Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Gun Island - Book Review

Adventures of a Quiet Man 

Amitav Ghosh is my favorite writer. This book was another Ghosh magical journey deep inside the fragility and humanity of an ordinary and lonely Bengali Indian American. Ghosh beautifully brings Bengali geography, rivers, smells, colors and storms with various rural and city people of differing classes with the changing environment, pollution, wild life … all come together with a host of interesting characters.

Gun Island reminded me a lot of Ghosh’s non fiction 
In An Antique Land when chapters alternated between Ghosh’s present day experience in Egypt with the history of a Jewish trader who left Egypt to settle in India. In this case, the contemporary Indian American is attempting to decipher the mysteries of the story of a Jewish sea Capitan trader with his Indian freed slave across multiple continents.

Ghosh added to all of this a whole other layer which is that of the refugees, the migrants, who escape various third world countries for the better life and opportunities in Europe. As usual Ghosh paints vivid images of the horrific journeys across borders into Europe via Turkey or Egypt.

A couple of minor details irked me a bit. Ghosh employed some supernatural devices, while he did so with restraint, I felt they detracted from the novel. The other issue which bothered me more was most female characters, particularly Cinta, the Italian professor and main patron of the main character. Cinta came across too perfect, too saintly, the consistent powerful savior. Cinta was too cardboard like to be a Ghosh character.

Overall, loved it and highly recommend it!

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Motherland Lost - Book Review

Samuel Tadros did a superb job researching and presenting Egypt’s history from a Coptic perspective. The scope of Tadros’s coverage of the developments inside the Coptic Church was particularly enlightening. Some of the most impressive parts of this work are Tadros’s challenges to conventional wisdom: Tadros views of the inherent problems with Egyptian liberalism being fundamentally anti democratic, Egyptian liberalism that arose out of infatuation with Europe and West but turned mostly anti western. “Foreign intervention in the internal affairs of the country coincided with the birth of the constitutional movement in Egypt which would have profound effects on its future development. It would ultimately lead to love-hate relationship with the West as a source of inspiration and a model of modernity and, at the same time, the hated occupier. Egyptian liberalism would never escape this dichotomy” Tadros challenges the notion that the so-called Egypt’s “Liberal Age” was truly liberal or that it was “good” for the Copts. 

The following paragraph summarized an important thesis offered by Tadros: “The specifically Egyptian crisis of modernity, understood as a question of the compatibility of Islam with modernity, has resulted in the development of various state and intellectual approaches that have shaped the way Copts were viewed and led to their banishment from the public sphere as a community, though not as individuals. The failure of liberalism in Egypt did not result in the Copts’ current predicament. Rather, it was the very approach that liberalism took that brought about this predicament.” While I personally would have substituted the word “Islam” with “religions”, I think Tadros was clearly on to an important concept. 

Tadros cleverly captures an important trend from the Mohamed Aly era: “Egyptian liberals’ ultimate dream would be a repetition of the story of Mohamed Aly, an autocrat imposing reforms from above on a reluctant population”. 

While I highly recommend this work and rate it very highly, I have a number of criticisms for it which I will now address. 

Devotional v. historical critical study: Tadros presented much of the Coptic tradition as historical facts, starting from the story of St. Mark and his alleged role in establishing Christianity in Egypt. Modern Western studies generally challenge this view. Tadros’s admiration of St. Athanasius clearly arises out of deeply held beliefs or acceptance of the Coptic traditions, yet the vast majority of historical critical studies show Athanasius to be have been a manipulative political operator. While these aspects don’t affect the core thesis of this great work, they do detract from it. 

Apologia?: With so much discrimination against Copts over centuries of subjugation, it is refreshing to read a passionately pro Coptic work, however Tadros has a times fallen into what I’d term the genre of apologia of all things Coptic. The impassioned defense and glorification of General Yacoub who sided with French invaders along with the harsh attack against the Egyptian Conference of 1911 are examples. Labeling the Egyptian Conference of 1911 as Islamist was particularly grating and misleading. While Tadros lister the point by point demands of the preceding Coptic Conference, he failed to do the same for the Egyptian Conference, yet a simple review of these would show that Egyptian Conference adopted views that even by 21st century standards would be seen as progressive and egalitarian. 

Opinions v. Facts: Tadros presented several important ideas in the book as established facts, while in fact these often appear at best opinions or unproven theories. Lord Cromer, who was a founding member of the Society Against Women Suffrage in England was being portrayed by Tadros as a progressive liberal, with “compassion” for poor Egyptian peasants. Ahmed Lutfy El Sayed was presented by Tadros as an anti Copt agitator. Tadros failed to present sufficient facts to prove this, nor did he offer a balanced discussion that supports his conclusions. The demonization of Lutfi El Sayed was relentless, and frankly shocking. Tadros attempt at nuance when analyzing Lutfi El Sayed was limited to admitting that he and his colleagues were not “fanatics”! 

