A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Color Video of Cairo and Alexandria in the 1960s

Via Zeinobia, a nostalgic way to see out the old year: a YouTube video of color footage of Cairo and Alexandria in the 1960s: Happy New Year! And days of auld lang syne:

Friday, December 30, 2011

Half a Million Syrians Protesting Today?

On this protest Friday, there are estimates that half a million Syrians turned out to protest today. The total population is only 22 million or so; if that number is real, or even approximately real, we need to pay close attention in the coming weeks, I think. I suspect that, like the Mayan calendar, Bashar al-Asad's calendar runs out in 2012.

As noted here, the Syrian protesters are going back to the first post independence flag, with a green stripe in place of the current red, and three stars instead of two. As in Libya, they're adopting a pre-UAR, pre-Ba‘ath flag as their symbol.

A Happy New Year

I'll probably have a few posts over the long New Year's weekend, but in the event I don't, let me wish my readers a happy 2012. This will be my 946th post of 2011, which gives a hint at how busy this year has been in the Middle East.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Final Comment of the Day on the NGO Raids: SCAF to Arrest Itself Soon?

Since we are assured that the seizure of records and closure of 17 (some say 18) human rights and democracy oriented NGOs today was purely because they were receiving foreign funding, and being the optimist that I am in accepting  the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is the protector of the revolution and not its enemy, I will assume they started with the small fry, and within the next day or two will go after 1) the second largest party in the elections, Al-Nour, heavily funded by Saudi Arabia; 2) the largest party in the elections, Freedom and Justice, funded by the Muslim Brotherhood, which in turn receives large donations from Saudi Arabia and other GCC states; and 3) finally and in order to preserve justice and consistency, SCAF will raid itself, seize its own records, and close itself down, since that $1.3 billion of US military assistance shows it's obviously the biggest agent of an outside power currently operating in Egypt. Then it arrests itself. This is going to happen, right? Right?

Sarah Carr on the NGO Raids

Cairo based journalist and blogger (and Anglo-Egyptian dual national whom I frequently quote) has a piece up at Foreign Policy  on today's raids of the human rights NGOs, "Crackdown in Cairo."

Egypt Raids 17 Human Rights NGOs: Did They Just Shoot Santa Claus?

The Egyptian military receives $1.3 billion annually from the US taxpayer. Today the Egyptian government raided 17 human rights organizations and NGOs, reportedly to investigate "foreign funding." Employees are being detained in their offices, computers confiscated, etc. Among the 17 are the US-based National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute (both of which receive State Department funding), Freedom House, and others.

I am, however, doubtful that all these NGOs put together receive as much "foreign funding" as the Egyptian Armed Forces.

This is a sad day for human rights and civil society in Egypt. It also may be the day that SCAF shot Santa Claus.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Post in Lieu of the End-of-Year Retrospective I Probably Won't Write

Sorry, I just can't resist printing this picture yet again.
This is the time of year when publications, newspapers, websites, etc, all do their "looking back on 2011" retrospectives. Does anybody actually read those? I don't, though I've written a few in my day. I'm on vacation this week; why should I write something even I don't particularly want to read?

You know what happened. Whether you called it "the Arab Spring," " the Arab Awakening," or "Why are My Loyal Loving Citizens Baying for my Scalp?" (if you were a head of state), it happened, and is mostly still happening. So far only one dead head of state, Qadhafi, but lots of dead revolutionaries, especially in Libya and Syria. It's an unfinished business.  Will Egypt's revolution end in revolutionary progress, Islamist regression, military rule, or not with a bang but a whimper? Damned if I know. Will Bashar al-Asad survive? I wouldn't want to sell him a long term life insurance policy, but who can say for sure? Will Salih ever actually leave Yemen?

Now, I think, while avoiding a "Major Stories of 2011" retrospective you won't read anyway,  I may do a collection of some of the most iconic photos of the year, but as for a retrospective, it's all in the archive. I may even list some of my own favorite posts of the year, which are mostly the historical ones. And after January 1 I may give you a summary of what the most popular posts of the year by number of pageviews were. But I don't think I'll relive the year in detail, since who needs to relive what we're still living?

I do note many changes in theme, by looking at my labels/topics list (officially "Categories" over there on the lower right). Although the sexual harassment and abuse of women is a notorious and longstanding problem in the Middle East, and the label has 12 posts in it, every single one of them is from 2011. That's not because the problem arose in 2011 for the first time, but because the revolutionary fervor and the presence of men and women together in the angry streets drove it into the forefront of our attention. Good. Women need to scream about it and men need to stop their denial and hear what they're saying. The Arab revolutions have brought such issues to the forefront, even as they have empowered the Islamists whose views are at odds with the young revolutionaries but whose presence in the streets helped bring down the old regimes.

This rollercoaster ride has just begun, I suspect. I'll talk more about it in the new year of course. Meanwhile, hang on for the ride.

Greek and Armenian Priests at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Prepare for Eastern Christmas their Traditional Way: the Broom Brawl

As the Eastern date of Christmas approaches, the two faiths that share control of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Greek Orthodox and the Armenians, are ceremonially responsible for preparing the church by cleaning it. It's a rare year when there are no disputes: every inch, every candlestick, every window sill is claimed by one denomination or the other. (The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is more complex with more denominations, but less polarized; in Bethlehem the Romans have their own church next door and share the crypt below, but the Greeks and Armenians split the upper church, which dates from Justinian's day.) Now I, or perhaps you, would say that if the other fellow wants to sweep up on my side of the aisle, go right ahead. After all, who enjoys sweeping; besides, this is the traditional birthplace of the prince of peace. But priests and monks wielding brooms today got into it again in their traditional way. (The Armenians are in the pointy hoods. The guys in uniform breaking it up at the end are police.) Peace on earth, good will to men:

Adding the Al Jazeera English video:

Aliaa Elmahdy invites Women to Tell their Stories of Giving Up Hijab

Aliaa Elmahdy, diversifying a bit from her fame (or notoriety) as "Egypt's nude blogger,"  has invited women who wore hijab and then gave it up, or still wear it and have thought of giving it up, to send her their stories telling their experiences, why they wore it and why they stopped, or didn't, and before-and-after pictures. lt may not get the attention of a naked picture of a 20-year-old, but it actually does offer some illumination.

Her invitation (Arabic and English) is here  (the adult content warning is due to the original picture of Aliaa nude, on the same site, not the post in question here), and she is posting the resulting stories and photos here (also bilingual). A story on the subject here.

Return of the Death of Arabic, Part 97 (B)(VII)

I've posted several times here about the frequent expressions of concern that the Arabic language is in danger of being wiped out by declining use and skill, and growing dependence on other languages, usually French and English. Often these laments are written in French or English, but Arabic literacy is also higher than it was a few generations ago. An earlier roundup can be found here, and Qifa Nabki has pointed out that the great lexicographer Ibn Manzur was expressing similar views in the 12th century (though I'm guessing he was worried about Turkish and Persian).

