ajnabieh: The open doors of a subway/metro car, with a sign above them, reading "lilsayyidat faqat" [Ladies Only] (sayyidat faqat)
Thank Christ someone else made a SharkNATO joke.

Given that I'm a social scientist who is now spending a reasonable amount of time pretending to be a media studies type, I should probably read this new book of analyses of single episodes of TV the way that undergrads in media studies programs are asked to do it.

I am so glad Cairo Gossip getting purchased by a larger Cairo media company didn't make it suck. Here's some snark about Haifa Wehbe that also has some vague political connotations I don't feel like unpacking.

The Egyptian government is seriously considering blocking Whatsapp and Viber? Prepare for another revolution, yanni.

I feel like someone asked me for recommendations for speculative fiction written by Middle Eastern writers. I don't know of a lot of it, but this looks good. (Also: if you don't know Saladin Ahmed's work, you should.)

There is apparently a news story going around about Tunisian women going to Syria to perform sexual services for the jihadist forces fighting there??? MuslimahMediaWatch takes it down, without dismissing the possibility that something's actually happening which is being twisted.

I haven't read the whole of this new report on Muslim-American youth media engagement, but the précis clicks well with my own observations and research. God, I gotta get my book out…
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Yesterday was a major political event in Egypt; millions of people turned out on the streets to demand the resignation of the president, Muhammad Morsi. The "Tamarod" (Rebellion) campaign is an interesting case of social mobilization, and a powerful rebuke to the behavior of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of the past year; it also raises important questions about the limits and strengths of electoral democracy for determining what counts as representing "the people." That said, I don't think I, in particular, have anything to add to this conversation; I'm following Mada, the new news website from the team that used to run Egypt Independent, as well as the new Egypt Independent, and journalists on twitter like [twitter.com profile] bassem_sabry and [twitter.com profile] ghazalairshad. If people want me to do a links roundup, I'm happy to put one together.

Although I spent yesterday glued to my twitter feed following what was happening on the ground, my deepest focus was on protests by Egyptians outside of Egypt in solidarity with Tamarod. Egyptians abroad have been highly political mobilized by Egyptian politics over the past two years; the hashtag #egyabroad on Twitter is always active, presidential candidates campaigned in diaspora communities, and activists from Egypt have traveled to diaspora communities to present their work. None of my writing on these actions has come to print yet, but I generally argue that demonstrations and actions by Egyptians abroad serve to figuratively transport the diasporites participating back into their homeland, and to extend the political ground of the homeland fully into diaspora. Yesterday's protests fall into this category; the Egyptians around the world who joined in objecting to Morsi's rule were a part of the demos of Egypt, and were engaged in claiming the right to judge his policies.

Here's the list of protests I was able to count yesterday, based on what I saw on social media. I'm also including links to some of the tweets/posts with best photos of the protests.

cut for length; protests in North America, Europe, and Australia, with links to photos )



For the record, this gives me a count of at least 22 cities worldwide. I may be missing some--if you know of one I missed, leave me a comment or send me an email or tweet! But here are some preliminary analytical thoughts:


  • I had the passing thought as I looked at these of "but are there any protests in the Gulf?" And then the immediate answer, "Duh, of course not." Public protest is, if not banned, highly restricted in the Gulf states where Egyptians emigrate, and Qatar and Saudi, in particular, have been major supporters of Egypt under Brotherhood rule, which makes the possibilities for protest even smaller. But this actually is a conflicting effect. Something that my interviewees mentioned when I was in Cairo is that people who emigrate to the Gulf are different than people who emigrate to Europe or North America--they tend to care more about money and financial safety, and less about freedom and rights. They are also less highly educated and less political. Now, this might be a stereotype (and people I heard it from, who identified themselves against the type of people who go to the Gulf, themselves talked about the possibility of moving there, so obviously the idea is not exactly like the practice), but it probably also has some interesting implications for what the political engagement of Egyptians in the Gulf might be like. Another truism, this one in policy circles, is that Egyptians in the Gulf voted for Morsi, while Egyptians elsewhere voted for Shafiq (his secular but Mubarak-allied opponent). So how can we untangle suppressive protest environment, possibly different social attributes, and different political views in understanding the position of Gulf Egyptians during moments like these? If your answer is, "[personal profile] ajnabieh, that sounds like an excellent grant proposal for a research trip," you read my mind.

  • The protests that got the biggest circulation (that I saw--I obviously might be wrong) on social media were London and New York. My networks are New York-centric, though.

  • New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles are all in the top five largest cities for Arab population [eta: in the US--I don't know about largest cities for Arab diaspora population outside the US]. The ones that are missing are Detroit and Chicago. Without going deeply into the Census data, a glace at the AAI profiles tells me neither of those cities have large Egyptian populations. That suggests this isn't a pan-Arab mobilization--it's an Egyptian mobilization, and it's only happening where there's a critical mass of Egyptians. (Even though there aren't a lot of Egyptians in either Chicago or Detroit, there are still *some.*)

  • Again, something else I've noticed in my research: Egyptians in Egypt who are themselves a part of the transnational class are promoting and circulating images of protests abroad. That picture montage I linked above the cut was posted by Bassam Youssef, the satirist, and both Egyptian Streets and Cairo Gossip had posts about protests. So Egyptians in Egypt who are politically engaged don't differentiate between diaspora action and action at home, at least not in the aggregate.


In any case, watch this space for more info as it happens...

Four Links

Jun. 10th, 2013 09:19 pm
ajnabieh: Happy woman with broom: FIGHT ALL THE OPPRESSIONS; same woman, dejected, "Fight ALL the oppresssions?" (ALL the oppressions?)
I meant to do this earlier today, but my brain was all taken up with writing. How are your writing lives, comrades? I got all my easy summer projects (abstracts, revisions, etc) out of the way, and now I'm staring down the barrel of a book proposal and a couple of articles. Boo hiss.