Similar but less obvious was Tadros’s dismissal of Ahmed Maher as the King’s lackey, yet at some point Tadros admitted that the King was actively trying to appeal to the Copts to counter the popularity of the Wafed Party. In the post 1952 era, Tadros suggested that Nasser came into power with an Arabist and anti Israel agenda, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as Nasser hardly addressed either topic in his first few years. It was also ironic that Tadros blamed Nasser for the Coptic Church’s rejection of Vatican II. Tadros seemed to want to whitewash the deeply ingrained antisemitism in the Coptic traditions and history and shift the blame on to Nasser. 

Dhimmitude and 21st Century sensibilities: It was unclear which era Tadros considered was the best for Copts in Egypt other than perhaps the brief 3 year period of the French occupation at the end of the 18th & beginning of the 19th century.  Mohamed Aly and his dynasty according to Tadros were focused on their own struggles against the Turks and the Ottoman Empire and / or against the British. The British according to Tadros had no interest advancing the rights of Copts, the Liberal Egyptian movement of the first half of the 20th century didn’t either. At times it appeared that Tadros thought Copts faired best under the more traditional so called dhimi times, when according to Tadros Copts played an important role in the civil service. Tadros quoted some blatantly discriminatory and aggressive anti Copt language from a newspaper in 1908 responding to an attack from a Coptic paper on Islamic history, yet Tadros did not provide context for such language, nor did he offer any details on what the Coptic newspaper actually printed to start the episode. Contrasting some of this language with the language used by Cairo’s Rabbinical Jewish religious authorities describing Karaite Jews in 1903 "impure bastards" would show the very different sensibilities of the time. It would have been more helpful for the reader if Tadros offered more context or comparisons of the how the various minorities and sects dealt with one another at the various eras of history. 

As referenced earlier, the weaknesses and shortcomings of this work should not take away from its importance. The passion of Samuel Tadros for his church and his fellow Copts made him an outstanding advocate, but readers would definitely benefit from a more scientific approach in assessing and addressing both history and present. The challenges Egyptian Copts face are huge: discrimination, acts of violence, governments that are often complicit in discrimination or at best tolerant of it, brain drain, conflicts within the Church between reformers and traditionalists … these and more are very serious challenges and need to be addressed in an even handed fashion. 

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Why I Left The Most Successful Clubhouse Room

Dialogue has been my chosen form of activism for a long time. Soon after I joined  Clubhouse in early 2021. The live voice aspects of Clubhouse made it ideal, but the nature of people drifting in and out of rooms has also made it a tougher medium to navigate, after a few difficult sessions, I found my bearings. 

Then Sheikh Jarrah happened and shortly after a full on war started. Palestinian and Israeli friends asked me to help co-moderate Meet Palestinians & Israelis room, I did! The room kept going round the clock for over two weeks and broke records in terms of number of unique listeners and average numbers of hours spent. The room lasted for over two weeks, but I left it on day 8. Leaving a dialogue effort that I helped build was not an easy decision and I’m not sure it was the right decision, but I will share below the factors that led me to part ways with the room. 

1. Public Diplomacy: few days into the room, a new theme emerged by some of the comoderators advocating that the room is acting as a platform for public diplomacy. I view dialogue to be distinct from negotiations and diplomacy. The only purpose for dialogue is hearing the other and getting the other to hear you. Dialogue may not have any other purpose. Moreover, the history of the Palestinian struggle in particular is dominated by the issue who has the right to negotiate in the name of the Palestinians. The label of public diplomacy would act as way to stifle dialogue. 

2. There was pressure to ask people to have a picture and reveal their identity through social media profiles. I rejected this approach and never followed it whenever I moderated. I found it biased against people who disapprove of using photos on religious grounds, or people who fear identifying their locations and identities for whatever reason. I viewed this as an effort to silence pro Palestinian voices. 

3. There were attempts to challenge the identity of a Palestinian doctor speaking from Gaza. I hosted the very same young doctor, while I disagreed with some of the points he made, I had no reason at all to doubt his identity. I saw no effort to verify the identities of others who gave their own personal stories. Again I disapproved of the uneven handling. 

4. While I don’t claim to know all there’s to know about the history of the conflict, I have spent many years reading and researching the various aspects of the conflict. I have accumulated a degree of knowledge of the competing narratives. This has equipped me as a moderator to push back on extremist discourse and to center the discussions on true dialogue rather than what I see as propaganda. The straw that broke the camel back and made me decide to leave was what I felt were attempts to silence me, by different means. 

I don’t want the above to detract from my support and admiration for the whole effort. And I understood then and understand now that as the guns were silenced the war continued on using the tools of propaganda. I’m happy that my friends who started the effort originally were eventually successful in wresting back control of the project. 

