Hipstamatic miniature: Behzad’s Yusuf and Zulaikha

واستبقا الباب وقدت قميصه من دبر

Five Hipstamatic images make up Behzad’s 1488 miniature of a Quranic scene

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(c) Youssef Rakha

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Gaza-غزة

Found Egypt

قصيدة جديدة: ما أطول الزراعي

ما أطول “الزراعي”

دون أن نصوم (في العشر الأواخر) تركنا طنطا عبر شارع البورصة

قلنا منطقة تجارية أكيد فاضية—نصف ساعة زحف وسط أكداس المتسوقين

عرق البروليتاريا يمطرنا والسيارة تخرم عجين اللحمة واللحى والقماش

وعيون المتخمين لِتَوّهِم تطالعنا بكراهية الرعاع لنبلاء الباستيل

ظلمات ترشيد الكهرباء ونحن خندق محفور في المدافن نصرةً لإخوتنا في غزة

دعك من أن غزة الآن أبعد من أنتاركتيكا والإخوة نفسهم يسبون الدين

من هنا حتى قويسنا بهائم الأسفلت بالكاد تتفادى الحفاة والحمير وهكذا

؎

على هذه الأرض – جارية الأرض – لا شيء يستحق الحياة

أم العائشين أم الميتين تصدّرين القفا للصفع أملاً في لقمة طرية

وسواء أتغير لفظه أو استمر ضمن الذل المستحب يظل اسمك مسبة

؎

تخوم قليوب تبشر بالوصول لم يعلمنا أحد بأي عَطَلَة في السكة

كان قتلة المتظاهرين – الأهالي – سدوا الطريق مرة أخرى احتجاجاً

وبينما نلتحق بصف الهاربين إلى المدقات الجانبية حيث الفجاج والحجارة

تذكرتُ كيف قلبنا الدنيا بالرقاد على التراب ولأنهم يقتلوننا صدقنا أننا نضحي

لغاية ما تحقق مطلبنا العبيط رجعنا بيوتنا ليحلّوا محلنا هم نفسهم

وهكذا مكّنا العصابة الأولى من تسليم البضاعة للعصابة الثانية حين متنا

بلا كبير جهد تغوطنا اللحظة اعتلينا النخلة وأغوتنا العينان الخلابتان ولكن

؎

كيف لعينيك أن تكونا غابتي نخيل وهما على هذا القدر من البجاحة

وكل عام لا يعشب الثرى ولا نجوع ما مر عام وجعنا بما يكفي لنسعى

نحن الغربان تشبع والجراد يعوي على تطلعات ستبقى أسطورية

؎

كانت المدقات مشرشرة بالحفر والمياه مركبات صناعية معطلة في العتمة

موكب مناوري الهايواي مثل ثعبان خرافي طالع نازل فوق جرف

ورغم وجود متفرجين من أهل المصانع على الجانبين فكرتُ أننا في مجاهل

هذا الذي نخوض فيه ببطء فيل كليم هو ما أزحنا عنه الحجر يوم ثرنا

خندق نبلنا محفوف بالأهالي رعاع حاقدون ومحتجون قتلة ولا باستيل

هل كانت الشعوب تثور دائماً قبل أن تتوفر لها الخدمات الأساسية

بلا طريق لا يعترضه المحرومون من الكهرباء هل نعمل ثورة أم نمثّل فالآن

؎

احترق المسرح من أركانه للمرة الألف لكنكم أنتم يا حبيبي الممثلون

لم تكن فلسطين لكم لأنكم أولاد قحبة من قبل أن تفقدوها

لم تصلحوا لشيء إلا التجول بين صفوف المتفرجين لتنادوا: كاكولا-بيبس

؎

الرحلة تستغرق ساعة خمس ساعات حتى يلوح “المحور” مخضّباً بالمشاة

وكأنه عذاب القبر نعيش من أول وجديد عاماً ونصف أو عامين من إحباطاتنا

فقدنا الأمل ليس في الثورة فقط ولكن في المستقبل أيضاً في النشطاء السياسيين

ولا عزاء للمدفونين حولنا لراشفي الشاي على شط هذه البركة للعميان بفعل فاعل

لا عزاء لنا نحن أيضاً يوم نقتل أو نُحتَجَز ها هنا في المجاري الرطبة نستنبح

حتى الغضب يتفثأ حيث حر الليل وأخبار انهيار محدّق في الركن الخلفي للدماغ

كل التفاصيل التي يناقشها الأصدقاء تغدو ذباباً يئز ويغبّش البربريز فعلاً

؎

الناس في بلادي جارحون ولكن كعقارب غير سامة ليس عندهم غناء

حشرات منزلية في مطابخ الإنسان يعملون أي شيء من أجل قبضتي نقود

وطيبون في التسول أغبياء في إيمانهم بأن القَدَر فقط وساخة القرون

The menace of resistance

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Youssef Rakha, Islamophobe


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Youssef Rakha thinks about the Brotherhood, the military and the modern state

