Sunday, 23 February 2014


A friend has just bought a pair of these cute panties to taunt her boyfriend - an ardent activist who flinches every time  el-Sissi is mentioned - two of his mates  are somewhere in a Cairo prison, no one knows where, and are about to be charged with assisting 'terrorists' - ie looking at a person with a beard. And if that's not enough, his girlfriend's walking around with another man's face on her fun-zone.

I warned her that the el-Sissi knickers  would not go down well in the bedroom, and she replied that they would go down faster  than a protester hit by a police sniper, and this was why she was wearing them. It struck me as an inappropriate simile but this is how it is in Egypt these days. Humour is the antidote to reality. There's a limit to the number of stories of young people being  tear gased and roasted alive in police vans, torture, cooked up charges, beaten, kicked, shot that can be listened to without either bursting into tears, overdosing, or laughing.

The knickers are Ecstasisi gone mad. They are selling well. El-Sissi is reaching the parts he never thought he would. Knowing how jealous and possessive Egyptian men can be, I'm hoping this will turn the tide of el-Sissi mania. The  Lion King may have saved the country from gathering Islamist hoards,  but does he have the right to have his face in the  crotch of Egyptian womanhood? If this continues, votes are more likely to go to some secular wimp than to the guy who's  on, and by implication, in your wife's panties.

It's a turn off in more ways than one. This is the man who sanctioned the humiliating removal of the panties of jailed women protesters to enable a search  for intact hymens. If  it's broken, eureka!, you are a bad woman, and deserve the charges.   This alone, should be a no vote, let alone everything else.  

Thursday, 20 February 2014


Someone has just given me a copy of Field Marshall el-Sissi's identity card, and in the ladies section of the tram in Alexandria today, a small boy was selling fake 100 LE notes with guess-who on them. There are el-Sissi watches as well, and plates. You name it, el-Sisi has got his mug on it, even chocolate.   It reminds me of Sadaam Hussein, who favoured clock faces and plates. He  even managed to have his face printed on the  bars of soap at a hotel I stayed at in Baghdad. Maybe because he was leader of the Ba'th party.  It wasn't much fun having a shower with Sadaam - dictator's can be slippery and he kept blowing bubbles.


I used to go to a spa in Amsterdam  where it was common for men and women  to  swim, sauna, steam, and relax together  naked. It reflected the healthy, non-prurient attitude the Dutch have to nudity. Nobody stared or leered and I soon got into the swing of things.

The only person who made me feel uneasy was the guy in sunglasses. You couldn’t see where he was looking, but  I was damn sure it  wasn't the trees.  He also kept  a towel over his dick. Women complained and he was  eventually asked to leave.  It’s a pity the world’s dictators cannot be asked to do the same.  Sun glasses are their nod to style and authoritarian rule. The thugocracy love  to  stare out at their starving masses from behind mega-dollar frames.  If they hide their eyes, they think we won’t see the torture chambers.

Libya’s Munama Gaddafi  liked to  hide  his cosmetically enhanced eyes with a frameless J-lo style and was rarely seen without them. I gather he wasn't wearing them when he was found hiding in a hole, probably  because his dictatorial game was over and he didn't need them in the dark.    Zimbabwe’s little treasure, Robert Mugabe, favours  gold rimmed  sunglasses that tilt  to the side, giving him a slight Dame Edna Everidge look.  He’s the monster who sanctioned military violence and ordered his opponent’s wife to be burned alive.

One of the most iconic shades-wearing dictators in history, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, left a legacy of desperate, starving citizens, horrific work camps, hundreds of thousands of political prisoners and a huge number of sunglasses to his son, Kim Jong Un.   

Clip-on shades rimmed in gold bling were favoured by Togo’s Gnassingbe Eyadema. He ruled for  38 years, winning numerous uncontested elections and rigging the rest. He had  an entourage of 1,000 dancing women who sang and danced in praise of him; portraits of his ugly mug were everywhere and  $20 wrist watches with his portrait,  were available to the few Togolese who could afford them.

Sudan's Bashir prefers to tease with a glimpse of his eyes behind round gold-rimmed glasses that darken in sunlight. He likes them to slip down his nose at conferences to give him a more intellectual air.  More hard-line shades are worn when he's going for the tough-guy look in his  bully-boy military uniforms. He's the man behind the horrors of Darfur.

Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s dictator  proved that a good pair of sunglass is the making of a dictator. He  hid behind them throughout his 17 years of political genocide. Thousands of  his opponents disappeared and have never been seen again.

