Prisse d'Avennes and Ancient Egypt

A rendering of a purification ritual at the Necropolis at Thebes, from BibliOdissey:
Émile Prisse d'Avesnes (d'Avennes) (1807-1879) was an important mid-19th century French Egyptologist and something of a polymath. He was a soldier, engineer, writer, illustrator and talented linguist. From 1827 to 1844 d'Avesnes resided in Egypt, teaching cartography and working as an engineer for a time, but eventually he devoted himself to documenting and studying the archaeological treasures from ancient Egypt. He became proficient in hieroglyphs, on the back of Champollion's translations of the Rosetta Stone, and learned to speak at least half a dozen languages fluently during his expeditions around Egypt and further afield in the Arab world. Ransacking of the artefacts was rife in those days of course and d'Avesnes helped excavate and transfer a large shipment of portrait reliefs from the Valley of the Kings to France, ostensibly to prevent their theft and use as local building material. The brazen act would earn d'Avesnes the Legion of Honour award when he returned to his homeland.
I have vaguely related recent snapshots of the temples of Abydos and Denderra in Qena governorate, near Luxor, up on Flickr.
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Links for Dec.26.09 to Dec.28.09

Get Elected; or, al-Baradei Tryin’ (Part 1 of ???) « THE BOURSA EXCHANGE | TBE translates that ElBaradei interview from al-Shorouq. ✪ Could the Mullahs Fall This Time? - The Daily Beast | Interesting ruminations on whether Iran is near a revolution and the importance of Ashura as a symbol of the fight for justice. ✪ Op-Ed Columnist - The Big Zero - | Economically, the decade produced nothing. ✪ The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب: Saudi Wahhabi Physiognomy: this man should be teaching at KAUST | Funny. ✪ Rasheed el-Enany on modern Arabic lit: not quite a Renaissance | Al-Masry Al-Youm | "I think the status of translated Arabic literature is better than it's ever been." ✪ Two Hamas members killed in Beirut explosion | Unusual... this attack was in a safe, Hizbullah-controlled area. ✪ Activists appeal to Mubarak over entry into Gaza - Yahoo! News |
Egypt said it would prevent their passage because of the "sensitive situation" in Gaza and warned Monday of legal repercussions for anyone defying the ban. Around 1,300 international delegates from 42 countries have signed up to join the Gaza Freedom March which was due to enter Gaza via Egypt during the last week of December.
Exclusive excerpt from Joe Sacco’s groundbreaking new book: Footnotes in Gaza | I'm awaiting my copy of this book from this great cartoonist. ✪ Sic Semper Tyrannis : Men on Horseback | Pat Lang on the Afghan policy war inside the Obama administration. ✪ Ardebili's laptop - Laura Rozen - | Iran holding hikers and others because US holding Iranians? ✪ Anis Sayigh: and Israeli history of letter bombs | Angry Arab has an interesting post on the Israeli use of letter bombs against civilians. ✪ Officials Point to Suspect’s Claim of Qaeda Ties in Yemen - | Rather suspicious, this Yemen angle at a time when people are trying to confuse the Huthis and al-Qaeda... ✪ The Lives They Lived - Ben Ali - The Chili That Shaped a Family - | Sausages and chilli, served to Obama by an Indian Muslim Trinidadian. ✪ Mainstreaming the Mad Iran Bombers | Marc Lynch | Lynch on NYT op-ed's call for war. ✪ The Nevada gambler, al-Qaida, the CIA and the mother of all cons | The Guardian | "Playboy magazine has revealed that the CIA fell victim to an elaborate con by a compulsive gambler who claimed to have developed software that discovered al-Jazeera broadcasts were being used to transmit messages to terrorists buried deep in America."
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Getting over al-Qaeda

