In memoriam: Dr Abdelwahab El-Messiri

July 4, 2008
Dr Abdelwahab El-Messiri, April 2008

Dr Abdelwahab El-Messiri, April 2008

Thursday morning, July 3, 2008, Dr Abdelwahab El-Messiri passed away after a long bout with cancer. Dr El-Messiri was from the small Egyptian town of Damanhour in the Nile Delta, but when his brilliance was discovered by teachers in high school, they helped him to apply for a Fulbright fellowship to attend Columbia University, where he received a masters degree. He went on to complete a PhD in comparative literature at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He returned to Egypt to teach literature at Ain Shams University.

He is most famous in Egypt for writing the many-volumed “Encyclopedia of Jews, Judaism and Zionism.” Anyone who has traveled in the Arab world knows that for many Arabs, hatred for Zionism all too easily shades into a thoughtless anti-Semitism.  But El-Messiri actively fought against this and his work clearly repudiated nonsense like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  He never allowed anyone to utter a disparaging word about Jews or Judaism in his presence, reminding them of the clear difference between Judaism and Zionism.

El-Messiri’s attention turned to politics more recently when he signed on, in 2007, to be the coordinator of Kifaya, a grassroots pro-democracy movement in Egypt.  But he maintained his active interest in literature, and he recently published an illustrated bilingual English-Arabic edition of his magnificent translation of Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture and blogging: “I forgot my password”

June 4, 2008

There’s a brief but poignant article on Associated Press about an Egyptian blogger who was arrested after the 6 April protests and only just released after being tortured in detention.

“We were subjected to electric shocks, to beatings and there was no food and or drink for the first few days,” blogger Karim el-Beheiri told AFP a day after his release. “We went through weeks of torture and humiliation.” …

These little lines in the article give us a moment of insight into the psychological effect of torture on the blogger:

He said the first thing he wanted to do when he got home after the release was to blog the events.

“But I couldn’t remember my own password.”

“We will not be celebrating”

May 5, 2008

“We’re not celebrating Israel’s anniversary”

The letter linked to above (full text at the end of this posting) appeared in The Guardian‘s letters section on 30 April.  It’s notable that all signatories are Jewish activists.  It made me think about how credibility is conferred (or not) on one’s ideological and theoretical positions by virtue of one’s ethnic, religious, national or sexual identity.  For example, remember when a few weeks ago Khaldoun experienced some racist comments posted to the blog that provoked a rethinking of our comments policy?  One of the comments that we decided not to publish claimed that our blog postings and positions were transparently the thinking of “Arab Moslems.”  This comically points to the fallacies of simplistic reasoning about the relationship between identity and theory, since most of Khaldoun’s contributors are not Muslim and only a couple of us are Arab.  But it is a reminder that people do make those links, and that knowledge or assumptions about an author’s identity influences how people read her or his theories.  In the case of this Guardian letter, the authors clearly decided that their position on Israel’s 60th anniversary would be strengthened by pointing out to readers that they were Jewish.

I had reason to think about the links between ideological credibility and identity recently when I was in Cairo. Read the rest of this entry »

Bloggers report on strike in Egypt

April 8, 2008

On April 6th, protests took place in Egypt against the rising costs of basic foods. There are English-language reports in the International Herald Tribune and on Reuters, among other places. Egyptian security forces brutally suppressed these demonstrations; according to international journalist reports, anywhere from 200 (IHT) to 500 protesters (Bloomberg) have been arrested.

AFP reports that the Egyptian security forces have arrested two bloggers who wrote about the protest and its suppression, as well as the organizer of the Facebook group that has called for another strike in May. AFP argues that this symbolizes the rising political power of bloggers in Egypt (something that I’ve already commented on at Khaldoun and Culture Matters).

To that end, I thought I’d provide links to a few blogs where the fallout from the strike is being described. In Arabic, there is tadamonmasr, which reports that at least 4 have been killed in Mahalla al-Kubra (a poor neighborhood that was a center of protest), including a 15-year old boy shot in the head by police. Tadamonmasr compares the actions of the Egyptian security forces to the Zionist state’s attacks on Palestinian youths, and describes the murdered protesters as “martyrs.” Also in Arabic is an anonymous blog site devoted specifically to the 6 April Strike with extensive pictures and descriptions of the protest. For those of you who don’t read Arabic, Sunbula has been translating some of the Arabic-language blog postings on KABOBfest.

I’ll post more links as I come across them.

– L.L. Wynn

Update 9 April 2008: See al-Jazeera for more English-language coverage, and Egyptian blogger Zeinobia reviews the media coverage of the strike in the Egyptian press.

A 3-year history of Egyptian blogging

February 22, 2008

Veteran Egyptian blogger Tarek Amr has reached his 3-year anniversary of blogging and stops to reflect on the recent history of the Egyptian blogosphere.  It’s an excellent introduction to some of the more popular Egyptian bloggers in both English and Arabic.  He talks about bloggers’ involvement in the pro-democracy movement Kifaya and tells us who was the first to be jailed for blogging (Abdul Karim Amer).  He also points to the religious blogging scene as well as the more Western-oriented bloggers and notes the different audience bases.

— L.L. Wynn

Are Gazans starving or on a “shopping spree”?

January 28, 2008

After the wall separating Gaza from Egypt was blown up in several places last Wednesday and thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt to stock up on the basic commodities they have been denied by the Israeli blockade, most of the news coverage is reporting on the awkward Egyptian attempts to close the border. The New York Times coverage features a photo essay showing attempts to lift a cow, a camel, and a motorcycle over the border wall. As though to further insinuate the absurd and frivolous nature of the exchange across the border, the Times refers to it as a “shopping spree.” The NY Times article also says that with an estimated 200,000 Gazans entering Egypt, “the trade is becoming increasingly commercial.”

It’s hard to know what to make of such phrasing; it seems to hint that Gazans are just budding entrepreneurs and pleasure-seeking tourists — not at all victims of an Israeli blockade that has cut electricity and prevented basic food and medical supplies from reaching Gazans. Indeed, it is not until the end of the NY Times article that you even hear any information about the effect of the recent blockage, and even then, all it says is that “Israel decided to cut off shipments into Gaza, including fuel for the local power plant, in response to rocket attacks from Gaza.”

As ever, what is interesting to contemplate is what the NY Times does NOT say: that as of Sunday, electricity from the Gaza power plant has been cut in the dead of winter, and that the wall breach was prompted by an Israeli decision to completely block humanitarian shipments of medicine and basic food supplies. Read the rest of this entry »