- Will miss you ya Masr. about 6 hours ago
- #Cairo airport's "Handicapped" Toilet http://t.co/m8z94ryfuX about 8 hours ago
- Really enjoyed the times ya @mfatta7 & the friendship that's come out of it. Your an amazing guy. Will stay in touch and hope to see u soon about 9 hours ago
- Really humbled to have been invited into the home of @khaledfahmy11. One of #Egypt's great thinkers and writers http://t.co/cfDK4DHvyn about 11 hours ago
- Had the pleasure of meeting the super cool @yelayat, she's doing great work in Cairo about 17 hours ago
The Buck Dies Here: Why Egypt’s Interior Ministry Refuses to be Tamed
(Video) Making sense of Egypt’s changing role in the Middle East
Mediating the Arab Uprisings (Tadween Publishing)
The Maddening Betrayal of Potato-Seller, Omar Salah
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Qatar!: Addressing the Brotherhood’s Other Patron
Alexandria Re-Imagined: The Revolution through Art
Two years on: a revolution is a process, not an event
In the Eruptive Mode: Voices from a Hijacked Spring (Theatre play review)
Sons of Beaches: How Alexandria’s Ideological Battles Shape
Egypt’s Constitutional Referundum results
- The Buck Dies Here: Why Egypt’s Interior Ministry Refuses to be Tamed
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- The Buck Dies Here: Why Egypt’s Interior Ministry Refuses to be Tamed (278)
- (Video) Making sense of Egypt’s changing role in the Middle East (139)
- Viral Images: On the case of Khaled Saeed – by Sophie J Williamson (455)
- Mediating the Arab Uprisings (Tadween Publishing) (1135)
- The Maddening Betrayal of Potato-Seller, Omar Salah (559)
Category Archives: Post-Egyptian Revolution
Article originally published in The Atlantic Council’s ‘Egypt Source’ (4 April 2013)
Ambushes, kidnappings, torture and murder have come to characterize Egypt’s security sector’s engagement with the Egyptian public in both pre- and post-revolution Egypt. This has left many asking: How did the interior ministry survive its pre-Mubarak incarnation given that one of the revolution’s key demands was police reform?
The issue is more complex than simply looking at how former autocracies were able to reform their police forces during their transition to democracy. The problem arguably starts with how Egypt’s elite – the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, and former regime loyalists – relate to the 18 day uprising.
Nabil Abdel-Fattah in his book “Elite and Revolution: State, Political Islam, Nationalism and Liberalism” argues that the elite are still unable to comprehend the gravity of the 2011 events. This view sheds light on why they are unable to generate a national post-revolutionary project, post-democratic movement or an overhaul of the security establishment, simply because a number of them conceive of the 2011 events as a “mere democratic protest movement.”
As Abdel-Fattah notes “The majority have not absorbed the nature of the event and the end of the legitimacy of 23 July 1952 with its generations, ideas and legacy…The conflict is still at its peak , and reveals two speeds running together in Egypt: one attached to the legitimacy of 1952 and another that claims a still unclear revolutionary legitimacy.” In other words Egypt is experiencing an ideational and generational war that has pitted two appeals to historical legitimacy against one another.
Click here to read the article: Viral Images: On the case of Khaled Saeed (PDF)
My article (June 2012) and collection of art on Khaled Saeed has been used as the basis of a feature piece in the UK Art Monthly magazine, titled “Viral Images: On the case of Khaled Saeed.” Beautifully written by London curator Sophie J Williamson, she expands on the threat posed by viral imagery to Morsi’s regime. With the author’s permission, I have uploaded a copy of the article to my site.
