Links November 28th to November 30th

Links from my account for November 28th through November 30th:

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Links November 26th to November 28th

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

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Café Riche

I was at the Middle East Studies Association conference in DC last weekend (a huge 3-day event with hundreds of academics presenting papers on hundreds of topics). I didn't attend that thoroughly--it was mostly a chance to see old friends in DC. One of the panels I did go to was on Café Riche. Half a dozen students at AUC's Economic and Business History Research Center are working on a book on the famous Downtown Cairo landmark (its working title is "Café Riche: A Hundred Years of History," and it will be published by AUC Press.) The papers focused on the cafés social and intellectual history, with heavy emphasis on its importance to 1960s writers; they used oral histories and documents obtained from the owner. Unfortunately none of the papers really delves into the economics of Riche--the details of how it operates, and of the background and motivations of its grumpy current owner, Mr. Magdy. This is basically because the young researchers depended on Mr. Magdy for access.  The talk that followed the papers (with Roger Owen and Fawwaz Trabulsi intervening) was particularly interesting. The conclusion seemed to be that Café Riche has turned into an artificial museum of itself, a tourist attraction using its history as its capital (and a kind of obnoxiously elite social space at that--with an expensive menu designed to keep the "riff-raff" out and, apparently, an overtly anti-muhagaba policy. Yet clearly this landmark exerts a strong nostalgic pull, since even though everyone agrees it's almost irrelevant to the capital's current cultural life, it nonetheless ends up the center of a panel and a book. One of the remarks that I enjoyed was when one of the young presenters said that Café Riche has always been an imagined space, that the 1960s writers who made it famous were themselves weaving a myth of romantic freedom into the place--that it has in some sense never really "been" but has always been made up.  Meanwhile, what I'd like to know is: is it really open again?
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Showdown in Gurna

_featurestories_qurnac1.jpg This morning I received an alarming email from my friend Golo, a great French cartoonist who has been living in Egypt since the 1970s. Golo lives in Gurna (Qurna - in Upper Egypt the letter "qaf" is pronounced "gaf"), the small village on the other bank of the Nile from Luxor, where he runs a NGO for local children. Gurna is a famous village because it sits atop a major archeological site, including several tombs. Golo writes that the longstanding government efforts to vacate and demolish Gurna village are coming to a showdown, with electricity to the area being cut off this week:
Mardi 25 novembre à 11 h, les autorités ont coupé, sans préavis, l'alimentation électrique aux habitants des collines de Gurnah et ont fait enlever les cables d'alimentation. Les familles, hommes, femmes, ENFANTS, qui n'avaient pu arriver à un accord pour leur relogement, sont donc brutalement condamnés à la bougie (on ne trouve pas de pétrole pour alimenter les lampes). Ces villageois payaient pourtant leurs notes d'électricité. Ne restent fournis en électricité que les archéologues et les sites touristiques. Les habitants ont le sentiment d'habiter à Gaza et non en Egypte. Ils s'étaient dirigés vers l'hôpital pour entamer une grève de la faim mais les portes du bâtiment leur ont été fermées. My translation: On Tuesday 25 November at 11am, the authorities, without warning, cut off electricity to the inhabitants of the hills of Gurna and removed supply cables. The families - men, women, CHILDREN - who were unable to come to an agreement for their relocation are therefore forced to use candles for lighting (as petrol for lamps is unavailable), even though these villagers had been paying their electricity bills. Only archeologists and tourism sites continue to receive electricity. The inhabitants have the feeling of living in Gaza rather than Egypt. They went to the hospital to begin a hunger strike but were refused entry.
For decades, the Egyptian government has tried to evict Gurna's long-standing residents to turn the area into a tourism and archeology site, claiming that the village deprives Luxor of potential tourism revenue and that sewage from its houses is seeping into the tombs [note: I find this NYT story rather too reliant on government sources]. Efforts began in the 1940s with famed architect Hassan Fathy's neo-traditional housing project. But, more recently, it has become part of a larger project to redesign the West Bank of the Nile near Luxor into a luxury residential area, where wealthy Egyptians and foreigners can have holiday homes on prime Nile-side property - with obvious benefits to the high-end tourism industry and property developers. Repressive treatment of Gurna's inhabitants is nothing new. As Tim Mitchell wrote in his book Rule of Experts: Picture 2.png The villagers are being moved to New Gurna, about 15km away on the edge of the desert. Although there are reports that the new settlement is not awful, it is far from the main source of livelihood of the Gurnawis: tourism. But the point is not whether or not the evacuation of Gurna to New Gurna is a good idea, but rather whether the government could have found alternatives (as have been suggested) to this kind of rough-shod treatment of people who have a historic link to the place. Although there are far fewer people left in Gurna today, there is still potential for unrest (especially in the current anti-regime environment), even if it will be the last throes the Gurnawis' long fight to retain their land and homes.
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Developments in Mahalla

