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Untold Gender Stories in Egypt: Interviewing Mona Al Shimi #supportBussy


No one can deny Egypt’s influence on the culture of the Arab world at large. In the past 3 decades we have been witnessing a rapid growth of religious extremism, projection towards more conservatism, expansion of patriarchy and inflation of masculinity. The Arab Spring brought hope for change, with young women and men activists demanding more freedoms and rights. Unfortunately, our Arab Spring has been highjacked and the aftermath was devastating. Yet, young activists won’t surrender to darkness, because whenever and wherever there is injustice, there will always be justice fighters.

A group of young Egyptian want to challenge social taboos and bring up untold gender stories. It is a great initiative that I wholeheartedly support. I had the chance to interview Mona Al Shimi from Bussy and ask her more about this initiative and the crowd funding campaign they are running to support it.

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Fadi: Tell us more about Bussy

quotesMona: Bussy is a performing arts project/movement that documents and gives voice to censored untold stories about gender in different communities in Egypt. Women step on stage to share stories about harassment, rape, gender discrimination, honor killing, forced marriage, Female genital mutilation, motherhood, domestic violence, child abuse, mass sexual assaults and many others, from different communities and cities in Egypt.

Fadi: I bet that there are many untold stories here and there is a big need to hear those stories. Where did the idea behind Bussy come from? 

quotes1Mona: In 2005 Eve Ensler ‘s Vagina Monologues was performed at The American University in Cairo. While audiences felt very moved by the courage and honesty of its content, they longed for something similar coming from Egyptian culture, something they could personally relate to more. A group of students led by Naz Khan a foreign exchange student at the time decided to create Bussy to give a space for an Egyptian Vagina Monologues. Flyers were created round campus titled “share your story” with the option of anonymity given, and in 2006 Bussy gave its first performance at AUC theatre. Today Bussy is no longer a student organization, has expanded beyond AUC, and is no longer limited to women.

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Fadi: I just read a friend of mine on Facebook saying something that rationalises the globalisation of the feminist movement as a response of the globalisation of same oppressive agencies. Having said that, a culture specific flavour always exists. Who is behind Bussy? What’s your team like? 

Mona: We are a small team of independent youth led by manager and director Sondos Shabayek. She has completely dedicated her life to the project.

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Fadi: Why do you think there is a need for women and men to talk about their experiences that are related to gender?

quotes2Mona: From the moment we are born we are taught to invalidate our own feelings, our personal experiences… To deny our inner worlds, and only accept and communicate what has been presented to us as “normal”. By not sharing we each live in the illusion that our personal experience is shameful and that we are alone. As the mass silence continues this message of shame keeps getting reinforced and individuals suffer from extreme self-judgement. It’s very important to break that silence, challenge that message of shame, and give people a space to express and listen to the stories of others. It helps individuals heal and accept themselves, and on a larger scale breaks the social fallacy that’s imprisoning the masses.

Fadi: How do you think theatre as a medium can help brining these stories up?

Mona: Theatre is a very powerful medium in communicating stories. As opposed to other mediums it doesn’t only capture the content, but also the feelings of the storyteller in flesh and blood. Whether the storyteller on stage is telling his/her personal story or someone else’s, it feels real. Both the flesh and blood of the story and the storyteller are brought to life on stage. It has a very direct and intense impact on both audiences and tellers.

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Fadi: You are going to address taboo issues related to gender. Do you think the social climate in Egypt is ready for such stories?

quotes3Mona: We always have to be a few steps ahead from what the social climate is ready for, otherwise no significant change is achieved. However, it is also important to work gradually. Taboos come in layers, and if you follow the order of such layers in your unfolding process, it makes the process smoother. It is important to understand that the core objective is not to challenge the society, but to heal it.

Fadi: I like what you said about healing society, yet I am sure that you are going to face huge challenges in doing so? What kind of challenges are you anticipating?

Mona:  More of the same challenges we are currently facing; financial sustainability, freedom from censorship, and finding safe performance spaces.

Fadi: You started a crowd funding campaign to overcome the financial side of this initiative. I hope you succeed in securing funds needed to keep this initiative alive. Do you have a certain goal or objective that you want to achieve? How many women and men are you going to reach to? How many stories are you aiming to bring up to the surface?

Mona: So far we have gathered stories from over 500 people in 5 cities and held 20 performances. We aim to expand those numbers, explore more cities, more rural areas and reaching out to those who are isolated and unheard. Next year we are aiming to travel to 3 new cities, collect a 100 stories, and hold 4 performances.

On the longer term we also hope to expand to other artistic mediums. We plan to upload are full archive online in order for everyone to have access to the stories, and eventually create a book in English and Arabic with a selected collection. We also hope to upload filmed testimonies online and keep filming more. Despite the power of theatre, these mediums are more accessible to a wider scope of people, and that’s why we need to expand horizontally.