Anyway, the latest cause for alarm: concern that the Emirates does not have enough Emirati nursery staff to get the kids started out right.
Arabic: still dying after all these years.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Roundup of Egyptian Links

With so much going on in Egypt in the last 10 days or so, and the approaching holidays, there were a number of important articles, blogposts and the like I didn't have time to link to. If there are any of these you haven't already seen, let me recommend them to you.
  • Mahmoud Salem (Sandmonkey), "Underneath." (Depressing but worth reading.)

Samira Ibrahim Wins Her Case

Samira Ibrahim, the only victim of last spring's notorious "virginity tests" in Egypt who had the courage to take her case to court, has finally had her day in court, has was won her case, with the Administrative Court ordering military prisons not to perform such tests. Though the Military Prosecutor has said the decision is moot since no procedures existed for the tests and a doctor involved (unnamed) was being prosecuted, and the military could still appeal the ruling.

Samira Ibrahim's claim for compensation has not yet been argued; this decision addressed the "urgent" part of the case by ordering the procedures stopped. But it still represents a victory in that it establishes the procedure is unacceptable.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Latin Christmas in Bethlehem Videos

Al Jazeera English's coverage of Latin Christmas in Bethlehem:

Since most Middle Eastern Christians celebrate on the Eastern (Julian calendar) date, there'll be more posts on Christmas in the Middle East as that date approaches.

Colloquial Egyptian Political Posters

 An interesting addition to our periodic posts on colloquial Arabics and diglossia: "To Promote Democracy, Artist Taps into Power of Egyptian Dialect," from Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Holiday Note

As I noted Friday, MEI is closed this week. I will post to the blog less frequently, but will have a few things to say as the Middle East itself is not closed. More later.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Rerun: The Coptic Stories of the Holy Family in Egypt

Though the Coptic Church celebrates Christmas on the Eastern date, January 7, I thought a suitable stocking-stuffer for Western Christmas might be this rerun from  back in 2009, on the folklore surrounding the Flight into Egypt in the Coptic tradition. Oh, and Merry Christmas to all.

Since we're in between Western Christmas and Eastern Christmas, I thought it might be a useful time to call to your attention the extremely detailed traditions Egypt's Copts maintain about the Holy Family and the Flight into Egypt. There is hardly a Christian church in Egypt — and there are some mosques, too, since Jesus and Mary are highly venerated in Islam — that doesn't claim that Jesus, Mary and Joseph dropped by for a while. They must have been constantly on the move to have covered so much ground, but you can't build up a good pilgrimage trade if you don't stop frequently.

Now, the Flight into Egypt gets only a couple of verses in the Bible and is only mentioned in one Gospel, Matthew, so the extremely detailed accounts of the Coptic stories have more to do with pious elaboration — or pilgrimage tourism — than history, but the stories can be quite charming. Some are based on an apocryphal Armenian infancy gospel, some on local traditions, etc. The Coptic traditions hold that the Holy Family spent three years in Egypt.

I am shamelessly cribbing this from Chapter XXXI of the late Otto Meinardus' Christian Egypt Ancient and Modern, (Cairo: AUC Press, 1965; Revised Edition 1977). Meinardus was a major figure in Coptic studies; German-born, he wrote mostly in English or French, taught at the American University in Cairo, and was an ordained Lutheran pastor. (Judge for yourself what Martin Luther would have thought of some of these stories.) He died in 2005. But I have to condense all the details considerably; his chapter runs over 40 pages. There's also a detailed online site, with pictures (text approved personally by Coptic Pope Shenouda, they say), for those interested. And tours are available.

It seems the Holy Family traveled with a midwife named Salome who isn't mentioned in the Gospel but plays a role in the Coptic stories. Instead of heading straight to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, they seem to have zigzagged to the Plain of Jericho, then Ashkelon, then Hebron (at least according to the various churches and monasteries situated in those places), then proceeded to enter Egypt via the Land of Goshen, en route to the town of Bilbays. Along the way they had an encounter with a dragon in a cave, and were approached by wild lions, but of course they all bowed down to the Baby Jesus. At Bilbays they rested under a large tree, which was venerated in the Middle Ages by both Muslims and Christians as the Virgin's Tree, which stood until 1850. Then they headed to Samannud, where there is a church on the site of a well blessed by Jesus. (Early Christian apocryphal infancy Gospels, as well as the Qur'an, have Jesus talking while still in the cradle.) Then they detoured northward to the Mediterranean coast at Burollos, stopping there according to the monks of the place. Then, perhaps at Basus or Sakha in Gharbiyya (Meinardus speculates on the place), Jesus left his footprint on a stone.

Needless to say, they could not ignore the Wadi Natrun, the Coptic version of Mount Athos, where the four great monasteries of the Desert Fathers still stand (but of course didn't then as Christianity hadn't been founded yet), though why they were wandering in the desert instead of the delta in those days isn't explained. Passing by from a distance, Jesus said to his mother, "Know O my Mother, that in this desert there shall live many monks, ascetes and spiritual fighters, and they shall serve God like angels." (Apparently Mary would have known what a "monk" was, though it's hard to know why.) Anyway, you can ask the monks if you doubt any of this.

Even though Cairo wasn't there yet, you know Cairo isn't going to let all these other towns have a claim and not find some of its own, don't you? First they went to On, the ancient Heliopolis, not on the site of the modern suburb of that name but on the site of Matariyya. There Jesus took Joseph's staff, dug a well, and planted the staff, which grew into a tree which became a goal of pilgrimage and was venerated by Muslims as well as Christians. (The Qur'an has a story of Mary resting under a palm tree, and this and the Matariyya tree became conflated in later folklore.)

From there, the Holy Family went to a site where, centuries later, the Harat Zuwaila quarter of Cairo would rise; the Church of the Virgin there is one of the oldest in Cairo proper, and the convent has a well blessed by Jesus.

(If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned their stop in the Fortress of Babylon, in a church many tourists visit today, it's because they stopped there only after their tour of Upper Egypt. Trust me, it's coming.)

Next they went to Ma‘adi, today an elite southern suburb of Cairo, and attended a synagogue. Joseph got to know some Nile boatmen, who offered to take them to Upper Egypt. (You're wondering how an exiled carpenter and family fleeing from King Herod can afford all this Grand Tour? Don't be so cynical: the legend has it covered: using the gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the Magi.)

I'm going to condense a bit here since every Church of St. Mary up the Nile seems to mark a site where the boat stopped and they visited a well or a palm tree. But since Upper Egypt remains one of the more Christian parts of the country, they couldn't skip such Christian centers as Sammalout, Asyut, al-‘Ashnmunein, or the great monastery known as Deir al-Muharraq.

One of the legendary sub-stories here deserves telling, though. Up near al-‘Ashmunein, two brigands who had been pursuing the Holy Family since Matariyya (must be the gold, frankincense and myrrh again) tried to rob them. They grabbed Jesus and Mary cried, and one of the robbers repented, and they left them. And — as any folklorist should have figured out by now — these were the same two thieves, including the same Good Thief, who would be crucified alongside Jesus! How could it be otherwise?