Marc Lynch makes a good point about the Arab media not giving much coverage to the attempted plane bombing in Amreeka, and its possible al-Qaeda connections: people don't really care.
In most of the Arab newspapers which I follow on a daily basis, the failed airplane plot didn't even make the front page -- or, at best, got a small and vague story. Gaza dominates the headlines, as it often does. Yemen continues to command considerable attention because of the ongoing clashes between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi movement, something which has been of far more consistent interest to the Arab public than to the American. Iran's protests are covered heavily. Most of the better papers also focus on local political issues. One of the only papers to cover the story prominently is the deeply anti-AQ Saudi paper al-Sharq al-Awsat, which leads with "passengers save America from a terrorist catastrophe." It's the same on the major pan-Arab TV stations. On the al-Jazeera webpage, the story doesn't even appear on the Arab news page, while a bland story about the airplane incident is only the sixth story on the international page (the same place it held in the broadcast news roundup; yesterday it was the third story in the news roundup, with the killing of 6 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza the lead). It does not crack the top 6 stories on the al-Arabiya website today. The Arab media's indifference to the story speaks to a vitally important trend. Al-Qaeda's attempted acts of terrorism simply no longer carry the kind of persuasive political force with mass Arab or Muslim publics which they may have commanded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Even as the microscopically small radicalized and mobilized base continues to plot and even to thrive in its isolated pockets, it has largely lost its ability to break out into mainstream public appeal. I doubt this would have been any different even had the plot been successful -- more attention and coverage, to be sure, but not sympathy or translation into political support. It is just too far gone to resonate with Arab or Muslim publics at this point. The downgrading of al-Qaeda and the "War on Terror" by the Obama administration helps this trend along, even if the dynamics which produced it were largely local and internal to the Arab and Muslim worlds. The failure of the failed plot to capture even a modicum of mainstream Arab public interest speaks volumes to the robustness of this trend... though the frankly disturbing enthusiasm for the story in some quarters in the U.S. suggests that not everybody is happy to see al-Qaeda recede.
I don't think there ever was much support for al-Qaeda among the Arab public, or any chance that al-Qaeda turning into a leading shaper of public opinion. That was even less likely as the Baader Meinhof gang and Red Brigades becoming leading shapers of European opinion. There may have been some misplaced and insensitive "chickens coming home to roost" reaction to 9/11, but I don't ever believe that a Bin Laden moment would be lasting. This is a crucial point missed by some in the West, partly because of the spin and focus the Arab reaction stories were given after 9/11, which represented shadenfreude as the leading Arab reaction. This in turn led to the moronic "why do they hate us" meme, which survives to this day largely through the efforts of Thomas Friedman and his wish for "an Arab civil war" (a notion that implicitly puts al-Qaeda as a serious contender in the "battle for Arab minds"). In other words, the Arabs have gotten over (never fell for?) the mystification and fetishization of al-Qaeda. Their governments now concentrate on its security element, which ultimately is partly a policing matter, partly about preventing failed states and lawless areas in the region, and in the case of Saudi Arabia about curbing tolerance for jihadism within the regime. When will the Americans follow suit? This is not to underplay the threat of al-Qaeda inspired terrorism (as the recent arrests suggests it is all too real), but rather to take the grand teleological meaning it is ascribed by so many.
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Lee Smith's book on Arab culture

The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.jpeg
Much fun has been made in recent years of Weekly Standard Middle East correspondent (whose work has appeared in Slate, The Nation and elsewhere) Lee Smith's tagline that he is "writing a book on Arab culture." Well, that book is now out. I've read it, and it's horrible. I did not expect much from Lee Smith, whose articles repeated neocon bromides about the region and always put partisanship above analysis. But I had never expected a book so appallingly racist, disjointed, full of factual error and borderline psychotic. Max Rodenbeck reviewed "The Strong Horse" for The National, his sentiments are mine:
For Lee Smith, none of this really counts. The Arabs, in his view, simply have the misfortune to be guided by something he identifies as the “strong horse principle”: an apparently unique, ancient system whereby one tribe, nation, or civilisation dominates the others by force, until it too is overthrown by force. The “strong horse”, he says, represents the fundamental character of the Arabic-speaking Middle East. This is a perennially violent, xenophobic place where, in his words: “Bin Ladenism is not drawn from the extremist fringe, but represents the social norm.” [. . .] Smith explains elsewhere that although Arabs constantly bicker, “Perhaps the more serious concern is that the Arabs will not fight each other, and choose instead to bind together… in order to focus their energies elsewhere, like against the United States, again.” That last word is what really gives pause. To what past event exactly is Smith referring? Might he mean that dark day when the joint Arab high command sent veiled storm troopers on black helicopters into Wyoming? Or is he just subtly reasserting his sweeping charge that the Arabs as a whole were responsible for September 11 – and hinting that they might do the same again unless America spanks them regularly? This disregard for reality appears to be prompted by two things. One is an attitude towards Arabs that may be delicately described as anachronistic and patronising. How else can one explain lapses into what sound like 19th-century depictions of barbarians? In one departure from constant praise of Bush-administration policy, for instance, Smith sneers at its naivety in thinking democracy might have flourished here when this great American gift was presented, “like an iPhone left out for the Arabs to figure out on their own.” Elsewhere Smith informs us sagely that Arab women “hold men in contempt if they are not willing to kill and die for Arab honour.” Arabs, we discover, regard any man who says he wants peace with his neighbour, “not a peace that comes through destruction and elimination, but a real peace,” as a traitor. No wonder, for this is a people so tribally ferocious, he insists, that they hate Americans, “Not because of what we do or who we are but because of what we are not: Arabs.”
I would only add that it's a great shame that a reputable publisher, Doubleday, put out this book. I don't think that would have been the case if its subject matter hadn't been Arabs.
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Links for Dec.24.09

