The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged translation
Fawazeer in translation

Our partners at Industry Arabic are rolling out a daily translation of classic Ramadan TV riddles throughout the holy month:

But there was another form of Ramadan programming that somehow managed to combine all these themes in one surreal mix: the fawazeer (فوازير). In essence, the fawazeer programs were a short 10-minute variety show containing dance numbers and sketches that present an affectionate pastiche of Egyptian popular culture of the pre-satellite TV era. The core of each fawazeer episode revolved around a riddle that the audience was asked to solve, usually anchored to a specific theme for the entire 30-episode season.
Although the tradition of fawazeer stretches back to the 1950s and continues even to this day through occasional efforts at revival, the peak of the fawazeer programming is widely considered to be the series presented by Nelly and then Sherihan in the 1980s and 1990s. Above all in Egypt, but also in other parts of the Arab world, they form part of the childhood nostalgia of the generation that would grow up to lead the Arab Spring.
Industry Arabic is celebrating this Ramadan by translating the full collection of riddles from the 1981 season starring Nelly, titled “al-Khatba” (الخاطبة). Considered one of the best seasons of the fawazeer, this series presents Nelly in the role of the professional matchmaker. In each episode, Nelly proposes a new potential suitor to an aspiring bride and her family in the form of a riddle describing his profession.

You read read more about this here (with an example) and follow them on Twitter or Facebook to get the daily riddle.

In Translation: A modest proposal to fix Egypt's economy

Economist, former government minister and rare voice of reason Ziad Bahaa Eddin presents a list of sensible suggestions for what Egypt should do, undo, and not do to right its sinking economic ship. Pity that they will almost certainly fall on deaf ears. This installment of our In Translation series is brought to you as always by the professional translation team at Industry Arabic

Recommendations for Dealing with the Economic Crisis

El Shorouk newspaper, October 20 1015

Ziad Bahaa-Eldin

One cannot describe the current economic situation as only a minor bump, one that we can deal with using the same tools and methods the state has grown accustomed to using over the past years, and which exacerbated the crisis in the first place. I am not referring here to the disturbances in the exchange market that recently grabbed the media’s attention: they are a symptom of an underlying sickness, the expression of deeper problems in the management of the economy. The principle of these problems are weak levels of investment, exports and employment and the rise in both internal and external public debt. The most important of these problems, though, is the government’s lack of clarity in its economic policy and the direction it intends to pursue. For citizens, the steady price increases, especially in food, the continuing decline in public services and the scarcity of employment opportunities are the real indicators of the Egyptian economy’s performance. For them, these issues are more important than figures for growth, reserves and the public debt.

We can, of course, blame the slowdown in world trade, global conspiracies, or the regional situation. None of these, though, are sufficient to explain the rapid worsening of the economic situation over the past few months. We can also demand that minister after minister step down or cabinet after cabinet be replaced every time there seems to be a slowdown or a failure or every time the media calls for an immediate change. However, the gravity of the current situation requires us to stop and reassess our position and to build a minimum of consensus around certain important priorities instead of searching for a scapegoat or trying to satisfy the media’s thirst for a new victim. Here is what I propose:

Over the short-term, the government must make decisions on various issues that remain unclear and that cause persistent anxiety within the investment community. Most importantly, the government must explain what taxes and fees it intends to impose in the short and medium term, the future of energy pricing, what the forthcoming agreement with the World Bank contains and, last but not least, what measures it plans to adopt to deal with the exchange rate. Even if some of these are hard choices with a high social cost, lack of clarity is, in all cases, is more damaging than decisiveness. Lack of clarity leads one to imagine the worst possibilities and paralyzes investment and production. Furthermore, it is necessary for there to be complete agreement on a shared position among members of the government. Contradictory statements made by officials causes the government to lose credibility. As for the exchange rate, no statements or forecasts should be made, except by the Central Bank, as it is an issue that is negatively effected by any rumor or poorly thought-out statement.

In the short-term, as well, there is a great need to review many recent faulty decisions and to courageously acknowledge their shortcomings rather than stubbornly persisting in them. It is no longer up for debate that the Investment Law issued at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference was a big mistake. It further complicated the investment environment, opened up space for corruption and manipulation of land allocation and promised investors things that it could not guarantee. There is agreement among experts in law, economy and business that this law set us back ten years. So why do we not repeal it? The same applies to the policy of promoting global investment without giving sufficient, let alone similar, weight to small and medium-sized national ventures, older industrial zones and local investors’ associations that represent tens of thousands of small producers.

In the long-term, it will be useful to reexamine the utility of large national projects in light of the continuing lack of clarity and of contradictory statements made by officials about their cost, economic impact, funding and mechanisms of implementation. No one hates the idea of a new capital for Egypt, nor of adding millions of acres to the available agricultural land. Yet, due to the scarcity of resources, urgent needs in all areas of social expenditure and the need to upgrade existing public utilities, we must reconsider our priorities. There must also be dialogue within the community about the utility of such projects: which should be implemented now and which should be delayed or even set aside entirely.