Below are some quotes from the article:
“The photo [of the brutalised khaled Saeed] itself was taken after an autopsy, which sparked disputes about whether some of the injuries seen in the image were delivered before his death or were the outcome of postmortem examinations. Saeed’s neighbour, Amro Ali, has since published an in-depth critique of the events, “Saeeds of Revolution: De-Mythologizing Khaled Saeed”, which gives an insight into Saeed’s somewhat dubious past. However, the discrepancies in these details were not important to the thousands of Egyptians who redistributed the image through their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The image quickly became independent of any objective retelling of its story; it stood for itself as telling of a seemingly objective reality of police brutality and the loss of individual dignity prevalent across the country”
“In Hito Steyerl’s insightful essay ‘In Defense of the Poor Image’, she describes the life of the online image as one of acceleration and deterioration; ‘a copy in motion’. The ‘poor image’ is one which has been ‘thrust into digital uncertainty’ – somersaulted through successions of uploading, downloading, reformatting, re-editing and
redistribution; quality is transformed into accessibility. In turn, image-value is defi ned not by resolution and content but by velocity, intensity and spread. This is not only true of the physical quality of the image, as Steyerl speaks about it, but also of the depth of meaning, understanding and context of the image.”
“The economy of poor images, with its immediate possibility of
worldwide distribution within a structure that facilitates almost
instantaneous appropriation, enables the participation of a
much larger group of producers than ever before. Users become
the editors, critics, translators and (co-)authors within a constant
frenzy of imagery production and re-production.”
“The vague language of President Mohamed Morsi’s
new constitution, especially with regard to freedom of
expression, inevitably reinforces concerns over the growing
tyranny of the permanent state of emergency declared
since the revolution. Using Giorgio Agamben’s definition
of sovereign power as the ability to decide on the state of
exception, to defined what is permitted – who is included
and who is not – Morsi effectively places himself outside
the law. Agamben argues that sovereignty is therefore
based on the ability to impose exclusion and is ‘the hidden
foundation on which the entire political system rested’.
While for Morsi, and Hosni Mubarak before him, this is
possible with established figures and organisations, it is
much harder, arguably impossible, to censor in its entirety
online activity which is spearheaded not by an individual but
by the masses”
“The image of Saeed proves that the digital image is not
as ephemeral as we might commonly think; as Steyerl argues: ‘just as a photograph is lodged in paper, the digital image is lodged in a circulatory system of desire and exchange.’”
Click here to get your copy of “Mediating the Arab Uprisings” (Tadween Publishing).
With contributions from myself, Linda Herrera, Adel Iskandar, Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, VJ Um Amel, Vivian Salama, Nir Rosen, Anthony Alessandrini, Maya Mikdashi, Shiva Balaghi, Amal Hanano, and others…
“From “Facebook revolutions” to “Al-Jazeera uprisings,” the outburst of popular activism across the Arab world has either been attributed to the media, drawn up by the media, observed through the media, or decontextualized by the media. Bloggers become icons, self-proclaimed experts becoming interpreters of unfolding events, stereotypes are cultivated, and autocratic regimes continue to subdue freedom of the press. The uprisings have become the most compelling media stories in recent memory. With so much at stake, the burden of relaying human narratives accurately and responsibly is a burden on all journalistic establishments worldwide.
In a unique collection of essays that covers the expanse of the Arab popular protest movements, Mediating the Arab Uprisings leaves no stone unturned by offering spirited contributions that elucidate the remarkable variation and context behind the fourth estate’s engagement with these mass protests.
So while the public debate about the coverage of the Arab uprisings remain effervescent and polarizing, the essays in this volume go beyond the cursory discussion to historicize media practice, unsettle pre-existing suppositions about the uprisings, puncture the pomposity of self-righteous expertise on the region, and shatter the naiveté that underlies the reporting of the uprisings. The volume includes essays on the tribulations of covering Syria, the contextualization and demythologizing of Facebook activism, the New York Times’ reporting rituals on Palestine, the tumult of Egypt’s media post-Mubarak, the ominous omnipresence of perennial media darling Fouad Ajami, the faltering of Al-Jazeera Arabic in the wake of the uprisings, the gendered sexuality of reporting Egypt, and journalism’s damning failure on Iraq. The first volume of its kind on this pressing topic, Mediating the Arab Uprisings is a primer for the curious reader, a pedagogical tool for media studies and communication, and a provocative collection for the seasoned scholar.
This initiative was supported by the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University.”
An Egyptian army conscript walks up to 12 year old Omar Salah Omran, a sweet potato seller – outside the front gates of Cairo’s US Embassy close to Tahrir Square – and requests two potatoes from the young street vendor. Omar answers, “I’ll do so after I go to the bathroom”. The allegedly untrained soldier retorts with a mix of cockiness and jest that he will shoot Omar if he doesn’t comply immediately. On Omar’s reply, “you can’t shoot me” – the conscript, on the alleged presumption that his weapon was not loaded, aimed two bullets piercing through Omar’s heart. He died instantly. (Based on Omar’s father’s television interview with host Mahmoud Saad)
The entire incident was over in ten seconds. The fallout continues.