Ultimately dialogue is about talking to and listening to the other, to the enemy, to a side that hold radically different views. Dialogue is about promoting understanding of the other, not agreement with other. Is it useful? I think it is but I accept that many others refuse it. 

Ayman S. Ashour 

Saturday, June 05, 2021

June 5, 1967 My Zero Hour

 My memory recedes with the passing of the years. I have few memories before June 5, 1967. I have very vague memories of the day of the move to Ma`adi in 1964; another memory of huddling up in my parents’ room listening in total silence to Oum Kalthoum sing Inta Omry for the first time, as my father had a microphone in front of small transistor radio connected to a reels recorder. I remember sitting with my grandmother on a sofa hand feeding chicks and then remember being at the family cemetery where she was buried in 1966. Other than these tidbits, I remember nothing, but then I have vivid memories starting from the 1967 war.

I remember the euphoria of impending victory over Israel and the patriotic songs on the morning of the 5th of June.  I remember the civil defense volunteers and the shouts of “taffi ennour” to turn off the lights. I remember having all the windows covered with blue paper and tape. I remember the sonic booms, the sound of distant explosions and the sounds of the anti aircraft guns.

We lived on the very edge of Cairo, immediately behind our house, literally adjacent was a military camp with anti aircraft guns. I was later told that those were so old, dating to WWII. On the 3rd or 4th day of the war an Israeli plane flew so low over our house, I was on a second floor balcony, I still remember how close it was. 

I can’t remember exactly when it became clear that we, Egypt, lost the war, but I remember sitting in the dark watching president Nasser’s speech and my late brother shouting back at the TV, no you can’t resign now. I remember loud terrifying sounds of sonic booms and the heavy thud of bombing immediately after the end of the speech. 

June 5, 1967 was the beginning of forming who I was. I remember the various events that ensued from the suicide of of the minister of defense, to the downing of an Egyptian civilian jet coming back from Libya by the Israelis, the plane had on it the mother of one of the kids in the area. 

The War of Attrition that followed the original war, lasted for over two years, lots of sonic booms over Cairo, fear of Israelis exploding bridges over the Nile. An elementary school had some 248 children killed in the delta, got me convinced that Israel could target us. Whenever we heard the air raid sirens or sonic booms, it was sheer terror. I was more frightened of being targeted at the school than at home, adjacent to the military camp. Only few years ago, I read that Israel apologized for the bombing of the elementary school as a mistake, no one told me then.

These events, a very long time ago, still have a profound effect on who I’m today. Yet, I was extremely lucky, I was far away from any actual bombing, I didn’t see any rubble,no blood. I think of the people of Gaza, the children, people young and old, who seem to live through real and immediate hell and I can only imagine the lifelong effect.

This morning, I was reading an account of the Palestine Riots of 1921, some 200 people died, those were perhaps some of the earliest deaths post the Balfour Declaration. A full 100 years later and sadly, it doesn’t not seem like the wars and the killings will stop anytime soon.

Ayman S. Ashour

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Pax Bibi, What's Next?

The Palestinian people have shown that they are central to any peace going forward. The Trump Accords, aka, Abraham Accords, were never about peace but rather ploys of domestic politics to show Bibi Netanyahu as capable of delivering peace through force without concessions. Instead of the Pax Romana, of the Roman Empire, it's a Pax Bibi: Peace through the vanquishing and encirclement of the Palestinians, ending the Palestinian cause and declaring it irrelevant


The Palestinian people have also succeeded in showing the world that they have moved past the Hamas and PA jostling
. The refusal to submit to Pax Bibi was the response from virtually all parts of the Palestinian society, across borders, across religious beliefs and political ideologies. The resistance that resonated with the world was that carried out in dignity and defiance of the ordinary unarmed Palestinians. The Israeli propaganda tried to keep the discourse focused on Hamas, this worked with governments and traditional media. Global public opinion shifted decisively and the “both sides-ism” whitewash language has been replaced with a clearer understanding of the immorality and cruelty of the discriminatory policies of Israel. 


This time, the world saw the zealots of the Israeli settler movement like never before
. While the Governments were declaring that All Lives Matter, public opinion was shouting Palestinian Lives Matter! Not because all lives don’t matter but because thus far it was only the Palestinian lives that didn’t matter or mattered a lot less. Palestinian activists walked back on the use of PLM to avoid appropriating the struggles of African Americans for a different cause. The biggest danger to the Palestinian cause now is the language of hate and Anti Semitism.  The gains made in the courts of public opinion can vanish if the voices of hate and supremacist counter supremacy become the dominant discourse.

Over the last few weeks, I have moderated and co-moderated several discussions on Clubhouse. I’ve heard many firsthand accounts of Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinians in Gaza who can’t escape the frightful sounds of Israeli attacks and in Jerusalem who are having to pay rent to the Israeli government for houses their grandparents owned. I’ve heard of stories of mistrust and discrimination faced by Israeli Arabs. I’ve heard Israeli Arabs not wanting the Israeli Arab label but identify as Palestinians in the 1948 border. 