Anyway, four things I read recently that I thought were worth passing on.

Arizona Everywhere: Immigration Policing and the United States’ Expanding Borderlands is a frankly horrifying piece on the powers of the US Border Control and their actions policing immigrants well inside what we think of as the US border region. I'm particularly appreciative of this piece for its analysis of Sodus, New York, which is about half an hour from my house. I have the slightest of bones to pick with the section on Detroit, however: while the author is absolutely right to point out the consequences of increased border patrols on the Latin@ community, he neglects that there's another community in Detroit that is the focus of Border Control attention: the Arab community, who has been under particular security surveillance and has seen a rise in deportations as well. In fact, I'd wager that the rationale behind the huge quantity of border agents in Detroit is tied to the Arab community there--and that other communities are suffering collateral damage because of it.


Children of Egyptian Diplomats: Caught Between Two Worlds is a short piece on the experience of being a transnational Egyptian. I'm thinking about this a lot lately, as it's research relevant.

The AKP's Accountability Problem and The Might of the Pen(guin) are two great pieces on the current protest cycle in Turkey. I appreciate the former for the way it focuses on horizontal accountability, meaning the sharing of power among different governing institutions; it's not that the government lacks democratic accountability in the sense of having been fairly elected (nobody's disputing that, at least according to what I've seen), but that the AKP is overly centralist and assumes that, once it's in power, it doesn't have to be accountable ever again. It's good to see a piece of analysis that takes Turkey seriously as a country with democratic institutions, while also recognizing the seriousness of the problems at hand and the real lack of legitimacy the AKP has in many quarters right now. The second piece, which explains some of the symbolic politics of the demonstrations, demonstrates how significant this portion of the population is: they're media-makers and creators, which means they have an effective means of communicating with the population and bringing people over to their side.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Quick hits from my reading list:

Egypt, the IMF, and Europe. A policy paper by Farah Halime, whose blog is a great resource on Middle Eastern economics for folks (like me) who want to incorporate thinking on economic issues into our work without being, ourselves, experts in economics. (I am still confused how I fell into doing political economy work at this particular moment in time.) The ongoing disaster that is Egypt's economy, and how it relates to the world economic system, isn't nearing a resolution, but this paper neatly lays out what's going on in Egyptian politics and economics that's making negotiating with the IMF so difficult, and what the policy problems with loans are going to be. (It's not anti-loan or anti-IMF, but it does acknowledge the multiple issues with loans and their consequences--more reformist than radical.)

The Anatomy of Protest in Egypt and Tunisia. The Arab Barometer project is the best collection of cross-national quantitative data on public opinion in the Arab world; as a qualitative researcher, I'm always glad when someone else has collected high-quality quant data that I can use in a glancing manner when I need some of it, so I don't have to. Here, three of the researchers associated with the project lay out some conclusions about protesters in Egypt and Tunisia during the revolutions. The centrality of economic and anti-corruption concerns for protesters stands out, as does the relative lack of interest in Islamist transformation, and the lower interest in civil and political rights.

Engaging the Haitian Diaspora. The Caribbean countries are some of the most important and most-studied cases of diaspora political involvement, and the details of the Haitian diaspora's demographics recounted in this article are fascinating, and demonstrate why diaspora political and economic engagement is so important in this case. I'm also glad to see more stuff not about the Middle East coming from the Cairo Review, which is a brilliant new(-ish) journal from AUC.

What is Tuz? Storytelling from the Queer Arab Diaspora. I haven't listened to this yet--in fact, I rarely listen to podcasts and radio shows, because I am weird and prefer to assimilate new information by reading, rather than listening--but it seems really awesome. And makes me miss NYC.

Explanation is Not the Point: Domestic Work, Islamic Dawa and Becoming Muslim in Kuwait (PDF) This brilliant article by Attiya Ahmad on migrant domestic workers' conversions to Islam in Kuwait is fascinating as a piece of ethnography, and insightful as an exploration of what 'conversion' means in different cultural contexts. I'm particularly interested in it because I'm returning to an old project on the construction of an idea of preference for Muslim domestic workers in Gulf countries, and this comments interestingly on the subject in one of the footnotes. (Also, because of my obsession with everything related to Kuwait ever. KUWAIT.)
ajnabieh: The silhouette of Cairo, with the text in English, "We Are Egypt." (we are egypt)

Image from cairogossip.com


When I first started reading Cairo Gossip, it was in an attempt to get a feel for the city in advance of my first trip there. The club scene it depicts--a place where there's a schedule of perhaps ten clubs in Cairo, Sharm el-Sheikh, and a few other cities to see and be seen in, where a group of DJs develop followings and the parties are full of happy women in tank tops and men in polos--is not the sort of place I've ever found myself, but it reminded me of the New York where I spent my twenties, and gave me a picture of cosmopolitan, educated, upper-class young Cairo that was immediate and cheerful. The occasional post where one of the pseudonymous authors commented on Egyptian politics and life, from the AUC strike to how to fix Cairo's traffic problems to blaming the Ikhwan for "Arab Islamophobia" kept me reading, and suggested to me that Cairo Gossip was more substantive than its shoes-of-the-night posts might imply.

In late November, as Morsi attempted to consolidate power in the executive, the political content on Cairo Gossip spiked, going from perhaps one post a day (and some days with none) to multiple daily posts. What is particularly interesting here is that it wasn't merely an increase in commentary and discussion of political matters alongside its traditional focus on the party scene and lifestyle topics. Instead, CG treated these protests as another element of the lifestyle of the people it talks about.

