Links for February 28th

Links from my account for February 28th:

  • Can Israel make peace with Syria without leaving Golan? - Haaretz - Israel News - In which the various previous tries and likely future attempts at achieving this are explained.
  • Top Syria-based Hamas leader secretly visits Gaza - Did Egypt let Moussa Abu Marzouk into Gaza and back?
  • Those two months made all the difference - Marc Lynch reminds us that not too long ago many were boo-hissing Obama's pullout of Iraq plan: "The process has really been amazing to watch. Obama consulted widely, commissioned a whole range of strategic reviews, and listened carefully to the commanders on the ground. And the result was that he built a wide internal and public consensus for essentially the same policy which not too terribly long ago was viewed in polite circles as irresponsible, naive, and reckless. The SOFA certainly helped in this regard, since it had already committed Bush and the U.S. military to the principle of withdrawal. But still, watching Republicans and the Washington Post editorial page falling over themselves to associate themselves with what is essentially the same Iraq withdrawal plan they used to savage is a sight to behold -- if it was just two months that made the difference, think of all the trouble we could have saved ourselves."
  • Think like an Egyptian - Haaretz - Israel News - Akiva Eldar, on a visit to Cairo, looks at Egyptian annoyance with Israel's weathervane government on the 'Giladayn' affair.
  • Just like us they are born and die - The National Newspaper - Lalila Lalami on al-Tayyib Salih.
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Links February 26th to February 28th

Links from my account for February 26th through February 28th:

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Links February 25th to February 26th

Links from my account for February 25th through February 26th:

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"Enemy" Arab books in Israel

Interesting article on the difficulties of Arab book-sellers in Israel in getting Arab-language books published in Lebanon, Syria, etc. (countries still officially at war with Israel) into the country. The Israeli authorities recently invoked a British-mandate-era law called the "Trade with the Enemy Ordinance" to ban these books. The case is now in the courts. It's important because it affects the cultural horizons of Israel's million-plus Arab population.  Of course, as part of their ongoing cultural boycott of the state of Israel, I don't think Arab countries let any books published in Israel in. (Thanks, Sumita)
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Links for February 24th

Links from my account for February 24th:

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Saudi lit

The Review at The National has a piece on the flourishing of the Saudi lit scene, in part spurred by the international success of "Banaat Riyadh" ("Girls of Riyadh"). 
The last few years have witnessed what one critic has called a tsunami of Saudi writing: some 50 to 100 novels published each year, up from five to 10 in years past. That’s partly due to the 2007 release of Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea, a diaristic account of four upper-class young women and their illicit love affairs, set here in the capital. Trashy? Maybe. But also a rare look into a once-forbidden realm of experience, and an undeniable catalyst. “It’s not good literature,” Ahmed says. “But it did create a lot of controversy and encouraged people to write their own novels.”
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Censorship or self-promotion?

The Literary Saloon follows up the censorship snafu at the Dubai Lit Festival that lead Margaret Atwood, in solidarity with a supposedly "banned" British author, to withdraw. Atwood has bone back on her decision and will now lead a panel, appropriately enough, on the issue of censorship. The book in question appears to have never been actually "banned" and the author and her publishing house seem to have used the charges of censorship as a PR strategy.
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Links February 22nd to February 23rd

Links from my account for February 22nd through February 23rd:

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"Elektra in Tehran"

The New York Review of Books reviews Azar Nafisi's new book, "Things I've Been Silent About: Memories," in which the author delves into her own family history and her difficult relationship with her mother in brutal detail.  Nafisi is of course famous the world over for her book "Reading Lolita in Tehran," which besides being a global best-seller has also been the object of some very intense criticism. (While I share some of these critics' reservations, I found their intransigence and they way they throw around the accusation of being a "native informant," off-putting and troublesome.) I enjoyed parts of Nafisi's book, in particular some of the anecdotes about teaching literature in Tehran, but my biggest problem with the book was that I found the literary framing device heavy-handed. Nafisi referenced some of my own very favourite books, but I felt she didn't treat these texts--or her "characters," the women in her reading group--with the subtlety they required.  In any case, her new work still addresses the same period in Iran's history--the end of the Shah's regime and the Iranian Revolution, but from a much more particular point of view. Here's another review and an excerpt.
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Report: explosion in Cairo

