New issue of TBS

For the Arab media junkies out there, the new issue of Transnational Broadcasting Studies Journal is shock-full of goodies:
This volume of TBS examines the hottest trends and controversies involving satellite TV in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Titled The Real (Arab) World: Is Reality TV Democratizing the Middle East?, this edition includes articles on reality TV by political scientists and media experts Marwan Kraidy, Marc Lynch and Joe Khalil, as well as interviews with some of the Arab world’s media's leading figures, including Nigel Parsons, managing director of Al Jazeera International, and Moez Masoud, a rising young Islamic talk show star. It also features a wide range of essays on other media-related topics, including the question of anti-Americanism on Arab TV by former US Ambassador William Rugh, the impact of satellite TV in Iran by Yahya Kamalipour, the politics of Arabic television dramas by Marlin Dick, and an article by new TBS senior editor Lawrence Pintak about how the Palestinian issue became a marker of Muslim identity in Indonesia. Other contributors include Hussein Amin on the newly proposed BBC Arabic TV channel, Kai Hafez on Arab satellite channels as political parties, Adel Iskandar on whether Al Jazeera has gone mainstream, Philip Seib on the impact of new media technologies on Middle East politics, Issandr El Amrani on the long wait for privatization of Egyptian TV, Lindsay Wise on Islamic reality TV, Ursula Lindsey on Ramadan’s anti-terror TV shows, Charles Levinson and Paul Schemm on the role of the media in Egyptian elections, and S. Abdallah Schleifer on Arab media and democratization. For all ths and much more, see www.tbsjournal.com.
My own article, on the decidely un-sexy topic of Egyptian state television reform, is here. But as this issue's editorial argues, Al Jazeera is not a medium and there's more to Arab TV than a Qatari channel. Most Egyptians watch their national TV (even if they don't trust it for news), and the coming changes in domestic TV are potentially more important than the already considerable impact of Al Jazeera has had since 1995. The article also has an overview of some of the changes in the print media in Egypt over the past few years as a comparison. I'm sure I'll link to specific articles once I get to read them in the next few days. I am also reading Marc Lynch/Abu Aardvark's new book, "Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today" , and I will be posting about that soon. (Thanks to the Aardvark for the review copy!) I will also be visiting the mothership in Doha at the end of the month and hope to have an opportunity to take a look out the new Al Jazeera English channel, as well as meet the Aardvark in person as I see he is a guest speaker at the conference I'll be attending. Much merriment will be had.
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Back in town

I have just come back to Cairo a few days ago. It seems that these days one can't live for a few weeks without two million important things happening here--it makes me almost nostalgic for the slow news days of 2003. There's a lot of ground to make up for, and I have been busy catching up--particularly meeting with Sudanese refugees who have recently been released from prison. The death toll I wrote about a few days ago, of 256 rather than 27 deaths as reported by the Egyptian government and most wire agencies, seems to be holding up. (Addendum: On second thought, after talking to some experts following this issue closely, it is important to distinguish between confirmed deaths and those who are missing, especially when those looking for them have limited access to prisons and hospitals. I maintain, unlike UNHCR and others, that the death toll is bound to be much higher than 27. But caution is warranted, as Elijah argues in the comments, systematic investigation is urgently required.) It remains an estimate because most hospitals and mosques are not allowing the Sudanese, who have formed a team to establish how many people died, are not being allowed access. Presumably UNHCR is engaged in a similar bodycount effort. But as a ballpark figure, it still works. Even if more access is granted, some refugees I spoke to say that some of the dead may have already been buried in mass graves. I'm not sure whether this is a rumor or not, but if so it will make it more difficult to keep count. There are a lot of similar rumors floating around, notably about the harvesting of organs (for transplants) from the dead and wounded. Recently released prisoners describe beatings in jail and other forms of humiliation, including against children. I will write more later on what is taking place among the