The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged film
Much Loved, Much Hated: a Moroccan film about prostitution is banned

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." 

A review of the film Timbuktu

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.
Q&A: The Tentmakers of Cairo
Lawrence Underhill 2013.

Lawrence Underhill 2013.

For three years, film-maker Kim Beamish hung out with the tent-makers in the Khaimiya district of Cairo. Three turbulent years, spanning the aftermath of the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the election of Mohamed Morsi, and the protests and coup that led to the presidency of military leader Abdel Fattah El Sisi. In Beamish' film, The Tentmakers of Cairo, all of this unfolds in the background -- most often, on a TV screen.  Although their contempt for the Muslim Brothers is palpable and their relief at the ascendancy of a strongman who can restore order is clear, the men in the alley focus largely on thei craft and their business. This is a movie in which very little happens, whose highlights are snippets of overheard conversation (my personal favorite is a father yelling at his young son, while the usual nationalist anthems blare on the TV: "Put down that book and watch TV! Don't you love your country?"). The ease with which these middle-aged, reasonable, well-intentioned men can be down to earth and funny, and then repeat silly rumors or put forth nonsensical arguments, is quite dispiriting. And as the film patiently documents their largely non-eventful lives, some may hanker for a bit more narrative, a bit more drama. But for those who are interested in what the January 25 uprising felt like to the majority in Egypt who watched anxiously and rather suspiciously on the side lines, this understated film offers many insights. 

The film will have its world premiere this Tuesday, 21 April in Nyon, Switzerland at the Visions du Reel Film Festival. Beamish is also hoping to organize screenings in Cairo in June or July. What follows is an email conversation between Beamish and myself. 

The Arabist: How did you end up in Cairo and focus on the Khaimiya neighborhood in the first place?

Kim Beamish: I came to Cairo with my wife and kids after she had taken a job here. I had initially been very keen to look at something a little more "frontline," shall we say. Something with a bit more of the revolution in the foreground, and I was excited by what I might find. However I have always been interested in the effects these big historical events have on those who have not taken part in them and yet are effected by their outcome, sometimes more than those that have taken part. 

I came across the story of the Khaimiya before I arrived in Egypt when I was speaking with a professor at the Australian National University, Professor Bob Bowker, who had told me about some work his wife had been doing with the Tentmakers. I wasn't all that interested to be honest, it did not fit the "frontline" idea I had in my head. However I felt somehow obliged to keep it in mind and met Jenny Bowker only three days after arriving in Cairo, as she coincidently was also in Cairo for a visit, and she took me to meet the Tentmakers.

Because of the years Jenny had previously spent working with the guys there was a lot of trust already established and I was, on the back of this trust, able to walk straight in and pretty much start filming straight away. I was still not sure but the golden rule is "access, access, access" and I had just got it in buckets.

All of the men in the street, more than just the five characters in the film, let me into their shops, work shops and in several cases their homes. As soon as this started to fall into place I decided to concentrate 100% on the Tentmakers.

You said you didn't speak much Arabic when this project started. Yet many of the footage you use has been chosen because you overhear folks saying particular things. How did the translation/editing process work? (Where you translating all along or at the end; did you translate everything?) How did you select the footage to use in the end?

This was a major issue in regards to production and filming. I really had no Arabic when I started filming, and lets be honest I only have a small smattering of Arabic now.

I had initially started teaching myself through some books and Ahmed, one of the characters, started teaching me for a short while but most of my Arabic was picked up by listening to the guys and just asking questions. Most of them have a little English, enough to talk to tourists, and then it was a lot of back and forth. In the end I think it was because of this lack of a common language that I was able to capture what I did, as it meant that I was not intruding as much on the situation by asking questions or predicting what might come next. 

As I got to know them more I also learnt that they generally talked about the same things almost every day; money, politics, security issues and then the ongoing rivalries of the street. Also there was so much happening outside of the street that they were watching on television I could pretty much work out what they were going to talk about by making sure that I kept up to date with the events of the day. 

