. That is probably what makes graffiti a popular form of expression– you are not supposed to spray paint public and private properties with images that denounces social norms, or things we are uncomfortable about.

It is not wonder that some of the best graffiti art work has been associated with revolutions (e.g. Berlin Wall).

With the uprisings that continue to take place in North Africa and the Middle East, the graffiti scene has been of particular interest to me because 1) they are quite beautiful and 2) a lof of them are being taken up by young women. I first observed the work online more from an artistic point of view; I have always been fascinated by female artists from the Arab region because inevitably, politics and their ownership of their bodies are always tried to it. Here, it is without saying that the graffiti work by Egypt’s young female artists are, is, and will be political.

Mostly, what draws my attention to Cairo and Alexandria is the fact that these are young women expressing their work in a male dominant sphere, challenging the notion of femininity and what it means to be a woman in society, at large.

Graffiti has always been a male dominant area. New York City’s subway stations carry some of the best work, most, if not all, completed by young men. It is without saying that even in America, men are the artists who get to carry the spray pain and dictate what goes on those abandoned walls. It is not a East-West, North-South thing.


Egypt, like many of its neighbors, is a region where female expression has been indirectly silenced. Of course, women have been a big part of the revolution. Their voices continue to matter and they are not being directly silenced (as they are in the Gulf regions, for example). In an area that has historically and repeatedly limited the development of female expression, combined with a very strong patriarchal culture embedded along all social lines, the work of anonymous female Egyptian artists in Cairo’s walls are invaluable.

It’s public. It’s contemporary. It’s words/things we still don’t like to throw around. It’s maybe even a way for Egyptian women to take agency of their bodies and their place in heated politics. It’s political.

Please check out Women on Wall, an artistic campaign and collaboration  that took place in Luxor, Mansoura, Cairo and Alexandria to use graffiti art to express the female agency and empowerment. (

From NYT: Egypt: The Cultural Revolution

Against the regime’s version of top-down culture, the protesters have created a defiantly popular egalitarian and confrontational culture of their own. While Egypt’s intellectual class may be internally divided, the people in the square have, for now, drawn very clear lines in the sand. In the words of Negm, often chanted in Tahrir: “Who are they, and who are we? / They are the authority, the sultans. / They are the rich, and the government is on their side. / We are the poor, the governed. / Think about it, use your head. / See which one of us rules the other.”

Click to Read The Article in the New York Times

More Questions than Answers with Egypt’s Revolution

The popular uprising that has sparked the streets and hearts of Egyptians this week comes with the weight of unanswered questions: What is to come of the leaderless youth generation in this time of unrest? Who will take on the responsibility of transitioning Egypt? What will really happen to the rigid structure of the America-backed government that has been able to downplay previous calls for change?

Watching images of evacuated Americans waiting around the international airport in Cairo is chilling. Just two years ago this time, studying abroad in Cairo was a different image. Around three hundred American students lived peacefully in a country where we were well aware of the Mubarak governance and corruption. Studying Middle Eastern politics at the American University in Cairo seems like an irony now when the very thing that professors alarmed happening is taking place at an unprecedented level. Few events really sparked attention in those five months in 2009; the sudden disappearance of a half-German student who had produced a controversial film about Palestine, the bombing at Khan Al Khaali marketplace, and the occasional censorship in classrooms. We used to chuckle at the too-evident security surrounding the American Embassy in Cairo, which has just closed. Street crowds was an everyday encounter, teasing foreign tourists was a fun past time, and walking around Tahrir Square with ice cream was a springtime favorite at night without the binding of curfews. Eating ful– a bean paste served in pita bread- was a common innocent affair that is now the staple for families struggling to hold onto their cash. We heard about the frustrations, but we never saw or even expected action.

The violent protests have gathered the attention of every international headline and its ecstasy has furthered engrossed the masses gathered in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. But there are new rising fears that have been shadowed- how this uprising will explain the rapidity to which Egyptian economy has faltered. Can the uprising keep up stamina when families are cutting back on meals, running short on cash, and are beginning to be left stranded?

Unemployment and inflation has been the root of economic and social roadblocks in Egypt and similar North African countries for over a decade, especially for the youth which comprise well over half the population. Unemployed and educated college graduates are regularly spotted lounging in the streets or flocking hookah stands for hours, aimless. Less than a year ago these very youth males were blamed for increased street harassment against Egyptian women, much of it being attested to boredom from being unemployed. Corruption in governance is an obvious drive for protests, but this youth generation wants more. They want their education to matter. They want to exert their independence. They want the freedom to share their thoughts and experiences beyond the confines of their classroom and homes. But now, the protests’ effects are more than violence; they have crashed the market, driven foreign investors and companies out of the country, and have led families to the edge of desperation.

