The Barbarians Within Our Minds

Reading the senior journalist Hisham Melhem’s recent obituary of Arab civilization, one is compelled to ask when it was ever alive. Al-Ahram Weekly, 25 September
(c) Youssef Rakha

The Nowhere, Cairo 2014. By Youssef Rakha

“No one paradigm or one theory can explain” the jihadi barbarians, not at, but within the Arabs’ gates. So says Hisham Melhem, an older writer, in Politico magazine this week, summing up the failure of modern “Arab civilization” with admirable level-headedness. His point would be too obvious if it wasn’t so uniformly lost on neoliberal analysts and apologists for religious identity: the Islamic State did not fall from the sky. It grew out of the “rotting, empty hulk” of societies routed no less by the “stagnant, repressive and patriarchal” authoritarianism of military regimes than the politicized religiosity seeking to replace them. Like its ideological archenemy, namely political Islam, Arab nationalism too expresses “atavistic impulses and a regressive outlook on life that is grounded in a mostly mythologized past”.

But who’s to say these two ideologies do not accurately reflect all that the Arab masses hold dear, i.e., what world community leaders would call “the Arab peoples’ legitimate aspirations”? As a younger observer, I cannot help seeing that, since the end of Ottoman times, only a negative sense of collective identity has mobilized a given Arab people at a given point in history. Embodied in revolutionary leaders like Nasser or resistance movements like Hezbollah, such rallying cries rarely pointed to a positive or constructive cause that did not turn out to be part of a propaganda campaign (Hamas’s August “victory” over Israel is a case in point). What Melhem does not say is that, in as much as it exists at all, post-Ottoman Arabic-speaking civilization has only ever operated against others, if not the occupier then non-Muslim or non-Sunni citizens of its own states, if not “Zionists and imperial Crusaders” then infidels at large.

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When Suicide Is Permissible

As the IDF begins its withdrawal from the scene of the crime, Hamas is poised to harvest the political yield


An Israeli reservist prays July 18 near the Gaza border by Sderot, Israel. Source: CNN

On Friday 1 August, the blog of the Jerusalem-based news site The Times of Israel published and then quickly removed a post entitled “When Genocide Is Permissible”.

A barely literate homily in the Israel’s-right-to-defend-itself genre by a New York accountant named Yochanan Gordon, it casually suggested that, if the cost of “peace and quiet” is the wholesale elimination of Palestinians who disturb it, then perhaps it is a cost that should be shouldered. It was exactly like saying, “But if you were in unbearable anguish and torturing Yochanan Gordon to death was the only way to recover your peace of mind, what would you do?”

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Jassmi, Take Three


When a UAE-based Palestinian friend sends me a link to the Emirati singer Hussein Al-Jassmi’s hit Boshret khair (or “Good Tidings”), I wonder what she finds remarkable about the video. After Tesslam el ayadi (or “Saved be the hands”), Boshret khair — written by the mainstream lyricist Ayman Bahgat Qamar and composed by the notoriously anti-“revolution”, conspiracy-theorising musician Amr Mustafa — is the second and by far the more tasteful anthem of 30 June-3 July 2013. Its aim is to encourage a high turnout in the presidential elections, to bolster up the legitimacy of the current democratic process.

Quoting the lyrics, “Don’t begrudge [Egypt] your vote,” my friend turns out to be taken with the irony of Egyptians being urged onto the ballots by a citizen in a country where no voting is allowed whatsoever. She seems to find dark humour in the fact.

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One Flew Over the Mulla’s Ballot

@Sultans_Seal wallows in his lack of democratic mettle

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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Egyptian History X



Al-Ahram Weekly: Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Youssef Rakha and Egypt’s new culture of violence

As of 28 January, 2011, the protests in and around Tahrir Square were never quite as peaceful as people would in later months reflexively claim they were. But no one thought that what had started on 25 January as a call for rights and freedoms, and on 11 February forced Hosny Mubarak (Egypt’s president for 31 years) to step down, would turn into a kind of hopeless vendetta against the police and, later, albeit to a mitigated extent, also against the army—to a point where people could no longer credibly make that claim.

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خمس ملاحظات على عودة باسم يوسف

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أهم ما يقوم به باسم يوسف هو أنه يبروز قابلية المصريين على السخرية من أنفسهم بلا وعي – وهي صفة لا أظن مجتمعاً آخر يتمتع بها بالشكل نفسه: ذلك التطرف الـBaroque في التعبير عن الآراء السياسية بالذات – الأمر الذي اتضح بشكل غير مسبوق في الإعلام منذ ٢٥ يناير. فكثيراً ما يبدو الأمر، سواء بمساعدة المونتاج الذي يقوم به معدو “البرنامج” أو بدونه، كما لو أن المنحاز لطرف ما إنما يعمل في الحقيقة ضد ذلك الطرف بمنطق المفارقة الساخرة… وهل هناك “إساءة” للسيسي أو تقليل من قدره ومن قدر القوات المسلحة بل والأمة المصرية متمثلة في شخصه أكثر من الاحتفاء الإعلامي بتحول “القائد التاريخي” إلى شيكولاتة تباع بالكيلو؟ وهل هناك “إيحاء جنسي” وذكورية ساقطة أوضح من وصفه المتكرر بكلمة “دكر” من جانب رجال ونساء على حد سواء؟ باسم يوسف أكثر الوقت لا يسخر إلا من مسخرة حاصلة، ولا يتيح له أن يسخر بهذه الطريقة من شخص أو جهة كالتيار الإسلامي مثلاً إلا أنّ سخرية تلك الجهة اللاواعية من نفسها لا تقدّم بوصفها كذلك ولكن، من شدة جهل وتفاهة ولا أخلاقية مقدميها، بوصفها تمجيداً و“تلزيقاً” أو مبالغة مرضية في الانحياز للذات.

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Tractatus Politico-Religiosus

The Second Tractatus: From 25 January to 30 June in four sentences: on Egypt’s two revolutions

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1 Newton’s third law of motion: When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.
2 For nearly three years the triumph of the 25 January uprising involved the Egyptian constituency in a series of conflicts, protests and counterprotests in which the action repeatedly pitted the army as the sole remaining representative of the state against political Islam.
2.1 In the period 25 January-11 February 2011, protesters (including Islamists) were credited with bringing down Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for nearly 30 years. They had no leadership or ideology, and their slogan — “bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity” — could conceivably be grafted onto a communist or fascist system just as well as on the liberal democracy they were demanding.

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