- How security forces keep critics quiet in 'progressive' UAE
One tactic: kidnappings
- The Moral Conflict of Living and Working in Qatar
Interesting discussion of the personal pros and the ethical cons
- Water In Crisis - Spotlight Middle East
Apparently desalination is not the answer
- The Rhetoric of Egyptian Reaction
A new post by Baheyya
- Smuggling books across the border: PalFest 2015
Leila Abdelrazaq puts the experience into drawings
- 'One Thousand and One Nights won’t be any less impressive than Hollywood movies': Nicole Saba
Ahram Online on what may be the Ramadan serial of the year
- Why Obama’s Plan to Send Advisers to Iraq Will Fail - The New York Times
Compare to what Iran's "advisers" do in Iraq...
- Clans du pouvoir : les masques sont tombés
Algerian Kremlinology - the comments are out there.
- U.S. Embracing a New Approach on Battling ISIS in Iraq - NYT
- Israeli exonerates itself over killing of Gaza boys on beach
- A Room Of Their Own: Makeshift Schools Help Syrian Students
- Egyptian Muslim Brothers launch “fierce” attack on Tunisia’s Ennadha, Ghannouchi
- The Guardian view on the flogging of Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabia is in the dock | The Guardian
- Egypt says terror attack foiled at temple in tourist city of Luxor | The Guardian
- Five takeaways from the Turkish election
- One Egyptian novelist takes another to task for accepting $60,000 Qatari literary prize
- Mysterious Disappearances of Egyptian Youth Continues
Egypt more and more resembles Pinochet's Chile
- On being transgender in Egypt
- How Teaching in English Divides the Arab World - Ursula on a growing trend at universities in the middle east
The number one topic of conversation in Morocco in the last few weeks has been the film Much Loved, by director Nabil Ayouch. The film tells the story of prostitutes in Marrakesh; it premiered at Cannes and some scenes were leaked -- and widely viewed -- online. These include a scene featuring a gay prostitute, rich Gulf clients who mock the Palestinians as a bunch of parasites, some explicit dancing, and some more explicit dialogue (I believe the words the women speak are the most shocking element in fact).
Judging from the snippets I've seen, the movie's style is naturalistic, almost documentary; the dialogue is reportedly based on research the director and lead actress carried out with sex workers.
Before the director even presented his official request to screen the movie in Morocco, it was banned here, for being "une atteinte a l'image du Maroc," ("an insult to Morocco's image"). The lead actress has received death threats.
The director's protestations of shock sound hollow to me; you don't screen a movie with this style and subject at Cannes and expect no blowback back home. But of course the ban is ridiculous. Those who support the director -- like the editorialists of the liberal magazine Tel Quel -- have pointed out that as usual decision-makers and public opinion are much more concerned with the representation of social problems than with the problems themselves (an attitude that is frequently found in the Arab world). There is a significant amount of prostitution in Morocco, and Moroccan women have a reputation of being both terribly attractive and immoral in other more conservative Arab countries (whose men come here to take advantage of these qualities). But as Omar Saghi writes in Tel Quel, Moroccan women are considered "loose" only by the standards of Gulf Arabs, and why should they interiorize these views? He writes that "Egypt, close to the Gulf, has long paid dearly for this comparison: after having veiled its women, decreased salaried female employment, and lowered a lead cloak on its beaches, Egypt remains, for the Gulf, a pagan country with shameless women who speak too loud and have the regrettable tendency to go out in public. To fix the problem of prostitution in Morocco, we should abandon an apocalyptic vision and come back to our senses: end the prostitution of minors, punish pimps and trafficking networks, spread information about health hazards...As far as defending the image of Moroccan women, let's stick to two things: keep demagogues out of this, and stop comparing ourselves to Yemenis."
I have a new piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the spread of English at universities in the middle east. This is a world-wide phenomenon, and the main reason for it is that working in English helps academics access the latest research and to publish (because most journals are in English). It also often helps students land better jobs after graduation. And there are other more ambiguous gains to English: access to Western culture generally, a different and often more open teaching style (since more professors might be foreign), and a general aura of "modernization."