Sadaam Hussein’s  wife went shopping for her husband’s shades in Europe’s top designer stores. Interesting to note the former Iraqi dictator wasn’t wearing the latest designer shades for his six foot drop. As with Gaddafi, and Pinochet during his arrest in London, the shades leave when their wearers fall and all that remains are old men blinking at the light.
Hosni Mubarak’s  sartorial elegance was topped by to-die-for shades  and he’s even appeared in court behind bars wearing them, which begs the question, does he sleep in them? It's a sign that he still thinks he is Egypt’s dictator, and the way things are going, there could be a horrible truth in this.

The eyes are the window to the soul,  and any attempt to hide them merely makes the person appear soul-less.  You can peer out at the world from behind them, but the world can’t see the truth of you. If you know you have something to hide, why not hide it?

A man who is hiding plenty, (including activists and journalists in his jails), is Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. He's as shady as you can get.  He likes to match his with military bling and tailored suits. Media shots show that, like Mubarak, he  prefers to hide behind tinted glass, even when indoors. When he delivered his coup speech to Egypt, on July 24 2013, he was wearing sunglasses. He called for new protests and for the Egyptian people to give the military a mandate to fight "terrorism." Noone saw the gleam in his eye. The Muslim Brotherhood  was toppled, and the shades moved in.  Since then Al-Sisi's one-man-band  has given itself unchecked powers to combat ‘terrorism’,  torture the opposition, manacle the press, sink the economy,  This is very worrying,  but what worries me more are the Ray-Bans. 

Saturday, 15 February 2014


I understand Field Marshall el-Sissi has a wife. I don’t know anyone who has met her, and I cant find any photographs of her. Several google searches have revealed very little. Elshaab on-line says her name is Nihad Nour.  Reuters say she wears the niqab, while others say she wears the hijab. One report says she is a best mate to Suzanne Mubarak, who introduced her to el-Sissi, and another says she comes from a wealthy family - and that a brother, Tareq, owns TV channels, night clubs, businesses and had links with Tamarod.  It really should be a case of who cares?  But when it comes to a prospective president's wife, people do, and it matters.

“If el-Sissi runs for president, I wont  vote for him, purely because we will never see his wife,” says my friend Karim, a lawyer. “I want Egypt to be seen  as a modern state, with an active, visible First Lady, like  Queen Rania of Jordan. We need to show we are living in  the 21st century.”

Another friend, Yasmina, says, “Forget First Ladies', I want a female president,” but  knows,  with a sigh, that at this stage of the gender game,  it’s not even worth bitching about.

Karim might have to wait a while for a sexy, smart highly visible First Lady who juggles her own life, with that of being a head of state’s missus. Egypt has become a deeply conservative society, and the only thing that matters  is that el-Sissi   has a wife.  A visible, working wife, might lose him votes from his more conservative backers . In Egypt , most women  give up their jobs once they are married, (if they have one) and hunker down to have babies, put on weight and get bored out of their atrophying brains - much like  UK’s valium popping housewives of the fifties.

Mrs Nagla Ali Mahmoud, 51, is the wife of deposed ex-president Morsy. As his wife, her duty was to provide a prime example for  her fellow Muslim Brotherhood sisters.  Covered in what looks like a large duster  that reveals only her face,  Mrs. Mahmoud, from a poor village background, is so ordinary by contemporary Egyptian standards as to make her elevation extraordinary. Mrs. Mahmoud could hardly be more different from her predecessors, Suzanne Mubarak and Jihan el-Sadat, both glamourous, half-British  and highly educated.

During the time of her husband’s presidency, Mrs Morsi preferred to be known as Umm Ahmed (Mother of Ahmed, her eldest son), and devoted herself  to looking after her husband and children behind palace doors.  She was a woman  who looked and lived like most people’s sisters and mothers and for many, made a refreshing change from the up-front, glamorous Suzanne Mubarak, with whom they could not identify.  But to the westernized elite, she stood  for a backwardness and  a provincialism which it saw as typical of the Muslim Brotherhood. A column in the newspaper, El Fagr asked incredulously: “How could she receive world leaders and still adhere to her traditional Islamic standards of modesty? “Don’t look at her. Don’t shake hands with her,” the paper suggested, calling it a “comic scenario.”

 She was reported as saying that if she tried to play an active role, she risked comparisons with Mrs. Mubarak, who was widely despised for her supposed influence behind the scenes. But if Mrs. Morsi is invisible, she said, “They will say that Mohamed Morsi is hiding his wife because this is how Islamists think.”

