The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts in Announcements
A new podcast from The Arabist and ArabLit: BULAQ
bulaq-burnt ornage on turq - lores.jpg

I am so pleased and excited to be co-hosting a new podcast on books in, from, and about the Arab world with M Lynx Qualey of ArabLit. I read many more interesting books than I am able to review or write about and I can't think of anyone I'd rather discuss them with than MLQ. It should also be an opportunity to look at literary news, cases of censorship, and the kinds of debates and exchanges that books provoke in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. Our first episode focuses on a novel about gay life in Cairo, "In The Spider's Room," and much more. 

This is an experiment and a labor of love. With the help of our producer (my amazing husband Issandr El Amrani) we are still working on improving the sound quality (i.e.  soundproofing my small office). We will also be tweaking the format as we go along. We hope you'll join us for the ride. You can subscribe in the iTunes Store.  

A new look

I was messing around with the blog yesterday and accidentally clicked the wrong button, breaking the old design. Rather than recreating it the way it was, I thought it was an occasion to begin a redesign of the blog that I had long wanted to do – to make it more simple, more adapted to today's mobile devices and high-resolution screens, to improve the typography and countless other things. That means that the old banner (in place, if I remember correctly, since the second redesign around 2005) has gone, or rather has been replaced with the fez logo above left. I know some readers will miss it, but it does not really make sense in an era of tiny vertically-oriented screens.

So I am starting slowly with this sparse look and will gradually refine it over the next few weeks. I hope that at the very least it will load faster, be more pleasant to read, and will have fewer distractions now that the sidebar is no longer there. Some elements will gradually come back. Some older posts that worked well with the previous design might be a little broken. But I am taking this as an incentive to start blogging a little more often, and perhaps a little differently, than before. 

Also – more news soon to come, something that many of you have asked for in the last few years. Stay tuned.

New book: Daesh is not the point

Friend of the blog Peter Harling, who recently founded, has just published Daesh is not the point: Counter-intuiting the Middle East. This is a collection of essays, including three (co-written with Sarah Birke and Alex Simon) that first appeared on this site over 2014 and 2015. It also features additional content, including a "postword" written by yours truly. If you liked those essays, and I know many of you did (they were hugely popular when first published), then please buy this book. Peter writes:

This books fights the Islamic State by not obsessing about it. As the Middle East continues to pass through a phase of historic upheaval and uncertainty, media coverage, political discourse and even policymaking remain largely fixated on the creature known as Daesh. Given the complexity of the forces driving change in the region, this Daesh-centricism is as reductionist as it is dangerous. This ebook aspires to step back from this mentality and present a measured, sensitive analysis of the long-term trends at work in the region. We have collected three previously published essays that acknowledge and explore Daesh for what it is: one constituent part in the region’s complex, fast-evolving ecosystem. Tying these essays together with new, unpublished analysis, we aim to lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the region’s convulsions.

The original essays have been removed from this site, but buy access to the ebook and you get the updated versions and support the Synaps project. Get it here.

Why do things look different?

Because the site has moved its hosting system. This is a work in progress and some recent comments may have been lost in transition. The site will be further changed over the course of the new few weeks and new features introduced. Stay tuned.

For those of you who subscribe via RSS, things should be fine as long as you used the RSS address used for several years — this one. Likewise, those who are subscribed to the site's Feedburner mailing list should have little interruption in service (see sidebar).

One advantage of this new system is that the site should be rendering much better on mobile devices.

And yes, I will be blogging more next week than I have in recent weeks — when burn-out, work and travel took all my time. But be patient with the site as I work out the kinks of this transition.

No more social buttons

I've decided to remove the tweet, like, g+ and what not buttons from the blog. To make things load faster, and because I came across this. (I am highly impressionable.) One day I might disable comments on the shorter posts too, when the Arabist redesign comes along (maybe this summer), and replace them with email.

Complain if you want.

New Book: The Journey to Tahrir

A new collection of articles about Egypt that appeared in Middle East Report in the last decade or so is now out. It's edited by Chris Toensing and Jeannie Sowers, and includes a piece by me as well as other blog contributors, friends, and leading Egypt experts (Mona El-Ghobashy, Tim Mitchell, Joel Beinin, etc.). It's a great way to review late Mubarak Egypt and the January 2011 uprising, as well support the excellent MERIP.

Get your copy now.


Meet Ashraf Khalil, get "Liberation Square"

Come meet Ashraf Khalil, author of  Liberation Square and contributor to the Arabist Podcast at these AUC events:

► On Thursday, May 3, 2012, at 1:00 pm in Mary Cross Lecture Hall, AUC New Cairo Campus. 

► On Monday, May 7, 2012, at 6:00 pm at the AUC Press Tahrir Bookstore, AUC Tahrir Campus (entrance from Mohammed Mahmoud gate).

► Both events will include a book signing and a question-and-answer session.

► For more about Ashraf Khalil's Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation (AUC Press, 2012), click here. For a recent interview with the author, click here.

► "Tear gas still lingered acridly in the air, and blood spattered the asphalt, which had been gouged and broken up to create fresh projectiles." To read the complete prologue of Khalil's book, click here.

(If you're not in Egypt, you should pick up a copy of Liberation Square on Amazon or your local bookshop.)

Google Ads, you try my patience

First, I see an ad for Islamist candidate Muhammad Selim al-Awa (a blowhard with some rather nasty remarks about Christians in his past, even if he says he was misunderstood now) appear on the site:

And then, a reader in the US sends me a screenshot showing yet another ad for Israel:

Nohing I can do about it — I asked Google several times... I'd love to get off Google Ads and onto a private ad network, but unfortunately there isn't much out there for the Middle East.

A short hiatus

Am in the UAE this week, and while I would have loved to give impressions, I have been ordered to lay off the computer by my doctor after a rather painful inflammation of shoulder muscles that has left my right arm very painful and in a sling most of the time. Back in a few days, when it all gets better.

The Arabist to go dark on Jan 18 to fight SOPA/PIPA

The Arabist will be going dark on January 18 (Egypt time) to protest the SOPA and PIPA, two bills promoted by the American entertainment and publishing industries currently making their way through Congress. The bills are so bad that even the White House opposes them. Some major sites, including Wikipedia, Reddit, Boingboing and others will be goinb black on this day, but there’s a special reason for us to join in: in a SOPA world, the Arab Spring’s inventive use of the internet would have been much more difficult, if not impossible.

The problem with SOPA and PIPA is that they break the internet. They add all sorts of liability problems when a site links to another: we have to be sure that this site has the right to display the media it contains. They would give power to companies to decide to block sites they feel infringe of copyright laws. They would stop the wonderful culture of remixing cultural production to give it a new message, a subsersive act widely used throughout the Arab Spring and before. Check out the video below that explains much more.

In addition to this, I think this industry cannot be trusted to censor the internet (no one can be trusted to do that) but also that it does not deserve to be. This is the same industry that lets you buy digital books on one device but won’t let you read them on another. Or that would not let you play a US DVD on a European DVD player. It’s out to maximize profits by setting up new legal liabilities (an already mounting problem in all walks of life in the US) to use and abuse in the future. All of this will make it considerably more difficult for labors of love like this website to continue.

If you want to do something about it, check out and

Update: For example, this is the kind of thing people might not be able to make — or that could get Vimeo censored — if the bills get through:

Hello from ant1mat3rie on Vimeo.