A sad, amazing new video from the Egyptian Mosireen collective, setting a beautiful poem by Mahmoud Ezzat ("Prayer of Fear") to film and finding a way to cut through all the bluster and bombast to the confusion and tragedy of this summer.
From Bernard Lewis' autobiography, Notes on a century , a vignette about Nasser requesting Pakistan's help to restructure the Egyptian military in 1960:
The government of Pakistan was willing, but on condition that it be permitted to send a small feasibility mission to examine the situation and then advise on what, if anything, Pakistan could do. It told Nasser that the mission must be allowed to go wherever it wanted, and its questions must be answered truthfully and honestly. Nasser agreed, saying that there would be no point otherwise.
A small group of Pakistan officers was then sent to Egypt. they toured the country, spoke to many people and reported that they were not told the truth. The reason that they were not told the truth is that nobody knew the truth. In the Egyptian armed forces, they said, "The corporal lies to the sergeant, the sergeant lies to the lieutenant, the lieutenant lies to the captain, the captain lies to the major and so on all the way up the chain of command. By the time it reaches the high command or the Ministry of Defense, they haven't a clue what is going on." The Pakistan general heading the mission concluded that the high command in Cairo was sitting on top of a pyramid of lies. The Pakistan government therefore declined and said it was sorry but could not help.
Last week a Cairo court issued an injunction that seems to pave the way for a new ban on all the Muslim Brotherhood's activities. Meanwhile, the new constituent assembly is discussing banning all political parties based on religion.
In my latest contribution to the NYTimes' Latitude blog, I argue that banning the Brothers -- rather than really addressing the question of the relationship of politics and religion in Egypt, and of the appeal and contradictions of political Islam -- is hypocritical and short-sighted.
The Brotherhood — and other Islamist parties — should have been required to open their activities to outside scrutiny and to commit to basic democratic principles over two years ago, just after Mubarak was brought down. But back then, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was afraid of how far the revolutionary fervor might go and turned to the Islamists to help it stabilize the country.
The current legal cases against the Brothers are selective and politically motivated. Serious violence has taken place at the hands of Islamists in recent months — police officers and military conscripts have been killed, churches attacked — but the direct responsibility of the Brotherhood’s leadership for that violence has yet to be proved in court. And while the organization is being tried for inciting violence, in case after case police officers are being acquitted of shooting protesters.
Why is the judiciary only examining the organization’s legal status now? What of other Islamist groups, some of which have more violent pasts than the Brotherhood and hold more odious positions on women or Christians?
The Islamist organization needs to be held accountable, but as part of a broader process of transitional justice. Instead, the goal of Egypt’s interim authorities now seems to be to punish the Brotherhood for getting into power and ensure it never does again. Egypt’s non-Islamist political parties have uniformly welcomed the idea of banning the group, even though that would in effect disenfranchise its hundreds of thousands of members and its millions of supporters.
Artist Amira Hanafy -- whose work I've written about here before -- is doing a kickstarter campaign to raise money for her next project, a dictionary of the revolution. She will travel around the country soliciting people's definition of various terms that have come into heavy use in the last years.
From a press release about the project:
“I’m not interested in creating one uncomplicated narrative for the revolution,” says Hanafi. “You could say, I’m not interested in “the Truth”. Instead, I’m interested in the truths that people believe. Egypt’s population is around 85 million. That means 85 million unique perspectives, 85 million truths. For one unique and incredible moment, it seemed that a great majority of those people were in agreement on what the country needed. But what’s happening in Egypt today is a clash of many truths. I’m interested in documenting the complexity of this moment.”
Brian Whitaker continues to follow the strange case of a widely circulated article alleging chemical weapons were used by Syrian rebels -- one of whose alleged authors has been vainly trying to remove her byline.
Mint Press named the journalists who wrote the story as Dale Gavlak (an established freelance based in Jordan who has worked regularly for the Associated Press) and Yahya Ababneh (a young Jordanian who claims to have carried out journalistic assignments "in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Libya for clients such as al-Jazeera, al-Quds al-Arabi, Amman Net, and other publications").
The story got more attention than it might otherwise have deserved because Gavlak's relationship with the Associated Press gave it an air of credibility. Ababneh, on the other hand, is virtually unknown and Google searches for examples of his previous journalistic work drew a blank.
Yesterday, however, Gavlak issued a statement denying that she was an "author" or "reporter" for the article. "Yahya Ababneh is the sole reporter and author," she said. It was a carefully-worded statement which did not specifically exclude the possibility that Gavlak had been involved in some other capacity in helping to produce the story.
Meanwhile the Sunday Telegraph publishes an interview with a former chemical weapons chief in the Syrian army:
Gen Sakat says he was ordered three times to use chemical weapons against his own people, but could not go through with it and replaced chemical canisters with ones containing harmless bleach.
He also insists that all such orders had to come from the top – President Assad himself – despite insistent denials by the regime that it has never used chemical weapons.
Now he also claims to have his own intelligence that the Syrian president is evading the terms of a Russian-brokered deal to destroy his chemical weapons by transferring some of his stocks to his allies – Hizbollah, in Lebanon, and Iran.