I’ve also heard of stories of ordinary Israelis running in fear from the sounds of sirens clutching on to their kids. I heard the story of a French student afraid to go to her Synagogue and eyewitness accounts of being targeted with hatred for being Jewish. I have also heard many Israeli Jewish voices who are actively promoting peace and reconciliation in a language I have not heard before. I heard an Israeli Jewish peace activist who can trace his family thirteen generations back to Hebron and Jerusalem show genuine and total solidarity with the Palestinians. I have been active in peace dialogue for a long time and have heard many genuine peace-loving Israelis before, but the unconditionality of the language I’m hearing now is new. 


I have also listened to so many people arguing that Arabs can’t be Anti-Semitic because the Arabs are Semitic themselves, before they proceed to talk of Jewish control over media and the true meaning of the two lines on the Israeli flag! It’s important to accept that Antisemitism simply means hatred, distrust and conspiracy theories directed against Jews, regardless of the linguistic origin of the word “Semitic”. It’s important to accept that an allegation such as Jewish control over media is in its own right a symptom of antisemitism.  


Another line I’ve heard repeatedly is: “Islam teaches me to love Jews as people of the Book, I just hate Zionists and Israelis”. It’s critical to afford the Jewish people the right to define who they are!  We can’t continue to insist on imposing our definition of Judaism on the Jews themselves. “Jewish” is an identity that is born out of religion, race and culture and the vast majority of Jews identify as Zionist. Most of the Jews who are actively fighting for the rights of the Palestinians identify as Israelis and / or Zionists. 


What’s Next: The Pax Bibi or the peace through the vanquishing of the Palestinians is no longer an option; but, there is no option of the reverse either. Peace isn’t inevitable and neither is justice, it’s possible that this conflict will last for centuries. It’s also possible that peace can be achieved through the difficult process of reconciliation, reconciliation between two enemies, with two competing ideologies and narratives: Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims on one side and Israelis, Zionists and Jews on the other side. 

Ayman S. Ashour

Thursday, November 05, 2020

The Trump Coalition: Grievances & Single Issue Voters

The Trump GOP is a strange coalition that has defied pollsters and political scientists. Trump has built a coalition of a people who feel left behind, the same people who voted for BrExit because they wanted to go back to better times but Trump added to this a large amalgamation of causes, causes that are mostly on the decline but are deeply meaningful and added to that the traditional GOP small government, low taxes agenda. It’s ultimately composition and mindset of the Trump GOP that make it difficult for pollsters to track. 

Most of the primary Trump GOP causes are ultimately minority positions, threatened by changing demographics. This will apply to issues such as guns, abortion, faith schools, gay marriage etc. It also applies to issues such as the environment and rejection of science whenever it leads to regulation. Add to that issues like immigration from the legitimate calls for improved controls to those on the fringe wanting to Make America white and Christian Again (racist / supremacist causes). Finally the classic issues of conservatism, low taxes, anti welfare, anti government mandated safety net, anti health care mandates.

Each of the causes above is under threat and is losing popular support. Trump built a coalition of single issue voters who are willing to overlook everything else as long as their narrow interests are advanced. Trump added to this a number of single issue foreign policy agenda, the one with the most obvious impact in this election perhaps is Cuba. The reconciliation between the US and Cuba is inevitable but is intensely opposed by many Cuban Americans. A similar situation exists with Venezuelan Americans, Egyptian Coptic Americans and perhaps also Vietnamese Americans. I see this close up with the passionately anti Islamist pro military Egyptians who view the entire contest in the prism of who will be the bigger supporter of president Sisi of Egypt. 

Trump managed to pull these disparate single issue voters with the grievance voters, people who feel deeply that they have been let down by the elite, the establishment. Trump gave voice to the grievance voters and brought them as foot soldiers fighting for the various single policy issues, passionately so. This is the genius and genesis of the Trump coalition: grievance voters + single issue voters. It is also a major reason why pollsters repeatedly fail to capture the full strength of Trump. 

By contrast the Democratic Party struggles with a form of puritanism and the need for the anti Trump to check every single box to get the support of the Democratic voters. And in the process, the Democrats end up solidifying the support of the Trump single issue voters in ways Trump himself couldn’t have dreamed of. A mainstream traditional Democrat like Biden has been squeezed into being the sharp Anti Trump on a wide range of issues which gives Trump all the ammunition he needs to get all of his single issue voters energized and turning up to vote. Trump voters overlook so much they despise and deeply dislike about him to advance their one critically important cause. 

Lastly, Trump run against the Coronavirus. People are hating the pandemic and how it affected their lives. Trump coopted the COVID19 as an enemy, he run against it, not on policy but as a grievance. He very nearly won!