Hossam has been following the latest repressive measures being taken against labor activists in Mahalla, one of the center of labor protests in Egypt. He says:

There is a ongoing crackdown on labor activists in Mahalla, since they staged a demonstration last October against the management's corruption:

Following the demo, the management decreed the transfer of four activists from their positions:
1- Blogger Kareem el-Beheiri was moved to the Cairo office
2-Mohamed el-Attar was moved to the Alexandria office
3-Amal Said was moved to the company's nursery
4-Wedad el-Demerdash was also transferred to the nursery

More alarmingly, the two women (Amal and Wedad) were sexually assaulted by thugs at the behest of the management, when they tried to enter the company compound.

The victimized workers' colleagues are planning a demo on Saturday in solidarity. However yesterday another activist was victimized (named Wael Habib) as he was distributing leaflets in the company calling for the demo:
Wael has been one of the central figures in the December 2006 and September 2007 strikes...

It appears security is trying to block some of the labor activists who've done the most to get information out in the last few years from having access to the main factory.
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Egypt: Piracy and history

Jonathan Wright of Reuters has a great story on Egypt's attitude towards the Somali crisis, which is having an impact on Suez Canal income as ships begin to re-route around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the area off Yemen and Somalia where most of ships are being attacked. It covers the parallels between the fall of Mamluk Egypt to the Ottoman, when the Sultan al-Ghouriwas unable to face piracy on the Red Sea as he fought Ottoman advances in Syria, and today:
Egypt shows no signs of military response to piracy Tue 25 Nov 2008, 10:57 GMT By Jonathan Wright CAIRO, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Marauding seamen infest the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, extracting tolls from shipping and disrupting an ancient trade route between Asia and Europe. Egypt, one of the main direct beneficiaries of the transit trade, takes time to react. The government is in the hands of an aging leader, who looks to outside powers for help. That was the challenge that Mamluk ruler Qansuh al-Ghouri faced in the early 16th century, when Portuguese ships appeared unexpectedly east of Suez and started to harass Egypt-bound shipping in the Red Sea and its approaches. After centuries of peaceful trading, Egypt had no Red Sea fleet capable of countering the Portuguese menace. It may have underestimated the danger, despite diplomatic overtures from Venice, Yemen and the princes who ruled the west coast of India.
Egypt's first response to the threat from Somali pirates this year has also been cautious, given that it is probably the country with most to lose if more shipping companies avoid the Suez Canal and divert their fleets to the Cape of Good Hope. Egypt, which has some frigates capable of patrolling the Gulf of Aden, has not deployed any warships to the area, where ships from India, Russia, NATO, the United States and the European Union are trying to suppress Somalia-based piracy. "They (the Egyptians) have been slow to respond ... As yet, I'm not aware of them making any formal approaches to take part in the naval forces that are operating in the area," said Jason Alderwick, defence analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. President Hosni Mubarak, 80 years old and in power for 27 years, last week played down the gravity of the problem and gave no indication of imminent action by Egypt. "The pirate operations threaten the whole international community, not the Suez Canal and Egyptian sovereignty," he told Egyptian newspaper editors last Thursday. "This problem could come to an end if merchant ships arm themselves with heavy artillery to deal with the pirates," he added, quoted in the state newspaper al-Gomhuria. A senior government official, who asked not to be named, said on Monday that the Somali-based piracy was "not a problem" and Mubarak had not received any proposals from the Ministry of Defence to intervene militarily. REGIONAL MEETING A Ministry of Defence official, who also asked not to be named, said that piracy was an international problem and had to be solved in an international framework. A Defence Ministry spokesman referred questions on Egypt's response to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said it had no word of any military