The protests have unified people from all levels of the traditional hierarchies that rarely takes place in Egypt. It brought men and women, the rich and poor, secular and conservative, and the young and old outside, into an environment of unified uncertainty. Indeed a fearful and a proud moment have ripened in the country’s recent history. However, as an outsider who has lived among the concerned generation in Cairo, I have to wonder what all of this really means for the new order that must govern, especially concerning the ejected youth? Are the fears and demands of the masses truly being articulated in the cloud of violence? Are the frustrations being met with solid promises for a leadership that speaks for them? And finally, have these fears truly been made into reality?


Incentive for Saudi men to get married: give up smoking

Here is something interesting I read on the Associated Press-

Saudi Arabia’s new anti-smoking campaign is a contest where if you prove that you have quit smoking, all of the expenses of your wedding will be paid.

It is a known fact around the Middle East that getting married is arguably one of the most stressful aspects of a young man’s life, as the culture expects them to fund all of the wedding from costs to having a furnished home and support system for their partner. It has led to the average age of men getting married in countries like Jordan and Morocco from early twenties to early thirties or even later. So it is interesting to see that Saudi Arabia, the region’s most conservative country and one of the richest as well as populated, is now offering a new incentive for its single bachelors- quit smoking, and they will pay for your wedding.

Smoking has simply become part of the culture in the Middle East. I have stopped being surprised to see men light up right in the terminal as we get off the plane in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, or in Cairo, Egypt. One of the smells I associate with Cairo is the smell of cigarettes and sheisha, both overwhelmingly popular and cause of unfortunate addiction among Egyptians. So Saudi Arabia’s new proposal and its catch phrase, “kicking the habit is on you, and marriage is on us” is two folded- it is aimed at reducing smokers, and at getting the large number of their single men married.

In the Middle East, the younger generation’s population far outnumbers

An image known around Egypt: The anti-smoking message on every cigarette box.
An image known around Egypt: The anti-smoking message on every cigarette box.

those over the age of fifty and above, which in its own is linked to the unemployment issue as there is more supply of workers than demand. Many, if not most of the men I have met in Cairo as well as in Rabat are single, unemployed, and living off of the family wealth (and these conversations are usually joined with a cigarette, of course). The pressure to ‘succeed’ while facing a downturn economy has been connected to many types of aggravation. It has even been linked to the growing sexual harassment taking place in the streets, with frustration from boredom and employment leading to men trying to press their authority over women.

The new anti-smoking efforts in Saudi Arabia have also been met with criticism. For example, there is the sentiment that this effort reemphasizes the objectification of women in the country. Writers like Maha al-Hujailan complained that the campaign was sexist since it was using women like an object as an alternative for smoking, the recreation.

The new effort is essentially a contest- if you can prove that you have quit smoking, your name will be entered, and there will be a draw in August, with the winner having his wedding paid, and twenty runner ups getting free furniture. According to the Associated Press, hundreds have already called in to express interest. I am curious to see what happens, and also if they are going to monitor the winner after the wedding to see if he goes back to old habits. While I can see where the criticisms are coming from, it really is not as if Saudi Arabia is selling women or saying that a bride will come with the package. Rather, because this campaign is unlike many that have taken place, it has gotten people to talk and discuss the issue, and come to some kind of awareness.


Swine flu makes it to Egypt, despite slaughtering 200,000 pigs and airport “cautions”.

I posted few weeks ago about how in Egypt, the government ordered the slaughter of pigs in order to prevent the swine flu. Now that I have left Egypt I get the news that the swine flu has been confirmed. Not only that, it was found in AUC dorms in Zamalek- the place I called home since January in my study abroad program at AUC. And it has been detected among two American students. The dorm has been under quarentine and classes have been suspended.

When I returned from my mini vacation to Istanbul, Turkey on May 27th, the airport was “secured” with this swine flu counter where men and women in white doctor’s suit and masks made us all fill out cards with our name, address, and phone number, and then made to go through temperature checks. We laughed. Why? Because everyone was pushing each other, no one kept track of which card corresponded with who went through the line, and it was basically, a chaos. The two students arrived in Cairo late May, like us, and apparently, the security measures have not worked (the two students came in at the end of May, like us).

