"The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al Aswany...continues the process: an enthralling piece of storytelling as well as a brave and straight-dealing account of Cairo, al-Aswany's novel adopts the urban labyrinth of The Arabian Nights while containing its cast of intricately connected characters within a single, many-chambered building."I really struggle to see what in particular relates The Yacoubian Building to The Thousand and One Nights, other than the fact that they are both Arab works of literature. Other authors (Elias Khoury come to mind) have drawn much more explicit inspiration from the nestled, circular, divagatory narration of the Nights. To say that the Yacoubian Building "continues the process" is to say, really, nothing--it does so as much as any other work of Middle Eastern literature does, and just as any contemporary work of English literature "continues the process" of Shakespeare, or Dante. The automatic comparison of any work of Arabic literature to the 1001 Nights--just like the inevitable description of any Middle Eastern female narrator as a "Sheherazade"--is a bad habit that reviewers should lose. After all, as the rest of Warner's review makes clear, the Nights as we know them are in great part a European invention, and have influenced Western literature as much if not more than that of the East.
Links from my del.icio.us account for December 15th:
- The Arabist Review - Ursula remembers Hagg Madbouli, the grouchy owner of the eponymous Cairo bookstore.
- Hips, lips tits...it's BETTIE PAGE! - Picture collection of the late Bettie Page. [Via Ibn Kafka]
- POMED Notes: Human Rights in Egypt - Notes on panel on human rights in Egypt, includes Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
- Khaleej Times Online - Egypt court convicts 22 for food riots - Mahalla alleged quot;riotersquot; convicted 3-5 years in prison in security court that offers no appeal.
- Chicago: Briefly Noted: The New Yorker - Tiny review of Alaa Aswany#039;s novel.
However, senior government sources in Jerusalem said that the information they have received indicates that the new administration is planning a hierarchy of about five special envoys to various regions, overseen by a kind of "super coordinator," who would answer directly to the president and the secretary of state. The sources said that the new policy is part of Obama's and Clinton's understanding that all the conflicts in the Middle East and Southeast Asia are to some extent connected to the Iranian nuclear program and withdrawal from Iraq. Therefore, it is important to operate in a number of parallel but coordinated channels to attain achievements on all fronts. The most prominent name in consideration for the top coordinator post is Dennis Ross, who served as President Bill Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East. Ross' name has also come up as a possible senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. The envoy to the Middle East would oversee the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, negotiations between Syria and Israel and the situation in Lebanon. Short-listed for this job are Colin Powell, who was President George W. Bush's secretary of state during his first term; Dan Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005; and Martin Indyk, who is close to Hillary Clinton and who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1995 to 1997 and from 2000 to 2001.All conflicts in the Middle East are connected to Iraq and Iran?!!?! If they see it that way, it's because they've decided the priority will be Iraq and Iran, which is to say it'll be Iran. Fair enough, the Israeli-Palestinian process does appear at a deadlock with inter-Palestinian rivalry and the prospect of a new Netanyahu administration in Tel Aviv. Nonetheless, considering the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, continued ethnic cleansing and settlement expansion in Jerusalem and the West Bank, one would think the US could have other priorities on its mind (indeed, since a good part of the US defense establishment thinks it can live with a nuclear Iran, one wonders whether this isn't an Israeli priority). It's also extremely depressing to see the list of names for top coordinator (Dennis Ross - nuff said) and for Middle East Envoy: Martin Indyk is AIPAC's man and Colin Powell was a failure as SecState and obviously overwhelmed by his bureaucratic opponents. Even with Dan Kurtzer, the most palatable and professional of these choices, we have the slight problem that his brother is an Israeli settler. Now one might put this down to the idea that these are the only acceptable names to Israel, which largely calls the shots with regards to US peace process policy, at least since the first Clinton administration. But it also shows a staggering lack of imagination: in all of the talent pool of Washington, DC, these are the only men one can think of for the job? Where's the change we can believe in, Mr Obama?
