In Translation: Eissa on the success of Egypt's revolution

We are back with translations from the awesome Industry Arabic, purveyors extraordinaire of linguistic services. It's been a while, and I wanted to capture the reaction to Morsi's rise in the last month from a major voice in the Egyptian media, Ibrahim Eissa, long one of the most strident critic of the Mubarak regime and a figure of the revolution.

The piece below seems to me somewhat extreme, but it is not necessarily from an anti-Islamist perspective — although certainly an anti-MB perspective. Eissa occupies a limbo between nationalist, socialist and Islamist in the Egyptian commentariat and has emerged as one of strongest non-felool voices in the media. I think it speaks of the disappointment of many of the revolutionaries, if not necessarily of a majority of Egyptians.

The Success of Our Failed Revolution

Ibrahim Eissa, al-Tahrir, August 28 2012.

The moment of truth has arrived.

We must be courageous and recognize that the January 25 revolution has failed up to now.

I don't want to injure anyone or break the cocoon of illusion inhabited by many of those who marched in the protests of January 25 and the Day of Rage, or who rejoiced and praised the day Mubarak stepped down, and those addicted to applying the label "revolutionaries" to themselves on Facebook pages and Twitter accounts or in café squabbles. Those people can remain in their cocoon, since that is the best place for those with special – revolutionary – needs to reside.

Let's have the honesty of a surgeon who tells a patient that he has a tumor that will kill him within three months, and say that the success of the revolution does not consist in the number of participants, the justice of the cause, or how many sacrifices and victims it leaves. Rather, its success depends on seeing its aims realized.

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In Translation: The Revolutionary Youth Coalition's final report

We're really fortunate to bring to you a long translation of an important document today — one made possible by the upstanding chaps at Industry Arabic, who provide great Arabic translation services and more. If you or your business have need of top-notch translation from Arabic into another language, please give them a try and help them keep on helping us.

The Revolutionary Youth Coalition was the most important umbrella group to emerge out of the protest movement of January 25. It continued to be the main reference and contact point for "youth" for several interlocutors in the months that followed Mubarak's overthrow, holding meetings with state representatives and often representing protestors at national conferences and elsewhere. On July 8, the Coalition announced its dissolution and published the document below —  an examination of its actions, mistakes and successes in the last sixteen months. As the writers note, such self-examination is rare in Egyptian politics, particularly as it has descended into a circus in the last few months. It makes for poignant reading, and I've added a few notes for clarification.

An Account of the Actions of the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth

From the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth Facebook page, July 8, 2012.

We believe that every experience should either continue or end according to facts on the ground and logical reasoning. And — even though it is not standard operating procedure in Egypt — we believe it is necessary that every group and/or political entity submit a transparent and clear account that outlines what the organization has done over time, be it good or bad.

Under exceptional circumstances, like that of the great Egyptian people’s Revolution, we contend that it is our duty to publish this account for the Egyptian public, for they placed their trust in the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth, as well as for those who criticized the organization. This account is also dedicated to the best of Egypt’s youth – the activists and believers in the goals and values of this revolution and similar revolutionary movements – as well as for that sector of the Egyptian elite who did what they could in service to this nation. This is for the admirable victims of this revolution who paid the greatest price and who continue to do so for the sake of this revolution; and this is also for the souls of the revolutionary martyrs who continue to fall – up to today – in anticipation of the day when this nation will achieve freedom and dignity, the day when each Egyptian will receive his demands for “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice.”

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In Translation: Sheikh Yasser Borhami on Morsi and Shariʿa

In this week's In Translation article — provided by the hive mind at Industry Arabic, which you should immediately hire for all your translation purposes — we hear the views of Sheikh Yasser Borhami, who heads the Da'wa Salafiya movement of Alexandria and is in effect the spiritual head of the Nour Party.

Borhami and Da'wa Salafiya have emerged as the most important voices of the Salafi movement in Egypt, and the most willing to engage in electoral politics. Borhami is one of Egypt's most influential preachers, and his decision to back the Nour Party marked the first major foray by Salafists onto the national political scene. In a recent Brookings paper on the Egyptian Salafi movement, Stephane Lacroix writes:

The Nour Party was founded by an informal religious organization called the “Salafi Da‘wa” (al- Da‘wa al-Salafiyya), whose leadership is based in Alexandria. The origins of the Salafi Da‘wa date back to the late 1970s, when its founders – students at the faculty of medicine at Alexandria University – broke away from the Islamist student groups known as al-Gama‘at al-Islamiyya (“Islamic groups”). Among them was Yasir Burhami, currently the dominant figure in the organization. The Salafi Da‘wa’s stance against violence and refus- al to engage in formal politics made it relatively acceptable to the Mubarak regime. To be sure, the group did at times endure repression; its leaders were kept under close surveillance and were forbidden from traveling outside Alexandria. However, the Salafi Da‘wa often benefited from the covert support of the regime apparatus, which tried to use Salafis to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence. 

