Sunday, February 21, 2010

Classy Hijabi ?

Photo taken by : Ahmed Dorgham

By Nejude Al-Ibrahim

Finding the perfect evening dress is a struggle for many women. But for women that adhere to conservative Muslim dress-codes, looking fashionable can be almost impossible.

Sally Diaa El Din, a 23-year-old fashion designer, thinks she has the solution. And she’s using the Internet to get the word out.

El Din is the founder of the Facebook group “Vixen,” which markets and sells dresses she designs aimed at giving choices to veiled women who are tired of having to rely on Carina – long sleeved shirts – under their fashionable attire.

“ I want all Hijabis to feel proud and elegant not wearing Carina because it makes the dress worthless,” said Din. “I am trying to achieve this goal by designing elegant long sleeved dresses for them.”

Her designs are exclusive and one of a kind. She never designed a dress twice because “ that’s something that has always irritated me especially when I see people in streets following a specific trend, ” Din said.

Facebook Group & Clients

Since the group was created in 2008, it now boasts over 2000 members joining from different networks and countries. Still most of her clients are Egyptians because of the growing number of hijabis now in Egypt. According to the New York Times, 90% of Egyptian women are veiled. But mixed weddings and social gatherings are still common, prompting the need for fashionable, yet conservative attire.

For many women, having to don a Carina under their designer gowns, took away from the beauty of the dress.

Heba Abdel Aziz, a foreign recruitment manager in All in One Home Tour, was one of these ladies on the group who thought Carina was “ a big nightmare… I don’t hate them much but they look really ugly with evening dresses.”

Din gets her clients through either phone calls or through Facebook messages on her site. She does not accept more than two projects at a time. Her prices vary between 900 and 2000 LE, depending on the client’s desires but Din thinks they’re reasonable given the nature of the designs.

”The client will have a package of the dress design, fabrics, embroidery, headscarves and above all you’d get the dress done in less than two weeks,” She said.

What's so different ?

Colorful, simple and long are Din’s designs. But she tries to incorporate ideas of the customers with her own vision for the dresses.

“ You could never imagine how she could convince you with what she has in mind,” said Abdel Aziz. “You could see two colors that can never match in your mind but then out of the blue she has a design that would take your breath away and you’d go like wow.”

If the client liked what she had to offer, Din would try to ignore her own desire of how she would want the dress to look like and start getting involved with the client’s personality.

“I love lace but I prefer showing them samples of other fabrics to choose the color or the material according to their budget,” said Din.

Support & Modeling

Comments from friends and family on her own designed dresses few years ago made her reconsider what she wanted to be in the future as she was an English literature graduate.

“Whenever I designed a dress for myself, I received supportive feedback from my friends and my family because they’ve never seen a Hijabi dressed the way I did,” Din said. “That was my starting point for the evening dresses.” So It did not cost Din much when she decided to start her business because she “ posted the dresses [she] designed for [herself].”

Din gained her family’s trust to the extent that she designed her sister’s wedding gown. Even her friends have their pictures on Facebook wearing one of her designs and saying that they “are proud to know such a person.”

Make up artists and photographers have started borrowing dresses and outfits from Din to advertise for themselves like Omnia El Sharqawy and Samo Rera. They even had Din modeling for them.

“I’m not seeking an extreme profit, I’m seeking to grow my name in the fashion field,” said Din as her role models and those who inspired her were Zuhair Murad and Ellie Saab.

But Din said she does struggle that some ladies don’t know what they want and have unrealistic expectations.

“ It’s very annoying to work with these kind of girls,” she said. “They only make me feel stressed out and frankly sometimes I just refuse to work with them.”

Nevertheless, late phone calls never bothered Din as she would get questions from people asking her what to wear and what not to wear ”especially if they don’t have time to come and see me and at the same time they don’t want to wear Carina with an evening dress.“

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Revolution of the Underground Music

By Nejude Al-Ibrahim and Youssef Morshedy

Many young Egyptians started to form musical bands and perform their own original music and songs creating "independent or underground music".

Bailando Band Playing in Culture Wheel on May 23, 2009
Video Copyright Nejude Al-Ibrahim ,2009

Cairo, Egypt- Loud music, applauses, whistling, and singing, this was the reaction of the kids, teenagers and families to "Bailando band" who were singing in the River Hall in Sawy Culture Wheel.

"Seems that not only kids liked the music, but also the adults, " said Mohamed Abaza, leading guitarist in Bailando, after singing the lion sleeps tonight.

Many of the upcoming bands sing their original songs meaning that they compose their own lyrics and music like Wust El Balad and El Door el Awal. Others like to sing English and Arabic cover songs that are well-known like Bailando and Vybe.

“The kind of music we play is very different from what others play or listen,” said Mohamed Arkan, drummer of the Percussion Show band. “We compose our own music with its own lyrics and rhythm and this gives it our taste and style.”

Evolution of Independent Music

Arkan said that during the 1970's and 1980's in Egypt underground music started by Fathy Salama, a Grammy award winner, and Yehia Khalil a pioneer in jazz music in Egypt. Moving to the 1990's the independent music began to be well known and around 10-15 bands were playing in clubs in Cairo.

