Je ne suis pas Charlie

When I first heard the slogan „Je suis Charlie“ and read about what happened, it reminded me of كلنا خالد سعيد, „We are all Khaled Said“, the slogan that started or accompanied the first weeks of the Egyptian uprising. But the comparison of these two did not seem right on second thought. Whereas one actively fought against and tried to expose the corruption and arbitrariness of the police and was killed for his activism, the others were victims of a terrorist attack. Just because they held a dangerous opinion (although it is disputable wether or not humiliating and ridiculing people’s beliefs can be called an opinion), it does not mean that they are martyrs of human rights and freedom of speech. When I saw some of their caricatures last year I thought they were distasteful and inappropriate. Which obviously does not mean that the caricaturists should be killed. There is no justification ever to kill anyone. Period. 02-je-suis-charlie-demonstrationWhat I am criticizing is not that Charlie Hebdo printed images that I do not approve of, nor am I justifying that they were killed. And whatever my thoughts on the topic may be, at no point do I mean disrespect against the dead and their families. My criticism goes solely against the instrumentalization of those deaths. I find it very problematic and even dangerous to mobilize so many people to identify with a medium that they have never even looked into before, just because they are against terrorists killing people.

Yes, let us say „Je suis freedom of speech“ or „Je suis against terrorism“ or simply „Je suis for peace and against killing people“, but why „Je suis Charlie“? Continue reading

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The power of space: How Gezi Park became the symbol of an uprising

Gezi Park was not exactly the place where I could take my girlfriend“,

says Cenk, a leftist activist, as we are sitting in a small cafe in one of the many side streets of Istiklal Caddesi. Earlier, Feride, a German-Turkish girl had mentioned the same feelings towards a park that had been used mainly by prostitutes, drug dealers and homeless people:

I had never really been to the park before… because it wasn’t exactly a safe place.“

During my research project on the Gezi Park movement I spent three months in Istanbul in fall 2013 and conducted interviews with people who had been in some way involved in the protests. Almost all of them told me that they had participated for two reasons: the park and its trees as the last green spot in the city; and later the police violence.

But if it is true that noone had actually used that allegedly last natural area of Istanbul, then why would anybody have bothered to protect it?

Gezi Park; Picture taken from http://galeri7.uludagsozluk.com

Gezi Park; Picture taken from http://galeri7.uludagsozluk.com

If the park was not visited by the public anyway, why did young people of all ideological backgrounds feel the need to settle down and build a tent city there?

With these questions in mind I started studying the meaning of space and power and discovered how the mere symbol of a public square can unite a whole generation. Continue reading

Cultural Center for young people in Matariya

I have been sitting here for quite a while thinking about what to write in this post to present my new little documentary film. I could tell you some facts about the geographical position and the population of El Matariya, where it was filmed. I could tell you details about why I was there, how this roof project started and who organizes it. Or I could once again marvel at the young people from that neighbourhood, who have more creativity in their little group than I would have found in the whole area I grew up in.DSC01679 [800x600]

But somehow I think that the video is self-explanatory. The most important thing is that you really feel the positive atmosphere that I felt when I was on that roof… and that it gives you some hope for Egypt in times like these where all we see are two old systems battling eachother. Because there is not just that. There are also young people who hang out together, no matter how much of their hair or face they show. There are girls and boys joking around together debating society’s gender stereotypes. There are teenagers who are eager to express themselves as well as ready to listen to others.

The group in this video is like a microcosm of what Egyptian society should be like, if we really want to change the future of this country. And that is why they need space to unfold. If you like what you see, feel free to ask for more information, visit the website of Mayadin al Tahrir or sponsor some wood for the construction (:

Don’t choose sides, choose principles!