In regards to editing I feel upon a young Syrian filmmaker, Ali Sheik Kadr, who found out about my work as he passed by my room in a communal office we shared in Dokki. This was almost at the end of shooting so he had many, many hours of footage to go through but by talking a lot he soon worked out what I wanted as well as finding a lot of scenes I had no idea I had filmed. Ali was really instrumental in getting the film finished and was really on the same wave length when it came to finding what I needed to tell the story.

Almost at the same time I found Jason Reeder, an American who was studying translation at the American University in Cairo and so between Ali and Jason we were able to translate and subtitle all of the footage we needed.

Were there particular works that were models or influences for you?

I have always like observational or verité film and had always wanted to have the time and the subject to be able to make one. Two major influences would be the work of Kim Longinotto, especially her film Divorce Iranian Style, and Abbas Kirostami, no particular film but just his style and use of long shots, scenes and not a rapid rate of editing. There are lot of European films and British filmmakers like Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and of course Werner Herzog that I have always admired. Again, I think that the lack of language actually gave me more time to concentrate on the shot and the ability to think through the edit of a scene while I was shooting, as I did not have to think as much about what everyone was saying. I would film very long takes so as not to cut half way through sentences or subject matter.

There are some prominent characters in the film, but you don't pick one or two of the men and follow them home, tell their biographies, etc. It is really a portrait of a neighborhood, a collective portrait, with an almost anthropological approach. Did you always plan this? 

I suppose I did. And it has become a slightly ethnographic film because of it. I found the street to be this microcosm of what was happening throughout Egypt, especially Cairo. Rumour and mis-information would blow through the street like small dust storms: You could almost see it start at one end of the street and then finish up at the other end. Everyone in the street knows everyone else; they have all grown up together. In the end it is exactly as you say, a portrait of neighborhood. I think if I had left it, the street, the film would have become something very different and possibly like many of the other films which have looked at the past few years in Egypt.

Also, there is not a lot of drama in the film – no climactic confrontation, no defined narrative arc. The revolution happens in the background (mostly on TV). How much was it a conscious choice to make a non-sensational, very "ordinary" film about this extraordinary time? And to make a film with very little "story"? 

In some way it was probably an experiment in regards to the story arc. I wanted to break it. I was sick of seeing all these documentaries of prominent moments concentrating on single heroes whilst at the same time being bored to death by historic films which never showed the individuals outside of historic figures, presidents, activists and signed documents. I'm always wanting to know what the lives of the people who surround the hero are like.

What did you learn -- about film-making, or about Egypt -- from this project? 

I have learnt a lot about filmmaking on this film as I have produced, directed, filmed, edited, fund raised, marketed and catered on the film. Not intentionally but just due to circumstances. So I have learnt a fair deal. The biggest lesson is I would prefer not to have to do this alone again but on the flip side I know that I can if I have to. 

About Egypt – there is so much to say and there are so many far more educated people than me who have already said a lot. I think Egypt could be so much more than what it is. However I do not see that happening any time soon. I think this revolution, this story, has a lot more to play out. I don't have advice and sometimes I feel that even if I did it would not be listened to. There is a great future for Egypt but there is a lot of growing up and taking a good hard look at oneself that needs to happen before that future becomes a reality. And before all that can even start to happen, Egyptians just need to stop killing each other.

How and when did you know you were finished? 

I initially thought I was finished when Morsi was elected. I saw that as a good ending until everything started falling apart again and so I kept filming. The rise and rise of Sisi then became interesting and the whole coup/not coup thing. But it was literally as I was filming the last shot of the film that I said to myself, "this is it!", the election was over, Sisi was now President and everything was now going to be great? I literally finished the shot, put my camera away, drank some shay and said goodbye. I still visit the street a lot, but not with my camera.