Borhami is not involved in the day to day running of the party, but exerts a dominant influence on its key decisions  — such as backing Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh rather than Mohammed Morsi in the first round of the presidential elections, insisting on a constitution that gives priority to Shariʿa, or refusing electoral alliances with secular parties. The interview that appears below made some noise because of Borhami's insistence on new wording for the future constitution's reference to Shariʿa, which would favor a Salafist interpretation of Shariʿa and its influence on shaping legislation. 

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In Translation: Wael Qandil on uniting Tahrir

Wael Qandil, the managing editor of al-Shorouk, penned a powerful op-ed after Mubarak stepped down in February 2011. He’s been re-running it after the constitutional coup made by SCAF on June 17. We are seeing some signs of the unity he called for in the last few days, but no doubt around a different man that he had hoped.

Our In Translation feature is brought to you by the most excellent Industry Arabic. Please help them help us to continue bringing you insightful articles from the Arabic press by hiring them for any translation needs you or your company may have — they come highly recommended.

Hope Not Lost for Tahrir Square

Wael Qandil, al-Shorouk, 19 June 2012

The lines below were published in the early morning of Saturday, 19 February 2011, only one week after the fall of ousted President [Hosni Mubarak]. I hope the reader will allow me to republish this article because the events we are living through now resemble those very moments that followed the maturation of the first fruits from the tree of the revolution.

No matter how hard they may try to contain it, splinter it, or bring it under control there is no need to worry about the revolution as long as there is Tahrir Square in Cairo, and the Square of Forty in the Suez, and al-Manshiyya Square in Alexandria, and others like these in all of Egypt’s governorates.

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In Translation: The SCC's verdicts

We've had the linguistic gnomes at Industry Arabic working overtime this weekend to translate the verdicts dissolving parliament and declaring the Political Exclusion Law unconstitutional issued by Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court this weekend. They plowed through the legalese and given us this  —a full translation of the verdicts, available in PDF [334kb, original Arabic version here.]. They even highlighted in yellow some of more significant passages.

Below I am excerpting the reasoning of disbanding parliament because members of political parties were allowed to run for the individual candidacy (aka simple majority of first-past-the-post) seats:

There is no doubt that establishing this competition had a definite impact and reciprocal effect on the two-thirds allocated for closed party lists, since if political parties were not competing with independents over that other portion, then a rearrangement would have taken place within the party lists, taking into account the priorites within each party. Furthermore, political party members had the choice between two ways to run for the People's Assembly, the closed party-list system and the individual candidacy system. Independents were deprived of one of these ways, and their rights were limited to the portion allotted for the individual candidacy system, in which political party members also competed.

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In Translation: Houdaiby on why back Morsi

Our In Translation series is made possible by Industry Arabic, purveyors of fine translation services. Whether it’s a press article or a 100-page legal document, these guys can turn around a translation in a range of European languages in no time. Give them a try.

I first met Ibrahim Houdaiby years ago, probably around 2005, when he was still a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a young protégé of Khairat al-Shater. More than anyone at the time, he articulated the extent to which the Kifaya protests of 2005 and the solidarity showed by these new activists with Islamist activists at that time were crucial in finding common ground across the political spectrum to oppose the Mubarak regime. Houdaiby, who comes from a family that has produced two General Guides of the Muslim Brotherhood, a few years later decided to end his membership of the group. He also began to write in various venues, gradually forming an elaborate insider’s critique of the contemporary Islamist scene in Egypt.

For some, Houdaiby represents the intellectual cutting edge of “reformist” or “moderate” Islamist current in Egypt. I think it’s more accurate to say that he represents an important advocate for a historic reconciliation between progressives and religious conservatives who agree on the need to fight the regime, as well as a call for the revival and self-critique of Egyptian Islamist thought. Being still a young man, I have no doubt his thinking will evolve into a more profound challenge to Islamist thought in Egypt from a religious perspective — perhaps the development of an “Islamic left” perspective that we see slowly grow across from the region against the orthodoxies of Saudi-backed fundamentalism, the lack of intellectual vitality of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt at least, and the insufficiencies of the secular critics.

In the article below, he makes an impassioned case for an alliance between the Brotherhood and revolutionary forces against a restoration of the Mubarak regime represented by Ahmed Shafiq. I think he makes a good case.

We shall be saved or perish all together

By Ibrahim Houdaiby, al-Shorouk, 8 June 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood is in need of all the political factions in order to succeed in the election, and it needs them to take part in running the country afterwards, just as these factions need the MB in order to forestall a complete reversion to the Mubarak regime. If these various actors do not realize that, they will all face disaster.