I reported in Qatar, Egypt and Morocco, and there are some big variations -- in the Gulf the concerns regarding English are tied up with anxieties about identity, being a minority in one's own country and the pace of change. In Egypt English has theoretically been part of the curriculum and a language of instruction for decades but the real problem is the abysmal quality of education, growing privatizations, and the gap between rich and poor (which foreign language universities and programs can exacerbate). In Morocco there is a growing interest in introducing English -- something that is somewhat surprising given that the country is already dealing with a very complicated post-colonial linguistic tangle, with the educational system divided between Arabic and French and with the place of darija (the local dialect) and Berber languages (recently recognized) to be ascertained. In all countries the feelings about languages taught and used at schools are of course passionate, because they are feelings about identity and the future opportunities of one's children.
The piece is behind the paywall. For those interested (in this and other coverage of scholarship, ideas, academia, including my own reporting on the Arab world and the debate over rules on sexual conduct, feminism and freedom of speech on campus triggered by this essay), think about subscribing.
I had the pleasure of seeing the movie Timbuktu recently at the Cinematheque of Tangier (a beautifully restored old movie theater). It's not to be missed. A film full of grace and depth. I wrote about it for the LRB blog:
In his film Timbuktu, Abderrahman Sissiko shows a traditional Muslim society overrun by outsiders claiming they have the God-given authority to tell everyone what to do. The film is inspired by the 2012 takeover of much of Northern Mali by jihadist and other rebel groups. It is both specific to its setting and raises questions about struggles playing out across the Muslim world. I can’t think of another creative work that takes such an imaginative, subtle, assured look at Islamist militancy and its effects.
The landscape that Sissiko films, dramatic and simple as a stage, is naturally abstract: a lake with perfectly flat shores; a hillside of dunes with a few tents and a few trees; a city of narrow sandy lanes and earth-colored rooftops (Oualata in Mauritania, standing in for Timbuktu).
At first the masked outsiders with their flags and announcements seem bumbling and almost ridiculous, actors playing their part with fragile confidence. A veteran jihadi tries and fails to coach a young member into recording a convincing recruitment video. Fighters track forbidden music floating over the rooftops, only to have to call their superiors for instructions, at a loss when they realise the criminals are singing the praises of the Prophet.
The Arabist's editors have been on the move lately, traveling and showing visiting friends around Morocco. Hence, a few pictures and a very late, large set of links.
- The Algerian Exception by Kamel Daoud - NYT
- Battle to write constitution for a Libya at war with itself - FT
- Missed this interview with Tarhouni
- Egypt: 2,600 Killed After Ouster of Islamist President
- Entangled | The Economist
America and the the Middle East.
- Syria’s Sunnis and the Regime’s Resilience | Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
On Sunni support for Assad.
- Yemeni officials under ex-president Saleh 'worked with al-Qaeda' | Middle East Eye
- CIA duped.
- Matariyya, Egypt's New Theater of Dissent | MERIP
- Good reporting by Amira Howeidy
- Saudi Arabia Shoots Down Missile Fired From Yemen - NYT
- Surprising Saudi Rises as a Prince Among Princes - NYT
On Muhammad bin Salman
- Why Jihadists Write Poetry - The New Yorker
- The Administration Should Not Meet With the Muslim Brotherhood in Washington - WINEP
Because if you ignore it all will be well?
- Mohamed Morsi is no Nelson Mandela
@belalfadl on MB: "All they have left now is empty threats of revenge against everyone, if their deluded fantasy of returning to power ever comes true"
- Illegally detained activists summoned by prosecutor amid wave of forced disappearances | Mada Masr
- Orwellian Times in Egypt: A Conversation with Emad Shahin - YouTube
- Saudi Arabia's Widening War - Gary Sick - POLITICO Magazine
- Rethinking nations in the Middle East - The Washington Post
POMEPS collection of essays on nationalism.
- Defense Minister exempts 574 military installations from real estate tax | Egypt Independent
- Moroccan Film About Prostitution Creates Uproar - NYT
- Congress seeks to lift last restrictions on aid to Egypt - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East
No longer requires HR progress, free elex.
- New Left Project | The End of Empire?: Violence and US Hegemony in the Middle East
Gilbert Achcar on Kaplan's plea for a more assertive US imperialism in the Middle East
- A League of His Own | Bloomberg Business
Great profile of Sepp Blatter, much mention of Arab money in FIFA.