Have you shown the documentary in the neighborhood it was filmed? If so, what have been the reactions? If not, do you plan to?

I have shown the film to the main characters, who have then told the rest of the street about it. I have also given each of the main characters a DVD of the film so it may have been watched a little more widely. They are happy and only had two remarks and requests, one of which I was able to do and the other I could not but I explained why and they were OK with it in the end.

I am hoping to get a screening in early May in Cairo and to invite the street. It will be interesting to see who turns up and what their thoughts are.  

Of Egyptian horror movies

This is the best movie review I have read in the English-language Egyptian press in years — Egyptian horror movies: Laser goats and chicken blood | Al-Masry Al-Youm:

“Anyab” ("Fangs") makes the most of the “horror-as-social-commentary” ideology, taking it to a literal sense when the film’s narrator breaks the fourth wall to inform the audience that the “vampires” represent the more unscrupulous individuals in our society, those who greedily feed off of the weak for a quick reward. The film then turns into a 30-minute montage of public service announcements, where the lead couple, in a series of separate vignettes, falls prey to a doctor, plumber, cab driver, butcher, private tutor and realtor, all played by the main vampire, ending every scene by turning to the camera and smiling to reveal his fangs.

Best of all, the vampire is played by Ahmad Adawiya. I have to get hold of this.

Very much looking forward to reading more of Ali Abdel Mohsen's funny and informative reviews.

What the al-Sauds don't want you to see

As the al-Saud dynasty engages over a mega-production over the death of Prince Sultan — one of the most profligate of the gerontocracy that rules Saudi Arabia — it might be good to remember that making films like the ones, above, on poverty in the kingdom, get you arrested. 22% of Saudis are defined as poor, according to the film, despite the vast oil wealth controlled by the al-Sauds.

Tahrir, the movie

At Ferrara's international journalism festival (put on by the excellent Italian paper Internazionale) I saw the film Tahrir this afternoon. I was afraid it might be too familiar, or sentimental, or iconographic, but it was lovely. Italian film-maker Stefano Savona spent days in Tahrir Square and got some amazing footage. Here for example is a clip of the protesters fighting to defend the square from pro-Mubarak thugs:

And here is a completely different side of Tahrir: the funny, moving, poeting chants that inspired protesters came up with on the spot:

What's just as interesting are the long conversations between the young Egyptias the film-maker followed around the square, discussing (with remarkably clarity and insight) all the questions and difficulties of the coming transitional period. It was quite emotional for me to watch this film, at this moment, when the revolution's promises are so far from realized and when the aims and sacrifices of those involved in it have been (despite official lip service paid to the "glorious revolution") distorted and disparaged by the army, the security services, former regime elements and a disturbing number of media outlets. It's a good reminder of all the outrage, courage, and optimism on display during those 18 days, and of their continued potential. The film is playing in New York on October 2 and 4. And I really hope it will be showing in Egypt soon. 

Voices in the crowd

 Yassin Kobtan & The Skateboarders Still from "MICROPHONE" © Film Clinic - Egypt - 2010

I just reviewed young Egyptian director Ahmad Abdalla's new film, Microphone, over at the National (I also wrote on the blog about Abadallah's first feature, Heliopolis, last year). The film is an exploration of youth culture and underground music in Alexandria--and more generally, of the difficulties that young people in Egypt have finding a voice--and very enjoyable. It will be playing in the upcoming Cairo and Dubai film festivals. 

Here's a bit of the review:

Microphone started out as a documentary about Aya, an 18-year-old female graffiti artist in Alexandria, whose work had come to Abdalla's attention.

Through Aya, he discovered the city's lively collection of bands, in particular its burgeoning hip-hop scene, and decided to make a documentary about youth culture in Egypt's second city, featuring musicians, filmmakers, artists and skateboarders. Because documentary films are rarely shown in Egyptian theatres, Abdalla gave a fictional framework to his footage of musicians and kids hanging out.

