Grey Wool Knickers They breathe

February 23, 2009

On conspiracy theories—عن نظريات المؤامرة

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , — admin @ 11:10 am

I should clarify that the suggestion articulated in my previous post that the regime may have had some hand in yesterday’s bombing is total conjecture, suspicious though it is that it falls on the same day that one of Cairo’s newest dailies, El-Shorouk carried the (perhaps-premature) headline “Repeal of Emergency Law in March” prominently on its front page. The fact remains that the regional landscape is changing significantly with Isreal firmly entrenched in a reactionary—nay, fascist—collective mindset (with notable exceptions, of course), the historic role of the PLO hobbled by an increasingly-illegitimate Fatah, the fitful rise of Hamas, a new American administration still playing it close to the chest and the reconfiguration of local, regional and international powers through a combination of movement-from-below and global economic pressures. Senescent though the Mubarak regime may be, it is not unaware of the shifting sands beneath its feet. It is to be expected that it will seem to relent in certain areas where it can afford to take a limited loss (as in the release of Ayman Nour) in exchange for a better relationship with those reconfigured powers. But, for the time being at least, the regime clearly feels uncomfortable with giving up its power to detain and torture arbitrarily under the Emergency Law. Perhaps when those sands have stopped shifting—when it is possible to identify with some certainty who it is necessary to label as a terrorist—maybe then the regime will be willing to replace the Emergency Law with a more limited, but equally oppressive, Anti-Terrorism Law. That the regime has a history of using false-flag terrorism toward such ends provokes the conspiratorial sensibilities of many Egyptians, as well as this American.

February 22, 2009

Explosion at Hussein Mosque in Cairo—إنفجار عند جامع الحسين بالقاهرة

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , , — admin @ 9:57 pm

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Photo from AP

As several people have noted, this comes at a very suspicious time, considering that the extension of the State of Emergency (in place since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, with a brief break during Sadat’s presidency) was just about to be considered once again.  Mubarak’s government has been promising for years to come forth with an anti-terrorism law to replace martial law, which would at least give citizens some protection under Egypt’s constitution.  The regime is currently able to invoke the Emergency Law to do whatever it wants, which is what readers here will recognize in the abuction of Philip Rizk and Diaa Gad, among many others.  With the changes afoot in US and Israeli administrations—along with increasingly vocal, powerful and interconnected resistance groups, domestically and across the border in Gaza—it seems the aging Mubarak regime is getting nervous and finds little option to maintain its grip on power but to resort to a strategy of tension.  I think the recent release of celebrated political prisoner Ayman Nour should be considered as evidence of the panic roiling the upper echelons of this dictatorship.  For developing news on this event, check this delicious feed.

February 8, 2009

Demonstration at AUC to Free Philip Rizk—مظاهر في الجامعة الأمريكية لإطلاق سراح فيليب رزق

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , , , , , , — admin @ 7:50 pm

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This afternoon, AUC students—not generally a very politically-active lot—and a number of faculty came out in support of one of their own.  (more…)

The Kidnapping of Philip Rizk—إختطاف فيليب رزق

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 7:35 am

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Sarah Carr has written an excellent eyewitness account and brief analysis of the kidapping of Philip Rizk, a German-Egyptian AUC graduate student in the Middle East Studies program.  He was abducted by state security forces (أمن الدولة) coming home from a march to Qalubiyya.  I generally would have just added this link to my usual Delicious feed, but I think this article deserves special attention for its effectiveness in pointing out the sickness of the Egyptian state.  At the same time, I want to be careful not to overstate the importance of the lack in the myriad Egyptian security forces of what has come to be know as “professionalism”.  I remain unconvinced that a “professional” police or military force, operating under “the rule of law” is a substantial improvement over an “unprofessional” one.  At least in the case of the latter, we can more easily discern the true face of power without the mask of a civilized demeanor.  It is for the same reason that Arab members of Israel’s Knesset have in some sense looked optimistically at the swing to the right in the legislative body, saying “the mask will fall and the real face [of Israeli democracy] will be revealed”.