Many Egyptians were humbled and awoken to another Egypt with the release of a gripping video of Omar speaking to a Life Makers charity member in which he says “I am tired of this job”: he says he wants to learn to read and write. There is an inherently troubling dimension in Omar’s demise that goes beyond the “accidental” nature of it. It is the callous disregard by the state that instigated and attempted to cover up the crime, and a society that no longer gives a second look to the plight of child labour.
Upon his arrival at the Al-Jazeera studio in Doha, Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak quipped his shock at the small office space of the news giant: “All that noise from this little matchbox?”
That “noise” widened beyond the Doha studios to take in the peninsula’s foreign ministry and royal palaces, eventually drawing the ire of Egypt’s revolutionary forces as Qatar cozied up with their country’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The patronage role that Qatar plays to the region’s Islamists has been well covered by Arab affairs commentator Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi. Also As’ad AbuKhalil and others have given a deal of attention to the issue, which therefore will not be discussed here.
Qatar’s frequency on Egypt’s news and commentary radar has been reflected in everything from unconfirmed stories of Qatar buying the Suez Canal to frequent yarns about how much influence the tiny state is gaining in Egypt. A focus on Qatar and other Brotherhood patrons should continue to be scrutinized, but it risks enveloping the dynamics that started the revolutions.
As a student of international relations I would hesitate to downplay the role of state actors, but if the Arab uprisings have taught us anything, it is that the Arab public represents a formidable challenge to power elites. Grievances should not limit Egypt’s revolutionary camp towards a reactionary anger at Arab governments at the expense of a proactive outreach to Arab societies – the very element that two years ago fuelled a trans-national Arab uprising or at the very least, demands for reform. One party in particular that requires examination is the large number of the Arab world’s passive supporters of Egypt’s Brotherhood which is a byproduct, if not of a pro-Brotherhood slanted Al-Jazeera (Arabic) and other media outlets, at least partly to the incoherent noise Egypt’s revolutionaries have unintentionally exported.
On 24 January 2011 – a day before the arc of Egyptian history would be altered – the film Microphone was screened. Microphone documents Alexandria’s pre-revolution underground scene of artists and musicians fighting a passive oppression that suffocates their ability to nurture their creativity. Khaled (played byKhaled Abol Naga), who has returned to Egypt from the US, wishes to aid the youth by providing them with a venue and funding for nurturing their talents. In one scene, Khaled is conversing with an official at the state’s cultural office to request support for his project. The dialogue proceeds as follows:
Official: What is this graffiti? Is our role to pollute the walls or to clean them?
Khaled: “Graffiti is an art, the whole world acknowledges it. We have to encourage the youth in their pursuits”
Official: “Is this not transgression against people and properties, and visual pollution?
Khaled: “What about the campaign posters littered around the country’s walls, isn’t that visual pollution as well?”
Official: “No, that is something and this is something else. Election campaigning is part of our democratic process”
To the dumbfound look of Khaled who – frustrated enough by red tape - now is expected to digest a bureaucrat’s talk of “democracy” in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt
Prior to the revolution, Alexandria’s walls were largely Soviet-esqe and barren. Artists who did attempt to paint the walls, like Aya Tarek (featured in the film) and Amr Ali (not the author of this piece), were often stopped by the police or reported by onlookers suspicious of their novel activity. Fatma Hendawy, a curator who started on the street scene before the revolution, notes that one way to circumvent these obstacles was to go through the Goethe Institute to use its diplomatic muscle to define joint German-Egyptian art projects. Yet as Fatma laments, such institutes inadvertently stump your creativity in order to cater to their bilateral agendas.
