Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Further Articles of Interest

22 December 2011

21 December 2011

20 December 2011

20 December 2011

20 December 2011

18 December 2011

18 December 2011

17 December 2011

6 December 2011

5 December 2011

4 December 2011

1 December 2011

29 November 2011

29 November 2011

28 November 2011

27 November 2011

26 November 2011

23 November 2011

22 November 2011

21 November 2011

20 November 2011

20 November 2011

18 November 2011

15 November 2011

30 October 2011

25 October 2011

18 October 2011

11 October 2011

10 October 2011

24 September 2011

10 September 2011

5 September 2011

10 August 2011

12 July 2011

3 July 2011

3 June 2011

25 May 2011

Monday, 26 December 2011

Articles of Interest

26 November 2011

25 November 2011

25 November 2011

25 November 2011

25 November 2011

25 November 2011

25 November 2011

25 November 2011

25 November 2011

24 November 2011

24 November 2011

24 November 2011

24 November 2011

24 November 2011

24 November 2011

24 November 2011

24 November 2011

23 November 2011

22 November 2011

22 November 2011

20 November 2011

19 November 2011

18 November 2011

14 November 2011

2 November 2011

28 October 2011

25 October 2011

14 October 2011

11 October 2011

10 October 2011

30 September 2011

22 September 2011

11 July 2011

18 June 2011

31 May 2011

26 May 2011

24 May 2011

19 May 2011

15 May 2011

9 May 2011

8 May 2011

5 May 2011

1 May 2011

29 April 2011

28 April 2011

27 April 2011

24 April 2011

23 April 2011

22 April 2011

Friday, 23 December 2011

Important Revolution Websites

L'Institut d'Egypte

I was enormously fortunate to have had the opportunity to use the library of l'Institut d'Egypte (pictured above) in the midst of the research for my most recent book, on the development of modern education in Egypt.  I feel particularly fortunate now, given that the venerable institution has fallen victim to a fire ignited during the most recent attacks by the military on protesters near Tahrir Square.

In an interview for the KPFA radio program 'Voices of the Middle East and North Africa,' I spoke about the loss to Egyptian heritage that the burning of l'Institut d'Egypte represented:


The interview was subsequently posted on Jadaliyya, together with a series of images documenting the extent of the damage:


Great thanks to Malihe Razazan of 'Voices of the Middle East and North Africa' for the opportunity to bring attention to this vitally important issue.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Kharabeesh Video of 'Al-Midan'

Don't miss the wonderful video put together by the geniuses behind Kharabeesh, featuring the qasida 'Al-Midan'...

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Friday, 4 November 2011

Latest Post on Jadaliyya

I just contributed a short reflection on my favorite film, Silences of the Palace, and how educators can use Silences to teach about the Arab uprisings, to Jadaliyya:


Saturday, 8 October 2011

Manoubia and Her Son

Please check out my latest post on Jadaliyya...


Sunday, 8 May 2011

Three liberal fantasies about Copts

I have just finished reading Amira Nowaira’s latest column on The Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ website.  As is so often the case with the writings of Egyptian liberals on issues of ‘sectarianism,’ the piece is well intentioned but lazily falls back on mischaracterizations of Copts and their concerns.  I address a few of these below.

1.     “Remaining on the sidelines is no longer a feasible or an advisable option for Egypt's Christians.”

Nowaira echoes here the myth of Coptic apathy or passivity.  But exactly when were Copts passive or apathetic?  Not during the 2011 revolution, when Copts flooded into Tahrir Square alongside Egyptian Muslims to demand an end to the Mubarak regime.  This was, keep in mind, in defiance of the Patriarch’s explicit admonition to Copts at the time, that they should support the regime and stay at home.  Nor were Copts passive or apathetic when a church in the Hilwan governorate was destroyed shortly after the revolution: Again, in defiance of the church hierarchy, they staged a sit-in in front of the Radio and Television Building that lasted a week.  Nor were Copts passive or apathetic during the past thirty years, when they suffered the privations all Egyptians faced under the Mubarak dictatorship, yet built a vibrant communal life within the framework of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

2.     “The Coptic church, like al-Azhar, should remain a source of spiritual inspiration and moral guidance.”