A long time ago — it must have been 2000 — I was briefly in trouble at work for apparently belittling the achievement of Hezbollah against Israel in an article I had written.
The censure came from a left-wing, thoroughly secular editor; and I wasn’t particularly distressed to have to redraft the paragraphs in question. Perhaps, I thought, I had let my Islamophobia get the better of me. (I should point out that, though steadfastly agnostic, I am still Muslim, as eclectically proud of my heritage as any post-Enlightenment individual can reasonably be; so my self-acknowledged Islamophobia refers neither to the religion nor the historical identity but specifically to the far more recent phenomenon — perhaps I may be allowed to say “catastrophe” — of political Islam.) I was to realise that much of the Arab left’s respect for Hezbollah centred on the concept of resistance and, especially, its perceived triumph over a materially superior power, independently of a quasi-commonwealth of incompletely constructed modern states whose majority’s compromised position had rendered it an ineffective rival to “the Zionist entity”.
In the same context though perhaps not from the same time, I remember having mixed feelings about a Moroccan activist in a demonstration on Al Jazeera crying out repeatedly, “I am secular, but I support the Islamic resistance in Lebanon.”
Admittedly, when I wrote that article, what bothered me the most about Hezbollah was its underlying (theocratic) totalitarianism, not its armed struggle per se. But since then, over many years in which I have been exposed to much more historical-political material as well as experiencing regional and local developments first hand — and without losing any of my contempt for Israel or the postcolonial order that sustains it, for which my being an Arab or a Muslim is by no means necessary — I have come to see very major issues with the concept of resistance itself: so much so that, like Jihadism, it sometimes seems to me one of the postcolonial world powers’ less visible instruments.
Notwithstanding how Hezbollah has renounced the moral high ground by supporting Bashar Al Assad’s regime in Syria — one of the few supposedly uncompromised states whose “resistance” status has allowed it to practice genocide against its own citizens with impunity since the 1980s while in no way improving its situation vis-a-vis Israel — it is of course less about the Arab-Israeli conflict that I am thinking than the confluence of the left (socialist, Arab nationalist or “Nasserist”) and political Islam in the aftermath of January-February 2011 in Egypt: the Arab Spring. I am thinking about how that confluence, perhaps more than any other factor, has emptied “revolution” of any possible import. To what extent did the theory and practice of resistance in what has probably been the most important of the compromised Arab states lead to the perpetuation of both military hegemony and systematic deprivation of basic rights and freedoms, including freedom of belief?
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The current “transfer of power” to the Muslim Brotherhood is not happening as a result of the protests and sacrifices that made regime change possible over 18 months ago. It is not happening against the will of the postcolonial world order. It is happening as a result of West-blessed, SCAF-mediated “democratic” politicising — facilitated precisely by standing in ideological and practical opposition to the former status quo (an advantage the more or less liberal, as opposed to Islamist, protesters who staged “the revolution” never had).
Unlike agents of the modern state but like Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood have helped to provide citizens with services, garnered their tribal loyalty by encouraging their conservatism and fed them an identity-based discourse of heroism, piety or renaissance. Preying on their raw emotions, they have also given them material rewards in return for their votes.
Now, contrary to what the left has been preaching since the start of the presidential elections, the “transfer of power” at hand will keep all the military’s unlawful privileges intact: the enormous military economy will continue to operate unscathed; crimes against humanity committed in the last 18 months will go unpunished; “revolutionaries” who have been subject to military trial will neither be re-tried nor released without high-profile intervention, etc. At the same time, while other beneficiaries of institutionalised corruption may change, the security and judicial apparatus that sustains it will not.
Thus resistance: somewhere in the collective imagination, irrespective of historical fact, the Muslim Brotherhood is not the capitalist, scheming, dictatorial, corrupt and abusive entity that the Mubarak regime was. It is a force of resistance. Never mind that it is sectarian, misogynistic, totalitarian, irrational and just as postcolonially compromised (hence just as capitalist, scheming etc.): as the de facto custodian of a religion and a culture it has only actually acted to humiliate, the Brotherhood is seen as an alternative, in exactly the same way as Hezbollah was seen as an alternative, to the failed state. What is either not seen or purposely overlooked is that the alternative’s existence depends on the failure of the state and modernity, which to one degree or another political Islam has always encouraged or helped to perpetuate.
So, while Islamophobia in the West is fear of the physically violent monster secretly created to combat communism during the Cold War, my own Islamphobia is fear of the morally violent monster covertly spawned by the failure of the postcolonial nation state and increasingly integrated into the world order at the expense not of Western (or communist) lives but of Muslim minds and souls. My Islamophobia is in fact a profoundly Muslim response to “revolution”.
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Yet it is resistance as a concept that seems to hold the key. Not that the Muslim Brotherhood has used the term recently, but it is written into the proposed political formulation of a collective and supposedly efficacious identity that that identity should be against something.
What is required for this is not that the orientation in question should actually be against anything in practice, whether that thing is the world order, Israel or institutionalised corruption in the Egyptian state. It is interesting to note that, while their raison d’être is to be a distinct moral improvement on the corrupt, compromised political status quo, the Muslim Brothers, whether in parliament or beyond, have so far replicated the Mubarak regime’s conduct and mores, from pledging alliance to Washington and guaranteeing Israel’s security to monopolising and abusing power (the Freedom and Justice Party being, in effect, the “Islamic” variation on the now dissolved National Democratic Party).
What is required, rather, is that the resisting entity should espouse a certain degree of (moral if not physical) violence, drawing on both a totalitarian sense of identity and a paranoid conviction of victimhood. This is not to deny that the Muslim Brotherhood had been subject to persecution since its foundation in 1928; it is to say that, in the absence of any holistic vision even for the future of Islam (one that would crucially include ways to eliminate rather than perpetuate those anachronistic and obstructive aspects of the faith that alienate Muslims from the modern world and prevent them from contributing to human civilisation), the victimisation of the Muslim Brotherhood can only mean a justification for getting their own back — not actually changing anything for the majority of Egyptians.
Without any aspiration to reform, let alone revolution, and while they continue to provide cover for less sophisticated Islamists, the Brothers can only remain aspiring Mubaraks.
Even more fascinating, however, is the way in which the apparent triumph of the opposition embodied by the Muslim Brotherhood has automatically resulted in the opposition embodied by the left giving up all that it supposedly stands for in order to be in the seemingly right camp— an ideological paradox resolved with relative ease once what the left actually has in common with political Islam is identified: totalitarian identity, contempt for the modern state, paranoid victimhood, bias for the (class) underdog and, most importantly of all, the resistance imperative.
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Egypt’s recent variation on the confluence of the left with political Islam is particularly ludicrous in that, while what the left supported the Muslim Brotherhood in order to resist was SCAF, it was arguably SCAF that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. It occurs to me now that, taking this into account, Islamophobia should really also be understood as opposition to the military — a fight on which the left was willing to give up when it allied itself with the Islamists.

