Jazeera loses audience share in Egypt, Tunisia

The recently relaunched independent Moroccan website Lakome has an interesting piece [Fr, original Ar here] up today based on an internal al-Jazeera report on what channels are watched around the Arab world. Some of their findings:

 

  • Al Jazeera is still the most watched Arab television channel across the region, with overall growing market share ahead of pan-Arab competitors such as al-Arabiya and (way ahead of) Sky News Arabia.
  • ONTV (a liberal channel owned by billionaire Naguib Sawiris — Update: recently sold by Naguib Sawiris to a Tunisian businessman — that hosts some of the best-regarded talk shows in Egypt, notably Yosri Fouda's Akher Kalam) has taken over al-Jazeera in popularity in Egypt.
  • In Tunisia, Jazeera's audience size went from 950,000 in January 2012 to 200,000 in December 2012, perhaps reflecting the growing anti-Qatar sentiment in the country because of the ruling Ennahda Party's close connections to the emirate. Local channels such as Hannibal are preferred by local TV watchers.
  • Al-Jazeera's bias in its Syria coverage is believed to be one of the reasons for the drop on popularity of the channel

 

What strikes me in this is not so much that al-Jazeera is growing unpopular because of its pro-Islamist slant (which varies across its various channels) but that locally produced and targeted content is getting more attention. This is entirely normal, and reflects the growth in country-specific satellite channels in recent years that can offer more targeted content to viewers and more targeted audiences to advertisers. 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Morsi's popularity dips (just) below 50%

The latest poll conducted by Baseera, one of Egypt's better pollsters, illustrates the hit the Morsi administration has taken in the last two months: President Mohammed Morsi, whose approval rating reached 78% in September at its peak, is now less than 50% for the first time. The trend is clearly a downwards one, and that's in the absence of a strong alternative leader in the opposition. The National Salvation Front, on the other hand, has also taken a hit but may face a greater challenge: some 35% of those polled had never heard of it, a devastating measure of the NSF's lack of street presence (although, to be fair, the NSF's components and individual leaders may be better know.

The full press release from Baseera is after the jump.

 

Press Release on the Poll Conducted by Baseera Center on the Performance of the National Salvation Front and the President’s Approval Rating after Eight Months in Office

Magued Osman

President’s approval rating continues to decline, falling to less than 50% of Egyptians.

One third of Egyptians have not heard of the National Salvation Front, while more than 50% of those who have do not support the NSF.

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In Mali, it's not Françafrique

Stephen W. Smith · In Search of Monsters: What are they doing in Mali? · LRB 7 February 2013

Stephen Smith writes in a piece critical of the French intervention:

Since the end of the Cold War, the prerequisites for a ‘Franco-African state’ – a bipolar world order capable of overriding the commercial interests of other Western powers; the absence of democracy and hence of elite competition in Africa; manageable demographics for a mid-level power like France etc – have diminished or disappeared entirely. Yet observers still tend to explain what Paris does, or fails to do, in sub-Saharan Africa as an effect of la Françafrique. Old habits die hard even in unfavourable circumstances, and the French have needed time to come to terms with many inconvenient truths. This may account for the fact that la Françafrique is such a lively anachronism in their public debates. But if France’s decision to intervene in Mali had anything to do with la Françafrique, at least some of the following conditions would be met: Hollande would enjoy a cosy relationship with the ‘big man’ in power in Bamako, who would have secretly funded the French Socialist Party; thousands of French expats would be making a good living in the former colony; Mali’s mineral or agricultural resources would be firmly in the hands of French companies; and the country’s diplomacy would follow the French lead as unerringly as a sunflower follows the daystar.

So what is it, then? Not sure Smith finds a satisfactory answer to that question — and perhaps he just can't quite admit that an intervention that had received UN backing, was welcomed by most African states, and was at the request of the country's government need not have some great hidden motive.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

How does the MB knows what is says it knows?

Egypt’s Brotherhood Still Operates Secretively | TIME.com

(CAIRO) — Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks publicly of firsthand knowledge of a meeting where opponents allegedly plotted against him.