One of the most common features of Cairo Gossip's website is the party liveblog, where photos are posted from parties as they happen or the next morning. (CG has started password-protecting these posts recently, at least partially in response to requests from party promoters, so I'm not linking to them directly.) Most days, and particularly after or during the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night major parties (the Egyptian weekend is Friday/Saturday), there will be at least one post from the night before, a peek into the pleasures and experience of the night before. But in the space after Morsi's decree, Cairo Gossip began posting nearly identical liveblogs…from protests. Here, for example, is a liveblog from the #nov23 protest in Tahrir Square; here is a photostream from a protest march from Zamalek to Tahrir, which at least one commenter on the Cairo Gossip Facebook page said was as large and committed as it was because of Cairo Gossip's work promoting it. The quality of the photos in party posts and protest posts is much the same: clearly snapshots taken with a phone camera (or perhaps a generic quality digital camera), little to no attention to framing or composition, and a focus on the people involved. Some photos are blurry or washed out with flash, but all of them convey a sense of place, of a community of people engaged in something together.

It is this collectivity that marks the way Cairo Gossip constructs its version of Cairo. When I spoke with Fishie, one of the lead writers of CG, it told me that there are perhaps only 600-1000 people who regularly participate in the Cairo party scene, who tend to be the children of business and political elites. Many appear to be graduates of the American University in Cairo, or the German University in Cairo, the two largest and most prestigious foreign universities, where the children of the upper classes go to earn degrees that will position them to take leadership roles in the country. (Mark Allen Peterson's Connected in Cairo is a brilliant ethnography of this demographic, drawing from his experiences as a professor at AUC; I read it while in Cairo, and it provided a deeply comforting way of contextualizing my experiences. Plus, there's the pleasant irony of reading a book with a Cilantro on the cover…in a Cilantro.) Like any subculture, members of it have signs and symbols by which they know each other; they go to the same places, they have the same contexts, and they engage with the world in ways that allow them to recognize other members, even if they don't know them specifically.

This common culture is not merely defined by parties. It is also defined by a set of political practices. On the second anniversary of the opening of Amici, a popular bar with the club set, which fell at the height of the protests against Morsi's decree, CG posted to encourage people to go both to Tahrir and to Amici, not just to have fun, but because Amici was a part of their culture of resistance.

"i remember in the first revolution AMICI was there for us during the revolution when we needed it. After we come back from tahrir we would go back to Amici re-group there and talk about what happened while having a cold beer or cocktail. When FEB11 happened Amici, opened up its doors to everyone and celebrated the first revolution. So this Monday (tomorrow ) I am going to have a PRE-VICTORY drink and when we bring down the tyrant Morsi a post victory drink too! and also have a drink for AMICI’s 2nd BDAY."


It's not just the writing team of Cairo Gossip (lead by Fishie, but including a whole menagerie of animal pseudonyms) who believe in this sort of integration of the political with their party world. Participants on the Facebook group (which is members only) participate in discussions about the political posts enthusiastically, whereas they're more likely to simply "like" posts about parties, or comment briefly on notes about business or locations. Facebook users are as likely to "like" or "share" posts having to do with political events as parties, and the political posts are much more likely to get shared on Twitter. (I'm guessing this is a structural difference in the uses and users of Twitter and FB among educated, upper-class Cairo.) Fishie even told me that, when the website concentrates too much on parties and not enough on political affairs at tense moments, readers and community members push back and demand more politics.

Although it's not crystal clear what all of the objections of this community are to Morsi's government (as if a group, or even an individual, could ever have a clear and concise single opinion on something this complicated!), it's also clear that this isn't all simple self-interest of drinking hipsters opposed to the Ikhwan. Certainly, they might object to taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, but they are also worried about business stability, the centralization of powers, and the non-democratic control of politics--things that lots of Egyptians, of all religions and political backgrounds, find worrisome about the Morsi regime. Just because this subculture is primarily constituted through their participation in eminently non-political activities such as clubbing doesn't mean that the participants in it don't have other identities and political perspectives--nor does it mean that the positions they develop from their subculture are invalid. Cairo Gossip isn't "just" a party website; it's a living representative of the politics and culture of a place in time, and that representation is vivid and fascinating.


Many thanks to Fishie for allowing me to join the Facebook group, answering my questions and being so friendly. Next time I'm in Cairo, I owe you a drink. :)
ajnabieh: The silhouette of Cairo, with the text in English, "We Are Egypt." (we are egypt)
I got my fifteen minutes of policy-wonk fame last Thursday, when an article I wrote for the Middle East Channel (a dedicated group blog, run by Foreign Policy, on Middle Eastern politics) ended up designated their "top story." (While it no longer has that status, it's still on the front page, so I'm still rather pleased.) In any case, if you're at all interested in Egyptian economics, international financial institutions, or what technical negotiations about fuel subsidies can tell us about the underlying state of democracy, check out my piece: Politicizing Egypt's Economic Reform. Also, note the most interesting thing I learned from reading approximately 200 news articles about the Egypt/IMF negotiations: Christine LaGarde is really really tall.

And now, back to the Batcave of writing...
ajnabieh: The silhouette of Cairo, with the text in English, "We Are Egypt." (we are egypt)
A. Everybody.


No, seriously, people weighing in against it include:

  • Salafis ('fundamentalist' Islamists): They don't like Article 2, on the role of shari'a, because it's not strong enough; they worry people have too many rights; and, god forbid, the constitution might accidentally forbid child marriage. (My thoughts on that last are inappropriate to print in a professional environment.)

  • The High Constitutional Court: Their powers of judicial review and independence are substantially reduced from the current situation. Worth noting that the judiciary right now is holding back on throwing out the entire constituent assembly; if they don't get what they want, this all might have been for naught.

  • Human rights activists: both transnational and domestic activists are displeased. Too many rights for the salafis apparently equals insufficient rights for liberals.

  • "Intellectuals": they're mad there's no clear role for them in the new government. I honestly can't tell if this is a serious objection that's grounded in something, or sour grapes, but either way I find it darkly amusing.