(c) Youssef Rakha

FOUND EGYPT: Mosaics of the Revolution

(1) A stock portrait of a contemporary woman in niqab is made up of the nude picture of Alia Mahdi, which was called a revolutionary gesture by the subject in November, 2011

(2) A Google Earth image of Tahrir Square and surrounds is made up of a graffito of “the finger”, one of the most popular statements of defiance since January, 2011

(3) A detail of an archival photo of a funerary mural in Thebes is made up of an iconic picture of a protester killed in Tahrir in January, 2011

(4) One of the portraits of Pope Shenouda III used by mourners following his death in March, 2012 is made up of images of casualties of the October 9, 2011 Maspero massacre of Coptic demonstrators (which the Pope is believed to have condoned)

(5) The flag of Egypt, with the eagle replaced by the famous blue bra exposed during the brutal beating by SCAF of one female demonstrator in Tahrir in November, 2011, is made up of images of Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood figures and symbols (along with “honourable citizens“, the “Islamic movement”, then in alliance with SCAF, condoned the suppression of demonstrators)

(6) A Muslim young man, reportedly gay, from a Cairo shanty town who crucified himself on a lamppost in Tahrir in April, 2011 as a gesture of protest is made up of anti-SCAF graffiti

(7) An American passport is made up of images of the hardline Islamist and vociferously anti-American former presidential candidate Hazim Salah Abu Ismail, who was legally disqualified from entering the race due to his mother holding US citizenship

cf/x photo mosaic as well as Adobe Photoshop CS5 were used to make these pictures

 

“Raisin” and Self-portrait


It was after he got his raisin that Khaled gave me the prostitute’s number.
I imagined a multiple-orgasm lolita dressed to extract hard currency. Sixteen, he said she was. Brace yourself for the three thousandth-degree burns of hellfire. He’s big and hairy, Khaled. When you know him the bulging looks less like flesh than alluvial semen.
Repentance or no, I felt I could trust him.
Raisins grow on the foreheads of the pious, evidencing decades of contact with the ground. You can cheat one into being by intensifying friction. Which is how Khaled got his in a month. He botched it, too – it was higher than it should be, there were extra bits on the nose – but it worked. Since his flat burned down he had been praying too hard, not smoking or drinking, watching out for charred apparitions of his family.
This was my first ever prostitute and she was sixteen all right. But she seemed like one of a million – hijab, small voice and facial acne. It was the bright red swimsuit that eventually summoned an erection. Except, being marriage matter, she taught me how to brush. You skim the surface, drenching pubic hair. Hymens remain intact.
And devoutly kissing the hundred-pound note, she passed it on the spot where Khaled’s raisin was. It disappeared in the swimsuit.
I was grateful she would be out of the house now. Then thinking of Khaled, spent, I felt a sudden compulsion to start working on a raisin of my own.