A few months earlier, the most powerful man in his Muslim Brotherhood group, Khairat el-Shater, says he has access to recordings of former military rulers and electoral officials engineering his disqualification from last year’s presidential race.

In Egypt, those statements are seen by security officials, former members of the Islamist group and independent media as strong hints that the Brotherhood might be running its own intelligence-gathering network outside of government security agencies and official channels.

Here's another possible interpretation: intelligence or state security is feeding information to Morsi about the opposition, whether real or made up, with the intention of making him more paranoid and rely on them more. That's one reason why it might not be willing to show its evidence.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Kagan & Dunne: Time to get tough on Egypt

This is one of those times that I wished that the Washington Post's editorial board hadn't spent the last four years making all-too-often spurious criticism of the Obama administration's foreign policy, because this quite good op-ed by Robert Kagan and Michele Dunne would have more punch. Neoconservative wonk Kagan (perched at Brookings) and Egypt expert Dunne (who has done a sterling job running the Atlantic Council's Egypt Source) have good credentials to speak about this, they have been engaged in the democracy debate for years and Kagan is probably the only neocon whose intellectual credentials are respectable (and isn't mostly motivated on this issue by the question of Israel's interests). They call on Obama 2.0 to get tough on Egypt right now.
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Ted Swedenburg on Egypt's post-revolution music scene

Egypt's Music of Protest | Middle East Research and Information Project

Great article on music and revolution in Egypt, by Ted Swedenburg who runs the great Hawgblawg. Here's the bit of my favorite style, mahragan, of DJ Amr Haha, Ortega and Figo fame:

If one were seeking an Egyptian parallel to rap music, then one’s attention should be drawn to the genre known as mahragan or “festival” music, which started to appear on YouTube in 2007. The music has been also called (mostly by outsiders) techno-sha‘bi or electro-sha‘bi. About one half of Cairo’s population lives in ‘ashwa’iyyat, “haphazard,” unplanned settlements that teem with the poor, working and lower middle classes. Sha‘bi music, rooted in the ‘ashwa’iyyat as well as the traditional popular quarters of Cairo, has long been derided as unsophisticated at best by Egypt’s educated elites. But many educated Egyptians listen to and appreciate sha‘bi music, if apologetically, and so several sha‘bi artists have crossed over to mainstream culture, to wit, Sha‘ban ‘Abd al-Rahim, Hakim and Ahmad ‘Adawiyya.

Mahragan is at once deeply rooted in sha‘bi practices and something quite new. The rhythms that drive mahragan are for the most part resolutely sha‘bi, but are often produced electronically. Over the sha‘bi beats that urge onlookers to shake their belly-dancing hips, singers chant or sing and occasionally rap, their voices most often distorted by synthesized autotuning. A DJ on computer and mixer, and on occasion, electronic keyboard, provides a heavily electronic musical soundtrack. Mahragan artists began to make names for themselves by playing at weddings in popular quarters, where they were appreciated not only because of the novelty of their music but also because it was cheaper to hire a singer and a DJ (and perhaps an additional percussionist) than to book the traditional troupe of musicians and dancers. Mahragan artists spread their reputations beyond their neighborhoods by circulating their home recordings via YouTube. They also began to organize on their own parties in their urban working-class neighborhoods. The name mahragan (festival) seems to refer to the carnivalesque atmosphere of the electro-sha‘bi parties and weddings, which resembles that of mulids, Egypt’s famous saint festivals, which typically are celebrated in popular quarters and are patronized by millions.

If the artists who performed at Tahrir in early 2011, and who continue to play there in ongoing protests since the uprising, mostly manifest veneration of the country’s national revolutionary repertoire, the usual attitude of mahragan artists to that tradition is one of irreverence, humor and even sarcasm. This sensibility is on full display in the mahragan song “The People Want Five Pounds’ Phone Credit” (Al-Sha‘b Yurid Khamsa Ginay Rasid) by DJ ‘Amr Haha (or 7a7a), from ‘Ayn Shams, and DJ Figo, from al-Salam City. The song opens to the slow strains of Egypt’s national anthem, “Biladi, Biladi,” penned by Sayyid Darwish, played on an electronic keyboard. The anthem quickly begins to grind down and then is abruptly halted with an electronic crash, as the beats of sha‘bi darbouka take over, and a vocalist (probably Figo) chants,

The people want something new [to think about]
The people want five pounds’ phone credit
The people want to topple the regime
But the people are so damn tired.