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In Translation: Fahmi Howeidy on SCAF

For a variety of reasons, I was unable to put up a translated article about the early May clashes in the Abbasiya neighborhood of Cairo, near the Egyptian Ministry of Defense, that appeared earlier this month. The clashes may have receded into memory with the excitement of the presidential elections, but they’re still relevant — if only because more clashes might be expected if the results (as the polls predict) exclude revolutionary candidates or are seen to be rigged.

For a reminder of what happened in Abbasiya, check out this Storify stream compiled by Arabist contributor Paul Mutter, which he put up on FPIF. The column we’re featuring today deals not so much with the clashes themselves as the reaction from the SCAF, and their repeated lack of accountability and scape-goating in such incidents. It raises important questions about whether the next president will even to hold anyone accountable, since the army appears to have successfully buried the investigations with their cryptic talk of “third elements” and so on. In my mind, this is one illustration of why a presidential election should not have been held under military rule, as their record is far too flawed.

The column below was written by Fahmi Howeidy, who has had an interesting turn lately. A conservative writer often seen as close to the Muslim Brothers but also close to the Egyptian establishment, he has voiced doubts about the wisdom of the Brotherhood’s presidential run and is also increasingly critical of the SCAF. Since he is considered to be the most-read columnist in Egypt, his voice counts and speaks of the unease with the SCAF beyond revolutionary circles — and, if you read between the lines, the effort to distinguish between the military and the SCAF.

As always, this article provided by the translation gnomes at Industry Arabic, who do sterling work when it comes to putting out clear copy of your Arabic articles, reports, documentation, and much more into whatever language you want and vice-versa. Professional, bespoke translation with a fast turn-around — what more could you want?

They warned us, but did not understand us

By Fahmy Howeidy, al-Shorouk, 5 May 2012

It is not enough for the Military Council’s spokesmen to say that the army is innocent of the Abbasia massacre, and it is not appropriate for one of the Council’s members to say that the protestors rejected an offer from the authorities to protect them. The former statement could be made by anyone, with the exception of those who run the country, while the latter should not be made by any state official.

There is nothing new in the statements that seek to exculpate the army – and often the police – from the charge of suppressing protestors and opening fire on them. We have heard this talk several times before. Not only did some official spokesmen not wash their hands of the incident, but they went so far as to deny that there were snipers in the first place, even though hundreds of thousands of people saw them standing on the tops of buildings shooting at them.

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In Translation: Hamlet Abu Ismail

I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us.

Hamlet, act III

Yesterday’s ruling by the Cairo administrative court that it has insufficient evidence has been prematurely heralded as victory for the campaign of nutty-but-scary Islamist-populist Hazem Abu Ismail. It’s not hard to understand that the judge presiding the case, surrounded by a hyper-excited crowd of Hazemoon (as Abu Ismail supporters are called) chanting about jihad, may have decided on a cop-out judgement to protect his own life and that of other court staff. The victory lap the Hazemoon carried out in Cairo and subsequent respite in their activism may then provide the time for the judge to obtain more conclusive evidence from the Ministry of Interior, as he has requested, even though he had pretty conclusive proof from the Ministry of Interior. (Funny how so much of Egypt’s bonkers transition is in the details of obscures laws, regulations and their implementation — a perfect environment for lawfare-as-politics.) And if on some technicality, Abu Ismail’s clearly American mother does not prevent him from being a candidate, it will be just one more incongruity of a legal landscape that has been nonsensical since last March, when a constitutional declaration that no one got to vote on was promulgated by SCAF.

There are many ironies to what’s called in Egypt the “Mama Amreeka” scandal — a term usually used to highlight Egypt’s clientelistic relationship with the US — and these have made good fodder for columnists. This week, we chose a piece by Amr Ezzat in which he focuses on the Abu Ismail mindset — jingoistic, conspirational, xenophobic and insular — being precisely the underpinning of the provisions that bar candidates with dual-national parents from being eligible to be president of Egypt. For once there’s an article in the Egyptian press that praises America…

Translation is, as always, provided by the good folks at Industry Arabic, who rock. One hears they know Hans Wehr personally.

Hamlet Abu Ismail: When is an American Mother not American?

By Amr Ezzat, al-Masri al-Youm, 4 April 2011

I wondered: Who had the imagination to start a rumor that Hazem Salah Abu Ismail’s mother was an American citizen?

That was a few days ago before it became apparent that the rumor may have true. As inquiries into the matter near completion, the outcome is likely to determine whether or not the most controversial candidate will participate in the presidential race. If his mother did obtain American citizenship, his candidacy will be barred.

In the first article I wrote here for Al-Masry Al-Youm, I said that what is happening in the revolution – in all simplicity, and complication – is that imagination is overthrowing reality and dragging it through Cairo’s streets. And here in the citizenship dispute, we see fantasy continuing its course.