Likewise, we must return to the issue of social justice, which has been neglected recently despite remaining, over the past four years, the Egyptian people’s clear, repeated demand. Though it represented for a time the core concern of the entire state, social justice has become again an overlooked issue, only pursued by the Ministries of Social Solidarity and Supply through the tools available to them. These tools -- pensions and social security through the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and ration cards and food subsidies through the Ministry of Supply -- are not enough to achieve the prosperity that people seek. We must transition from a concept of “social solidarity,” achieved by means of granting additional pensions and subsidized food supplies, to a concept of “comprehensive social protection” that gives all citizens proper education, the chance to become qualified for the labor market, healthcare and the opportunity to compete and advance. After this comes the role of social security: to protect the weak and those who cannot compete in the work market. Successive governments have made substantial efforts in this area, but a political decision needs to be taken to reinvigorate interest in completing this process, begun many years ago.

Finally, both in the short and long-term, there is a need to broaden the circle of discussion surrounding decision makers both in the Presidential Palace and the Cabinet. I speak here not only of the need to ask for assistance from Egyptian experts both inside and outside the country who could make valuable additions. More importantly than that, there must be an institutional dialogue. Economic policy should not be set solely by the group of people that surround the president, no matter how competent they are. Instead, it should be set through dialogue between the government, the Federation of Egyptian Industries, the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, investors’ associations, professional associations, workers’ unions, political parties and civil society organizations. Each of these bodies represents a force in society and an interest that we must listen to and involve in the decision-making process so that they do not become spectators waiting to see what surprises the government throws their way. A sound economic policy should be designed with their support and participation and should represent a balance between their various interests.

In Translation: Egypt's president reads the constitution, sees a problem


Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi recently dismissed the country's constitution as founded on unrealistic "good intentions" (this same constitution was celebrated, when it was approved in January 2014, as basically the best in the world). In the latest installment of our In Translation series, brought to you as always by the translation professionals of Industry Arabic, Shereef Azer imagines what might have led the president -- now that a parliament that will share some of the powers he has monopolized for the last two years is finally on the horizon -- to change his evaluation. 

Shereef Azer writes: I’ll Show You “Tinkering with the Constitution”!

Online magazine 18+, Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Long ago, we were told that “constitution” is a Persian word that means “father of the law.” Yet it appears as though its current meaning in the corridors of the Egyptian government is “to hell with the law.” The regime’s approach is obvious, as it manipulates the law and the legislative process as it pleases, in the absence of a working parliament. Even so, to now hint at amending the constitution is both extremely provocative and unacceptable.

In his speech at the opening ceremony of University Youth Week, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated that “the constitution granted broad powers to parliament, and with good intentions, but the country cannot run on good intentions alone.” Of course, these words represent a great insult to the Committee of Fifty that drafted the constitution. They presume that this committee had no idea what it was doing and that its members merely wrote, with good intentions, what was in their hearts. This is not something that a proper president of the republic should be saying.

The problem is that when you get to thinking about this statement, you necessarily arrive at the conclusion that the president fears something in this constitution and that he wishes he could change it in order to serve some goal. It becomes clear that the president wants to run the country according to his whims and without anything standing in his way. Well then, let’s see what in the constitution might be angering our president and getting his knickers in a twist.

First off, it’s clear that the president has gotten into a jam with all this parliament nonsense – even though he had tried to avoid it for quite some time – and he has finally been forced to take a look at the constitution and its meaning. If there’s going to be a parliament one way or another, he figured, then at least he should see what it’s all about. He opened the constitution and (Oh God, please let it be good!)…there right in front of his face was an absolute disaster. This upcoming parliament has the power to remove the president. Now, I’m not claiming to be a mind-reader, but I’m certain that the president reacted to this particular article of the constitution with a certain four-letter word. Surely, certain thoughts began to cross his mind, but thank goodness he said “good intentions” instead – otherwise, he would already have had the Committee of Fifty arrested and tried on charges of planning to overthrow the government.

Of course, a military ruler who has no interest in democracy, in legislative branches, in the rule of law or in any such talk cannot quite swallow this. “After all, we’re doing fine without a parliament. The people are happy. This measly little constitution would only cause me a headache, or possibly even put me out on the curb – when we are only just getting started!”

Then the president took another look at the constitution and found another stab in the back. What sort of constitution is this? It allows the parliament to be involved in the formation of the government alongside the president of the republic, and even allows it to review the president’s selection for prime minister and to withdraw its confidence from the prime minister as well. You mean to say that after the president has worked tirelessly to find ministers that he can actually put up with, the parliament can simply come along and send them packing? I’m afraid not!

The third thing that the president had no desire to hear is that the constitution states that the parliament must review all laws issued by the president of the republic, even those which were issued when there was no working parliament. What’s more, they must approve these laws or else they become null and void retroactively. Meaning that after all the effort of issuing these lovely laws, like the anti-protest law, the counter-terrorism law and the terrorist entities law, some amateurs can come along and amend them! It’s positively scandalous.

Since one way or another we’ll end up amending the constitution in order to extend the presidential term or to make it open-ended altogether, then why not fine-tune it from the get-go? This way we won’t have to keep making small amendments and we can just put out a whole new package at once.

Unfortunately, no one seems to learn from history. The more the president plays with the constitution, the faster his time will come to an end. In this regard, Sadat’s “extensions” and Mubarak’s amendments of 2007 offer a lesson: In matters such as these, tinkering with things leads to disaster. So I ask, please, that no one mess around with the constitution. Whoever does tamper with it is bound to get seriously screwed.