Am hearing reports of a bomb going off in the medieval part of Cairo near Khan al-Khalili, a major tourist destination. Will update as more news is available. Update: Al Jazeera reporting 11 deaths, three Egyptians, three Germans, one French, 16 wounded, one french dead these and others remain to be confirmed. Update 2: Already activists are saying this is conveniently close to next month when the Emergency Law is to be discussed in parliament... Update 3: Four dead (German and French), 12 wounded, various nationalities. Update 4: Ignore previous early estimates, here is a news report from al-Jazeera.
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Links February 21st to February 22nd

Links from my account for February 21st through February 22nd:

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Links February 19th to February 20th

Links from my account for February 19th through February 20th:

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El-Tayyib Salih

The great Sudanese writer El-Tayyib Salih has passed away. His best-known novel, "Season of Migration to the North," is wonderful, and ends with a scene that I find mysterious, affecting and perfect every time I read it.  Moroccan-American author Laila Lalami (who wrote the introduction to a recent re-issue of the novel) has nice round-up of press reactions in Arabic. I haven't found much in English yet, except for the Sudan Tribune.
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Links February 18th to February 19th

Links from my account for February 18th through February 19th:

  • Finding Osama bin Laden: An Application of Biogeographic Theories and Satellite Imagery - The abstract of this MIT academic paper in which they narrow down OBL's location to a couple of villages near the Pak-Afg border: "One of the most important political questions of our time is: Where is Osama bin Laden? We use biogeographic theories associated with the distribution of life and extinction (distance-decay theory, island biogeography theory, and life history characteristics) and remote sensing data (Landsat ETM+, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, Defense Meteorological Satellite, QuickBird) over three spatial scales (global, regional, local) to identify where bin Laden is most probably currently located. We believe that our work involves the first scientific approach to establishing his current location. The methods are repeatable and can be updated with new information obtained from the US intelligence community." Hmmm or perhaps OBL is trying to not be predictable? [PDF]
  • Tayeb Salih (1929-2009) - Literary Saloon provides a few links for the late Sudanese writer.
  • Breaking News : Ayman Nour on TV - Zeinobia's notes on Ayman Nour's appearance on Dream TV
  • New York Post has gotta apologize over offensive chimpanzee cartoon - This is ridiculous - only racists would say a chimpanzee automatically means a black man. George W. Bush, with his simian face, was often compared to a chimpanzee. What's rather tasteless in this cartoon is that the chimpanzee is shown riddled with bullets.
  • Atwood pulls out of Dubai festival in censorship protest | Books | - "Margaret Atwood has pulled out of the inauguraul Emirates Airline international festival of literature in the wake of a novelist being blacklisted for potential offence to "cultural sensitivities". Other authors due to appear at the festival, including bestselling children's authors Anthony Horowitz and Lauren Child, are now also reconsidering whether to attend." [Thanks, SP]
  • al-Shorouk: MB has decided to drop bar on women, copts for presidency - Apparently the Muslim Brothers have dropped some of the most criticized aspects of their platform. This is being held as a victory for "reformists". This is good (notwithstanding that most believe Egyptians would never elect a Copt or woman), and they are also reiterating that any Ulema Council would be under Azhar and issue non-binding opinions. I wonder whether this signals a willingness to make themselves more acceptable to the secular opposition after the recent meeting. [PDF]
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Ayman Nour released