Thus, the character of Khaled - played by the well-loved actor Khaled Abol-Naga, who is also a producer of the film - returns to Alexandria after a seven-year absence, only to find that the woman he has been longing to see again is about to leave town.

While he mopes over his bad timing, Abol-Naga comes into contact with the film's young characters, who are busy rehearsing, falling in and out of love, hanging out and trying to land gigs.

Microphone is best appreciated as a documentary about music and youth culture in contemporary Egypt, bolstered by a slim fictional frame. In fact, Abdalla says, "we kept trying to be true to the first idea: to give artists the microphone to speak their minds." The artists and kids play themselves, and their storylines are often inspired by their own lives.

(For the rest, see here).

Garbage Dreams

Last night, Ursula and I went to see Garbage Dreams, Mai Iskander's documentary about Cairo's trash collectors (and recyclers), the Zabbaleen. I had wanted to see this movie for months, but it was impossible to obtain on DVD, there were no screenings in Cairo and no one had put it up online — even though it won over 22 awards and, judging from the overflow crowd at Darb 1718, the great cultural center in Old Cairo where it was being shown outdoors in stifling weather, there is much demand for it.

Garbage Dreams follows the lives of a few boys from Mokattam, the hill East of Cairo near which many of Cairo's 60,000 Zabbaleen live and work handling the city's prodigious garbage output. The story of the Zabbaleen is a familiar one, so I'll just briefly repeat here for those who won't know it: they are a mostly Coptic Christian community of dispossessed peasants from Upper Egypt who settled in Cairo in the late nineteenth century and, as a community, became the trash collectors for about 60% of the city. Originally, contracts for trash collection were actually controlled by Bedouins who subcontracted the work to the Zabbaleen. In recent years, not only have they continued to collect trash, but they have also made additional cash from recycling what they collect, impressively reusing about 80% of the trash after sorting it. They live in filthy conditions, amidst their work, but with dignity and, until recently, regular income.

In recent years, the government began contracting foreign companies to use modern trash collection methods. These take Cairo's garbage to landfills and recycle much less of it — only 20% according to the film. This has eaten into the income of the Zabbaleen and is threatening their community, even if some of the workers for the company have been recruited from it. This is an interesting story, but unfortunately Iskander does not tackle it with sufficient diligence: we are given plenty of the Zabbaleen's side of things, but no explanation from the government or the companies about their strategy (which, I'm fairly sure, would have been even more incriminating — the ridiculousness of needing foreign expertise for trash collection is pretty self-evident.)

But perhaps this doesn't matter that much. The heart of the story are the lives of Adham, Nabil and Osama in the context of this threat to the community. They give poignant testimony about their awareness that they are at the bottom of the social ladder, there desire for both mundane and grandiose improvements to their lives, their attachment to their community and pride in its essential work. There are some pretty hilarious scenes, too, such as when the boys are taken to Wales in a NGO-funded trip to look at recycling methods in Europe. In their almost cruel exposure to a clean, green and prosperous Wales (hardly the reputation the country has, say, in London) they see ideas to take back home, but also great waste — there's a great scene in which Nabil lectures the operators of recycling center that they need to be more thorough about separation — essentially by doing the type of manual sorting done in Cairo that is simply impossible under European labor and safety regulations. "Here they have technology, but they don't have precision," he finally scoffs.

The greatest laugh of all for the Cairene audience came when one boy turns to the other at a road crossing, and says with wonder: "Did you see that car? It stopped to let people cross!" That is one other meditation on why Cairo came to be such a badly run city, saved from the total chaos by the hard work and good humor of its underclass.

You can now get the DVD on the film's site or soon on Amazon — highly recommended.

 

The Time That Remains
Le-temps-qu'il-reste

Yesterday I saw Elia Suleiman's latest, "The Time that Remains," at the European Film Festival at CityStars (the festival runs through Tuesday), and really enjoyed it--better than his last, "Divine Intervention."

