The Arabist

The Arabist Podcast

46: "His program is the crisis"

Issandr El Amrani and Steve Negus are back with Ursula Lindsey to geek out on Egyptian politics. Does the presidential election matter? Are Sisi and Sabahi just two variants of Nasserism? Does anyone know what's going on anymore? These and other questions are considered, and Steve tell us about his trips to deep Upper Egypt, where sectarianism is never very far below the surface, echoes of the 1980s and 1990s are pondered and the shockwave of the counter-revolution crashes on some much deeper problems.

The title of this episode, “His program is the crisis,” comes from former Nasser advisor Mohammed Hassanein Heykal’s recent comment on that Sisi does not need an electoral program.

Show notes:

PodcastsThe Editors
45: Underdogs

Arabist podcast hosts Ursula Lindsey and Ashraf Khalil talk to Khaled Dawoud, a prominent Egyptian reporter and activist. Dawoud campaigned to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from power in 2013 but resigned as spokesman for the National Salvation Front, a secular political coalition, in protest over the killing of Islamist demonstrators on August 14. Dawoud has been attacked from all sides of the political spectrum as he continues to argue for a poliitically negotiated solution rather than the ongoing cycle of violence and repression. He looks back on his last three years of activism; the role of the revolutionary; the secular movement and whether, in ousting the Brotherhood, it became the pawn of the former regime and the military.

  • Mohamed Morsi's November 2012 constitutional declaration - link
  • Family of Al-Hosseini Abu Deif alleges he was assassinated - link
  • National Salvation Front Statement on August 14, 2013: "Today Egypt holds its head high..." - link
  • Constitution Party's Khaled Dawoud Stabbed by Pro-Morsi Supporters - link
44: Just how bad is it exactly?

On this podcast, journalists Ursula Lindsey and Ashraf Khalil speak to Human Rights Watch's Sarah Leah Whitson about the greatest threats to human rights across the region, and about how to defend human rights in the midst of Egypt's "war on terrorism" and its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.  

Show notes: 

PodcastsThe Editors
43: Minority Report
A manly president, a bride like the moon -- this is Egypt,  Americans!

A manly president, a bride like the moon -- this is Egypt,  Americans!

The Arabist podcast is back after a long summer break, hosted by regulars Ursula Lindsey and Ashraf Khalil and featuring Lina Attalah, editor of Mada Masr. We discuss terrorism and military operations in the Sinai peninsula; the Egyptian media's cheering of the army; and the shortcomings of Egypt's new constitution.

Show notes:

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42: An opposition strategy

Our latest podcast went up yesterday after a too-long absence. Ursula, Ashraf and I talked about the Dubai art scene and censorship in the Gulf, the UAE and Qatar's soft power, how Islamist governments are doing in Tunisia and Egypt, and then we zero in for a long discussion of the Egyptian opposition's strategy, or absence thereof, and what might need to be changed.

Remember you can always get the podcast first on iTunes.

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41: The Terrible Twos

More chaos and mayhem in Egypt over the weekend on the second anniversary of the January, 25 2011 uprising. Is Egypt becoming ungovernorable? What do the protestors want, can the opposition come up with a credible position, is the Muslim Brotherhood even interested in negotiating? Has the polarization created in late 2012 over the new constitution and Morsi's decree created an irreversible dynamic towards more repression, chaos, and instability? So many questions, so few clear answers — but we give it our best shot.

Show notes:

PodcastsIssandr El Amrani
40: Referendumb

The first round of Egypt's referendum on the draft constitution rushed through by Islamist forces has taken place, resulting in a narrow win for Islamists in early results. Our guest Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, helps us decode the trends, processes, and politics of the current crisis and how it might unfold.

Show notes:

PodcastsIssandr El Amrani
39: Capture the castle

On this week’s podcast, Issandr and Ursula are joined by Human Rights Watch’s Heba Morayef and The Economist’s Max Rodenbeck to try to ascertain which of the developments of the last week we find the most disturbing: Morsi’s extraordinary new powers? The Muslim Brotherhood’s aping of Mubarak-era tactics? A rushed constitution with major contradictions, ambiguities and curbs on freedoms? The stark political polarization? Take your pick.