This is quite surprising since I seemed to have just luckinly dodged it, and also because Egypt has tried, at least, to not have another widespread flu problem like it faced with the bird flu in 2006.   I really hope that this does not get out of hand in the most populated country of Africa, and one of the most populated cities in the world.

The heat is finally here. Mahmoud Pasha mosque, Sultan Hassan Mosque, Al Azhar Park…hey there Cairo

It is finally getting warmer in Cairo- I can feel the ridiculous temperatures I was promised in guide books, but I will be out of here just as it reaches the unbearable point. Still, it is definitely not as warm as I thought it would be, and I know that my home state of Arizona is much worse right now.

Yesterday, I was running around between Zamalek, my favorite island ever, and Old Cairo where all of the ancient mosques and burials are located. I spent the morning at Beano’s, my new favorite cafe in Zamalek tucked across the Italian embassy where with my taco salad (which promised guacamole but  none came with it) and spicy chicken wrap (it actually was spicy- flavor in food in Egypt? Possible), I was in no mood to get out of the air conditioned room to take a taxi across the city to meet my friend for our architecture project. But I did, of course.
As I hailed a taxi I somehow ended up with the same driver I had about a month ago who took my to the airport for my flight to Saudi Arabia. This was exactly what I did not want- to have to make small talks with a driver who are usually very friendly and eager to teach you Arabic but after four months living here, sometimes, it gets old. And this one in particular wanted me to be his second wife and exchange numbers as I recalled. So I made a few essential phone calls, including one to my friend so he can tell my buddy where this mosque that I had to visit was (as usual, they always say they know where you want to go but really, they don’t), said my thank yous and got off.

The Mosque of Mahmoud Pasha is much smaller than other mosques I have visited. It is in the Citadel area, and it was made during the Ottoman rule, but with a very Mumluk design. For our last project in my Art and Architecture class, we had to pick a monument and write about it and this is what we chose- a lesser known mosque built in the honor of an Ottoman minister. It was grand inside, with its high walls and thick columns, and people lying all around, taking naps and some students with their Manchester United soccer jerseys reading the Qur’an in a corner. There were stained glass windows and gorgeous wooden doors and stone work all around the small area. No one bothered me and my friend about money or tips as we did our little tour and took photos.

The mosque is right across the grand Sultan Hassan mosque, a place that I have wanted to visit for a long time but was rejected twice, once because it was closed, and another time because some minister in the government decided to have an event there and they would not let any tourists in. My mom and sister did visit it when they were here and told me that I have to go to it before I leave Cairo. Might as well be now- and we entered, and the women refused to not let me pay for my ticket even though I was Muslim (I was wearing a head scarf, and showed my ID which clearly said my last name was Hassan, and I know she probably couldn’t even read). I was a bit offended that she looked at me, shook her fingers, and told me I was not Muslim, I was a tourist. So tourists can’t be Muslim? It is not the money issue but the principle of it, and the fact that they are acting this way in a mosque of all places.

The mosque was quite gorgeous- the “marble carpet” was very detailed and the mehrab was stunning with its multi-colored marble work with gold and paint and the long chained lamps everywhere. There were a lot of dark passageways randomly around the mosque and some Gothic motif that was beautiful. Absolutely worth the trip.

In the evening, right before sunset, few of us decided to go to Al Azhar park- one of my favorite places in the city. We bought some cheese, bread, turkey slices and hummus with us to the park and found a great grassy spot where you can see all of Cairo, from Zamalek far away, to the Citadel and various mosques everywhere, to the shadows of pyramids too.  The park is very well maintained- it is nice to see that the 5 pound entrance fee is actually being used), with gorgeous flowers everywhere and landscaping, and amazing few cafes including one int he man made lake. There are young Egyptian couples everywhere, heavily dressed up and holding hands.

And then there were these bunch of children who decided to come talk to us, spill our orange juice on my friend’s Mac laptop, and then being shooed away by this young Egyptian guy, and then coming back again saying “f$#% you!” over and over..and then coming back again to apologize. These were nine to ten year olds. We all thought it was pretty funny and odd…especially when one of them wanted to teach me Arabic and told me their parents were not their and they took a taxi on their own. Hmm…

Oh children.

Overall, I saw a lot of Cairo in one day and it felt nice- a way for me to start saying my goodbyes. I cannot believe that I am out of here in two weeks, this week being my last at AUC. And then off to Istanbul for a few days to celebrate on Friday. And in the meanwhile, Arabic vocabulary words, here I come!