In the months following the 2011 Revolution, I took to cataloguing the artwork that blossomed and inspired me to believe that the public space was gradually being reclaimed by society. I am no artist; however, I take the position of the “public” and write on the art in the context of the socio-political dynamics and nuances that influence societal perceptions of street art. Specifically, this essay attempts to tell the story of the past two years purely through artwork from the streets of Alexandria. For Cairo, I highly recommend the large collection of Suzee Morayef who, on her blog, offers great analyses on street art that is prolific through the capital’s streets. Also Mona Abaza, professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo, has penned brilliant pieces on the artistic narration of the revolution.
Continue to read full article at Jadaliyya
Article pubilished in openDemocracy
The 25 January 2011 revolution is nearly two years old, and with every anniversary reflection sets in, and so do the cynical questions thrown at me: “What has the revolution achieved?” and “It brought extremists to power”. It’s as compelling as the French asking themselves the same question in 1791, two years after the start of their bloody revolution. Yet I would be wary to compare Egypt to the bloody track record of the historical titan of revolutions or even to the current mess in Syria. Egypt, for all its faults, is not a country with a history of mass graves.
An insight dawned on me on a train journey from Alexandria to Cairo on the eve of the first anniversary of the revolution, heading to join my friends at Tahrir Square. In my carriage, were about a dozen and a half soldiers who had been recalled from the coastal city to secure parts of Cairo in anticipation of anniversary violence. Sitting next to me was the most senior army officer in that carriage and it had to be one of the most uncomfortable trips in the heated anti-SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) days – my head sporting a beret next to his military cap could not have struck a more vivid contrast. You can imagine I felt awkward, surrounded by soldiers uttering statements like “If it wasn’t for us, the revolution would be dead.” Those ungrateful Egyptians.
In the final fifteen minutes of the journey, I decided to strike up a conversation with the officer. It was a cordial discussion until I asked, “That Tahrir girl who was beaten up by the army last month and her blue bra exposed..” before I could finish, he raised his voice, “That was a lie, do you ever see us wearing running shoes?” and he threw in the stock-in-trade conspiracies surrounding that incident. It was then that many officers came in to listen to the conversation of their commander but did not utter a word in deference to the chain of command. At that moment, I realised something: could I have even dreamed before the revolution of openly posing such a question to an official who, in a different era, might have had me arrested? It all comes down to what defines the post-revolutionary Egyptian public psyche – the vanquishing of fearthat remains the strongest bulwark against the counter-revolution. It is the absence of fear that translates into the protests, sit-ins, strikes, street art and the list goes on.
Cynics interpret every “successful” move by counter-revolutionary generals or the opportunistic Islamists as fait accompli – checkmate rather than check – all without considering the dynamic that such political actors just do not know how to coerce a public that no longer fears authority. I often say a revolution is not an event but a process – there is the 18 days that have come to be the 25 January 2011 Revolution. But then there is the extended revolution that has produced intense protest dynamics surrounding the cabinet killings, Maspero massacre, Mohammed Mahmoud clashes, Port Said soccer massacre, Presidential palace protests and so forth. Enough drama to produce hundreds of Ramadan TV shows.
With this loss of public fear in mind, there is an ominous sign for the Brotherhood and any political actor who wishes to turn back the hands of time. Otto Von Bismarck defined political genius as consisting of “hearing the distant hoofbeat of the horse of history and then leaping to catch the passing horseman by the coattails.” The implication is that Egypt’s aspiring or established political actors who miscalculate or mistime their leap will end up on the wrong side of history while the horse gallops into the sunset leaving them behind. The strength of the Brotherhood and counter-revolutionary actors is illusionary, in that clinging desperately to the practices and models of the former regime only increases their chances of failure – not only missing the ability to shape Egypt’s future, but increasing the structural tensions and further rupturing the sync between ruler and ruled, policymaker and public.
With the economy in a downward spiral, increasing media censorship, growing repression, the Brotherhood’s legitimacy rapidly eroding, the undermining of institutions, and with little being done to address the very factors that sparked the revolution two years ago: 2013 has many surprises in store for Egypt.
One of the most oft-quoted lines two years ago by commentators was the story of when Henry Kissinger once queried the Chinese Premier Zhou En Lai in 1971 for his views on the consequences of the French Revolution. Zhou famously responded, “It is too early to tell”. Some 180 years on (an overstatement but a poignant one) notwithstanding, Zhou’s point was that consequences of revolutions do not unfold until much later. We just might need to give Egypt a little longer than two years.