If you are one of those people with the right connections (وسطة), please feel free to bring them to bear to help secure Philip’s release.

To stay abreast of news on Philip’s case, you can follow Hossam ElHamalawy’s Delicious feed on the subject.

January 29, 2009

Trip to Upper Egypt & Sudan—رحلة إلى الصعيد و السودان

Filed under: Masr —مصر,Nile—النيل — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:27 pm

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This is coming a bit late, but I wanted to get some photos up from our recent trip to Upper Egypt and the Sudan.  Adrienne has a more of the story here. (more…)

May 26, 2008

More on the “General Strikes”—مزيد من الكلام عن الإضرابات العامة

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , , — admin @ 9:49 pm

ّI just read a few of my friend Daïkha Dridi’s articles and they made me a bit depressed.  Mostly because, even after all this time with Arabic, I could largely read them in French, even with my 17-year-old high-school French that I never practiced with actual French-speakers.  I could skim her articles better, or maybe about the same, as most Arabic articles I come across.  That’s depressing.  Granted, I couldn’t produce a French sentence to save my life at this point, and much of my understanding is due to the number of cognates.

But, aside from this, I found the articles wonderful, and I wish I’d known about them earlier so as to refer to them, both for information I was lacking in my research on the “bread crisis” and to direct readers to her.  On the Facebook issue, I don’t disagree with her assessment, though I look at it from a different perspective.  Despite the fact that Facebook users mobilize the rhetoric and the more spectacular (I mean this in the derogatory sense) forms of radical left politics, I still think it is worthwhile to consider the April 6th Facebook movement on its own level.  From the radical left perspective, they certainly seem to be effecting a sort of détournement (to use her word, translated as “hijacking” by Google Translate) of the movement of militant labor in Egypt, but there is certainly more going on than this. (more…)

May 14, 2008

Can Ug99 Speak?—هل تقدر أوغندا٩٩ على الكلام؟

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , — admin @ 7:01 pm
This article was originally commissioned for Is Greater Than. It follows a wheat plant disease, Ug99, through the constellation of human and non-human actors that have turned a decades-old and once-regional fungus into a major threat to global wheat production.

The place that most people in the West think of when they think of Egypt—the Egypt of the Pharaohs and the builders of the pyramids and the grand temples—was a place of great mystery and even greater power, both political and spiritual. Much of its political power owed to the agricultural wealth produced on the banks of the Nile and in its Delta, and much of its mystery and spiritual power came from that same source: a fickle river whose catastrophic floods could destroy tens of villages or entire cities and whose inadequate flow could spell years of famine. And Ancient Egyptian mythology was always a line of communication between those two axes of power, a constantly-evolving method of translating the whims of the natural world into political certainties, and vice versa, the whims of political rulers into natural expressions of divine will. (more…)

May 6, 2008

Facebookists for Regime Change—الفيسبوكيون لتغيير النظام

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , , — admin @ 11:17 am
[singlepic=847,320,240,,center] Collection of Facebook banners by Sami Ben Gharbia/Global Voices Advocacy

This article was commissioned for Is Greater Than

When Mark Zuckerberg, a 19-year-old Harvard drop-out, launched Facebook in 2004, he could not have imagined that one day his project would become the primary organizing tool for a vast movement of anxious, frustrated Egyptian youth. (more…)

May 5, 2008

May Day, May Day—This is Egypt—عيد العمال في مصر

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 5:21 pm

This article was commissioned for Is Greater Than

In this year’s May Day address to the nation, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak promised government workers a 30% salary increase. This came a day after the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest parliamentary opposition group, unexpectedly called upon its members to participate in a May 4th general strike initiated by Facebook members in protest against rising prices and a lack of political avenues for a solution to the country’s problems. Among those problems is the bread crisis I wrote about last week in Is Greater Than. (more…)

April 28, 2008

The Egyptian Bread Crisis—أزمة الخبز المصرية

Filed under: Masr —مصر — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 5:13 pm