Since 2000 the independent music took a new form and audience. Many teenagers and youth started to hear some independent bands and they gained more popularity like Wust el Balad, El Door el Awal, and Nagham Masry. This resulted in having concerts sponsored by multinational cooperation.

Mohamed lofty, known as Ousso, guitarist who plays in many bands came with the idea of SOS Music Festival. It attracted 30,000 people who are fans of the different bands that took part in the last festival. In an interview with BBC News, Ousso describes how he is amazed that 15,000 attended the first SOS concert.

Vodafone, Opel and Virgin Mega Store are the sponsors of the SOS Music with the slogan "SOS: let's go original". The aim of these concerts is to encourage and support independent music bands and also to save the status of Egyptian music after the appearance of private music channels like Melody and Mazzika who are commercial channels.

These concerts are held on regular basis. Tickets are for free and the sponsors take care of everything including the financial part like renting fees, technicians, sound and lighting systems.

"We had our first concert in June 2007 in El Sawy Culture Wheel," said Sherif Magdy, percussionist in Bailando band. "We told our friends and families and we were shocked by the 200 people who attended."

"Underground Vs Commercial"

According to Moe, as his band calls him, underground music is different to mainstream music because it was founded by individuals spending from their own money not depending on music production companies.

For example, Wust el Balad started in 1999 by playing in the streets and cafes of Cairo and even sometimes in the Metro stations.

On the other hand, commercial music and singers depend on production companies in financing their career unlike independent bands. For a musician like Arkan, he thinks that independent bands represent the real music not singers like Amr Diab and Tamer Hosny. Arkan elaborates that underground music like theirs, focuses on the quality of the music they play and not on gaining money.

"Bands start by spending from their own money until they find a sponsor," Moe said. "Bands that play in SOS are paid ranging from 400-600 L.E per-members in band."

He also mentioned that the number of band members differ from one to another. For example, Percussion Show has 7 members, Wust el Balad has 8 members, and Wyvern has 5 members. They are all getting the same amount of money no matter how many they are in the band.

There is no support from the Ministry of Culture or the government. However, many places like El- Sawy Culture Center, Cairo Jazz Club and Al-Azhar Park started to give an opportunity to young Egyptian talents to be famous and produce their own music.

Magdy said that they're not thinking of being very professional because they have their main jobs and income, so they are taking it as amateurs or hobby.

Westernized Vs Oriental

Although the message of all independent bands is to save and enhance the Egyptian music status, most of them are using western names, instruments and genres. For example, Black Bulletz, Brain Candy and Davinci are all Egyptian bands that sing and play rock, electronic or metal songs, which is unusual in the Arab world.

" We wanted to have a name that reflects our music and at the same time catchy so we chose Bailando which is dancing in Spanish," said Abaza.

On the contrary, there are artists and bands that are showing the Arab or Egyptian identity in their instruments, names and music. For example, Naseer Shamma plays Oud and instrumental Arabic music. Also, Sahara, an Egyptian band sings Rai music and uses instruments like tabla and qanon, both Egyptian instruments.

Is it Successful?

Arkan said underground music in Egypt started to be very successful and people want to listen to new music and that’s why many bands like Wust el Balad, Eftekasat and Sahara produced their first albums and are gaining more success.

Abaza also thinks “ at a certain point, independent bands will turn commercial because if they are successful people will want to hear them all the time and this is when an album is produced.”

“ Concerts like SOS make the band very successful because thousands of people watch and listen to you, so of course it's successful," shared Magdy.

The first SOS concert was held on September 15th 2006 at the Chinese garden and the next concert will be in July 2009.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama makes Cairo University Clean

Only because people heard that Obama might visit Cairo University in June and give a speech there, officials have started renovating everything in the campus. Not only that, also the streets that are around that area are getting renovated and cleaned.

Amr Adib talked about that in his show Al Qahera El Youm and read an article that said more than 50 thousands pound have been paid to paint the ceiling of the university only.

Usama Anber, a teaching assistant at Cairo University says " I've been asking for some fund for my research for more than a year, and what I've always heard was that there is no money."

Maybe you can ask now ?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Late for Interview

Photos copyright Nejude Al-Ibrahim, 2009

The Autostrad road was never as crowded as it was yesterday.There were hunderds of policemen standing beside el Moqattam road while I was going to shoot an interview in Maadi for one of the stories I am doing.

My driver asked me " Howa fee harb el nahrda ? " meaning " Is there a war going on today? "

And then I kept wondering and said " Today is what ? May 3rd ? Uh maybe these guys are here to make sure everything is going well since the president's birthday is tomorrow and he might be celebrating it up the mountain there or something."

I didn't know what was going on until I read this today.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Game is not over: A Business of Joy and Danger

Videos Copyright Nejude Al-Ibrahim, 2009

Smoke wafted through the darkened room amid the sounds of racing cars, gun shots, and cheering fans. People seated in front of LCD screens with faces expressing happiness, anger, or competition.

