Links 27 June - 10 July 2015

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

Egypt in TV: terrorism in Sinai, the need to "liquidate" Brothers, Sisi's 100% successful presidency

“Tell me, respectable president Sisi, why you didn’t secure the checkpoints when you knew they were targeted?” the bitter father of one of the 17 (according to the military) or 70 (according to medical sources) soldiers, who were killed in last week’s coordinated North Sinai attacks, tried to ask the camera as the CBC reporter next to him continued to talk over him. 

CBC was not the only channel to choose the wrong guest in last week’s mess. Dream TV’s Wael el-Ebrashy looked regretful in his stony silence as he heard former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi say that the state’s oppression (of activists and the MB) breeds terrorism. 

Politely critical voices like Sabahi’s, however, were lost in a sea of calls for revenge and conspiracies theories, with the double chin of former deputy head of the Supreme Constitutional Court Tahani el-Gabali and the wagging finger of Sada el-Balad host Ahmed Moussa taking the lead. 

The former demanded that all human rights activists be silent forever and that the Egyptian government stop considering the condemnation of the international community when cracking down on its opponents (implying they ever did), while the latter all but ordered judge Nagy Shehata to find a way to legally kill deposed president Mohamed Morsi and senior members of the Brotherhood in their cells. 

“It is very simple,” Shehata replied with confidence, being the reliable source that he is on the subject of killing Brothers. (Shehata has handed down over 500 death sentences to MBs.) Transfer their cases to the State Security Criminal Court, he said,  so that there can be no appeals. 

Impressively efficient, the fuming Moussa then showed a picture of a man he said was a former military officer, whom he said was the behind the assassination without shedding light on how he happened across this information so quickly. If it is true, shouldn’t the government make some kind of announcement and if it isn’t, shouldn’t the patriotic Moussa know better than to spread false information? 

Also giving legal advice on TV lask week was el-Gabali, who told el-Ebrashy that anyone who is happy or celebrates the death of Barakat is a partner of the terrorists and should be arrested. “Don’t you want the rule of law? This is the rule of law,” she said. 

 

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Media, the regime, and censorship in Egypt

Our own Nour Youssef has a piece in the Guardian about the Egyptian media, the role it has played in the events of recent years, and the complicated system by which it stays in alignment with regime interests. It has interviews with a who's-who of prominent TV hosts and is chock-full of incredible quotes. 

“I would say anything the military tells me to say out of duty and respect for the institution,” says Ahmed Moussa, one of the most popular TV presenters inEgypt.
Moussa has no qualms admitting on air his relationship with the authorities – and his vocation to serve them. He claims he would also extend the same courtesy to the police, he said but he “might stop and think a little first”.
Sharing Moussa’s sense of duty towards the military is the veteran talk show host Mahmoud Saad, from Al-Nahar TV. “The military should never, ever, ever be covered,” he says, shaking his head. “You have to let them decide what to say and when to say it. You don’t know what will hurt national security.”
But it’s also the power to influence people that appeals to him, he says. “It’s a beautiful feeling knowing that when you swing right,” he says as he swivels his upper body right, “the people will swing right. “And when you swing left,” he goes on, swivelling in the opposite direction “the people will swing left.”

 

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

The Farce Behind Morsi’s Death Sentence - The New Yorker

Jon Lee Anderson:

As its leaders present and former grapple with their legacies, Egypt, no longer a regional leader of any sort, is mired in a miasma of self-made miseries, a nation best known for its corruption, poverty, and the absence of the rule of law. The 2011 “revolution” that seemed to have pulled it briefly from its steadfast implosion seems not only to have come and gone but to have been a mirage.

Tragically, Cairo’s Tahrir Square is likely to be remembered as a place where hopes were raised for democratic change, only to have those hopes dashed by the country’s perennial powers-that-be. The decision by Egypt’s judiciary to kill Morsi is not only a crudely cartoonish attempt at the implementation of justice; it defies even the kind of canny political logic that one might expect from a military élite like Egypt’s. If Egypt’s generals thought that brutality would buy them control, they didn’t get it. In the Sinai, ISIS now runs amok, seizing police posts and massacring captives. As for the heroes of the country’s Arab Spring, so vaunted by the West during that fateful spring of 2011, most have left the country, been killed, or are themselves in prison. The farcical show trials, in which Morsi and other former senior officials are exhibited in courtrooms in cages, covered with soundproofed glass so that they cannot be heard shouting, must be seen for what they are, alongside a myriad of arbitrary arrests and detentions, including of journalists.