Full article published at Jadalliya
A Salafist Muslim intellectual, overlooking an Alexandrian beach last summer, tells me over coffee: “The cosmopolitanism of our city [Alexandria] may look like it has died, but the skeletal structure of cosmopolitanism is still there. It is this structure that underpins the spread and acceptance of ideas, including Salafist ones, that makes this city a formidable force.”
This “force” also makes Alexandria the vanguard city of Egypt’s socio-political developments. A glimpse of it was caught in the fogginess of the sheer ferocity that unfolded in the in the two Fridays’ immediately preceding the December constitutional referendum that has set off alarm bells as to where it is steering the direction of Egypt. The murky “battle-lines” appear to be drawn in what Lina Attalah, editor of Egypt Independent, describes as “a polarization between Islamist forces who are after a highly defined identity-based project to see a more Islamized Egypt…The other camp is a revolutionary camp that wants to see a democratic Egypt that allows multiple identities to exist.”
On 14 December, following a sermon by ultra-conservative Sheikh Ahmed Mehalawy who accused opponents of the divisive draft constitution as being “followers of heretics” and told worshippers to vote “Yes” in the referendum, violent confrontations ensued outside the courtyard of the Qaed Ibrahim mosque (or as many call it, “Alexandria’s Tahrir Square”) between Islamists and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored constitution. Violence also broke out the following Friday, despite the deployment of Central Security Forces, resulting in the burning of buses and cars, and leaving almost sixty injured. Clearly, they do not call it “Revolutionary Alexandria” for nothing.
The reinvigoration of the revolutionary camp and the rise of new Islamist currents have left the subtext of the chaos unanswered: How exactly does the city, defined as “Egypt’s subconscious” in Sarah El Deeb’s recent piece, influence the country’s developments? There are several factors that shed light on why and how Alexandria commands the trajectory of Egyptian politics.
Click here: Egyptian (includes Alexandria) Elections Results (Arabic)
A Jordanian Islamist recently expressed his disappointment: “Egyptians are not giving President Mohammed Morsi a chance!” I responded, “Would you be this forgiving had Hamdeen Sabahi, a secular Nasserist, issued a decree that gave himself exceptional powers?” Silence. Irrespective of Morsi “rescinding” those powers, the continuing theatrics matters to a larger, if at times unacknowledged, constituency.
Across the Middle East, Islamist offshoots are carefully watching the political manoeuvering of Morsi and their spiritual progenitor, the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, so are a great proportion of Arab governments, elites and societies. The question riding on the chaos being played out – from the burning offices of the Freedom and Justice Party to the squares of Egyptian cities to the palace gates of power – is how will all this shape future trends throughout the Arab world?
As the centre of gravity of the Arab world, Egypt, due to its complex social structure, dynamic agencies, popular arts, and the intellectual seat of Sunni Islam, pushes ideas and principles into the international system that shape the preferences of Arab populations and, to a lesser degree, Muslim ones. The success or failure of Egypt’s political actors, narratives, and the popular mobilisation behind them, has a spill-over effect that can move their equivalents in the region.
In 2007, Mohammed Morsi, then chairman of the Brotherhood’s political department and member of the Executive Bureau, complained of the inability of Washington to match its rhetoric on promoting democracy in Egypt. He said that Israel had no interest in a democratic Egypt as it, “would do more to support the Palestinians.” Now Morsi, having brokered a Gaza ceasefire has shown that his policy on the Palestinians is no more imaginative than Mubarak-era policies and, partly as a result of US approval, has undertaken a democratic rollback that has ignited Egypt’s streets.
orsi has inadvertently, and in part, fallen victim to the trilateral logic of Egypt’s bilateral relationship with the United States vis-à-vis the 1979 Camp David treaty. This was defined by Steven A. Cook in his book, The Struggle for Such a premise, not surprisingly in its close proximity to the Gaza saga, has a strong tendency to foment illiberal domestic policies, as Morsi has done, with a nod from the US and IMF backing, by abrogating the role of the judiciary to render his decrees immune from appeal, simultaneously protecting his Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly from dissolution by the judiciary or anyone else.Egypt: from Nasser to Tahrir Square, as the dubious strategic relationship between Egypt and the US that is accompanied with the informal requirement of good Egyptian-Israeli relations – a requirement which, “built into these ties from the very start meant that Washington would almost always view Cairo through the prism of Israel.”