LRB · Adam Shatz · Wanting to Be Something Else | Adam Shatz on Orhan Pamuk. ✪ UN gives mud brick huts to Gaza war homeless | I'm not sure Hassan Fathi-style mud brick homes will work in Gaza - doesn't it rain a lot there? This story also does not say whether they are building with mud bricks because the blockade makes other materials unavailable. ✪ Renewed Lebanese drug trade hikes Mideast tensions - Yahoo! News | Return of cannabis and poppy cultivation in the Bekaa (but had it really ever gone away?) ✪ الآراء من الغرب Views from the Occident: 'Ashura Artwork: Part I | Graphic posters from Shia martyrology. ✪ BBC News - Lockheed secures $842m Morocco contract | For a bunch of F-16s. ✪ / UK - Moussavi sacked as pressure mounts for a trial | Challenger to Ahmedinejad targeted. ✪ Cameron under pressure to explain £100,000 funding linked to Lebanese former arms dealer | Politics | | Those European politicians sure love Arab money.
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Amira Hass | Danger: Popular Struggle

Amira Hass on how Israel is working to contain the popular struggle against the occupation and apartheid policies:
There is an internal document that has not been leaked, or perhaps has not even been written, but all the forces are acting according to its inspiration: the Shin Bet, Israel Defense Forces, Border Police, police, and civil and military judges. They have found the true enemy who refuses to whither away: The popular struggle against the occupation. Over the past few months, the efforts to suppress the struggle have increased. The target: Palestinians and Jewish Israelis unwilling to give up their right to resist reign of demographic separation and Jewish supremacy. The means: Dispersing demonstrations with live ammunition, late-night army raids and mass arrests. Since the beginning of the year, 29 Palestinians have been wounded by IDF snipers while demonstrating against the separation fence. The snipers fired expanding bullets, despite an explicit 2001 order from the Military Adjutant General not to use such ammunition to break up demonstrations. After soldiers killed A'kel Srour in June, the shooting stopped, but then resumed in November.
After many examples of arrests and humiliating behavior towards protesters, Hass concludes:
The purpose of the coordinated oppression: To wear down the activists and deter others from joining the popular struggle, which has proven its efficacy in other countries at other times. What is dangerous about a popular struggle is that it is impossible to label it as terror and then use that as an excuse to strengthen the regime of privileges, as Israel has done for the past 20 years. The popular struggle, even if it is limited, shows that the Palestinian public is learning from its past mistakes and from the use of arms, and is offering alternatives that even senior officials in the Palestinian Authority have been forced to support - at least on the level of public statements. Yuval Diskin and Amos Yadlin, the respective heads of the Shin Bet security service and Military Intelligence, already have exposed their fears. During an intelligence briefing to the cabinet they said: "The Palestinians want to continue and build a state from the bottom up ... and force an agreement on Israel from above ... The quiet security [situation] in the West Bank and the fact that the [Palestinian] Authority is acting against terror in an efficient manner has caused the international community to turn to Israel and demand progress." The brutal repression of the first intifada, and the suppression of the first unarmed demonstrations of the second intifada with live fire, have proved to Palestinians that the Israelis do not listen. The repression left a vacuum that was filled by those who sanctified the use of arms. Is that what the security establishment and its political superiors are trying to achieve today, too, in order to relieve us of the burden of a popular uprising?
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Egypt security plans for ElBaradei