The constant travels were finally relieved when the Holy Family were taken in by a devout Jew and lived for six months (and ten days: I told you the stories are detailed) at the Monastery of Deir al-Muharraq, south of al-Qusiya. The monks of the monastery say it was the first monastery in Egypt, built just after the arrival of Saint Mark as the Apostle of Egypt. If you doubt that, take it up with the monks, not me.

Then the angel came to Joseph and told him it was safe to go back to Palestine. (That part actually is in the Gospel of Matthew, unlike everything else in this post.) They stopped at pretty much every Coptic village that would ever have a Church of the Virgin on their way back down the Nile, and feeling they had not yet done enough for future Cairo tourism, they stopped inside the Roman fortress known as Babylon and, perhaps having run out of gold and frankincense, stayed in a cave that is today the crypt of the church of Saint Sergius (Abu Sarga), conveniently adjacent to the Coptic Museum and included on many Cairo tours.

I hope I don't sound too cynical here: the stories are charming and are clearly a pious attempt to elaborate on a brief reference in the Gospel in order to make the Christian link to Egypt more tangible to believers. On the other hand, the sense that every Church of Saint Mary in Egypt actually sheltered the Virgin and Child seems a bit credulous.

I hope my Coptic friends recognize that I am helping spread knowledge of your tradition, even if I may not accept every detail as historically attested. I'd really like to know more about that dragon.

Holiday Blogging Note

The Middle East Institute will  be closed all next week. Unfortunately, the Middle East itself will not. I will blog occasionally as we approach Eastern Christmas and as developments require. I will also have further posts later today. But don't expect the usual pace of postings.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Moneltahawy on This Week's Horror: Two Interviews

After getting in three posts on Thursday that weren't about Egypt, the week's horrific events bring it back, and though I plan to leave you for the weekend with a suitable Christmas post, I have to go back to "the photo" or "the blue bra woman" or whatever you're calling it, but what Hillary Clinton called "systematic sexual degradation of women."

During the violence in November on Mohammed Mahmoud Street, where I used to live back in Sadat's day, the well-known journalist Mona Eltahawy was arrested, beaten, sexually abused,  one arm and the other hand broken, and she promised, in a tweet I printed then and will print again (strong language warning again): 

Her broken arm and hand have apparently limited her ability to deliver the blast in print that I suspect is coming,  but the whole beating/dragging/stripping of the woman in an abaya, sadly now known mostly for the blue bra she never expected the world to see, Mona Eltahawy had offered these thoughts to Wolf Blitzer at CNN and to the BBC. Both are worth watching. I still want to see her written version when she's able. If anybody can stare down SCAF, it's this tough and proud woman. As I said the last time, "I, for one, am looking forward to it. I think they finally [messed] with the wrong Egyptian woman."

Arab League Delegation Head Has, Um, An Interesting Résumé

As several people are noting in social media, the Sudanese general named to head the Arab League mission to Syria to negotiate a monitoring mission is, as this Daily Star report notes, a former Sudanese intelligence chief whose résumé includes:
- Sudanese army officer for 30 years, from 1969-1999
- Head of military intelligence from June 30, 1989 -- the day Omar al-Bashir took power in a coup -- until August 1995
 - Head of the foreign spy agency, 1995-1996
- Chief of military operations against the insurgency in what is now South Sudan, 1996-1999.
Dabi served as ambassador to Qatar from 1999 to 2004 but also held four separate positions related to Sudan's Darfur region, where fighting broke out in 2003 between non-Arab rebels and the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime.
Among his duties there, Dabi served in 2005 as the regime's pointman for dealing with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1591 on sanctions and other measures related to the conflict.
Sudan's President Bashir is among six people who are being sought or are before the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes allegedly committed in the Darfur region.
I can't resist wondering: is he going to monitor the Syrian Army crackdown, or offer them professional tips?

A Christmas Prediction

It's December 22. Any minute now, all the TV networks should be airing their once a year "Christmas in troubled Bethlehem" spots. At least it helps boost tourism, but Bethlehem's problems are there year round, as is the wall that separates it from Jerusalem.

Iraq: Bloodshed Amidst the Power Struggle

The death toll in this morning's coordinated bombings in Baghdad is at least 63, and coming as it has in the midst of the growing dispute between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, whom Maliki is trying to arrest for alleged murder plotting, it's worrying; I've been preoccupied with Egypt, but Iraq is simmering.. Hashimi is Sunni; Maliki Shi‘ite, so the sectarian aspects are obvious; if that weren't dangerous enough, the fact that Hashimi has taken refuge in Kurdistan adds to the explosiveness of the situation, with the potential for a confrontation between the central government and the Kurds,

This  is being portrayed by some of the talking heads as a dangerous power play by Maliki (and it is clearly risky), by others as a sign that the US shouldn't have left Iraq since the last boot was barely inside Kuwait when this erupted. But the US left because the elected Iraqi government would not sign a status of forces agreement; barring outright imperial occupation there wasn't much choice.

Juan Cole's take on the issue is more complex, seeing Iran, the MEK at Camp Ashraf, and Syria as all factors in the equation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Remembering the Revolution's Great-Grandmothers: Hamieda Khalil, Hoda Sha‘arawi, Safiyya Zaghlul and the Revolutionaries of 1919

Women Demonstrating in 1919
I've posted previously about resemblances between Egypt's revolution of 1919 and the ferment that brought down Husni Mubarak. Yesterday's big march by angry women evokes memories of another march some of their great-grandmothers may have joined, the first great demonstration by women during the 1919 Revolution (sometimes called an uprising by the British Occupation it sought to end, but always thawra to Egyptians.)
With the crescent-and-cross flag
Women had played a role from the beginning of the troubles, and on March 14, 1919 a woman from Cairo's Gamaliyya district, Hamieda Khalil, was killed, the first woman martyr of the revolt. Two days later, on March 16, Hoda Sha‘arawi organized a demonstration consisting entirely of women, at least 300, to march and protest. March 16 is now celebrated as Egyptian women's day. Much of what little is available about Hamieda Khalil is in Arabic, or in general accounts of women in the Revolution, and I don't know if she was ever photographed.

Hoda Sha‘arawi
On multiple occasions, however, I have posted about the pioneering Egyptian feminist Hoda (Huda) Sha‘arawi, who famously stepped off a train in Cairo in 1923, returning from a feminist meeting in Europe, without her face veil. She became the heroine and patron saint of Egyptian feminism. But as the 1919 march shows, she was an activist long before she took off the veil.

Hoda Sha‘arawi & Safiyya Zaghlul
Another early activist and feminist was Safiyya Zaghlul, wife of nationalist leader Sa‘ad Zaghlul; her husband's forced exile to the Seychelles by the British was the spark that ignited the 1919 Revolution. Sha‘arawi and Safiyya Zaghlul are shown together at right.

These women were the pioneers. I'm sure they'd applaud yesterday's March, but also be appalled that things have not progressed more and may in fact be moving backward.

