Egypt

Sara Hegazy and the freedom to be yourself

I am angry. I am so angry that my anger has caused my anxiety levels to intensify. I need to express my anger with the hope that this helps my anxiety.

A few days ago, a young Egyptian woman committed suicide in Canada. She had fled to rainbowCanada not long after her release from prison in Egypt, following her arrest for raising the rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo. In prison, she was tortured by her jailers and molested by her female prison mates.

Sara Hegazy was gay. She was also an atheist. She did not hide the fact that she was either. And she paid for it in every horrible way possible. Even after her death, Egyptian social media erupted into all the meanness and terribleness it can be, demanding that people refrain even from even asking for God to have mercy on her soul. Discussions ensued about the inappropriateness of expressing one’s homosexuality in a ‘religious society’ like Egypt. Why did she even raise the rainbow flag in our society, people asked. She should have been smarter than that. “Those people” have been living in society for centuries without anyone harming them, said others, as long as they don’t rub their gayness in our faces. We can’t allow them to just go around talking about their homosexuality in our society, yet others said. If we do, homosexuality will spread amongst our children like an infection.

I can’t help but take this personally.

I have experienced first-hand what it means not to be able to be one’s true self in and among one’s own society. It is pure hell. I have spent years delicately testing the waters to figure out what I can and should not say publicly, whether it is regarding my religious or my political views. The past few days are the first for me to properly express my belief that a homosexual person should not be discriminated against in any way. How ridiculous does that even sound?? I have expressed this not because I feel safe in doing so but because I feel so outraged that keeping that outrage inside of me might eat me up alive.

I feel outraged for Sara and for ANYONE who can’t just be themselves because of the discrimination of the people around them. I feel outraged by the things I hear, like: if we normalize homosexuality, what’s to prevent pedophilia from being normalized? I feel outraged that no logical response to these illogical fears that people have settles in with them in any way.

I feel outraged.

I feel outraged because I hear Muslims living abroad complaining constantly about Islamophobia and demanding constantly that they have the right to publicly and safely practice their beliefs. This means, for example, the right of a Muslim woman to wear a headscarf or a face veil, or the right of Muslims to conduct their prayers in public. If you believe, as I do, that this is a basic human right, as it is your right not to be discriminated against because of your religion, how can you possibly not see how wrong it is to discriminate against someone else for another reason? If you think it should be your right to be your true self as you believe God demands it no matter where you go on this Earth, how is it possible that you think it’s wrong for someone living a different life with different beliefs to be themselves wherever they are? How can you not see the hypocrisy in your words and actions?

I am outraged that you think your beliefs are of significantly higher importance, the only relevant beliefs, compared to the beliefs of any others.

I am outraged that, because of your beliefs, we cannot find a common ground for discussion. If something is forbidden for you, then it is forbidden for you! Don’t do it! That doesn’t make it forbidden for the rest of the world!

I am outraged because you think that it’s all right for others to believe what they want and to do what they wish as long as it’s not done publicly. As long as it’s kept a secret. Yet you wouldn’t accept this for yourself in any way. Nobody should. A Muslim woman who believes in the necessity of wearing the hijab is carrying her rainbow flag around with her, announcing proudly to the world that she is a Muslim. A person wearing a wedding ring is carrying their rainbow flag around with them, announcing to the world that they are married, something that inevitably involves having sex at some point in time. When people have weddings, they are announcing to the world their new relationship. When a Muslim man chooses a corner in a park to pray one of the five daily prayers, he is carrying his rainbow flag announcing that he is a Muslim. Why is that all right for you but not all right for anyone else?

I don’t even know if I am making sense, I am so outraged.

Why can’t people understand that living inside your head is destructive, so much more destructive than it is to let that person just ‘be’, no matter how different that being might be from your kind of being.

I heard so many times over the past few days that people should have enough social intelligence to know when it is and isn’t appropriate to let your thoughts and your true self be known. Do they not understand how self-destructive that can be?

It’s as if you are asking a person to choose between two hells: the hell of keeping yourself hidden in order to stay safe from a societal backlash, or revealing your true self to avoid the inner hell but expose yourself to an outer one.

I wonder whether these ‘religious’ people understand how their imposed ‘religiousness’ is affecting our mental health as a society. We’re a society that has everything in it and we all know it. But it’s all hidden. It’s all a huge secret that’s not really a secret. But as long as we pretend it’s a secret we think it’s all right. It isn’t. It really isn’t all right.

We need to be able to have conversations about stuff without being thrown into prison for it. We need to be able to have conversations about stuff without constantly being condemned to hell. We need to be more accepting of our differences. You do you. I’m happy for you. But let me do me and be happy for me too.

The fact that I currently live in the UK doesn’t make any of this easier, or make me feel freer. In the end, my community, my people, Sara’s people, are the people where our families and friends are, where we grew up, where we relate no matter how difficult it is to relate sometimes.

