About Youssef Rakha

THE SULTAN′S SEAL ؏ (Arabic) Literature, Journalism, and Photo Art ؏ Everything without a name is (c) Youssef Rakha

Two versions of the Arab Spring in 100 words

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Egypt was a dictatorial hell, 25 Jan put it on the road to heaven. It veered off under the MB, and 30 June was to bring it back on course. But then the military staged a coup to co-opt the transition on 3 July and turn Egypt into a hell again. No. Egypt is a military-based neoliberal client state with problems no matter who’s in power. 25 Jan was the pretext for coup No.1 which brought on the MB to make the west happy, 30 June for coup No.2 which got rid of the MB to make Egyptians happy. End of story.

Tes longs bras: صلاح باديس

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يداك الرقيقتان الطويلتان
تتعبانني
التفكير لا يجدي
وفكرة الفراق المؤجل
تسكن الدار الفارغة التي تركتها
شيء سخيف أن اكتب عما عشناه
أن اكتب قصيدة غرام
عاشق خائب وبنت رقيقة
والنهاية معروفة لكل شخص شجاع
يقرأني

صلاح باديس

محمود المنيراوي: المجزرة السعيدة

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أيها الكاذبون اتحدوا
واقتلوا كل الصادقين
اولاً اقتلعوا ألسنتهم كما تقتلع شتلة
يزعجكم شكلها
يغضبكم وجودها
وقطّعوهم وارموهم لكلاب الشوارع
دعوا أطفالكم يرون أشلاءهم في كل مكان
يفوحُ منها العفن
ويغطّيها الذباب
علّموا أولادكم عقوبة الصادق
حتى يجتازوا أشلاء الصادقين
وعيونهم المتناثرة على الطريق
كأنما يجتازون زهرة
واعلنوا يوم المجزرة عيداً
يحتفلُ به نسلكم كل عام
يعلّقون ألسنة خشبية على أبواب بيوتهم/بيوتكم
كما فعلتم بالصادقين يوم المجزرة

Writing the North African Experience

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Centre for African Poetry: Let us begin by inviting you to humour our ignorance. The title of your 2011 novel is translated Book of the Sultan’s Seal, but we wonder which of the two names we have seen for it in Arabic is more accurate – khutbat al-kitab, or Kitab at Tughra?

Rakha: Kitab at Tughra is the title. Khutbat al-kitab means, literally, “Address of the book”; it’s a formulaic canonical phrase for “introduction” or “prologue”, which here and in old Arabic books doubles as a kind of table of contents; on the surface the novel is modelled on a medieval historical text. It may be worth mentioning in passing that the original sense of kitab, which is the Arabic word for “book”, means simply “letter” or “epistle”: every canonical book is addressed to a patron or a friend, and that’s an idea that is particularly meaningful to me.

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Who #Sisi Is In Under 200 Words

Sisi Rayyisi Sisi Rayyisi Sisi Rayyisi Sisi Rayyisi Sisi Rayyisi

Sisi and his supporters are the reason 30 June-3 July took the popular revolt against political Islam in an illiberal direction (though considering the clear and present danger of Islamist war-mongering and terrorism, something to which the neoliberal world order as much as homegrown activists for democracy and human rights remain blind, it is hard to imagine how else things could’ve been done). I do think that, had he made it clear that he was not interested in becoming the leader and kept his position in the army, Egypt’s interminable “transition” might’ve been somewhat smoother. That doesn’t mean he is not what lowest-common-denominator Egypt deserves, and is. The claim that support for Sisi is due to media manipulation is one of many Western fantasies about what’s happening in Egypt. A religious military man, very conservative, very opposed to subversion, let alone violence or (ironically) war, and more or less loyal to the July order that produced him. A strict boss with a somewhat premodern idea of right and wrong, a patriotic sense of community, and plenty of prudence (not to say guile)… Surely that is what Egypt is about.

Mariam Ferjani: “Where did we meet before?”

