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

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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

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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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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

@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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في ذكرى ٢٥ يناير: عن الإخوان والسيسي وحروب الجيل الرابع

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ثلاث أساطير صغيرة نجح الإعلام المصري في زرعها لدى قطاعات دماغية عريضة جداً منذ يونيو، وبكفاءة مذهلة في ضوء أن هذا الإعلام مازال يدعي مناصرة ٢٥ يناير (بغض النظر عن رأيك في الواقعة أو رموزها)، لكن الملفت حقيقة أن الرسائل بل والعبارات نفسها تتكرر (“أيدي الببلاوي المرتعشة” مثلاً) على اختلاف القنوات والبرامج والمقدمين، ومما يشعرك بأن العملية ليست بالعفوية المفترض أنها بها أيضاً الظهور المتكرر لنجوم شاشة جدد من الإسلاميين التائبين (الخرباوي ونبيل نعيم مثلاً) والمديح المستمر لحزب النور:

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Egyptian History X

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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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