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Fadi: The campaign is nicely done. It is touching to see young men and women demanding a safe place to tell their stories. So far, you have secured $4,414 out of $70,000 goal and you have only 13 days are left. What activities are you planning to meet your goal?

Mona: We’re trying to reach out as widely as possible on social media round the world especially to those passionate about our cause.

We’re also selling small symbolic items, holding garage sales, and collecting contributions in different events and gatherings round Cairo.

And we’re still brainstorming daily to find more creative ideas to support our campaign. We’re really trying our best!

Fadi: I hope the readers of this blog help in making this campaign successful. Who are your current supporters?

quotes4Mona: Though our circle of support is small, we are grateful for their loyalty without which we would not have been here today.

Famous Egyptian Actor Khaled Abu El Naga has been a major support since 2010, when he co-produced Bussy videos with famous Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy. Khaled continues lobbying for Bussy till now.

The Greek Campus, and Goethe institute have kindly shared rehearsal and performance spaces in the past and continue to support our cause.

We have also previously received financial support from the British council, the Swiss Embassy in Egypt, Frida, and Pioneers of Egypt.

Fadi: Thank you Mona. That is a noble cause what you are after. I hope to see Bussy successful and copies/expanded to come other countries in the Arab world.

Readers, if you enjoyed this blog and feel passionate about sexual and body rights, then go ahead and support Bussy here. Let’s help them succeed.

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“The Bride of Amman” Giveaways!


I am excited about the launch of “The Bride of Amman” in English. It is already up on Amazon.com for pre-orders in both a paperback version and as a kindle version. I have also created today a giveaway of two copies of the book, you can enter by clicking here The Bride of Amman (you just need to be a US resident.

My publisher has also been running his own giveaway on goodreads offering another 2 free copies which you can enter by clicking here The Bride of Amman

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Jordan re-launched! Dreaming big again..


Jordan survived the global financial crisis, the arab spring, the war in syria and the emergence of ISIS. It has been a difficult 7 years since the global financial crisis hit the country in 2009. At the time, it took us 2 years to understand the toll of the crisis and start putting our economy back on track, but the region was boiling, and the arab spring erupted. Arab regimes crumbled one after the other, countries collapsed, and civil wars erupted.

The Jordanians regime felt the heat of the arab spring. The risks were too high this time. Demonstrations hit the streets every Friday for more than two years raising high slogan that didn’t shy of calling for the fall of the regime. The government struggled to please protestors at the beginning and meet their demands. Promises after promises were made, some for legitimate demands, and some not, some been kept and some been forgotten. The regime acted wisely and didn’t use brute force to silent protestors. There been some violations but they managed to cool down the streets and overcome the arab spring.

With the regime’s focus shifting from economical development into maintaining the country’s stability and manoeuvring the political pressure, the economical situation struggled. Tourism dried, ICT sector fall off, the film industry growth lost momentum, and refugees’ influx added to the rise of unemployment rates. Jordan seemed to be losing all of the development that happened between 2000-2009.

It was only last year that the regime felt secured that it is over the arab spring. Finally, its focus is shifted back now to the much needed economical development.

The World Economic Forum is taking place now again in the dead sea. It seems that the government has put some efforts into planning for a rapid economical rise to seize the chance of such an important global gathering of investors. The video issued highlighting completed and upcoming major projects and opportunities in the country is high quality. It shows high profile investors and economical leaders who testify positively in favour economical opportunities in the country. Jordan is about to rise. It is re-launching.

Re-launching Jordan focuses also on reviving tourism. The Jordanian tourism board has been doing some nice work recently using social media, inviting bloggers and prominent tweeps and instagram celebrities to show what the country has to offer. They did a good job by teaming with Tarab 3al 7atab, a Jordanian talented young group, to produce this cool commercial:

King Abdullah has just appeared on CNN two days ago emphasising the human capital of the country. He said that he hopes to attract Jordanian talents who left to work in other countries back.

With much hope and believe in this country, we are happy to see Jordan re-launched. Jordan is young, resilient and has big ambition. God bless Jordan!

And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it!

Alef’s brotherhood aims for a better arab world in 2030: Interviewing Tarek Abdo


Alef is by far my favourite book club in Amman, I believe that I am their favourite author too. I had three great sessions with them last year; at the beginning of the year we discussed “Aroos Amman” (The Bride of Amman) and had a successful public open discussion about homosexuality. Later in the year, they organised a book conference and invited me to present my new book “Janna Ala Al Ard”. A week after that, they hosted me for a first thorough discussion around the concepts of longevity, life and death and other philosophical matters I presented in the book.

Tarek Abdo

Tarek Abdo

Tarek Abdo is the founder of Alef. He is one of those young Jordanians who believe that change can happen and that it is within our hands to overturn the course of events that plagued our societies in the past few decades. He is set on a mission to change the Arab world into a better one.