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In Translation: Egypt's constitutional crisis of consensus

First, a word about the people who make this possible. Our “In Translation” series is brought to you by the good folks at Industry Arabic. If you need anything translated — press articles, specialised reports, academic documents, anything! — I really recommend going to them. I’ve been referring people to them for over a year and heard only great feedback. They’re fast, professional, can work in all sorts of Arabic dialects and multiple European languages. And even if you need to translate from Arabic to Eskimo, just ask them. You never know.

As many readers know, the selection process for Egypt’s constituent assembly — which will write the country’s next constitution by next March at the latest — was decided a week ago. After weeks of debate, the Islamist majority in parliament (the Muslim Brothers and the Salafists) decided to keep 50 of the 100 seats for MPs. Secular forces have long advocated that the constituent assembly should be diverse, and there are more worrying indications that the Salafists want to blackball any figures they consider too secular. There is a growing movement to deny both parliament and the assembly legitimacy, either on constitutional grounds (the parliament may be declared unconstitutional in a case that has moved from the Appeals Court to the Supreme Constitutional Court) or simply because many feel the assembly should be as representative as possible — if it looks like parliament, it will include few minorities or women, for instance.

This is a serious issue, and not just for liberals and leftists. If there is a sizeable number of people who think the constitution is illegitimate and the consensus around is weak, there is a risk down the line that this would make a coup (soft or hard) easier. Egypt will be naturally coup-prone in the next few years, and while the Brothers say they want consensus, the Salafists have a more winner-takes-all approach and want to nominate figures such as Sheikh Mohammed Hassan, a popular preacher, who will push for a very strict interpretation of Sharia.

The commentary below is by Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, a lawyer and former head of the Stock Exchange and Investment Authority who was elected to parliament in Asiut, on the Social Democratic Party list (part of the Egyptian Bloc). Bahaa-Eldin is a widely respected technocrat, someone with extensive legislative experience (he wrote several laws over past decade governing investment, and during his tenure at the investment authority won much applaud for cutting red tape). His article is important in that it reflects the potential for rejection of the future constitution by a significant part of the political spectrum, rather than a document that has wide consensus, and the increasing polarisation of politics.

The Constituent Assembly and the Crisis of Consensus

By Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, al-Shorouk, 20 March 2012

Last Saturday afternoon, the plan designed to achieve consensus among the political forces hit a setback, at least in regards to drafting a new constitution for Egypt in which all of society’s forces participate. The setback occurred when the major parties in Parliament limited deliberation and discussion, and in a few, brief minutes made use of the majority they enjoy as they rushed to finalize the formation of an assembly to draft the constitution. They decided that half the members of the Constituent Assembly will be drawn from the ranks of MPs, and the other half from outside of Parliament. It is true that it may be said the decision to form the Constituent Assembly was reached in a democratic manner, and through a peaceful, legal vote that expresses the right of the majority to impose its opinion when it likes. This is true under normal circumstances. However, this description does not apply to what happened with the formation of the constituent assembly, because it involves an unnecessary maneuver, and because it concerns the pressing issue on the scene that is most in need of consensus right now – that is, drafting the constitution and forming the Constituent Assembly tasked to do so.

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In Translation: the UAE-MB war of words

Over the past couple weeks, a major issue discussed by the Arab (and especially the Egyptian and Gulf) press is the public spat between the leaders of the UAE and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE has been nervous about the MB (it has a small domestic version) for a long time, as last year's stripping of nationality of the UAE 7 (alleged members of the group) showed. These tensions mounted to the surface after the UAE rescinded the residency visas of Syrians who held a protest outside the Syrian embassy in Abu Dhabi. This was condemned by UAE Islamists (some of the Syrians are believed to be Syrian MB) and by Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi in Qatar, promoting the UAE authorities to threaten him with arrest for attacking the country should he visit. This incensed Qaradawy's followers in the global MB movement, and Egyptian MB spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan (one of a handful of MB leaders who really matter) countered by threatening (unspecified) action against the UAE should anything happen to Qaradawy. A story in this week's Economist provides more detail:

Yet the action against Syrian protesters, despite strong public sympathy with their plight, points to a broader intolerance for political activism of any kind, including internal dissent. This is particularly so if it is perceived to involve the Muslim Brotherhood. Over the past year, dozens of teachers believed to have Islamist tendencies have been removed from their posts, and activists said to have ties to the Brotherhood have been harassed, arrested and even stripped of their Emirati nationality.

In early March outrage over the treatment of the Syrian protesters led to the arrest of a sympathetic Emirati, as well as to a full-blown diplomatic spat between the UAE and Egypt. After Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, the Qatar-based Egyptian preacher revered by the Brotherhood, made a critical statement against the Emirates, police in Dubai, the emirates’ commercial hub, threatened him with arrest if he visited the country. This prompted a Brotherhood spokesman in Egypt to threaten retaliation “from the entire Muslim world”. The affair has now subsided, but not before Dubai’s flamboyant police chief warned on his Twitter account that “since the Muslim Brotherhood has become a state, anyone advocating its cause should be considered a foreign agent.”