  Ayman Nour on the campaign trail in Menouf, 2005. Ayman Nour on the campaign trail in Menouf, 2005.     The public prosecutor's office declared a couple of hours ago that Ayman Nour would be released on medical grounds. I have heard he is now home. There is no further information as to why now, or why previous appeals to release him on medical ground were denied, but this appears to be a political decision. Rather strange timing that this happens a couple of days after the Washington Post urges the Obama administration not to deal with Hosni Mubarak unless Nour is freed. Let's assume - with all due respect to the integrity of the Egyptian legal system - that this is a political decision. What's the rationale? I think the most plausible explanation is that it is not just an overture to Obama that Mubarak wants to change the negative dynamic in the US-Egypt relationship. It is a clear message that says, "look: Bush tried for four years to pressure me. But I do things on my own timing and any pressure is counterproductive." The message is, before Obama and his administration settle into a clear approach on Egypt (I don't think the NSC staffer on Egypt has even been appointed yet), that if the same US approach to Egypt continues, it will only generate headaches. It was necessary to release Nour to improve the bilateral relationship, since after the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress the Ayman Nour case became a congressional issue beyond the control of the administration (in fact Dick Cheney tried to intervene to calm down Congress, and was pushed back.) Over the last two years Congress has put unprecedented (even if still relatively mild) pressure on Egypt by withholding $100 million in military aid (but giving Condoleeza Rice the right to waiver the withholding, which she did twice). Now Congress will not have Ayman Nour to rally support around this, and the cautious State and DoD approach to the Egyptian relationship (which is very strong in military, intelligence, and a few issues aside diplomatic terms) could very well prevail - especially as we're seeing a new Egyptian crackdown on the tunnels to Gaza, the other big issue for Congress. So what happens now? Well, Obama staffers have a token sign of progress they can point to, and a lesson that the Bush approach failed. Congress has what it wants. Ayman Nour, under Egyptian law, is now no longer able to run for public office as he has a criminal record. The Ghad party has been torn in half and will take time to rebuild. The legislative and political environment is much worse than it was when Nour first emerged as a national figure in 2004-2005, and repression is taking place much more brutally and systematically. So, most probably, we will see US pressure on democratic reform die down, since policymakers will find it difficult to get support for another direct confrontation with the Egyptian regime. They will wait and see what happens after succession. And for Mubarak, patience and sheer stubbornness won in the end. Which goes to prove that "democracy promotion" is a policy that's in need of a serious rethink: "pressure" doesn't really work, and autocracies have time on their side - unless those doing the pressuring are willing to make a serious break with past practices. For now, I wish Ayman the best and am tremendously happy for his family, especially his brave wife Gameela who fought against all odds for so many years.
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Art patronage in the Emirates

Yesterday I mentioned a censorship controversy at the Dubai Literature Festival and wondered about the problems that art patronage in the Emirates might run into. It turns out that the last issue of ArteEast's online magazine has the answers to most of my questions. It's entirely dedicated to the arts in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Christopher K. Brown's opening article is a good place to start to get a sense of the (incredibly expensive and expansive) art patronage going on in Abu Dhabi. Brown asks:
With so much emphasis placed on appearances and the obvious desire to look impressive, will these cultural initiatives really serve the needs of the public?  
There are also several profiles and interviews with artists from the Emirates.
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Censorship snafu at Dubai lit festival

The Guardian reports that: 
Margaret Atwood has pulled out of the inauguraul Emirates Airline international festival of literature in the wake of a novelist being blacklisted for potential offence to "cultural sensitivities".
The book in question is former Observer journalist Geraldine Bell's "The Gulf Between Us," a romantic comedy set in the Gulf. It appears that a minor gay character--a local sheikh with a foreign boyfriend--may be the cause. You can read the author's take here. I am so bored with these "homosexuality/art/censorship" controversies in the Arab world. As the director of the festival himself points out at the end of the following statement he released, the controversy will only help the book's sales.
I have lived in Dubai for forty years. Based on my knowledge of who would appeal to the book-reading community in the Middle East, and having read 150 pages of Bedell’s manuscript I knew that her work could offend certain cultural sensitivities. I did not believe that it was in the festival’s long term interests to acquiesce to her publisher’s (Penguin) request to launch the book at the first festival of this nature in the Middle East. We do, of course, acknowledge the excellent publicity campaign being run by Penguin which will no doubt increase sales of her book and we wish Ms Bedell the very best.
But I do think this snafu points to larger problems with the Gulf states' increasing patronage of the arts--from the many literary festivals they are organizing to the gigantic new Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum. The Emirates want to put themselves on the world map as art and culture patrons, but they are out of step with international expectations about an artist's right to express herself and to tackle all manner of provocative subjects.  (P.S. Thanks for the tip, Sumita)
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