Below is the second installment of a two-part piece (see part one for a longer introduction) by the prominent Saudi commentator and academic Khaled al-Dakheel -- an epic rant about how badly off the Arab world is and how incapable it is of facing its own shortcomings. Upon reflection, one trigger for this jeremiad might have been the recent focus on conspiracy theories, notably in Egypt where a military official recently spoke on television of fifth-generation warfare plots to cause earthquakes and alter weather, which an increasing number of commentators are slamming.

Brought to you as always by the great professional translation team at Industry Arabic

Arab Civilization Has Lost Its Purpose

 Khaled al-Dakheel, Al-Hayat, Sunday 6 September 2015

To deny the facts of history is a form of stubbornness that may lead to a departure from history altogether. This is what seems to be happening in the Arab and Islamic world (with the exception of Malaysia and Indonesia). If the Arabs reject wholesale the civilizational superiority of the West, they are doing so on the basis of moral and political arguments, some or all of which may be correct, but which in reality have no connection to the issue of civilizational superiority. On the other hand, the Arabs are clinging to an Arab-Islamic civilization that ruled the world until the end of the 13th century. In both cases, the Arabs are guilty of an unjustified obstinacy. The facts of history say that Arab-Islamic civilization has come to an end and its aims are exhausted, while Western civilization has inherited from it and replaced it through an unprecedented superiority.

The first testimony to the decline of Arab civilization appeared at the end of the 14th century in the famous Muqaddima of Ibn Khaldun. He writes: “In this age, the end of the 8th century (Hijri), the situation in the Maghreb, as we have witnessed, has been turned upside down and completely altered…This was the situation until, in the middle of the 8th century, civilization both in the Arab East and Arab West was swept by a plague that devastated nations and carried off an entire generation. It swallowed up and obliterated many blessings of civilization. It overtook nations when they had grown decrepit and reached their utmost limit. It lessened their influence, undermined their power and led to their extinction. Civilization declined with the decline of mankind. Cities and buildings were destroyed, roads and landmarks vanished, estates and homes became vacant, nations and tribes began to falter.” 

This is what was happening to the Arab West at the time. And what about the Arab East? Ibn Khaldun says: “The Arab East seems to have suffered the same fate as the Arab West, though in in a degree and manner proportionate to its civilization. It was as if the voice of existence in the world had called out for apathy and gloom, and the world obeyed. God inherits the earth and whoever is upon it.” (Muqaddima of Ibn Khaldun, v. 1, p. 325-326).

Leaving aside the plague that swept the region at the time, it would seem that the author of the Muqaddima was describing the current situation in the Arab world, particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen, not to mention the threats the rest of the region is facing. But hold on a moment. Our own age suffers from its own plagues, such as extremism, sectarianism, dictatorship, corruption and terrorism. It is as if in our own age the Arab East and Arab West were complying with the voice of existence when it calls for “apathy and gloom,” albeit for factors and reasons that did not exist in Ibn Khaldun’s time.

What does this mean? It means that the process of decline described by this historian in his lifetime was completed long before our own time. The Arab world is now living through its aftermath and repercussions, and it is still paying the price. And why? Because Arabs and Muslims are resisting the fact that history has advanced, and that Arab civilization reached its peak before the 14th century. Since that time, history has progressed to an age of a different nature and aspect, and with different motives, requirements and variables. The features of decline are still with us and beset us on every side: the same religious thought, sectarianism, tribalism, crisis of governance and absence of scientific thinking. The Arab refusal to acknowledge the superiority of the West acts as a psychological defense mechanism against the fear of Western superiority, rather than being born of conviction. Without a doubt, the Crusades and later the Western colonization of many Arab countries, as well as the question of Palestine, helped solidify this complex. Although the attitude toward these Western incursions is justified, it is really strange that after centuries, we have yet to realize that fear is the weakest and worst defense mechanism, particularly on the level of nations and civilizations. Fear is a natural reaction at the beginning, but afterwards it should be an incentive to create a real defense mechanism that leads to innovation and does not remain a defense mechanism for its own sake. However, this is impossible without first admitting that a decline has taken place, that the aims of Arab civilization have been exhausted, and that history has passed into a new era that emerged in the garb of a different civilization: Western civilization, with its capitalist foundations. Moreover, it is necessary to recognize the technological superiority of this civilization not only on the scientific and material level, but on the cultural and moral level as well. It does not help and will not help to cling to the opposite contention -- that this new civilization suffers from cultural and moral decadence -- since this involves judging the culture of a civilization on the basis of cultural standards that belong to a different civilization whose logic and standards have already collapsed.

What are the features of the cultural and moral superiority of Western civilization? It consists of just about everything: the various branches of art, literature, political, social and philosophical thought, and the scientific method. It also consists in the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the inviolability of constitutions, a political system based on the principle of participation and that governing is not a privilege but rather a service and responsibility that is in theory open to all. The cultural and moral superiority in all this is the framework by which Western civilization as such should be judged – by the standards and logic on which it rests – rather than according to external standards and logic. It was within this framework that the foundations were laid for the achievements of this civilization in various fields: administration, education, architecture, engineering, medicine, technology, space exploration, physics, civil and military industries, etc. Admitting the superiority of this civilization by no means requires copying it, especially the details of its culture and values, in order to apply it in a different cultural and historical context. In any case, this would be impossible. Nonetheless, such an admission is the first step to a true awareness of the actual Arab situation: that the Arab world has departed from its civilizational context and entered a different one that it is no longer wise to deny. To admit this fact is to accept the challenge posed by the end of Arab civilization and its passing from history, and the challenge of the current civilizational framework with its never-ending achievements.