Links 8 - 19 June 2015

Ramadan Kareem. Get your Moroccan Harira recipe here (the secret is lots of celery btw). Photo by Shutterstock.

Ramadan Kareem. Get your Moroccan Harira recipe here (the secret is lots of celery btw). Photo by Shutterstock.

Much Loved, Much Hated: a Moroccan film about prostitution is banned

The number one topic of conversation in Morocco in the last few weeks has been the film Much Loved, by director Nabil Ayouch. The film tells the story of prostitutes in Marrakesh; it premiered at Cannes and some scenes were leaked -- and widely viewed -- online. These include a scene featuring a gay prostitute, rich Gulf clients who mock the Palestinians as a bunch of parasites, some explicit dancing, and some more explicit dialogue (I believe the words the women speak are the most shocking element in fact). 

Judging from the snippets I've seen, the movie's style is naturalistic, almost documentary; the  dialogue is reportedly based on research the director and lead actress carried out with sex workers. 

Before the director even presented his official request to screen the movie in Morocco, it was banned here, for being "une atteinte a l'image du Maroc," ("an insult to Morocco's image"). The lead actress has received death threats. 

The director's protestations of shock sound hollow to me; you don't screen a movie with this style and subject at Cannes and expect no blowback back home. But of course the ban is ridiculous. Those who support the director -- like the editorialists of the liberal magazine Tel Quel -- have pointed out that as usual decision-makers and public opinion are much more concerned with the representation of social problems than with the problems themselves (an attitude that is frequently found in the Arab world). There is a significant amount of prostitution in Morocco, and Moroccan women have a reputation of being both terribly attractive and immoral in other more conservative Arab countries (whose men come here to take advantage of these qualities). But as Omar Saghi writes in Tel Quel, Moroccan women are considered "loose" only by the standards of Gulf Arabs, and why should they interiorize these views? He writes that "Egypt, close to the Gulf, has long paid dearly for this comparison: after having veiled its women, decreased salaried female employment, and lowered a lead cloak on its beaches, Egypt remains, for the Gulf, a pagan country with shameless women who speak too loud and have the regrettable tendency to go out in public. To fix the problem of prostitution in Morocco, we should abandon an apocalyptic vision and come back to our senses: end the prostitution of minors, punish pimps and trafficking networks, spread information about health hazards...As far as defending the image of Moroccan women, let's stick to two things: keep demagogues out of this, and stop comparing ourselves to Yemenis." 

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

How teaching in English divides the Arab world

I have a new piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the spread of English at universities in the middle east. This is a world-wide phenomenon, and the main reason for it is that working in English helps academics access the latest research and to publish (because most journals are in English). It also often helps students land better jobs after graduation. And there are other more ambiguous gains to English: access to Western culture generally, a different and often more open teaching style (since more professors might be foreign), and a general aura of "modernization." 

New private colleges that teach in English are popping up, while public universities have made English the language of instruction for certain fields — particularly scientific ones — or sometimes on the whole campus.

But the enthusiasm for English isn’t universal. Skeptics note that switching to English does not solve all the underlying problems of troubled educational systems. Some see the turn away from their native language as a threat to Arab identity. Others worry that English-language education exacerbates the divide between the haves and have-nots. For a small minority of graduates, like Mr. Hamdy, English is the gateway to the global economy. But millions more are left behind.

”English is a divider but also a dream,” says Deena Boraie, dean of the School of Continuing Education at the American University in Cairo.

The hopes and misgivings about the spread of English in the Arab world illustrate the tensions that surround the world’s most widespread lingua franca. Even universities in the United States have something to lose, says Rosemary C. Salomone, a professor of law at St. John’s University, in New York, who is writing a book about the spread of global English. The complacent belief that the whole world speaks English leads to less study of foreign languages and less curiosity about the rest of the world.