Links from my del.icio.us account for December 13th through December 14th:
- Gaza families eat grass as Israel locks border - Times Online - “We had one meal today - khobbeizeh,” said Abu Amra, 43, showing the leaves of a plant that grows along the streets of Gaza. “Every day, I wake up and start looking for wood and plastic to burn for fuel and I beg. When I find nothing, we eat this grass.” Abu Amra and her unemployed husband have seven daughters and a son. Their tiny breeze-block house has had no furniture since they burnt the last cupboard for heat. “I can’t remember seeing a fruit,” said Rabab, 12, who goes with her mother most mornings to scavenge. She is dressed in a tracksuit top and holed jeans, and her feet are bare.
- Border patrol - The National Newspaper - On France#039;s sovereign wealth fund, which invests domestically, presumably to keep those nasty Arabs out of French boardrooms.
- Enemy mine - The National Newspaper - Max Rodenbeck reviews Gilles Kepel#039;s quot;Beyond Terror and Martyrdomquot;.
- Hamas warns Israel truce coming to end (Reuters) - Meshaal says from Damascus Hamas won#039;t renew six-month truce that wasn#039;t.
- Confessions of a xenophile - Indian writer Amitav Ghosh, author of quot;In An Antique Landquot;, reminisces about living in the Delta, empire and the non-aligned movement.
- Diplomacy over Syria | Where shall I go next? | The Economist - About Syria#039;s adept diplomacy.
- Who Originated the 'Nuclear Umbrella for Israel' Proposal? - Jim Geraghty - The Campaign Spot on National Review Online - Charles Krauthammer wrote about it, Hillary Clinton advocated it, apparently.
- Cette « double autorité » qui écartèle les Palestiniens, par Amira Hass (Le Monde diplomatique) - Hass on the division of what#039;s left of Palestine.
The 11th Cairo International Biennale kicks off in a few days, and while I'll unfortunately miss the opening I will be back in a few weeks to check out this intriguing project I was emailed about. The No. 1 Sun Engine was operational in Maadi, a posh southern suburb of Cairo, in 1913 and was among the first serious experiments in solar power. Its American inventor, Frank Shuman, raised funds to deploy the bizarre contraption (which works by powering a low-pressure steam turbine) in London before visiting sun-drenched Cairo to build it. Its first use in to power a water-pump for irrigation with water from the Nile.
You can read more about the history of the sun engine at project page, where there's a timeline that tracks Shuman's movements alongside with prominent historical events, such as Lord Kitchener's arrival in Cairo and the start of World War I. The juxtaposition of this early venture into solar power and major geopolitical developments is fascinating, if only because WWI ushered in the era of oil (and the systematic sabotage of alternative energy projects), while Shuman developed his machine because he (as a Pennsylvanian) was worried about reaching the exhaustion of then-recoveroble coal, the Victorian age's equivalent of peak oil. Of course, coal (control of which was a key objective of WWI and which is now undergoing a revival in China and the US among others) powered the war effort and shaped European societies, notably by making industrialization possible, much as after WWI control of oil (and specifically Middle Eastern oil) would help make possible massive social change and an unprecedented age of plenty in America.
I've always found this interconnection of social organization, imperialism and technology fascinating - such as in some of the recent work of Tim Mitchell, who has looked at the differences in social organization of coal and oil-based societies (because of the distribution model for each resource) and their role in making Western democracy possible (and therefore also perhaps impossible in other conditions). In this respect I highly recommend his short article n the subject (to my knowledge the only one available), which is in Word format here: Tim Mitchell's article on carbon democracy
But I'll go see this exhibition for the sheer cool steampunk aspect of it.
Links from my del.icio.us account for December 12th:
- Arab Reform Bulletin - Modern Politics or the Politics of Modernity? - Fouad Ali al-Himma#039;s and Morocco#039;s obsession with quot;tradition and modernityquot;.
- Egyptian chronicles: Egyptian Da Vinci Code - Zeinobia on the book that got the Coptic Church huffin#039; and puffin#039;, quot;Azazel: The Devil Within,quot; which she describes as the Egyptian quot;Da Vinci Codequot;.