It is startling that the Arabs have neglected Ibn Khaldun’s observation. More than 700 years ago, this Muslim Arab thinker, historian and jurist recognized that in his time Arab civilization had fallen into stagnation and collapse. The Arabs, however, did not recognize this. They did not realize that their history continued from that time in a state of never-ending regression and breakdown. This being the case, is the situation in the Arab world after the Arab Spring any surprise? These revolutions did not achieve their desired goals, but their opponents were also unable to stop them or offer an alternative to supplant their underlying rationale. All they could resort to were conspiracy theories and talk about external plots to divide the region. Do you think that the Arab East and Arab West were victims of the same conspiracies and plots in the time of Ibn Khaldun? If that were the case, there would be no Arab civilization in the first place! In any case, the Arab world in our day has reached a state similar to that sketched by Ibn Khaldun in his own time. When you place this continued regression of the Arab world side by side with the emergence of a new civilization, it can only mean one thing – that Arab civilization as it was before the 14th century entered into a state of continuous decline and regression, and all that remains of it is what we are seeing now. Meanwhile, since the 16th century, the West has not ceased to grow and develop. That century was the start of a new civilizational era that came to be called “capitalist civilization.”,

When you realize this transformation -- that the Other is superior to you and outpacing you -- over time you become victim of the delusion that you are equal to him or close behind in accomplishment, on the pretext of moral superiority. The effect of this delusion is to prevent you from understanding the real challenge posed by the Other’s superiority, and to eliminate the internal inclination to face this challenge and respond to it as necessary. The aspiration to equality with the Other, and the attempt to vie with him in accomplishmen, is a poisonous goal. But when this goal turns into a delusion, then the real disaster begins.

In Translation: Clinging to power with your teeth

The crack translation team at Industry Arabic brings us this week's installment of our In Translation feature, in which we translate a representative op-ed from the Arab press. This column in the pan-Arab, Saudi-owned Al Hayat newspaper by its editor, Ghassan Charbel, blames the conflict in Yemen on former Yemeni president (and erstwhile Saudi ally) Ali Abdullah Saleh's unwillingness to step down and includes quotes from several previous interviews Charbel conducted with Saleh. The introductory paragraphs, on the discourse of false humility and sacrifice of leaders who can't conceive of relinquishing power, apply pretty much to every ruler in the Arab world. 

The General Doesn’t Love the Palace

By Ghassan Charbel, Al-Hayat, 1 April 2015

The master of the palace embarrasses me when he tells me that he does not love the palace and that he awaits impatiently the date of his departure and that he suffers from a tortured conscience with regards to his family, since the concerns of the nation have distracted him from the First Lady and his children. He flabbergasts me when he tell me that he did what was necessary and will allow history to judge, that the decision to depart is final even if the masses cling to the hem of his jacket, and the time has come for him to have time to play with his grandchildren. The master of the palace disconcerts me when he says that power is a torment, and satisfying people an impossible task. He points out the white hair he has gotten from over-taxing himself for the needy and poor, and that he didn’t really intend to run in the last election but the people insisted. It disconcerts me that he says he remains in office based on election results. When he tries to portray the elections as free and fair, my mind immediately jumps to the intelligence chief and the vote-rigging factory in the Interior Ministry.

The fact of the matter is that I’m not a naïve enough journalist to believe all this. This profession has taken me to many capitals and I have interviewed many figures. Politeness forces me to suppress my chuckles so as not to jeopardize future interviews. Sometimes I have felt that the recording device itself will object to the expressions of humility voiced by a ruler who came to power on the back of a tank or the like.

Usually I humor the speaker, as if  saying that we are both from a region where rulers believe that they have no choice but the palace or the grave. And usually the coy response comes that rulers must learn from the experiences of others, and that some days you’re up, and some days you’re down…and if someone else lasted forever in power, you would never get a turn. Sometimes I say that journalists do not find an interesting story in modest people but in those who cling to power with their teeth.

The Houthis would not have taken over Sanaa and besieged the president there and then pursued him to Aden if Field Marshall Ali Abdullah Saleh had not put most of the Yemeni army at their disposal. It reeks of revenge. Saleh left the presidential palace burned and injured – when he reached Saudi Arabia after the explosion that targeted him, he could do nothing more than blink his eyes. He felt as if he had been kicked out of his house, where he should have stayed until he passed the palace down to his son Ahmed.

Journalists may forget facts, but computers are petty enough to remember. Yesterday I went back to three interviews with Saleh.

In 2006:

Q: Do rulers retire in the Arab world?

A: Of course.

Q: You don’t think that the title “former president” would be hard for you to bear?

A: Why would it be hard? The best title I hear now in Lebanon is “former president.” Why can’t we be like our brothers in Lebanon?

Q: Doesn’t the idea bother you?

A: Not at all, to the contrary.

In 2009:

Q: There’s talk of a possible agreement for you to serve another term?

A: I abide by the constitution. As far as I’m concerned, I will not run. I will not accept to be nominated by anyone.

Q: Why?

A: You have time and you use up your youth and use up your experiences over thirty years. If God grants me health, I will finish the remaining constitutional period. God willing, Yemen will produce many men like Ali Abdullah Saleh to take the place of Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Q: You don’t want to hold on to power?