The above letter, published by Wael Abbas, is a State Security document giving instructions all the way back in March 2009 to monitor the phone lines of Mohammed ElBaradei, his family, and his wife's family as part of a comprehensive surveillance plan. As Zeinobia points out the authenticity of the document is to be verified, and Abbas has not disclosed his source (the concern here being, is Abbas cautious enough about being manipulated?) Of course this document sounds entirely plausible, I am sure ElBaradei and his family have been under close watch for a while. One recent estimate puts 5% of Egyptians under the payroll of security services or the military in some respect, I am sure some of that manpower is being directed against the potential threat against the regime that ElBaradei represents. In the meantime, Amr Moussa has decided to stop playing coy and announced he will not be running for the presidency. Note his reasons:
Moussa, who had been tipped as a possible candidate, said in an interview published in Al Masry Al Youm newspaper on Wednesday it was not possible to mount a challenge. "The question is, is it possible? And the answer is, the road is closed," he said. [...] Analysts say constitutional rules make an independent nomination almost impossible. If Moussa were to run as an independent, he would need the backing of 250 elected representatives across both houses of parliament and local councils -- all of which are dominated by Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party. "I cannot join a party just because it would enable me to be nominated . . . it is against my principles and I consider this to be clear political opportunism," Moussa said. Running as a independent was a "difficult matter or even impossible," he added.
So basically Moussa has echoed ElBaradei's criticism of the electoral system, adding another establishment voice to the chorus calling the coming presidential elections, for all intents and purposes, already rigged. Note here that actually a candidate would fairly easily be able to gather the number of backing from at least part of 250 elected representatives. The quota necessary from the People's Assembly is 65, which a candidate could obtain from the Muslim Brother MPs. This also explains why the regime cracked down so hard on the Brothers during the Shura Council and municipal elections in 2007 and 2008.
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Translate this!

The literary criticism web site the Quarterly Conversation runs a feature called "Translate This!" It lists publishers' and translators' suggestions. There were only three from Arabic, copied below:
Translator KAREEM JAMES ABU-ZEID: The single Arab author I believe to be the most in need of translation is the Lebanese novelist Rabee Jaber, born in 1972. He has published a host of novels in Arabic, several of which have been translated into French, yet none of which have been translated into English. He captures the life and spirit of the city of Beirut in unforgettable ways. Darwish translator FADY JOUDAH: I’d like to see the poetry of the Palestinian Ghassan Zaqtan in English, especially his latest collection, Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me. He has been one of the leading Arab poets for the last decade or so, and has been hailed by Mahmoud Darwish as an important figure in Arab poetry. Zaqtan is also a recognized novelist, but perhaps that would come later, after we have come to appreciate more completely his first love, poetry. Also, the poetry of Syrian Muhammad Maghut and Egyptian Amal Donqul should be made more available in English (I don’t know of any book-length translations of their work); as well as the novels of Palestinian Ibrahim Nassrallah (especially “The Birds of Caution”). Poet and translator JEFFREY YANG: I’d recommend Kitab al-Hayawan (”The Book of Animals”) by Al-Jahiz. From the ninth century, it’s a multi-faceted, multi-volume book about animals that begins with a passage in praise of books and, as Paul Lunde describes it, “is by no means conventional zoology, or even a conventional bestiary. It is an enormous collection of lore about animals—including insects—culled from the Koran, the Traditions, pre-Islamic poetry, proverbs, storytellers, sailors, personal observation, and Aristotle’s Generation of Animals.” But this is by no means all. In keeping with his theories of planned disorder, he introduces anecdotes of famous men, snippets of history, anthropology, etymology, and jokes.
Do you have suggestions of your own? Tell us! (link found at the Words Without Borders).
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Links for Dec.21.09 to Dec.23.09

Middle East Online | The End of Brotherly Love? | Tarek Kahlaoui on the Egyptian MB. * The Israel Lobby and the Prospects for Middle East Peace « P U L S E | Lectures by Stephen Walt. * Israeli Organ Trafficking and Theft: From Moldova to Palestine | Investigation by Washigton Report. * Doctor admits Israeli pathologists harvested organs without consent | World news | The Guardian | Unbelievable. * Israel gives response to Hamas prisoner swap offer | "Israel relayed its response to the proposed swap and handed over a list of Palestinians it wants exile." * Jimmy Carter to U.S. Jews: Forgive me for stigmatizing Israel - Haaretz - Israel News | WTF? * The Fascination of Israel – | Review of three books on Israel. * «Il y a 40.000 Chinois en Algérie» | 40,000 Chinese in Algeria, 2000 Algerians in China. * Meedan | Moroccan and Jordanian forces join Saudi offensive against Houthis. | Handle with care, chief source appears to be Spanish press. * In Shift, Oren Calls J Street ‘A Unique Problem’ – | Israel ambassador ramps up the attack on new lobby. * IRIN Middle East | EGYPT-ISRAEL: Perilous journey to the promised land | Middle East | Egypt Israel | Migration Refugees/IDPs | Feature | On sub-Saharan migration to Israel via Egypt. * Palestinians shoot at Egypt | Response to the collapsing of tunnels that have claimed many Palestinian lives? * Egypt's ailing cotton industry needs shake-up | Reuters | Industry risks a "slow death." * Middle East Report Online: Broken Taboos in Post-Election Iran by Ziba Mir-Hosseini | On the Green Movement and gender issues. * Egypt rebukes Hamas over 'foot-dragging' in Palestinian reconciliation - Israel News, Ynetnews | Omar Suleiman:
Suleiman said Egypt had promised Hamas it would address the terror group's reservations vis-à-vis the reconciliation deal "after they sign and begin to implement it." He said Hamas' concerns "lacked substance," adding that the agreement would not be revised. "If it will (be changed), I'll resign," said Suleiman.
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AA Gill on Algeria