Alef is not just another book club, it is a social movement that started a change and will make a change. I had the chance to talk to Tarek and asked him the following questions:

Fadi: Hi Tarek, as I said in the introduction, Alef is more than a book club, it is more of a social movement. In your words, you call it a brotherhood. Tell us more about Alef, what is it exactly? How did it start? And what’s your vision for it?

Tarek: Alef club is a non-profit service organization with a stated vision “A better arab world in 2030”, it is a secular organization open to all persons regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, or political preference.

tarek2Established in 2012 and organized multiple local events, and three conferences, in addition to special boot camp trainings, the members of ALEF club are known as “A” member.

Members meet every week to discuss books, movies or other subjects. Such social events help us realize our vision.

Alef’s primary motto is “Read to lead”.

Alef brotherhood it is a secret group of leaders that serve and organize our events, 
if you want to know more about them you have to become a member first.

Fadi: In the conference you explained the name Alef. Why Alef? Is it the first letter of the Arabic Alphabets?

Tarek: Yes Alef is the first letter of all alphabet languages. The letter aleph looks like the human being body however if you take a look on our logo you will see the fusion between the human entity and the letter aleph.

Alef logo

Alef logo

Fadi: We are also intrigued to know about Tarek Abdo. How old are you? What did you study? What are you currently doing? And what are your plans for the near future?

Tarek: I am 24 years old, finished my bachelor’s studies in Marketing from 
Amman Al-Ahliyya University and planning to pursue a master’s degree in Business administration. I am also working on my dream project “a public speaking academy”.

My next step in the next year is to grow with Alef and go global, starting from Dubai, Cairo and Morocco.

Fadi: Growing a book club must be a challenge in the Arab world. In my 3 sessions with you guys, I noticed a wide reach that I haven’t noticed in other book clubs. How do you reach out to people? Who are your audience? How many other people help you? What obstacles did you face in growing this book club?

tarek1Tarek: hehe this is one of our secrets Fadi. In the Arab world, the book has a nerdy stamp; readers are usually known as nerdy and boring. Here in Alef we break this wall, we carry the book to the entertainment department, we are cool readers, we do a lot of crazy things, we ask the forbidden questions, and we try to find an answer to it. We actually want to start the change .

Fadi: I have always said that what we need to do in order to revive the culture of reading in the arab world is bringing the cool factor to the books, thanks for helping in doing that! 



Do you see the popularity of the book growing among youth in Jordan? What do you think are the factors that still standing against a mainstream reading culture?

Tarek: I think yes the reading habit started to grow between the youth, because the main factor against this culture is the forbidden questions.

Nowadays there are a lot of young leaders who make the right decision to start asking. They seek the right answers where they can find it best – the book

Fadi: I really enjoyed most of the speaking sessions at the conference. It is an annual conference, right? Tell us more about it? Where did the idea come from? What do you intend to achieve with it? Is it easy to find support/funds for such important cultural activities?

Tarek: First of all, I would like to thank you Fadi for coming to our conference, This idea came from our team after 4 months of starting the club. We thought about a new step for Alef and looked into mass media. We decided on a yearly event to be a speech conference about reading culture and it actually worked.

me at Alef conference

me at Alef conference

Honestly it’s very difficult to organize such event, because there are little companies who are interested in supporting the reading audience in Jordan, but our team has found the way to persuade some companies and it also worked.

We also got the full support from Princess Sumayya University in the last conference.

Fadi: How successful was the conference this year? Give us numbers.

– 225 attendance (133 positive feed backs / 5 negative)
– 10 speakers (2 authors, 2 Writers, 2 book clubs founders, 4 Alef Members)
– 3 sponsorships
– 15 volunteers
– 15 social media volunteers
– 4 coordinators
– 25 trending the hashtag of the conference on twitter
– More than 100 signed copy sold for Fadi Zaghmout new book “janna ala al ard”

with Alef's team

with Alef’s team

Fadi: Haha, you helped me sell many books in the conference, thank you for that!

In one of the sessions at the conference you introduced Alef’s debate club. It reminds me of the debate you hosted for me earlier in the year around homosexuality. One thing that I admire about Alef is that you don’t shy of discussing any issue. You are always ready to talk about any topic no matter how sensitive it is culturally, religiously or politically. I see that a formula of success and a needed breath of air in the country. Tell us more about the debate club. When will it start? Do you have any policy in regards of topics planned to be discussed?

Tarek: It will be one of the most important achievements this year, it’s a world class club which discusses everything with no limits, and we call it ASPRDC: ALEF, SEX, POLITICS, RELIGION, DEBATE, CLUB, with a slogan says: “We Talk Up to the Sky”. But it needs more time because of the security approvals and other operational issues we expect to launch it on 1st of July 2015.