“The People Want Five Pounds’ Phone Credit” both invokes the famous slogan of the Arab revolts, and at the same time, the people’s (and especially the people of the sha‘bi quarters) exhaustion with it.

Here's a link to the song.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Morsi, more Yeltsin than Putin?

✚ The Terrible Twos - By James Traub | Foreign Policy:

Egypt's revolutionaries have begun to think of President Mohammed Morsy as their Putin, consolidating power and crushing dissent. But it's much more likely, as Sestanovich observes, that Morsy will prove to be Egypt's Yeltsin, presiding fecklessly over weak institutions and an increasingly fragmented polity. Yeltsin's Russia resisted demands for market reform from the United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Morsy's government has spent months putting off an agreement with the IMF even as foreign exchange reserves dwindle down to a three-month supply. Morsy has been unable or unwilling to curb the hated security forces directed by the Interior Ministry, deepening the outrage at his high-handed political tactics. We should remember that Yeltsin was first seen as a bully, and only later as a weakling. Morsy's own position is hardly secure; he may react to his growing unpopularity by becoming more autocratic, which will in turn provoke more protest.

Some interesting thoughts on comparing the post-Arab uprisings situation to the former republics of the USSR. Limited relevance, but some more things to worry about...

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Not even the MB really thinks the new constitution that great

One of the controversies about Egypt's new constitution is the way it has an ambiguous reference to al-Azhar having an advisory role as part of the expanded role of religion in state affairs. In January, we had the spectacle of the FJP's much-ballyhooed new Islamic finance law being twice rejected by al-Azhar, to the dismay of the Brothers, because it allows for (Islamically-correct) financial instruments to be used to raise investment in public infrastructure projects. Al-Azhar did not like the idea of foreigners owning such public infrastructure, and thus rejected the draft law — what seems like a secular rather than religious objection, although perhaps they had a religious reasoning too.

This was a great illustration of my fundamental problem with the constitution — the lack of forethought that went into it, and the unintended consequences of it. I think it's just the beginning, as this example unearthed by Nour the intern shows. She writes in first about the ongoing debate about the police (the Brothers' new best friends) but the second item speaks to my point:

Fast forward to minute 4, where Al-Qahira Al-Youm reporter, Mohamed Saad Eldeen, explains the Shura Council's session where MOI representative specifically stated that it is the police's job to "protect the legitimacy of the President" and they intend to do so. An outraged Wafd party member objected to their shamelessly political stance arguing that it's the exact same, wrong, stance they took for Mubarak. Instead of the MOI representatives defending themselves, Freedom and Justice party members did it for them, saying that it's the MOI's job to protect the regime and that the police should be using more force with the protesters. Eldeen added that the Minister of Interior didn't attend the session and sent a deputy instead, like every other minister who has been asked to attend for the past two weeks. The council later moved on to the European agreement with Egypt in the works. The agreement is worth €60 million, and includes loans and interest, which irked Salafi members who demanded the agreement be referred to Al-Azhar first, before they formally reject it. That's when Essam el-Erian intervened to stress the government's need for the money and that, with all due respect to Al-Azhar, "this is a legislative council." At that point, Salafi Nour party members reminded him of the continued existence of the constitution.

So many sessions are going to sounds like this one — one of the many factors that will add to the politicization of al-Azhar, because it has the potential to become a veto power (especially over Islamists, who can't very well just ignore the advisory opinions of the country's leading Islamic scholars the way secularists might) and that, therefore, controlling al-Azhar will become part of getting your ducks in a row when you want to pass legislation.

