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Egypt: Taji Is 'Protecting Family'
& Writes 'Toppling Of A Pharaoh'
 
VOXtra Note: Last week, we emailed Cairo-based voice actor Mahmoud Taji, concerned about the well-being of he and his family, including a new-born daughter.
 
We also invited him to share thoughts and experiences about the violent political upheaval there.
 
Taji responded that he was "Fine ... (but) home protecting my family."
 
Well, "Fine" is a matter of degree. In the following report for VoiceOverXtra - "The Toppling of a Pharoah" - Taji tells of carrying a steel rod as a weapon in patrols to protect his neighborhood.
 
And artfull writer that he is, Taji gives a fascinating first-hand account of what's happening in his world now, and why ...
 
The Toppling Of A Pharoah
 
By Mahmoud Taji
Voice Actor
February 6, 2011
 
My father was the first of the people I know to predict this.
 
He said, ďMahmoud, something has got to give, I feel it, this country is on the brink of something.Ē
 
My fatherís premonition was a year and a half ago.
 
GROWING TENSIONS
 
We had been feeling the growing tension on the Egyptian street.
 
When I got married a few years back, my wife was always amazed at how much cheaper Egypt was compared to Jordan, where she used to live.
 
Through the years, things have gotten more expensive and the financial crisis that happened in the U.S. back in 2009 was a big part of the continued rise in prices.
 
But things had been going south even before then, and now Jordan is a little cheaper in prices than Egypt.
 
The majority of people in Egypt are poor. Only 2% of the population has 90% of the wealth, and the rest live on the crumbs - myself included.
 
ABOUT ME
 
Unlike allot of people though, I have two jobs: voice overs and my career in advertising.
 
I am not Egyptian. I am Palestinian/Canadian. My family and I came to Egypt as refugees after leaving Kuwait during the first Gulf War.
 
Iíve lived in Cairo on and off for 18 years now, but that doesnít qualify me or my daughters who were born in Egypt for the citizenship.
 
REASONS FOR REVOLT
 
The pressure, as I mentioned, had been mounting for years.
 
It started with a rise in some of the subsidized products. Bread went up from 25 piasters to 50 Ö gas prices that had been standardized for almost 14 of the 18 years I lived in Egypt suddenly went up.
 
But the peopleís incomes stayed the same, and the government didnít do a thing.
 
30-YEAR RULE
 
You might have read in the news that Hosni Mubarak has been in power for 30 years. Think about that. There are kings that didnít have power for that long.
 
Egypt has an official population of 80 million, but I think itís moreÖ I think they donít count the folks that live abroad. I think the Egyptian population is closer to 100 million people and most of them are pissed off.
 
The government does almost nothing.
 
POWERFUL POLICE
 
Sure, they have cops in the streets that deter looting and burgarling, but overall, they lord it up over the rest of the population.
 
A police officer can arrest me for no reason, take me to a station and have me beaten or sent to a concentration camp, and no one would be the wiser.
 
I would not be given legal representation and my family would not be informed of my incarceration.
 
So generally no one messes with the cops. Unless heís one of those 2% that own the country - those guys can ruin a cops career, they can have him kidnapped or even beaten in the street. They are untouchable.
 
NOT FOREVER
 
So yeah, this revolution has been a LONG time coming.
 
People used to joke that Mubarak was eternal - that he would be in control of this country well into the future and that we (yes I consider myself part of the people), will have to live under his rule forever.
 
But nothing lasts forever.
 
TUNISIA THE SPARK
 
Thank God for Tunisia. What happened there was the straw that broke oppressionís back.
 
The Arab world stood stunned, shocked, confused at the fact that they ousted their dictator.
 
That was the catalyst. If the Tunisians can do it Ö so can the EgyptiansÖ and there were a lot more Egyptians and they were far more influential in the region.
 
 If Egypt revolted, the whole region would.
 
FACEBOOK ACTION
 
Whoída thunk it? That my least favorite social media site, Facebook, would be the meeting place for thousands of like-minded Egyptians who were just fed up with things.
 
The group that started the whole thing rolling, or at least one of them, was called January 25th The day of Revolt Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment - not the prettiest name, but boy could they organize.
 
The group is still active and has around 40,000 members, myself included.
 
INCONVENIENT REVOLUTION
 
The revolution was inconvenient to some.
 
It meant that they had to take alternative routes to get home because the streets would be blocked off.
 
And hey, it wouldnít last that long anyway because who can keep the protests up? I mean, whenever something like that happened in Egypt the government sent their goons and beat the crap out of the protesters, and that was the end of that.
 
NOT THIS TIME ...
 
Except that strategy didnít work this time.
 