A: No, no.

Q: Is it tiring to be president in Yemen?

A: I always say that ruling in Yemen is like dancing on the heads of snakes.

In 2010:

Q: You said last year that ruling in Yemen is like dancing on the heads of snakes: did the snakes wake up now?

A: If you want to change the expression, you could say vipers.

Q: Aren’t you scared of the vipers’ sting?

A: The snakes have grown up and become vipers. Me and my people, God willing, are able to deal with them and tame them. We’re not afraid.

Q: Is it possible that there will come a day when we see you allow someone else in the presidential palace?

A: (Laughs) A Yemeni president, of course.

Before bidding farewell, Ali Abdullah Saleh said that he would like to play with his grandchildren. Would that he would do so.

Translating “Frozen” Into Arabic

Great piece by Elias Muhanna for The New Yorker, on why Disney's Frozen has been translated into Modern Standard Arabic:

The Arabic lyrics to “Let It Go” are as forbidding as Elsa’s ice palace. The Egyptian singer Nesma Mahgoub, in the song’s chorus, sings, “Discharge thy secret! I shall not bear the torment!” and “I dread not all that shall be said! Discharge the storm clouds! The snow instigateth not lugubriosity within me…” From one song to the next, there isn’t a declensional ending dropped or an antique expression avoided, whether it is sung by a dancing snowman or a choir of forest trolls. The Arabic of “Frozen” is frozen in time, as “localized” to contemporary Middle Eastern youth culture as Latin quatrains in French rap.

Why Disney decided to abandon dialectal Arabic for “Frozen” is perplexing, and the reaction has been mixed. Many YouTube viewers are annoyed, with some fans recording their own versions of the songs in dialect. An online petition has called for Disney to switch its dubbing back to Egyptian Arabic, plaintively wondering, “How can we watch ‘Monsters University’ in the Heavy Modern Arabic while we saw the first one in Egyptian accent that everybody loved…?”

How indeed? Or perhaps the real question is: Why? Why is Disney willing to commission separate translations of its films for speakers of Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish, European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese, European French and Canadian French, but is moving in the opposite direction when it comes to Arabic? The answer cannot be that the dialect markets are too small. The population of all of Scandinavia is less than a third of Egypt’s, but is represented by five different translations of “Frozen.” There are nearly ten times as many Moroccans living in Casablanca alone as there are Icelanders in the whole world. The markets are there. What is missing is a constituency for cultural production in dialectal Arabic.

Muhanna goes on that there isn't much of a constituency calling dialect dubs of hit Hollywood movies, in contrast to what he describes as "an ideology propagated by linguistic purists in the region." I'd be curious to test out that theory – for instance see if the Moroccan film board would reject a dubbing of Frozen in darija. I suspect it has more to do with the low profitability of Arabic dialect market segments (because of high rates of piracy, etc.) and the dominance of the GCC market in business decisions about entertainment – and that market being used to MSA being used as a standard for dubbing (they finance it, after all).

Back to Basics

Our latest translation courtesy of the team at Industry Arabic is a column from former National Salvation Front spokesman Khaled Dawoud (he quit over his inability to continue dismissing the Rabaa massacre), which originally appeared here

Back to Basics

When the Tamarrod movement launched in early May and quickly moved to unseat President Mohamed Morsi, the goal was clear and simple: to call for early presidential elections -- once the man that many described as the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau's representative in the Presidential Palace had proved a failure at managing the country's affairs, with a similar incompetence shown by the rest of his organization as well. This constituted a threat to the future of Egypt itself and the cohesion of Egyptian society, and even brought us to the brink of civil war. Furthermore, those in the movement really did believe the Road Map, the whole July 3 production, and the pledge to swiftly return to the polls for free and fair elections that would grant popular legitimacy to the new regime.

Despite their belief that the Muslim Brotherhood had completely deviated from the revolution's goals, the stated aim of the parties and movements that rose up to defend the goals of the January 25 Revolution was never to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, imprison its entire leadership and ban them from political activity – and of course not to kill them and mow them down in the hundreds. The actors who are now moving in this direction belonged to a different current that is completely unrelated to the January 25 Revolution; they are the ones who have considered the revolution from the start to be a conspiracy to put an end to their power, influence and corruption, a conspiracy launched by the Muslim Brotherhood with support from Hamas, Iran, America and the whole familiar list. The current trend toward exclusion is backed by those who belong to intellectual currents that have always considered the Brotherhood's ideology to be an obscurantist project at odds with the principles of the Nahda and Egypt's progress toward joining the ranks of the European democracies. In my view, these people do not represent the majority in Egypt's secular parties of any orientation, whether liberal, leftist or nationalist, since to put it simply, Egypt isn't France.

The truth remains that the supporters of these two currents – the old state that has been in place since 1952 with its entire apparatus of repression, murder and a duplicitous, state-controlled media along with those in certain intellectual circles who can be labeled as "exclusionists," have utterly failed to achieve the goal of crushing and excluding the Muslim Brotherhood over the past 80 years since the Brotherhood was founded. Even with all its brutality, Mubarak's police state failed to inflict a crushing defeat on the al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya that was at the forefront of the terrorist attacks in the 1990's, even though their organizational strength and popular base can hardly be compared to that of the wealthy Muslim Brotherhood, which possesses an international organization spread across more than 80 countries. The former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, who is now cooped up in a prison cell, was forced to make concessions to pave the way for a partial restoration of security and to put an end to the daily acts of violence committed by al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya and Islamic Jihad.