The Brotherhood has since toned down its rhetoric, although it stopped short of contrition. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to which the Emiratis complained, is washing its hands of the whole affair, saying it is not responsible for the statements of the MB. The government is of course worried about getting UAE financial support (none of which has been delivered yet, perhaps in part because the UAE only wants to give it in kind for specific projects, not as general budget support). And the Emiratis are not over it at all, as the endless attacks on the MB in their papers show. For them, it's not just a question of national pride — it's a real worry about the regional MB block becoming a powerhouse and the Egyptian mothership boosting similar movements elsewhere. The Emirati MB may be small and operating in a society that is largely ruled according to tribal traditions and oil power, but it represents the seed of something that seems to really scare the Emirati establishment. The article below, from the Emirati paper al-Ittihadi, is typical in its defensiveness. 

As always, the translation is provided by the amazingly talented folks at Industry Arabic. Don't get your translations anywhere else.

The Muslim Brotherhood… and the Exploitation of Turmoil

Dr. Abdullah al-Awadi, al-Ittihad, 16 March 2012

No country in the world – least of all a country the size of Egypt – allows a political party, even if it prevails in “democratic” elections, to control its destiny or jeopardize its higher interests. When the party of the Muslim Brotherhood wages a battle in the name of the Egyptian state to defend a “cleric” who interfered in a sovereign matter in the Emirates, how could any state stand on the sidelines and watch while its back is exposed to the MB’s attacks — as if they had won the whole world, and not just the “Mother of the World”?

It seems that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has forgotten they are living in the Arab country of Egypt, and not in the country of a “political party” that is drunk with victory, even though it has not yet done anything of note for Egypt.

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In Translation: Nabil Fahmy on the US-Egypt NGO crisis

A few days ago the trial of 43 NGO workers — some of them US citizens — started amidst a campaign of hysterical anti-Americanism in some of the Egyptian press. In the US, the question has been handled with arrogance by part of the political class, and no doubt a degree of alarm amidst defense lobbyists, Pentagon officials and others who worry that the crisis could end the $1.3bn in subsidies to the US defense industry that military aid to Egypt primarily is, as well as strategic relations with Egypt. While the tone become more subdued among senior officials on both sides, the outcome is still hard to predict — because everything is unpredictable in Egypt these days, and because the US is in an election year.

One of the calmest, down-to-earth Egyptian commentaries on the affair I’ve seen is by Nabil Fahmy, who was Egypt’s ambassador in Washington for much of the late Mubarak period — notably when tensions with the Bush administration were at their highest. In this piece, Fahmy gives his opinion that the crisis will be overcome, and reflects on the mistakes made by both sides. He is most lucid when look at his own side, though, notably the arbitrary nature of the enforcement of NGO legislation that belong to the pre-revolutionary era. Fahmy is sometimes said to be a potential future foreign minister, and some believe he was sidelined (or chose to take a leave of absence from the ministry of foreign affairs) at the end of his career, as the Mubarak era entered its last phase.

The article was, as always, ably translated by Industry Arabic, the full-service translation company. Those guys are awesome!

Egyptian-American Relations after the NGO Crisis

By Nabil Fahmy, al-Shorouk, 26 February 2012

In recent weeks, we have witnessed extreme strain in Egyptian-American relations. In the sphere of public opinion in both countries, this crisis has been accompanied by demagoguery exploited by politicians and media personalities, as well as some officials. They have carelessly reported inaccurate information, or adopted slogans and demands that are not in their countries’ best interests.

I will not go into the charges leveled against a number of both foreign and Egyptian NGOs, as well as against governments in detail, as they have now been put before the court. Rather, I will first limit myself to some brief observations before moving on to the most important issue, which is the future of Egyptian-American relations.

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In Translation: Fishere on Egypt's presidential race

Egypt’s never-ending election season has just shifted — after the bore of the Shura Council elections, which most ignored — into presidential mode. The big topic of the past week has been about whether a consensual presidential candidate is desirable, or even possible. The Muslim Brotherhood has postponed endorsing its candidate of choice until after all hopefuls have registered, and it’s still not clear whether SCAF has chosen whom to back, with multiple potential candidates representing the military or “deep state”. Mohamed ElBaradei’s withdrawal from the race has created a gap on the liberal end of the spectrum, and undermined the crebility of the election and the transition as a whole (his argument, indeed, is that the transition needs a reboot before proceeding to new elections and a new constitution).