The English language is “washing over the world,” says Ms. Salomone. Many countries fear an “erasure of [their] culture and loss of global status.”

I reported in Qatar, Egypt and Morocco, and there are some big variations -- in the Gulf the concerns regarding English are tied up with anxieties about identity, being a minority in one's own country and the pace of change. In Egypt English has theoretically been part of the curriculum and a language of instruction for decades but the real problem is the abysmal quality of education, growing privatizations, and the gap between rich and poor (which foreign language universities and programs can exacerbate). In Morocco there is a growing interest in introducing English -- something that is somewhat surprising given that the country is already dealing with a very complicated post-colonial linguistic tangle, with the educational system divided between Arabic and French and with the place of darija (the local dialect) and Berber languages (recently recognized) to be ascertained. In all countries the feelings about languages taught and used at schools are of course passionate, because they are feelings about identity and the future opportunities of one's children. 

The piece is behind the paywall. For those interested (in this and other coverage of scholarship, ideas, academia, including my own reporting on the Arab world and the debate over rules on sexual conduct, feminism and freedom of speech on campus triggered by this essay), think about subscribing. 

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

I am ready to be held accountable by the people: Al-Sisi

As reported in the Daily News Egypt:

Sunday evening, titled “A year of achievements: the president’s untraditional activities,” in which it listed 24 activities as achievements. With the exception of the international Economic Summit held last March, the report did not tackle other economic steps, nor was there a mention of the ambitious New Suez Canal project.

Furthermore, the 24 attainments in the report included seven meetings with different social factions and organisations, excluding any politician, where potential projects had been discussed. The report also counted Al-Sisi’s participation in a bike marathon and Cairo Runners’ marathon as achievements.

“Al-Sisi’s first phone interview” was also the title of one of the president’s achievements.

A review of the film Timbuktu

I had the pleasure of seeing the movie Timbuktu recently at the Cinematheque of Tangier (a beautifully restored old movie theater). It's not to be missed. A film full of grace and depth. I wrote about it for the LRB blog

In his film Timbuktu, Abderrahman Sissiko shows a traditional Muslim society overrun by outsiders claiming they have the God-given authority to tell everyone what to do. The film is inspired by the 2012 takeover of much of Northern Mali by jihadist and other rebel groups. It is both specific to its setting and raises questions about struggles playing out across the Muslim world. I can’t think of another creative work that takes such an imaginative, subtle, assured look at Islamist militancy and its effects.
The landscape that Sissiko films, dramatic and simple as a stage, is naturally abstract: a lake with perfectly flat shores; a hillside of dunes with a few tents and a few trees; a city of narrow sandy lanes and earth-colored rooftops (Oualata in Mauritania, standing in for Timbuktu).
At first the masked outsiders with their flags and announcements seem bumbling and almost ridiculous, actors playing their part with fragile confidence. A veteran jihadi tries and fails to coach a young member into recording a convincing recruitment video. Fighters track forbidden music floating over the rooftops, only to have to call their superiors for instructions, at a loss when they realise the criminals are singing the praises of the Prophet.

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

Links May 15 - June 7 2015

The Arabist's editors have been on the move lately, traveling and showing visiting friends around Morocco. Hence, a few pictures and a very late, large set of links.

A detail from a work by the early modern  Moroccan painter Ben Ali Rbati (held at the Musée de la Fondation Slaoui in Casablanca), one of the earliest artists to use perspective and to depict more casual and domestic scenes. This is of a Coranic school. 

A detail from a work by the early modern  Moroccan painter Ben Ali Rbati (held at the Musée de la Fondation Slaoui in Casablanca), one of the earliest artists to use perspective and to depict more casual and domestic scenes. This is of a Coranic school. 

 

Plumbers' shop in the Tangiers medina

Plumbers' shop in the Tangiers medina

Two Egyptian Policemen Shot Dead Near Pyramids of Giza - NYT

Casablanca architecture reminds me of Cairo

Casablanca architecture reminds me of Cairo

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

Justice in Egypt

The latest mass death sentence handed down in Egypt received a fair amount of press. (Enough to incense Egypt's Foreign Ministry, which has released its usual ridiculous statement sniffily calling for the respect of non-existent "international conventions" not to ever question the ruling of any judge anywhere). 

