Lost in affirmation

Artists, Islamists and Politicians

Against “the threat of Islamisation”, culture is said to be Egypt’s last line of defence. But what on earth do we mean when we talk about Egyptian culture?
The night before the ridiculously so called 24 August revolution—the first, abortive attempt to “overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood”—Intellectuals gathered in Talaat Harb Square to express discontent with the new political status quo. Much of what they had to say centred on the draft constitution making no provisions for freedom of expression, but the resulting discourse was, as ever, an amorphous combo of statements: “We cannot stand idly by while our national symbols of thought and creativity are subject to attack,” for example. Here as elsewhere in the so called civil sphere, resistance to political Islam has readily reduced to generalised statements of individual positions rallying to the abstract title of Intellectual, which in Arabic is more literally translated as “cultured person”. Cultured people—actors, for example, are eager to protect culture—the films and television serials in which they appear; and in so being they have the support of artists, writers, “minorities” and “thinkers”.
Never mind the fact that most Egyptian actors have never read a book in their lives, whether or not they admit to such “lack of culture”; it is their social standing as visible producers of something falling under that name that places them in a position to defend an equally, historically compromised value system: enlightenment, secularism, citizenship; imagination, inventiveness, choice…

Continue reading

Tahrir and its discontents

Responding to recent Facebook “notes” by the poet Mohab Nasr — an Alexandrian schoolteacher turned Kuwait-based journalist and, since 25 January, perhaps the most honest critic of the Egyptian human being — Youssef Rakha unpacks the concept of the People

Continue reading

THE NUDE AND THE MARTYR

Some time in February, the literary (and intellectual) Generation of the Nineties started coming up in intellectual conversations about the Arab Spring. Some people theorised that, by stressing individual freedom and breaking with their overtly politicised forerunners, apolitical agents of subversion under Mubarak had involuntarily paved the way for precisely the kind of uprising said forerunners had spent whole lives prophesying and pushing for, to no avail.

Politicised intellectuals of past generations had always believed in grand narratives. That is why their collective message (anti-imperialist or socialist), evidently no less divorced from the People than that of the younger rebels and aesthetes who didn’t give two damns about the liberation of Jerusalem or the dictatorship of the proletariat, remained repressive and didactic; while allowing themselves to be co-opted and neutralised, they struggled or pretended to struggle in vain.

Continue reading

Five cases of exorcism

Facing each others’ shadows but not actually facing each other, seculars and Islamists were at daggers drawn, writes Youssef Rakha. Then came the Revolution

Continue reading

vahidettinportrait

الثورة والطغرى

تصاوير

لم يمر أسبوع على تنحي مبارك حتى صدر – أخيراً، عن دار الشروق – “كتاب الطغرى”، كأنه هو اﻵخر كان معتصماً في ميدان التحرير ينتظر الفرج: أجندة مندسة ضمن أجندات عمر سليمان التي أشبعناها سخرية بينما المروحيات تحوّم في اﻷسبوع اﻷخير.”الطغرى” هي أولى رواياتي التي ترقبت صدورها طوال عام دونما أعلم بأن ثورة ستحدث أو أتنبأ بتغير جذري في الحياة. وحيث أنني – حتى أنا – لا أعرف بماذا يجب أن أشعر وأنا أقلّب صفحات الكتاب اﻵن، ينتابني شيء من الحرج حيال إعلامكم بصدوره.

لا أخفيكم أن الثورة جعلت نشر “الطغرى”، كما جعلت كل شيء سواها، أقل أهمية بما لا يقاس. واﻵن ليس من عزاء، ولا مبرر لبجاحتي في إرسال هذا البريد، سوى أن الرواية نفسها هي صورة للمدينة التي أنتجت الثورة قبل ثلاثة أعوام من حدوثها (أنا أتممت الكتابة في بداية 2010، وحصرت اﻷحداث في ثلاثة أسابيع من ربيع 2007). هذا، وتلتقي الطغرى مع الشعب – بكل التواضع الواجب – في إرادة تغيير النظام: السخط على الوضع القائم واستبصار مؤامرة ضد الحرية في طياته، والبحث عن هوية تناقضه وتدفع الثمن.

أهنئكم وأهنئ نفسي بالثورة، أتمنى أن يكون لـ”كتاب الطغرى” من بعدها وقت أو مكان. وبرغم المجهود الذي بذلته في إتمامه وأي فائدة قد ينطوي عليها، سيظل الشهداء دائماً أجدى منه باهتمامكم.

دموع الفرح من ميدان التحرير منذ مساء 11 فبراير

This message is to inform you of the publication by Dar El Shorouk of my first novel, Kitab at-Tugra (or Book of the Sultan’s Seal, a portrait of Cairo set in 2007 and completed in 2010) within days of the triumph of the 2011 Revolution. I submitted the book for publication at the start of 2010, and I waited a year to see it in print, but it is hard to be very excited about its appearance with Dar El Shorouk now that something so much more important has happened. My consolation – and where I got the nerve to send this message nonetheless – is that Kitab at-Tugra was a sincere attempt at picturing a city unwittingly poised for revolution, and that – like the people who worked the present miracle, of whom, very humbly, I claim to be one – it too sought to bring down the order. The fate of the martyrs of Tahrir will always be worthier of your attention than my novel.

Enhanced by Zemanta