Today's Fairuz Christmas Carol

 An Arabic version of "Go, Tell it on the Mountain"

Moncef Marzouki: A Different Sort of President

I've been so preoccupied with the dramatic events in Egypt I've ignored much of the rest of the region. Including the increasingly interesting new Tunisian President, Moncef Marzouki. Though his constitutional powers are a bit vague, he's already shown himself to be a rather different sort of Arab leader; for one thing, he plans to auction off four of the Presidential palaces, and he doesn't wear a tie. Here's a useful profile.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Egypt: The Women's March

Today, some 10,000 women of all ages and background marched in downtown Cairo to protest military violence directed at women, including the now famous woman beaten and stripped by the military police in what Secretary of State Clinton called the "systematic degradation of women." The photos confirm the presence of young and old, clad in Western garb, hijab, or even niqab, many of them carrying the photo that went around the world.

Meanwhile the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued its latest communique (number 91) as it always communicates, by posting an image on its Facebook page. (Text is in Arabic.) They promised to investigate and punish those responsible for the notorious "virginity tests," and those responsible for the Maspero killings.

Um, your generalships, sirs, the "virginity tests" outrage took place last March. Thank you so much for your prompt attention. These are clearly not just the young activists of Tahrir: SCAF has riled Egyptian women. Their communique suggests that after days of suggesting that the photo was a fake, they really are starting to catch on to what happens when you kick a hornet's nest, or kick a woman whose abaya you've pulled off in a video that's gone around the world.

Here's one of many videos of the march. A line of men protected the women marchers. Not all Egyptian men are like those who so disgraced the uniform.

Hannukah Greetings

There's much going on but the ill-timing of some founder back in 1947 means that The Middle East Journal's winter issue goes to press at the beginning of January, and I've got much to do before the holidays. Since I'm unlikely to get back here before sundown, when the first day of Hanukkah begins, let me take the moment to wish my Jewish readers Hanukkah greetings.

Antidote to the Previous Post

The last post was angry and fury-inspiring, as the subject deserves. But it is Christmas week so let's offset it. Fairuz sings "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in Arabic:

Secretary Clinton Denounces "Systematic Degradation of Women" in Egypt

Secretary of State Clinton yesterday: "This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people." Fuller quote and link are below.

Neither "the photo" nor the story are going away, whatever SCAF may wish. It's being discussed everywhere,While I also blame the protesters for provoking the military to some extent, there is no excuse for this sort of behavior.

If you weren't enraged the first time you saw this photo, let me warn you that closeups don't make it any better. Sorry to subject you to the brutality again, but it gets worse with detail. Look at the closeup. The young woman is clearly wearing what appears to be a conservative abaya, and thus also hijab. Stripping her is thus even more offensive and misogynistic.

If you look at the closeup video below (though it's also visible in the more wide angle video I previously posted, and is the second video below, with the assault around (0:58), you'll see that the bastard on the right does exactly what it looks like he's about to do: kicks her directly in her breasts, twiceat about 0:42 and 0:47 in this video. She is protected only by her now world famous blue bra. At least he's wearing soft shoes, not a jackboot. I'm sure she's grateful, if she lived. If you can stomach it, watch both videos in fullscreen  mode.

Speaking as someone who has known Egypt for nearly 40 years, worked closely with the Egyptian military for about 8, supported our $1.3 billion in aid (mostly military) till about now, but also despise misogyny, sexual abuse, and the subjugation of women, I am still outraged. SCAF says it's responding to provocateurs. I admit I think the protesters share blame here, not least for the destruction of the Institut d'Egypte, but I cannot imagine any provocation that could justify those kicks.  Secretary of State Clinton spoke out directly about the abuse of women, speaking at my alma mater, Georgetown, yesterday:
Recent events in Egypt have been particularly shocking.  Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago.  And this is part of a deeply troubling pattern.  Egyptian women have been largely shut out of decision-making in the transition by both the military authorities and the major political parties.  At the same time, they have been specifically targeted both by security forces and by extremists.
Marchers celebrating International Women’s Day were harassed and abused.  Women protesters have been rounded up and subjected to horrific abuse.  Journalists have been sexually assaulted.  And now, women are being attacked, stripped, and beaten in the streets.  This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people.  As some Egyptian politicians and commentators have themselves noted, a new democracy cannot be built on the persecution of women, nor can any stable society.  Whether it’s ending conflict, managing a transition, or rebuilding a country, the world cannot afford to continue ignoring half the population.  Not only can we do better; we have to do better, and now we have a path forward as to how we will do better.
Mona Eltahawy, herself a recent victim of beating, broken bones and sexual abuse at official hands, talks to CBC about the latest incident:

I hope SCAF remembers whose tax dollars are buying their equipment. Mine. I am restraining myself from expressing how angry this makes me, but not everyone is.  I'll keep strong language off here for the moment (though they're pushing me), but it's no coincidence, that this (language warning) is a popular twitter hashtag.

Continuing Christmas Week: Fairuz Singing "Jingle Bells" in Arabic

As we count down to Christmas, an old video (since Fairuz is 76 these days, and probably the most famous Arabic woman singer since the death of Oum Kulthoum), of Fairuz singing "Jingle Bells" in Arabic. (Western Christmas music in Arabic this week, except for some Maronite stuff; Eastern Christmas music between Western and Eastern Christmas January 7). we did a religious song (Silent Night) yesterday (Fairuz is Christian, born Maronite but I believe Greek Orthodox after marrying into the Rabbani singing family), I thought I'd add a more secular one.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Steven Cook on Egypt's Bloody Weekend

 A good piece on Egypt's trauma by Steven A. Cook at Foreign Policy; he blames both sides:
What is perhaps most disturbing is that the weekend's battle, which left 10 dead and hundreds injured, didn't seem to have a point. The young toughs who descended on Qasr al-Aini Street after news spread of the Army's efforts to clear the area seemed less concerned with principle than combat. Having cut their teeth and paid for it with the loss of 45 lives in late November clashes with the police and military, these kids seemed to be looking for payback. Qasr al-Aini Street bellowed with chants of "Death to the field marshal" -- a reference to Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) head Gen. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi -- rather than the significantly more inspiring "Freedom! Freedom!" that echoed through the concrete canyon of Tahrir during the January uprising.
How did Egyptians get to this warped, demented, bizarro version of Tahrir Square? It is easy to blame the SCAF, as so many have, but the generals have also had a lot of help. Each of Egypt's primary political actors -- the military, revolutionary groups, Islamists, and liberals -- have contributed mightily to the country's current political impasse and economic collapse through a combination of incompetence, narcissism, and treachery. This has left a society on the edge, one in which minor traffic accidents become near riots, soldiers beat women with reckless abandon, and protesters burn the building containing some of Egypt's historical and cultural treasures.
Do read the whole thing.

For Christmas Week: Fairuz Sings Silent Night in Arabic

Each year during the holiday season I talk about Christmas as celebrated by Middle Eastern Christians. Middle Easterners get two Christmases (December 25 and January 7) to start with; Armenians celebrate even later. I ended up posting through the weekend due to the grim stuff going on in Egypt, and I can't guarantee this week will be much better. But I can start the week with the great Lebanese singer Fairuz (now in her 70s, so this is an old clip), singing "Sawt al Eid", or "Silent Night" in Arabic.