- Nobel Peace winner urges Obama to focus on Mideast - Yahoo! News - Martti Ahtisaari says MEPP should be priority.
- Israeli Arabs should live in Palestinian state: Livni - Yahoo! News - This is Israeli quot;centristquot; politics: take people#039;s land, then expel them and tell them they should feel happy they have something.
- TPMCafe | Talking Points Memo | Palestinian statelessness is an American Jewish achievement - Philip Weiss discusses the Avraham Burg book, stressing the moral responsibility of American Jewry for the perpetuation of the conflict over Palestine. Part of a larger debate on the book.
- New Statesman - On a sea of stories - Hugh Kennedy reviews the new translation of the Arabian Nights.
Links from my del.icio.us account for December 11th through December 12th:
- Al-Qaeda terrorist surrenders in Algeria, discloses plans for December 11 attacks - Algerian attack planned to quot;commemoratequot; UN bombing.
- מגזין הכיבוש Occupation Magazine - Profile of Avraham Burg, who reminds us that Zionism still is racism.
- Al-Qaida au Maghreb : une menace pour la France - Afrique - Le Monde.fr - Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb threatens France, but is it all bombast?
- Daily News Egypt - IN FOCUS: POST MUMBAI JIHADISTS - Khalil al-Anani says the Bombay attacks mark a new type of quot;mercenary jihadismquot;, or the professionalization of the jihadist.
- The Baby, the Bathwater, and the Freedom Agenda in the Middle East - Carnegie#039;s Michelle Dunne argues for more, better done, democracy promotion in the ME in the Washington Quarterly.
Links from my del.icio.us account for December 9th through December 10th:
- Oxford Research Group: The Arab Peace Initiative: Why Now? - Document revisits the 2002 Arab Peace Plan, offers suggestions for revival. [PDF]
- MANIFESTO ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE FUTURE OF FOOD SECURITY - Major document on food security and environment. [PDF]
- Contemporary Security Policy: A Tipping Point Realized? Nuclear Proliferation in the Persian Gulf and Middle East - US military monograph on nuclear proliferation in the Persian Gulf, explores neo-realist theories, nuclear-free zone idea. [PDF]
- Obama’s Middle East Policy: What the Arab World Expects - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Collection of articles about Arab expectations for Obama, includes writers Elias Khoury, Gamal Ghitani, and various political pundits, analysts and politicians.
- E-Notes: Where is Egypt Headed? - FPRI - Dan Kurtzer, former ambassador to Egypt and Israel and probable Obama appointee, on the future of US-Egypt relations.
- Israeli hardliners score well in Likud vote - Yahoo! News - "Among the strong performers were a former parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin, Benny Begin, the son of former prime minister Menachem Begin, and former army chief Moshe Yaalon -- all considered hawks who believe in a Greater Israel which includes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip"
- The Arab Obama Part 1: Caricatures of the the President-elect - Post on the cartoon representations of Obama in the Arab press.
Links from my del.icio.us account for December 8th through December 9th:
- LRB · Robert Vitalis: Sons and Heirs - Vitalist reviews Steve Coll's "The Bin Ladens".
- ei: Israel's "Auschwitz borders" revisited - Ali Abunimah article, illustrated with "Arabs to the gas chambers" picture. I like the way it ends: "The Holocaust lesson that I learned at school is that we are obliged not to wait until things are as bad as Auschwitz before we speak out and act."
- Israël devra attendre - Euro-MPs, going against French presidency of EU and Foreign Affairs commission wishes, postpone move towards closer ties with Israel, noting that it has "violated all of its commitments, notably with regards to human rights." Finally a sign of some democratic representation in EU decision-making, even though increasing ties without a permanent peace settlement should not be even considered at all.
- Israel's West Bank system like apartheid: rights group - Yahoo! News - Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
- Jimmy Carter writes new book on Middle East - Yahoo! News - Book is "We Can Being Peace To The Holy Land."
Are the Israelis trying to destabilize Mahmoud Abbas with this leak?