This is why I think the recent controversy over the election of the new Mufti is just the beginning of a long fight, as do Nathan Brown and Hisham Hellyer

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

"Burning the furniture"

Egyptian spring could be European storm - FT.com

Interesting tidbit about the recent OCI transaction here — and a good and alarming piece overall:

Foreign currency is increasingly difficult to come by in Egypt, even if you are rich by local standards. A number of the companies represented in the Cairo share index have substantial, viable, foreign operations, which the equities allow you to buy for Egyptian pounds. What is supposed by capital markets theory to be a measure of investor sentiment about the future has become a measure of half-concealed capital flight.

It could be argued that an interesting recent example of this is the Orascom Construction Industries share exchange offer. This was talked about in some quarters as “Bill Gates invests in Egypt”. Well, no. Orascom is one of the few internationally competitive Egyptian groups; I have used the group’s mobile phone providers in the Middle East. The ongoing exchange offer essentially allows an Amsterdam-based holding company to buy the Cairo-based construction company in return for a net payment of something more than $1bn to the forex department of the Egyptian central bank. Bill Gates’s family group is among the investors in the Amsterdam holdco. This would allow the central bank to make up for a few weeks’ drain of forex reserves at the current rate of loss.

So a resounding vote of confidence in Egypt’s future may actually be a case of burning the furniture. On the other hand, buying three weeks to a month may seem worth it if it’s your food ration that is being financed.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The US ambassador's speech

As I've previously written (and I'm not the only one to think so), I think US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has been too incautious in her embrace and praise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the last two years. Her recent speech in Alexandria, though, helps correct some of her recent media statements and strikes many right notes for where US policy should be. Her assessment of the economic situation is devasting, and a pointed critique of the Morsi administration's handling of this. The speech does not touch on politics much, but does hint at great alarm at Morsi's poor leadership.

I am pasting the whole thing after the jump.

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Links 7-9 February 2013

Today you get a twofer. Nour the intern writes in (mostly Arabic links):

The usual links:

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Egyptian activist to Obama: at least have the decency to stop voicing support for Morsi

A striking open letter to President Obama by veteran Egyptian human rights activist Baheieddin Hassan:

Mr President, when I spoke with you in 2010, I asked why the US administration condemns repressive practices in Iran while remaining silent when Arab regimes engage in the same violations. Over recent months, statements by your administration have similarly failed to address violations and have even blamed protesters and victims for violence committed in the context of demonstrations. Indeed, the stances of your administration have given political cover to the current authoritarian regime in Egypt and allowed it to fearlessly implement undemocratic policies and commit numerous acts of repression.

Statements that “Egypt is witnessing a genuine and broad-based process of democratisation” have covered over and indeed legitimised the undemocratic processes by which the Constituent Assembly passed the new constitution, an issue which has in turn led to greatly heightened instability in the country. Calls for “the opposition [to] remain non-violent” and for “the government and security forces [to] exercise self-restraint in the face of protester violence” have allowed the police and the current Egyptian administration to shirk their responsibilities to secure demonstrations and to respond to the demands of the Egyptian people, and have allowed them to place the blame for violence and instability on protesters themselves. Urging “the opposition [to] engage in a national dialogue without preconditions” undermines the ability of the opposition to play a real role in the decision-making processes of the country, as these “dialogues” seldom result in anything more concrete than a photo-op with the president. Is it a coincidence that the statements issued by your administration reflect the same political rhetoric used by the new authoritarian regime in Egypt? But when these statements come from the world’s superpower — the one most able to have a positive or negative impact on policies in Egypt and the region, not to mention the biggest donor and material supporter of the Egyptian regime for the past 35 years — they become lethal ammunition, offering political protection to perpetrators of murder, torture, brutality and rape.