Technology problems- last thing you need in Cairo

Last week it was the laundry, and this week it has evolved to my laptop and cell phone.

I took my laptop, which has been dying, into AUC’s tech services on Thursday and I was told that all of my data has been damanged and nothing could be done to resolve the issue. All of my documents, photos, programs, everything. Panic led me to a somewhat emotional outburst, followed by consultation with my mother and father and then some other study abroad students and students in the computer science department.  So now I am told that data cannot just all evaporate, it is still probably there, and not to worry about what technology “experts” are telling you at AUC after they insert a copy of some disk into your computer.

I have send emails to about a dozen data recovery centers in New York City asking for quotes and hoping that whatever happened to my computer, I can still get some of the information back. So, me being laptop-less continues in Cairo, this time learning that I may just have lost most of my work from the last couple of years.


Further, on the same day I lost my cell phone somewhere between Mojito’s, this rooftop restaurant and lounge in the Nile Hotel to the Imperial boat on the Nile River in Zamalek. I basically had to go back to the Nile Hotel after realizing this that night and looked for my phone as the wind blew and loud house music blared at Mojito’s. And people tried to help, and then offer me their cell phones for free. I am not sure if I have ever asked for the genuinity of people so many times before.

So today, I went back to Nile Hotel in the afternoon to give one last try. Mojito’s really is a gorgeous place- on the huge rooftop of the hotel,you can see allof Cairo on all sides, (including shadows of the pyramids in Giza), and parts of it are covered in canopies. There are these beautiful wooden chairs and couches everywhere, and a very nicely designed interior. At night there are candles and nice light fixtures and music turning the whole place into a more exclusive site.

The manager welcomed me and contacted his staff to find my phone but was unsuccessful, sadly. But he was so sorry that he made me stay and enjoy one of their tables and offered fresh juices and snacks for free and to just “enjoy the Cairo sun”. Quite wonderful, and not a complete loss by any means.

Kill all the pigs, now- the Swine Flu in Egypt

My mother told me last night that if things “don’t get better” in North America they are going to reconsider sending me back for the summer. I told her that was silly. She informed me that a Bengali man died of it in Canada, it was on their Bengali channel news, and therefore, it is officially bad news.

Egypt’s response?

Kill all the pigs.

Some may call this an “aggressive effort” but must realize that in this prominently Islamic region people do not eat pigs, so somewhere out there religious men and women are happy to have this take place. The UN has called the “massacre” of about 400,000 pigs in this country  “a real mistake”. These pigs are usually found in the poorer areas of Egypt taken care of the Coptic Christian minority in Cairo, usually raised in slum areas being fed the extra “garbage” food or leftovers.

“To handle the mass culling, army slaughterhouses were drafted into service to help overwhelmed pork slaughterhouses” was what Fox News had to say about that. Army slaughterhouses- this does not sound right, at all.


According to the Washington Post:

Confirmed sickened worldwide, 659

397 in Mexico, 161 in U.S., 51 in Canada, 15 in Spain, 13 in Britain, six in Germany, four in New Zealand,  two in Israel, France and South Korea, one each in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Hong Kong, Denmark and the Netherlands.

When daily routines go wrong…

From last week:

After sleeping in three days in a row past the afternoon, having to wake up at 6 am is never a great idea. What is worse is when you wake up with your entire right eye feeling like ten pounds is lying on it only to see it red and swollen on your mirror.

Dabbing myself in hot water and missing my first class, there I am on that bus three hours later with my lage sunglasses on to face the day. First thing I head to the clinic on campus where they don’t tell me what is wrong with me but rather prescribes me antibiotics that I have never heard of.

2 days later: My eyes are fine, completely healed, without any meds. I still wish I knew what it was.

I went to the laundry later that day and picked up my clothes where I noticed that a new shirt I bought had a hole in the front. I thought, hmm ok maybe I did that. False- I turn it around and there are little holes all over the left side like as if some animal chewed on it and spit it out and that got sowed back on. What happened? I still have yet to find out because the supervisor is never in when I conviniently appear in the laundry… and this is the longest I have ever gone not seeing the head lady in the office. Interesting.

I am also missing a shirt, a paid of earrings, and a converter in my room that I am hoping I will find so very soon when I am about to leave. Still, we have people clean our room every week, where could they have gone?