The notion that the Church should not have a role in politics might have had a measure of credence until and shortly after the 1952 Revolution – but for the half century since that time, whether one approves or not, the Church has had an integral role in Egyptian politics that one cannot simply wish away.  Nor would most Copts approve of such a shift.  President Nasser and Patriarch Kirollos VI pioneered a relationship between church and state under which loyalty to the regime was exchanged for recognition of the Church hierarchy as the legitimate voice of the community, as well as the provision of resources.  After a brief interruption of this relationship in the 1970s, the partnership was revived and, indeed, thrived throughout the tenures of Hosni Mubarak and Shenouda.  The Church hierarchy has so skillfully seized upon this partnership with the state that there now exists practically no non-clerical leadership among the Copts.  So to suggest that the Copts relegate their Church hierarchy to a status of moral guardian alone would be to disempower them profoundly and essentially negate the Copts as a political force within Egypt.

3.     “They [Copts] must remember that many great Coptic personalities in the first half of the 20th century helped shape Egypt's outlook and contributed to the political and cultural life of the country by engaging in mainstream politics.”

So contemporary Copts should look back to figures like Boutros Ghali and Makram Ebeid as their heroes?  And yet Boutros Ghali and Makram Ebeid had about as much in common with the majority of Copts of their day as King Farouk had with the majority of Muslims.  There existed no single, monolithic Coptic community then, and there exists no single, monolithic Coptic community now.  Indeed, a critical part of the success of the clergy in wresting power away from lay Copts like Boutros Ghali and Makram Ebeid over the course of the twentieth century was the fact that the clerical forces were much, much closer in social origins to the majority of Copts than were the Coptic lay leaders of the liberal era.  Nowaira’s suggestion that figures like Boutros Ghali and Makram Ebeid should be lionized because they were supposedly ‘mainstream’ only increases contemporary Copts’ sense of marginalization.  They have nothing in common with such people, and why should they?  Perhaps more to the point, why should Egyptian liberals expect them to?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Lesson of the Day: Protest Works!

Elation is the only word to describe my feeling when I read the headline, "Mubarak's sons in 'total disbelief' as they are hauled into jail."  At long last, after two months of waiting, the process of holding the old regime to account for its crimes against Egyptians is properly underway.  That it should have taken quite so long simply to begin the interrogation of those who sat atop the pyramid of graft and corruption that was the Mubarak regime is testament to one of the foremost challenges Egypt faces: Overhauling not simply the personnel, but the entrenched interests and, indeed, the very structure of the old regime.  For make no mistake: The structures of power that kept Mubarak in power for thirty years remain in place to this day.

This is cause for alarm, but certainly not despair.  The most important lesson that, to my mind, we need to take from today's events is a profoundly hopeful one.  Protest works.  The pressure of the people works to effect change.  And it is only by keeping up that pressure that further change will occur.

I've stood accused of 'romanticizing' the revolution, in the face of those who feel that it is too soon even to use the word 'revolution' to describe what is transpiring in Egypt.  Surely it is as clear as day that, for the Egyptians who trek to Tahrir Square every Friday, this is a revolution... or, at the very least, a revolution in progress.  They know all too well how much there is left to accomplish.  They are not about to rest on their laurels.  Why?  Because they saw on February 11th, the day of the resignation, and they saw today, that protest works, that they are the very lynchpin of the revolution.  This is the lesson that the SCAF has sent Egyptians today, that the people of Egypt have power and can exercise that power to effect change.  And for that lesson, I am enormously grateful.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Where Is the Leadership?

"We express extreme grief and sadness over the fall of casualties but we urge the people to stay alert to the attempts to cause a rift between them and the military which supported their legitimate demands since the first day."  So read the statement issued by such luminaries as Essam El Erian, George Ishak, and Amr Hamzawy this past Saturday, after the violent and frankly disgraceful attempt to clear Tahrir Square of protesters that morning.  These men called on the military to "display self control while dealing with the youths whose enthusiasm may motivate them to take actions that cause unrest during this difficult time."

