The amazing Owse is my go to guy for a delicious rolex, two fried eggs on warm chapati with fresh tomato and onion. Owse has become a fast friend, seeking to learn about Canada as much as he can. In the past couple of weeks he has expressed his desire to come to Canada to find new opportunities. He asked me to find out what I could for him. So I set myself to finding opportunities and it wasn’t long before I realized it was more than a long shot, it’s next to impossible. As it is now, our temporary foreign workers program allows workers to stay in Canada for 4 consecutive years with no chance of going home. When the 4 years are up they have to leave Canada for another 4 years. After 4 years, they could come back with some luck but still have no better chance at becoming a permanent resident. Under our current government, we offer permanent residency to economic immigrants who have a net worth of at least $10 million. It’s telling that we, in one of the world’s richest least-populated countries, accept super rich immigrants while having allowed less than 1,000 Syrian refugees fleeing a brutal civil war. Given this completely unequal system, what hope could Owse, the 18 year old rolex cook with a grade 3 education, ever have?
How long does the elephant have left on planet Earth? When will our greatest land mammal cease to wander?
Our notion of progress is tied to continuous industrial development. A notion that has been exported throughout the world. We’ve led ourselves to believe that the point of humanity is to build factories and convert nature into economically viable investments. But is this our true calling? Is this the path towards true enlightenment and natural harmony? What is the point of all the hard work and sacrifices of our ancestors over the millennia? Will we ever sate our need to consume? Or has a history of detachment from nature shaped us into a new type of animal, one who’s needs can never be met.
As more and more animals face extinction, it is up to us to ask ourselves what the point of our species is. Are we here solely to consume? Moving from one land to another until all resources are converted into dollars. And if some progress but others falter, is progress truly a progression?
It seems pretty obvious that we don’t choose the life we are born into. A toddler doesn’t choose their country, their government, their family, their religion, their history, or their social class. When two people come together to bring a new human into the world, they bring them into a life already riddled with rules and limitations, but it isn’t their world either. It is the world they inherited from their parents and grandparents and so on back until the dawn of time. Our societies grow out of necessity and convenience, creating a world around us. But as our societies grew and developed, we began to explore the world and export our customs and cultures. We exploited those that we could and established a hierarchy of human value, based largely on geography. We forgot that each and every person is part of something bigger. We forgot it about ourselves. We forgot that we belong to a larger collective. A collective of human beings, struggling one against the other for a bigger part of the proverbial pie. But the forgotten truth is that we are the pie, and we each deserve to be valued for who we are rather than where we are. So when we take more than we need, we take from one another, weakening the whole of humanity.
Poverty has a wide range of effects that reduce peoples potential to contribute to society. By allowing such large portions of our societies to be stuck in poverty, we fail to test the capacity of human progress. If we strengthen the most vulnerable, the whole of society will benefit.
This infographic was taken with permission from Best Psychology Degrees
A tweet could have changed my life. One hundred and forty characters of high school heresy spewed forth into the cyber world by the student council president left me outed in Egypt. She, the high school president, tweeted to her hundreds of fellow student followers that I was gay. In a country where rumour spreads faster than truth, I was at the center of a whopper. Cyber slander that could have landed me an outcast, and I had only just arrived.
The only proof to verify my “depravity”, as it is considered in most parts of the Middle East, was a witnessed account of my playfulness on the jungle gym with my Grade 1 and 2 students during their PE class. As I came to understand, Middle Eastern countries are deeply patriarchal and traditionally, men don’t play with children. However, my love of fun was enough to condemn me to a potential fate of segregation, harassment and exclusion from a society with little to no regard for its underground and seldom heard from LGBT community.
It was only last year that one of Egypt’s top diplomats told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that in the Middle East “Gays are not real people.” Politicians from around the country regularly call for executions of homosexuals, or at least, for them to be sent to prisons, or mental institutions to be cured of their own “depravity”. The now infamously heavy-handed Egyptian police have a long history of arresting men on suspicion of being gay, citing their “satanic” and “lewd” conduct that violates Egypt’s strict Public Order and Public Morals code. So, it doesn’t take much to appreciate my concern that too many people might hit the retweet button.