Certainly, the Muslim Brotherhood was stubborn, smug and arrogant up to the last moment. They tried to hold a monopoly on speaking in God's name and in the name of Islam and totally refused to recognize that there was broad opposition to their policies. They succeeded at alienating a broad spectrum of society and state institutions, which made it impossible for them to continue managing the country's affairs, even if Morsi did win in fair elections. Morsi lost his ability to govern, not just his legitimacy. Added to that, there was the whole spectacle of the sit-ins at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda Square, which dragged on for 47 days, turning the lives of Cairo residents into a living hell with their occupation of the city's main arteries and their violent – not peaceful -- protests.

Furthermore, their media discourse was directed primarily toward the West in bid to win its support. This was due to their firm conviction that Western and American support is the only way for them to possibly return to power – although this is in fact impossible. In pursuit of this goal, Egyptian mothers did not hesitate to abandon the least drop of motherhood and parade their infant children before the cameras as they breathe in tear gas. These women insisted on staying just to shoot such a scene, or force their children in Rabaa al-Adawiya or al-Khamsa to wear burial shrouds and say they are "martyrdom projects" while "Morsi is my president, al-Sisi is a killer."

Their discourse toward us, the Egyptians, on the platform in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square was all menace and threats and plunging into the fires of hell, sectarian appeals explicitly threatening to set Upper Egypt and its churches and Christians on fire if the sit-ins were broken up, and crossing red lines in a way we have never seen before in our political existence. This was along with direct appeals to open up fractures in the army and without any scruple to avoid a repeat of the Syrian scenario in Egypt with all its brutality. For a large swathe of Egyptians, these behaviors confirmed that the Brotherhood places the interests of their organization and clan first – ahead of Egypt – and they thereby lost a great bit of the sympathy that had enjoyed among average Egyptians, who love their army – even if only by dint of the mobilization and media discourse they have been subject to over the past six decades since the army-led 1952 Revolution.

Then to make matters worse, they went and tarred everyone with the same brush, thinking that their enemies are all Mubarak supporters and "feloul," refusing to believe that comrades from the January 2011 Revolution were a pillar of the movement that ended up deposing Morsi only one year after he attained office – a historical development that not even the most optimistic Brotherhood leader would have dreamed of two and a half years ago. However, they squandered this opportunity through stupidity and arrogance, along with the belief that they possess the absolute truth, forgetting that they lack the expertise and skills to run the country. As a result, the basic rules of logic and necessity demanded that they work on building alliances and abiding by the promises that Morsi personally made in the famous Fairmont agreement with prominent national figures days before it was announced that he had won the presidency.

However, all this does not mean tolerating or shrugging off the killing of Egyptians by unaccountable security forces. This is not the state that millions of Egyptians launched a revolution in order to build in January 2011. The basic assumption that the Muslim Brotherhood has turned into a terrorist organization that will be eliminated and silenced just through violence is completely wrongheaded. It will cause a further deterioration in the situation and will give the Brotherhood's leadership exactly what it wants.

Everyone knows that the Brotherhood leadership longs for the security forces to commit murder and bloodshed as part of a clear strategy based on the idea that this is what will push the UN Security Council to convene and possibly issue an official statement with the magic words calling for the Egyptian government to "respect legitimacy," i.e. to restore Morsi to power. If the killing mounts, we will soon hear the Muslim Brotherhood leadership calling for the international community to intervene directly in Egypt under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. We cannot allow ourselves to go down that slippery slope.

What we need now is to get back to basics. Putting a stop to the bloodshed is the number one priority, since the nation and its future are at stake. These basics are the reasons the people rose up in the January 25 Revolution, and what the supporters of the old police state are clearly trying to root out: bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity.


The Arab world in translation

I wrote this story recently for the Al Fanar site (a new site dedicated to covering higher education and academic and intellectual issues in the Middle East) : an overview of interesting developments and ventures in translation to and from Arabic. The article has an optimistic title, and certainly the interest in Arabic literature in translation -- which I have seen grow in the 10 years I've lived in Cairo -- is heartening to those of us who know how much great writing there is in Arabic, and who believe that a greater familiarity with it might nuance Western views of this part of the world. That said translation of other fields of knowledge, to and from Arabic, remains dispiritingly low. We included a list of references at the end of the article -- do write in to signal any others you think should be featured. 

New numbers on translations into Arabic

The eminent translator Richard Jacquemond spoke last night at the American University in Cairo's downtown campus (as part of the consistently interesting "In Translation" lecture series). Jacquemond has translated many prominent Arab writers, and most notably most of the works of Sonallah Ibrahim, into French. He also ran a French-government-sponsored translation program (from French into Arabic and vice versa) in Cairo in the 1980s. I went to see him speak mostly because I had so appreciated his translations of  شرف ("Charaf ou L'Honneur") and التلصص ("Le Petit Voyeur"). 

It turns out Jacquemond, who has already written a book on cultural politics in Egypt, is writing a new book on "the politics and poetics of translation" into Arabic. 

Jacquemond started out his talk by criticizing the well-known 2002 Arab Human Development Report claim that:

 The Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one fifth of the number that Greece translates.