A suburb of Algiers by Flickr user Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak In this otherwise amusing if impressionistic piece from poor Algeria, always a favorite contender in the shortlist of most badly run Arab country, the Scottish columnist, restaurant critic, baboon hunter and Welsh-hater AA Gill has an odd passage claiming that think-tankers think Algeria is some bright, promising spot on the south Mediterranean shore:
It’s hard to credit that there are global security wonks and think-tank nerds who hold up Algeria as a model of a workable, acceptable, doable Arab republic, a possible poster boy for Iraq, now that the horrors of its civil war have dulled the edge of Islamic fundamentalism. There may even be somewhere in this place to interest the Middle East peace process. Seen from 20 storeys up and 10,000 miles away, in the air-conditioned and neon-lit offices, on a pie chart on a screen, Algeria’s mixture of a socialist, military, secular state with a Muslim population — a westernish Arab country that wears Nike and drinks beer and wants to sell stuff and buy things — looks like a good bet, a possible way forward. But down here on the street, without the benefit of the graph, the figures, the briefings and overviews, it seems astonishingly mad. The idea that Algeria could be anyone’s role model raises only a humourless snigger.
As a former think-tanker working precisely on this part of our benighted region, I ask Gill: pray tell, where are these Algeria experts who laud it as some kind of model? Enquiring minds want to know. There are some other passages that will no doubt irk the notoriously short-tempered Algerians, such as this romantic idea of the French occupation:
The French didn’t just use Algeria for what they could get out of it; they did something far more damaging, far darker. The French fell in love, like an old man besotted by a young girl in a hot climate. The French imagined that with the power of their culture, their charm, their romance and a specially formed army of criminals they named the Foreign Legion, they could woo Algeria to become an exotic member of the family. It wasn’t simply a chattel, it was adopted and made part of France. Algerians voted in French elections, had deputies in Paris. More whites moved to Algeria than to any other African country. There were over a million French pieds noirs. They farmed a large percentage of the motherland’s fresh produce. They took the Bedouins as mistresses and occasionally wives. When the time came for the divorce, it was cruel and desperate. Fanned by great self-righteous self-pity, Algeria broke France’s heart and the French behaved like cuckolds. There was no sense of giving the nation back. This was the servants stealing the silver — a national humiliation, an act of betrayal.
Hmmm, by Bedouins does he mean les autochtones? Plenty of more faults there (the obligatory mention of the Corsairs and the US marines, the notion that French history starts with the French, etc.) Another passage inflates Algeria's importance in the current clash of civilisations. If only -- Algeria is peripheral to the Arabs, peripheral to the world despite its importance as an energy supplier.
Algeria is the eye of a perfect storm of intolerance, the tsunami of postcolonial trauma coupled with the most nihilistic of 1960s -isms, Third World socialism, as well as authoritarian, reactive military juntas and Wahhabi sharia, all competing in a swamp of mass unemployment. It has a resentfully youthful population — almost a third are under 15. They hang out on corners, huddle and plot, race past on secret missions, mooch in gangs in the kasbah looking like greyhounds waiting for the white rabbit of no good to spin past. The boys are malevolently handsome, often strikingly beautiful, and they are the only people on earth who can make shopping-mall sports kit look chic and elegant. The names of the European football clubs on their backs mock the cul-de-sacs of their lives. On every spot of dusty land they kick balls, do press-ups, hang out with pit bulls on chains, tug at their own balls, smoke, have mock fights and wait for something to turn up.
I have to admit I do like Gill as a stylist, and that he does capture something of the Algerian pathos (albeit by no means a complete picture of it). Ultimately though this kind of writing may tell you more about the author and the snooty, insular country he hails from.
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The Time That Remains