The film chronicles Suleiman's own family's experience of the Nakbah and the Israeli occupation of Nazareth, up to the present. It's largely filmed in the house he grew up in, and based on interviews he conducted with his dying father. It is a very touching tribute to his parents, among other things.

The film has Suleiman's typically deadpan humour (a foul-mouthed, alcoholic neighbour who--ever since getting a job at a gas station, and hence access to copious amounts of gasoline--regularly threatens to set himself on fire; a school principle who scolds the young Suleiman: "Who told you America is Imperialist?"). But it's dominated by sounds and silence, more than dialogue, by wittily orchestrated scenes, poignant and hilarious visual gags. Rendering Palestinian history as a stripped down, stylized tragi-comedy, a series of personal/historical vignettes, turns out to be particularly effective. There is a great attention to visual and auditory details, which accumulate to create increasingly moving patterns and rhythms.

For me the film faltered a little in its third half, when Suleiman himself entered the scene. The way he acts--as a cardboard cutout of himself, basically--suggests his total alienation, his current position as a "mute observer," as one critic observes, but is also so disaffected it drains the scenes of any emotion. His take on contemporary Palestine--as opposed to that of his childhood--also seemed less specific and original.

But it is a fascinating, moving, witty film. Here is a nice round-up of critical reactions.

Suleiman was also on hand afterwards for a question and answer session. He noted that for him every time he can remove dialogue from the story it's a "victory," because silence is the most troubling thing for power--"even words of opposition comfort power," whereas "silence frightens it." He also mentioned that he had to get permission to use an Israeli tank for the film and that, ironically, the the only part of the film the Israeli authorities objected to was the scene in which Israeli soldiers rob a Palestinian house (there are more serious crimes committed). They also wanted a thanks in the film credits for letting him use the tank--now that sounds like something out of one of his films.
Film festivals
The sixth Dubai International Film Festival has just started, with much star-wattage and fanfare. It will host the premier of the film Nine, a musical starring Daniel Day Lewis and Nicole Kidman, and of James Cameron's new sci-fi film Avatar.

Meanwhile, here in Cairo, the Goethe Institute is putting on a more modest film festival of short independent work from the region. It starts today, and you can get the program here. The schedule I have only been able to find in German online, but Egyptian films are showing today at 1pm, followed the Algerian and Lebanese selection.
Heliopolis
Hanan Motawe' in Heliopolis Hanan Motawe

On Thursday evening, I went to the (very crowded) premiere of the new film Heliopolis--the Egyptian entry in the Arab film competition at the Cairo International Film Festival. The film is the first feature by Ahmad Abdalla, who was the editor on Ibrahim Al Battout's Ain Shems. Like Battout's film, Heliopolis is independent, in the sense that it was made on a shoestring, with actors and crew volunteering their time (unlike Ain Shems, it did get the Censor's approval before starting to shoot).

My impressions after the jump...


The film stars some well-known actors like Khaled Abul Naga and some relative unknowns. It follows five parallel stories in contemporary Heliopolis. There is a university student doing research on the neighborhood; an engaged couple looking for appliances and an apartment; a Christian man thinking about emigrating to join his mother and brother; a hotel receptionist whose family thinks she's working abroad; and a conscript sitting all day in his guard box.

When I spoke to him last week, Abdalla told me the film was about people "whose lives don't change." None of the characters advance towards their goals, and several of them describe their day as "wasted." The conscript--whose name we never learn, who never says a line, and who managers nonetheless to elicit our interest and our sympathy--is a particularly affecting example of this. (How many times have you walked past these poor kids scattered around official buildings like so much human baggage, dropped off from police trucks in the morning, and picked up late at night?) The theme of emigration, of wanting to be somewhere else, is linked to this sense of waste and present throughout--particularly in a surprising but effective dream sequence.