#FreeRazan is Free Now: Can We Work on the Rest of Syria?

Arrested Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi is now apparently free, according to her sister.

Good, wonderful in fact, but don't forget the thousands who have died and the unknown numbers still in prison who  had no international campaigns and Facebook pages and #FreeRazan Twitter hashtags working for them. Let's not forget them. And for all those Syrians who aren't technically in prison, but are virtually so.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Another Attack in Tahrir

Like a train wreck, I'm horrified but can't take my eyes off it. So one more post. Hopefully we can shift to Christmas in the Middle East tomorrow. Some Twitter activity from the early morning (4 or 5 am by now Cairo time) on attacks in Tahrir. CSF are Central Security Forces (Quwwat Amn al-Markazi)  under the Interior Ministry, who seem to be taking the lead instead of Military Police today. Strong language warning in at least one case. Mix of Arabic and English posts.

This Was Inevitable. I Wish I'd Thought of It.

I've given enough of my (allegedly blog-free) weekend to Cairo's horrible weekend, but this is too inevitable to pass up, given the obviousness of the comparison, the hypocrisy, and the double standard. From the Arabic version of the "We Are All Khalid Said" Facebook site, via Laleh Khalili crediting Sarah Carr, this piece of what appears to be viral xerox lore:

Short and rather free translation for the non-Arabists (captions from right to left of course): When a girl [Aliaa Elmahdy, for those who spent the last month on another planet] deliberately of her own free will posed stark naked, people said 'Shame' [haram, "Totally forbidden"] and nobody said "it's Photoshopped"; when a girl [the woman in an abaya, beaten and stripped in Qasr al-Aini in the now famous photo] was stripped naked  against her will, people said 'It's Photoshopped.'" As I've noted, it's also shown on video, so it's not Photoshopped. (Do they think the demonstrators have their own CGI studio? No, they think the masses won't know any better.)

The bold text is emphasized in the original.

Analyses of "the Photo" at The Atlantic and The Guardian

That photo I ran yesterday (and run again here) of the woman beaten and stripped in the street by military police, and who was indeed apparently wearing a black abaya before it is pulled up to reveal her bra, has become in the past 24 hours one of the most-seen pictures around the world. Max Fisher at The Atlantic analyzes both the photo and the video of the beating and exposure, and the taboos it breaks in Egypt. 

Ahdaf Soueif performs the same sort of analysis at The Guardian.

If this photo (and the video, which is worse, and which I posted yesterday) doesn't undermine the authority of SCAF, I don't know what will. It should outrage every Egyptian woman. Oh, and every Egyptian man, too.

Cafe Riche

 I posted about Cairo's Cafe Riche back in August, questioning whether its currently dining out on its onetime reputation, among other things. I once went there daily, but these days I hear the reopened Riche (it was closed for most of the nineties) is overpriced and touristy. But The Economist has a good piece about its glory days, better documented than some of the stuff I've seen.

Documenting the Brutality

SCAF's denials notwithstanding, and many Egyptians' apathy as well, modern multimedia are doing a good job of documenting the brutality of the last few days. Here are several sites collecting them, and I'll add others to this post as I find them: (Warning, violence, graphic bloodshed, disturbing images):

SCAF Capitalizing on Growing Gulf Between Tahrir Revolutionaries and the Rest of Egypt

The bloody confrontations of the last three days in Cairo are disturbing, but public opinion outside the human rights community and the activists seems to be sympathizing with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces rather than the demonstrators. Many are dismissing even the photo showing a girl beaten and stripped by military police to expose her bra (immediate previous post) as either photoshopped (though there is video) or as if it were somehow justifiable. There is outrage among the elites, but the rest of the country seems placid, unlike the story in January and February when workers in factories and in provincial cities were also up in arms.

That adds to the evidence that SCAF is calculating that the vast majority of ordinary Egyptians are tired of revolutionary confrontations, yearning for stability and normality after a year of change and disruption of the economy. Plenty of commentators have commented on the sharp contrasts between the "Tahrir bubble" where the demonstrations were occurring, and the rest of the country, where people enthusiastically voted in the elections. The widening gulf between the revolutionaries in the square and ibn al-balad, the ordinary Egyptian in the street and countryside, is apparently real, and the burning of the Institut d'Egypte played into SCAF's hands, allowing them to blame the demonstrators for the destruction of irreplaceable national treasures.

It is possible for SCAF to overplay this hand and miscalculate, especially the international reaction to photos like the "blue bra girl" as some are calling her. (Egyptian Twitter users have used #BlueBraGirl  but seem to have settled on #TahrirWoman as more dignified: she didn't do this to herself.) But the young revolutionaries may have been the ones who played into SCAF's hands tactically, though nothing can justify the relentless brutality and sexual abuse. Unfortunately, this contest is not being fought in discussion seminars, but in blood. And the Parliament emerging from the elections may seek to define the New Egypt in very different ways than the young revolutionaries would prefer.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

They Say Isis' Tears for Osiris Give Rise to the Nile Flood . . .

It's been a second, dark day in Qasr al-‘Aini and Tahrir. If the tears of Isis really give birth to the Nile flood, I fear there's high water coming in Egypt. (Though Denial, which apparently is a river in Egypt, seems to be rising as well.) The toll of the dead is rising, and the level of injuries is appalling. Two iconic images among many: the Institut d'Egypt/Scientific Society building burning (second photo), taking with it priceless documents dating to the Napoleonic expedition, and a woman demonstrator (first photo. at top) being beaten and partly stripped to reveal her bra in the  street by military police. The latter is already on tomorrow's front pages (the Sunday Times  of London for one, and the independent newspaper Tahrir for another: the Arabic headline reads "Liars!") on tomorrow's front pages, and is likely to outrage a great many people, as well as evoke memories of the notorious "virginity tests." Even so, some people are saying it's fake, though both stills and video exist. Some have even suggested the black garment may even be an abaya, the traditionalist covering.

The loss of the Institut d'Egypte may be due to a protester's molotov cocktail, but the vision of uniformed authority beating, kicking,. and stripping protesters is disturbing to say the least. Despite the usual declarations that the protesters are plotting against Egypt, one of those killed  yesterday was an Azhari sheikh.

The videos are also disturbing and clearly show the exposing of the young woman by the troops at the 0:58 second mark (warning, brutal violence):

Today the Army reportedly moved into Tahrir and broke up the encampment, also the field hospitals in the square, at ‘Umar Makram mosque and the Anglican Qasr al-Doubara church, and arrested some of the doctors. Western medias were reportedly ordered to stop broadcasting.

It's getting worse, despite the success of the elections. Outside of Cairo people may believe that SCAF is still on the side of the revolution, but the growing dichotomy between the revolutionaries and the broader society is as bothersome as the spreading hostility towards SCAF.

(Strong Language warning here. Actually, repeatedly so in the policy statement below.)

A second sad day; blogger Zeinobia has her usual collection of stills and videos,  and an unusually candid and profane title for her, "We are Fucked!!". 