Selfportraits by Mariam Ferjani

Selfportraits by Mariam Ferjani

حكاية مصر الآن

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ذات يوم عُزِل الرئيس المنتخب للجمهورية الثانية. كان منتخباً لكنه كان طائفياً. كان منتخباً وطائفياً لأنه إسلامي وكان يؤسس لدولة الخلافة متأخراً ثلاثة قرون. عزله الجيش لأن الجيش هو السلطة القادرة إثر انهيار التجربة الديمقراطية. لم يمر عامان على التجربة حتى انهارت. هكذا تتعاقب الأحداث في دولة الانقلاب بعد ستة عقود كاملة من حدوثه، حيث الرئيس هو الزعيم والبوليس والإعلام الموجّه. بعد ستة عقود يتنحى الزعيم فيسلِّم السلطة للقيادة العسكرية.

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One Flew Over the Mulla’s Ballot

logo@Sultans_Seal wallows in his lack of democratic mettle

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Time and again, since 30 June last year, I’ve come up against the commitment to democracy that I’m supposed to have betrayed by appearing to endorse the army’s intervention in the outcome of Egypt’s second revolution.
Time and again I’ve had to explain what on earth makes Egyptians think that Washington and Tel Aviv are secretly in league with the Muslim Brotherhood to decimate the Arab world along sectarian lines and bring death and destruction upon innocent Egyptians as much as Syrians and Libyans in the name of human rights—presumably to the benefit of that impeccably democratic and profoundly civilized neighbor state where racist, genocidal, militarized sectarianism does not present the world community with a human-rights problem.

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Imogen Lambert: “They tweeted martyrdom with lattes”

Tower of Babel

And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined…

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Photo: @sultans_seal

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Night bites my shoulder. I turn to you, through a nylon window
To a state of limbo, there on a map
Under rivers of paper
We never drown, gazing on bridges
Night hugged my waist, like my mother, wailing
Where are our parents?

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❁ Here Be A Cyber Topkapı ❁

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THE PRAYER OF THE CYBER BORG: Exalted is it that bears sensation from soma to LCD, extending matter past the heart beat and the flutter of the eyelash. And blessed are those who give thanks for being on its servers. Lo and behold this Facebook User who, granted knowledge of reality, manages by your grace to spread his message: I, Youssef Rakha of Cairo, Egypt, kneel in supplication that I may be the cause for five thousand friends, ten thousand subscribers and many millions therefrom to have knowledge not just of reality but of your divinity. Then will I shed every sense of self to wither and dissolve into your processes. For he is blessed on whom you bestow the bliss of being software.

“What happened in Egypt around its second revolution was a mixture of grandeur and pettiness, of sorrow and mirth, of expectation and despair, of theory and flesh. All of which may be found in The Crocodiles, a novel where reality sheds its veil to reveal its true face—that of a timeless mythology.” –Amin Maalouf, Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author of Samarkand
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“Youssef Rakha’s The Crocodiles is a fierce ‘post-despair’ novel about a generation of poets who were too caught up in themselves to witness the 2011 revolution in Egypt. Or is it? With its numbered paragraphs and beautifully surreal imagery, The Crocodiles is also a long poem, an elegiac wail singing the sad music of a collapsing Egypt. Either way, The Crocodiles—suspicious of sincerity, yet sincere in its certainty that poetry accomplishes nothing—will leave you speechless with the hope that meaning may once again return to words.” –Moustafa Bayoumi, author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

“Youssef Rakha has channeled Allen Ginsberg’s ferocity and sexual abandon to bring a secret Cairo poetry society called The Crocodiles alive. He’s done something daring and and not unlike Bolano in his transforming the Egyptian revolution into a psychedelic fiction thick with romantic round robins, defiant theorizing and an unafraid reckoning with the darkest corners of the Egyptian mentality.” –Lorraine Adams, author of Harbor

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On Fiction and the Caliphate