  • Religious minorities: From the Copts worried about Islamism, to the Shias worried about the imposition of Sunni interpretations of law, and the Baha'i worried that they don't have any religious protections, it's safe to say that if your practice a minority religion in Egypt today, you're gonna be a little nervous.

  • For crying out loud, even the hipsters are mad. (The political commentary on Cairo Gossip is surprisingly insightful for a blog that recently had readers try to identify people on the party scene from photos of their asses.)


So, who, precisely, is happy about the draft Egyptian constitution?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

This would be an excellent popcorn moment, if it weren't that it mattered so damn much.
ajnabieh: The silhouette of Cairo, with the text in English, "We Are Egypt." (we are egypt)
(Home safe from Cairo, and then from my post-Cairo "hey! Let's drive around the upper midwest for a week!" jaunt through Michigan and Ontario. But this has been sitting on my phone since I got back, and I finally had a moment to put it up here. Hi!)

NOTE: this post contains reference to the getting travel-related food poisoning. Nothing squicky and no details (trust me, you don't want them), but if the mere idea is an issue, best scroll on by.



1.

It was my first night in Cairo. I was jetlagged, exhausted, dehydrated, lost, confused, and about to get really, really sick, though I didn't know it. I ended up deciding to have knafeh for dinner, because I just didn't know anymore, and stumbled into a patisserie. After trying to order, and then being told to go take a seat and that a waiter would come, and then waiting for a table to open up, and then waiting for the waiter (probably all of this would have been easier if I weren't a mess), I managed to order a plate of knafeh and a cup of tea. "Bidoun sukker," I said, and the waiter gave me a funny look. I'm an idiot, I realized--there's an idiomatic way to order your tea without sugar, which I had of course forgotten. And maybe bidoun wasn't even how you said 'without' in Egyptian dialect. God, why had I left my Arabic textbook in the US? It wasn't doing me any good there.

After a while, I got my knafeh and my tea. "Without sugar," the waiter said pleasantly, and I tried not to feel too stupid. The tea was too hot to drink for a long time, but, God, I needed it.

2.

Two days later, I woke up at 9:15 and groaned. Of course, I had to get sick first thing in the morning this time. But I couldn't go all day without eating, and breakfast ended in fifteen minutes. I needed to put something in my stomach. I struggled into clothes and stumbled into the hotel restaurant at 9:32, feeling like an asshole.

The guy in the chef's hat who made omelettes was nowhere to be seen, but the girl who waited tables was around, and said "good morning!" to me cheerfully. I tried to smile back. Normally, this would be the point where I'd pile on the fuul and the boiled eggs and everything, but I decided to play it safe: orange juice, plain pita bread, plain yogurt, some honey to add to it. The waitress came to take my cup. (She'd learned, over my three mornings so far, that I wanted coffee with milk.) "Excuse me," I said. "Can I have tea this morning, instead?"

"Of course," she said, still cheerful, and walked away.

I struggled through some bread, and then a cup of tea appeared next to me. I looked at it. It had milk in it, already mixed. I blinked. No one, I mean no one, drinks tea with milk in the Middle East. God, they must keep a separate pot ready of milky tea for the aganib, because they know we like milk in our coffee and milk in our tea, strange as it is. My heart sank a little, because milky tea was the last thing I wanted in that state. I wanted a nice, plain cup of black tea, boring and bitter and enough to settle my stomach.

But what could I say? I sipped at it, forced down my yogurt, and cursed cultural sensitivity.

3.

Costa Coffee was like a giant suburban Starbucks, sprawled out on the side of Shari3 Gama3t Duwal 3arabi. (By the end of my two weeks, I knew just to call it Gama3t Duwal. I didn't yet.) It struck me as odd that these western-style restaurants took up so much space; in cities back home, they get crammed into the same tight quarters as everyone else. I got a seat--I had finally figured out that, in Cairo, you don't just go to the counter and order and then find your seat--and ordered tea and a croissant. I was feeling better than earlier that morning, but I still wanted to be soothed.

The tea arrived: a pot that must have held about two cups of hot water, a single Twining's English Breakfast teabag, and a latte cup to drink it from. I dropped the teabag in the pot, feeling resentful. When I make tea in a pot this size at home, I use three teabags, not one. The water wasn't going to be hot enough, either, which meant the tea was going to be frightfully weak. I huffed to myself. This cup of tea was going to be wrong.

And then I thought about learning to make tea with the family who put me up in the West Bank when I was there. Boil a saucepan of water; add a fistful of fresh mint, and a fistful of white sugar. Take one tea bag, and dip it in, again, again, again, until the water looks like tea. Then it's done.

This tea, I realized, was an act of fusion. Take tea-making norms from one place, apply them to tea from another. If this had been a bag of Lipton Yellow Label, then it would have made sense. I'd been thrown by my own, anglophile notions of what a "proper" cup of tea was. (Warm the pot, four minutes, no more, one spoon for the pot, milk goes in the cup first.) No, this is perfect, really; this is tea that is both/neither, that follows no rules but its own.

The inscription on the saucer said "Italian about coffee." And English about tea, I expect, in exactly the same way.
ajnabieh: The McDonalds Arch, with text in Arabic reading "ماكدونالدز مصر"/makdunaldz masr/McDonalds Egypt. (ماكدونالدز)
If you are an Egyptian who has lived or was born abroad, in the West or elsewhere, and who now lives in Egypt, I want to meet with you while I'm in Egypt! Here is why.