It wasnít a few hundred people out protesting. It was thousands upon thousands and they werenít part of any political group.
 
They were just youth who were only affiliated in their need to oust the old system.
 
EYGYPT UNPLUGGED
 
Thankfully, the Government was pretty stupid about how it should handle the situation.
 
The protests where growing in frequency and number, and they were organized and peaceful.
 
So the government would not be able to claim that it dispersed the crowds for legitimate reasons.
 
Instead, it figured the best way to control things was to shut off mobile phone service. Every mobile phone company in Egypt was put out of service.
 
Yet they didnít think that was enough, so they cut off access to the Internet, as well. 
 
An entire country was unplugged.
 
NO INTERNET = NO BUSINESS
 
One of the famous musicians said it most succinctly when describing what happened.
 
He said Mubarak effectively kidnapped the Egyptian people.
 
In our day and age, a good chunk of business in Egypt is conducted over the internet.
 
Many businesses would literally come to a standstill if they lost their internet service.
 
My voice over business, as well as the advertising company I work, essentially went out of business.
 
LOOTING BEGINS
 
Following the Friday of Rage (Jan 28) and the massacre that ensued, the Rayis - Egyptian colloquial for the leader - imposed a 4 p.m. curfew that later on changed to a 3 p.m. curfew.
 
The Army was called in, but then the police disappeared!
 
With the police gone, people started looting. Some of the looters where from the poor, but there was another type of looter, one that would not just steal,but would steal and burn.
 
Some of those looters were caught, and some were part of Mubarakís secret police.
 
Was he intentionally causing unrest? Was this a frame-up so that he can have a legitimate excuse to stop the protests?
 
MUST PROTECT OURSELVES
 
With the police gone, people had no one to protect them against the looters and thugs.
 
Television stations warned people of the looting and terrorization that others were going through.
 
So we began protecting ourselves.
 
All the men in my neighborhood who could patrol where called out. We had nothing else to do, and this seemed to calm our families.
 
I took my weapon - a steel rod that used to be a kitchen cabinet handle - and went out.
 
PATROLS & ROADBLOCKS
 
This was possibly the first time I met the majority of my neighbors and it was definitely an interesting way to assess their personalities - the level-headed, the cooperative, the hot head, the immature.
 
But we figured it out and came up with a system.
 
I live in a suburb outside of Cairo proper, but rumors flew around telling of thousands of thugs and looters coming to crash our closed gate community.
 
Those older than 60 patrolled till around 12, then the youngsters took over.
 
They set up road blocks and interrogated anyone who looked or acted suspiciously.
 
Citizen arrests were made and thugs were prevented from coming within the walls of our compound.
 
RAMIFICATIONS GALORE
 
But people werenít really stocking up for a revolution. When it happened, they panicked.
 
On the 29th of January I went to buy bread and milk. I found lines at the bakers that would have lasted three or four hours.
 
The bread was rationed, so you could only purchase a set amount regardless of how big or small your family was.
 
I tried to be smart about it and went to an Iraqi baker who made traditional Iraqi bread, which isnít really that popular in Egypt.
 
I still spent an hour and half waiting to get my five loaves of bread.
 
GASOLINE SCARCE
 
Gasoline was - and still is - scarce.
 
Luckily, I had filled up right before the revolution, and then when it happened, I stayed home and minimized my car usage so I can go for another week or so.
 
But now that weíve started work again, gas is going to become an issue soon.
 
CELL PHONE CONFUSION
 
Having no cell phone service, and then later after they bought the service back - but without the texting service - is causing communications problems.
 
Some people didnít have land lines at home.
 
Getting a cell number costs 25 egyptian pounds. Getting a land line used to be around 2,500 le, and it took a few months of waiting.
 
That was when I was getting married. I donít know if thatís changed. But it was easier for some to buy cell phones and have those be their main line.
 
NOT FICTION
 
People couldnít communicate. No Internet. Financial institutions closed down, and the government was in denial.
 
Watching the news on any of the governmentís official channels was like watching a fictitious movie. It bore no resemblance to the reality unfolding a mere two or three kilometers away in Tahrir Square.
 
NEAR MY SCHOOL
 
Ironically, Tahrir Square is right next to the American University in Cairoís old campuses, where I attended university.
 
I was there almost every day for 4 years except weekends. It is such a strange thing seeing something so familiar become such an icon.
 
AL JAZEERA WAS BULLIED
 
Egypt doesnít have a basic cable television system. It's all via satellite and itís a free service.
 
If you can afford a receiver and a satellite dish, you can get whatever channels you like.
 
There has always been a feud between Al Jazeera and many of the governments of the world, including the U.S.
 