Le-temps-qu'il-reste Yesterday I saw Elia Suleiman's latest, "The Time that Remains," at the European Film Festival at CityStars (the festival runs through Tuesday), and really enjoyed it--better than his last, "Divine Intervention." The film chronicles Suleiman's own family's experience of the Nakbah and the Israeli occupation of Nazareth, up to the present. It's largely filmed in the house he grew up in, and based on interviews he conducted with his dying father. It is a very touching tribute to his parents, among other things. The film has Suleiman's typically deadpan humour (a foul-mouthed, alcoholic neighbour who--ever since getting a job at a gas station, and hence access to copious amounts of gasoline--regularly threatens to set himself on fire; a school principle who scolds the young Suleiman: "Who told you America is Imperialist?"). But it's dominated by sounds and silence, more than dialogue, by wittily orchestrated scenes, poignant and hilarious visual gags. Rendering Palestinian history as a stripped down, stylized tragi-comedy, a series of personal/historical vignettes, turns out to be particularly effective. There is a great attention to visual and auditory details, which accumulate to create increasingly moving patterns and rhythms. For me the film faltered a little in its third half, when Suleiman himself entered the scene. The way he acts--as a cardboard cutout of himself, basically--suggests his total alienation, his current position as a "mute observer," as one critic observes, but is also so disaffected it drains the scenes of any emotion. His take on contemporary Palestine--as opposed to that of his childhood--also seemed less specific and original. But it is a fascinating, moving, witty film. Here is a nice round-up of critical reactions. Suleiman was also on hand afterwards for a question and answer session. He noted that for him every time he can remove dialogue from the story it's a "victory," because silence is the most troubling thing for power--"even words of opposition comfort power," whereas "silence frightens it." He also mentioned that he had to get permission to use an Israeli tank for the film and that, ironically, the the only part of the film the Israeli authorities objected to was the scene in which Israeli soldiers rob a Palestinian house (there are more serious crimes committed). They also wanted a thanks in the film credits for letting him use the tank--now that sounds like something out of one of his films.
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The (new) Gaza wall

al-Masri al-Youm English has what may be the first close-up picture of the new wall being constructed at the border between Egypt and Gaza, revealed last week by Haaretz. The wall appears to consist of an underground portion (rumored to go as deep as 20 or 30 meters) as well as an above-ground portion, which has long existed (although it had been partially destroyed in the January 2008 breakthrough by Hamas, which allowed thousands of Palestinians to resupply in Sinai). Note from the story accompanying the picture that smugglers (who took the above picture) don't seem to worried about the new wall:
Rafah--Smugglers along the border of Egypt and the Gaza Strip will continue moving goods through tunnels despite the recent construction of an underground wall. "Let the Americans and the Israelis pay for the wall," Ismail*, a smuggler, told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "The tunnels are minimum 20 meters underground. We can make it 40 meters."
This being said, smuggling remains a high-risk endeavor, with another tunnel collapsing yesterday claiming three Palestinian lives. On another note, do bookmark al-Masri al-Youm English's site - with initial problems with their site now resolved, it's updated daily with tons of great material, such as this story about a Cairo synagogue that has been converted into an office for Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party.
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Links for Dec.13.09 to Dec.16.09

â�© Egypt puts archives on Web to boost Arabic content | But what's the address? â�© Muslims in Europe: A Report on 11 EU Cities | Open Society Institute | Tons of interesting questions raised by this ground-breaking poll. â�© Abkhazia Is Recognized by Even Smaller Nauru - | Sharqeya next? â�© Pro-Israel Lobby Group’s Iran Petition Features Lots of Questionable Names « The Washington Independent | Such as "Porn Sex Video" and Comfylovely". â�© LedgerGermane: Karzai Says Afghan Army Will Need Help Until 2024 | Yikes. â�© Future of US-Egypt Relations: A View from the Next Generation | Notes on another POMED event. â�© POMED Event: U.S. Military Assistance: Obstacle or Opportunity for Reform? | Steven Cook, Emile Hokayem, etc. some discussion of Egypt-US military relations. â�© | Zaitout: reports about Algeria-US agreement over temporary military bases | Handle with care. â�© British court issued Gaza arrest warrant for former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni | The Guardian | More of this please. â�© Nights to remember - The National Newspaper | Arabian Nights conference in NYU Abu Dhabi. â�© Obama's Big Sellout : Rolling Stone | Must-read Matt Taibbi story on Obama's bailout of Wall Street. â�© Al-Masry Al-Youm | Police raid home of prominent blogger | Wael Abbas sentenced to six months of prison in absentia for stealing his neighbors' internet??!?! â�© We will not bow to this Moroccan king | Paul Laverty and Ken Loach | Comment is free | The Guardian | Strongly worded op-ed for Aminatou Haidar. â�© David Ignatius - Jordan's ex-spy chief wasn't too good to be true | On former GID chief Saad Kheir - a dubious tribute. â�© Orientalism in Reverse | Brian Whitaker critiques Joseph Massad's "Gsy International" theory.
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Art events