Language policy addendum (strong and repeated and R-Rated language warning here):
A note on language policy to any offended readers on the uncensored language in the last sentence of this post: I originally used asterisks here (f**ked), which has been my policy up to now with exceptions; on reflection, I see that that was watering down the message Zeinobia, who doesn't normally use such language either, intended by using it to deliberately shock, so I've removed the asterisks to restore her powerful meaning. I'm going to explain in this excursus why, in the future, on rare occasions (as has actually been done previously) I may cite strong language uncensored and directly on the blog, which requires repeating the word "fuck" multiple times (not in its sexual but in its intensifying, expletive sense),  just this once. If that seriously offends you, don't read any further.  A search of Zeinobia's website suggests she's never previously used the word in any form, at least lately, and certainly not in a post title, so I undercut her deliberate transgressiveness.
People who use profanity constantly deplete it of all shock value. There are those who cuss like a longshoreman or a drunken sailor, for whom, as someone once said, "fucking" is just a sign that a noun is coming. I've worked as a journalist covering the military, and journalists and the military are among the most avid users of the word. (There's a story from some well known literary source that in WWII an RAF mechanic hit a propeller with a wrench and exclaimed, "Fuck! This fucking fucker's fucked!" Though spoiled by the intrusion of a non-obscene "this", the result is both joyously pure, or I guess impure.) That renders a word that used to shock rather anodyne, and makes the speaker seem vocabulary-challenged. But people who use taboo words only in extreme cases, when they're really, really angry or shocked (okay, really fucking angry: see the difference from "really, really angry"?), deserve to be heard with all the taboo letters in place: they chose the vocabulary not out of habit or lack of alternatives, but precisely for its effect.
If I'm going to quote Zeinobia's "We are fucked!!" at all, as seemed necessary to me here to show the despair and anger involved, I should quote exactly what she said.  Sorry if I offend those who preferred f**ked (and many doubtless found even that offensive), but I felt I was betraying her original intent to shock, and other than possibly "forked," I can't think of another word f**ked could be hiding.   It also strikes me as condescending to readers who, of course, know what the asterisks stand for, so they don't euphemize, they weaken. When you read "f**ked," do you say in your own mind, "F asterisk asterisk CK?" If you do, please seek professional help soon. The asterisks (or dashes, or saying "the F-word") conceal nothing from the reader, gut the author's effort to shock, and reveal my own timidity. On reflection, I feel I was cowardly. In fact, I fucked up here. I trust the difference in impact between that and "I made a mistake" is clear. The fact that I don't normally use the word (at least in print), that you're not used to seeing it here, adds to its power.
Be honest. "Fuck" fairly shouts and screams at the average reader, slaps you in the face like a challenge, demanding attention, especially if the author never or rarely uses it; as if your pastor or your grandmother or Mother Teresa suddenly said "Fuck you!" It may shock: in fact it's intended to shock, but you can't ignore it, unless it's part of that person's everyday vocabulary, in which case it's neutered by overuse and you filter it out. Since the word almost never appears on this blog, my overuse of it now may shock, but precisely because you don't see it here everyday. It gets your attention. You can watch a gangster movie and hear it hundreds of times without blinking, but when your eight year old says it, the reaction is quite different. Words are just words, so there's no word that should be banned always and everywhere, but words have power.  They are not magical (though they have an inner power); they are never beyond our control; they are our creatures and do not control us; but they do have power to move, to anger, to arouse. "Fuck" still, despite decades of pervasiveness in the media and daily argot, has a lot of power in all those areas (at least in print), and is too powerful a word for most casual discussions, and overuse robs it of its power, which is to rob it of its shock value.
But it's still just a word, not a magical talisman; it is our servant. When an author uses it deliberately and only once in a blue moon for that shock value, to euphemize or asterisk is to take away its power.(Anyone who will never, ever use "fuck" or any other English word is limiting their vocabulary just as surely as the person who uses it as their universal adjective. It has even appeared, once to my knowledge in The Middle East Journal. (No, I'm not telling you where or when.) It is giving a word that does have great power a magical and superstitious import. Don't fear the word. Respect it.)  Zeinobia is no drunken sailor. When she used it, I should have left it intact. 
On the other hand, "f**k" is a lot less urgent and screams "censored" (or "cowardice") rather than "shocking" (whereas "fuck" is fucking urgent, as it were); the asterisks let you know the user, or whoever censored the user, doesn't really mean it, and suggests the original author was as timid as I, and she wasn't. And besides, the unedited word has previously appeared in my blogposts, though in images of Twitter tweets, such as Mona Eltahawy's memorable "Just wait you fuckers" tweet after her sexual assault.
That was an image, which would have required Photoshopping, which is why I let it stand without editing, but with a language warning, but "you fuckers" conveys her mood at the time or she wouldn't have tweeted it, whereas "you f**kers" weakens the force. They'd just brutalized, beaten, groped her and otherwise abused her and sexually assaulted her. I'm pretty sure I would have been a lot more obscene than she. They'd earned the extra "uc."  Since the uncensored word has appeared here before, directly on the blog, unasterisked, and was used by the author(s) (I presume) for its shock value, I'll let it shock with the full force here as well, if I quote them at all. If you're not shocked, then you don't mind; if you are shocked, I think that was the intent. If you object profoundly, stop reading when you see my "language warning."
 I always said I'd keep this site rated PG-13, but if this Wikipedia entry is true, you can use the word one to four times (though this post exceeds that) and still be PG-13, particularly when used as an intensifier rather than its original explicitly sexual sense. (Which, if you think about it, constitutes a tiny percentage of the word's actual usage outside of erotica. The root meaning is almost forgotten.) Not that I plan to push that envelope. You probably won't see the word again for weeks or months, after this exposition. And in quotes, not from me, at least absent extreme anger or provocation.
So, precisely because overuse negates the word's shock power, I intend to limit using this and other strong words to direct quotes and links, not in my own voice (except in this post), and only when I feel a quote rather than a link is essential. Mona Eltahawy's is one example; Zeinobia's another. This isn't a new policy, but the earlier uses directly on the blog were asterisked or were shown in images. It and other imprecative, pejorative, sexual, transgressive, or obscene words that may appear in citations, will still very rarely appear on the blog itself; I'll link instead when I can. I will continue to give advance warning of rough language, as I always have, but unless higher authority overrules me on this, I'm done with the asterisks, the useless (fucking) asterisks. They hide nothing. (If the source uses asterisks, though, I'll keep them. I'm not going to be explicit when the source was not.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Year Ago Tomorrow, Mohamed Bouazizi Struck a Match . . .

. . . and the fire is still burning. A year ago, on December 17, 2010, an unknown street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi, in the little-known town of Sidi Bouzid. Tunisia, frustrated by his struggle as a street vendor despite having a college degree, hassled by a police officer, poured gasoline over himself and lit a match. He didn't die until January 4, by which time Tunisia was in turmoil. A year later, Ben Ali and Husni Mubarak are out of their jobs, Qadhafi is dead, Salih in Yemen is transitioning out of power, and Bashar al-Asad is on the ropes.