The cumulative total of translated books since the Caliph Maa'moun's [sic] time (theninth century) is about 100,000, almost the average that Spain translates in one year. (AHDR 2002, p. 78)

These claim have been disputed, by Jacquemond and others. Critics have also pointed to the way they have been simplistically used to make the argument that if only Arabs had access to Western knowledge and values, they could solve their development problems. 

I agree with this point--there is something condescending, perhaps not in the report itself, but in the ways its claims have been parroted (no one laments the absence of translation from Arabic); and that comparison to Spain has been tiresomely repeated. On the other hand it's impossible to deny that there is a crisis in the creation, access and dissemination of knowledge in the Arab world; that translation (like many forms of cultural production) often requires state support and that all states have agendas. Personally, regardless of the state policies behind it or the media discourse surrounding it, I consider every (decent) translation a gift to someone, somewhere. 

In any case, Jacquemond estimates the number of books that have been translated into Arabic with the funding of foreign governments (mostly the US, Russia and France) and of national initiatives at 10,000 and the number of books translated by the market at 30,000. He estimates that today somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 books are translated into Arabic every year (that number is a big increase over the past, and over the Arab Human Development Report's estimate of 330). 

Taxi, translation and "true" literature

A few days ago, I attended the talk by author Khaled Al Khamissi and by translator Jonathan Wright at AUC. Wright--the former Reuters Bureau chief in Cairo--translated Al Khamissi's Taxi, and Youssef Ziedan's award-winning Azazeel.

The always up-to-date Arabic Literature (in English) has a selection and discussion of Wright's remarks, although the way they are construed makes Wright's approach to translation seem more casual than I believe it to be: Wright said he ended up translating Taxi "by chance," but also that he has always had an interest in translation; his self-deprecation and pragmatism doesn't mean he approaches translation with any lack of rigour or reflection (far from it). The issue of how to translate Islamic formulas came up, and Wright noted that he tends to translate them functionally. It's a valid point, because expressions such as "Insha-allah" or "La illah illa allah" ("God willing" and "There is no God but God") may be more accurately translated, not literally, but in terms of their quite varied contextual meaning. 

The issue of how to translate the different registers of Arabic--Taxi is written in Egyptian Conversational Arabic--was also discussed. Apparently, the Italian translator chose, for example, to use Italian dialect. Wright, after briefly considering using Cockney English, chose wisely not to replace Egyptian dialect with some form of English "dialect." 

I reviewed Taxi back in 2008 here on the blog. It's a lovely little book, and had a big success in Egypt and abroad (particularly in France). It was interesting to me to note, however, how the book's reception in Egypt--where a debate ensued over whether it was a work of literature proper, rather than of reportage or sociology--has been interiorized by its author. Al Khamissi was at pains to describe Taxi as a "literary text," one that was entirely his imaginative creation. That's not quite how the book presents itself--the narrator, in the introduction, states that "for years I've been a prize customer for taxis..I'm one of those people who likes to talk to taxi drivers...this book contains between its covers some of the things that happened while I was in their company between April 2005 and March 2006." When I interviewed the author years back, he gave me the impression that his fictionalized dialogues were based on actual conversations--a fact supported by the specificity of the voices and situations he conjures.

After the success of Taxi, Al Khamissi has been at pains to present himself as a Writer, capital W. This seems to include retroactive re-interpretation of his work: Taxi clearly has a sociological goal, but Al Khamissi today insists it should be discussed "from a literary point of view." He also recently published a "proper" novel--Safinet Noha ("Noah's Ark")-which however has not received the same attention and praise as his earlier work  [Ed. Note: I've been informed that the new novel has actually sold twice as many copies as Taxi; I haven't read widely enough to say with any certainty what the critical reception has been] and he noted that his next novel will be written entirely in Classical Arabic. Given the cultural context in Egypt--the fraught divide between high and low culture, between literature and reportage, Formal and Colloquial--it's hardly surprising that Al Khamissi should become defensive about his commercial success and want to position himself as a "true" artist. But it's too bad, because what was fresh and affecting about Taxi was exactly its lack of pretensions, its combination of genres, and its pitch-perfect rendering of "unliterary" voices. 

Wright, Khamissi at AUC today

As part of AUC's series of lecture on translation, Taxi author Khaled al-Khamissi and his English translator Jonathan Wright will be giving a talk today at AUC's Oriental Hall at 6pm (thankfully, at the Downtown campus.) Theme will be "Translation and its afterlife."

I'm really looking forward to hearing Jonathan's take and hear about the projects he's now working on. The last lecture, by Humphrey Davies, was very good.

Links for Dec.26.09 to Dec.28.09
Get Elected; or, al-Baradei Tryin’ (Part 1 of ???) « THE BOURSA EXCHANGE | TBE translates that ElBaradei interview from al-Shorouq.
Could the Mullahs Fall This Time? - The Daily Beast | Interesting ruminations on whether Iran is near a revolution and the importance of Ashura as a symbol of the fight for justice.
Op-Ed Columnist - The Big Zero - | Economically, the decade produced nothing.
The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب: Saudi Wahhabi Physiognomy: this man should be teaching at KAUST | Funny.
Rasheed el-Enany on modern Arabic lit: not quite a Renaissance | Al-Masry Al-Youm | "I think the status of translated Arabic literature is better than it's ever been."
Two Hamas members killed in Beirut explosion | Unusual... this attack was in a safe, Hizbullah-controlled area.
Activists appeal to Mubarak over entry into Gaza - Yahoo! News |
Egypt said it would prevent their passage because of the "sensitive situation" in Gaza and warned Monday of legal repercussions for anyone defying the ban.
Around 1,300 international delegates from 42 countries have signed up to join the Gaza Freedom March which was due to enter Gaza via Egypt during the last week of December.