JERUSALEM – Israeli officials said Monday they would delay the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners until next week because of a request by Palestinian officials. They said the Palestinian officials had asked for the delay because President Mahmoud Abbas is out of the country and wants to be back in the West Bank to greet the freed prisoners.Note that if they were immediately released they could spend eid with their families. [From Israel to delay Palestinian prisoner release - Yahoo! News]
Links from my del.icio.us account for December 8th:
- CUMINet · Copenhagen University Middle East and Islam Network - Middle East blog of Danish academics.
- Hajj in exchange for power - Haaretz - Israel News - Amira Hass on Hamas' hajj policy, aimed at establishing its legitimacy vis-a-vis Ramallah as well as Saudi and Egypt. This affair, with Hamas preventing hajjis who did not register through Gaza from going, has been used a lot of the government press in Egypt to attack them and undermine their religious credentials.
- Long-Standing Conflict Ends As Israel Returns Lawn Mower To Palestine | The Onion - You won't see this kind of moral message in the NYT: "The mower was originally lent to Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, in November 1949 as a good-faith gesture by Palestinians seeking to reach out to the people who had appropriated 80 percent of their land and wished to cut the grass growing there."
- Idea Lab - Who Wrote the Koran? - NYTimes.com - On Iranian theologian Abdulkarim Soroush, who questions the direct divinity of the Quran. I wonder how this relates to the concept of Wilayat al-Umma developed by some Najafi dissident theologians.
- The Associated Press: Curbs make Gaza fete like turkey-less Thanksgiving - Eid in Gaza - note that Egyptian security recently stopped a convoy of sheep and food at the border. 'Ebb!
Links from my del.icio.us account for December 3rd through December 8th:
- ICOS - Struggle For Kabul: The Taliban Advance - ICOS report: "The Taliban now holds a permanent presence in 72% of Afghanistan, up from 54% a year ago. Taliban forces have advanced from their southern heartlands, where they are now the de facto governing power in a number of towns and villages, to Afghanistan’s western and north-western provinces, as well as provinces north of Kabul. Within a year, the Taliban's permanent presence in the country has increased by a startling 18%. Three out of the four main highways into Kabul are now compromised by Taliban activity. The capital city has plummeted to minimum levels of control, with the Taliban and other criminal elements infiltrating the city at will."
- Dar Al Hayat | The Mystery of Arab Impotence - Patrick Seale: "Egypt -- constrained by its peace treaty with Israel, enfeebled by its dependence on American aid, terrified of Muslim Brother activism, overwhelmed by internal problems and obsessed by the question of the succession to President Husni Mubarak's tired regime - seems wholly incapable of action to relieve the misery of Gaza, on its very borders. A generation ago, the troika of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria carried some weight in the world. Today, Egypt is - politically, at least - a shadow of its former self, while Saudi-Syrian relations are strained because of the Damascus-Tehran alliance."
- Sudan's Leaders Brace for U.S. Shift - "In the Sudanese capital of Khartoum these days, political elites are bracing for what they expect will be a major shift in U.S. policy toward a government the United States has blamed for orchestrating a violent campaign against civilians in the western Darfur region. "Compared to the Republicans, the Democrats, I think they are hawks," said Ghazi Suleiman, a human rights lawyer and member of the Southern People's Liberation Movement, which has a fragile power-sharing agreement with the ruling party. "I know Obama's appointees. And I know their policy towards Sudan. Everybody here knows it. The policy is very aggressive and very harsh. I think we really will miss the judgments of George W. Bush."
- Obama team's warring Middle East views - Ben Smith - Politico.com - Story tries to depics Kurtzer vs. Ross war at State over Israel. As if.
- ELIZABETH WARNOCK FERNEA, 1927-2008 - Elizabeth Fernea, anthropologist who did ethnography of Iraqi an tribal village, passed away. I met her in Cairo around 2002.
- Henry A. Kissinger - Barack Obama's Team of National Security Heavyweights - washingtonpost.com - Kissinger likes Obama's national security team, offers advice.