Have a good weekend.

The Battle of Qasr al-‘Aini: Another Bloody Friday in Cairo

Last night and today central Cairo has seen another bloody battle between protesters and the military and security forces, coming in the wake of a relatively quiet second round of elections. The various accounts of how the clashes broke out are conflicting, but the military's attempt to break up a three-week-old "Occupy the Cabinet" encampment was the spark, and there are lots of videos showing soldiers throwing rocks from balconies at the demonstrators (left), etc. At least two are confirmed dead and some buildings are said to be afire.

Timelines through the day can be found at Ahram Online, at Al-Masry al-Youm, and at Al Jazeera English, firsthand descriptions from Issandr El Amrani, from Marc Lynch, who was there for the elections, and from Zeinobia. You can find a lot of video from the day here and here, as well as those I've included below.

Though there's clearly a disconnect between the peaceful handling of elections throughout the  country and the violent clashes on Qasr al-‘Aini street around the Cabinet building, it's clear that the pressure on the military council is likely to continue. I'll post on the weekend if developments seem to require comment.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) and the Middle East (and MEI)

The passing of Christopher Hitchens is naturally provoking a lot of comment online, and since he often was engaged in controversy over issues relating to the Middle East, a few words here may be in order. His many incarnations as a public intellectual, journalist, author, debater, controversialist, and maverick all-around bomb-tosser guaranteed that at some point in his career he managed to offend almost everyone: Israelis, Palestinians, Islamists, opponents of the Iraq war, and probably others as well. Slate has a collection of reminiscences up.   I can't imagine many people agreed with all his opinions, which often seemed contradictory; in his later years his hostility to political Islam and support of the Iraq war alienated some of his old friends on the left. His knowledge of the region always struck me as broad but perhaps a bit shallow; still, he kept people's attention.

As he wrote so prolifically, I'll avoid linking to much more. I thought this time capsule from 20 years ago, however, might be of interest: he keynoted the Middle East Institute's Annual Conference back in 1991:

Fred Hof: Asad Regime is a "Dead Man Walking"

Frederic C. Hof, one of the State Department's point men on Syrian policy, has not bothered to mince words:
“This regime is the equivalent of dead man walking,” Hof told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East today. “But the real question is how many steps remain. I think it’s very difficult to project how much time this regime has.”
Though he specifically says that it is the "regime" that is the "dead man walking," most reports are treating it as if he were speaking of Asad personally.

Now there are a lot of people speaking in the name of the Administration, or the State Department, who don't know what they're talking about and are speaking out of their (inappropriate orifices). I can personally testify that Fred Hof is not one of them. Fred and I were in the same class in the Georgetown School of Foreign Service back in the 60s, and unless I'm mistaken there's no one in the current Middle East policy/think tank/diplomatic/government/academic community I've known as long as he. We don't see each other that often these days, but when Fred speaks on Syria or Lebanon, I listen. He has a track record. He served a full US Army career before becoming a diplomat. During the Lebanese civil war he was waiting at a checkpoint in Beirut when he took a round from a sniper, probably Syrian, though he recovered. Yet he later negotiated with the Syrian government. He basically wrote, with little credit, the Long Commission report about the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, and when he retired from the Army some years later, at a surprise party at "Mama Ayesha's" iconic Arab restaurant in Washington, the then-Commandant of the Marine Corps showed up. How many Army Lieutenant Colonels get the Marine Commandant at their farewell? I also had the privilege of being there.

Fred went on to a long, and continuing,  career in diplomacy. Both before and since he left the uniform behind, he has worked in both Democratic and Republican Administrations as a close advisor to such critical negotiatiors as Philip Habib, Richard Armitage, and George Mitchell.

He published a book on the Israel-Lebanon border line in the 1948-49 war and has written essential monographs about that region and the whole Golan issue.

As I said above, for these reasons, when Fred Hof speaks on Lebanese and Syrian issues, I listen.

Gingrich Meets an "Inventor"

I steer pretty clear of US politics here, since MEI is not taking any sides, but given Newt Gingrich's remark that the Palestinians are an "invented" people, it's just irresistible not to reprint this, which is now all over the place:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Couple of Notes on Blog Milestones

I see by the archive on the right that as of my last post, I've posted 903 times in 2011. And it's only December 15. I don't have a quota, and some of those posts are just links or photos, but others are pretty substantial; in any case it's the first time I've gone over 900. (No, I'm not going to write 100 posts between now and New Year's, so we won't hit 1000.) In 2009 (the blog launched in late January of that year),  I reached 855, and last year 767. That does mean, however, that more than 2,500 posts have appeared on this blog since its inception. Obviously the reason for the higher number this year is "Arab Spring," or since it's December let's use the increasingly popular "Arab Awakening," but I still thought it worth noting, even if I missed noticing both the 900 and 2,500 benchmarks precisely when they occurred.

Time for the Periodic Obscure Linguistics Post

It seems like over the last couple of months we've spent so much time talking about Egyptian elections, Tunisian governments, Naguib Mahfouz' centenary, Bashar with Barbara Walters, banning bikinis (and in counterpoint, the "nude Egyptian blogger" affair and its aftermath and imitators), that I've really neglected to post very much on extremely obscure linguistic points about Middle Eastern languages you've never heard of, for which I apologize. I realize of course that profound historical change, literary genius, and revolution, all interest some of my readers, but for the frustrated pedants among you, relax: I've got links on two languages from two completely distinct language families on different continents: Libyco-Berber (Afro-Asiatic) and Hazaragi (Indo-European). Happy now?

Though these links (which are other people's work of course, not mine) do not quite reach the sublime obscurity of my post on (possible) Punic and Berber influences on Etruscan last June, those of you who need a respite from the contemporary may find them useful.

For Libyco-Berber, the linguist/blogger Lameen Souag, he of the Jabal al-Lughat blog, has posted two pieces on Libyco-Berber at the MNAMON website, one on the writing system, and the other on the language itself. It's obvious not much is known of the latter.(If the second and third links act up, as they're doing for me, you can access them via Jabal al-Lughat.)

Hazaragi lies at the other end of our region, where it is spoken by the Hazaras of Afghanistan. Closely related to Persian, Dari, and Tajik, though it has other influences, including Turkic and Mongolian loanwords, in keeping with the tradition that the Hazara are of Mongol origin. (They're also Shi‘ites in heavily Sunni Afghanistan. This post discusses both their language and their history.

Only Our War is Over

As the last US forces furled and cased their colors and prepared to leave Iraq, a reasonable amount of apprehension about the future of that country is understandable. After eight years, in which a "cakewalk" became a quagmire but, in time, was stabilized, what did the US accomplish? What was once a regional power providing a counterbalance to Iranian power is a much weaker player on friendly terms with Iran. It has an elected government and a fragile stability whose future is uncertain. Some of the most difficult questions of all, such as the future of Kirkuk, remain unresolved. We haven't talked about Iraq lately, in part I think because of a US determination to put it behind us. It's Iraq's problem now.