This quick condemnation should be no surprise given the recent baseless accusations that were hurled at two fellow Canadians, John Greyson and Dr. Tarek Loubani. During their detention, they faced allegations ranging from murder to inciting violence. With no crime greater than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, these two men were thrown in prison for 7 weeks, tortured, and kept in abysmal, cockroach infested conditions. Greyson and Loubani paid in full to the notorious Middle Eastern misinformation mill, just as imprisoned Canadian Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy is now. Thankfully, I got a discount.
When I came to school the day after the tweet, the administration had already taken action. The school director had been alerted by a colleague to the slanderous tweet and had no tolerance for such accusations and got to work at setting the record straight. Pun intended. Having just been flown in from Canada, I was a considerable investment and this rumour could not reach the parents. The SC president was forced to delete the Tweet, stripped of her role as president, sentenced to a weeklong in-school suspension and was told to apologize to me. The punishment seemed severe, but in an unpredictable political landscape and an increasingly Islamicized Egypt, it was necessary. If the tweet had made the rounds my students would no longer have respected me, most of my colleagues would have shunned me, and many parents would have refused to let me, a gay man, teach their children. I would have been forced to flee.
When the time came for my teenage accuser to apologize, she knocked on my staff room door and entered. She twiddled her hands nervously and looked distractedly at her feet, reflecting my own unease with the situation. She said she now understood the potential impact her tweet could have had. She was sorry and I forgave her. I did my best to be a teacher and told her that when we find ourselves in positions of power, we have to be accountable for the things we say, even if they take form in a tweet. As she left the staff room, with what I hoped was a lesson, I wondered what would have happened if I were actually gay?
The sense of community gave power to the crowd. The common cause fuelled the passionate cry for political overthrow. The sense of individualistic gain, instilled through a world fettered by unchecked capitalism and inequity, abated as the pursuit of common ground took hold.
Thousands filled the upscale Heliopolis neighbourhood, home to Egypt’s presidential palace, protesting the authoritarian nature of Mohamed Morsi’s exclusive rule. Drums beat in rhythm with chants of solidarity. The people surged forward, the barbed wire was dismantled, and the palace was stormed.
The revolutionary battle cry of “power to the people!” had it all wrong. The power is the people.
I remember arriving at the polling station in Katameya (a suburb on the outskirts of Cairo) during Egypt’s first democratic presidential election. After people had lined up for hours in the intense desert heat to vote, they emerged from the repurposed school with broad smiles and optimistic outlooks. Dyed fingers, the mark of having voted, dominated the news around the country and people waited impatiently for the results. Would it be Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spare tire candidate, or Ahmed Shafik, remnant of the Mubarak regime?
Morsi won and for awhile, democracy had too. Soon, his style of governance became a reflection of Egypt’s autocratic past. He gave himself unprecedented powers and was soon heralded as Egypt’s latest Pharaoh. One year after his election, he was deposed after a popular uprising gave way to a military coup. The deeply entrenched military, or deep state, with the help of the Ministry of Interior set about rounding up Morsi supporters. Hundreds were killed in the streets. Their leaders have been imprisoned, their news outlets shut down and their supporters labelled terrorists.
Today, Egyptians try to move forward once more with a vote on a newly reformed constitution. Army helicopters fly overhead blaring nationalist songs, encouraging everyone to vote Yes. The main reason for many to vote is stability, as almost 3 tumultuous years have passed since the first uprising. However, as Morsi supporters are pushed further underground, violence has escalated across the country.
Can a new constitution set Egypt on a path forward? Or is it just a matter of time before the Egyptian people rise up again, to dispose of the deep state once and for all.