An incomplete list of Egyptian art happenings: December 13 - January 14: Renowned cartoonist Georges Bahgory, at Mashrabia Gallery. Bahgory inv December 14 - 6 January: Egypt, Land of Contrasts. Amateur photography exhibition/competition organized by the European Union. At the Townhouse Gallery. index December 16: Performance art in Downtown Cairo! "Silence of the Lambs" by Amal Kenawy, at the corner of Champollion and Nabrawy Street, 4pm. December 16: "Invisible Presences: Looking at the Body in Contemporary Egypt." Big group exhibition featuring over 20 local artists, at Samaa Khaana, 31 El Siyufiyah St., in Old Cairo. (25107806) Hany Rashed December 17 - January 31: Alexandria Biennale opens. The theme is مذا بعد؟ ("What next?"). (We will try to post more about upcoming events. If you have announcements you'd like to share, email:
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Literary awards

The short list for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (commonly known as the Arab Booker) has been announced, and it comprises: MUHAMMAD AL-MANSI QINDEEL, (Egyptian); MANSOURA EZ ELDIN, (Egyptian); RABEE JABIR, (Lebanese); ABDO KHAL, (Saudi Arabian); RABA’I MADHOUN, (Palestinian) and JAMAL NAJI, (Jordanian). Also, on December 11 AUC Press announced the winner of this year's Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature (part of the award is that the winning book is translated into English): it's Syrian author Khalil Sweileh, for his book وراق الحب ("The Scribe of Love").
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CEDEJ library threatened with closure

I just found out from a friend that the library at the Centre d’Études et de Documentation Économiques, Juridiques et Sociales (CEDEJ) in Cairo is scheduled to be closed due to budgetary constraints. A number of academics are appealing to the French government (the center's funder) and the CEDEJ itself to maintain the library, an invaluable resource on modern Egyptian history. Notably, the CEDEJ is thought to have one of the best archives of press clippings on Egypt, maintained since 1977 and one of the best managed and most accessible in the country. The academics' letter is after the jump, but on a personal note I'd like to also voice my concern for the CEDEJ librarian, the Tunisian intellectual Mustafa Khayati. Khayati was one of the original Arab members of the Situationist movement in France in the 1950s and 1960s (writing the great "On The Poverty of Student Life" and other radical texts), and is a great resource himself on a wide range of subjects. He would have his own interpretation of the bizarre steps that would lead to the closure of a library at a place supposed to be a research center, but I'll leave it at that. Update: Here is another petition in French.
December 11, 2009 His Excellency Jean-Félix Paganon Ambassador, Embassy of France to the Arab Republic of Egypt 29 Rue Charles de Gaulle Giza, Egypt B.P. 1777 Fax: 20-2-3-567-3201 Consul-General Marie Masdupuy Consulate General of France in Egypt 5 Sekket El Fadl Cairo, Egypt B.P. 1777 Dear Ambassador Paganon and Consul Masdupuy: The undersigned scholars and researchers are writing to express serious concern and dismay at the recent decision to close by the end of this month the valuable library of the Centre d’Études et de Documentation Économiques, Juridiques et Sociales (CEDEJ). CEDEJ is one of the premier research institutions in Egypt, supporting a steady stream of significant social research on Egypt and the Arab world. Shuttering any kind of library in Egypt is a real loss. Social science research in the country is hamstrung by scant resources, political and bureaucratic constraints, and notorious difficulty in securing even the most basic information. In such a context, the resources offered by CEDEJ are nothing short of indispensable for both generalists and specialists working in dozens of disciplines. Closing the CEDEJ library in particular would be tragic. Since 1969, the library has been a unique and welcoming space for researchers hailing from all parts of the world. Its holdings have been raw materials for hundreds of theses, articles, and books. And its dedicated staff of seven is unfailingly helpful and professional; some have been serving library patrons for more than two decades. As you know, the library houses in one compact space a wealth of sources: social science periodicals published in Egypt, Europe, and elsewhere, including publications of the Egyptian women’s press of the 1920s and 1930s; books on Egyptian and Arab politics in several languages, some dating from the early 20th century; a rich archive of Egyptian press clippings from 1977 to the present on a wide range of topics, perhaps the best and only such archive in Egypt; and Egyptian government documents, including contemporary ministerial reports and censuses dating from 1848. In the spirit of knowledge-building that CEDEJ has embodied for so many years, we strongly urge you to reconsider the decision and keep the library doors open. Generations of past and future researchers will be grateful.
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Congress approves endowment for Egypt