Show notes

38, Part 2: This is Cairo
Ard Ellewa on Google Maps.png

The Ard al-Lewwa neighborhood of Cairo (Google Maps)

Here is Part 2 of this week’s podcast. This was an experiment: Christopher Lydon of Radio Open Source is in town (with collaborator Mark Fonseca Rendeiro) and we invited them to join us and gathered some of our accomplished friends to discuss a topic that is close to all of our hearts: the city of Cairo and the shape it’s in today. Our conversation with architect and urban planner Omar El Nagati, blogger Mohamed El Shahed and writer/curator Sara Rifki was as rich, dense and meandering as the city itself.

Cairo2050 Plan.jpg

Cairo in 2050, according to a masterplan adopted by the government

We discussed the meaning and potential of Cairo’s reigning informality; how to find a balance between local initiative and state planning and regulation; whether the Muslim Brotherhood has a different urban development vision than the Mubarak regime; and the many exciting ways that Egyptians are laying claim to public space today.

Show notes

38, Part 1: History on repeat

A friend here in Cairo recently told me she felt history was repeating itself all around her: a new Egyptian train tragedy; bodies of Palestinian children being dug out of the rubble of Gaza as Israel carries out yet another bombardment; protesters and police facing off again, on year later, in Mohamed Mahmoud Street.

On Thursday evening President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree that involved some repetitions of its own: he sacked the corrupt public prosecutor (again, after a first failed attempt); he ordered the re-trial of policemen and former regime figures. Most strikingly, he gave himself and the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly immunity from all judicial challenges. “Don’t worry” Morsi repeated half a dozen times during a speech on Friday — the sweeping new powers he has given himself (which include the power to take any necessary action to defend the revolution and national security) are only temporary, and will not be misused, he said. But the thousands of protesters who had already come out and those who had attacked several offices of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party were indeed worried, and fuming, at their sense that history is repeating itself: Morsi is an elected president, but he has given himself more powers than even Mubarak had.

In the first installment of a two-part podcast (we had planned one on a different topic before the crisis), Issandr and Ashraf discuss the weekend’s events. The second part will be up soon.

Show Notes

PodcastsUrsula Lindsey
37: A constitutional Smörgåsbord

The long promised podcast on everything you wanted to know about the new Arab constitutions but were afraid to ask is here. We sit with guest Zaid al-Ali, a member of the team that advised on the Iraqi constitution in 2005 and now advisor to IDEA on constitution-writing, who has been monitoring the constitution-drafting processes in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

We start with Libya, where things are just getting started and the big questions are about federalism and sharing the revenues from the oil sector. Then we look at Tunisia, where the process is humming along despite some hiccups and the new constitution should be adopted by the middle of next year. And finally we take a wide-ranging look at the contents of Egypt's constitution-writing process, just as the controversy pitting Islamists vs. secularists is heating up. What are the real problems with the drafts published so far? Al-Ali's first take is that, perhaps most importantly, that is no revolutionary constitution: it's mostly an adaptation of the previous one, and the divides often exaggerated by a badly managed process.

Grab a beverage and get ready to make use of your pause and rewind buttons: this is a dense one, ranging from Sharia and women's right to the future of civil-military relations.

Show notes: 

PodcastsIssandr El Amrani
36: Mean Streets

Back for another podcast! Ashraf tells us about his ordeal in Tahrir Square, where secularists gathered against Muslim Brotherhood domination. We take a look at the political dynamics of the fight over Egypt's constitution, and the possible scenarios it could lead to. And finally we discuss the last US presidential debate, or at least the bits that have to do with the Middle East, and wonder at the lack of big ideas on either side.