- Qatar, an oil-rich gulf state has asked Kenya if it can lease land to grow food | Environment | guardian.co.uk - Another Gulf states plans a mega-farm in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Both the occupation regime and the settlement enterprise have gotten constantly stronger since the negotiating process began in 1991 - after being weakened by the first intifada. These twin processes went on steroids after the second intifada started in 2000. If these two bulldozer-like endeavors are not rapidly reversed - not halted, reversed - then there is no possibility whatsoever of a two-state solution. These processes - the consecration of the occupation regime and the expansion of settlements - have been ongoing for 41 years. I suspect that because of them, combined with the blindness of Israeli leaders and the weakness of Palestinian leadership, there is little chance for a two-state solution to be implemented. And anyone who wants to implement a real, equitable two-state solution would have to explain in detail how they would uproot all or most of the settlements. Equally difficult will be overcoming the powerful interlocking complex of forces in Israeli society that have extensive material, bureaucratic, political and ideological interests in the Israeli state's continued control over the lives of 3.5 million Palestinians, a control that is exercised under the pretext of security."On what change Obama will bring:
"In any case, much will depend on who is chosen for the key positions relating to the Middle East. If some of the unimaginative, close-minded and biased advocates of conventional thinking who bear a major share of the responsibility for the mess we have been in for over 20 years - from the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations to that of Clinton, even before George W. Bush made things even worse - are appointed to important posts, my expectations will be low. I was involved in the negotiations as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation from Madrid in 1991 until June 1993, before Oslo. Those American officials who helped get the Palestinians and Israelis into the mess they are in via a deeply flawed negotiating process, and a cowardly refusal to confront occupation and settlement head-on when it would have been far easier to do in the 1980s and 1990s, do not deserve another chance to ruin the future of the peoples of this region."On the situation in Gaza:
"Although the responsibility of Israel in this matter is paramount, the efforts of Palestinians and of outsiders have been insufficient as well, and we will all be affected by such an outcome, so we all have an urgent responsibility to act. More immediately, targeting a civilian population of 1.5 million people of the Gaza Strip with hunger, deprivation and effective imprisonment, whatever the nature of their leaders, is criminal and is a violation of international law, as are all attacks on civilian populations, Jewish or Arab - something I have said repeatedly in talks here. That people, whether in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, the Arab countries, or the capitals of the world, can remain silent while Gazans are punished on this scale is beyond belief."Eldar makes it clear in the introduction of the interview that when Khalidi is talking about "close-minded and biased" appointees, he is talking about Dennis Ross. I am surprised that no decision has yet come out about what, if any, position Ross will have in the Obama administration. There have been rumors that he may become involved in policy towards Iran rather than the peace process, and
Scandalously, the France Football editorial team who selected the 30 players for whom their worldwide panel of journalists are allowed to vote overlooked the Al Ahly and Egypt playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika. Fifa won't compensate for this offensive anomaly. Their shortlist doesn't include Aboutrika either. Nor anyone else from Egypt's recent vintage. Hardly surprising given that Fifa doesn't even rank Egypt, winners of the last two African Cups of Nations, as the best team in Africa. Not enough Europe-based players, perhaps.[From Football: Paul Doyle on the nonsense of the Ballon d'Or] (Thanks, X.)
Links from my del.icio.us account for November 30th through December 2nd:
- Foreign Affairs - A War to Start All Wars - Shlomo Ben-Ami reviews Benny Morris' "1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War," reiterates importance of two-state solution following 48 lines (i.e. pre-1967).
- Obama mulls ex-ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, as special Mideast envoy - Haaretz - Israel News - This would be a good pick, all things considered. A talented man.
- Une histoire palestinienne - Les blogs du Diplo - Very sad story about a Palestinian who was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured by the Israeli Shabak (domestic intelligence) for taking part in a Palestinian-Israeli peace meeting. Although released he has subsequently been threatened against taking legal action.
- TPM Election Central | Talking Points Memo | Hillary To Be Named Secretary Of State Tomorrow In Chicago - Pretty much confirmed.
- What to Do - The New York Review of Books - Paul Krugman's advice on the economic crisis: resurrect John Maynard Keynes.