I need to have these conversations with my people. I have found it so difficult to find people outside the Arab world who are passionate about saving the world in the same ways I am. But these conversations are so difficult. And so enraging. So utterly utterly enraging.

I hope you have found peace now, wherever you are, Sara. I am so so so sorry we allowed this to happen to you. I am so so so sorry we have stayed silent. I am so so so sorry you weren’t safe to simply be yourself.

 

 

Moments of clarity from within an anxiety-induced brain fog

I’ve had anxiety for many years. For a long time, I thought I was managing it, until one of those perfect life storms hit me and it erupted completely out of control.

I knew I needed help at that point. I did what I needed to do and got it. After ten months of therapy, my therapist told me she thought I could manage on my own. I thought I probably could too. It’s been a few months now since therapy stopped. It’s not been easy. There was no magic cure. I wasn’t suddenly anxiety-free because of the therapy. I had learned enough to know it would be an ongoing process. But I’m seeing improvements.

I’ve been surprising myself. The anxiety comes. But it also goes. (more…)

Giving context to loneliness

I don’t know where to start. But I’m afraid this is going to be a messed up, emotional blog post. I wouldn’t be sharing these thoughts if I hadn’t come to the conclusion that I’m not alone even though I feel very very alone. I’m sharing in case this makes someone out there feel a little bit better. I’m sharing because sharing helps me work through my own thoughts, even though I worry that it makes me appear desperate and needy, which I sort of am anyways. But I’m going to stop giving a fuck about what other people might think of me for a little bit. I need to write.

It’s hard to sum up what an issue really is. It’s difficult to give problems, lots of them, that all come with personal and social contexts, a title that other people will understand.

But let’s call this one loneliness.

It’s a desperate loneliness. It’s the kind of loneliness that probably puts people off you. That’s how desperate it is.

It’s a loneliness that often expresses itself as: Oh, how I wish I had a friend I could call up and say, “Meet you at the movies at 6pm tonight?” But that’s not really it. That’s not the source of the loneliness. The story of the loneliness is so much more complex. (more…)

Eid and feeling very foreign

I feel Eid is a particularly difficult holiday for me these days.

We have two big religious holidays in Islam. They are both called Eid. One lasts for three days and follows fasting the month of Ramadan. The other lasts for four days and happens towards the end of the annual Pilgrimage. The Eid following Ramadan is a particularly happy one for me because it signifies going back to eating, drinking and sleeping the way I normally do. On the first day of Eid in my family, we’d go to my father’s house first thing in the morning. My sister would have inflated a ridiculous number of balloons and left them all over the house. She’d have lights and decorations everywhere. There would be a corner where she placed presents for everyone, and we’d arrive carrying presents for everyone as well. They’d all be placed in the corner and we’d then spend about half an hour opening them all up and getting excited about what was waiting for us and what we found. My father would always give every single one of us some money. We’d then spend about three hours arguing about which restaurant to go to for lunch. And to solve this annual dilemma, we always ended up going to Chili’s, because it’s the only place that the children ever wanted to go to. In the evening, we’d  visit members of my ex-husband’s extended family. Our children would get money gifts from everyone and would come out of the day very rich. Over the period of the next two days, we’d visit more family and sometimes friends. It’s not all that unlike how many people celebrate Christmas, although things vary from one family to another. Many people, for example, use the days off to spend Eid on Egypt’s north coast.

Since I’ve come to the UK, Eid just seems to be getting more and more difficult. (more…)

The trap that is Egypt

Egypt is a country that has me completely messed up in the head.

77F2FC79-AEA7-4063-BBCE-0D2E2CAF90FE

This is my “office” view as I work from my laptop today.

I have so many conflicting feelings about it.

I was in Egypt less than a month ago visiting family. But only a few days after returning to the UK, I decided to jump on a plane and come back. Ramadan started, my friends were all posting about the accompanying festivities, and I was missing it all. I hadn’t spent Ramadan in Egypt for several years.

When I told my therapist that I’d be missing a session because I wanted to go back to Egypt, she asked me what it was about Ramadan in Egypt that I missed. I had spent most of the session telling her about real-life problems I was facing and I was fine. But the minute I started describing what it was like to stand in the balcony at the time of the sunset call to prayer, when all the craziness of Cairo’s streets suddenly disappears, it all goes quiet, and people are in their homes with their families and friends around tables full of food and love, I broke down in tears.

Even my therapist’s face showed pain on my behalf. “Oooh. You’re homesick,” she said. (more…)

Remembering January 25

I haven’t been able to write much about Egypt’s revolution in the past few years. I have 167242_494564512476_3077619_nbeen too traumatized. But today I find myself in need of acknowledging the day, January 25 of 2011, when it all started. I need to assert that I was there. I was on the tarmac when it all happened. I was part of it from start to finish. And now it is a part of me, for better or for worse.