But in Egypt, Al Jazeera was treated the worst.
 
Their license to broadcast on NileSat was revoked several times, and they were taken off the air repeatedly. Their offices where forced to close, and later on they were vandalized and burnt down.
 
Reporters have been and continue to be arrested and beaten, incarcerated and tortured.
 
SATELLITE RECEPTION
 
I am good with gadgets, but not so much with satellite receivers, and every time Al Jazeera was taken off the air Iíd try to get the new settings and reconfigure the receiver.
 
Needless to say, I wiped out most of the other channels a few times before I could figure out how to use it.
 
But thankfully, I did figure it out and now Iíve got a few new satellite channels, as well.
 
REVOLT CONTINUES
 
I donít know how things will turn out.
 
Some of the demands of the people have been met. But still the old coot (President Mubarak) does not want a transition that makes him look bad. (I thought millions taking to the street asking for you to leave was bad enough.)
 
The police have killed hundreds and injured and maimed thousands, claiming that those actions were the actions of regular people supporting the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
 
THANK YOU, FRIENDS
 
Some friends in the voice over field whom I'ved met through blogging and online social mediums where kind enough to drop me a note - which I couldnít answer until the Internet came back.
 
But I have to mention that the most uplifting contact was made by Andy Boyns who currently resides in Turkey. His phone call was a bright light in a dark time when my family and I did not know how things would turn out.
 
WHAT'S AHEAD?
 
We still donít know how things will turn out, but one has to ask, ďWhat does it all mean for me?Ē
 
Well, so far, nothing.
 
Nothing has changed, except for the people I live amongst. They no longer slink in anger, snapping at the woes of the world.
 
In fact, the faces of the Egyptian people show something that has been missing for 30 odd years. Pride.
 
And I for one am as proud of them as I can possibly be.
 
ONLINE DISCUSSIONS
 
I have spoken in detail about many other aspects of this revolution on LinkedIn, as well as The Voiceover BB.
 
Some of it criticizes American news outlets and the policies of Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
 
It should be noted that I do not mistake the government of the United States for the people of the United States, just as I do not mistake the current regime of Hosni Mubarak and its actions with the people of Egypt.
 
Please join the discussion but keep it civil.
 
ABOUT TAJI ...
 
Mahmoud Taji is a voice actor based in Cairo, Egypt, specializing in Classical Arabic, New Standard Arabic, many forms of Colloquial Arabic (Egyptian, Shami and a little Khaleeji), bilingual Arabic / English text, and translation services. His voice is heard worldwide, from web promos to eLearning modules about Islamic banking and finance, travel documentaries for cities in Italy, promo videos for Brazilian oil conglomerates, and more. He has a degree in journalism and mass communication, is creative director at a Cairo advertising agency, and publishes the lively and informative blog, Tajiís Voice Emporium, which includes a VO Directory, Scam Alert, VOpedia, and the Voiceover Pavilion, a "Directory For Everything Voiceover."
 
Taji's Voice Emporium: www.voiceemporium.com
 
 
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Comments (14)
Mahmoud Taji
2/7/2011 at 5:07 PM
Thank you all for taking the time to comment.

Although things have relatively gone back to their courses ... work has restarted, the banks are open again, food is not as scarce ... there are certain unsettling things that will not allow you to think that things are back to normal.

1. The 20-plus tanks every kilometer on the side of the road on my way to work.

2. The blocking off of the streets around the Presidential palace ... which is about 3 or so km from my work.

3. The constant fiction that is broadcast from the local Egyptian stations. It embarrasses me to even watch it, let alone how it must feel to the ones producing that garbage.

4. The appearance of videos of the actual murder of citizens by the local police and "security" forces. Seeing the lives of these people ended so violently, so ruthlessly and without any proper reason is something that makes me believe that this dictator cannot just step down ... he must be toppled and tried.

Hundreds of people have died so that some Tyrant can keep his throne and keep stealing the wealth of the people. If that is not the lowest a person can become. Then I don't know what is.

Although these are exciting times, a country on the brink of its freedom. The price of freedom is never cheap.

It is paid with the blood of the righteous.
Wayne Edwards
2/7/2011 at 3:54 PM
Thank you, Mahmoud Taji, for offering up this status of your situation. We'll keep you and your family in prayer for protection and provision.

I'm wondering if Amateur (Ham) Radio communications was shut down in your country. If you know someone with Ham Radio, I'd be glad to also be a link here in the states. Take care and blessings.

