ajnabieh: The McDonalds Arch, with text in Arabic reading "ماكدونالدز مصر"/makdunaldz masr/McDonalds Egypt. (ماكدونالدز)
Like most people, I was annoyed about Google Reader going away, since it's the way I read blogs these days that aren't on Dreamwidth. (Though, since I usually read it on my phone, it means I don't comment much--sorry, Dr. Koshary et al.) However, I am feeling particularly smart right now, because I solved my problem: Dreamwidth feeds.

Duh, I know, right?

Anyway, this means I just imported all of my blogs from Reader onto here, and I am very pleased. I also just created a bunch of new feeds, which some of you might be interested in, like...

[syndicated profile] connectedincairo_feed - Connected in Cairo, the blog of Mark Allen Peterson, an ethnographer of transnationalism in Egypt and one of my favorite academic bloggers.
[syndicated profile] feministphilosophers_feed - Feminist Philosophers, an excellent source for info both about feminist philosophy, feminist criticism of the field of philosophy, and feminist analysis of the contemporary world.
[syndicated profile] gfshoestring_feed - Gluten-Free on a Shoestring, One of my favorite gluten-free baking & cooking blogs. I have one of her cookbooks, and have made a bunch of her online recipes--if you're a GF person, she's totally worth following.
[syndicated profile] mmw_feed - Muslimah Media Watch, which has a great variety of articles on issues that effect Muslim women worldwide.
[syndicated profile] mideastchannel_feed - The Middle East Channel, great analysis by academics and think-tank types on contemporary Middle Eastern politics.
[syndicated profile] tinycatpants_feed - Tiny Cat Pants, a fabulous blogger who writes about Tennessee politics, crochet, her dramatic family issues, and witchcraft.
[syndicated profile] wrongingrights_feed - Wronging Rights, a group blog on human rights law with a heavy dose of snark
[syndicated profile] rebelecon_feed - Rebel Economy, a great blog on the Egyptian economy post-revolution
[syndicated profile] koonj_feed - Koonj, the blog of my dear friend Shabana Mir, which has some great posts right now on her recent experience teaching research methods in her native Pakistan

Anyone else have recs for feeds I should follow? I was glad to see that [syndicated profile] alreadypretty_feed and [syndicated profile] racialicious_feed were already created...


Jun. 20th, 2013 04:11 pm
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
My family is preparing for a move (yes, that does mean there's job news--no, I can't tell you yet, because I'm being paranoid about wanting a physical contract in my actual hands with relevant signatures, and university bureaucracies do not excel at doing that quickly), so I'm cleaning out a bunch of stuff. Some of this is tedious, like wading through every shirt I own and deciding which are keepers, which are in good enough condition to be sold or donated, and which are in such terrible shape they need to go to the fabric recycling. Some of them are stunningly productive, like reading through the back issues of all those journals that have been piling up around my house, and entering citations for useful things into relevant folders. And some of them are just weird.

In the weird category goes this one: I've mailed off a huge box of stuff to the Library & Resource Center at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI. I've been increasingly involved with the Museum since 2011, when I visited for the first time to attend a conference, and ended up volunteering for the Arab American Book Awards. I had two large boxes of newspapers, flyers, chant sheets from protests, and other assorted pieces of paper sitting in the corner of my wife's office left over from my dissertation research, because, like a good researcher, I saved everything. But it was time to shed some weight. So I went through, sorted it into piles, and dropped it in the mail to their archivist, Liz Skene.

The weird thing about this is twofold. On the one hand, it really means I'm done with my dissertation. I mean, sure, I've got to get the book out, but that's a matter of revision; by sending these documents away, it means I'm not going to sit around and translate those newspaper articles, I'm not going to perform an elaborate reading on the graphics on that poster, I'm not going to do any of those things. I'm closing that door, and turning to the next one, to see what it's got in it.

The other weird thing here is that it presupposes that what I've got is meaningful. There's someone out there, in the world, who might want to look at these documents later. Some other scholar might get something useful out of them. That seems terribly self-aggrandizing and self-important. And yet, it's also part of how the historical record is made: what gets put into archives, shoved into boxes in attics, passed down from generation to generation is how we figure out what happened at previous points in time. If, fifty years from now, someone wants to do research on how the Arab community in Brooklyn has grown or changed over time, those two file boxes of papers will be invaluable data.

I both want to claim that my work is important enough to do this--that it's worth publishing, that my primary sources are worth looking at, that there's unexplored data in there--and I feel the tiniest bit imposter-syndrome about it. But I pushed through that. And now there are some boxes in Dearborn with my name on them.

And that's a little awesome.

Fellow researchers, have you ever sent some of your documents and data to an archive? How did you choose what to do, or where to send it? (For instance, none of my fieldnotes went, because they contain people's legal names, and I'd want to obscure them before archiving; I would have liked to archive my papers in NYC, but the AANM is a dedicated thematic archive, and I think that gives them a better chance of being found by an interested party in the future.) Have you ever used archived data and been either glad it was there, or pissed off that All The Wrong Things Get Saved?

