Do check out these excellent tips from Nathan Field.
We have let the blog lie fallow a little for the past month or two. Maalesh, more to come soon.
I just like the name of this hijab fashion tumblr.
- The Only Way to Solve Iraq’s Political Crisis - The New York Times
- In the Eye of the Storm: Algeria’s South and its Sahelian Borders - Carnegie
- Sinai insurgency: An enduring risk - Al Jazeera English
- On the avant-guarde Moroccan magazine Souffles
Banned 50 years ago as a threat to the state
- Giulio, the islands and national security | Mada Masr
Great piece by Khaled Fahmy.
- Egypt's Military Regime Grows More Brutal Every Day: Copts Likely To Find Persecution, Not Protection, Ahead - Forbes
- Egypt Extends Campaign Against Dissent to Turtle Bay | Foreign Policy
- Egypt's Hollowed-Out Society - The New York Times
- Sanders slams Clinton for ignoring Palestinians' needs and thinking Netanyahu is 'right all the time'
- Social sciences, most likely to expose society's blind spots, lacking at Arab universities
- This Saudi dance is all the rage in Arab world, but it could get you arrested
More war on youth
- Italian newspaper tribute to Regeni and all of Egypt's disappeared
- Israeli backing for PEN literary festival rejected in angry letter by authors
- The speech Bernie Sanders planned to give to AIPAC
- La Guerre Froide Des “Islamologues”
Kepel v. Roy.
- The Hypnotic Clamor of Morocco by Adam Shatz | The New York Review of Books
Paul Bowles' ethnomusical collection issued
- Jordan: How Close to Danger? by Joost Hiltermann | The New York Review of Books
- Online Media Expands, Digital Divide Persists
On interesting media surveys from Northwestern Qatar
- Egypt: Unprecedented crackdown on NGOs
- Tunisian Artist eL Seed Paints Manshiyat Naser With Stunning Graffiti
- This Is Why Libya Finally Cares About Migrant Smuggling - BuzzFeed News
- Kaelen Wilson-Goldie on Tamer El-Said’s In the Last Days of the City
Now I'd really like to see this
- Anatomy of an election | Mada Masr
Another epic Hossam Bahgat article on the manufacture of the "For the love of Egypt" party list.
- Moroccans protest over U.N. Ban Ki-moon's West Sahara position
- Where’s My Mercedes? Egypt’s Financial Crisis Hits the Rich - The New York Times
Declan Walsh's best piece since he's arrived in Cairo.
- Court’s Reasoning in #AhmedNaji’s Prison Sentence
Read it and weep
- Adam Shatz on "The Daoud Affair"
The Algerian writer's commentaries on the the Arab world's "sexual misery"
- Competing goals make Saudi oil policy hard to predict — FT
- Egypt Running on Empty
Great piece by Josh Stacher in MERIP
- 5 Badass Photos From Syria
Protests in cities that have been bombed and besieged
- Berbers in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains
Some beautiful images
- Restoring the world’s oldest library
- No Excuse for Domestic Violence in Morocco | Human Rights Watch
Link'em if you got'em.
- 1.5 Million May Die if Mosul Dam Fails
- Because Iraq doesn't have enough problems.
- Kamel Daoud : Mes petites guerres de libération | | 213 Info
Daoud puts down his pen, for now.
- Living-Room Democracy - The New Yorker
Peter Hessler on elections in Upper Egypt, insightful as always.