preparations. Egypt and Yemen did organise a meeting of the Arab League states on the Red Sea littoral in Cairo last week but the senior officials also deferred to international initiatives. The officials -- from Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen -- proposed setting up a regional information centre on piracy and joint training for their coast guard forces. A military expert familiar with the Egyptian navy said the Arab country could make a significant contribution to the international campaign against the Somali pirates. "If you look at what they have in the way of assets, then yes, they can. For this mission you need frigates with a helicopter capability, and they have that," the expert said. Public information on the Egyptian navy lists 12 frigates, most of which can carry helicopters. Alderwick of the IISS said: "They certainly have the assets in terms of surface combatants that are able to make a contribution. Smaller navies have already made contributions." Although the Egyptian navy has not often ventured out of the Red Sea southwards, its warships could refuel and resupply from ports in Yemen and Oman, or rotate out of Suez, he added. The naval expert said Egypt's immediate concern was to keep piracy out of the Red Sea, which lies within what the country traditionally sees as its sphere of influence. The effect of piracy on Suez Canal revenues is not yet clear, he added. "Looking at Egypt's behaviour for the last 50 years, is it their habit, and do they have the interoperability, to go and fight further afield? It's difficult to say. It would be new for them to act against a new threat in that way," he said. In the case of the Portuguese in the early 16th century, the Mamluk government of Egypt did eventually react. It drove them out of the Red Sea, where they were threatening the port of Jeddah, and launched a fleet far into the Indian Ocean. But the economic challenge to trade and Egypt's growing dependence on the powerful Ottoman Empire for naval supplies and military technology contributed to the Mamluk collapse. In 1516 Sultan Qansuh al-Ghouri, by that time 75 years old, died in battle against the Ottomans in northern Syria, and the Ottoman Turks ruled Egypt for the following 300 years. (Writing by Jonathan Wright; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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Links November 24th to November 25th

Links from my account for November 24th through November 25th:

  • IkhwanWeb | Missing Blogger Detained by Interior Ministry Decision - A week after his disappearance: "Egyptian Ministry of Interior issued an arrest warrant on Monday against internet blogger Mohamed Adel after his relatives had filed two complaints to the Prosecutor General against the blogger’s disappearance since last Wednesday."
  • General's story puts focus on stress stemming from combat - - Four-star general's experience puts spotlight on post-traumatic stress disorder for soldiers in Iraq. Yet another long-lasting gift left to Americans by the Bush administration, and another reason to get out of Iraq now. (Of course, one rarely ever talks about the stress experienced by millions of Iraqis.)
  • Israel watchdog releases video of police headbutting Arabs - Yahoo! News - What is occupation? "JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli human rights watchdog B'Tselem released video footage on Monday of a helmeted Israeli policeman headbutting a Palestinian woman during a house demolition in Arab east Jerusalem."
  • Live Piracy Map - Google mapping of piracy acts across the world.
  • Brian's Study Breaks - Brian continues to talk about MESA panel, including the one I would have attended if I had made it, about the global policy of Saudi Arabiav (Lynch, Hegghammer, Lacroix and more).
  • Documents obtained by Haaretz reveal rift among Hamas leaders - Haaretz - Israel News - The Gazans, in control of real territory they are unlikely to give up now, want more representation: "Palestinian sources say Hamas in Gaza is demanding that its power in the organization's leadership body, the Shura, be increased from 34 percent to 51 percent. It cites its extensive control over the most important grassroots supporters, and the attempt by leaders abroad and in the West Bank to impose their will on Gaza." So this is what it comes to: acting like warlords to keep a scrap of territory rather than uniting the whole of Palestine.
  • The Denudation Of The Exoneration: Part 4 — jihadica - More Dr. Fadl.
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Links November 23rd to November 24th