Friday, October 23, 2020

الهولوكوست و القانون

كثيرا ما نجد البعض يستخدم وجود قوانين تجريم تكذيب الهولوكوست في فرنسا وعدة دول أخرى في المناقشات المتعلقة بالحريات للمطالبة بوضع حدود للحريات أو لمنع انتقاد الحكومات او المقدسات الدينية. 

ابدء اولا بمعارضتي لهذه القوانين ورضائي بعدم وجودها في امريكا والعديد من الدول الغربية.  المعارضة الاساسية لهذه القوانين بشكل عام مصدرها الحركات التقدمية التي تؤيد حرية النشر والرأي في كل شي. مؤسسات مثل  الاتحاد الأمريكي للحريات المدنية التي افخر بعضويتها تقف بقوة ضد هذه القوانين وتخوض معارك قضائية للدفاع عن حق النازيين والعنصريين في التعبير عن آرائهم رغم قبحها. 

ولكنني ايضا اتفهم وجهة النظر التي أدت الى  تشريع هذه القوانين. وقبل ان أتعرض للدفاع عن موقف انا شخصيا اعارضه ، يجب ان نتذكر ان هذه القوانين تعبر عن رغبة الشعوب المختلفة و نتذكر ان في الدول الديمقراطية القوانين تعبر عن قيم وأخلاق الشعوب  وليست أمر منفصل عنهم. تغيير وإلغاء هذه القوانين في أيدي الشعوب أنفسهم.

تاريخ العالم مليء بالمذابح وعمليات التطهير العنصري ... لماذا الهولوكوست مختلف؟  

اولا لاستخدام طرق علمية وصناعية وخطط متكاملة ممنهجة في عمليات 
تجميع ونقل وإقامة وابادة اليهود وحتى في عمليات حرق الجثث وازالة الرماد

ثانيا عمليات الابادة الجماعية ضد اليهود كانت شاملة لم تستثني أطفال رضع ولا كبار السن، شملت الغني والفقير، شملت المشاهير من قمم المجتمعات مثل العلماء والموسيقيين ورجال الاعمال ، شملت اليهود الملحدين والمتدينين. 

ثالثا: عمليات الابادة قامت بتدبير وموارد الدولة الألمانية والحكومات التي ساندتها مثل إيطاليا بقيادة موسوليني وحكومة ڤيشي في فرنسا وغيرهم. عمليات الابادة لم تكن شي فردي او حتى خطأ من هيئة ما مثل الجيش ولكن خطط حكومية ممنهجة. 

رابعا: وهذه نقطة في غاية الأهمية وهي تورط الشعوب المختلفة في مساندة عمليات الابادة الجماعية. تورط المواطن العادي في أعمال التمييز والكراهية ضد اليهود وفي بعض الحالات نقرأ كيف كانت حركات المقاومة ضد الاحتلال النازي في روسيا ودول اخرى تطارد جماعات اليهود الفارين من النازي  

الهولوكوست اذن حدث فريد من نوعه ومن الصعب مقارنته بمذابح وعمليات إبادة جماعية أخرى. والهولوكوست نسبيا حدث ليس ببعيد زمنيا، أقلية قليلة جدا من الناجيين لايزالون على قيد الحياة وابناء واحفاد وأقارب ملايين الضحايا لا يزالون يعيشون آثار الهولوكوست الى يومنا هذا. 

القوانين التي تمنع تكذيب او تقليل او تبرير أحداث الهولوكوست تهدف بالاساس الى اعتراف الشعوب والدول بجرائمها حتى لا تنساها. اي محاولة لتكذيب او تقليل او تبرير الهولوكوست ما هي في الحقيقة إلا محاولة غير مباشرة على تحريض جديد على اليهود. تكذيب الهولوكوست ما هو إلا محاولة لخلق غضب ضد اليهود وتحويلهم من ضحايا الى جناة.

من المؤسف انتشار الأكاذيب والمعلومات المغلوطة عن الهولوكوست في مصر رغم الدور العظيم الذي قامت به. لعبت مصر دورا غاية في الأهمية في إنقاذ الآلاف من اليهود من الهولوكوست وكانت الاسكندرية تستقبل اليهود الفارين من اوروبا وقت رفض نيويورك استقبالهم. التاريخ لن ينسي رفض استقبال الولايات المتحدة ليهود وإرجاعهم الى أوروبا والموت الفعلي في حين كانت مصر أمان لهم. الإسكندرية كانت الميناء الوحيد في البحر المتوسط المفتوح أمام اليهود، واحد من أربع موانئ في العالم فقط يمكن لليهود الهروب إليها. 

