Blues for Allah

Egyptian Techno Party-Highway to the Danger Zone-Right and Honourable-Workshops-A Visit from the Goonsquad

Most of the site visits I’ve been on with the National Council have all been extremely professional, demure affairs. There has been, however, one notable exception: the Egyptian Defense Office. We knew that this visit was going to be a little different than our visit to the Saudi Embassy from the minute we walked in and Egyptian techno music was blasting at a level which made ordinary conversation difficult.  Instead of being humorlessly rushed through security as we were most everywhere else, they just let us walk through without checking us, yelling “Come in, come in! Our guests! Hello! Come in!” On the back wall, they projected a slide show that mostly consisted of various members of the Egyptian military high-fiving each other, giving a thumbs up to the camera, and I kid you not, in at least one memorable slide, wrestling an alligator. I think every intern was accosted at least once to make sure we had a drink in our hand.[i] “No! We do not start our presentation until everyone has a drink!” Their presentation, once it started, mostly consisted of a series of videos that showed off the prowess and might of the Egyptian military. I managed to find one of them on youtube and posted it below so you can see just how wonderfully, gloriously over the top it is. You half expect “The Danger Zone” to start playing. It’s also a bit too long.

After showing us a few more videos of the unstoppable and mighty Egyptian military and answering our questions, about Gaza, Israel, the Revolution etc… they were nice enough to feed us, making sure that we all had more than we could possibly ever eat on our plates and start up the techno again. Whether the loud techno music, propaganda and outright friendliness is standard operating procedure for the Egyptian military or whether this is a post revolution development, I cannot say. I can, however, say that once you’ve had a techno party with the Egyptian military, almost everything else just seems kind of boring in comparison. Perhaps the only other thing I’ve done here that can even come close to being as good a story was my lunch with the right and honourable Tony Blair.[ii]

The National Council brought Tony Blair and the U.S Ambassador to Saudi Arabia for a question and answer session regarding Palestine’s upcoming bid for statehood at the U.N. Mr. Blair, in the brief time that he was allotted, did a great job of answering questions in a vague, optimistic way that put everyone at relative ease. The British accent helped. That said, I have never felt more like an intern than I did at that luncheon. We interns were invited at the last minute, after the guest list had filled up. Those on the guest list tended to be, shall we say, “players”. Big names. So, until the powers that be were absolutely certain that the guests had all arrived and all had a seat, the interns had to stay out of sight and out of mind in the coat alcove. All 35 of us. Eventually though we were allowed to take whatever seats were available and enjoy what was pointed out to us as Five Star Catering and Five Star Service.[iii] More than one of us remarked that we felt a bit out of our element. No one embarrassed themselves all that bad, but a handful of us did have difficulty figuring out which of the three forks we were supposed to use at what time.

Mr. Blair and the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia answered questions for about 45 minutes before they were escorted out, leaving the interns to nervously mingle with the big names of American/MIddle East policy. I’ve eaten a lot of lunches of my life, but that one was without a doubt, in the top ten strangest.

Fun Fact: Tony Blair, who was in his youth a self described “Deadhead” was once in a Grateful Dead inspired/ Grateful Dead tribute band called Ugly Rumours. Right on, brother.

As for my internship with the CCAS, this past week we held a workshop for teachers from around the world on different approaches to teaching about the Middle East. Far and away, that was the best part of interning with the CCAS so far. We had two sessions a day, on topics ranging from contemporary Middle Eastern Music, to the sectarian politics of Iraq. There were sessions on the literature of the Middle Eastern diaspora and sessions on how Jewish, Christian and Muslim art all draw off of each other.[iv] As if that doesn’t sound good enough, this workshop was catered and I got to take home leftovers at the end of the day, which might not be a big deal to those of you who are gainfully employed, but for an intern like myself, getting to walk home with plates full of hummus and kibbeh every night and is a big deal. No Trader Joe’s Frozen Dinners for a week! However, I think the biggest lesson that this week-long seminar imparted to me was that a good deal of teachers at these workshops will, more often than not, behave in ways that they would never accept from their students. Arguing with the  lecturer, not raising their hand, talking with their neighbors during the lesson, not doing the reading…teachers, man. For those of you in academia: is that normal behavior during teacher workshops? Or was that just a select few in a small group of D.C. metro area educators?

As for the fourth of July? That will just have to wait until next week, because I am running out of room here and I think that story will fit better with the other stories I will have about the Dalai Lama, one of the largest mosques in the Western Hemisphere and a feminist punk festival [v].I write a sentence like that last one and remember just how grateful I am to have had this opportunity. If there’s any UPS students reading this who are interested in the Middle East, I would strongly encourage you to apply for next summer. I can’t promise you’ll have a weekend involving the Dalai Lama and a feminist punk festival, but there never seems to be a shortage of extraordinarily interesting things going on in D.C.

Addendum: Due to unforeseen circumstances involving a drunken room-mate and a gift card, I’m writing this blog from inside of a Starbucks. Blogging…at Starbucks…yeesh. This raises the same question I had last week when I enjoyed a concert from the back of the room with the rest of the aging hipsters instead of up in front with the thrashing and wild-haired  youth: When did I get so square? Ahhh well.

[i] Though most of the drinks offered were cans of soda and bottles of water, they were also insistent that we all try some strange concoction they kept in a giant pitcher. None of the interns who had any could figure out what it was, nor could they confirm or deny that it was alcoholic.

[ii] I should clarify this. In the words of my little brother “Shut up dude. Don’t give me that…you were a volunteer intern at a luncheon that Tony was at. Don’t make it sound you and Tony are going out for sandwiches.” So there you go. I was a volunteer intern at a luncheon.

[iii] I’m no vegetarian, nor have I ever belonged to PETA, but it seems wrong to me to put a fried egg on top of a piece of chicken. You’re also apparently supposed to use one of those knifes for the salad, even though the lettuce is already shredded…looks like I have a lot to learn about fine dining.

[iv] This last lecture also had a section on architecture, which validated some of my uninformed hypotheses that I set forth a few weeks back.

[v] Needless to say, these three are not connected. Can you imagine how cool it would be if they were though? That would be the best story ever.

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