(If you aren't, but know someone who is, or who is doing similar research, could you please pass this on?)

project details and introducing myself )
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
Thursday night, tired, still a little jetlagged, I walked the few blocks from my hotel to a sandwich place I'd seen recommended in a lifestyle magazine-thing, which had an English edition and a iphone app, so targeted at expats and that segment of the Cairene upper class who speaks English.  The shop was down a dark streets (no streetlights), next to another, indistinguishable, but it had been recommended, and the prices were obscenely low by my agnabi standards (plus I'd dropped over a hundred pounds on lunch at a Zamalek cafe, I needed to economize).  So I headed in, and ordered in my terrible Arabic.

The man behind the counter clarified what I wanted in perfect English (they always do), tried to convince me to get a second sandwich ("Not tonight, I'm saving it for another visit, since this is so close to me!" I said cheerfully), and then asked, once he'd placed my order, where I was from.  

"I'm American, from New York," I said (because all real Americans know New Yorkers don't count; plus, saying this often has the consequence of people talking about their friends, relatives, acquantainces, etc in New York).  

His face got a little sad, and he glanced at the TV in the corner, showing a salah jum3a somewhere in the world.  "Some people, they are not being good to Americans right now," he said quietly.  

"I know," I said.

We chatted politely about my reasons for coming to Egypt.  I made fun of my bad Arabic (as always, saying I studied fus7a in university impresses people; they shouldn't be impressed, my fus7a is atrocious).  He had had experiences that were relevant to my work, so I asked him about them, politely, explained what I was doing.  My sandwich came out from the kitchen, and he invited me to take a seat and keep talking.

After a few minutes, he said, "We talk all the time about how we are Muslims in this country.  But if we look at what we are doing, we are not being good Muslims.  We are not following the example of the prophet.  He never said to hurt anyone."

"We have the same problem in America," I said.  "People say they are Christians, but they are not doing what Jesus would want them to do."

"When someone says he is Muslim, you know he is not acting  like a Muslim," he said, nodding.

"The more they say it, the less they are!" I said.  We both laughed.  

When I had finished my sandwich, I thanked him, and told him it was delicious.  "How much do I owe you?" I said, reaching into my pocket for the pound coins rattling around there.  

"For you, nothing.  It's your first day," he said.

"Are you sure?"  

"Of course."

"Thank you," I said, smiling.  "I will be back."

I left that night, wandered around my neighborhood, where I was the oldest woman on the street without a headcover, and, I think, the only foreigner.  I went back to my hotel, happy to be here, happy to have met this man.

Last night, I stayed in my hotel room, and flipped between BBC World and Al Jazeera English.  Most times I want to practice my Arabic, but I needed to understand everything, last night.  I ate dinner in my hotel, and the tv in the restaurant played a Coptic priest and an imam critiquing insults to religion while I ate shorobat 3ads and baba ghanoug.

I'm going back out tonight.  I want to pay for my sandwich this time.
ajnabieh: The McDonalds Arch, with text in Arabic reading "ماكدونالدز مصر"/makdunaldz masr/McDonalds Egypt. (ماكدونالدز)
So, I leave for Egypt in three days. Pretty much my entire brain is chanting MASR MASR MASR MASR MASR MASR all the time; it would be annoying if it weren't so all-consuming. But, as things are starting to slot into place, I thought I'd do a couple of posts on what, precisely, the working political scientist-slash-ethnographer brings with her to go somewhere to do research. With the caveat that 1) I'm only going for two weeks, 2) I'm staying in a big city (Africa's biggest city, actually) and in a decent hotel, so I'll have resources available...

Here's what I'm bringing:


photo(4)

notes on what you see here, and what you don't )

As well as all of the physical stuff, there's also a lot of digital stuff I'm bringing with me...

photo

probably the level of dependent I am on this particular rectangular prism of plastic is not healthy )

So, beloved readers, techies and fieldwork-conductors: what am I missing? What do you bring when you head into the field?

(And, off topic, but: I'm changing planes in Amsterdam with a longish layover, and am meeting some friends for lunch at Centraal Station--anyone have recommendations for things to do near there when you've only got 5 hours and some massive jetlag?)
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
Lagarde, Qandil hope for IMF deal before end of year, Egypt Independent: Basic summery of the outcome of today's meeting between Prime Minister Hisham Qandil and IMF director Christine Lagarde.

Egyptian activists call for protest against IMF loan Wednesday, Ahram Online: anti-IMF demos in Cairo; groups doing the organizing had done anti-loan activism before the revolution, as well.

Statement by IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde: This is mostly boilerplate, but it suggests a successful meeting, and also says that a technical team will be arriving in September to start actual negotiations.

Egypt: the IMF Loan, Open Democracy: A critical assessment of why Egypt wants the IMF loan, but the policy prescriptions that come with it might not be the best idea.
ajnabieh: Palestinian flag in front of billboard for the movie Prince of Persia.   (prince of persia)
The subjects of today's analysis: Kahrabtak ("your electricity"), a new site that allows people to report power outages all over Egypt, and Harassmap, a several-year-old site that allows women* to report street sexual harassment. This is a very preliminary analysis, and I haven't started going through reports off Kahrabtak to see content; this is just based on the structure of the sites as they stand.

What struck me immediately on going to the Kahrabtak website is that it looks just like Harassmap. Sure, the color scheme is different, but in a way that's like how going to different Tumblrs or MySpace pages is different: you still inevitably know what type of site it is. In this case, they are both implementations of the Ushahidi platform, which allows people to send text and email reports of the thing they are recorded, which is turned into visual data that includes the text of the report. Because they share a common platform, they share a structure and a lot of text. But this is all, on some level, just a generic trait: they're both Ushahidi platforms, so that level of textual similarity isn't necessarily meaningful.

There are a few relevant differences, though. Harassmap has links in the top pink sidebar to information about the platform, a set of links to organizations providing help and support to harassed women, and a place where people can go to volunteer to do street-level anti-sexual-harassment work in their neighborhoods. Kahrabtak, for its part, doesn't have any of that information. There are no links to the broader levels of social contestation over electricity shortages: not the "We Won't Pay" campaign of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, for example, or any other political action around outages. There's no background on who the people are who are involved in the project, and information about the structure it comes from. Instead, there is a line of text, which says that the project is to capture real-time data about both outages and the "misuse" ( سوء استخدام) of power.