A friend recently quoted the Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila (An overnight Project) and then I read this profle in the Guardian and belatedly discovered them. It's a nice article, but I wish the focus was less on the lead singer's sexual orientation and more on the fact that they rock. Which they absolutely do.
Living as I do at the moment under the psychic bombardment of full-throttle Egyptian nationalism, I just love the way the song and video Lel Watan ("For the Homeland") punctures everything fake, grandiloquent and sinister about the way the supposed good of a nation is used against the actual good of its people.
Here is my very awkward translation (please share corrections and suggestions for improvement in the comments):
Others domesticate hurricanes to govern destiny
We fly off with the breeze and return to destruction
Dare to ask about the worsening situation
And they silence you with talk of all the conspiracies
The herd accuses you of betrayal, if you call for the homeland to change
They make you despair till you sell your freedom, as the homeland is lost
They tell you
Come on smile, come on, dance a while
Why the frown? Come on, dance with me a little
They taught you the anthem, they said your struggle is good for the homeland
They numbed your veins, they said your sedation is good for the homeland
They tell you
Come on smile, come dance a while
Why the frown? Come on, dance with me a little
In my latest column for the New York Times' Latitude blog I look at the writing of Egypt's new new constitution -- a process that despite offering some promise of improvement, is rather dispiritingly familiar.
The last assembly was drawn overwhelmingly from Islamist parties that had just performed well at the polls. Non-Islamists didn’t have the numbers to exercise veto power and complained about their marginalization; eventually almost all of them withdrew. The new drafting committee looks like a photo negative of the old one: It contains a single delegate from an Islamist party, and he has already walked out in protest over being ignored.
The Islamist assembly pointedly excluded prominent feminist, activist and secularist voices. It’s unclear to whom the current committee — appointed by an interim president, backed by the army, packed with the heads of official institutions — is accountable to beside the state itself. Organizations such as the Journalists’ Syndicate have already complained that their recommendations on press law and freedoms of speech have been overlooked.
I don't generally have the time or inclination to go after bad writing on the middle east, but this absurd "analysis" on the Atlantic Monthly's site is just too much, starting with the first paragraph, which states:
Astute observers of recent pro-Morsi protests in Egypt will note a new symbol cropping up in photos of the protesting crowds: Demonstrators are now holding four fingers in the air. Many carry yellow posters emblazoned with the same gesture.
How "astute" do you have to be to notice a hand gesture that is directed at every camera in the vicinity, and as the author says "emblazoned" on bright yellow posters?
The gesture that is here referred to as "the Rabaa" apparently "signals both a conscious shift in the Muslim Brotherhood’s focus from a global audience to an Arabic one and a rejection of the ideals of the Arab Spring." Unlike, the author argues, the V for victory that was used by earlier demonstrators and that "allowed protestors to communicate a set of shared ideals embodied in the initial self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit seller: half economic freedom, half national self-determination."
Where to begin? The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that bid Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi an un-fond adieu used a panoply of slogans and symbols. The most common, meaningful and trans-national chant associated with the Arab Spring has to have been the Arabic chant "The People Want the Fall of the Regime." Not only is the argument that the V sign epitomized the Arab Spring extremely debatable; the comparison between the huge heterogenous masses in Tahrir and elsewhere almost three years ago and the mostly Brotherhood supporters protesting today doesn't make sense. They're different groups of people, in different circumstances, saying different things.
Private newspaper Alyoum7 has been publishing a series of audio recordings on its website of Mubarak and some unknown voices (reportedly recorded by one of his doctors) in which the erstwhile president comments on events throughout the summer. The sound clips are crudely edited, creating a lot of awkward pauses where there probably were none.
That being said, the voices sound over-rehearsed and sometimes border on hostages trying to keep calm and entertain a mad gunman.
Mubarak and friends express admiration of el-Sisi. His unknown interlocutors tell lame jokes about the Brotherhood, eliciting gruff chuckles from the former president.
Mubarak and friends say the MB is stupid and crazy for going head to head (more like knee to head) against the military, the police and the people. One voice likens them to a mindless CSF soldier who just follows orders and can’t think for himself. They predict that things will calm down and fondly reminisce about Habib el-Adly’s good ol days when the Brothers were “collected.”Read More
Much overdue bookmarks dump...
- Egypt Reports Gains Against Militants in Sinai - NYTimes.com
- Algeria’s Bouteflika appoints allies to key ministerial roles - FT.com
- Egypt Defends Decision to Nix Al Jazeera Misr - WSJ
- Tamarod members in Beni Suef submit resignations
Wonder how much has to do with crackdown in Beni Suef
- La Stampa - Diary Of Humiliation And Faith From A Hostage In Syria
- 73% of Egyptians don't feel safe; 62% expect living conditions to improve in a year
A lot of fear, and un-meetable expectations: the take-away from a recent poll from the Baseera Center
- Tahrir Doc THE SQUARE Is A Modern Masterpiece
This doc about the Jan 25 uprising and its aftermath gets a rave review
- NOREF - Saudi Arabia and the export of religious ideologies
- Violence Reshapes Egypt's Politics - By Dina Rashed | The Middle East Channel
- Sharing my depressing thoughts on Egypt | moftasa.net
"Our attempt to stand up have showed us that we have a broken back."