„The day on which the revolution began, 25 January 2011, was not just any old day; it was National Police Day. Of all the despotism that enraged Egyptians back then, it was the brutal despotism of the police that caused the most suffering. Yet in the summer of 2013, only two-and-a-half years later, demonstrators carried police officers on their shoulders around Tahrir Square, cheering them and singing their praises.“

-Jürgen Stryjak

This quote is from one of the very few pieces I read that actually grasped what is happening in Egypt right now. All the other opinions I read and heard were either pro Muslim Brotherhood or pro army. But the revolution is not about choosing sides, it is about choosing a principle. From the very start the revolution was about the principle of justice. It was not about economical problems but the fact that most people had nothing while few people were super-rich. It wasn’t about the police in general but about the fact that people were beaten to death by state security for performing their human rights. It wasn’t about Mubarak but about the whole unjust system that he represented and that has not changed since the military coup of 1952 – the exact same system that is back in charge right now. Continue reading

A country of masters and servants

DSC00628„Today we are washing the dishes“, says my German friend as we are sitting in the middle of the desert after a great meal prepared by our two Bedouin guides Sameh and Sayed. „I don’t like being served“, she continues and I know exactly what she means. I have been feeling like that countless times during the weeks and months that I spent in Egypt. After some discussion – and because we were lazy – we figured: If we were in a restaurant in Germany we would also see no reason to help in the kitchen after our meal. Sameh and Sayed are being paid for doing this job. And yet, there is something that just does not feel right about it.

I think about this a lot in Cairo, because my Grandmother has a driver, Hassan, a maid, Mona, and a cook, Soheir, who work for her regularly. I like them all very much and they like me, too. Maybe because I behave differently than other Egyptians that could afford employing them. I always sit next to Hassan, never in the back seat. He is almost like a grandfather to me. I never give orders to Mona. I sit with Soheir in the kitchen and learn recipes from her. And these things are not to say that I am such an awesome, generous person that is even kind to the servants. No, it means that these people to me are not servants, they are people who are employed at my Grandmother’s and who are in every way equal to me. But unfortunately that is not how society sees them, sees us. Continue reading

How to react to sexual harassment..?

Recently I watched the movie Cairo 678. It is a great study of sexual harassment in Egypt and its psychological effects. At the beginning of this movie a car passes by a girl, the driver grabs her by her blouse and pulls her with him, then pushes her to the ground. I cannot imagine what I would have done if that had happened to me. But I am afraid that I would have been too surprised to react. The girl in the movie, however, – and it is based on a true story – jumps up, runs after the driver, stops him, starts beating him and eventually takes him to the police station. She was prepared. She was prepared by years of sucked-up anger, ignored insults and bruised honour.

SONY DSCIn the book ‘Shantaram’ Gregory David Roberts writes that most of the time when we do not talk back, do not help someone else or defend ourselves it is not because we are cowards. It is because we just aren’t prepared. I remember the first (and fortunately only time) that young boys in the street did not just bother but actually touched me… I was so angry afterwards. Not mainly at them, but at myself, because I had had no clue about how to react. They were young boys of maybe 12 or 13 years. I had no reason to be scared of telling them off. And so – as Roberts says it: “What we call cowardice is often just another name for being taken by surprise, and courage is seldom any better than simply being well prepared.” Continue reading

I still remember… the revolution – أنا لسه فاكر… الثورة

A few months ago I went to an Arabic film festival in my hometown in Germany. I saw a movie called „Tahrir 2011 – The Good, the Bad and the Politician“, which pictured the different sides involved in the revolution. Most of the film consisted of images from the protests, powerful videos that showed people praying while being attacked with water canons, the make-shift hospitals where volunteers of all types treated the injured and the mentally exhausted, and, especially, it showed those thousands and millions of voices chanting, chanting, chanting for freedom and peace. When I saw those images I was thrown back into the time of the revolutionary climax and I had such a strong urge to go back to that time of hope, solidarity and excited astonishment at what people were capable of. I thought to myself, that if every Egyptian watched these videos once a week nobody would give in to the resignation in the light of unsatisfying politics and the frustration that befalls a country when the revolution ends and bureaucracy starts.

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So, with this in mind, I decided that I should try to contribute something to reminding people of what they have so incredibly  achieved and what they should not let fade away so quickly. The following series of photos and interviews are the result. Each picture shows one person and their most important memory from the days of the revolution. The title of the series and the beginning of each sentence is: „I still remember…“ Please scroll down to see the larger images (English translation below the picture). Continue reading