I picked this week’s In Translation article — as always expertly translated by the wonderful folks at Industry Arabic, who can tackle anything from arcane religious documents to angry op-eds to thick legal or technical documents — to show the debate on the revolutionary side of the spectrum, where many are rather despondent at the choices before them. Ezzedine Choukri Fishere — a friend, diplomat, professor and novelist currently shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge — is close to ElBaradei and here frets about the rush to judgement among revolutionaries before it is clear who is even running or under what circumstances the poll will take place (including, of course, whether as expected it will take place under military rule).

Between Revolutionary and Foolhardy

Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, al-Tahrir, 19 February 2012

A hair’s breadth separates carefulness from cowardice. It is carefulness to avoid antagonizing people, especially foolish people. However, it is cowardice to flatter people and refrain from stating the truth so as not to anger them. There is nothing easier for a writer to do – any writer – than to flatter the public, since he is sitting at home writing, and exaggerating for the public will not cost him anything. To the contrary, it will increase his popularity, expand his base of support, and cause him to be showered with intoxicating comments and descriptions. No responsibility lands on his shoulders, since in the end he is just stating an opinion, and no one is held to account for an opinion. Hence, the easiest, the cheapest and the most comfortable thing is for the writer to say what he knows the public wants to hear, or at least avoid diving headlong into issues he knows for sure will outrage them.

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In Translation: The "Tintin" of the Arab uprisings

Despite another installment of our “In Translation” series being long overdue, allow me an indulgence: the article our friends at Industry Arabic translated this week is nothing topical. It’s an attack on this site and myself. And what a deliciously absurd attack it is!

Its author, Sobhi Hadidi, a Syrian writer (I don’t know much about him), seems to be quite upset that I am aping the orientalists of old. One of his main gripes: the banner on top of this site, which he describes as a rather nasty throwback to old stereotypes of the Arab world. I’ve added footnotes to rebut the factual mistakes in the text (the banner is not from Tintin, for example), but on this point let me say this: the choice of a banner from one of my favorite comic books is not intended to spread the view of an ossified, stereotypical Arab world — it’s just that I like comics and loved that long panel from the 1940s which is recognizable even today and depicts the area of Cairo I’ve called home for over a decade. Chill, dude, it’s just a cartoon.

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In Translation: Diaa Rashwan on Mohamed ElBaradei

Earlier this week, I penned my own reaction to Mohamed ElBaradei’s decision not to run for the presidency (here and here). I have discussed the matter with both pro-ElBaradei and anti-ElBaradei Egyptians: the former are split between those who back his decision and those who chide him for not providing an alternative, the latter say that ElBaradei was always clueless anyway.

I thought it would be interesting to showcase some of the more critical responses to ElBaradei’s decision from those who are not from his political family. Diaa Rashwan, is a political analyst and expert on Islamist groups who, post-revolution, took charge of Egypt’s most prestigious think-tank, the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (replacing the neoliberal scholar Abdel Moneim Said, a former member of the NDP’s Policies Committee who was said to be close to Gamal Mubarak and is the very ideological opposite of Rashwan).

Rashwan is from Upper Egypt, calls himself a Nasserist, was an early signatory of the anti-Mubarak Kifaya manifesto. He is said to be one of the few public intellectuals who is consulted by SCAF, and of course his position at the al-Ahram Center makes him something of a public official and, in some circles, a power-broker of influence. His trajectory in politics has been consistent with the nebulous ideology that is Nasserism, in that he is a corporatist, an anti-elitist, a nationalist, a believer in the centrality of the armed forces and the interventionist state, and that his membership of Kifaya may have made him part of the opposition to Mubarak but not a liberal – an important distinction. In the piece below, he takes ElBaradei’s decision to make a wider critique of what he terms the liberal elite in Egypt.

As every week, In Translation is brought to you by the fantastic Industry Arabic.



Dr ElBaradei and the Theory of Perpetual Revolution


By Diaa Rashwan, al-Masri al-Youm, 16 January 2012

Dr ElBaradei’s decision to withdraw from running for president of Egypt, and the remarks made in his statement justifying this decision give rise to many questions and observations not only related to Dr. ElBaradei’s stances, but also to the trajectory of the Egyptian revolution as a whole, especially in important segments of the young elite that contributed to its success from the beginning.

As concerns ElBaradei, the timing of his withdrawal and the contents of his statement indicate that he believes that the Egyptian revolution will not succeed in its first year and has become in need of a new revolution. This much seems clear given that he timed his withdrawal only ten days before the first anniversary of the outbreak of the revolution. Indeed, some youth coalitions are calling for this anniversary to become the launching point for this new revolution, whose only goal is summed up by their most prominent slogan – which is also the crux of ElBaradei’s statement – “toppling military rule.”