Sound familiar?  The words reek of the paternalism of the old regime, expressed time and time again during the days between the January 25th uprising and the February 11th resignation of 'Papa Mubarak.'  As if on cue, the former president subjected Egyptians to a further instance of this thinking over the weekend, courtesy of Al-Arabiya... but if ever there was a time when Egyptians needed reminding of why they revolted, it is now.  El Erian, Ishak, Hamzawy, and their colleagues behind the statement seem particularly in need of a refresher in the spirit of the revolution.

Was all of this effort expended and sacrifice made for a mere change in personnel?  To my mind, there could exist no greater insult to the martyrs of the revolution than to suggest that this was all about Mubarak.  I say 'no greater insult,' because clearly, as made all too evident by his pathetic claim that he will pursue libel suits against all who defame him, for Mubarak himself, this is all about Mubarak.  In Mubarak's mind, Egyptians proved themselves an undifferentiated mass of ingrates when they tossed him from office.

But who cares what Mubarak thinks?  What counts now are Mubarak's successors and their attitudes to the Egyptian people and their revolution.  The members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces have made their stance plain enough, in trampling so frequently and wantonly on the spirit of peaceful protest inaugurated on January 25th, protest carried forward with such courage and devotion by ordinary Egyptians to this day.  On March 9th, I witnessed one of these insults to the revolutionary spirit myself, from a balcony overlooking Tahrir, when the Square was quite literally overrun by thugs working in collusion with the military.

The attack appeared brutal enough to a visitor to Cairo, but of course, we would soon discover the far worse brutalities, the insults to human dignity, that happened behind the scenes: the transformation of a monument to human civilization, the Egyptian Museum, into a torture chamber; the merciless beating of peaceful protesters, like the singer Ramy Essam; and perhaps worst of all, the imposition of 'virginity tests' on the women protesters.  Disgusting, outrageous, despicable... I lack the vocabulary to describe how the purported 'saviors' of Egypt treated ordinary Egyptians on that day.  The contrast between the protesters, who made their views known in the clear light of day and without malice, and the military, who resorted to the dark halls of the Museum to wreak their vengeance, could not be more stark.

So when looking for leadership, I have looked not to the SCAF, but to the civilians who are now angling for power in the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.  Yet, there too, in the emergent post-revolutionary political class, there seems to exist only cowardice, as demonstrated by the refusal to mount even the most tepid critique of the military.

This charge may seem harsh, and I can imagine my critics alleging that I expect too much from civilian leadership while Egypt is still ruled by the military.  All I can say is that the ordinary Egyptians who return Friday after Friday to Tahrir Square to demand democracy and justice seem unafflicted by the cowardice that prevails in the emergent political class.  They seem able to speak truth to power in a way that ElBaradei, Moussa, El Erian, Ishak, and Hamzawy are not.  In outpacing their civilian 'leaders' in their calls for a 'new Egypt,' these ordinary Egyptians demonstrate that the revolutionary spirit thrives as never before.  They are the ones who give me hope.  They are my leaders.

Update:  Amr Hamzawy appears to have withdrawn his support from the statement and disassociated himself from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.  Further details here.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Revolution Resources

My new website, 'Revolution Resources,' went live this morning.  You can access the site at...


The site began life as a page on my personal website for the benefit of my students and those of colleagues in Middle Eastern studies.  But the number of links became so unwieldy that I decided to set up a separate site, dedicated to collecting articles, documents, images, and videos of Egypt's January 25th Revolution.  Please don't hesitate to spread word of the site to all who may be interested, and if you have comments and/or suggestions, let me know!

Friday, 25 March 2011

A Little Revolutionary Inspiration from the Cinema

The last several days have left the revolutionary cause battered, to say the least, so I thought I'd share two favorite 'revolutionary' film clips to give solace.  [Please note that these both contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen the films already... Well, you've been warned.]