- From Belgium to ISIS
Great, strange, sad story of one wannabe jihadi
- Partition en vue d’une succession contrôlée - Actualité - El Watan
- U.S. citizen Mohamed Soltan freed from Egyptian prison
After such an ordeal
- Opening the black box of Egypt's slush funds | The Angaza File
- Egypt's military establishes multi-industry company - Ahram
- Egypt's new justice minister called for hardline Sharia - Telegraph
And considers citizens "slaves".
- Libyan Prime Minister Survives Assassination Attempt Amid Protests - NYT
Just as likely Haftar as it is Fajr Libya
- It’s Time to Bring Imperialism Back to the Middle East | Foreign Policy
Robert Kaplan, being a silly neocon.
- Maybe He Found Gaddafi's Billions. Or Maybe It’s All a Giant Scam
Bizzarre con seems to have worked in Washington
- “Cairo," cityscapes by cartoonist Mohamed Wahba Elshenawy
I want this.
- Islamic State "institutionalizes sexual violence" and sexual slavery
Interview with head of UN sex crime investigators
- Obama to the Arabs: We don’t care - Al Arabiya
- Obama Upgrades Tunisia’s Status as a U.S. Ally - NYT
- الدولة ترد على تحركات شفيق «المريبة»: إنسى - بوابة الشروق
Sisi regime tells Shafiq to fuggedaboutit.
- Egypt Nile water pollution on the rise - Al-Monitor
- The challenged kingdom | The Economist
- World's biggest hotel to open in Mecca
Saudis go on desecrating holy city with crassness
- Egypt’s cyber crime bill
It's open season on all forms of online expression
- Egypt: Rape and sexual violence perpetrated by security forces 'surges' under el-Sisi's regime
But nobody wants to know
- Egypt Tax Delay Means Rich Pay Less to Cut Deficit: IMF
- Clinton Friend’s Memos on Libya Draw Scrutiny to Politics and Business - NYT
- Elite Iraqi units abandon Ramadi in biggest Islamic State win since Mosul
- Meet the director of the BuSSy Project, Egypt's answer to the Vagina Monologues
Good interview with Sondos Shabayek
- Egyptian court labels Ultra soccer fans as terrorists
Why not, who's next?
The latest mass death sentence handed down in Egypt received a fair amount of press. (Enough to incense Egypt's Foreign Ministry, which has released its usual ridiculous statement sniffily calling for the respect of non-existent "international conventions" not to ever question the ruling of any judge anywhere).
I wrote about mass sentences and the role of the Egyptian judiciary over a year ago. Since then the sentences have continued apace. The only reason this one has received particular attention, in fact, is because the convicted included former president Mohamed Morsi. Those sentenced to death also include Freedom and Justice Party spokeswoman Sondos Asem and Professor Emad Shahin who having fled the country is currently teaching at Georgetown. The Atlantic Council's EgyptSource blog has an excellent round up of the cases, charges, and reactions here.
As I've written before, I can think of few things more destructive to a social peace than the belief that there is no possible recourse to justice. All judicial systems are imperfect, but citizens must at least harbor the hope, the delusion even, that there are avenues for redress.Read More
- Diary: In Sanaa
The lead-up to the current war, by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
- Syria’s truth smugglers
Very worthwhile read on the effort to document Assad's and others' crimes
- Wadi Barada: Snapshot of a Civil War
- Leaks Gain Credibility and Potential to Embarrass Egypt’s Leaders
If they were susceptible to embarrassment
- Promises and figures from Sisi's latest speech
- To Make the World a Better Place, Teach Arabic
- Mafia in Africa
- Egyptian Journalist Mohamed Fahmy Sues Al Jazeera for $83 Million in Punitive Damages
- Ursula Lindsey on Correspondents Club
ABC Melbourne interviewed me on being a journalist in the middle east these days
- Egypt’s Megafantasies
Good review of David Sim's latest book on desert development
- Tunisian novel wins ‘Arabic Booker’ in Abu Dhabi despite UAE ban
Sounds like the ban has already been lifted though
- Al Jazeera America, Its Newsroom in Turmoil, Is Now the News
Are they extra dysfunctional or just extra scrutinized?
- Why Peter Kennard's montages are political dynamite
Can't believe I'd never seen his Blair "Photo Op"
- A French Freelancer in Lebanon on the ‘Slow Death’ of Foreign Correspondents
- Progress in Tunisia, but much still to be done
Op-ed by Rached Ghannouchi.