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 open doors of a subway/metro car, with a sign above them, reading "lilsayyidat faqat" [Ladies Only] (sayyidat faqat)
Hana Malhas has a new video out!

Hana is a Jordanian/American singer-songwriter, who plays the guitar and piano (I think?) and who is currently making music with her band The Overthinkers, which is, let's be real, the best band name. I think I've recced her here before, but oh well.

If, like me, you are easily seduced by singer-songwriter types performing covers of hip-hop, here she is doing Kanye West's Stronger.

You can stream their latest album at her website; it's also on Spotify, at least in the US. I discovered her on MideastTunes originally.
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: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
I have an article in the current issue of Middle East Journal which might be interesting to some of you. (I have the lead article, actually, which amuses me to no end.) "Democratic Paradoxes" is about Kuwaiti women's enfranchisement, particularly the 1999 enfranchisement by the emir, which was then retracted by the National Assembly. Essentially, I argue that this particular moment demonstrates a tension between distributing power across a variety of insitutions in a democratizing country, and increasing the number of people who are entitled to participate in the political process. Working from an analysis of 1999, I analyze subsequent ups and downs in women's political participation over the subsequent decade-and-change in Kuwait's never-boring political life. In the end, my argument is that those of us who have strong normative commitments to both women's empowerment in formal politics and to growing democratic control over governance need to be aware of moments where these two goals are in conflict, because they aren't always easily combined.

I'm overjoyed for this article to see print, not just because I like it, but because it began its life nearly a decade ago, first as a random idea floating through my head while I worked as a research assistant for the year before grad school, then as a research proposal for my first grad school seminar, then as a conference paper for my first MESA, and finally as a working paper for the past four years. It's gone through innumerable revisions, including being updated for no fewer than four new National Assembly elections (including the one in December that kept it out of the winter issue). The editing staff at MEJ was lovely throughout, and I'm glad to have had the chance to work with them--but I'm also glad to be done with this particular article. Now, finally, I am allowed to think different things about Kuwait!

You can see the whole issue here. If you want my article and can't get free access online, drop me a note and I'll send you a copy as a PDF. If you're my mother and want a physical copy with my name on the cover, go buy your own, the one I've got is mine.
ajnabieh: Palestinian flag in front of billboard for the movie Prince of Persia.   (prince of persia)
Movement and displacement are not incidental aspects of the past and present of the Middle East; they are at the center of its history.

-Andrew Arsan, John Karam & Akram Khater, On Forgotten Shores: Migration in Middle East Studies and the Middle East in Migration Studies (PDF)

I am excited to have discovered that there is a new journal in existence catering exactly to my whims that fills a gap I'm happy to see filled: critically studying Arab and other Middle Eastern migrations through time and space. Mashriq & Mahjar is a new online, peer-reviewed journal, publishing scholarship on all areas intersecting with Middle Eastern communities and migration.

One of the downsides of participating in the field of Arab-American studies is that it so small, and has never quite known how to articulate itself in transnational perspective. Many of those of us who study Arab-Americans started out in Middle Eastern studies (like me); other started out or ground themselves in American ethnic studies. Both of these intellectual trajectories make sense, given both how Arab-Americans remain linked both in practice and in discourse to their communities of origin and how they are positioned within the American ethnic panoply, but it sometimes means that those of us working in the field can have trouble talking across this divide. (I suppose I'm lucky that I have a degree in women's studies, with a lot of coursework on intersectionality and women-of-color feminisms, so the language and frames of ethnic studies are minimally legible to me; I think a lot of Middle Eastern studies folks don't have that training.)

My solution has been to turn to the framework of transnational migration, in order to really capture the both/and nature of the subject of study. The editors of Mashreq & Mahjar have done likewise, trying to emphasize the way that the context of human movement and transnational circulation of ideas and goods has been a major force in constructing the region we think of as the Middle East. Whereas the post-Orientalism field of Middle Eastern Studies concentrates on how the way that the Middle East is understood as the foundational Other for Europe, the direction that this journal wants to take us is to focus on migration as another way for the transnational context to have effects on the Middle East.

In addition to the excellent introduction to the journal which I quoted above, there are four interesting articles (and a number of book reviews) in the first issue. Reem Bailony analyzes the way the New York diaspora engaged with the 1925 Syrian Revolt, making an interesting argument that, although these engagements existed at a distance, they were deeply national, rather than transnational, because of their adherence to the nationalist framework (PDF). Stacy Fahrenthold's paper also analyzes the diaspora press (specifically during World War I), concentrating on its role in developing a transnational Syrian middle class, and looking at the Syrian/Lebanese communities in Cairo, New York, and Latin America (PDF). John Tofik Karam talks about the role of Lebanese traders in constructing the relationship between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina in the border region they share (PDF). And Isaac Xerxes Malki uses the example of the Lebanese in Ghana to explore how state control and the economy interact in influencing how immigrant groups are integrated, or not (PDF).