Al-Ard (dir. Youssef Chahine)

Al-Bab al-Maftuh (dir. Henri Barakat)

Google Preview of My New Book

Not exactly a 'thawra thought,' but the Google preview of my new book for those who are interested...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Worst Day Since the Revolution

Today was a catastrophic day for Egypt, for Egyptians, and for the Egyptian revolution.  I was against the slate of constitutional amendments recently approved by referendum, and so was disappointed with the result of Saturday's vote.  But at least there were reasonable arguments launched by partisans on both sides of the question.  Perhaps more importantly, one could revel in the sight of Egyptians taking part in a democratic exercise that was, in relative terms, superior to most comparable votes in modern Egyptian history.

Yet, as I monitored my news feeds from Egypt today, I saw blow after blow after blow landed on the already battered body of the Egyptian revolution, to such an extent that I could scarcely believe my eyes.  First, there was the decision on the part of the Egyptian cabinet to render illegal all demonstrations that have an adverse impact on the Egyptian economy.  Second, there was the amendment to Law 40 of 1977, regulating the establishment of political parties, which would prohibit the establishment of parties on the basis of faith.  Third, there was the warning, issued by Mohamed el-Beltagi of the Muslim Brotherhood, that Egypt may be headed to a repeat of Algeria 1991 if the Ikhwan is not permitted to participate in a meaningful way in the political sphere.  By Algeria 1991, he refers to the decision on the part of the Algerian authorities to refuse to accept electoral victories of the Islamic Salvation Front, a decision that led to a catastrophically bloody civil war in that country.

All of these events illustrate a dramatic and disturbing contraction of space for political discourse in revolutionary Egypt, none more so than the first, which effectively forbids the open participation in politics of one of the most important, if not the most important constituency in the revolution, Egypt's workers.  To think that this decision came from a cabinet whose membership was decided through great struggle and was once endorsed by Egypt's revolutionaries, boggles the mind still further.

Among the most impressive sights that I witnessed during my recent visit to Egypt were not the planned protests in Tahrir Square, but the 'impromptu' protests that would appear to emerge in the streets at a moment's notice.  It was deeply gratifying to observe these protests, as they served as profound testament to the lowering of that much-vaunted 'barrier of fear' discussed throughout the press as critical to making the revolution possible.

What purpose could the above measures serve but to restore that fear?  The purported imperative of 'stability' that is now so often emphasized in Egyptian political discourse should not, indeed must not, be used to revive the fear that characterized the dictatorship.  If there was one accomplishment the revolution achieved in which all Egyptians could take an enormous measure of pride, it was the capacity to demonstrate, to protest, to gather together to make their voices heard.  And now, with these measures, that accomplishment is threatened as never before.

If I were in Egypt now, I would take to the streets again.  For it is not only the spirit of the revolution that is threatened.  It is the very essence of the revolution.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Egyptian Nationalism in a Post-Revolution Age

At those moments when great ideas were being embodied in crowds, when crowds were inventing their own organizations, when the burning urgency of social action became emotionally and almost tangibly perceptible, the people — for suddenly it was no longer merely the crowd, but a people, bearing its own message — evinced implacable soundness of judgment.  It was no longer to be put off with excuses.  Only yesterday it could have been terrorized, bribed or swindled, but now it was displaying an astonishing clearsightedness; or rather, facts and signs, history and day-to-day existence had at last coincided and were interacting on each other.

   Jacques Berque, Egypt: Imperialism and Revolution, on the 1919 Revolution

Now I realize that I spent my life striving for the absolute and that the absolute is the spouse of death.  I realize that there is no permanency and no stability in a life the nature of which is perpetual change.  Now I realize that for me love meant losing oneself in the other.  I realize that my crime was unpardonable because it was I who committed it, because there is no crime more serious than burying the self alive.  My hands are stained with my own blood.

   Latifa Zayyat, The Search

I have never seen so great a concentration of Egyptian flags in one place at one time as I saw in Cairo during my short visit – flags large and small, waved by young and old, painted on the walls of building and the cheeks of children.  Save one place, that is – at a football match.  Without doubt, in overthrowing the dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has won a great victory that is worthy of such celebrations – much as Egyptians would celebrate a great victory on the football pitch.

