A Chinese Christmas

A university in China has now banned Christmas to in order to resist what officials call the corrosion of western culture. It is a bit strange to me living in my bubble that Christmas would be viewed as a threat. I grew up in America, and my favorite holiday is Christmas. However, I can see that western influence is increasing throughout the world, and I can see how other people might not view it as being neutral. Western food, music, and thought can be seen spreading to different corners of the world, and it is seeing mixed reactions of acceptance and scorn. China is officially atheist as a state, and few people in China would understand or stress the religious significance and symbolism that follow the holiday season. I understand this university’s effort to remove itself from a western Judeo-Christian tradition, but I do not think this effort will be sufficient to prevent the spread of customs and ideas that are already growing. It will be interesting to see how holidays become less restricted by national borders over time.


Do Laws Change Society or do Norms Change Society?

There are two main approaches to altering the actions of a society.  One way is by changing the laws of that society, and the other is by changing the minds of the people.  When it pertains to women’s rights and their place in society in Pakistan, both changes are crucial to making any sort of improvement in the matter.  Anita Weiss argues in her article, “Moving Forward with the Legal Empowerment of Women in Pakistan” one is more valuable than the other in making progress.  Weiss states, “The empowerment of women in Pakistan can be considered in a variety of contexts, but none is more critical than law…” (p. 2). Weiss makes worthy points as to the importance of law with the empowerment of women, but I argue that there is something more critical than law in this journey to empowerment, and that is the conversion of cultural and traditional norms.

Laws can only change so much. If there is no incentive or personal motivation to follow or enforce the laws, they will only ever be words on paper.  It is also relatively easy to write those words on paper.  Getting “those words” to influence society however is nearly impossible on its own.

When looking at the case of Pakistan, there is a connection that is instilled upon the community that Pakistan equals Islam.  Islam is your nationality, your identity, your culture, and your tradition.  So when officials influence society with interpretations of Islam that do not benefit women’s empowerment, this suppression of women becomes part of the culture.  With this tradition, people are not able to easily separate the phenomenon of inequality with the actual faith of Islam.  The people begin to equate women suppression with Islam when, in reality, there is no correlation between the two.  As Weiss points out, the people “experience their Muslim identity as inseparable from other parts of their culture. Thus, things not in accordance with cultural norms, values, or practices are often considered as contradicting Islam”(p. 3).  To put it another way, if women strive for more rights and empowerment, something that is not custom in their tradition and culture, it is seen as opposing Islam and is therefore less likely to experience actual change.  That is why changing laws will not work alone.  Changing laws will not change the heart and the culture of the people.

Another reason I believe societal shifting is a more critical aspect of empowering women in Pakistan is because intentions matter. Oftentimes, laws are made with the wrong intentions. This is a common occurrence with countries all around the world on the UN Human Rights Watch List.  Many countries will improve their human rights laws just to remove themselves from the list and restore their country’s image rather than improving the laws because of a desire to advance the lives of their citizens.  This was arguably the case in Pakistan under Musharraf’s time when women’s rights entered the stage once more.  Weiss points out that his actions of improving women’s rights, “can be seen as an effort more to improve Pakistan’s standing in the international community than to improve women’s legal standing in Pakistan” (p. 7).   If the intentions are not to improve the lives of women, then the laws will create no effective change and implementation will fall through the cracks.

Implementation of the laws must go hand in hand with the laws themselves.  If the intentions behind the laws is flawed and the customs of the society do not support the laws in the first place, they become nothing but paper with no true significance or ability to incite change.  Weiss provided many reasons why we need both societal and legal changes to improve the women’s lives in Pakistan, but insisting the legal action is the most important part of the solution is inaccurate.