Given  Egypt’s patriarchal culture - men seldom talk publicly of their wives, and mentioning them by name is a taboo for Islamists – it is unlikely Morsi’s missus would ever have been shoved onto the podium beside him, whether she liked it or not.  She only became visible when her husband was forced to stand down and was marched off  to prison. Like a tragic heroine in a Greek play, she  stepped out of her  confinement to plead for the release of  her husband from his.

As a small girl I can remember  watching Jehan Sadat on the television, with her husband President Anwar Sadat. She beamed intelligence, and of course, was very beautiful. Today , she is known internationally as  a lecturer, educator and social activist promoting international peace and women's  education. She contributed  to the image of Egypt and the Arab world in her own unique way. In the 70’s while the world’s media obsessed over Mrs Sadat’s wardrobe, her hair etc., she got on with  playing a key role in reforming Egypt's civil rights laws. Often called ‘Jehan’s Laws’ the new statutes  granted women a variety of new rights, including those to alimony and custody of children in the event of divorce. I remember her as a breath of fresh air blowing through  Middle Eastern politics. She was evidence of a secular liberalism that flourished for a while in Egypt  but like, Islamism, never took root in mainstream politics.

Queen Rania of Jordan has followed on in this tradition, and  focused on education and health, community empowerment, and cross cultural and inter faith dialogue. She is genuinely loved and respected by Jordanians, and represents a society that is seen as progressive and outward looking, partly because of her dynamic visibility.

Egypt desperately needs its own Queen Rania, or another Jehan (with or without hijab) if it is to take its standing in the world and develop social activism for educational and health reforms that will benefit everyone. First Ladies have access to a network of powerful elite, funding, sponsorship, business networks, expertise that can benefit their countries.  

First Ladies can also be bitches from hell, endorsing their husbands' butchery. Take Asma al-Assad, stylish wife of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.A former investment banker, she has stood by her husband enjoying the fruits of his  billion dollar fortune  rifled from the country.  Between them they are a dynamic duo of destruction. Her mega spending sprees and recently posted instagram pictures of her charity work are a heartless endorsement of her beloved's razing of the country  and the murder of  its children with chemical weapons.  

With no sighting so far  of Nihad Nour, and barely a mention of her in the media, el-Sissi is going to have to bring his missus out of the closet soon, or tongues will start to wag. Last year, Egyptians  politely ignored pictures  in which he appeared to enjoy being drooled over by a clutch of actresses at the October 6 celebrations. I wondered if Nahid Nour  was watching it all on the television, and what the hell did she feel about it? Nobody seemed interested enough to talk about it, even though her  connections have  played an important role in her husband's stellar rise.  Do Egyptians really not want to know who might become the power behind the throne and a cheerleader of goodness knows what is to come?

The  election of el-Sissi as president, will  be a misguided response to the security and stability Egypt is gasping for, and will reinforce the  message of the Muslim Brotherhood that the military purports to despise -  that  Egyptian women must be neither seen nor heard.


Friday, 14 February 2014


The boys bunch  in the dark, shift on threaded palm and stones,
a cigarette passes from one small hand to another,

a banding together of fingers around fire and ash -
affirmation of a tribal pact, rodent eyes veiled in smoke. 
A voice calls.  "Put that cigarette out!”  They sulk,  tilt on chairs,
cartwheel a dog-end into jasmine, snarl at the film,

then rise, faces caught in the flickering light, old and shuttered, 
balanced on frail, birds’ cages. They are  a feral pack leaving,
moving as one, a hunch of waves turning. In the street,
they straighten, lords of a famished kingdom, kicking cats. 

More of my poetry can be read on,,

Saturday, 1 February 2014


I hover above the city, wingless,
every bone as thin as string,
taut as an horizon. Below - 
a crumbling labyrinth of catacombs,

streets of fading Greek and French,
a Jew hobbling, the scent of sea,

brickdust rising in a desert wind.      
I was there once, earthbound,
rooted in your hand, tamed by crumbs,
shedding songs for  you of love
and  distant lands. I curved my eyes 
around your limbs, your kisses  lay 
like prayer beads on my skin.
You were my spell, my augury of loss.

In a lens of refracted light beyond sight,
I see your heart, a bruise, incurable, 
never  hushed, tucked inside you,
a knife in a sheath, ticking as you
stalk the streets - a skilfully
moving dream hunting sex.

You watched me once - a scandalous 
leaving - sifting through the slats of 
shutters, floating  from the terrace, 
my backward glance, a broken arrow. 
One day I’ll return: a windblown hag
falling from the sky, an aborted planet,
landing where the bay curves and
the candy floss seller blows his horn. 
You won’t know me.


More of my poetry can be read on,,