Links from my account for November 23rd through November 24th:

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Links November 20th to November 22nd

Links from my account for November 20th through November 22nd:

  • Middle East Report 249: Imagining the Next Occupation by Jason Brownlee - Brownlee on FM 3-07, the US Army "Stability Operations" manual which advises on how run military operations to stabilize areas under occupation.
  • From Kurdistan to K Street - Related story to article on Schlomi Michaels, Israeli operative/lobbyist.
  • Kurdistan’s Covert Back-Channels - On Israelis in Kurdistan: "I discovered that Michaels and his associates were part of an effort by the Kurds and their allies to lobby the West for greater power in Iraq, and greater clout in Washington, and at the same time, by a group of Israeli ex security officials to rekindle good relations with their historical allies the Kurds through joint infrastructure, economic development, and security projects. It was, in other words, a story about influence-building, buying, and profit, albeit with subplots that were equal parts John le Carre and Keystone Kops, and a cast of characters ranging from ex-Mossad head Yatom to a former German superspy, with Israeli counterterrorism commandos, Kurdish political dynasties, powerful American lobbyists, Turkish business tycoons thrown in—not to mention millions of dollars stashed in Swiss bank accounts."
  • Another Kuwait Crisis - Brian Ulrich on Kuwait's disapointment with having Salafists in parliament. Well they shouldn't have elected them...
  • Defense Min. turns blind eye as Israelis sell arms to enemies - Haaretz - Israel News - Israel is just like any Middle Eastern (or most Western) state - just look at the close ties between its arms dealers and politicians: "Israeli arms dealers have negotiated and sold military equipment to a number of countries defined by Israeli law as enemy states in recent years with the full acknowledgment and approval of the Defense Ministry, Haaretz has learned. The ministry has okayed negotiations and sales between Israeli dealers and several Arab states including Iraq, Libya and Yemen, say the sources."
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Nearly 300 teens arrested on Cairo's streets for harassment

Completely surreal:
Egyptian police announced Wedneday they had arrested more than 550 teenagers suspected of sexually harassing girls outside schools in several Cairo districts in a single day. The culprits were awaiting interrogation and trial Thursday. The police launched an extensive clampdown targeting stores and internet cafes near schools. Security forces raided six internet cafes that did not have permits, and another five that played pornographic videos for truants, according to a statement issued by the Cairo Security Department on the day of the crackdown. After many families complained about girls being targeted outside schools in several neighborhods the head of the Cairo Investigations Bureau, General Farouk Lashin, launched a campaign against sexual harassment, an interior Ministry source told The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that most of the harassers were between 16 and 18 years old. According to the source police launched an earlier campaign that resulted in the arrest of almost 300 people for harassment in Cairo streets.
And I'm sure these arrests have nothing to do with the fact that Egypt has become so synonymous with sexual harassment that it's become a major topic of discussion in newspapers, the topic of travel warnings in foreign newspapers, and of course that it's reached the ears of a certain First Lady. The authorities are serious about making sure that boys behave themselves? Great. But this looks like the random arrest of the first youths that came across zealous officers, probably many of them the usual suspects who get arrested every time there's a crime in their neighborhood, and this will be a one-off action on the part of authorities that won't ever be followed through with awareness campaigns and a more consistent to preventing and punishing harassment. I hope to be proved wrong on this, but I won't be holding my breath.
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Links for November 20th