ورغم دخول الجيوش الألمانية والإيطالية مصر ووصولها الى العلمين ورغم الغارات الألمانية على الاسكندرية لا نجد اي دليل على ان الشعب المصري تورط في عمليات كراهية ضد اليهود في الاسكندرية المدينة ذات اعلى تعداد يهودي في مصر. 

التعليم هو الحل الذي افضله وتفضله العديد من منظمات الدفاع عن الحريات لمواجهة محاولات تكذيب تاريخ الهولوكوست. ويبقى فهم ان السبب الاساسي لتكذيب الهولوكوست هو التحريض ولهذا اتفهم وجود القوانين المختلفة رغم معارضتي لها 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

آلام الركبة ورياضة الجري

  الغالبية العظمى من مشاكل الركب ناتجة من القدم ونوع حذاء الجري أو عن عدم توازن في قوة العضلات المحيطة بالركبة. النصيحة الأساسية تجنب أطباء العظام والأطباء بشكل عام إلا المتخصصين في إصابات الرياضة واقرأ عن إصابات الرياضة بنفسك. 

عانيت من إصابات مختلفة ناتجة عن ممارسة رياضتي الجري و الهايكنج. منذ حوالي ثلاثين عام بدأت الجري وبدات اول مشاكلي مع الجري وكانت في عضلات السمانة وهي العضلات الخلفية أسفل الركبة. كانت عضلات السمانة في حالة شد وتصلب مستمر ونتيجة جهلي وقتها تصورت أن هذا كان نتيجة تكوين عضلات ورغم وجود آلام بسيطة إلا أنني كنت راضيا عن التقدم. انتقل الالم الى القصبة او الجزء الأمامي من الساق وتحول الى الأم بارحة في مجموعة عضلات صغيرة اسمها ال shin splints او جبائر القصبة وامتد الألم الى الركب.  ذهبت الى عدة اطباء الى ان انتهى الأمر بي الى الوصول الى طبيب متخصص في إصابات الرياضة الذي أحالني  للعلاج الطبيعي او ال: physiotherapy 

اكتشفت وقتها ان مشكلتي ناتجة عن القدم وعن ما نسميه ببساطة فلات فووت او flatfoot. الاسم العلمي المستعمل في الجري هو  pronation  بمعني ماذا يحدث بالضبط للقدم في كل خطوة قت التقائه مع الأرض. في حالة overpronation او الفلات فوت يحدث التواء او تقوس خفيف الى الداخل وفي حالة ال ( underpronation (supination أو ارتفاع سقف القدم يكون  التقوس إلى الخارج. وقام متخصص العلاج الطبيعي بالتشخيص بناء على القاء النظر على أسفل حذائي او النعل. وجد علامات تآكل واضحة تحت الاصبع الاكبر في وكذلك الجزء الداخلي تحت الكعب. 

في كل خطوة كانت قدماي تدور او تقوس إلى الداخل وهذا يحدث مع المشي ولكن الجري يظهره بصورة اكبر واوضح. دوران القدم للداخل ادى الى شد عضلات السمانة وعضلات السمانة بدورها قامت بشد مفصل الركبة.  مفصل الركبة مصمم للحركة في محور واحد فقط (وهو اقل تعقيد بمراحل من مفصل الكتف الذي يتحرك في عدة محاور). 

 اكتشفت وقتها ان هنالك انواع متعددة من احذية الجري وان النوع الافضل للفلات فوت هو مايسمى stability او motion control shoes وبدات ايضا في استخدام نعل او insole مخصوص داخل حذاء الجري يقوم بمساعدة قدمي على وقف مشكلة التقوس او الدوران. قمت بالتركيز في خطواتي وملاحظة ان اقدامي تشير الى الامام وليس الداخل. منذ ثلاثين عام استخدم انواع مختلفة من النعال لمعالجة هذه المشكلة. في احد المرات كان النعل اعلى من المطلوب وهذا أدى الى كسر في عظمة من عظام القدم وحدثت أثناء رحلة هايكنج. التعديل المطلوب محدود جدا وتأثيره عظيم ولكن زيادته تسبب مشاكل أخرى. 

عندما بدأت أجري مسافات طويلة والتمرين لخوض مارثون ٤٢ كيلومتر بدات اعاني من الم في اعلى الركبة وكنت وقتها أقرأ كتاب عظيم عن التحضير للمارثون اسمه marathon بقلم خبير جري معروف اسمه Hal Higdon وتطرق هال الى انواع مختلفة من الإصابات وكانت اهم نصيحة له لا تزيد سرعتك بأكثر من ١٠٪؜ في الاسبوع ولا تزيد المسافة الكلية ايضا باكثر من ١٠٪؜ في الأسبوع. نفذت النصيحة وتحسن حال الركبة ومع دخول موسم البرد القارص عادت الام الركبة. استمعت الى نصيحة أخرى من هال هيجدون وهي الذهاب الى الجيم وممارسة تمارين تقوية العضلات الأمامية للساق. الجري يقوي العضلة الخلفية اكثر ويسبب جذب للركبة بعيدا عن محورها وتقوية العضلة الامامية تعيد التوازن.  