I do not write you today to ask you to condemn the repressive policies of the current regime, or to ask you to urge President Mohamed Morsi to “cease” using excessive force and violence against Egyptians, even as your administration was so eager to achieve a ceasefire with Hamas to stop hostilities in Gaza. I write you not to ask for troops to protect political protesters in Egypt, or to suspend, freeze, or reduce military or economic aid to my country, or even to impose conditions on that aid. My request is quite modest: that spokespeople and officials in your administration stop commenting on developments in Egypt. This will no doubt spare your administration much time and effort, but more importantly, it may spare more bloodshed in Egypt, as the current regime will no longer enjoy the political cover that the US administration now offers them. Certainly, Egypt has seen enough bloodshed over the last two years, and Egyptians are tired of being punished for their uprising.

Read the whole thing. 

The Obama administration has the same problem it had with Mubarak: it suffers from acute clientitis, has an ambassador whose embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood has been way too much too fast and is incautious with her praise, it fails to appreciate the seriousness of the current situation and thinks things will just blow over, and has a department of defense whose interest in the status quo consistently overrides other elements of the foreign policy machine. We are back to the Mubarak era where the main concern of the embassy, and large elements of the departments of State and Defense, is how they are going to protect Egypt (whether the generals or the Morsi administration) from Congress. It's a sad state of affairs.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Brothers and cops

Brothers and soldiers: A weakened security apparatus is implicated in political play | Egypt Independent

Good piece by Mohammed Adam on police-MB relations:

Mohamed Mahfouz, former colonel and assistant coordinator of a coalition of officers dubbed “Officers but Honorable,” accused the police leadership of surrendering to the regime out of fear for their posts and the financial benefits they reap through it.

He said leaders are ready to serve any regime, as long as they maintain their positions and secure a source of wealth.

“A large segment of Interior Ministry officers learned the lessons of the January revolution and realized that leaders would be protected by the regime, while they would be leading confrontations in the street,” Mahfouz said. “A minority of officers, though, are ready to carry out any orders.”

Another security officer, who preferred to be referred to as Eissa, agreed with what Mahfouz said about the majority of police officers not wanting to protect the regime.

Meanwhile, some officers do not care who is in power, whether it is the Brotherhood or others — especially junior officers who just want to prove themselves efficient by suppressing people in the street, Eissa said, referring to a prevalent culture within the apparatus.

Egypt: To the barricades, again

Egypt: To the barricades, again | The Economist

From the conclusion of a long briefing on Egypt:

Mass defiance of the president’s curfew order in the canal cities, along with persistent protests elsewhere, have deeply dented Mr Morsi’s prestige. Few elsewhere in Egypt fully share the fury of Port Said; many despise the destructive antics of, as they have been called on Twitter, “spoiled brats living out Che Guevara fantasies”. Yet the frustrations of rising unemployment and soaring prices are keenly felt, and exacerbate the political discontent.

Mr Morsi is trying harder to coax the NSF into his hitherto vacuous dialogue. He speaks with new seriousness of being open to revising the constitution. He is working on securing backing from the International Monetary Fund for economic reform. Without broad support, though, enacting such reform will be impossible, and so far he has rejected demands to form a broader-based government of national unity, an idea endorsed by leading Salafists as well as the NSF. If he could summon to such a task of reconciliation the boldness he has previously displayed in his own interest, his country might move forward. If he does not, Egypt’s divided narratives will split further asunder. Radical Islamists could seek to settle scores with those they see as challenging “their” revolution. If so their opponents will fight back, and the world’s willingness to help would fade. Miserably, his people might just decide that things were better in the old days.

Morsi got into this mess. He's got to get out of it by paying a price and making a significant concession — everything else besides the point.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The judge who loved the police

Minister of justice denies systematic torture by Ministry of Interior - Daily News Egypt

Ahmed Mekki was a hero of the Judges' Intifada of 2006. Since he became an ally of the Muslim Brothers and Morsi's minister of justice, his positions have been despicable:

A discussion held between the committee drafting the Information Act and a number of human rights activists and university professors have broken down on Tuesday after the Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki consistently defended the Ministry of Interior’s actions.

Mekki attended the meeting along with the head of the history department at the American University in Cairo (AUC) Khaled Fahmy, associate dean of AUC’s business school Nagla Rizk, human rights researcher Amr Gharbeia and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights’ (EIPR) director Hossam Bahgat.