Fadi: I know what you are a big fan of Paulo Coelho. Did he help implanting the seed of believing in yourself and what you could achieve in your heart? Which of his books is your favourite? Any favourite quote for him?

tarek3Tarek: Oh, Paulo Coelho inspired me when I was down and flooded in fail and doubt, then one of my close friends recommended the alchemist novel to me. I found myself in that novel, I felt like I was Santiago, and Coelho was talking to me, it was such a miracle! Coelho was my guide to the road of success, his books makes me a better person, who loves life, and understand why I’m here.

“and when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” That’s my favourite quote!

Tarek Abdo as the Alchemist

Tarek Abdo as the Alchemist

Fadi: That’s one of my favourite quotes too. Paulo Coelho has been a big inspiration for me as well. He planted in us seeds of dreaming big. It actually works for those who believe in themselves.

Who is your favourite Arab author? And favourite Arabic book?

Tarek: Najeeb Mahfooth, “Awlad Haretna or the Children of Gebelawi”

Fadi: What’s next for Alef?

Tarek; The Alchemist Trip 
reading the Alchemist Novel in:

1- The desert of Rum, Jordan
2- The pyramid of Giza, Egypt
3- Dubai Desert safari, UAE
4- Sahara Desert, Morocco

Stay tuned for more craziness reading ideas.

The Alchemist reading in wadi rum

The Alchemist reading in wadi rum

Fadi: You have already done the first reading of the Alchemist in wadi rum. How was it? tell me about the whole experience 


Tarek: hmmm it was an amazing experience. It’s one of our event types called novel stimulation witch is living the same atmosphere for the novel, which will makes the reader understand the message. It brings more inspiration and a chance to think and meditate about the idea of the book,

In wadi rum we followed santiago’s journey in check points reading stations and we put the readers in the same process that Santiago followed in the book (crossing the desert, stealing,  being kidnapped, finding real alchemists, learning the desert language, finding his destiny, and going back to his own treasure)

In addition to the spiritual and learning processes, we had fun. Wish you will be with us next time.

Fadi: I hope so! Thank you Tarek! I look forward for that. Best of luck to you and to Alef. Drastic times calls for drastic actions, with so many arab youth falling for religious extremist ideologies, it is good to see others with such passion to stand up and force a change. Alef might be what the arab world needs today. Best of luck!

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“The Bride of Amman” is out for pre-orders


I can’t believe that this is finally happening. The English translation of “Aroos Amman” is finally ready and up for pre-orders. It is already out there on Amazon.com (paperback)! and a publishing date is set on 21th July. I am so happy about the translation and so thankful for Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp who has done a great job in brining my written words into English. I am also very thankful for my publisher (signal8press) for the great work put into ensuring best quality of the English production. It was a long process but I enjoyed working with both of them and witnessed them shaping what I thought to be a good book even better.

When I first started blogging in 2006, I wanted to communicate issues of sexual and body rights that were not addressed by traditional media at the time. I could see how our cultural heritage and obsession in regulating sexuality is making an already tough life due to economical conditions even tougher. I wanted to open missed debates around these issues in hope of change. Few years down the road, I was able to collect my thoughts into a full story, a novel that came out in January 2012. At the time, I didn’t anticipate this success of Aroos Amman, and didn’t anticipate the huge amount I received. People seem to be fed up with the old doctrine that limits their body and sexual freedoms. They are happy to see someone bringing it up right front and are ready to fight for it themselves.

Today with the book coming out to English, I am hoping for a wider reach that could trigger even bigger change.

Thank you all for your love and support.

I dedicate this book to Arab young men and women: those who are struggling to conform, those who are fighting for autonomy over their own bodies, and those advocating for sexual rights.

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Fadi Zaghmout’s ‘Paradise on Earth': Family Dynamics in Futuristic Jordan


Fadi Zaghmout:

This is a well written comprehensive review by Jona for Janna Ala Al Ard published on Arablit blog today.

Originally posted on Arabic Literature (in English):

Fadi Zaghmout’s second novel, Paradise on Earth, takes readers eighty-odd years into the future, imagining a Jordan where we have control over the aging process:

By Jona Fras

jannaFadi Zaghmout’s Paradise on Earth (Janna ‘ala l-ard; Dar al-Adab, 2014) has been labeled a “science fiction” novel — although a more precise description might be “speculative fiction with futuristic elements.” It is the Jordanian writer’s second novel, following The Bride of Amman (2012), to be published in English translation by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp later this year. Like Bride, Janna explores interpersonal relationships and the issues individuals face when their desires and ideals clash with societal norms — but this time, with a futuristic twist: The novel’s central premise is a form of medicine that can reverse human aging, and in effect grant eternal life.

Janna is set in Amman, Jordan in the 2090s, and is narrated through the eyes of Janna Abdallah…

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