كذلك استمعت الى نصيحة امريكية معروفة اسمها RICE وهي لا تعني اكل الارز ولكنها اختصار ل Rest Ice Compression Elevation أو الراحة، استعمال الثلج لتقليل التهاب العضلة و استعمال الرباط الضاغط واخيرا رفع القدم. كثيرا ما كنت أعود من التمرين استلقي على الارض وارفع ساقي امام حائط لمدة ٢٠ دقيقة واستعمال أكياس الثلج او الخضار المجمد. ومن النصائح المعتادة ايضا استعمال البروفين او الادڤيل لتقليل التهابات العضلات. التهاب العضلات وتقلصها يسبب جذب مفصل الركبة عن محوره وبالتالي يؤدي الى مشاكل. 

بعد عدة سنوات عانيت من مشكلة اخرى وكانت آلام فظيعة في اسفل الركبة بعد الجري واتذكر انني بعد إكمال سباق نصف ماراثون كنت غير قادر على صعود درجات السلم لدور واحد فقط. ذهبت الى طبيب وأخذت حقن كورتيزون ونصحني الطبيب بالإقلاع عن الجري وعن تمارين رفع الأثقال. بعد شهرين ذهبت إلى متخصص علاج طبيعي الذي وجود عدم تناسب بين عضلات ساقي الامامي اعلى الركبة، العضلات الخارجية قوية ولكن العضلات الداخلية ضعيفة جدا ولهذا تقوم العضلة الخارجية بجذب الركبة خارج محورها. بعد حوالي عام من التركيز على تقوية عضلات الساق الأمامية الداخلية inner quadriceps

مع التقدم في العمر وصلت الى مرحلة نوع جديد من المشاكل وهو وجود نوع من التآكل داخل مفصل الركبة نفسه وهذا نتيجة الاف الاميال من الجري واذا استمر الامر في التردي النتيجة الطبيعية هي اما عملية مفصل ركبة صناعي أو وقف الجري. تعاملي الى الان مع المشكلة هو زيادة الراحة بين الجري ورغم انني امشي يوميا الا ان الجري قد يكون مرة او اثنين بالاسبوع وفي أكثر الأحوال ثلاثة مرات واقوم بمحاولة تصغير الخطوة قدر الإمكان وبطبيعة الحال الاستمرار في تمارين رفع الاثقال المتعلقة بالارجل مثل القرفصاء و الديدليفت. 

طبعا انا لست بطبيب ولكنني اقدم نصيحتي بناء على خبرتي الشخصية وتعاملي مع العديد من الاصابات.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Parisian - Book Review

I’ve read several beautifully written memoirs by Palestinians touching on the events that led to the creation of the state of Israel. This is however the first English language novel of that period, I’ve come across. The Parisian is an ambitious historical fiction work with a main anchor in Nablus in Palestine from early in the twentieth century to the early days of the Arab Revolt in the late 1930’s. A secondary anchor is France and life in France under the First World War. 

Isabella Hammad is a master painter of settings, her beautiful lyrical prose breathes life in places. Hammad transports the readers to Montepillier gardens, streets and houses, and to the dinner parties and the sophistication of an affluent segment of the French society. With equal mastery Hammad takes the reader to Nablus and the rugged mountains around it, the olive groves, the crowded homes and the bustling streets. 

Midhat Kamel, the central character of the novel, a Nabulsi son to a merchant who is sent to France for education during the war years and comes back to live in Palestine in the turbulent years following the fall of the Ottoman Empire and subsequent British Mandate over Palestine. While the reader gets to know a lot about this central character, he remains aloof, distant even after some 550 pages. The other characters of the novel are sketched by Hammad around Midhat, most are not fully developed beyond their physical appearance and their interactions related to Midhat. 

Hammad displays great knowledge of history, the novel recreates the early days of the Jewish immigarstion into Palestine and beautifully crafts the Palestinian search and development of their identity: Syrian, Arab, Palestinian, Muslim. Hammad humanized the various adversaries, the Jewish immigrants were not made out to be the baddies nor were the Samaritans or other Arabs. The Turks, the French and the British were painted as the cruel masters. 

The part of the story novel that deal with Qassam revolt was particularly fascinating. The tension between the urban city dwellers and the felaheen peasantry was well portrayed. I particularly found Hammad treatment of the issue of women veiling clever. After city women started shedding the veil, they were forced to adopt it again by the adherents of Qassam. This part of the novel reminded me of the beautiful memoir of Afaf Kenfani who viewed Palestinian women struggle for freedom from men as ultimately now less than the struggle against Zionism. 