Wayne Edwards
wayne@waynesvoiceover.com
Rick Lance
2/7/2011 at 3:08 PM
Wow, Taji, I don't know what to say! I've been following the activity there and have been amazed at what I'm seeing and hearing. All of what you've told about are the things NPR has been broadcasting about in detail. And I'm aware that journalists there are not free to move about there.

I can't imagine how you must feel at this time. But you expressed yourself very well in your article. I've never been to the Middle East and only know what I've tried to learn. But I do know one thing for sure. The World Wide Web has changed everything! Opening up the world of all it's oppressed people who now are realizing that true freedom is attainable everywhere when the CRY is loud enough to drown out these long obsolete oppressive regimes.

God Bless you and your family, friends and colleagues. Stay safe and determined!
Reuven Miller
2/7/2011 at 1:14 PM
Needless to say, right next door in Israel we're watching events closely - as the results will affect us to a great extent. We're hoping and praying that, when the dust finally settles, we'll be able to join together with the Egyptian people as good neighbors - while, at the same time, understanding that the chances of that happening are realistically somewhere not very far North of nil.

As a fellow member of the VO fraternity/sorority, I wish you and your loved ones safety and security in these "interesting times."
Elizabeth Holmes
2/7/2011 at 12:30 PM
Mahmoud, Thank you for sharing this vivid, first-person account of events in Egypt. Our hearts go out to you, your family, and your countrymen. Stories like yours make the news real for the rest of us. Your voice is important (in so many ways). Here's to a speedy, peaceful resolution.
Best wishes, Elizabeth Holmes
Jay Webb
2/7/2011 at 11:53 AM
Mahmoud,
I know that you appreciate the encouragement from fellow voice actors, but let me say that YOU are the encouragement. We are blessed to know of you and your work. We are all concerned for your safety, well-being, and for your future. I hope a real, beneficial resolution will reveal itself soon for you, your family and all the people of Egypt.

It's heartwrenching to see countries in turmoil, but it seems best at this point for something to be done about this government. We are all wishing the best for you.
-Jay
Bobbin Beam
2/7/2011 at 11:50 AM
Taji,
Thank you for sharing your first-hand experience. I pray you and your family remain safe and that this too shall come to pass...sooner rather than later.
jennifer dixon
2/7/2011 at 9:40 AM
May you and your family be safe. My niece and her family live in Tunisia and were in fear of their lives and of losing their home, but their friends and neighbours all worked to gether to protect each other. Fortunately they are living in relative peace now. May the same be for you and yours very soon.
Mahmoud Taji
2/7/2011 at 8:57 AM
Thank you all for your kind words and encouragement. It really is something else being involved in an epic event than it is hearing, watching or reading about it.

I thank the Almighty that I moved my family out of Cairo (well, 15 km out at least) a year ago and believe that that helped remove them from being in immediate danger.

Which is not to say that we are not in danger where we are, but its still safer than being in the frying pan.

I have friends that have gone to Tahrir sq. That are there now, that have sent their children. My sister and her husband took part in the protests and I am very proud of them for standing up for their country and their rights. Its time to stop being subjects of a tyrant but citizens of Egypt.

Taji
BP Smyth, Narrator
2/7/2011 at 8:34 AM
Mahmoud ...Thank you for writing this article and sharing it. It's always good to hear from those that are experiencing the actualities of events. What a mess. I pray that you and the people of Egypt come out of this situation, better off than before. The transition ahead will not be an easy one.

All the best to you and your family.

-BP
Karen Commins
2/7/2011 at 6:43 AM
Greetings, Mahmoud! Thank you for sharing this most riveting account of your experiences. I am relieved to know that you and your family are safe!

In America, it's easy to hear of the revolt or see these events played out on our TVs and feel like it's something that doesn't affect us. Your first-hand account shows that we are all connected, and we are all the same.

My words seem terribly inadequate to express to you my admiration for your and your countrymen's courage in these troubled times. I wish you all peace, abundance, and prosperity.

Cordially,
Karen Commins
http://www.KarenCommins.com
James Clamp
2/7/2011 at 4:48 AM
An incredible account, Taji. Thank you for finding the time to write this. Your words are so much more revealing than any TV station reporting that I've been watching. I can only hope things will resolve themselves quickly and safely. My thoughts are certainly with you and your family at the moment.
James
Dan Nims
2/7/2011 at 2:28 AM
Thank you for your most informative posting. I have been very concerned for the safety of you and your family. We hope for an acceptable outcome, not just a change in the top government official. That means a major shift in policy toward more 'representative' leaders.

I know you are brave in the defense of your family. May you have strength, courage, and wisdom.
David Sigmon
2/7/2011 at 1:33 AM
MT,
Thank you again for the very detailed insight. Please keep us posted as it continues to evolve. And good luck.
DS
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