I was pleasantly surprised by Heliopolis. It's a slow film, and it doesn't try to do anything ground-breaking. But I appreciated the naturalistic dialogue, the smooth editing and plotting, the slow accumulation of details, and the mostly subtle treatment of its points. (There were a few good jokes, too).

Heliopolis is a cautious but polished effort by a first-time director. Some of the friends I saw the film with disagreed with me, but I thought it struck a convincing balance between its larger point about the stasis of Egyptian society and the need, nonetheless, for a narrative framework. I'd like to see Abdalla keep his understated style but tell a story where things do happen next time.
Cairo Film Festival
The Cairo International Film Festival kicked off yesterday, after the usual round of arguments and recriminations. You can find information about the films being shown if you look under the "cinemas" tab on the festival website. Of course the (only available at the last minute) schedule doesn't specify where the theaters are, or give any information about the films, whose titles have been translated quite sloppily into English. Par for the course: I tried dealing with the festival administration for my article and met with the usual combination of high-handedness and disorganization that characterizes so many state-run cultural events.

The festival is always nice and a great opportunity to see interesting work. But it's also always marred by strange unprofessionalism: from asking participants and foreign journalists to pay sometimes ridiculous amounts for their festival access cards (and making them go through multiple time-wasting steps to get them); to being unable to guarantee saved seats to the director of a film premiering in the festival. No wonder they had to browbeat local directors into participating.
Links for 10.26.09 to 10.27.09
LRB · Nicolas Pelham: Diary | Nic Pelham's diary about Gaza.
Almasry Alyoum | NDP Talks Youth | Second in a series on youth and the NDP in Egypt: “We have to use the Internet, especially with so many people trying to turn our achievements into failures and to tarnish the reputation of public symbols. We have to be present online to correct those misconceptions.” Now who could they be talking about?
Almasry Alyoum| Gamal Mubarak: Nepotism "Unknown To Private Sector" | In this story, Gamal says nepotism "is part of Egyptian culture." You don't say.
Chomsky Receives Highest Pentagon Honor | Chomsky book "Interventions" banned in Gitmo.
YouTube - Slackistan Trailer | This is a good and funny idea - you could do it in the Arab world, too.
Inanities: The Gamal Show | About Gamal's Sharek event: "The Gamal Show is Gamal Mubarak’s attempt to convince us that he’s Barack Obama."
Bakchich: Interroger des… interrogatoires | Accounts of police interrogations of non-fasters in Morocco, interrogates them about Abou Bakr Jamai (prominent editor forced into exile), and more. Thoroughly depressing.
Arab Media & Society | The end of the beginning: The failure of April 6th and the future of electronic activism in Egypt | About online activism, its failure so far, and how to move beyond cynicism.
Almasry Alyoum | Gamal Mubarak And The Power Of Web 2.0 | First in a series of articles about the NDP's efforts to attract young Egyptians to politics. This one focuses on Gamal Mubarak's "Sharek" (Participate) online Q&A event.
J Street's Ben-Ami On Zionism and Military Aid to Israel - Jeffrey Goldberg | A very revealing interview of J Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami which conirms my doubts about the whole project.
Morocco press freedom on the decline, RSF study shows (Magharebia.com) | A marked increase in fines, imprisonement and intimidation of the press.
Dar Al Hayat - A Presidential Battle without Candidates | Muhammad Salah on the Egyptian presidency.

Amreeka
A film about the Arab-American immigrant experience is getting some attention, but unfortunately it seems from reviewsthat "Amreeka" (about a Palestinian single mom who moves from the West Bank to Illinois) isn't a very nuanced portrayal. I've been disappointed so far by the work I've seen focusing on the lives of Arab Americans--whether it's stand-up comedy like the Axis of Evil Tour (which pulled way too many punches) or the film "TowelHead" (which was voyeuristic and pointless). It's surprising because the subjects seems like such rich terrain right now, for both drama and comedy.