Article published in openDemocracy
Whoever would have imagined that one of the challenges of the post-Egyptian revolution period would be the elevation of pornographic websites into a political issue? Yet Egypt’s Islamists have an uncanny way of not only surprising the public, but shifting the goalposts and reframing the debate – so that you find yourself swept up in matters far-removed from the country’s more pressing problems.
Egypt’s ultra-conservative Salafis have called for a ban on pornographic websites based on a 2009 court order. The timing is suspect given the drafting of the constitution, and the wrangling over the word ‘Sharia’, which comes across as an attempt to make anti-censorship advocates (largely the civil society camp) look like pro-pornography pro-decadents, which is far from the case.
This popular image that has been circulated around the social media shows an Egyptian bound by the ball and chain of poverty, lack of education, slums, haphazard electricity, Sinai insecurity, gas and fuel shortages, unemployment, rising food prices, etc and despite all that, he yells “Anything but sex [websites]!” Last winter, the very same anti-Islamist cartoon was circulating with similar problems on the chain and ball except the man was yelling about the red-herring of that moment, “Anything but the bikini!” This political “striptease” neatly sums up one element in the whole process.
This is not to downplay the social anxiety surrounding pornography. It has long been a concern of women groups, education boards, families, Muslim and Coptic groups. A Los Angeles Times report in March indicated the scale of the problem, “According to Google trends, Egypt ranked fifth in the world in searching for the term ‘sex’ in 2011. It was also reported that at least six pornographic websites rank among the top 100 sites in Egypt.”
Even many liberal Egyptians would not be opposed to a ban on pornographic sites if it just came down to that. Yet the concern must be that when Islamists take it up, the wheels of censorship are set in motion. Vaguely-worded legislation targeting porn sites risks enveloping the websites of activists, opposition groups, civil groups, independent news, and others as “violating Egyptian customs and values.”
While reading the horrific case of Malala Yousafzai, the 14 year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the face by the Talban for championing girls’ education, I came across a photo of a young supporter of Malala that triggered memories back to June 2010 of a similar image that has forever been engraved in my mind – an Egyptian youth protesting the tragic death of Khaled Saeed, the 28-year old Alexandrian who was beaten to death by policemen and would trigger the rapid countdown to the 2011 Egyptian revolution (See my detailed June piece Saeeds of Revolution: De-mythologizing Khaled Saeed).
The images provide a poignant and surreal expression of a protestor, in a repressive atmosphere, raising their hand held up high clenching a simple black and white A4 printout of their respective poster-child. It strikes deep at the heart of Arab regimes or fanatical organisations that have little appetite for dissent or any mere standing out from the crowd.
Click here to read my feature piece in Jadaliyya: Power, Rebirth, and Scandal: A Decade of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina
(also republished in Ahram Online)
The piece examines the foundational politics and abuse of power behind the resurrected Library of Alexandria. “The library rests at the heart of international power plays seeking to carve out a stake in the ‘sacred drama’ of the Alexandria myth, Egypt’s political repositioning with the West, the Mubaraks’ unabashed narcissism, coupled with the self-styled “culture wars” of Alexandria’s elites. The foundational drama that midwifed the Bibliotheca would give way to a decade of corruption, abuse of power, while also positively shaping the socio-cultural landscape of the coastal city, even making it a vital player in the post-Mubarak environment.”
It’s hard to imagine the above photos are two different events. Yet one took place at the turning point of the 18 day revolution, when pro-Mubarak thugs came out on 2 February 2011 on horseback and camels to scare the protesters away, and the latter was on Friday, nowhere near the level of the Battle of the Camel, but disturbing enough. What they do have in common, besides the striking visual parallel, is citizen versus citizen, which has not happened at any time in between those two events
The backdrop to Friday’s case could not be any more tragic, the perpetrators of the notorious Battle of the Camel that resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injured (Exhibit A) were acquitted on Wednesday. So what do pro-Morsi supporters do? They gave us a re-enactment of the Battle of the Camel, the very event they came out to protest against.