- Once I Saw Light in Iran. Now It’s Mostly Shadows. - NYT
- Hamas Commander, Accused of Theft and Gay Sex, Is Killed by His Own - NYT
- ‘Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education’, by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog — FT
- « Dans l’euphorie de la révolution, les blessures libyennes ont été sous-estimées »
Interview with Virgine Collombier
- Obama's Most Dangerous Legacy by David Cole | The New York Review of Books
- Photography: Leila Alaoui pointed her lens at those unseen | The Economist
- Keeping it in the family | The Economist
Too much first-cousin marriage in Arab world
- US Democrats criticise Terrorism Designation Bill to ban the Muslim Brotherhood
- H. R. 3892 [PDF]
U.S. bill to designate Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
- ‘Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education’, by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog - FT.com
- The city where war is the best employer: life in liberated Aden | Cities | The Guardian
- Egypt president calls for new law to hold police accountable - The Washington Post
- L’Arabie saoudite veut cesser de financer l’armée libanaise, et compromet un contrat avec la France
I have a long piece in The Nation about writing and freedom of expression in Egypt these days, the role of the country's intellectuals and the regime's attitude to public space, culture and young people. Needless to say it is not an upbeat read (although I am always impressed when I go back to Cairo by folks' wits and guts). I started reporting it last December -- in the meantime, the writer Ahmed Naji, who was on trial for obscenity, was acquitted in his first trial and then handed a 2-year sentence in a retrial. It is a ridiculous, unprecedentedly harsh sentence for a novelist.
Here's an excerpt:
Naji’s novel is a surreal tale of Cairo’s future obliteration and features illustrations by the cartoonist Ayman al-Zurqani. The narrator, speaking from the future, reminisces about the impossible city he lived in as a young man. In the chapter that landed Naji in court, the narrator recounts staying up all night smoking hashish and drinking with his friends; the next day, he meets his lover for brunch and mid-afternoon sex. Then two female friends pick him up and they drive through streets empty of the usual traffic, to drink a beer at sunset on cliffs overlooking the city:
Mona’s wearing a long skirt of some light fabric. I stick my head between the seats and see she’s bunched up her skirt in her lap and is rolling a joint. I’m distracted by the glow of her knees, and Samira’s turning up the music. Jimi Hendrix’s guitar shrieks like a hen laying its first egg. I open the window as we pass over the Azhar Bridge, and imagine I catch a whiff of cumin, pepper and spices. As we exit the bridge and enter the Husayn district, I smell some burnt coffee beans that, without being an expert, I can tell are of poor quality. The scent fills my nostrils. Among the tombs in the City of the Dead, the smell of liver fried in battery acid lingers like a rain cloud.
In describing the sex scene between the narrator and his lover, Naji uses the Arabic words for “cock” and “pussy.” In August of 2015, a middle-aged man from Cairo’s Bulaq neighborhood filed a claim against Naji. In his complaint, Hany Salah Tawfiq spun a lively tale himself, one designed to appeal to the most paternalistic and moralistic impulses of Egypt’s judicial system. He claimed that reading the story after his indignant wife pointed it out to him, and before his innocent daughters could be exposed to it, caused him such consternation that “his heartbeat fluctuated and his blood pressure dropped.” The prosecutor who took the case to trial that November seemed to treat the novel as a factual description of Naji’s own immoral behavior. To restrained titters from the author’s friends in the audience, the prosecutor delivered a long indictment tinged with religious rhetoric and mixed metaphors on the poisonous effect of such filth.
The prosecutor spoke entirely in fusha. Traditionally, there has been a divide between fusha—formal Arabic—and amiya, colloquial Arabic. Although they’re derived from the same sources, the first is closer to the Arabic of the Koran; different forms of it are used in religious and official discourse, the media, and literature. Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt’s 1988 Nobel laureate, wrote his dialogues in fusha even though amiya is what everyone actually speaks. Ahmed Naji is part of a generation of younger Egyptian writers whose work increasingly includes dialect, allusions to pop culture, profanity, and the funny neologisms created by the Arabicization of foreign words. The spread of this new, young, colloquial, “vulgar” Arabic is a democratic phenomenon linked, in part, to the online world, where people tend to write as they speak. Using slang is a way to puncture the disingenuousness of official discourse. The use of profanity can also be deeply political. For many of the online activists writing in the years before Mubarak fell, it was a purposeful choice to insult his regime in the foulest terms possible—to deny figures of authority the linguistic deference that, no matter how unpopular they may be, they expect to be shown in public forums.