This article was commissioned for Is Greater Than

Speakers of Egyptian colloquial Arabic use the same word, عيش (‘aish), for both “bread” and “life”. Indeed, bread represents on average around 50–60% of Egyptians’ caloric intake and is the perennial complement to every meal. Cairo streets in the mornings are awash in the stuff, with the smell of bread wafting out of bakeries and mingling with the ever-present car exhaust, men and boys criss-crossing through traffic on bikes, balancing as many as a hundred of the flat loaves in wooden racks on their heads, vendors distributing the loaves from special racks on their backs or on blankets or sheets of plastic on street corners, carts and hole-in-the-wall shops doling out small sandwiches filled with فول (fuul, cooked fava beans) and تعمية (ta’maya, an Egyptian variation on falafel). (more…)

January 24, 2008

The High Dam & the “General Good”—السد العالى و المنافع العمومية

Filed under: Masr —مصر,Nile—النيل — Tags: , — admin @ 12:25 pm

The following is a slight modification of my in-class essay for Dr. Rick Tutwiler’s class on the Nile river. The question was quite simply, “Should the Aswan High Dam have been built?” (the “general good” in the title is a reference to Rifa’a Rifa’ al-Tahtawi’s equation of the notion of “the general good” with that of “industriousness”): (more…)

January 22, 2008

Mega-projects on the Nile—مشاريع هائلة في النيل

Filed under: Masr —مصر,Nile—النيل — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 10:37 pm


A post on “mega-projects on the Nile” can perhaps best be introduced by pointing out the differences between the English and the Arabic versions of the term “mega-project”. The English version is a strange neologism which, according to Merriam-Webster, arose in 1976. “Mega”, literally, is of course a simple multiplication of the unit which follows it by 1,000,000 (or 1,048,576 in the context of data storage). Colloquially, it simply means “enormous” or “gigantic”, but its literal multiplicative meaning should not be ignored. Similarly هائل (ha’il) can also mean “gigantic”, but there is no arithmetic involved, and its other meanings are instructive. According to Hans Wehr, the word comes from the verb هول (haul), to frighten, scare, terrify, appall, horrify, strike with terror. The entry for the adjectival form then reads thus:

هائل—ha’il: dreadful, frightful, terrible, horrible, appalling, ghastly, awful; huge, vast, formidable, gigantic, prodigious, tremendous, stupendous; extraordinary, enormous, fabulous, amazing, astonishing, surprising; grim, hard, fierce (battle, fight)

To blend the English and the Arabic, mega-projects can be seen as the public-works version of “shock and awe”, rendered terrible not by their incalculability, but, in fact, by the enormity of their numerical exactitude, the triumph of rational order over “silent nature.” (more…)

January 21, 2008

Desert Development Center—مركز تنمية الصحراء

Filed under: Masr —مصر,Nile—النيل — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 11:29 pm


Today took us on a field trip to AUC’s Desert Development Center (DDC) in Liberation Province. Liberation Province is part of the “New Lands” of Egypt, desert areas that have been reclaimed for agriculture (although they haven’t technically been REclaimed because the area has been hyper-arid desert for eons, it is simply being claimed). It comprises a westward expansion of cultivated land from the Delta. (more…)

January 16, 2008

Nile water quality management—رقابة جودة الماء النيلي

Filed under: Masr —مصر,Nile—النيل — Tags: , , — admin @ 11:58 pm


Today we had a visit from Edward Smith, a professor in AUC’s Construction and Environmental Engineering department. He informed us about the particulars of pollution and water quality management on the Nile through a very well-organized lecture. Almost too organized. (more…)

January 15, 2008

The Violence of the Nubian Museum—بطش المتحف النوبي

Filed under: Masr —مصر,Nile—النيل — Tags: , , , — admin @ 11:58 pm


How wonderful of Egypt and the International Community to come together to construct this museum to depict the lives of a disappeared culture as a monument in honor of…their own generosity. (more…)

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