Once when a Saudi diplomat whom I knew greeted me as Ostaz (Mr) and I replied in kind with Ostaz, he shouted “Doctor!” I was taken aback at the response. Did I miss something here? The Arab world’s social fixation with ‘doctor’ titles can really be burdensome if at times comical.
When Egypt’s TV satirist Bassam Yousef opened the floor for questions following his opening peroration, a number of Egyptian audience members started off with, “I’m doctor so and so”. Yousef remarked, “we seem to have a lot of doctors in the house today” to the laughter of the audience. At a Cairo conference on the Arab uprisings earlier this year, a female Egyptian academic pleaded with the audience during question time in what was only a semi-joking manner: “I worked so hard for my PhD, so the least I can ask of people is to call me doctor.” This was cringe-worthy, given the number of overseas academics in the session who could not care less if you addressed them as doctor.Yes I can hear the cries already, “This happens all around the world, not just the Middle East!” Sure, the old guard of scholarly circles in Italy and Germany get irked if you fail to address them as such, but it is on the wane. I’m no blind egalitarian that believes titles should be done away with. There is a time and place for titles, such as first meetings, formal ceremonies, application forms and business cards. I’ll use it more out of respect for an elder than anything else.
But we are talking about the abuse of the title ‘doctor’ to the extent that it even makes it into people’s signature, caller ID’s. Merely registered PhD candidates get called doctor, and the expectation that the title confers upon someone is an all-knowing command of any subject. You hear statements like, “I have a PhD in veterinary science, but I do know a bit about the changing Middle East socio-political landscape”.
Saeeds of Revolution: Demythologizing Khaled Saeed has now been translated into Arabic
ارتفع اسم خالد سعيد بسرعة حتى أصبح يعادل اسم روزا بارك. وأصبحت صورته الفوتوغرافية السمة المميزة للحركة الثورية في مصر على الدوام. وأصبح ميدان كليوباترا، المجاور لمسرح الجريمة، “قبلة” ومحطة يسير عبرها المتظاهرون وهم يرددون بأشكال مختلفة “كلنا خالد سعيد”.
Click here to read Arabic article
Click here to read English article
My radio interview on ABC RN Program about Khaled Saeed: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/drive/close-up3a-who-was-khaled-saeed3f/4272592
Or download podcast (MP3) directly from here CLOSE-UP: WHO WAS KHALED SAEED?
(interviewed by Waleed Aly and Anthony Bubalo)
Interview based on my 5 June 2012 article in Jadaliyya: Saeeds of Revolution: De-mythologizing Khaled Saeed
On a conference visit to Rome a few months ago, I was taken aback by what I saw upon my arrival at the main train station, Roma Termini – out on the street was a homeless man, in torn, dishevelled clothes, reading a book. The sight in some ways entranced me. Here was a man who had lost everything in life, but had not lost his dignity to live and re-live through the written word.
I found myself bleakly registering the contrast with Egyptian university graduates who will rarely pick up a book following their formal education. Forget leisure reading, they would no more think of taking out a book in a cafe as taking out a gun. Ask a young Egyptian why don’t you read, and the response is, “I only read if I have to.” In other words, if it is work-related or an obligatory part of some curriculum.
It is in this context of a defanged reading culture that police raided the book sellers on the historical Nabi Daniel Street in Alexandria – the city that spawned one of the wonders of the world, the ancient library of Alexandria. The street – where I could pick up a copy of a 1960s Time magazine or some other yellowing Egyptian periodical – strewing books all over the pavement and sending shockwaves throughout the literary world followed by accusations of Muslim Brotherhood-style censorship. Continue reading
When Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down on 11 February 2011, the clerics in Tehran beamed with a smug of satisfaction that the divine hand had chosen Iran’s Revolution Day for the Pharaoh’s downfall. It could not have been a more surreal start for the besieged Islamic republic seeking to break out of its isolation and gridlock vis-à-vis a regional reconfiguration.
Fast-forward to the recent reported saga at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran, in which Egyptian president Morsi (given the red carpet treatment and all) diverged from the Iranian script when he stated, “Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty as it is a political and strategic necessity.”