- The Day After · LRB 4 May 2015
Neve Gordon on the IDF’s new tactics
- Fear Makes Everything Possible
Wael Eskandar on Egypt today
- Saudi-Led Group Said to Use Cluster Bombs in Yemen - NYT
- Aleppo’s Real-Life Soap Opera « The Majalla Magazine
- Repression in Egypt: Worse than Mubarak | The Economist
Did you know letting non-rich Egyptian kids become judges could lead them to suffer from “depression and a lot of things”?
The former minister of justice, Mahfouz Saber was there to inform you. His knowledge and concern for the psychological well-being of the poor is the reason he argued that the sons (forget daughters) of trash collectors should not join the judiciary, regardless of how academically accomplished and gifted they may be. A judge needs to grow up in an “appropriate,” “respectable” environment, and be able to cultivate the necessary “loftiness” of judges, he told Ten TV’s Ramy Radwan. Saber's remarks ignited a media debate and led to his forced resignation.Read More
The team at Industry Arabic -- look to them for all your Arabic translation needs -- brings us the latest installment of our In Translation series. Abdullah al-Sinnawi is the editor of the socialist newspaper Al Araby and one of the many public intellectuals who supported Morsi's ouster and the ascension of Abdel-Fattah El Sisi, couching his support in terms of restoring the authority and prestige of the state. Now he harsh words for a regime that he describes as rudderless if not deeply disingenuous. The title used a particularly loaded term: the word "normalization" in Egypt usually refers to normalization of relations with Israel, something much of public opinion does not really accept and much of the leftist intelligentsia has always viewed as a humiliating capitulation.
Normalization with the Past
Abdullah al-Sinnawi, al-Shorouk, 6 May 2015
“Why are we protecting Mubarak?....You’re accusing us of being traitors.”
With this unequivocal expression, he tried to dispel any suspicions as to why the Military Council was putting off trying a president who had been ousted by his people.
During the first weeks of the January 25 Revolution, public squares full of anger were calling for the past to be put on trial for its sins. They called for all issues to be opened to questioning and accountability, so that Egypt would not be governed in the future in the same careless manner as before.
This forthrightness was not customary in other leaders and gave the strong impression that the young general who made this statement might be the future of the military establishment.
It did not occur to him, during this lengthy meeting in April 2011 that was attended by six journalists and military figures, as he made this firm response to the questions and doubts raised by the protests, that the question of the past would rear its head again, with greater anxiety and more serious misgivings, four years later when he would be president of Egypt.Read More
- Mauritanian film-maker gets death threats from Salafis for film about violence against women (Arabic)
- New secular party to 'challenge religious dominance'
Interesting if probably not influential
- Egyptian Chronicles: Another Blow to Online Media in Egypt Coming on the way !!
- Souad Massi’s New Album: Interpreting Classic Arabic Poems
Love her, can't wait.
- Conflicting reports over Tarabin ‘war’ on Sinai militants
- A Saudi Royal Shake-Up With a Goal of Stability - NYT
- Understanding the Saudi king’s succession bombshell
- Renowned U.S. Arabist Is Second Witness to Refuse to Appear With MEK Leader | Foreign Policy
- Congress Moves to Protect Israeli Settlements
- Egypt’s revolution will get a shot in the arm with data that shows how government spends money
Uhmm, very skeptical.
- The human 'mules' of Morocco
So many countries run of women's cheap suffering..
- Efforts to Fight Extremism in Education Misses the Point, by Ursula
- Invisible Atheists: The Spread of Disbelief in the Arab World
Interesting article on atheism in the middle east
In 1962, shortly before their own adventure in counterinsurgency in North Yemen began, Egyptian advisors who had been stationed there to reform the ruling Imam’s army spoke respectfully of how the locals had managed to defeat all of the Ottoman forces sent to the region in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, this respect was absent at the highest levels of command back in Cairo when it launched its own adventure in counterinsurgency in North Yemen. The Nasserists by and large regarded Yemen as a backwater led by a medieval despot and populated by superstitious primitives, much as Western publications did during the 1934 Saudi invasion.