Show notes:


35: The embassy riots and their aftermath

We're back in Cairo and devote most of this episode to the US embassy riots: how they started, what they represent, the culture wars they involve, the MB-Salafi battle for who is the biggest defender of Islam, and much more. Also, we ask, what was Morsi thinking, and how might he make it up in his first visit to the US as president of Egypt.

Show notes:

PodcastsIssandr El Amrani
34: Morsi's Night of Power

We interrupt our break from the podcast to discuss the latest in Egyptian politics: Morsi asserting his presidential powers on August 12, the changes in the Egyptian military and the new generation of officers now in charge, where Egypt's foreign policy might go from here, Sinai and Israel. And domestically, we look at early worrrying signs about press freedom in Morsi's Egypt, and whether the opposition can counter-balance to the Muslim Brothers' strength — if it is even capable of agreeing on anything in the first place — ahead of tomorrow's planned protests.

Show notes: 

33: Egypt's quantum politics, or Schrodinger's transition

It's never a dull day in Egypt. Your exhausted podcasters explain the week that turned Egypt's flailing transition into a full-blown military coup, breaking down the steps: the Supreme Constitutional Court verdicts, SCAF's new constitutional declaration, the dual claims for the presidency, Mubarak's night of the living dead, and more. It's as if Egypt's politics have entered a quantum state, where every possibility is true and false at the same time. Fasten your seatbelts, turbulence ahead.

Show notes: 

From the blog:

32: Really?!?

The usual three are joined by Ustaz Doktor Josh Stacher to discuss the upcoming second round of Egypt’s presidential election, judicial shenanigans and SCAF’s plotting, what kinds of powers the next president will and won’t have, US-Egypt relations, Salafi sex scandals and of course the infamous public service announcement warning against foreign spies that has been airing on Egyptian TV.

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If you have feedback, suggestions, questions or complaints, then get in touch with us at and we’ll address your mail in the next episode.

Show notes:

Podcast #32:

31: A7atein

In this edition of the Arabist Podcast, the first since the presidential election, we talk about the results, how the various candidates ranked, the dilemma facing the one-half of voters who did not vote for Morsi and Shafiq, and the negotiations underway for endorsements. In a break from Egypt,  we discuss the terrible massacre at Houla, Syria and its consequences on the debate on international intervention. And we examine today's verdict from the Mubarak trial, what it means and how angry people are about it — and how it might influence the electoral calculus of the next two weeks.

Show notes:

30: Indecision time

The first round of Egypt's presidential elections are upon us. This week the regular gang is joined by two guests: former Arabist contributor Charles Levinson, who now is a Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and Italian-Egyptian journalist Rolla Scolari  — both of whom are old Egypt hands.

We've talked in previous podcasts about why the context for the election is flawed for multiple reasons. Now we focus about the pure politics: who's ahead, who's trailing, what we think will happen, and what the country can handle — and give an anti-endorsement.

Presidency or bust!

There's 15 days left to the Egyptian presidential elections. We examine the insurgent campaign of Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, ask whether the Muslim Brothers are dangerously off-balance as they try to catch up, look at Amr Moussa's claim that he's the only candidate ready to be president on day one, and wonder whether the Abbaseya clashes and other factors contributing to Egypt's political instability could derail the elections or might simply continue even if there's a president.

Show notes:

28: And then there were 13

Sorry we've been away for so long: travel, work, and sheer confusion and mental exhaustion over the state of Egypt's politics prevented us from getting together sooner. But we're now back with a new podcast, catching up on Egypt's shaky transition and looking at the latest presidential election news — the disqualification of leading candidates, the ones who remain, and what it might take to win the race.

Do check out Ashraf Khalil's recent piece on the Muslim Brothers and Ursula Lindsey's look at Hazem Abu Ismail for The World. I wrote about the disqualification of the leading candidates for The National, with more comments in this blog post. Steve Negus has a smart take on the Brothers' loss in popularity in recent months here. And just a note to say that Syria is on our minds, even if professionally we've been focusing on Egypt. We hope to tackle that thorny subject soon.