Naji argues that the terms he uses for the male and female anatomy not only can be heard on every street corner in Cairo, but also appear in classical Arabic literature. It was only in the 19th century, he says, that “middle-class Egyptian intellectuals,” fresh from visits to Victorian England, popularized the euphemisms that became common in literature. Nasser Amin, Naji’s lawyer, argued the point in his trial, presenting the judge with books of classical Arabic literature and Islamic exegesis containing the vulgar terms in question.
You can read the rest here.
This two-part New York Times feature (one, two) on US policy in Libya is to a large extent about Hillary Clinton’s advocacy for an intervention in 2011 and her subsequent disengagement as other priorities took hold. It in an indictment of Clinton that should give anyone want to vote for her some pause, but it is an even bigger indictment of the policy process in the Obama administration and the lack of thinking-through the Libya issue. Clinton thinks of the 2011 Libya intervention as "smart power" (the most overused and meaningless foreign policy cliché of the last two decades) but it looks more like "meh power": apart from short-bursts of activism (by Clinton mostly) driven by political ambition, there is mostly lack of sustained interest. They just don't care that much about what they started.
It actually lets off fairly easily the cheerleaders for intervention on Clinton’s team, such as Anne-Marie Slaughter, who advocated for intervention but did not press on the aftermath. It makes a rapid mention of the fact that the US scuttled potential negotiations with the Qadhafi regime, not giving them a chance to see what they could deliver (arguably the worst decision in the whole episode). Allies that act in a duplicitous manner to railroad the US into certain actions or to create facts on the ground, like France or Qatar, are never pushed back. It reveals that there was a US program to provide weapons to the rebels – in other words, that Washington joined Paris, Doha, Abu Dhabi and others in flooding Libya (and hence its neighbors) with weapons – but does not dwell on it. So much more could be made of the abundant material in these pieces, but what is most odd is that it suggests that both Obama and Clinton have drawn the wrong conclusions from the Libya debacle.
Still, excellent reporting and contains some scoops.
Your every-once-in-a-while, small batch, artisanal, handcrafted link dump. OK, this time it's meager returns, we've been distracted and have neglected this a bit.
- Egypt: Order to Shut Clinic for Torture Victims | Human Rights Watch
Nadeem Center, one of the best.
- Egypt orders arrest of Facebook administrator after unfaithful wives comments | Reuters
- Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Former U.N. Secretary General, Dies at 93 - The New York Times
- New Report of U.S.-Made Cluster Bomb Use by Saudis in Yemen - The New York Times
- A list of interesting new books (in English and Arabic) from the Cairo Book Fair
- Harried by police, Egypt's Brotherhood torn by divisions
@SameralAtrush with some rare MB quotes inside Egypt
- As Syria Devolves Further, Allies Criticize American Policy - The New York Times
- The Right Way to Intervene Against ISIS in Libya | Foreign Affairs
Wehrey and Lacher
- On Giulio Regeni and the cost of doing business in Egypt
- Khayam Turki : « Il existe un racisme social et régional en Tunisie »
Excellent interview with former Ettakatol leader
- En Egypte, fin de l’utopie pour les Frères musulmans
Good long piece.
- The one thing in Saudi Arabia that works well is under threat
Steffen Hertog on ARAMCO
- Syrie : dans l’univers fracassé de la Ghouta, la vie s’est organisée
- In Egypt, second life for independent trade unions
Giulio Regeni's last article
- Tunisia’s Periphery Rises Up Again
- To End Syria’s War, Help Assad’s Officers Defect - NYT
Seems a bit late.
- Al Jazeera Journo Mohamed Fahmy’s Egypt Hell Memoir ‘The Marriott Cell’ Being Developed Into Feature Film | Variety
Ziad Jilani writing for The Intercept:
The budget proposal released by the Obama administration Tuesday seeks to roll back restrictions Congress has placed on foreign aid to Egypt’s military regime and the sale of crowd control weapons to “emerging democracies.”