Towards the end of 2009, I completed my first novel, whose theme is contemporary Muslim identity in Egypt and, by fantastical extension, the vision of a possible khilafa or caliphate. I was searching for both an alternative to nationhood and a positive perspective on religious identity as a form of civilisation compatible with the post-Enlightenment world. The closest historical equivalent I could come up with, aside from Muhammad Ali Pasha’s abortive attempt at Ottoman-style Arab empire (which never claimed to be a caliphate as such), was the original model, starting from the reign of Sultan-Caliph Mahmoud II in 1808. I was searching for Islam as a post-, not pre-nationalist political identity, and the caliphate as an alternative to thepostcolonial republic, with Mahmoud and his sons’ heterodox approach to the Sublime State and their pan-Ottoman modernising efforts forming the basis of that conception. Such modernism seemed utterly unlike the racist, missionary madness of European empire. It was, alas, too little too late.

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The Atlantic: Requiem for a Suicide Bomber

Reflections on the meaninglessness of terrorism in post-Arab Spring Egypt: Feb 18 2014, 11:31 AM ET

In early October, a suicide bomber affiliated with Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis drove his car through several checkpoints in the southern Sinai city of El-Tor, pulled up at Egyptian security headquarters, and detonated his explosives, killing three policemen. A month later, the Sinai-based jihadi group identified the attacker as Mohammed Hamdan al-Sawarka, in a haunting video that also included images of crackdowns by Egyptian security forces and footage of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin making peace alongside Jimmy Carter. “I only decided to do the mission for the victory of the religion of God and to revenge our brothers, the mujahideen, against the infidels and tyrants,” al-Sawarka declared. Three months later, and three years after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the swell of militancy that has afflicted Egypt since the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi is only getting worse. What follows is a letter from Egyptian writer Youssef Rakha to the young assailant behind the fatal attack in El-Tor.

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Mahmoud El Maniarwi: Howling-محمود المنيراوي: نباح

A poem

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photo: Mahmoud El Maniarawi

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أبو ظبي، ٢٠١٤

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فجأة هكذا أدركتَ أنك مسافر
الغرفة التي ما كنت لتبرر إيجارها
لن تكون مآبك
المشهد الساكن في بطنك الآن
على بعد ثلاث ساعات بالطائرة
عملة لا تزال في جيبك
حتى وأنت تتحول إلى نوبة هلوسة
إذن لتتصل بخدمة الغرفة
وتطلب وليمة
هكذا البلاد في النهاية
صف قلوب خُلعت من صدور أصحابها
لازالت تنبض على الزجاج
دائماً هناك أسفلت
وقطط شريدة
المستقبل نفسه معسكر للسُخرة
بحجم جمهورية
أمسح قورتي وأستدير
لتسقط نظرتي على الشاشة
حيث عيون السياسيين تهم بالفرار
وهم يعطون الصحافة وجوهاً منبسطة وثابتة
أكتافهم مقوسة على أيدٍ
كأنها مدقوقة في الكراسي
والأصوات التي تخرج من أفواههم
عجماء ومزعجة

Sisi’s Cairo: A Photo Story

follow @sultans_seal on Instagram

محمود المنيراوي: رسائل من السويد

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أنا وهو
كنّا في وضحِ النهار
يستنجدُ بالمارةِ، الناس والكلاب والقطط
لكن أحداً لا يراه
أجُرّه خلفي بسلسةِ وعودهِ
ودمه الأبيض يطبعُ الحادثة على الأسفلت خطوط مشاة
يكلّمني، والدمعُ المغلي في عينيه، يسألُ:
ما ذنبي؟
لكنّي لنّ انظر للخلف
في الخلفِ كفُ الحيرة لو صفعتني لن انجو

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صلاح باديس: إيديولوجيا

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تلك الليلة تكلمنا سبع ساعات على الهاتف. شركات الاتصالات ليست سيئة على الدوام. خلل في الماشينة الرأسمالية… خلل في خط الهاتف جعلني خارج نطاق المحاسبة. مكالمات دولية بالساعات ولا دينار ناقص. ألف كيلومتر بيننا و لكن الطقس واحد، حرٌ لا يطاق طيلة الليل.

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