Furthermore, there is officially never soap in the bathroom, and there are dead, dry flowers all over the bathroom left from easter that are never going tobe taken away it seems because of the beauty they provide us in out daily washing experience.

I found a bed bug last night.


Me in the Boston Globe!

“A semester in Cairo”

April 19, 2009

Being a woman in a socially conservative city in the Middle East can be a challenge, says Olinda Hassan, a Wellesley College junior from Tucson, who is spending this semester at The American University in Cairo. But while she has watched her etiquette carefully, other women have shaken her expectations. After dark, “many girls can be seen going to cafes with their friends – highly fashionable women wearing head scarves, smoking cigarettes with their girlfriends in a corner,” Hassan says. “Hookah can also be seen everywhere, especially roadside, where small cafes will put out chairs and tables while men sit and smoke for hours, watching people pass by.” Hassan, a political science major, traveled the region extensively as a child, but she says she’s still got plenty to learn.

To continue reading:

I am never climbing Mt. Sinai again.

Last weekend, I went to Dahab, a beautiful city on the Sinai Peninsula for the weekend and had an unbelievable time. From snorkeling, eating some of the best sea food ever (and mind you, I am Bangladeshi), riding horses along the beach, somehow not being scared that I was in a body of water 100+ meters deep with jellyfish all around me, was exhilarating.

We stayed at this adorable hotel called Penguin Village (affordable for our student pockets) on a strip with other cute restaurants and hotels, all lining the Red Sea. All of the restaurants and carf were outdoors setting, Baudoin style (cushions and carpets on the floor, brightly colored tapestries, lounge chairs on the roof for sunbathing, and almost all of them with an opening so you can just jump into the water). Our favorite restaurant was called Funny Mummy where we had dinner and breakfasts in our cute red-painted tables and cushioned chairs, with spray bottles on the table to get rid of the cats that would roam around the entire time. I had some of the best drinks in Dahab- banana and mango milkshakes, mixed fuirt juices, fresh mango juice, fresh everything, often covered in aluminum to get rid of flies. I have never had so much calamari in a span of a weekend (calamari sandwich, friend calamari, calamari napolitano…).

It is less touristy than say, Hargada and Sharm Al Sheik, and yet I ran into so many from Sweden and Denmark and Norway. It is the only area where you can be totally comfortable wearing a swimsuit around the streets, as my friends exclaimed with glee as they got sunburned. No practicing Arabic here…

We climbed Mt Sinai the day we reached Dahab- at almost 3 am we start our climb which took about 2.5 hours. It was dark, which was good because I would have been scared to see how steep and high we were going. It was cold, but we were climbing at such an angle and so fast that I was wearing a t-shirt and leggings most of the way. There are camels everywhere, with their owners creaming at you to ride them up the hill. I was so very tired, in pain, and thought I would die and would have loved a camel, but didn’t take one (self-preservation!). Once we get to the stop before the 772 final steps, I fall and thought I twisted my ankle which was just depressing, but I managed to not cry too much and continue. It was seriously, so painful and difficult. It didn’t help that people were screaming in my ear to buy their overprices water bottles, blankets, flashlights, and camels.

At the top, we reached in time to see the sunrise which was, well, gorgeous. The mountains were all rock, reflecting orange and red shades. I had a moment when I was like, wow, this is pretty insane. Insane that  I am at such a historical site, and insane that I made it and didn’t die yet. The site was just too beautiful.

Our exhausted selves made it back down in a few hours, all sore, complaining, and not admitting how scared we were of heights. I almost fell again, to which my guide laughed and realized I probably needed help. There were random Romanian nuns in the mountain, praying together, which was a peaceful site on its own. You could also see a Greek Orthodox temple randomly situated on the edge of a mountain nearby where apparently, monks lived.

So, Mt. Sinai was amazing, but I am never doing it again. Let alone climb. We were all sore, with one of us not even being able to get out of the bed the next day. I had disproportional pains all over my body, whcih was just random, combined with the pain still there from riding horses.

Yes, I rode a horse. And if you know me, you can laugh. Because I have a terrible phobia of animals. I sat in every meal with my feet up because I was scared of cats, and yet I was able to ride a horse, named Sara. It was fun, but the horses did not get into the water much as was promised to us. Typical. What can you say when he comes up to you as you are sitting on the beach, with a horse running in the water? We fall for everything.

Just a very beautiful weekend, literally. So no wonder I am here at the library writing this instead of practicing my presentation that is in an hour.