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In Translation: Samer Soliman on revolution and reform

For the last few weeks, a favorite topic of conversation around many Cairene tables - particularly those of activists and the politically involved - is how to commemorate the upcoming anniversary of the 25 January uprising. For some, it should be a celebration of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. At the other end of the spectrum, more radical activists are calling for a "second revolution" and a repeat of the events of late January 2011, when, in the revolutionary narrative, "the people defeated the police state." The emerging dominant political players in Egypt - most notably the Muslim Brotherhood - have approached this issue carefully. They do not want another wave of protests only two days after the parliament that they control opens. They want to give some space to lingering grievances, but also control the situation in case radicals push for things to go another way.

I picked the following article because it reminded me of a conversation I recently had (at an excellent Iranian table - thanks P.) with two leading Egyptian human rights workers who worried that many of their friends had taken up revolutionary theory, were tempted by using violence against the state, and unwilling to see that they were a minority. In the article below, Samer Soliman, who teaches at AUC and is a well-known liberal writer, takes those types of revolutionaries to task.

As always, translation is provided by the awesome Industry Arabic, purveyors of fine translation services and more. 


A critical stance in support of my colleagues in the Revolution

By Samer Soliman, al-Shurouk, 9 January 2012

The revolution’s one-year anniversary represents a chance for reassessment and self-criticism by all those who participated in it. From this standpoint, the criticism that I direct at the positions and ideas of some of my revolutionary colleagues is the criticism of a comrade and has no trace of superiority. Its aim is to improve the performance of reform and revolutionary currents and get past unnecessary divisions in order to achieve our shared goal: establishing a state based on freedom, social justice and human dignity. I have four criticisms for some of my colleagues.

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In Translation: Egypt's deep state

This week’s translation comes from al-Tahrir, the newspaper edited by Ibrahim Eissa that is among the most critical publications of SCAF and the security services to come out since the January uprising. The writer of this column is Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere, a former high-level Egyptian diplomat who has woked on the Middle East peace process and in Sudan in various capacities, both for his country and the United Nations. He is also a novelist — his latest book has just been shortlisted for the Arabic Booker — and teaches International Relations at the American University in Cairo. His website is here. We previously feature Ezzedine (a friend of ours) in this hilarious video, in which he berates state television by introducing them to the concept of remote controls.

This column echoes a lot of my own thinking about recent events, notably hinting at a trend within the Egyptian deep state that is seeking to re-establish itself, manipulating politics (including the elections) and pushing SCAF towards confrontation and state media towards incitation against the revolutionary movement. This is a worrying development, even perhaps raising a question about whether one hand of the state knows what what the other is doing.

As always, we rely on the fantastic Arabic translation services of our partner, Industry Arabic. If you need anything translated from Arabic — a technical or legal document, a media article, a report — check them out.

Goodbye to Military Rule

By Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere, al-Tahrir, 20 December 2011

The coup-makers who dragged the Military Council into adopting the approach of the State Security Investigations Service (SSI) in the way it handles revolutionary forces have damaged the Military Council, the image of the army and the army’s status in the new political order.

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In Translation: Will the real Ibn Taymiyya please stand up?

This week’s In Translation piece is a departure from the usual focus on commentary on current events in the Arabic press. I chose a piece recommended by As’ad AbuKhalil, aka Angry Arab, that takes a scholarly look at the key inspirations of the Salafi movement, the theologian and thinker Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328 AD), who was born in Harran in what is today Turkey and lived most of his life in what is today Syria. Ibn Taymiyya’s times coincided with the destructive Mongol invasions which razed Baghdad and, from his perspective, must have appeared as an end-times event. He is considered to be a key inspiration inspiration to the Wahhabi and contemporary Salafi movement.

Angry Arab wrote of this piece:

This is an interesting discussion of the thought of Ibn Taymiyyah and how it differed from Hanbaliyyah on some theological issues. Ibn Taymiyyah warrants a lot of academic attention (given his influence on today’s Islamists): French Orientalists of the 20th century did pay attention to him but the reason that he is not studied as, say, Sayyid Qutb, is because he left a vast body of literature and access to this text requires a deep understanding of Arabic. He was a dangerous but effective and sophisticated polemicist.

That’s an important point: a deep understanding of Qu’ranic exegesis necessitates advanced study as a grammatician and even etymologist. For more on Ibn Taymiyya and how the democratization of religion in the Arab world that has given rise to new forms of fundamentalist Islamic thought, I recommend reading As’ad AbuKhalil’s critical essay The Incoherence of Islamic Fundamentalism: Arabic Islamic Thought At The End Of The 20th Century [PDF 2.6MB]. It includes his usual verve against the late Saudi Mufti, Abdel Aziz Bin Baz, who counts among the handful of founders of contemporary Salafism.

This is a difficult piece, but I thought it might be enlightening not only for the learned (and unorthodox interpretation) the writer gives of Ibn Taymiyya, but also in the second degree as telling of some of the discussions taking place in the quality Arab press in reaction to the electoral success of the Salafis in Egypt and the rising intellectual and spiritual influence of the Salafi movement more generally.