Welcome to “Viva”, one of the many Playstation Cafes springing up around Cairo. For customers, these cafes offer a fantasy world of gun battles and high speed chases that lure players of all ages, eager to beat their highest scores. But for owners, the Playstation Cafes offer something much more tangible: fast and easy profit.

The flourishing business of Playstation Cafes encouraged Mohamed Zahran, a former accountant at Misr Car Trading Company, to resign from his governmental job and establish a PS Café in Dokki close to the Arab Academy campus.

“I used to get about 1200 pounds per month from my previous job, and now I earn more than 5000 pounds from the café,” said Zahran. “Of course I had to pay a lot to rent the place and buy the equipments but I managed to collect my money within 6 months.”

But it’s really the extra features and services that determine how much customers are willing to pay to play.

“The air conditions and the comfortable couches are essential to lure the customers and push them to play for 6 or 8 hours,” said Osama Ibrahim, a supervisor in one of Mohandsean’s PS cafes. “There are other important features such as the LCD screens, the food and drinks, the private rooms, and the smoking or non-smoking areas.”

Price can vary from between 5 to 40 pounds for one hour of playtime, depending on the neighborhood and the features included in the fee, Ibrahim added. Extras such as food and drinks cost additional cash.

Ibrahim advised to give more attention and control on the private rooms because some of the customers use them to roll and smoke hash cigarettes.

While Playstation Cafes draw a wide variety of players, owners say that students are the best clients because they usually spend more time at these cafes.

Zahran recommended that those interested in opening a PS Café need to find a place close to an academic institution.

“Most of players love to gather at night. But when the café is close to an academic institution, you guarantee a lot of customers also during the day time.” said Zahran.

The spreading business of PS cafes encouraged the National Sports Council to establish the Egyptian Federation for Electronic Games which aims to prepare the electronic games’ players for international competitions. The Federation also arranges championships that offer prizes and money to the winners.

According to a recent poll by the Egyptian Cabinet Information and Decision Support Center, only 27 % of the youth are practicing traditional sports.

That’s raising concern among some critics that mushrooming Playstation Cafes around Cairo could be taking a negative toll on young and old players, both psychologically and physically.

Save but not Safe:

In a very small PS Café in Sayida Zainab neighborhood full of children, 10-year-old Omar was playing Pro Evolution Soccer and telling his friend how great the last match between Chelsea and Liverpool was in the Champions League. But the boy who said that he loves football so much is actually practicing the game only with his fingers.

“I asked my father to buy me a Playstation, but he doesn’t have enough money for it,” said Omar while he was trying to counter an attack from his friend. “So, I have to save some money during the week and come here to play on the weekend.”

Unlike Omar, Moatassem Alzanaty a 27-year-old export sales executive at Ceramica Cleopatra Company was able to buy his PS console. But he said he still prefers to play at a café to interact with other passionate about the games.

“There is no fun to compete against a machine at my home,” he said. “The PS café offers a chance to clear my mind, meet with friends and have some fun together,” said Alzanaty. “The PS cafes now are very similar to the Billiard cafes during the 1990’s.”

But experts warn that the current obsession with video games has its drawbacks.

Professor Hisham Bahary, a psychologist at Ain Shams University, warned that spending time at PS cafes decreases social interactions with family and friends.

“Psychological studies proved that video games prevent the development of social interactive skills and lead to depression,” said Professor Bahary. “Also, we can’t ignore the negative effect of violent games.”

Spending too much time at the PS cafes hasn’t only a negative social and psychological effect, but also a physical one.

“Spending many hours in front of the PS screens causes a lot of problems for children,” said Professor Elham Hosny, a pediatrician at Ain Shams University. “It might affect the eyesight, the nerves, and the bones, as well as fatness if they are not practicing any sport.”

But despite the risks, café goers and owners say that PS Cafes are unlikely to shutter their doors anytime soon.

“There is a third generation of PS consoles and the fourth is on its way. And there is always a new game or a new edition,” said Osama Ibrahim. I think the game will not be over soon.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kathem Al Saher

I finally saw Kathem El Saher in real life. The concert I attended was held in Mubarak Security Academy in celebration of Sham El Nessim. My friends asked me to take my camera with me but I told them " I know I won't be allowed to shoot there." And Guess what ??? I could have shot the whole concert. I am so pissed off. People just make sure rules in Egypt change... They are not always the same! But anyways.. it was a nice respectful concert ... I went with my sister the nanny and one of our friends.

Here is a part from the concert shown on ESC :

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Show the truth on T.V

Early this morning while I was in the car in one of Giza's streets, a microbus came in the opposite direction and stopped the car. I was shocked when I saw some dirty ugly guys getting out of that microbus. They approached the car and asked the driver :
- Who are you ?
- Who are these people with you in the car?
- Where are you going ?

I yelled " don't give them your ID card " as I saw him trying to reach his wallet.
Me: "who on the world are you?"

The driver: " hush ya anessa ana aaref khalas" meaning " It's okay ma'am I know who they are."

He showed them his ID card and then they went away. Later on, I knew they were some guys from Amn Dawla.

One question kept going in my mind ... " Couldn't Amn Dawla get some cute guys with suits that we see on T.V instead of those ugly people?"