13.7 billion years ago, the Universe began. For billions of years, particles swirled and danced through the immensity. Stars were born and stars died. From deep inside the depths of burning giants, carbon was spewed across the universe. The particles needed for the development of life, as we know it, accumulated on a tiny speck of a planet, orbiting around a small, insignificant star. For over 4 billion years, the tiny speck gave rise to various forms of life, primordial soups that would eventually churn out giant lizards to roam the planet for millions of years. One day, an even smaller, even more insignificant chunk of space rock collided with the tiny speck of a planet and the giant lizards ended up extinct, their 165 million year reign came crashing to an end.
Millions of years trickled by without the tiny speck noticing. Smaller creatures that had survived the mass extinction of the giant lizards, evolved and adapted to their new environment. For over 2 million years, an upright primate evolved, getting smarter and smarter, until one day 200,000 years ago, homo sapiens was born.
For thousands of years, these new and improved hominids knew nothing of each other or the world they lived in. They lived in small communities, relying on each other for survival. As they learned to communicate, they realized they could accomplish tasks much bigger than themselves. Cooperation was born and pyramids were built. Man had arrived.
Across the reaches of the tiny insignificant chunk of space rock, civilizations rose and fell. Time lingered on and eventually, man’s curiosity to know what lay beyond the rivers and the mountains swelled to a point of no return. Adventurers set out to chart the globe, bringing whole civilizations into contact with one another for the first time. As the humans began to interact, they began to exchange products and ideas. Their development increased and they began to build cities. Other humans from far and wide travelled to the cities to find jobs, or tasks given in exchange for money (an invention of conceptualized value). Soon, the humans wanted more of the value and worked harder to get it. Some chose to get it at the expense of others, and so the humans subjugated each other. Others chose to pay the humans for their work, and industry was born.
Soon, the humans grew greedy and took more than they needed. They spread far around the reaches of the globe, lapping up resources like a thirsty beast. They hoarded their value and used it to make them strong. They threatened those who aimed to take some. All the while, the tiny little speck of rock groaned and grimaced at having to give up its treasures. The insides of the speck were mined and the trees the speck grew to give the humans life, were cut down. The humans burned all of the specks treasures and then the shield against the burning heat of the little star began to deteriorate. Some humans got sick and so did the speck.
The humans wondered what they had done to deserve the wrath of the speck. Too late, they realized their greed and mistakes. They had pushed each other away in the quest for power. They had offended their fellow humans, the rare breed never before seen in the 13.7 billion year old universe. They fought wars and killed each other by the millions. They were raised to hate other humans who had what they wanted. Soon the humans were faced with a dying speck, the constant threat of war, and an unanswered question, what had they done to deserve their quick demise?
From deep inside their demise, came a rallying call. “You are one! Your differences are the beauty and gift of your species. You have slaughtered each other for being different but never celebrated each other for being the same. You are human, the only humans to have existed in the history of the universe. Your greed will bring you to your knees but your cooperation can build a legacy. The universe needs you to unlock its mysteries. You must help one another. So long as humans starve and perish while others roll in their riches, you will never succeed. You are as strong as you are weak.”
Those who heard, answered the call, and the humanist was born.
The first time I met Hossam, I was outside the Saladin Citadel in Cairo. I was just leaving the Cairene landmark when he called out to me. Leaning on the hood of his dented hunter-green Fiat, he wore mirrored aviators and red high-top Chuck Taylors. He looked like pure cool and I immediately liked him. He asked me if I’d like to see the city through his eyes, and as they twinkled back at me from their heavily creased sockets, I couldn’t refuse. I hopped in the passenger side of his small rickety car and swerved off through the terrifying Cairo traffic. From then on, he showed me the heart of the city, the revolution’s forgotten poor, and the struggle of being a tour guide in a touristless town.
I was lucky enough to sit down to breakfast with Bob Rae this week. The former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada has had a long and illustrious career and continues to work side by side with Canada’s First Nations. Here is what he had to say about my book on Egypt.