Under current law, 15 percent of aid to Egypt is subject to being withheld based on human rights conditions — although even that can be waived if it is deemed to be in the national security interest of the United States, as it was last year.
Cole Bockenfeld, deputy director for policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy, says the administration probably doesn’t want to go to the trouble of justifying its waiver this year. “They had to basically do an assessment. … Here’s how they’re doing on political prisoners, here’s how they’re doing on freedom of assembly, and so on,” Bockenfeld explains. Last year’s report “infuriated the Egyptians … it was a pretty honest assessment of how things had deteriorated in Egypt.”
The assessment, for instance, took the Egyptians to task for the “impunity” their security forces operate under and restrictions on due process.
“I think what they’re trying to do is avoid a repeat of that scenario,” concludes Bockenfeld. “Because that upset the Egyptians as much as it did, we’d rather handle those things privately.”
In short, the Obama administration does not want in any way to publicly chastise the Sisi regime. At best – and let's face it this is a stretch – it's because it feels taking up these issues privately with Cairo is more effective. Yes, because that has worked so well in the past. It would be nice if the administration just came out publicly and said it can't be bothered, does not want headaches, and is fully supportive of the regime in Egypt no matter what it does. It would have much greater success in pleasing the Egyptians, which appears to be the chief goal, and put an end to the distracting and dishonest debate about supporting democracy or human rights. The damage here is not just the refusal to take a public political stance on what's going on in a key ally and major recipient of US largesse, but perhaps chiefly the ongoing abandonment of previous commitments to keep an eye on these issues and the making of concession after concession to the Sisi regime with apparently nothing in return. It's a small thing in the big scheme of things (see Russia and Aleppo), but exemplifies the amateurish, bureaucratically-driven, and irresolute aspects of Obama's foreign policy at its weakest.
In the London Review of Books, Adam Shatz on Israel's anti-NGO legislation and the unsustainability of its democracy-for-Jews-only system. An excellent overview of changes in Israeli society and politics, but I have a quibble with the last part:
But the unbridled, insular nationalism of Netanyahu’s Israel is also reminiscent of Sisi’s Egypt and Erdoğan’s Turkey, where there is constant talk of foreign plots hatched in Washington and Brussels, and a toxic mix of resentment and entitlement vis-à-vis their Western patrons. As Diana Pinto suggests in Israel Has Moved (2013), the Jewish state has tended to see its neighbours as ‘so many vaulting poles with which to catapult itself into a peaceful because distant globalisation’. Economically, it has succeeded in escaping the region; politically, that goal has proved far more elusive. ‘Israel is now just another Arab regime,’ the Syrian poet Adunis once said to me, and the proposed legislation against ‘moles’ is scarcely different in kind, if not degree, from anti-NGO campaigns in Cairo. The repression of Jewish dissent is the latest phase of what Pinto describes as the ‘turning inward of a state in the process of its own ghettoising’. As if it preferred to remain in that ghetto, Israel has stubbornly carried on a colonial project at the risk of harming its relations with Europe and the United States, both of which are finally realising that Israel has no intention of making a genuine peace with the Palestinian people.
The debate and partial disenchantment with Israel among American and European Jews aside, is there really any signs that Europe and the US care or are willing to do anything about the realisation above?
Interesting piece by John Hudson at Foreign Policy on a candidate who should not be running on her foreign policy past:
But free advice isn’t the only advantage to having a big foreign policy team. One expert said the system helped ensure loyalty for Clinton by creating “the illusion of inclusion.”
“Even though you’re one of hundreds, you feel like you’re part of the team,” said one prominent think tank scholar.
It’s the type of dynamic that can make an outside expert think twice before tweeting a snarky reaction to a Clinton gaffe or offering a less-than-flattering quote to a reporter. The end goal for many experts is to parlay a stint on an advisory group into a plum job in a future Clinton administration.