Major General Saladin al-Hadidi, as recounted by Jesse Ferris in Nasser’s Gamble, was so dismissive of the Yemenis he told a colleague who had just returned from North Yemen that given enough whizz-bangs and smoke machines, he could put on such a display as to freeze royalists guerillas in their tracks. Mr. al-Hadidi’s military intelligence directorate could not supply the Egyptian armed forces with accurate maps of the countryside immediately outside of Sana’a. Cairo quite literally did not bother painting an accurate picture of the place it went to war over.
Believing that North Yemen was the weakest link of the Arab monarchies, Egypt’s leaders enthusiastically greeted a September 1962 coup against the country’s hereditary Zaydi leader, Imam al-Badr, by a military faction led by a lower class Zaydi named Abdullah al-Sallal (later “President-Field Marshal” Sallal). Sallal’s co-conspirators styled themselves as “free officers” like those who had deposed Egypt’s King Farouk in 1952, proclaiming an end to slavery and a reign of terror against the Imam’s supporters. As soon as they took over the capital, Gamal Abdel Nasser rushed in arms, advisors, money, and “Free Yemeni” émigrés (one of whom was married to Anwar Sadat’s sister) that had been on standby for just such an occasion. Never mind that al-Badr had been more favorably inclined towards the Egyptians and Soviet bloc than his mentally ill father Ahmed (d. 1962) had been. Or that Nasser himself had let this weakest link, “medieval” monarchy and all, join Cairo in a defense pact in 1958 to spite the Saudis.Read More
This is the first installment of a two-part series by Arabist regular Paul Mutter on the history of conflict in Yemen. With some great quotes from the reporting of the day.
“Order,” the New-York Tribune opined of Yemen in 1898, “will be supplied from outside,” and with the coming of foreign rule “there will be peace, and the Yemen will no more be the Yemen it has been for forty centuries.” Of course, this proved not to be the case even in the Tribune’s day, as Yemenis successfully threw off Turkish rule during the Arab Revolt (1916-18), pushing aside local collaborators in favor of a reinvigorated monarchy that soon found itself hard-pressed to impose central authority.
That has never been an easy task in Yemen. The 1962-70 civil war was fought between and among all of the tribes of “North Yemen” in large part to decide who would be allowed to wield such authority. The contest between the Houthis and the central government began in 2004 after decades of putsches and protests among the ruling Zaydi Shia clans against the Saleh family, whose patriarch, the 73-year old Ali Abdullah, held the presidency until 2011 and now conspires with his former Houthi enemies to return to power.
Alongside these long-running internal struggles to consolidate power or gain autonomy runs an intersecting line of outsiders’ efforts to impose their will upon Arabia Felix -- “Arabia the Lucky,” a name from antiquity that now seems cruelly ironic in light of Yemen’s perennial humanitarian and environmental crises. Saudi Arabia, the UK, Egypt, Russia, and most recently, the United States and Iran: all have done battle over southern Arabia. Yemen’s political history has been shaped by such interventions, though outsiders rarely got what they wanted. None have brought the sort of “order” the Tribune predicted would follow a benevolent foreign occupation.Read More
- Gone Girl: An Interview With An American In ISIS
And her distraught family
- Deport me!
Another post that must be read on Paper Bird
- Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State
And how much it borrows from Saddam's security services
- Islamic State leadership in Libya | TheMagrebiNote
- A Saudi war going badly wrong | Middle East Eye
- Mali: On the CMA’s Refusal to Sign the Algiers Accord
For the last few weeks – not for a lack of more serious things to talk about – the Egyptian media has fixated on two different aspects of the longstanding culture wars the country has fought over religion and public life. One is the brouhaha caused by TV personality Islam al-Beheiri and his frontal attack on al-Azhar for needing reform; the other is the lament by the writer Cherif Choubashi that Egyptian women should take off their veils. These type of storms in teacups have been standard for decades, they used to be a favorite issue for the Muslim Brotherhood to champion and embarrass the government under Mubarak. But what now that the Brotherhood is exiled and underground, and that current strongman Sisi is himself issuing calls for religious reform?
In the piece below, former presidential candidate, pre-2011 Brotherhood leader and head of the Strong Egypt party Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh gives a stab at an answer, from what we would venture to say is a somewhat post-Islamist perspective. Translation from the original Arabic is provided, as always, by the stupendous team at Industry Arabic. Please give a go for your translation needs, you won't be sorry.Read More