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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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