Sudanese community, but Le Monde's excellent reporter in Cairo, Cecile Hennon, reported on 14 January that an internal document circulating in UNHCR showed alarm at the situation and at the bad press that the organization is receiving. An independent investigation is likely. The document also notes the concerns of many Sudanese regarding organ theft and disposal of corpses, with UNHCR saying it is trying to get visual identification of corpses or copies of autopsy reports. They also doubt that the Egyptian government is being fully collaborative on providing access to detainees, making it difficult to assess how many have been released and how many remain in jail. "With every visit by UNHCR, the Sudanese are becoming more impatient and unhappy," the report says. "Their only wish is to be freed. Many believe that their fate is in our hands and that we pressured the [Egyptian] government to move them out [of the camp.]" Finally, the leaked report also notes the Sudanese embassy in Cairo has also made visits to the prisons, taking information from and pictures of detainees, causing considerable alarm. The mostly southern Sudanese are in Egypt because they were running away from the North-controled government and naturally don't trust it. This actually seems to be one of the top concerns of the Sudanese, especially with rumors of eventual deportations persisting. Other stories in Egypt:
  • Ayman Nour is doing OK, someone close to him told me. His health is fine but his rights in jail to visits have still not been started. Meanwhile, the government has implicitly recognized (in parliament) Al Ghad's breakaway faction as the legitimate one. The Nour loyalist faction has a new president, but is in dire financial straits. It may not be able to publish its newspaper anymore.
  • The Brotherhood is starting to complain over the way the parliamentary debate on constitutional reform is taking place. They are being shut out of the committee that will draft new laws or amendments, and are very unhappy about it.
  • An horrifying string of murders in Minya, apparently by a serial killer of some sort.
One last note: The first news from Iraq I saw when I got back was about Jill Caroll's kidnapping. Jill came to Cairo frequently to relax over the past two years and we occasionally played poker together. She's a lot of fun and one of the most courageous reporters in Baghdad, particularly as she did not have all the protection afforded to the staff correspondents of the big newspapers and other media. A lot of people here are waiting for news from her kidnappers, who seem to be politically motivated. Brian Ulrich has collated some news here.
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Words Without Borders on Egyptian lit

Chip Rossetti, an editor at AUC Press, is guest-editing Words Without Borders' special on Egypt his month. There's a bunch of new Egyptian fiction on it:
"With the confidence of a woman who knows three languages," the Egyptian writers featured here write fabulism, social realism, modernist irony, and other tongues. In "Veiler of all deeds," by Hamdi Abu Golayyel, "People are delighted when they hear the news that a pious man has been caught red-handed in some wrongful act." A man waiting for a job interview is his own worst enemy in Mahmoud al Wardani's "The Dark and the Daylight," while a seamstress stitches a life for her children in Na'am al-Baz's "Mrs. Saniya's Holiday." The sensual crooning of a wedding singer awakens old and new passions on an island in the Nile, between Egypt and Sudan, in Haggag Hassan Oddoul's "Flirting with the Moon." A hen and a rooster aim for respect and bring about a cultural revolution in Salwa Bakr's "The Rooster's Egg: A Fable of Ancient Thebes." Literary journalist Mohamed Makhzangi observes spring in Chernobyl after nuclear disaster. And poets Tamer Fathy and Iman Mersal, like the Bedouin in Mersal's "Sometimes Wisdom Possesses Me," "knew early on that words fly/and cannot be weighed."
Chip also wrote an introductory article to the whole thing. Congrats to him. Also on a literary note, the great Egyptian writer Albert Cossery is profiled in Le Monde. Cossery, who writes in French, moved from Cairo to Paris in 1945. When he arrived, he checked into a hotel off St. Germain des Pres and never moved out. He spent the 1950s and 1960s cavorting with the French intellectual jet set. Even though he has lived abroad, his books are about Egyptian life, particularly that of the poor. He's now 92 and has received a lifetime achievement award from a French literary society. I loved the portrait that ran with the article, reproduced below. Cossery-Web
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How many Sudanese killed in Cairo?