I wrote about mass sentences and the role of the Egyptian judiciary over a year ago. Since then the sentences have continued apace. The only reason this one has received particular attention, in fact, is  because the convicted included former president Mohamed Morsi. Those sentenced to death also include Freedom and Justice Party spokeswoman Sondos Asem and Professor Emad Shahin who having fled the country is currently teaching at Georgetown. The Atlantic Council's EgyptSource blog has an excellent round up of the cases, charges, and reactions here

As I've written before, I can think of few things more destructive to a social peace than the belief that there is no possible recourse to justice. All judicial systems are imperfect, but citizens must at least harbor the hope, the delusion even, that there are avenues for redress. 

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The banality of the Islamic State

Interesting post by Reyko Huang about "the Islamic State as an ordinary insurgency", over at Monkey Cage:

The point here is not to downplay the threat posed by the Islamic State or to “normalize” its behavior by highlighting the group’s ordinariness among violent political groups. It is simply to stress that comparatively speaking, the group is not as exceptional as observers and the media have often characterized it. Putting the Islamic State into a broader theoretical and historical perspective – that is, beyond the frame of “Islamist terrorism” and beyond the post-9/11 period – is important because there are clear dangers in hyperbolizing the group’s own claims to exceptionalism. To unduly emphasize the Islamic State’s distinctiveness is to distort its threat, inadvertently boost its legitimacy, and worst of all, to directly play into its leaders’ hands. Whatever the Islamic State has achieved so far, history has seen much of it before in other contexts. Knowledge of these other contexts can therefore inform both scholarship and policy on this pressing issue.

Well worth reading the whole thing, particularly as the Islamic State is being used by so many in the region as a boogeyman to advance their own agenda, from Sisi in Egypt to the Iranian regime to Bashar al-Assad in Syria to the very IS-like (ideologically) Saudi regime. 

"Frank discussions"

These State Dept. press briefings on Egypt regularly have some telling exchanges (I bet the journalist here is AP's Matt Lee.) On the sentencing to death of former President Morsi:

QUESTION: I have a question on Egypt --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and whether or not you have any reaction to the sentence handed down to Mohamed Morsy and whether the U.S. has shared any of those thoughts or concerns with Egyptian officials.

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Diary: In Sanaa

A must-read piece on the Houthis by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad:

The Houthis’ supreme military commander, Abu Ali al-Hakem, is a delicate and compact man, one of the original 75 who fought alongside Hussein in the first battle in the mountains of Marran and one of the few who survived. In Sanaa one evening I watched him enter the Houthis’ headquarters accompanied by two gunmen; his arrival caused a flutter among even the most senior apparatchiks. He wore a dark blue coat over a crisp white dishdasha, with a leather pistol holster strapped to his chest. He spoke of his memories of the war, of a day of heavy battle, it was the third or fourth war, he couldn’t remember. The Houthis had lost many men and they were besieged. ‘At dawn the fighting stopped and I decided to take a break. I switched on the TV. I wanted to see what the world was saying about us: the whole world would be speaking of this battle. I flipped through the channels. There was nothing, even from countries we call our friends, nothing in Iranian or Arabic. There was no mention of us. We were alone and there was no one to help us.’ He spoke in the language of good and evil. ‘How can we not win if we have God with us?’ The Houthis – from Abu Ali al-Hakem to the lowliest fighter – all spoke in the same terms, a logic developed after a decade of war and siege in the mountains. They were the pure and all their enemies or those who raised their voice to oppose them – leftists, the media, the Muslim Brotherhood, jihadis – were all Daesh, or Isis, or agents of the US and the Saudis. Their enemies in turn portrayed them as an Iranian militia, alongside those of Bashar al-Assad and the Sadrists in Iraq.

Links May 2 - May 15, 2015

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

Egypt in TV: Highlights and low points on the talk shows

Did you know letting non-rich Egyptian kids become judges could lead them to suffer from “depression and a lot of things”?