As always, this translation is possible thanks to Industry Arabic, which provides multi-lingual translation of many different types — media, technical, legal, etc. — and really did a great job on this difficult piece.



The other side of Ibn Taymiyya – on the occasion of the political ascent of Salafis and Islamists

By Abdel Hakim Ajhar, al-Quds al-Arabi, 14 December 2011

The terms and concepts that have achieved wide circulation with the Arab revolutions – those such as democracy, tyranny, civil society, and citizenship – have no place in the writings of Islamist thinkers before the Nahda period. However, the writings of one such pre-Nahda1 thinker, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328), contain material that could enable his followers to adopt a different mentality, one that would guide them – with a little effort — to these prevailing concepts of the age.

The Ibn Taymiyya whom we read about is not the real Ibn Taymiyya: he is a theoretical reproduction and refabrication that has made him into one of the authorities for religious extremists among both his supporters and detractors alike. The real Ibn Taymiyya, on the other hand, the one who needs to be read by Islamists ascending to the political forefront, is one who will help these Islamists adopt a flexible, rationalistic mode of thinking, and perhaps change many of the intellectual assumptions these forces still live by and consider to be fundamental tenets not subject to review.

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In Translation: Fahmy Howeidy on Salafis

The electoral success of the Salafis has alarmed many in secular circles, but not only. Fahmy Howeidy, an Islamist writer considered to be one of the most-read commentators in the Arab world, wrote last week of his relief in seeing a prominent Salafi personality defeated in Alexandria. The article was translated courtesy of Industry Arabic, which is sponsoring our In Translation series.

Society Has Issued Its Verdict

By Fahmy Howeidy, al-Shorouk, 8 December 2011.

I cannot conceal my feelings of relief at the defeat of Eng. Abdel Moneim al-Shahat, one of the representatives of the Salafi movement, in the run-off election.1 I consider this defeat a message sent to him by society, which should be taken in by him and his ilk of fanatical Salafis, who incessantly terrify people with their abuse of both the sacred and the secular. When I heard the results, I said that the issue here is not a question of who won, but rather the real story is that this man failed and did not succeed.

I do not know Eng. al-Shahat personally, but whenever I heard him or followed him speaking in the media, I felt like he was launching a personal insult at me in my capacity as a researcher concerned with Islamic issues. When I learned of the final tally in the second round of elections in the al-Nuzha electoral district in Alexandria, I said that voters’ aversion to him was a sort of punishment vote against him for the statements he keeps spewing, especially as of late.  This is a story that deserves to be told.

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In Translation: Ahmed al-Sawy on the elections

Every week, we bring an article translated from the Arabic press, courtesy of Industry Arabic. As the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections is just about to conclude, we bring an editorial by Ahmed al-Sawy which reminds readers the elections are the beginning of a long process, not its end.

This Isn’t the Final Bout

By Ahmed al-Sawy, al-Shorouk, 29 November 2011

Whatever the results of the elections are, and whether you are satisfied with them or not, they will offer a new lesson you should try to grasp quickly. The first lesson is that when you stand at the ballot box this time, you will have a great deal more faith in the process than was previously the case, and the price for this was paid by hundreds of martyrs and thousands of victims, who faced down tyranny in your stead as if it was a “fard kifaya” – a duty which if performed by some, leaves the rest exempt. However, it is time for this exemption to come to an end, and for the confrontation to become a “fard ayn” enjoined upon every Egyptian. This time the struggle is not against the tear gas and bullets of tyrants, but a struggle at the ballot box.1

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In Translation: Ziad Bahaa-Eldin on the "legal chaos" of the elections

In the last few weeks, we at The Arabist have been sharing our dismay over the slap-dash preparation of the Egyptian parliamentary elections, and our fears that they are so poorly and confusingly organized as to seriously undermine the democratic process. After the violence in Tahrir in the last 24 hours, we're not even sure if they will happen. If they do go ahead, they will take place among great logistical, security and legal shortcomings and confusion. 

For this week's translation -- courtesy our friends at Industry Arabic, as usual -- we have selected a column by legal expert, economic and political analyst and parliamentary candidate Ziad Bahaa-Eldin that appeared in the November 15 issue of the privately owned El Shorouk newspaper that clearly sets out some of the problems: 

How Will the Elections Be Held Amid This Legal Chaos?

My enthusiasm for the elections and for holding them on time has not yet died, due to my firm belief that they are the only means to emerge from this transitional period we are going through. Otherwise, the alternative is for the current chaos to continue and for people to become reluctant to continue the transition to democracy. Although there is a security vacuum, unstable economic situation and a serious disruption in basic materials and supplies, the only way to get out of this bind and achieve even incremental progress is to persevere and hold elections as scheduled.

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