One of these Days

Some days all you can think of is everything that’s ever gone wrong. Every word you shouldn’t have said. Every word you should’ve said but didn’t. Every small decision that, seconds later, you knew you’d regret; and here you are, days or even years later, regretting it.
When days like this hit, all you can see is what can go wrong. Is this text the one where the person I love finally tells me they’re leaving? Is this meeting the one where I finally get fired? Is this call the one where a friend finally decides the friendship’s not worth it?
On these days, “fishing for a compliment” is sometimes the only coping mechanism you have. All you want to hear is “you’re good, you’re fine, you’re loved” and the only way you know to ask for that is to fish. It comes across as obnoxious, needy, and you spiral even further down. Even if it works and someone DOES reach out, as many often do, it’s impossible to believe what they say. Nothing good can be true on days like this.
The great contradiction of days like this is, while you can’t see anything good in yourself, your opinion is suddenly unassailable. You may doubt your looks, your intelligence, your relationships, but the one thing you won’t doubt on days like this is your opinion of yourself. In spite of all the flaws you keep pointing out, for some reason you believe that your judgement is perfect and your insight into your life has never been better. You may understand this oxymoron in your head, but there’s no way in hell you’re getting over it. Not today.
That’s where the spiral starts. Where it ends can be a million different places. On the best of days, a text or a call pulls you out when you’re just ankle-deep, and the day is saved. On the not-so-great days, you wallow, you mope, you go to bed, and you wake up fresh, the anxiety a distant memory, something to worry about next time it happens. The next level down is when you remember that one time when you were a kid and you had that extra half hour to spend with your dad before school started and you didn’t. For some reason, even years later, that memory still brings you to tears, just like it did as soon as you walked into school after he’d left. “But my dad is still alive and well, all these years later, what would that half hour have changed?” your brain asks. You know the answer is “Nothing,” but there’s nothing you can do about how awful you feel about it. On the very worst days, another memory comes to mind. You remember the day your whole life changed, and almost stopped. On those days, the weight of having come so close to death only to survive feels unbearable.
Today is one of those very worst days.

Forays by the Coptic Church into Politics Spell Trouble for its Subjects

My latest for The Atlantic Council‘s EgyptSource blog: Forays by the Coptic Church into Politics Spell Trouble for its Subjects


The Wisdom of Samwise Gamgee…

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something… There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

Samwise Gamgee, one of the world’s most underrated heroes, speaking words written by the great J.R.R. Tolkien… For some reason, Egypt feels like this now, but there is some good there, and it’s worth fighting for…

Reflections Inspired by “The Square”

The Square

My ID card will tell you that I’m a 24-year-old Egyptian single male. It will also tell you explicitly that I’m Christian, which, by government standards, means I was born to Christian parents. I am not a political activist, nor am I a politician or a writer. In fact, that very same ID card of mine will tell you that I’m an engineer, by education if not by trade.

The fact that I’m writing this should tell you that I’m literate, and the fact that it’s in English means I’m at least bilingual. I’ve had the blessing of a privileged upbringing and – by many standards – a good education in Egypt (aka a private education). I’ve even had the pleasure of traveling around the world and living in different countries. I was in Belfast during the 18 days leading up to Hosni Mubarak leaving power in Egypt in 2011; and I was in London when the army attacked protesters in Maspero, killing Mina Daniel. I’m saying this simply to clarify that I claim no part of the great feat of being in Tahrir. I only went there (to participate in protests, etc.) a handful of times over the past three years; in fact, I’m outside Egypt once again, writing this from New York.

By writing this, I’m not trying to be self-glorifying or self-deprecating, even though I may seem to be one or the other at times. I may even seem like I’m trying to state a specific leaning or opinion; believe me, I’m not, I’m not even 100% sure I have one right now. What I’m trying to do is put the questions and thoughts I have into some coherent form, mostly for my own sanity, but maybe even to get some people thinking with me along the way.

Last night, I had the great experience of watching The Square (@TheSquareFilm), a film by Jehane Noujaim about the last two and a half years of our lives as Egyptians. Watching the most intense two and a half years of my life fast-forwarded in 90 minutes was a very tough yet very enlightening experience.