This suggests two things about the different mapping projects:

1) Harassmap is located in an existing network of people taking political action around street harassment/sexual harassment. In fact, street harassment has been one of the central concerns of Egyptian feminism over perhaps the last five years, and Harassmap as a project is an outgrowth of a coalition of women's & feminist groups looking for new ways to talk about the project. Kahrabtak, on the other hand, is unlinked to any broader project. That doesn't mean that the people behind it aren't; the article where I learned about Kahrabtak mentions that the people involved are also a part of another website monitoring Morsi's presidency, with a background in activism. But none of this is explicit, ready to be read anywhere. Purely from the site, Kahrabtak appears sui generis.

2) Harassmap places the blame for sexual harassment on the harassers, and does not make any judgments about the harassee. In their form, there is no space to document what you were wearing or what the conditions were. Sometimes people write about these things in their freeform comments, but even if you were wearing a tank top and shorts at two in the morning your citation of sexual harassment is still implicitly valid. Kahrabtak, on the other hand, lists as one of its categories to report "street lamps on during the day," a sign of electricity wastage. They're interested both in where blackouts are, and whether somebody's done something nearby to overload the system. This isn't, precisely, victim blaming, in the same way that it would be if Harassmap collected data on where there were women in revealing clothing who were "asking for it." But this is a way of saying that the cause of the blackouts might be something that's reportable, that people could see and label.


Geography is different between the two maps, as well. The vast, vast majority of Harassmap's reports of harassment come from the greater Cairo area, with Alexandria next, and then the resort towns in Sinai. Although the largest single location of reports is within Cairo on Kahrabtak (not surprising, given that nearly a quarter of the residents of Egypt live in greater Cairo, and that we're looking at people who use the internet, which also means an urban/educated bias), it's not even a bare majority; most of the reports are in Upper Egypt, which is also, incidentally, where most of the demonstrations are.

Assuming that those who have the ability to report blackouts also have the ability to report sexual harassment, and vice versa, this suggests one of two things. First, we have more evidence that blackouts are a bigger problem in rural and Upper Egypt than in Cairo. This isn't terribly surprising, but here we see the data in a new way. The second issue is that different people who have the theoretical access to these tools will choose to participate in one of them and not another. That is, that Cairenes might be more willing to identify and counter sexual harassment than people elsewhere in Egypt, and that they might be complaining less about the effects of the blackout. (Middle-class Cairo, which is who is on these sites, went from annoyed to super mad when the Metro went down a few weeks ago. Qena and Sohag were already livid by that point.)

I don't have any conclusions yet, but there are two general thoughts swirling around this for me. 1) People make choices about what issues to take action on. The extent to which a given problem bothers them personally makes a big difference, but so also does what sort of agency and blame they assign for the existence of the problem to begin with. So probably some of these differences are traceable to how people variously define the issues of sexual harassment and electricity shortages. 2) Whether or not an issue is taken up by a stable, pre-existing coalition of political actors is not generally a determinant of whether or not there will be some form of policy adjustment to deal with the issue. However, it is an issue if you're going to be defining a constituency to lobby for future changes, or for inclusion into political processes; there needs to be a group there that can be mobilized deliberately, not just turn out into the streets in a rage every now and then. It's not clear yet whether a group can grab onto the electricity issue and use it to define a constituency the way that feminist groups have used harassment to define women's interests and women as a group.


*Disclaimer: I'm going to use the term "women" to refer to the victims of sexual harassment in this context, because of the way that gender ideologies and the gender binary work in Egypt; there isn't a defined way to talk about the street harassment of gender-nonconforming individuals within this framework, or to talk about the sexual harassment of men by other men or by women. As the issue is constructed in contemporary Egyptian politics, we're talking about men groping, touching, or catcalling women. Obviously in the world things can get more complicated, but this is the active framework on the ground right now.
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
Remember when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces made themselves in charge of everything?

Yeah, well, President Morsy got his revenge; yesterday he issued a new constitutional declaration, which took all the rights SCAF had allocated to themselves, and took them back.

So this is fun.

(In all seriousness: Nathan Brown argues this is less drastic than it looks, and probably he's right. But, still, there's just the tiniest bit of--dare I say petulance?--to the whole thing.)
ajnabieh: The McDonalds Arch, with text in Arabic reading "ماكدونالدز مصر"/makdunaldz masr/McDonalds Egypt. (ماكدونالدز)
I'm pleased to announce that I'll be spending my next year as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, working with Courtney Jung on the Toronto Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, a research project focusing on how economic and social rights are conceptualized and implemented in the developing world. I'm looking forward to working with their whole dataset, as well as getting to do conceptual work behind the project, but, for the moment, I'm focusing on my specific research project for this fall: how economic and social rights are mattering (or not) in post-revolutionary Egypt. What follows this is some preliminary thinking about the questions I'm going to be examining while I'm in Egypt this September, and for the rest of the year, about how the right to well-being gets instantiated in various political contexts.

While Egypt has no shortage of major political crises to attend to--the drafting of the constitution, the ongoing game of chicken between the military, the judiciary, and the civilian government, a new cabinet, and the deep fears of religious minorities--the issue that is rising to the front of everybody's attention is the ongoing electricity shortage. Since July, every governorate in Egypt has seen rolling blackouts; they've been rare and short in Cairo, but long and brutal in Upper (Southern) Egypt and the periphery.