Research on the Mortgage Industry in Egypt

The history of the mortgage system in Egypt is short and not so sweet.  A new mortgage law that passed in 2001 created hope for an increase in homeownership and its associated economic and societal benefits. In its mere 16 years history, mortgage finance has fought to succeed through Egypt’s incredible structural challenges, societal resistance (including a significant number of people who believe that it does not comply with Sharia Law because of the issue of charging interest), economic upheaval, revolutions, and military coups. Because of those challenges, the system has completely different goals than it did when it first appeared in 2001, but knowing what the mortgage system had to go through to get to where it is today is essential when looking at where it could go in the future.  In this paper I will address the initial goals of the Egyptian mortgage system, the challenges the new industry faced in its creation, how the government addressed those challenges and what industry participants did to reach their goals, how the financial crisis of 2008 and the Arab Spring affected the mortgage system in their own ways, and where the mortgage system is today.


Reliable homeownership statistics are hard to find in Egypt since it is estimated that over 90% of the housing units in the country are in the “informal” sector; however, consensus puts it at less than half that of the United States and the lowest among the developed countries of Africa and the Middle East North Africa (MINA) region at the time of the passage of the 2001 mortgage law.[1]  The lack of a developed mortgage system meant that those wanting to own homes had to pay cash or fund extremely large down payments from their savings, and hope to find a developer who would provide a unit that could be paid off in 2-4 years. Mortgages were extremely rare, and banks that did them had no regulatory framework for making the loans and often were unable to foreclose them if the borrower failed to make payments.  The housing units in the informal sectors were not legally “registered” as properties and therefore could not be financed at all.  Without registration, it was impossible to prove who owned a particular property, and therefore impossible to enforce a mortgage. The last time Egypt had reliable, affordable property registration was before the revolution of 1952, when the British system was still in place.  Ahmed Marashly, the former Deputy Director of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and current Head of Corporate Governance at Multinational UAE Islamic Bank, quipped that “Administrative functions in Egypt really fell apart after the British left (in 1952).  Egyptians are hard workers, and we are smart, but we need someone to tell us what to do.  We need a good conqueror every once in a while to organize things for us.”[2]

Production of housing units before the mortgage law was far outstripped by demand.  With over 50% of the population between the ages of 15 and 40, marriages were common, leading to huge demand for new and affordable housing units.[3] Much of the new housing being built was in the so-called “New Cities” and the units there were not affordable to 98% of Egyptians.  So, there was a mismatch: too many high end units with not enough buyers and too many buyers for the available affordable units.  The one thing that was also missing was a significant middle class available to purchase housing units.

A team consisting of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Investment and the Central Bank of Egypt, along with technical assistance from Europe and USAID came together in the late 1990’s and spent over a decade launching the mortgage industry in Egypt, hoping to increase the standard of living of all Egyptians through a vibrant housing market spurred by an efficient mortgage finance industry.

Unfortunately, with all the changes that came about in egypt since these goals were first established, these original hopes for the mortgage industry in Egypt were never fulfilled.

[1] Everhart, Stephen, Berta Heybey, and Patrick Carleton. “Egypt: Overview of the Housing Sector.” Housing Finance International (2006): n. pag. Housing Finance International, June 2006. Web.

[2] Marashly, Ahmed. Email interview. 10 Apr. 2017.

[3] “Egypt Sees Sustained Demand in Residential, Commercial and Retail Space.” Oxford Business Group. N.p., 11 Apr. 2017. Web. 12 May 2017.


Trump’s Endangerment of DACA

Over the last couple of months, the Trump administration has been working through a long list of immigration policies and their potential overhaul. One of the policies the current administration is planning to scrap is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the principles or seemingly lack of so governing our current administration has left in fear of being deported as early as next year. Put best by Raul M. Grijalva, “These are not ‘immigration principles.’ They are principles of nationalism and xenophobia.” To me America is the land of new opportunities, and still has the potential to be one of the greatest countries in the world. Yet it is times like these that I often question the morality of our current administration.


International Prom

On October 7th, I attended the International Advisory Committees event: International Prom: Hollywood Night. I know a good number of international students, so I was excited to go to this event to see all my friends, However I was not expecting for this event to have as big a takeaway as it did. This event served to broaden my understanding and respect for international song and dance, while still incorporating a level of fun. I’m glad I attended this event because it was a cultural enriching experience which helped incorporate the diversity and music of a vast array of countries.