Whether the war was "worth it" will be debated for a long time, in Iraq and in the US. What happens next may influence how that question is ultimately answered, I suspect.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Future of Tourism in Egypt if Islamists Have Their Way: Is There One?

This young lady (photo courtesy The Arabist) is quite fetching to be sure, in what is sometimes dubbed a "burkini," but is she really the future of tourism in Egypt? Will American, British, French, Italian and Israeli tourists (I won't even bring up the Germans) be content to dress accordingly on Egypt's beaches (perhaps, since in some scenarios the males will all be somewhere totally separate), while sipping nothing stronger than lemonade, drawn solely to learn about the ancient culture, where the statues of pharaohs and their queens may be covered with cloth to protect their modesty, while the statues of gods and goddesses are hidden because they're graven idols? And where couples may be asked for marriage certificates when checking into hotels? In a country where tourism is a major source of hard currency and where the tourist infrastructure is extensive, it seems unlikely, But some of the Islamists who are feeling giddy with victory in the first phase of elections are talking about creating a "sin-free" tourism sector, banning not just alcohol and bikinis, but mixed bathing and perhaps more. Some Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, are trying to downplay the idea,  and given the country's economic plight, torpedoing the tourist industry hardly seems wise. The Islamist who was recently quoted as saying "They came to see the ancient civilization, not to drink alcohol," may misunderstand why people go to resorts like Sharm al-Sheikh or Hurghada, both of which are sorely lacking in ancient monuments, and  known purely as beach resorts.

Sharm al-Sheikh, for Now
Now, I think that that paragon of journalism The Daily Mail is going too far in proclaiming "The end of Sharm al-Sheikh?," and I'm sure Egypt's hotel industry will weigh in on these issues, As will the ruling military, which, I believe, may have some investments in the tourist sector.

In danger of extinction?
It's true, of course, that Hurghada and Sharm al-Sheikh are almost utterly alien to most Egyptians who haven't been there and who couldn't afford them anyway; the tourists aren't wearing bikinis in Egyptian villages or downtown Cairo. (So don't share this link with any rabid Islamists. It's a collection of YouTube videos of bikini contests in Hurghada.)

Cover up, Isis! You too, Horus!
The talk about censoring or otherwise concealing ancient Egyptian monuments seems equally counterproductive. If people are coming only for the ancient culture and not the beaches, are you going to hide the ancient culture? It naturally and disturbingly calls to mind the Taliban blowing up the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Since Egyptian gods and goddesses tend to be wearing loincloths and headdresses and not much in between (hey, it gets hot there in summer, and there was no A/C),  I suppose it is inevitable that some people are going to want to cover them up, even if they weren't already idols to begin with. Yet even the classic Isis/Horus madonna-and-child at left, extremely well-crafted as it is, will be taboo.

The cognitive dissonance between "they should come for our ancient culture" and "the ancient culture is pagan and evil" is going to be a problem as well.

Not too long ago Zeinobia printed this cartoon on her blog, which nails it down pretty well: the man — judging by the dome I think he represents Parliament — is shackled with balls and chains representing Egypt's problems (food issues, unemployment, poverty, abuse of women, etc.), and he has visibly empty pockets, but he is shouting about getting rid of bikinis.

They'll be ok with this though:  no bikinis here.

No Bikinis Here; Just Belts or Bronze Age G-Strings

The CIA's Big Burn in Lebanon

We learned in recent months that the CIA had seen some of its local covert operatives rounded up in Lebanon following an apparent security breach caused by Hizbullah infiltration; las Friday Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV named some names, identifying at least 10 CIA agents oerating under diplomatic cover at the US Embassy. For the Al-Manar reports, see here; for secondary accounts, here and here and here.

One can assume that the Lebanese nationals whose cooperation was exposed are in deep trouble; the Americans under diplomatic cover whose cover was blown are professionally hampered. We may never know all the details, but it's certainly a setback. Even ads Iran is disassembling our stealthy remotely piloted vehicle, Hizbullah has disassembled CIA operations in Lebanon and had at least some of its tradecraft revealed.

I see nothng to be gained by restating the information already leaked; it's out there openly and there's little to add; those named are already gone. But in the shadowy world where such stuff takes place, the US has clearly suffered another setback..

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More on Mahfouz Translations; Questions About Sotheby's Sale

UPDATE$ Dec. 14: Sotheby's has withdrawn the Mahfouz collection from sale.

 Following up on my long interview with Raymond Stock on translating Naguib Mahfouz for his centenary, Al-Masry Al-Youm has a useful piece on the trials and difficulties of translating Mahfouz.

Also, Arabic Literature (in English) discusses speculation about the provenance of some Mahfouz materials up for auction at Sotheby's; who is the seller, said to be a North American collector, of this cache of archives not previously known to Mahfouz scholars?

Both articles are worth reading. Also see Ursula Lindsey's memories at The Arabist.

Later: Raymond has also given a new interview to Arabic Literature (in English.) He seems to identify the seller in the Sotheby's auction.

Marzouki Sworn in in Tunisia

Moncef Marzouki has been sworn in as Tunisia's President; Al Jazeera English describes it as a moving ceremony as he pledges to remember those who died in the Revolution.

On the Eve of Round Two

Phase Two of Egypt's Parliamentary vote will be held tomorrow and Thursday, in nine more governorates,  including Giza in the greater Cairo area. It will be interesting to see if the large Islamist vote seen in the first phase is repeated; liberal parties have been trying to coalesce rather than split the vote this time, but with uncertain success. In some parts of  the countryside, parties representing stalwarts of the former NDP, or fallul ("remnants") as they're now known in Egypt, may show strength due to longstanding patterns of patronage. It should be informative, whether we like the results or not.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Two Quick Springborg Updates

Following my post of earlier today on the "Springborg affair," Bob himself writes to note that Magdy Galad goes after him again in today's Al-Masry al-Youm; (link is in Arabic); and Egyptian blogger Sarah Carr takes on Magdy Galad with the powerful skewer of ridicule. (She identifies Bob as Australian; he lived there for a very long time, but he's actually, indeed, a Yank.)(Relatively mild language warning.)

What it's Supposed to Look Like After a Revolution

Tunisia's newly seated constituent assembly has been busy, first adopting an interim constitution to allow a government to be set up during the writing of a permanent one, and then, today, choosing (as agreed previously), Moncef Marzouki of the CPR, the second largest party, as President. (Hamadi Jabali of al-Nahda is Prime Minister.) Marzouki is a longtime human rights activist who spent time in prison and in exile under Ben Ali; Jabali spent the period between 1992 and 2006 in prison. Tunisia had a revolution this year, so this is not surprising; the old opponents are in charge now.

Egypt also had a revolution this year. It is currently governed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which consists of the entire military high command that served under Husni Mubarak; its Prime Minister is Kamal Ganzouri, who also served a term as Prime Minister under Mubarak a while back; at least two members of the Cabinet are carryovers from the last Mubarak Cabinet. Egypt is one third of the way into elections that will lead, perhaps some time next year, to a constitution being drafted and a President elected. Maybe next year at the earliest.

Do you see any differences between the results of these two revolutions?