From POMED's weekly wire newsletter:
On Thursday (12/10), the House passed H.R.3228, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2010, in a 221-202 vote. On Saturday (12/12), the Senate voted 60-35 on a cloture motion to end debate and bring the bill up for a vote. The bill was then passed by the Senate in a special session yesterday and sent to the President. Full details of the Conference Report for the bill are available on the website of the House Rules Committee, including the full text of Division F of the bill, the portion of the bill making appropriations for State and Foreign Operations, as well as the Joint Explanatory Statement that accompanies it. The bill includes a controversial provision that permits $50 million of the $250 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF) allocated for Egypt to be put into "an endowment to further the shared interests of the United States and Egypt." Such an endowment has been advocated for several years by the Egyptian government, and is widely viewed as an attempt to reduce the potential leverage by Congress afforded by U.S. economic aid to Egypt. Other levels of funding in the bill include $65 million for the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which is a 30% increase over funding in recent years, but $5 million less than included in the House version of the State and Foreign Operations bill passed in July. For reference and comparison, see POMED's report on the budget and appropriations process from July, and keep an eye out for a brief report on the final version of the bill.
The endowment is less than Egypt had been hoping for, but a first start to pushing for the acceptance of an endowment at all, with potential for growth later. The original idea had been that funds provided by the US would be matched by the Egyptian government and allocated to development projects; but it's not clear what the mechanisms for allocation will be now and whether any of this money will be earmarked for specific areas. Of course for now the remaining $200 is in part allocated to certain areas. Overall, though, the US-Egypt aid relationship continues to move away to any notion of conditionality, as it has since the beginning of the Obama administration or possibly the last year or two of the Bush administration. Note that the House of Representatives has approved this just as the bi-annual US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue took place in Washington earlier this week.
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Links for Dec.10.09 to Dec.12.09

Daily News Egypt - Editorial: The Illusive Metal Barrier | On Egypt's denial that a wall is being built.

BBC News - Egypt starts building steel wall on Gaza Strip border | Video report has some more details, but the whole thing is rather hazy.

Israel National Survey | Survery of Israeli attitudes on various topics.

Libya still jailing dissenters: Human Rights Watch | New HRW report.

'Egypt is one of the freest states in the entire Arab world' - The Irish Times - Sat, Dec 12, 2009 | Ismail Serageldin engages in apologia.

Palestinian leader speaks from prison - | Interview with Marwan Barghouti.

Swiss Man Builds Minaret to Protest Ban - WaryaTV | Good for him.

Israel court: Deported Palestinian student can't return - | Everyday misery from Gaza blockade.

ENVIRONMENT: Darkness at Noon Clouds Cairo Skies - IPS | On the black cloud - which I thought was not as bad this year.

The Language of Food | Ceviche and Fish & Chips | Fascinating on the Persian and Arab origin of escabeche, ceviche, and fish and chips.

The Language of Food | Ceviche and Fish & Chips | Fascinating on the Persian and Arab origin of escabeche, ceviche, and fish and chips.

‘Sultan wants children to be God-fearing’ | The ridiculousness of the al-Sauds.

No real "freeze" on settlement: Israeli minister - Yahoo! News | No kidding: "JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The population of Jewish settlements in the West Bank could grow by 10,000 in the coming year despite a declared "freeze" on Israeli building in the occupied territory, an Israeli Cabinet minister has said."

On Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Lobby: A response to Peter Beinart | Walt on Obama's Afphan policy and the lobby.

Middle East Report 253 contents: Apartheid and Beyond | New issue.

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