I suspect that Bernie Sanders' lack of experience on foreign policy is a lot less of a negative in a country with a YUGE permanent national security establishment than Hillary Clinton's liberal interventionism and disastrous handling of Libya as Secretary of State. The character and general inclination of the president is clearly more important than his or her direct foreign policy knowledge or even the people they would recruit.
I just got back from another quick visit to Cairo, where I visited and wrote about the annual book fair for Al Fanar:
Unlike the well-known Frankfurt Book Fair, the Cairo fair is not a networking event for publishers but rather an opportunity for individuals and institutions to find new books at the best prices. Many buyers are students, professors and university administrators stocking up on textbooks and reference books. At the outlet of the Egyptian Book Organization, a government-owned publisher that releases deeply discounted no-frills editions of hundreds of classics and works of history, sociology and literary analysis, the staff can barely keep the shelves stocked. This year the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity has also introduced an initiative to allow less well-off Egyptian families to use their food-subsidy cards to buy some books at reductions of 90 percent off the usual prices.
For many, the fair is also an opportunity for an inexpensive, pleasant outing. By the late afternoon, the streets surrounding the fairgrounds in the suburb of Nasr City are packed with traffic, and families carrying food are coming in to picnic on the grass between the book stalls and listen to free evening concerts.
The theme of the fair this year is “Culture on the Front Lines”—the implied front lines being those of the country’s ongoing crackdown on the ousted and outlawed Islamist party the Muslim Brotherhood, and of the military conflict with terrorist groups taking place largely in the Sinai peninsula.
The fair also commemorates Egyptian writer Gamal El Ghitany, who passed away in 2015. Collections of El Ghitany’s works—including acclaimed novels such as Zayni Barakat, which is set in medieval Cairo and based on extensive archival research by the author—are some of the fair’s new releases.
The article also covers the many, seemingly daily, violations of freedom of expression that are taking place at the same time as events as these. One of the latest was the detention of cartoonist Islam Gawish -- although that allowed many more of us to discover his work.
I've just published a review in The Nation of the first two volumes of French-Syrian cartoonist Riad Sattouf's The Arab of the Future (volume 1 is out in English). Sattouf grew up in Ghaddafi's Libya and above all in Hafez Al Assad's Syria and has penned a disturbing, affecting and darkly funny childhood memoir.
It’s 1983, and a family has landed at the Damascus airport. The father, who has avoided military service, bribes his way into the country. Accompanying him are his foreign wife and small blond son. Outside the airport, Syria assails them. A scrum of screaming cab drivers fights over the startled new arrivals. Cabbies abandon the brawl and compose themselves on the sidelines, combing their hair and smoking cigarettes, until the last one left shouting—and close to keeling over from his exertions—hustles the family into his taxi. He ashes his cigarettes through the moving vehicle’s missing floorboard.
This scene of homecoming and culture shock falls about halfway through the first volume of The Arab of the Future, a graphic memoir by the French-Syrian cartoonist Riad Sattouf. The book delivers a vision of childhood that is both extreme and familiar: its terrors and painful revelations, the utter mystery and absolute power of adults, the sensory details that lodge forever in the memory. But Sattouf’s vision is also of the unusual childhood he lived in Moammar El-Gadhafi’s Libya and Hafez al-Assad’s Syria, as well as in the shadow of his father and his delusions. The Arab of the Future blends a rueful backward glance at the early days of two dictatorships that finally imploded in the Arab Spring and an intimate indictment of the way boys were taught to be men.
Sattouf, who is 37 and lives in Paris, has directed two movies and written dozens of graphic novels, many of them focused on adolescence and sexual losers (one is called Virgin’s Manual, another No Sex in New York). Other work is drawn from life: For one piece, he spent 15 days in an elite French high school. Between 2004 and 2014, Sattouf contributed a weekly comic called “The Secret Life of Youth” to the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Based on scraps of life seen and heard on the streets and subways, it was preoccupied, like much of Sattouf’s work, with observing those moments of cruelty, violence, or strangeness that happen in plain sight but are generally passed over in silence, purposely ignored.