In Egypt right now, it's upwards of 35C/95F every single day; it's also Ramadan, meaning that many Muslims are abstaining from food or water for fifteen hours a day. Under these conditions, losing access to refrigeration, air conditioning, electric fans, water pumps (both in rural areas and in urban slums without regular water access), and other electronic devices is punishing for the population. This has lead to a run of protests up and down Egypt; here, for example, is a map I made of every protest location mentioned in the English-language reporting on the issue; note the geographic dispersal. (Don't be fooled by the narrowness of the ribbon of protests; nearly all of Egypt's population lives in that narrow ribbon. It's called the Nile.)

Why are the shortages happening? Reports on the ground are confusing. Most of the reporting I've read cites technical factors: crumbling electricity infrastructure, political challenges to new power plants, and an increase, over the past few years, in electricity consumption nationwide. But all technical factors exist in the context of political and social reality; they have a material status, but that material status comes to have meaning in in the particular social location where they exist. So, why is this happening at all? Who deserves the eminently political blame for this crisis?

On the one hand, the strong impulse of most official responses is to try to dissolve the blame by spreading it out. There are the millions of new air conditioning units installed nationwide in the past few years; there are protests against the building of new power plants, there is the decline of the infrastructure under Mubarak. The solution suggested by this analysis of the crisis is to improve the infrastructure as quickly as possible (they keep saying "within days," but color me skeptical), and to ask everyone to make the best individual decisions they can. Prime Minister Qandil just provided the best example of this when he suggested that Egyptians should wear cotton clothing and all stay in the same room rather than spreading out throughout their houses, to save power. (The response was, shall we say, hilarious.)

On the other hand, though, is a desire to blame the government for not providing. And here is the connection to my work for TIESR: the protests, including the "We Won't Pay" campaign organized by the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, frame access to electricity as a right that people are being denied. Most understandings of economic and social rights don't include a right to electricity, and probably for good reason; they focus on the core rights that allow a person to live a healthy, well-developed life. (Sen's notion of capabilities, for instance, still produces a Human Development Index as thin as life expectancy, literacy, and wealth, for instance.) But people's experience of having rights is different from the theoretical articulation of a right. The Egyptian citizens who are refusing to pay their electric bills until the power comes back are doing so because they believe that they are owed well-being by their government, and that this well-being include the right to electricity in the hot summer months.

This is all tangled up alongside the fact that many of the places seeing the most intense electricity protests are also seeing water shortages. The right to water is one that is recognized by the international community, even if it is rarely enforced. But in Egypt, right now, access to clean water is tied to access to electricity; both are primary deprivations that those who are protesting understand as being failures of the government to fulfill its part of the social contract.

By the time I arrive in Egypt in September, the battles over electricity may have faded; holiday-related electricity usage will likely have fallen, since Ramadan will be over, and the weather will have cooled down marginally, at least in lower Egypt. Alternately, the plans that the government keeps talking about might actually alleviate the problem. (Although--well, let's just say if your solution is "we need some solar panels!" and you think you can fix the problem in a matter of days, I doubt that you'll meet your own timetable.) However, this is clearly a crucial issue for understanding now just how the Egyptian government is going to provide the standard economic and social rights to its citizens, but how those citizens will demand the right to well-being, in whatever form it takes, from their government.

(For more information: here is a good article on the giant, nation-wide powercut on August 9th, here is an excellent article on the technical problems and their relationship to politics, and here is my very-much-in-progress spreadsheet of articles about the crisis in English.)
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
I just watched a fascinating little video about built environment issues in Egypt, particularly around unofficial neighborhoods/slums. It's subtitled in English (took me two times through to catch that, BTW--you have to click on the "cc" button to see them--but man, it got more comprehensible after that), and made by the Mosireen collective, along with the folks behind The Shadow Ministry of Housing [ar].

ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
Two of these are not like the other:

1) El Koshary (Egypt's answer to The Onion), SCAF declares itself "creator and maintainer of the universe,". LOLz. Thanks to [blogspot.com profile] loveanddistain for passing it on.

2) Oh also? The Kuwaiti National Assembly's been dissolved. HA HA HA *WEEP* This is different than previous dissolutions in structure, in that there won't be new elections, but it points to the extent to which the amir's power feels threatened by the current opposition-led parliament: he's basically ordered a legal trial separation while everyone pursues couples' therapy. Anyway, here's Kuwait Times on the subject.

3) And everything else I'm reading about Egypt:

If you just want a good summary: this one explains what's up and why it all sucks.

The English text of the amendments
Basic article about the MB protests, which are both for Morsi and against the SCAF constitutional amendments
This also talks about protests, but it doesn't just call them MB (which is correct)
The Constituent Assembly, despite the parliment that elected it having been dissolved, has elected a chair; let's see if we get any constitution out of it.
Hey Ikhwan? Know how you won the parliamentary elections, and may have won the presidency? Now is a good time for us to decide if you're illegal.
Here are some funny ways people invalidated their ballots. VOTE BATMAN.
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
So, yeah, Egypt finished voting yesterday, and that's all great, democracy's awesome, whatevs, BUT HOLLLLLLLLD UP, because in a classic example of bait and switch, the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces decided to release its new single, "Here's A Constitutional Amendment In Which We Seize All The Power, Sucks To Be YOUUUUUUUUUUUU." So, basically, everything is farkatke*, and nobody knows which of the seventy things to be mad about they should pick.

