What I've been up to lately (besides obsessing over presidential elections)

So here are a few recent stories I've forgotten to link to:

An article on curricular and education reform in Egypt and Tunisia (which with the exception of some edits to the civic education books -- the most egregious offenders in terms of flattering references to the countries' dictators -- hasn't really started yet) in Foreign Policy. In Egypt, at least, the challenges to reforming public education are so gargantuan that removing sycophantic references to the Mubarak regime is the least of anyone's worries. 

And a piece in The National on the verdict against Egyptian comic Adel Imam last week for "insulting Islam" in his comedies featuring religious fundamentalists. Of course the verdict (whatever you think of Imam's movies and politics) is terrible, but I try to put it in context. The final verdict is expected early July. 

Imam's portrayals of religious fundamentalists are broad and unflattering - featuring false beards, furrowed brows and stentorian deliveries. The overwhelming suggestion is that Salafists (the ultra-conservative Muslims who have recently won 25 per cent of seats in parliament) are all extremists, hypocrites and manipulators. Then again, while his portrayals may lack nuance and be unsympathetic, it's worth remembering that they were filmed at a time when armed Islamists groups were engaging in terrorism in Upper Egypt and that it's hard to find anything more ridiculous or extreme in them than what some Islamists have actually said and done.

Egyptian law allows anyone to bring charges against "whoever exploits religion in words or writing or any other methods to promote extremist ideologies, with a view of stirring up sedition, disparaging or contempt of any divine religion or its adherents, or prejudicing national unity and social peace." Islamists have taken this already spectacularly broad clause to mean that they have legal protection from ridicule, whereas it should be obvious that making fun of the way certain individuals practice their religion is not the same thing as insulting religion itself.

Imam's position is complicated by the fact that his relationship with the former regime and the Mubarak family was cosy and he often spoke out in defence of government policies. His movies never had any trouble with the censors, and many of those that skewered religious fundamentalism aligned themselves so neatly with government positions as to skirt the edge of propaganda and lead some of his colleagues to accuse him of being a government "spokesman".