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: Palestinian flag in front of billboard for the movie Prince of Persia.   (prince of persia)
I'm happily back from WPSA, which was a blast; for folks like me, who work in odd corners of the field of political science, it's a tremendously productive place to have conversations that can be difficult to have in larger poli sci conferences. I sat around and talked about how to integrate queer theory into interpretive methodologies! There were multiple panels on feminist theoretical concerns per timeslot! It was awesome! Also, San Antonio is a fun place to be, so there was that.

As planned, we recorded our session, called "It's Not Facebook, It's Fieldwork! Conducting Interpretive Research Using Social Networking Technology." It's largely a conversation between myself and Renee Cramer of Drake University; we had one other participant, who didn't identify himself for the audio, but who made some great contributions. (My sister also gamely showed up, though she doesn't appear on the tape.)

The conversation was incredibly productive; Renee and I found a lot of common problems and reasons for turning to social networks to gather data, and I think made some productive comparisons. (Although, my favorite moment was the exchange "Have you found a better way to save data than to just copy it into Word?" "Nope." "Dammit.") In addition, I got to highlight the work that fan scholars are doing in changing how we think about citation and data-gathering on the internet; acafandom has done some impressive critical work that I think has ramifications for all of us doing research in online environments, and I'm glad to be able to share that.

The audio is just under an hour long; I haven't prepared a transcript yet, though I'm hoping to do so eventually. It's available for download on my mediafire page here, in m4a format. I've tried to edit the metadata in iTunes so that it has our names and my contact info; let's hope that works.

Please feel free to pass the file or this post along to anyone you know who would find it useful!

(PS: I know I did stuff for 3W4DW last year, but, well, since I don't crosspost anywhere, I didn't really know what to do this time. Anybody have particular things they want me to do? Go on and ask; if I get a chance, I'll be happy to!)
ajnabieh: Palestinian flag in front of billboard for the movie Prince of Persia.   (prince of persia)
This message brought to you from deep within the hinterland of Dissertation-Revision-Land. At least I managed to find that ACS data pull that I needed to run two more distributions on, right? Right?

Quran-burning pastor: Plan to visit Dearborn opposed - Detroit Free Press

OH FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER NO. I wish I had something more coherent to say on this topic, but it's just going to come down to flaily-hands at the moment.

Two Poems by Rashid Hussein - Jadaliyya

And this is why Jadaliyya is awesome: new translations of poems by one of the best literary translators in the biz, for free, on my RSS feed. The poems in this post are posted to commemorate Yom al-'Ard, Land Day, one of the major Palestinian nationalist holidays. Without a Passport, the second passport, is the more effective of the two, IMHO.

Is Egypt ready for "Queer"? - Bekhsoos

A little contemplatory piece on being out and queer in the revolutionary Middle East. This section in particular struck me:

When attending the Women’s Day protest, I noticed a significant number of gay people present (both men and women). The men present were accused of being “faggots”, and bore equal – if not greater – hostility than the women beside them. In the same way that acknowledging women’s role in society threatens male dominance, the notion of diverging sexualities is not just socially taboo, but also a challenge to the prevalent misogyny which informs attitudes to male-female relationships.


Tahrir Documents

ZOMG SO AWESOME. This is a translation project working on producing English versions (and digital copies) of the emphemeral discourse of revolutionary Egypt. Basically, I am in total geekgasm mode over this stuff--and I wish my Arabic were better so I could be helping out.

What Wasn't Said at Senator Durbin's Hearing on "The State of Muslim Civil Rights in the US" - Erik Lov @ Jadaliyya

Compared to the reporting that Peter King's hearings got, I hadn't heard a thing about Durbin's response until this article. Color me shocked that the Islamphobic fear-mongering dramatics of King beat out an evaluation of actual threats to an American minority community. *rolling my eyes FOREVER*

The Cute Cat Theory Talk at ETech - Ethan Zuckerman

Probably people have heard this before, but I have to admit that I enjoyed it. Favorite quote:

I’d offer the hypothesis that any sufficiently advanced read/write technology will get used for two purposes: pornography and activism. Porn is a weak test for the success of participatory media – it’s like tapping a mike and asking, “Is it on?” If you’re not getting porn in your system, it doesn’t work. Activism is a stronger test – if activists are using your tools, it’s a pretty good indication that your tools are useful and usable.


Rescue the Revolution: Notes from Cairo - Michael C. Hudson @ Middle East Channel

As exciting as the fall of Mubarak was, Egypt's revolution can't be over yet; it's going to be a long time before we know what will come of post-Tahrir Egypt. A good piece of reporting from on the ground in Tahrir now.

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ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

March 2016

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