To Wake the People: Egypt’s Interminable Haul to Democracy

“The People are asleep my darling”
So she’d tell him;
He, too,
Was careful not to wake the People,
To endure its dreams
Like a kid’s kicks,
To ape its slack tongue like a fool,
To crawl before it on all fours
That he might tell it the story of creation…

— Mohab Nasr (translated by Robin Moger)

Two and a half years after the January 25, 2011 uprising, I’m with my friend Aboulliel in the room I still have at my parents’ house. We’re slurping Turkish coffee and dragging on Marlboros, absorbed in conversation, when suddenly it feels as if we’ve been on the same topic since we sat here for the first time in 1998 or 1999: what should Egypt’s army-dominated government do about the Islamists’ sit-ins?

There are two of them, each thousands-strong, in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque and Al-Nahda squares (east and west Cairo), the latter within walking distance of Dokky, where this apartment is located. They are crippling Cairo’s hobbling traffic and, as a security hazard, blocking the inflow of much needed tourist cash. They include all kinds of adherent of political Islam: Salafist, Jihadist, Jihadist-Salafist, Muslim Brother, renegade Muslim Brother and independently operating Islamist. And they’ve been going on for nearly 40 days, immobilizing the middle-class residential community of Rabaa and taunting the Cairo University students and faculty shuffling about campus near Al-Nahda. Their “defense committees” function like checkpoints, with club-wielding men searching baggage and reviewing IDs. Amnesty International has corroborated reports by independent local news channels like OnTV and CBC that “spies” caught inside them were secretly buried after having their fingers chopped off, among other atrocities. The media claims that each garrison harbors hardcore weaponry, and machine guns have been sighted in use against pro-army citizens who picked fights with protesters marching through their neighborhoods…

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الجنازة العسكرية

كان الأمن يطهّر البؤر الإرهابية بالشباشب فيما التيار مقطوع والإعلام يتحدث عن نصر تاريخي لاعناً المتقاعسين ظهر الشعب العظيم من خلف قواد آخر في بدلة كاملة على الشاشة يجري كقطعان الفرائس في الفلوات ولم يكن الناشط السياسي قد كف عن الصراخ ثورة أو في مشهد آخر كثلل الجرذان عبر مقالب الزبالة بعد مليون حمل من جهاد النكاح في الحرب الأهلية لازال المسئولون يسجدون ظهر الجمعة والأزهر الشريف حيث سماحة الإسلام امرأة تقول إن صوتاً لا يعلو على صوت البطولة والناس جائعة والمرور معطّل ولا نامت أعين الجبناء

City of Kismet

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Unconsciously, it seems, I had waited a lifetime for Kismet. This was not my first attempt at a family of my own but, though I never resisted the idea, one way or another, fatherhood had eluded me. And for some reason I never thought I would have a daughter. When the sex of the foetus emerged relatively late in my wife’s pregnancy, I was unaccountably emotional; for the first time since childhood I experienced a desire wholly voided of lust. Life seemed to be coming together, albeit only once its setting had been transformed.

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The Hayyani Epistle: What the author of Book of the Sultan’s Seal said after the events of 2011

What the author of Book of the Sultan’s Seal said about his companion, the protagonist of the novel and hero of the tale, after the events in the World’s Gate, or Downtown Cairo, from February to November 2011.

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A Day at Work-يوم في الشغل

Slide Show & Night Tour by Yasser Abdellatif

Square Cafe – المقهى المربع

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Night Tour by Yasser Abdellatif

Before he grew familiar with the way to school
the sickly child grew familiar with
the doctor’s place:
the pharmacy below the clinic
with its brown closets
and a young attendant wearing fashions that date back two decades
wrapping the bottles in paper printed with the logo,
which she reeled off a large roll with a metal core,
and noting the times of the doses in clear writing.

On distant mornings
you and your mother would go down to her to buy the medicine.
Why, then, did the pharmacy shift places
in the night,
sliding at least four buildings across?

There is a restaurant at the street corner
whose glass facade which the steam misted over
shows appetising, low-priced food;
it seems very close, over at the curve.
Night after night you will put off having dinner there
and go along with what it takes to stay up and be tired;
the day you make up your mind,
with a strike,
some diabolical hand will have lifted the whole place
off the map of existence.

And in the dark quarter of your knowledge of the city
beyond the street with which you thought the world ended when you were small
is an old traffic post and the ghost of an elderly policeman at the crossroads
with sleepy lights on a night moist with dew.

There stands a forgotten variety theatre
where the numbers are performed on a narrow stage
flanked by two tiers of seats on which the onlookers have gathered.
You are an onlooker and a backstage hand,
your viewpoint flits between the two places
from pointers to clamorous lives
and promises of sustained indulgence
to where safety
fares better than regret
which is as light as beer foam.

Translation of the title poem of Yasser Abdellatif’s last book © Youssef Rakha

Six Posters and Found Poem

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Nailia Kulieva (found poem*)

I am Azery girl.
I am single without children.
I am 22 year old,
born in the 4th Februar
1978 year.

I have a small height: 1.46,
I am looking for the man
not higher then 1.70.

My weight is 48 kilo g.

I live in Azerbaijan
in Baku city.
My profession
operator telephonist.
I know Turkish and Russian.
Now I am learning English
and writing with help of translater.

I am romantic, tender, kind,
sometimes a bit capricious,
sometimes a bit shy.
But always very faithful girl
to my dear man.

I like housekeeping very much.

My proposal is marriage.
I want to meet the man
from 27 till 40 year.

*Personal ad on site advertising girls from Eastern Europe for marriage