Foreign Film Club

This semester, I continued my involvement int the Foreign Film club, a new club that was started fairly recently by a couple of Global Engagement Fellows. I have enjoyed my time in the club because I enjoy learning about other cultures. The films we have watched in the club are distinctly different from many American clubs. Observing these differences is interesting because they bring about a fresh new way to tell a story on screen. These differences also helped me to understand the culture and environment of the countries where the movies were produced Unfortunately, this semester we didn’t have too many meetings because some got canceled at the last minute. However, when we did have meetings, it was fun to hang out with a lot of other Global Engagement Fellows as well as with others who were interested in international films.  I plan on staying involved in foreign film club throughout the rest of my time here at OU.


The Paris Climate Agreement

Last summer, the US officially pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. When I had originally heard this, I was studying abroad in Oxford and as such was very interested in international events. I am passionate about climate change and I think it’s the most prevalent issue facing us today. Thus, I was extremely disappointed to see that the US had pulled out of the agreement. I think that as an influential country, it is our obligation to lead the way in the response to climate change. If we confronted this issue full force, we would be able to influence other nations to follow in our footsteps of creating a more sustainable world.


The Image of an Immigrant

This semester I attended a talk called “The Image of an Immigrant.” The presentation was about the average American’s view of immigrants in the United States. Unsurprisingly, Americans overestimate the percentage of illegal immigrants in the US. I also learned that 88% of people disapprove of government assistance to undocumented immigrants. While I can understand that people would be weary of the government supporting individuals who are not legally in the country, I think it’s important to show respect and support to these individuals. At times, I think people forget that undocumented immigrants have their own basic rights and still deserve to be treated with respect. I am glad that I attended this event as it helped me to become more aware of the way in which immigrants are viewed by their peers.


A night in Hollywood

Have you ever been to International Prom at OU?  If you answered no, then that’s a mistake.  International Prom is the best student organized event I have ever been to at OU and I’m so glad I was able to go again this year.

This year’s theme was Hollywood. The decorations were subtle but gorgeous…well the huge light up hollywood sign wasn’t subtle, oh and the red carpet that led into the ballroom wasn’t so subtle.  Okay maybe subtle wasn’t the best adjective.  The decorations were tasteful and stunning.  The gold balloons filled the dance floor and twinkle lights made the room feel magical.  IAC really went all out this year and it was beautiful.

As always, my favorite part of International Prom is the dancing.  It’s not like the dancing at your high school prom (ranging from extremely inappropriate to awkwardly slow dancing with your crush, to just jumping up and down with your hands in the air).  It was REAL dancing:  Dancing from all around the world on one stage.  When you step on the dance floor, it’s like stepping into a world of its own, one the has different moves from different countries, all to the same rhythm. I truly can’t explain it in a way to give the scene any justice.

I was dressed in a typical American cocktail dress but some people were wearing the traditional formal wear from their counties. It was a room the embodied the word culture.

The theme might have been Hollywood but I definitely felt like I was experiencing every culture other than Hollywood.  It was a wonderful evening.


Fuzzy’s Fall Welcome Event

For the first time ever, Phi Beta Delta hosted a Fall Welcome Event.  The other Executive officers and I spent weeks planning for this new tradition and it was definitely worth it.  Each year, Phi Beta Delta only has one event, Induction.  It used to be that an email would go out accepting those who applied and qualified, those individuals would pay their one time dues, and then they wouldn’t hear from PBD again until late spring when they were officially inducted into the Honor Society.  We wanted to change that dynamic, so we did.

This year we hosted a fall welcome event for old members and new prospective members.  We had fuzzy’s cater and it was a hit.  The 2017/2018 members had just been accepted but their payment was not due yet so it was an opportunity for them to get to know the executive officers and current members of the organization.  We sat in Farzaneh Hall, surrounded by way too much chips and queso and answered any questions.

We went around telling stories of where we studied abroad.  Some of us went to the same places but most of us were diverse in location.  It was great getting to hear other’s experiences in places Ive only dreamed of traveling.  It was also funny hearing people tell their experience of their time studying abroad here in the U.S.

I think this event was extremely successful.  It helped bring us all together. Most people I hadn’t seen since induction last spring!  I really hope this event and tradition sticks around because I think it is a great addition to the society’s events.