- How to rescue Egypt - The Washington Post
Amr Hamzawy and Michael McFaul
- Saudi Arabia and UAE rethink their relationship with Egypt
- More Is Needed to Beat ISIS, Pentagon Officials Conclude - NYT
Capt. Obvious just promoted at Pentagon.
- Did the Arab uprising destroy the Muslim Brotherhood? - The Washington Post
Another good piece by Steven Brooke.
- Contrary to popular opinion, Egypt’s transition wasn’t always doomed to fail - The Washington Post
Very much agree with Michael Hanna here.
- [TIMELINE] Morocco: Political Repression in the Era of Social Media · Global Voices
- China’s Stance on East Jerusalem | MERIP
Interesting background on China's Arab policy.
- Vice Asked Refugees in Denmark to Show Their Most Valuable Possessions
Shame on Denmark
- The Future of the Arab
Ursula on the graphic novels of Riad Sattouf
- ▶ From Tahrir to London - Egyptian in Exile by Simon Hanna
Good, sad story
- Egypt TV Personalities Face Arrest for Pranking Police
- Activist stages single-person demonstration in Tahrir Square
More on the anniversary of Jan 25
- Baheyya: The Specter of January 25th
- The Politics of Protest in Tunisia
Another good paper to understands the unrest.
- POMED Backgrounder: A Trip Report from Tunisia’s “Dark Regions”)
Handy context to current turmoil
- Vladimir Putin asked Bashar al-Assad to step down - FT
He said no.
- France plans to keep state of emergency until Isis is defeated - FT
Who's in charge, François Mubarak?
- Ursula on the legacy of Fatema Mernissi, Moroccan feminist and scholar
- Egypt: who's afraid of January 25?
Random raids and arrests ahead of anniversary
- Two Sisters’ Escape From Syria
Unaccompanied and brave young women
- Egypt's MPs caught voting for each other
Parliament is off to a great start
- Staggering civilian death toll in Iraq
Over 18,000 killed, 36,000 wounded and 3 million displaced since January 2014
- Leila Alaoui, Photographer Wounded in Burkina Faso Siege, Dies at 33
- Algérie, des révélations sur le « coup d’Etat » de 1992 - Mondafrique
- Leila Alaoui, Photographer Wounded in Burkina Faso Siege, Dies at 33 - The New York Times
- What does an amended constitution really change about Algeria? - The Washington Post
Not much, says John Entelis.
- Turkish academics smeared and prosecuted for signing protest letter
- Morocco: Protests of Trainee Teachers Violently Dispersed
- Iran releases Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian in prisoner swap with US | The Guardian
- Sharing the Nile | The Economist
- Al Jazeera America shutting down
Another boom-and-bust Gulf project
Bidoun, a ground-breaking magazine about the arts and culture of the middle east -- and much more -- is celebrating its tenth anniversary by making available a huge digital archive. (Issandr and I have contributed several reviews articles and interviews over the years). You can browse by issues, articles or authors. Under "Collections" you can see specially curated tours of the archive by the likes of Etel Adnan, Lynne Tillman, Orhan Pamuk and Hans Ulrich Obrist.
In addition to this week's In Translation article, today has been the day of "five five years since..." articles. Here's a few out today:
- Five Years Since Tahrir Square: Egypt's Revolution Behind Bars - The Atlantic
- Egypt Adrift Five Years After The Uprising (PDF)
- Unmet Needs, Tenuous Stability - The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
- The Egyptian revolution: What went wrong? - Al Jazeera English
- “This Land is their Land”: Egypt’s Military and the Economy
(If you're wondering why the title, it's a reference to Private Eye's Colemanballs.)