The former minister of justice, Mahfouz Saber was there to inform you. His knowledge and concern for the psychological well-being of the poor is the reason he argued that the sons (forget daughters) of trash collectors should not join the judiciary, regardless of how academically accomplished and gifted they may be.  A judge needs to grow up in an “appropriate,” “respectable” environment, and be able to cultivate the necessary “loftiness” of judges, he told Ten TV’s Ramy Radwan. Saber's remarks ignited a media debate and led to his forced resignation. 

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In Translation: Back to the Past in Egypt

In Translation: Back to the Past in Egypt

The team at Industry Arabic -- look to them for all your Arabic translation needs -- brings us the latest installment of our In Translation series. Abdullah al-Sinnawi is the editor of the socialist newspaper Al Araby and one of the many public intellectuals who supported Morsi's ouster and the ascension of Abdel-Fattah El Sisi, couching his support in terms of restoring the authority and prestige of the state. Now he harsh words for a regime that he describes as rudderless if not deeply disingenuous. The title used a particularly loaded term: the word "normalization" in Egypt usually refers to normalization of relations with Israel, something much of public opinion does not really accept and much of the leftist intelligentsia has always viewed as a humiliating capitulation. 

 

Normalization with the Past

Abdullah al-Sinnawi, al-Shorouk, 6 May 2015

“Why are we protecting Mubarak?....You’re accusing us of being traitors.”

With this unequivocal expression, he tried to dispel any suspicions as to why the Military Council was putting off trying a president who had been ousted by his people.

During the first weeks of the January 25 Revolution, public squares full of anger were calling for the past to be put on trial for its sins. They called for all issues to be opened to questioning and accountability, so that Egypt would not be governed in the future in the same careless manner as before.

This forthrightness was not customary in other leaders and gave the strong impression that the young general who made this statement might be the future of the military establishment.

It did not occur to him, during this lengthy meeting in April 2011 that was attended by six journalists and military figures, as he made this firm response to the questions and doubts raised by the protests, that the question of the past would rear its head again, with greater anxiety and more serious misgivings, four years later when he would be president of Egypt. 

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Links April 25 - May 1 2015

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

The Fight For Yemen, Continued

The Fight For Yemen, Continued

In 1962, shortly before their own adventure in counterinsurgency in North Yemen began, Egyptian advisors who had been stationed there to reform the ruling Imam’s army spoke respectfully of how the locals had managed to defeat all of the Ottoman forces sent to the region in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, this respect was absent at the highest levels of command back in Cairo when it launched its own adventure in counterinsurgency in North Yemen. The Nasserists by and large regarded Yemen as a backwater led by a medieval despot and populated by superstitious primitives, much as Western publications did during the 1934 Saudi invasion.

Major General Saladin al-Hadidi, as recounted by Jesse Ferris in Nasser’s Gamble, was so dismissive of the Yemenis he told a colleague who had just returned from North Yemen that given enough whizz-bangs and smoke machines, he could put on such a display as to freeze royalists guerillas in their tracks. Mr. al-Hadidi’s military intelligence directorate could not supply the Egyptian armed forces with accurate maps of the countryside immediately outside of Sana’a. Cairo quite literally did not bother painting an accurate picture of the place it went to war over.

Believing that North Yemen was the weakest link of the Arab monarchies, Egypt’s leaders enthusiastically greeted a September 1962 coup against the country’s hereditary Zaydi leader, Imam al-Badr, by a military faction led by a lower class Zaydi named Abdullah al-Sallal (later “President-Field Marshal” Sallal). Sallal’s co-conspirators styled themselves as “free officers” like those who had deposed Egypt’s King Farouk in 1952, proclaiming an end to slavery and a reign of terror against the Imam’s supporters. As soon as they took over the capital, Gamal Abdel Nasser rushed in arms, advisors, money, and “Free Yemeni” émigrés (one of whom was married to Anwar Sadat’s sister) that had been on standby for just such an occasion. Never mind that al-Badr had been more favorably inclined towards the Egyptians and Soviet bloc than his mentally ill father Ahmed (d. 1962) had been.[1] Or that Nasser himself had let this weakest link, “medieval” monarchy and all, join Cairo in a defense pact in 1958 to spite the Saudis.

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