The Syrian delegation walked out in fury and Iranian state TV attempted to limit the damage to their Syrian ally by mistranslating Morsi’s words to the effect of “solidarity with the Syrian nation against the plot that has been implemented against this country.” Business as usual in Iran.
This was Iran’s opportunity to upstage the world by proving it has friends, and Morsi ruined the show.
The incident exposes deeper Iranian, if not regional, frustrations as to where Egypt’s foreign policy orientation is heading.
Saudi Arabia’s revered King Faisal once remarked: “If anyone feels wrongly treated, he has only himself to blame for not telling me. What higher democracy can there be?”
This line of “reasoning” has permeated the thinking of Arab rulers in which somehow they are the personification of a popular mandate and that democratisation is misunderstood by the wider population.
Yet it’s one thing when Arab rulers say it, it’s another when the Arab public quotes and endorses it.
One of the ideational stumbling blocks to the Arab uprisings and democratic transitions is a public adept at citing a handful of tales to justify the current or past hegemonic orders and repressive figures.
One Egyptian I spoke to had longed for former president Anwar Sadat, based on this (I have yet to verify it) account: an owner leased out her Cairo apartment to the Portuguese ambassador in the 1970s. She fell into dispute with the tenant who was apparently not paying the rent and behaving badly towards the Egyptian owner. The owner went to Sadat to complain, at which the president picked up the phone and scolded the ambassador: “If you are treating an Egyptian like this in her own country, then how are you treating Egyptians in your country?” The ambassador was forced to pack his bags and return to Lisbon.
The lesson one can only deduce is that Sadat cared about Egyptian dignity first and foremost (unlike his successor Hosni Mubarak).
Whether this story is true or apocryphal is not the point. It has been quoted enough times, along with countless others, to be perceived as true.
What is of concern here is the problematic infatuation with Arab leaders’ words and anecdotes that bear no relevance to the day-to-day lives of millions of Arabs.
Article published in openDemocracy
I recently penned an investigative article entitled, ‘The real estate pirates behind Alexandria’s collapsing tenements’ that examined the spate of building collapses in the coastal city, particularly in the light of last month’s calamity in the heart of old Alexandria that resulted in 22 lives lost. Behind such events, as I noted, are a “loose network of land-lords, kahools [fall-guys], unscrupulous contractors, corrupt district engineers, crooked or apathetic police officers, and hired thugs making up what can only be described as Alexandria’s real estate mafia.”
The mafia have not only declared a war on safety standards, but on Alexandria’s cultural heritage sites as well. Post-revolutionary Egypt was visited by the semi-break down of law and order, and an Egyptian public that became distracted with the country’s tumultuous political transition. The real estate mafia went into overdrive mode, not only building unsound structures, but destroying in the process cultural heritage sites dating from the pre-1952 monarchical era in order to build more of their dodgy high-rise apartments.
With an impotent heritage law and a governor who was daily signing off 150-180 orders to halt illegal demolitions to little avail, the only effective response was the collective effort of a new group “Save Alex” that gathered students from the colleges of fine arts, engineering, tourism and hotels, and others, as well as Alexandrians from all walks of life including academics, activists, civil servants and even nostalgic elders.
The group’s goals sought an end to the destruction of the city’s heritage sites and building code violations.
The mafia were not used to opposition, unless it came from law enforcement agencies. There arose a cat and mouse game, where a threat to one heritage site would bring out Save Alex.
The tools of the revolution were brought out again in full force – Facebook, Twitter, campaigns, vigils, brochure handouts. The public was a getting a taste of something novel – protests that have nothing to do with bread or bringing down a regime (or bringing down anything), but instead about preserving remnants of the past. Continue reading
That just three people — a mother and her daughters — died when a building collapsed in Alexandria on Monday places the incident amongst the least deadly of the increasingly common collapses in the city.
One collapse in the Gomrok district took 22 lives down with it to the dust less than a fortnight ago. Yet, for all the tragedy, the collapse and the response followed a familiar pattern. The building owner illegally adds extra floors and the building falls, leading to deaths and injuries. Outrage follows and an arrest is made as the authorities promise to crack down on illegal developments, but the cycle is repeated elsewhere.
According to residents of Gomrok, in this case the owner ignored previous safety warnings, shunned civil engineers and architects, and bribed his way into adding additional floors.