All four members withdrew from the meeting after Mekki refused to acknowledge any form of systematic torture from the Ministry of Interior.

The meeting was held to discuss the latest draft law surrounding freedom of information which, according to an official statement released by Fahmy, was not brought to the fore.

According to Fahmy, the minister said that the media has been mostly misleading and false. He also said any reform within the interior ministry should be done internally, at which point Fahmy questioned whether the minister really believes that a ministry which “kills and tortures will voluntarily change their style”. If so, Fahmy added, “why not undertake even a single serious restructuring project over the past two years?”

Fahmy pointed out in his statement that there has not been a single punishment handed out to officers in relation to cases of murder or torture.

Bahgat posted on his Twitter that what he had heard from Mekki in relation to the rights of citizens and media freedoms was “far worse” than anything he had ever heard from the Mubarak-era minister, Mufid Shehab.

I'd heard that in a previous meeting with rights activist Mekki urged them not to blame police but rather "lift the hatred of the police from their hearts"

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

In Translation: A president who does not know how to address his people

This week’s translation — made possible by our partners Industry Arabic, whom you should hire immediately for your translation needs — is a light-hearted one to catch a break from all the doom and gloom.

Newara Negm is an Egyptian journalist and activist. She’s the daughter of the irrepressible leftist poet and world-class hashish smoker Ahmad Fouad Negm and the irascible Islamist writer Safinaz al-Kazem, and the author of the blog Gabha al-Tahyyes al-Shaabiya (Popular Front of Sarcasm). This commentary is a little hard to translate because of the casual writing style, but she provides an original take on one of Morsi’s mistake: he doesn’t know how to talk to the Egyptian people. It is largely in reaction to his most recent television speech, during which he waved his finger at the camera and scolded protestors.

That’s Not the Way to Do Things

Nawara Negm, al-Tahrir, 1 February 2013

A friend of mine from the Gulf, who loves Egypt and loves to speak in Egyptian dialect, told me that he deals with different nationalities in his capacity as a company manager, and he would do humorous impressions of each nationality. When he got to Egypt, he said that you can be three months late in paying an Egyptian’s wage, but you have to meet him with a big smile and speak to him with the warmth of kinship, saying “You’re different from the rest, you’re important.” No sooner than that will the Egyptian put his hand in his pocket and say: "Do you need money? Really, please, in God’s name, take it, please…”

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The revenge of the have-nots

Back Street's Back | Foreign Affairs

Elijah Zarwan on the under-discussed phenomenon of urban squalor as a source of protests and rioting:

But it would be a mistake to dismiss the protesters as paid thugs, or to blame the unrest on revolutionary anniversary pangs, Muslim Brotherhood misrule, or a court's verdict -- although those are all elements of it. True, it is difficult to systematically track the demographics of a stampede, but what most of those rushing to escape birdshot and tear gas canisters have in common is that they are male, urban, young, and unemployed; they have very little to lose, and even less confidence in a political class that does not represent them. For them, the mantra of the uprising that began two Januarys ago -- "Bread, freedom, social justice" -- remains an urgent and unanswered demand.

If anyone doubted that Egypt's unrest would continue until the urban poor saw a concrete improvement in their daily lives, the events of the last few weeks should have convinced them otherwise. For the majority of the Egyptian population that grew up poor and has known no president other than Mubarak, life has been hard and has only gotten harder. The narrow streets of the urban slums admit little air. Decent work, already scarce, has become scarcer. Prices have continued to rise. Prospects for a dignified life -- a steady job, marriage, and escape from the family home -- have grown steadily more remote.

Before the 2011 revolution, some of the poor had turned to the streets, to pills, to hashish, to brawling, to fun. With the army hesitant to appear involved and the opposition in disarray, that street culture is now likely the biggest check on the Islamist project. The dispirited urban population is perhaps more heavily armed now than at any time in modern history. Families -- "honorable people," as onlookers describe them -- still join protests by day, but they melt away by night, and a leaner, angrier group takes their place.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.