Here's what I've read so far today; feel free to drop links if you find other things:

A summary of the new amendments: http://tabulasara.blogspot.be/2012/06/new-constitutional-declaration-of-17.html
Marc Lynch, Calvinball in Cairo: http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/06/18/calvinball_in_cairo
Nathan Brown, An Instant Analysis of Egypt's New Constitution: http://www.arabist.net/blog/2012/6/18/an-instant-analysis-of-egypts-new-constitution.html
Egypt Independent (published on Jadaliyya), SCAF extends its power with constitutional amendment: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/6047/scaf-expands-its-power-with-constitutional-amendme
Sandmonkey, Chapter's End (the pessimistic revolutionary analysis): http://www.sandmonkey.org/2012/06/18/chapters-end/




*I should note I had to look up how to spell that, since I'd only ever said it. You learn a lot of Yiddish living in New York.
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
A. I know a lot of you are also fans/fannish, and so I'm putting this first: The Journal of Transformative Works and Cultures, the fandom-studies journal put out by the OTW, has a new edition out on fandom and activism, which looks really exciting. I had the chance to read two articles before publication, one as a peer reviewer and one as a friend-of-the-author, and I really recommend both of them: The German federal election of 2009: The challenge of participatory cultures in political campaigns and Being of Service: X-Files fans and social engagement. Both are fascinating, and provide interesting ways of thinking about fandom and activism. I'm sure the rest of the issue is as awesome. Check it out, if this stuff interests you.


B. And the news story of the moment is the...I'm looking for a polite synonym for 'clusterf***' here...that is the state of electoral and military politics in Egypt. To be brief about it, the first round of elections put forth two candidates who were unpalatable to the majority of the population (Ahmed Shafiq, who is military in background and had been a part of the Mubarak regime, and Muhammad Morsi, who represents the Muslim Brotherhood, the more centrist of the Islamist politica movements); then, in the past week, SCAF (the military collective ruling at the moment) seized a bunch of rights that had been delegated to the parliament and civilian forces, while the Constitutional Court dismissed the entire democratically elected parliament because of 'irregularities' (sorry for the italics, I just feel ~~ways~~ about this); and Saturday and Sunday (i.e., today and tomorrow), the second round of the elections are being held, amid calls to boycott or invalidate ballots, a bunch of people holding their noses and voting for Shafiq or Morsi, and grumblings about whether the election will be fair at all. I'm sitting here eating a lot of popcorn and trying not to get too anxious, and reading the news. Some articles: Mohammad El Dahshan lays out precisely how bad it is in clear terms, Juan Cole points to the nested nature of the various problems here, and Lauren Bohn describes the level of fracture going on at the ground level. If you want to see what's going on during today and tomorrow's elections, here's the Ahram live blog, and here's Egypt Independent's.

C. Oh, also, in "hey there, war crimes are kinda an issue, you know?" news, the UN is leaving Syria. This...is not good. At all. I have no further commentary, apart from numb horror.

D. And some analysis:

I've been watching politically aware, pro-democracy, pro-revolution Egyptians angst over the outcomes of the first round of presidental elections since they happened, and I've been mulling. I don't disagree with their assessment of the lousiness of the two candidates; if I were an Egyptian citizen, I wouldn't know who to vote for either. (And I sure as hell wouldn't ask Thomas Friedman, but that's another issue.) But here's the thing: this sucks the way functioning democracy sucks. People had widely disbursed political interests; they voted for them. They got a choice between two candidates who both suck, but who represent commonly held positions. You know who can sympathize with this position? French voters in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen, the racist candidate, came in second to the center-right candidate, horrifying everybody from center-left on over (and a lot of other people, too). You know who else can? American voters, who always seem to get stuck voting for people we barely like, but who are less awful than the other guy. (I'm going to be holding my nose *so hard* in November in that voting booth. Buy me a drink and ask me about drone strikes some time.) I'm really sorry, ya al-misriyeen, but this is what democracy is like: it freakin' blows. Amid all the ways in which SCAF is trying to yank power back from the people of Egypt and civiliam power, this presidential election is a sad little reminder that democracy doesn't make everything better--it just makes the process by which we fight things that suck a little cleaner and easier.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
It's amazing how intense the first little bit of summer vacation can be. At least, if you're me, and have two weddings and two graduations to attend in a four week period. Oh, and two revise-and-resubmits that should have been done ages ago staring down your nose.

But I've finally got half-a-breath, and hope to be returning to blogging soon. (In particular, I've got an interview I want to put up, and some commentary on the Egyptian election.) But, in quick hits:

1) So, uh, I graduated?

536758_10101169315384399_1507935128_n


OK, maybe I'm a *little* miffed it didn't have a gold tassel, but owning my very own fuzzy octagonal hat makes up for any slights. C'mon, after all those fashion posts, are you surprised I got my doctorate for the express purpose of wearing regalia?

2. I'm super excited about the Arab American Book Awards. I was a judge in the poetry category, and got to read six amazing books of vibrant new poetry, by both up-and-coming and established stars in the Arab-American poetry community. I will make a post about all the nominees in a little bit--and probably give away some of the books, though a couple I'm keeping--but if you like poetry and can pick up a copy of Transfer, the honorable mention, somewhere, do so. I'd say you should get a copy of Abu Ghraib Arias, but it was only printed in an edition of 200, and therefore is unlikely to be found on store shelves. (You can see the cover and read a poem from it here.) I'm also excited because it means a likely trip to Dearborn for me to attend the awards ceremony. Dearborn yay!

3. This is where I publicly say that I'm planning to go to Egypt for a few weeks in September, to do some fieldwork. So if you, say, speak Egyptian 'ammiya (dialect) and want to Skype practice with me, or recommend your favorite trashy Egyptian movies/television to watch to get my listening comprehension up, or give me hotel recommendations or whatevs, you can.

4. In the vein of the previously mentions trashy Arabic TV: TOOP SHEF. That's how you say Top Chef in Arabic. IT IS SERIOUSLY THE BEST THING EVER EVER EVER EVER.



I'm pretty sure you don't need to know Arabic to follow along, once the cooking gets going--there's a lot of English (and some French) used to communicate, and plus, cooking!reality!TV crosses all possible linguistic boundaries.

After all, I think it's important that I learn how to say "I'm not here to make friends" in Arabic as soon as possible, don't you?

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Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

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