To liken the revolution to a football victory may seem inappropriate, perhaps a touch heretical – but the parallel is a deliberate one.  For there remains a vital question with which Egyptians must reckon, if we are to make the revolution last longer than the warm but fleeting glow of a football victory.  We need to decide why we are waving that flag, what that flag means, who and what that flag represents.

Indeed, perhaps the greatest theme that I took away from my recent visit to Egypt was the struggle to redefine Egyptian nationalism.  This is a struggle waged in the streets through protests, both planned and impromptu, several of which I witnessed.  There were the Copts in front of the imposing Radio and Television Building, demanding an end to discrimination in employment and the construction of houses of worship, as well as recognition of their culture and way of life.  There were the workers in front of the People’s Assembly, demanding higher wages, an end to corruption, and a voice in the socio-economic reform of their country.  And there were the youth at Tahrir Square, demanding justice for their peers brutalized by the police and State Security.

All of these sectors of the population are seeking to redefine the Egyptian nation in different, important ways – but what they hold in common, I would argue, is the desire to extricate the power to define the nation from the Egyptian state.  For their part, the Copts were defying a Church structure which has long collaborated with the state in exchange for a degree of autonomy in communal affairs.  The workers were defying a structure of unions and syndicates which has long remained co-opted by the state, a means by which to distribute favors to regime loyalists.  And the youth were defying the Ministry of the Interior whose monitoring and violence had sought to instill a systematic fear within the population which served to defuse threats to the regime.

The victories these constituencies have won are important ones.  Habib el Adly, the former Minister of the Interior, will face trial for his abuse of power, and gradually, the crimes committed by his agents in the Ministry are coming to light.  Persistent worker sit-ins have prompted resignations of corrupt managers, and Egypt is now witnessing the rise of independent trade unions.  The military has agreed to rebuild the church near Helwan recently burned in a sectarian attack.

But the challenge of redefining Egyptian nationalism for the post-revolution age remains.  This is why, to my mind, the current debates about amendments to the constitution, the sequencing of elections, and presidential personalities seem rather beside the point.  What was so thrilling about the revolution was how Egyptians seized control of their own affairs – how we took responsibility for such matters as protecting our neighborhoods and cleaning our streets into our own hands.  A state which had consciously abdicated its responsibilities in countless areas was shown, at the end of the day, to be little match for the initiative of Egyptians ourselves.

Now is surely not the time to take a step back and reinvest the state with powers and responsibilities it has abused time and time again in the past.  What I am proposing here is a radical refashioning of the relationship between Egyptians and the state, as part of which the latter will at last become the servant of the former and not vice versa.  If Egyptians are to trust the state again to administer our affairs, the state can no longer remain an arena for barter of loyalties, favors, and resources among power-brokers.  The state must become both more and less than this – more, in the sense of an impartial arbiter for the distribution of resources and the administration of justice, and less, in the sense of a ‘mere’ representative of the popular will.

How to get there from here?  Not, I would suggest, by simply casting aside one set of personnel for a different, ‘technocratic’ set.  The impetus for this new state and, by extension, for a new Egyptian nationalism, must come from the people.  We must continue to set an example for the state, as we did during the revolution.  It is only with the continuing, integral involvement of the Egyptian people in establishing new precedents for administration and welfare that a fundamentally different governing entity will arise – one that is worthy of the revolution.

All of this requires a different nationalism – a nationalism that encourages participation and involvement, a nationalism that embraces diversity and pluralism.  The legacy of post-colonial Egyptian nationalism under Nasser and his successors was one of mobilization but exclusion as well – exclusion of women, exclusion of Jews, exclusion of Islamists.  Is it possible to conceive an Egyptian nationalism that mobilizes without excluding?  I saw glimmers of this nationalism in the revolution, when Islamists rushed to the side of secularists to rescue them from the violence of the ‘thugs’ or baltagiyya.  My hope is that this palpable sense of common cause, this pluralistic Egyptian nationalism, will not be lost in the midst of all the current flag waving.  Because there is a country’s future to be decided, not the result of a football match.