Links from my account for November 20th:

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The Life Collection

You may have heard that since yesterday, Google has been hosting images from Life magazine, the classic American newsmagazine that defined modern photojournalism. You can just go to this Google page and search the archives, or just add the words "source:life" in your normal Google Search. Life appeared as a weekly between 1936 and 1972 (and as monthly thereafter until 2000), so it's a great resource for fantastic pictures from that era. Here are a few I found this morning, focusing on Middle Eastern leaders and historic events. Captions come from Life, click on the picture to be taken to the page with full info. c.jpeg Fidel Castro (L) and Gamal Abdul Nasser at United Nation General Assembly, September 1960. c-1.jpeg King Hassan II sitting on the Royal Throne during the ceremony of his installation (coronation) as King of Morocco, 1961. c-2.jpeg Caliph of Spanish Morocco, Muley el Hassan (C) talking with the Spanish Duchess of Montpensie during the wedding banquet for his marriage to Princess Lal-la Fatima of French Morocco, June 1949. c-3.jpeg Ahmed Mohamed Hassanein (Pasha), First Chamberlain to the King of Egypt, 1940. c-5.jpeg Large group of Axis prisoners taken in the desert fighting in Libya are paraded through the city under armed escort of Scottish troops and mounted Cairo policemen, May 1942. c-7.jpeg Scottish Cameron Highlander and Indian troops marching past pyramids, part of Allied defense preparations against Italian attack during WWII. c-8.jpeg An explosion blasting a path in Jewish-held old city after Arabs carefully crept through gunfire to plant dynamite under walls during attack by Arab Legion, June 1948. c-9.jpeg Egyptian actress Om Kalthoum, singing on Cairo's "Voice of Arabs" radio show.
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Links November 19th to November 20th

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

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Groundwater resources in MENA

whymap_125_pdf.jpg The map above is a part of a recently released world map that shows, in blue, the presence of the underground water. I've cropped the part that shows the Middle East and North Africa. The part that are shaded in red show aquifers that have been infiltrated by seawater, i.e. where the water salinity is high. This may be for different reasons, although generally (and specifically in Egypt's case) it is because overuse of underground freshwater is drawing in seawater. Link to full world map. Link to World-wide Hydrogeological Mapping and Assessment Programme (WHYMAP) site.
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Links November 18th to November 19th

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

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Links November 17th to November 18th

Links from my account for November 17th through November 18th:

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Big books

This week, I've come across two newly published overviews of Arab culture--one dealing with literature and one dealing with contemporary art. This is a long post looking at reviews of both.  "A Brief Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature"  (published by Saqi books) is reviewed in the Al Ahram Weekly by Denys Johnson-Davies. The book is by David Tresilian, a literature professor who has lived in Cairo and written for the Weekly, and has been at the American University in Paris since 1999, in the English and Comparative Literature Department (he does not appear to be a specialist in Arabic literature). Color me cynical, but given that Tresilian has a relationship with the Weekly and that his book highlights many authors that Johnson-Davies himself has translated, I'm not surprised the review is a positive one. 
While several books have been written that seek to give the ordinary reader a background to the Arabic novels that are being made available today in English translation, none does the task better and more entertainingly than David Tresilian's A Brief Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature.

I found the review interesting, mostly for the insight it gives into the thoughts of one of the most established and prolific translators of Arabic literature.

  Modern Arabic literature is no longer read by just a few students interested in the subject. I remember not so long ago being told off in a review of a book of mine that I was not transliterating the names of writers properly. How was it that I was writing, for instance, Tayeb Salih when the correct rendering should be al-Tayyib Salih (with dots under the t, the s and the h to distinguish them from other letters in Arabic which are not to be found in English)? The situation has now arrived where one calls a writer by the name he has chosen for himself in English. What reader cares whether the 's' in Salih is in fact the letter 'sad'(so called in Arabic) or whether the 'y' in his first name is doubled or not? We see names like Dostoevski and Tchekov written in different ways and do not feel that any harm has been done to the writers; after all, we are not students of Russian and do not have to spell out their names in that language. Anyway, the position is now "the simpler the better," and no one any longer has to learn Arabic in order to read modern Arabic literature. Something I had long been advocating has now happened: modern Arabic literature has been taken out of the academic cupboard.