The breadth of the novel and its adherence to the generally undisputed events of history may have made it difficult for Hammad to develop her characters and plot more fully. At the end we have a beautifully crafted  impressionist painting of characters on top of a vivid historical photograph. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

On Patents & IP in the Middle East: To Patent or Not to Patent

The “idea” can often be the most precious asset to a startup founder at the early stages. Many Middle Eastern startups worry about sharing their “idea” for fear of having it “stolen”. Most eventually grow out of this fear and come to accept that the “idea” is a relatively small factor in the overall success or failure of their company. Yet in some cases, the “idea” plays a much bigger role; the “idea” is the cornerstone of the business. In these cases, we would be looking at inventions with the startup being a way of commercializing the inventions. 

An example of a company created to commercialize an invention is Velcro, where we see a global organization built to promote and exploit an invention. Other startups create inventions along the way, Uber started out as a ride-hailing service, but wound up building a patent portfolio around geolocation, security, autonomous vehicles and a whole range of other related fields. In all cases, inventions are the intellectual property (IP) of a business and just like any asset in a business, IP can be highly valuable or of minimal value, it can be a tool to help the business grow and defend its position, or it can be a time consuming and costly process with little return. So how do you decide whether to patent or not to patent and should you finally decide to patent your invention, how and where should you do it?

In this article, I will be examining some aspects of IP, focusing on helping Middle Eastern startups navigate the topic. I will be drawing on my own prior experiences as CEO of a tech company as well as issues I dealt with managing IP disputes for others. 

Is this an invention or not? The answer to this question requires starting with what is known as “patent search”. Whenever I hear a startup pitch that contains expressions such as “invention” or “unique” product, design, or method, I go to Google Patents or other similar patent databases and search for patents in the general market area. This could be on the design of specific IoT devices, use of gamification for certain applications, new material for clothing, or some method for separating waste or enhancing texts or faces in pictures. The initial search usually leads to more questions and as with most online searches, one can dig deeper and deeper. Patent Search is a service offered by specialists; my fundamental advice is to review what is out there already, and several online sources help with the concept of patent search. 

Can an invention be patented? IP is often associated with patents, yet IP may be protected by other means such as copyright. In many cases, it is impossible to succeed in a patent application for an invention that is mainly software, but software copyright can offer some protection. This article here addresses copyright registration to maximize the protection of software. While the vast majority of software inventions can’t be patented, certain algorithms and conceptual approaches to workflow may be patented.

Should it be patented? In some cases, an invention can be patented, but this entails full disclosure of the “secret sauce”. In my previous company, my cofounder invented a highly cost-effective method for making RFID cards, which entailed the use of a certain chemical compound used in the fashion industry. We debated long and hard to patent or not patent! To patent means that we disclose our secret sauce. Not to patent means competitors can potentially reverse engineer what we did and discover our methodology, but we would have had the advantage of time. We ended up pursuing a patent. Sometimes a patent is not necessarily the best way to protect valuable IP; total secrecy might be better. 

Patents as defensive v. offensive weapons! In certain areas of technology, we find a high concentration of patents. In my world of security and identification technology, particularly issues related to RFID (Radio-frequency identification), and NFC (Near-field communication) both are used to facilitate identification and communication between  devices, patents were as much a defensive strategy as they were offensive. Defensive strategy means a company has the “freedom to operate” and offer its products and services without being accused of infringing some other company’s patents.  Building a product based on a patented technology can help in arguing that such a product is innovative and does not infringe other patents.. It can also be used as an offensive weapon against any potential infringements, preventing others from offering similar products and thus offering the advantage of exclusivity.

Where to file? The knee jerk reaction is the US because it is the country typically associated with the largest market and most generous infringement awards. Also, the US patent office tends to be more willing to grant a broader scope for inventions than most European patent authorities. But pursuing patents in the US can be lengthy and expensive. So the answer may well be to apply for a patent in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, especially if you see that the tech area has significant patent activity and if you are not pursuing the US market. In some cases, the main motive is defensive, to be free to operate without the threat of infringing others’ IP;  the least expensive and the fastest option maybe best. In cases where the main motive is offensive, the US or Europe might be better options. 

Are patents useful in raising funds? Yes and no! YES because they offer investors some tangible evidence of the founder’s technical strength and innovation. Moreover, with many Middle Eastern startups seeking tech company valuations while not actually being tech companies, patents help in offering differentiation in the “startup marketplace”. But the answer can also be NO: because patents consume a lot of costs and startups that are excessively patent focused may find it hard to pivot. Some would forgo more optimal solutions in favor of utilizing their patent and wind up in the dilemma of “a solution waiting for a problem”. Investing in a company with an IP portfolio typically elevates the level of due diligence and discussions, which may help or hinder in raising funds. 

In conclusion, IP is just like every other asset of a startup business;  it needs to be a tool of the business and protecting it needs to be aligned with the goals of that business.

(This article first appeared here on Waya