Ali Latife: Immigrant No 1

Paolo Pellegrin. Mediterranean Sea near the Libyan coast, 2015. Source: magnumphotos.com

Paolo Pellegrin. Mediterranean Sea near the Libyan coast, 2015. Source: magnumphotos.com

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And so these used ideas

here worn like clothes

will be compensated, without apology,

by the softest chords of their instrument.

— Jim Jarmusch, “Verdict with Guitar”

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We were drinking homemade alcohol in a small rented apartment in Tripoli the night they stole the statue of the naked women and the gazelle from the city center. That was the last naked woman in Tripoli, possibly even in Libya. No one knows where they took it, but the word on the street is that they destroyed and threw it away or that they sold it.

We were six young men drinking homemade alcohol in a country torn apart by civil war, and for four years since the uprising in 2011 we had all suffered from humiliations inflicted by the rebel militias on almost everyone.

Four of the young men who were sitting with me in the small apartment had been incarcerated for protesting in front of Sudan’s Embassy during the Sudanese protests back in July 2012. The militia that caught them follows the same ideology as the ruling regime of Sudan. The Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist and rebel allies were the rulers of the streets back then and nowadays too. Another had been captured because he is descended from an oppressed Libyan tribe some of whose men had fought the rebels in 2011. We talked about Denmark, Germany, the beautiful lives that awaited us if we could some day get out of this god-forsaken land.

Everything had became tiring lately, the war and what was happening around us and the memories. Even to think of it is tiring, or write about it.

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Prize and Prejudice: When an Egyptian Novelist Wins Qatara

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“Those who don’t like Katara can start a prize like it in Egypt.”

Thus the Egyptian novelist Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid, one of five finalists to receive US $60,000 each in the first round of the Katara Prize for the Arabic Novel, speaking to the television anchor Gaber Al-Qarmouti live last week.

A glib remark, for oil-rich Qatar’s foray into supporting literature is worth US $750,000 in total. A mere pittance this may be in the grander scheme of Qatari spending. But were it available to grant-making institutions in Egypt, the sum would be enough for 100 financially viable awards.

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Youssef Rakha: Who the Fuck Is Charlie

The mere idea of contributing to the Charlie Hebdo colloquy is a problem. It’s a problem because, whether as a public tragedy or a defense of creative freedom, the incident was blown out of all proportion. It’s a problem because it’s been a moralistic free-for-all: to express solidarity is to omit context, to forego the meaning of your relation to the “slain” object of consensus, to become a hashtag. It’s a problem above all because it turns a small-scale crime of little significance outside France into a cultural trope.

Charlie Hebdo is not about the senseless (or else the political) killing of one party by another. It’s about a Platonic evil called Islam encroaching on the  peaceful, beneficent world order created and maintained by the post-Christian west. Defending the latter against the former, commentators not only presume what will sooner or later reduce to the racial superiority of the victim. They also misrepresent the perpetrator as an alien force independent of that order.

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Always a Place for the Still Frame: David Degner on Practice, Vision, and the Future of Photojournalism

David Degner is a Cairo-based freelance photographer represented by Getty Reportage and the
co-editor of the Egyptian photo story magazine, Panorama by Mada Masr

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In an age when video journalism is increasinly paramount and printing is arguably no longer necessary, how do you feel the still image is still pertinent to documentary or news work?

Video journalism serves its purpose and is growing as it is easier to create and distribute, but photos haven’t lost their power in this new environment. A single strong image can be viewed and summarize a situation in seconds. In our fast paced world there will always be a place for the still frame.

Do you think documentary and art photography are important for the development of photo journalism? Is there enough of that going on in Egypt (with the Cairo Image Collective, for example) to create a photographic culture?

As a photojournalist I often steal style from art and commercial photography.  We must be aware of their modern visual language in our work to stay relevant and interesting.  But even though the internet has broken down barriers it can be impossible to find many documentary or art photo books in Cairo.  While in the west you can pick up a thick fashion magazine at almost any store and get inspired by the commercial portraiture it takes conscious effort for photographers to suss out inspiration in Egypt.

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Youssef Rakha: The Importance of Being Lars

Nymphomaniac’s Message for the Arab Spring

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As an Arab you’re probably expecting me to lay into Nymphomaniac. It’s a film that must seem, if not offensive to my cultural sensibility, then irritatingly irrelevant to the poverty, underdevelopment, and upheaval that surround my life.

In most cases dropping the word “white” in the same paragraph as “Islam’s respect for women” is all it would take to slam Lars von Trier in this context. It would be a politically correct slur, too. I could even draw on Edward Said’s hallowed legacy to point out that the only time non-Europeans appear in over four hours of action, they’re portrayed as dumb sex tools. Not only self-indulgent and obscene but also Orientalist, etc..

But the truth is I actively delighted in Nymphomaniac, and I didn’t have to stop being an Arab for that to happen. To be accurate I should say I would’ve welcomed a von Trier film anyway, but this one showed up when it was needed—and it duly exploded on arrival.

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Writing the North African Experience: Interview with Youssef Rakha

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Centre for African Poetry: Let us begin by inviting you to humour our ignorance. The title of your 2011 novel is translated Book of the Sultan’s Seal, but we wonder which of the two names we have seen for it in Arabic is more accurate – khutbat al-kitab, or Kitab at Tughra?

Rakha: Kitab at Tughra is the title. Khutbat al-kitab means, literally, “Address of the book”; it’s a formulaic canonical phrase for “introduction” or “prologue”, which here and in old Arabic books doubles as a kind of table of contents; on the surface the novel is modelled on a medieval historical text. It may be worth mentioning in passing that the original sense of kitab, which is the Arabic word for “book”, means simply “letter” or “epistle”: every canonical book is addressed to a patron or a friend, and that’s an idea that is particularly meaningful to me.

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Youssef Rakha: On Fiction and the Caliphate

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By Youssef Rakha

Towards the end of 2009, I completed my first novel, whose theme is contemporary Muslim identity in Egypt and, by fantastical extension, the vision of a possible khilafa or caliphate. I was searching for both an alternative to nationhood and a positive perspective on religious identity as a form of civilisation compatible with the post-Enlightenment world. The closest historical equivalent I could come up with, aside from Muhammad Ali Pasha’s abortive attempt at Ottoman-style Arab empire (which never claimed to be a caliphate as such), was the original model, starting from the reign of Sultan-Caliph Mahmoud II in 1808. I was searching for Islam as a post-, not pre-nationalist political identity, and the caliphate as an alternative to the postcolonial republic, with Mahmoud and his sons’ heterodox approach to the Sublime State and their pan-Ottoman modernising efforts forming the basis of that conception. Such modernism seemed utterly unlike the racist, missionary madness of European empire. It was, alas, too little too late.

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