Sunday, October 30, 2005

Egyptian "bawabs" make it to Boston

I found this interesting story on Cairo doormen or bawabs (As we call him in Egyptian Arabic).

The story has a cultural background as well as political dimensions. Just to explain to my non-Egyptian friends, a bawab function in Cairo is no guard man or receptionist job you think of. He is not a person sitting down at the gate of your house or building to get your guests sign on in a guest book to know who is in at the building for safety reasons.

This bawab actually is usually a tenant in the same building where you live. He must have certain characteristics. Being in Egypt and masculinity is usually how you show strength; this bawab must be a man. Usually he is no single man. He moves to the building with his wife with two kids and they end up with six. The owner of the building offers them a room for him, his wife and the six children.

And because you are Egypt and you are not considered as a full-fledged citizen who can be responsible for your social actions, you need a custodian or a caretaker represented in the Bawab.

The regime officers succeed in utilizing the bawab to collect information about citizens who are considered a threat. The Bawab could be your ultimate friend or your unavoidable enemy.

Culturally, this bawab can straighten you or help you find your way to sin. If you are an Egyptian, you better behave otherwise; everything will be reported to all neighbors who have chaste daughters whom you might hurt their feelings by bringing your girlfriend to your apartment. You might end up also with a pimp bawab who would be more than happy to bring you whatever you want.

In this huge Cairo city, security or safety is not about making sure that fire extinguishers are in place or that municipality engineers are checking on the buildings’ foundation that we only hear about when they collapse because of corruption related issues or about ensuring that buildings’ facilities have full functions that help people live without being dependent on a person to get them bread because they do not have a near by place to buy bread or they do not want to move their cars because parking lots will be taken...etc. Safety and services embodied in the bawab idea is all about making sure that citizens are behaving.

Dependency on other malfunctioning people like the bawab keeps the mouth of all Egyptian citizens shut, because some Egyptian citizens who enjoy the privilege of having a bawab, do not have to go to the post office and stand in line to get an international mail delivered or bargain about fruits and vegetables prices. It just keeps the citizens as quiet as possible so not to complain why the government is not conforming or imposing pricing regulations or providing the proper services in each district, hence holding officials responsible for doing their jobs…etc. The cycle of the bawab is completed by cooperating with the regimes’ officers or simply with other informants working as sub-informant, spying on citizens know to have certain profiles.


At 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. We Americans take so much of our freedom for granted that we don't realize how restrictive other societies can be. Thanks for the analysis. Great info.


At 1:04 PM, Blogger Gateway Pundit said...

That is very interesting. I was also thinking how strange that must feel. It is something we just don't even think about in the states.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Freedom for Egyptians said...

Well, I am glad to know that you are starting to think about your freedom.

At 6:38 PM, Blogger Badr said...

have you ever lived in Egypt, Ever, well if you did you certainly didnt have a bawab. you have a totally distorted image of having a bawab...first of all his main alligance is to the people who pay him the tenants and not the govronment, being a low class citizen he by nature hates the goronment as it had failed him so many times, so you can actually trust your bawab.
the behavior of the bawab depends on the number of tenants, the power of the tenant over the bawab is inversly proportional to the number of tenants so the fewer the people living in the building the nicer the bawab is. in my mothers building (24 flats) the bawab has this tendency to ignore helping me even after asking him for help. in my building though (i'm living alone in the building) the bawab is lovely and would do anything to make me happy.
the tasks of the bawab include mainly cleaning the cars every morning (as dust gathers up really quickly here in egypt)makes sure no body else parks in the building's parking people generaly carrying stuff to thier appartments, even getting them stuff they want....generaly you find your self totally dependant on him, i mean how many times you got to your appartment just to find out you forgot to get egypt you can always send your bawab to get it.
as for his six kids, they mostly help him cleaning the building up, they work like a task force of his, well and i dont really consider it child labor, cause its thier father and mother bossing them, and he'd definatly be nicer to them than anybody else.
all in all having a bawab is a bliss that i dont find in any other country.

At 7:18 PM, Blogger forsoothsayer said...

don't fucking bullshit about freedom, anonymous. haviong a bawab is most usually a blessing. if he becomes an annoyance, he can easily be paid off, but otherwise it's great to have such feudalism at one's command :)

At 4:15 AM, Blogger D.B. Shobrawy said...

Wow, I have never heard a worse representation of reality. The bawab in reality is near the lowest social class in egypt, hes a guy that you abuse and make do things for you. Your representaion is the equivilent of living in America and the guy who cuts your lawn working for the C.I.A. Now doesnt that sound silly.


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