Exclusive excerpt from Joe Sacco’s groundbreaking new book: Footnotes in Gaza | I'm awaiting my copy of this book from this great cartoonist.
Sic Semper Tyrannis : Men on Horseback | Pat Lang on the Afghan policy war inside the Obama administration.
Ardebili's laptop - Laura Rozen - | Iran holding hikers and others because US holding Iranians?
Anis Sayigh: and Israeli history of letter bombs | Angry Arab has an interesting post on the Israeli use of letter bombs against civilians.
Officials Point to Suspect’s Claim of Qaeda Ties in Yemen - | Rather suspicious, this Yemen angle at a time when people are trying to confuse the Huthis and al-Qaeda...
The Lives They Lived - Ben Ali - The Chili That Shaped a Family - | Sausages and chilli, served to Obama by an Indian Muslim Trinidadian.
Mainstreaming the Mad Iran Bombers | Marc Lynch | Lynch on NYT op-ed's call for war.
The Nevada gambler, al-Qaida, the CIA and the mother of all cons | The Guardian | "Playboy magazine has revealed that the CIA fell victim to an elaborate con by a compulsive gambler who claimed to have developed software that discovered al-Jazeera broadcasts were being used to transmit messages to terrorists buried deep in America."

Translate this!
The literary criticism web site the Quarterly Conversation runs a feature called "Translate This!" It lists publishers' and translators' suggestions. There were only three from Arabic, copied below:

Translator KAREEM JAMES ABU-ZEID: The single Arab author I believe to be the most in need of translation is the Lebanese novelist Rabee Jaber, born in 1972. He has published a host of novels in Arabic, several of which have been translated into French, yet none of which have been translated into English. He captures the life and spirit of the city of Beirut in unforgettable ways.

Darwish translator FADY JOUDAH: I’d like to see the poetry of the Palestinian Ghassan Zaqtan in English, especially his latest collection, Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me. He has been one of the leading Arab poets for the last decade or so, and has been hailed by Mahmoud Darwish as an important figure in Arab poetry. Zaqtan is also a recognized novelist, but perhaps that would come later, after we have come to appreciate more completely his first love, poetry. Also, the poetry of Syrian Muhammad Maghut and Egyptian Amal Donqul should be made more available in English (I don’t know of any book-length translations of their work); as well as the novels of Palestinian Ibrahim Nassrallah (especially “The Birds of Caution”).

Poet and translator JEFFREY YANG: I’d recommend Kitab al-Hayawan (”The Book of Animals”) by Al-Jahiz. From the ninth century, it’s a multi-faceted, multi-volume book about animals that begins with a passage in praise of books and, as Paul Lunde describes it, “is by no means conventional zoology, or even a conventional bestiary. It is an enormous collection of lore about animals—including insects—culled from the Koran, the Traditions, pre-Islamic poetry, proverbs, storytellers, sailors, personal observation, and Aristotle’s Generation of Animals.” But this is by no means all. In keeping with his theories of planned disorder, he introduces anecdotes of famous men, snippets of history, anthropology, etymology, and jokes.

Do you have suggestions of your own? Tell us!

(link found at the Words Without Borders).
Links for 11.25.09 to 11.26.09
Le journal hebdomadaire | Abou Bakr Jamai's imagines a letter from a Sahrawi.
For Jews, roiling Yemen no longer place to call home | On persecution of the less than 350 remaining Yemeni Jews.
MyMemory - Machine translation meets human translation | Uses records of translations to provide best one possible, Arabic possible.
BBC iPlayer - Document: 23/11/2009 | BBC radio show on Britain's role in the Oman coup of 1970.
AFP: Court jails Moroccan rights activist over drug case | Outrageous imprisonment of whistleblower for denouncing official corruption.
Yemeni refugees caught up in Middle East's forgotten war | World news | The Guardian | Is it forgotten if the Guardian and others keeps on talking about this war, though? It's more that most of the world doesn't care.
Q&A: Iraq war inquiry | UK news | | Interesting info - and note, no such inquiry in the US...
Joe Sacco | The Observer | Interview with the cartoonist author of "Palestine" and "Footnotes form Gaza."
Le Figaro: Uri Davis, Juif et dirigeant palestinien | About an Ashkenazi Jewish Israeli who converted to Islam and joined Fatah.
Is Everybody Disappointed In Obama? | TPMCafe | Because he's a coward, that's why.
Who's Paying?: The Case for More Transparent Policy Discourse | Stephen M. Walt | "Not surprisingly, the exposure of Galbraith's dealings has caused some controversy in Iraq, though remarkably little in Washington."
SHE2I2: Egyptian court upholds comic book ban, fines creator & publisher | "Metro" ban upheld.
Marwan Barghouti: Peace talks with Israel have failed - Haaretz | "I do not see that there are fundamental political differences between Fatah and Hamas."
Morocco relishes dual identities - Variety | On Morocco's film industry.
Public Service Announcement | Center for a New American Security | Andrew Exum stops blogging. I understand him...