The one thought I couldn’t shake for about the first third of the movie, no matter how hard I tried, was whether we (the people who wanted Mubarak to step down) had made a mistake… Yes, I know this is a shocking thought, but hear me out. As I said, I had a privileged upbringing. Whether Mubarak stepped down or not, at the end of the day I was guaranteed a good job, a safe home, and – barring some political and social taboos – relative freedom in what I do and say in Cairo. That, however, was not true for many others who went out in Tahrir. Unlike most people out on the streets, I believed in the call for “bread, freedom, and social justice” while I had a pretty ample amount of all three. This is the thought that scares me the most, and why I was wondering (yes, was; I’ll explain) if we’d made a mistake: Were the privileged few who wholeheartedly wanted change giving false hope to the unprivileged many who needed it? Were we being idealistic, all the while unintentionally raising the hopes of masses of people for whom the call for “bread” was literal and the demand for “social justice” could mean life or death for their families?

Photo from

As the story (and my and my country’s histories) progressed before me on screen, however, something began to shift. For some reason, I had (very mistakenly) thought that Egypt’s poor would want the “bread” and “social justice” more than the “freedom.” I (also very mistakenly) thought that, while the rich had the luxury to demand ideals, the poor wanted practical solutions to everyday problems. I think this misconception was due to an elitism that I’ve been confronted with quite often ever since January 2011. A bigger factor, though, is that I wasn’t in Tahrir from the start.

What I saw in The Square (and what many before me saw alive in Tahrir) was how Egypt’s poor, who had (and still have) a lot more to lose than its elite, weren’t just out on the street to cheapen the price of bread. They weren’t just there so that the police would stop harassing them to meet their daily arrest quotas. Many, victims of a stunted educational system and harsh living conditions, knew that the solutions to their day-to-day problems would only come with an established foundation Egypt has been lacking for many years. Although the unity of Christians and Muslims in Tahrir was quite heavily publicized (and that was a great moment, don’t get me wrong), what still gets to me and literally makes me burst in tears of joy as it did last night is seeing the unity of Egypt’s different classes. The image I had (quite condescendingly, I hate to admit) of one class with ideology leading another with practical needs couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

This is where I stop talking about “privileged and well-educated.” This is where I stop talking about “poor and subjected to a malfunctioning educational system.” This is where I realize these differences, although not gone yet in Egypt, although still as stark as ever, disappeared in “the square.” This isn’t an attempt at my part to be poetic, far from it. This is an admission of my failure to see that the people, all kinds of people, HAD spoken. It’s also an admission of my greater failure in thinking some people were on the streets for their daily bread and would be mollified by it. Along with many things, the past two and a half years have been pounding into my head that calling for freedom isn’t a privilege and calling for bread isn’t a need. I keep realizing over and over again that one can’t happen without the other, and I keep finding out I’m late in the game realizing that. People in Tahrir in 2011 knew that. People calling for a free and representative constitution for Egypt today know that. I also keep seeing how the past two and a half years (and however long this journey we’re all on takes) are much less selfless for so many people than my “privileged upbringing” had led me to believe.

As cliché as this will sound, we’re in this for the long haul, we’re in this together, and we’re in this for each other. Questions arise on the methods, the roads to the end game, but the end game hasn’t changed. The cry was, and still is, for bread, freedom, and social justice. I made the mistake of thinking some needed or wanted one in favor of the others, but I admit I was wrong, and I’m glad to see I’m one of very few who thought so.

Long Time Coming…

I know it’s been a while since I posted, but the past couple of weeks have been pretty crazy. If you don’t already know, I’ve moved to New York to do a Masters’ of Applied Urban Science and Informatics at NYU’s Center for Urban Studies + Progress (CUSP).

So far, being here has been great. The class is made up of an amazingly diverse (but all very fun, friendly, and smart) group of people, and I’ve been lucky to have two pretty great flatmates. Now that I’m done with the paperwork, moving in, getting settled, and starting school, I expect to be updating the blog somewhat regularly.