I'm still on holiday (South Africa) but I thought this comment from Joe Vess deserved some highlighting:
I know Issandr's not here, but I thought the big story from Egypt this week should be mentioned. Eric Reeves has an article on his website where he reports that the SPLM has recorded 265 Sudanese refugees murdered by the police, about ten times the "official" number reported most places. [link] It also goes into a lot of historical detail on some other very relevant things, but I was wondering if Arabist readers had any more details about an accurate casualty figure.
Misrgidital.com was publishing this:
Emmanuel Joseph, a southern Sudanese refugee, committed suicide yesterday at the Shebin el-Kom prison where Egyptian authorities is detaining hundreds of refugees due to be deported to the Sudan. Refugees carrying yellow and blue UNHCR cards are still held at camps. Security authorities prevents refugees from visiting hospitals. The level of health care provided to refugees has not been ascertained yet. Visits to a 7-year old girl at the 7th floor of Kasr al-Aini hospital till now. Her family is missing. Security authorities tried to return corpses of victims to Khartoum via the Sudanese embassy. The corpses were transported in refrigerators from hospitals and there were attempts to convince families to make it difficult or impossible to monitor the number of victims. According to refugee sources, 70 persons are missing, in addition to 28 corpses at the Zeinhom morgue. So far there is no proof of the fear among refugees that organs were stolen from the corpses of victims. The results of a canvassing of area hospitals: 180 dead at Giza Hospital 27 dead at Zeinhom Hospital 35 dead at Manshiet Bakry Hospital 23 dead at Kasr El Ein Hospital This represents a total of 265 dead
In his Al Ahram Weekly piece, Gamal Nkrumah reported that rights groups believed there were at least 100 dead. He notes, among other things, that the MB were the first to protest the situation in parliament:
"The indecent and inhumane assault by the police is deplorable. The people of the Nile Valley, Egyptian and Sudanese are one. Nothing can justify such brutality," Hamdi Hassan, spokesman of the parliamentary bloc of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al-Ahram Weekly. The Muslim Brothers, the largest opposition bloc in the People's Assembly, were the first political group to issue a statement condemning the forcible evacuation by the police of the Sudanese asylum-seekers. "Egypt's image has been irrevocably damaged," Hassan continued. "The police exhibited the same crassness with which they treated voters during the parliamentary poll a few weeks ago. The situation is untenable." "Egypt must show it can shrug off its introspection and focus again on the geopolitical challenges in its own backyard. It should be using its leverage in Sudan to help reverse political uncertainty there."
Also:
The incident provoked a flurry of diplomatic activity. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit sent explanatory messages to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to the Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa and to the Islamic Conference Organisation and the African Union. He said the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had approved the evacuation of the makeshift camp, something the UNHCR denies. "Who are we to tell a sovereign government what to do? We have been giving the government updates and we reported the deteriorating health conditions at the park. We never requested the forced removal of the asylum-seekers," said Dessalegne Damtew, deputy representative of UNHCR in Cairo. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, issued a strongly-worded statement criticising the Egyptian authorities. "We negotiated with both the government and the self-appointed leaders of the Mohandessin sit-in," Damtew said. "We told the government that there was nothing more we could do."
A friend who worked on this issue in early December says that the UNHCR has been in negotiations with the government to stop it from "evacuating" the camp over the past three months as it negotiated with the refugees. By mid-December, UNHCR has believed it has concluded an agreement with the refugees to clear the camp by 19 December. It seems that there was a last minute change of mind by the Sudanese (for unclear reasons) and that they decided to stay. At that point UNHCR may have decided to no longer ask the Egyptians to hold back. If that's so (and from the quote above it seems to be) then UNHCR is partly to blame from what happened, since it is perfectly reasonable to expect the Egyptian police to act like this in light of its history of brutality against Sudanese people and in general. I also wonder whether this will have wider ramifications in Africa, among the African Union or individual member states. A good occasion to show discontent will be during the African Cup which Egypt will host in a few weeks. The refugees issue is one of legitimate concern for the Egyptian government. However, the way they've dealt with it shows, once again, that the regime is so inept that the only policy tool it knows how to use is violence.
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