It's a little surprising to hear a translator come out so bluntly in favour of accessibility over a concern with details (a lot of translation theory these days is concerned with NOT providing too "smooth" of a translation, one that makes all cultural and linguistic difference invisible). 

Johnson-Davies also gives the impression that Tresilian's book deals directly with the mechanics of translation, which I think it would be great to learn more about. 

David Tresilian, who lived in Cairo and was in direct touch with those who were writing and with those who were writing about modern writers, deals with the early years when it was the few translators who determined what was and was not translated. After all, if one is not guaranteed to make money from translating a certain book, one's choice is determined by personal criteria. Will it sell well? Will it easily find a publisher? Is it a book that the translator feels strongly should be made available in translation? Is the writer a friend of his and would he therefore be doing him a service? Is the book reasonably easy to translate and not too long? I remember several years ago reading a well-known novel by Khairi Shalaby and feeling that here was a book that deserved to be translated, but I was put off by its length. It then won the Naguib Mahfouz Prize and was translated into English, and the translator was awarded the UK Banipal Prize for his translation. The situation has now changed: it is the publisher, with advice, who chooses the books he wants translated, and the translator is paid on the basis of the number of words (which, incidentally, is not always a proper way of estimating the work to be done).

It's not clear to me what the point in the last paragraph is. The story seems all together a positive one, one of resources and institutions being guided to a worth-while target for translation. Yet Johnson-Davies seems to regret the lean days of free-wheeling translators who made their own choices...

One thing that was bizzarre about the review is how, despite being published in an Egyptian newspaper, it seemed adressed at a readership that had zero familiarity with Arabic literature. Every author and work was tagged with a platitude. Naguib Mahfouz gave Arabic literature "its first boost" (a funnily casual way of putting it), Sonallah Ibrahim is "controversial," Salwa Bakr and Alifa Rifaat are "outspoken," and the Yacoubian Building is "the first-ever Arabic work of fiction to achieve record sales both in the original Arabic and in translations done into French, English and other languages." (The review implies that the Yacoubian Building also headlines a section on homosexuality in Arabic literature--how many times will this mistake be reiterated? Homosexuality has been written about by many novelists before Al Aswany).  

Based on the authors cited, Tresilian's book hits all the expected notes. The greats are mentioned. There is the usual section dedicated to the women's literature ghetto. ("The author also writes about the way in which a number of talented women writers have dealt with the problems peculiar to women in the Arab world.") I suppose an overview is an overview, and the title ("A Brief Introduction..") makes the book's own limits clear. But it would have been nice to have a few surprises. Who knows, maybe the review doesn't mention them but they're there. I have great faith in Saqi. I'm curious and I'm ordering it. 

Another overview book is also out about Middle Eastern art: "In the Arab World...Now," published by Galerie Enrico Navarra, an art dealer who has been active in the Indian and Chinese art markets and now may be turning his attention to the Arab world. Egyptian artist Hassan Khan reviews the book in the last issue of Bidoun (unfortunately the article isn't available online). Khan himself is featured in the book and my favourite paragraph in the review is his description of a "creative team" from the book descending on his house, proceeding to a whirlwind photo shoot and interview, and soon leaving him "alone to suffer Coffee-Table Book paranoia."

Anyway, Khan lauds the 1001 page (get it?) book for its in-depth interviews and good quality reproductions of works, while noting that it's "a transparent attempt to raise the cultural capital of all involved--from city to dealer, from artist to public art space, and ultimately the value of the specific ethnicity in question.." Then again, as he more or less concludes, that's what art markets these days do. 

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