My husband, a Scot, asked me two days ago whether I regret the revolution happening. Are things better or worse, he asked. They are worse, I said. But the country’s political, economic and security situations can’t be the only measure of our revolution’s success. We failed in all that. We were ready to revolt. But we weren’t prepared to take charge. We simply didn’t have the wherewithal. I vividly remember thinking the day after Mubarak resigned: I’ve done my job. We’ve removed the dictator. Now I need to leave the rest to the politicians who know how to take this forward. But they didn’t. The “good ones” squabbled amongst them, leaving room for the baddies to move in quickly and spread more evil than we had ever seen.

Despite all that, despite everything the country is going through, the revolution was not a total failure and I will never regret taking part in it. (more…)

Peeling faces

Several years ago, I was in such a bad place that, for a few moments of time, I considered suicide.

In those moments, I truly thought that death was my only way out.

I am so grateful that someone inside me allowed those moments to pass.

It took me a few years to get myself out of that bad place. Things got worse before they ever got better. But I’m glad I let that moment go.

And in a way, I appreciate that I had that moment. (more…)

Immigration and complicated relationships with “home”

I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been in the same position realizes just how much people give img_2541up to immigrate to another country. Sometimes, perhaps always, even immigrants take years before they realize how much they’ve given up.

People immigrate for so many different reasons. Some immigrate for a better education for themselves or for their children. Others immigrate for economic reasons. Others leave their countries as a result of political conflict, insecurity or war. Yet others may just need a new beginning.

Whatever the reason, I’m willing to guess there’s a certain amount of trauma involved in uprooting oneself to try to settle down somewhere that could be significantly different from what one has known.

I know I have been traumatized by the circumstances in Egypt post-revolution and by my decision to leave and try to settle in the UK.

It’s now been five years since I’ve started going back and forth between the two countries and two-and-a-half since I officially started settling in the UK. Only a few weeks ago my husband said something about one day settling down in Egypt again. My response was visceral: “I never ever ever want to live in that country again.”

After spending last month in Egypt, I think my relationship with my country may slowly be on the mend. (more…)

The colliding stories of Egypt and Argentina

As horrible as this may sound, today (and sometimes other days) I blame my father.

I blame my father for what often seems to me an illogical attachment to country and people.

I blame my father for instilling in me (I’m certain it was deliberate) a very strong sense of national identity, long before I ever even visited the country.

I’ve been reading a book about Argentina’s desaparecidos – the thousands who disappeared during the country’s military rule from 1976 to 1983. It’s a heart-wrenching narrative of real events through fictional characters. And it pains me to my very core that I can relate in some ways to the events and the characters in this book.

I don’t know if I’ll ever come to terms with what has happened in Egypt in the past few years. I’m one of the extremely fortunate who have managed to come out of it unscathed, if not for an expected amount of post-traumatic stress disorder. My family is all safe for now. The vast majority of my friends are also safe, although I have a few who are very dear to me who are in jail; one with a death sentence on his head.

So many of my friends have left the country, a few literally fleeing it. I left for many reasons, mainly because of my personal family circumstances. But underneath those obvious reasons I know that part of me just can’t deal with what Egypt has become. And another small part of me fears it.

It pains me to have the luxury of sitting comfortably in a nice little house in northern England, drinking my tea and blogging about my all-so-important feelings, while there are so many people back home in Egypt who want to leave but can’t – either because they don’t have the means or because they are literally incarcerated. But because I’m the center of my own world, what probably pains me even more is that I am this fortunate yet I still have an illogical longing and pain for a country and a people now so far away.  (more…)

Inner musings on identity

I spend a pretty decent amount of time thinking about “identity”. I often have a one-to-one conversation

Me with my contemplative look on.

Me with my contemplative look on. (Not really. In this picture I was just happy to be sitting in the sun).

with myself, trying to establish who I am and who I want to be. I think it’s healthy to do that every once in awhile. It’s too easy to find yourself being what others want you to be, regardless of your own feelings and thoughts. It’s easy even not to have thoughts about who you want to be. It’s easy to just move with the flow of dictates from parents, family, friends, and whatever society you happen to find yourself in.

I find the whole topic of identity a fascinating one. I’ll often ask people that question: What do you identify yourself as? People identify themselves in terms of where they are from, where they feel at home, what religion they follow, what they do for a living, what gender they are, what sexual preferences they have, what social class they feel they belong to, what education they’ve had, and the list goes on and on. Some people identify as being many different things. Others only strongly identify as belonging to one group, tribe even, or another.

I was born in the U.S. to an American mother and an Egyptian father. I grew up in the U.S. until I was 15, then moved to Saudi Arabia for a year, then spent the major portion of my adult life in Egypt. I am now in the U.K. I studied medicine then journalism. I work as a science journalist. I’m a wife and a mother. I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, and a cousin. I’m Muslim. I’ve travelled all over the world and I have a few hobbies.

But if you ask me: What do you identify as? I’d tell you first and foremost I’m a mother. Secondly, no matter how much I sometimes try to avoid it, I identify very strongly as Egyptian even though cognitively I feel like a citizen of the world. (more…)