If I had a complaint about the first issue, it would be that I wish there were more social science and less history in it--but that's very much about wishing that everything in the world would be exactly as I want it, which is not a legitimate desire. So I'm pleased with the issue, pleased with the existence of the journal, and looking forward to reading what comes out of it in the future!
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
I recently read a report by a group of Canadian academics and community activists on immigration and citizenship policy in the post-9/11 period, called Security and Immigration, Changes and Challenges: Immigrant and Ethnic Communities in Atlantic Canada, Presumed Guilty? (link to PDF). It was an enlightening report, not merely because I know next to nothing about Atlantic Canada. (Let's be real: like most North Americans, my mental image of Canada basically stops at Montreal, and east of that point I have only a vague notion of bears, trees, and Anne of Green Gables.) Much of what was in the report was profoundly similar to immigration politics and policy in the past decade-and-change in the US: Muslim and Arab communities being targeted for state surveillance, an increased securitization of migration policy, and anxiety from migrant communities about what future changes will mean for their ability to remain in Canada, or remain in status.

However, there was an angle that was new to me: the context of the US/Canada relationship. One of the major complaints of the immigrants and immigrant service organizations surveyed by the team was that Canadian immigration policy was becoming more like the US's during this decade. This was particularly disheartening because these new Canadians defined themselves as Canadians-not-Americans. Canada was not supposed to act like the US; it was supposed to prioritize human security and human rights, both in its migration policy and in its treatment of immigrants once they arrive in Canada.

The framework in which I locate my work is that of transnational migration, meaning not just migration that crosses international borders, but migration where people, ideas, and material goods flow back and forth between 'sending countries' and 'receiving countries.' However, this report suggests the importance of third-party countries to migrants' understanding of their own political movements and frameworks. They don't merely form the discourses that structure their political actions from the dialogical relationship between their experiences 'back home' and their experiences in diaspora; instead, they imagine other interlocutors against whom they define their discourses. This is new to me in the literature on transnational migration (which, incidentally, isn't the perspective this report takes--it's firmly rooted in domestic Canadian politics). I'd posit that this is because the literature on transnational migration has been largely about US/Latin America migratory circuits--and that American politics doesn't, very often, define itself against politics in other countries, certainly not the way that Canadian politics positions itself against US politics.

The report also deals in a very interesting way with how freedom is defined and understood by members of Atlantic Canadian immigrant communities; the researchers aimed to elicit meaningful definitions of freedom from their participants, and paint a picture of a very substantive working notion of freedom, which emphasizes fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of movement. It would be interesting to develop a comparative notion of how freedom is defined among dominant and subaltern communities in the US and Canada, considering how both countries make 'freedom' central to self-development.

In any case, I recommend the report if you're interested in ethnic politics in Canada, or broadening your lens on the security state and migration policy outside of either a Eurocentric or American lens. It also has an excellent methods section, which is clear, detailed, and explains enough to really ensure that readers who care about methods understand how the data was collected.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
My review of Wendy Pearlman's Violence, Non-Violence, and the Palestinian National Movement is out now in New Political Science, the journal of the New Political Science caucus of the American Political Science Association. (Basically, it's the caucus full of people who want political science to be more about social change, more about multiple methods coexisting and the validity of qualitative methods, and less about math.)

The review is behind a paywall, but here's my basic point:

Violence, Non-Violence, and the Palestinian National Movement provides suggestive answers to two popular questions about politics: First: when do participants in social movements choose violent tactics over nonviolent tactics? Second: Why is there no “Palestinian Gandhi” or prominent nonviolent leadership in the Palestinian national movement? By taking the first question seriously, and using the logical problems of the second as a motivating force (as she shows well, there is a long history of nonviolent activism in Palestinian movements), Pearlman has written a compelling book that combines close historical documentation with a clear argument about the relationship between the internal features of movements and their tactical choices.

If you're interested in Pearlman's work, here's a video interview with her talking about it, and here's an oldish essay by her on the Middle East Channel about the possibility of a new intifada.

If anyone wants a copy of my review, I'm happy to pass it along--hit me up by PM, or email (emilyreganwills at that ubiquitous server, gmail). And if you're thinking of getting the book, it's a good read, and available for Kindle.

(I know, I know, I never write, I never call. It's been a busy couple of months lately. Hopefully I'll have news to report in the next month or so...)
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
Inspired by [personal profile] nanila and the Ten Hundred Words of Science tumblr, I wrote a description of my research interests using the Up-Goer 5 text editor:

I went to school to study how people live together and make their lives together good or bad. I wrote a book about how people from a far away place do this in the large city where I lived. I studied how they said things and had ideas about how to live together with people who are different. Sometimes people do not listen to what different people have to say about how they should live together and what is right. I wrote a book to talk about how to listen to each other better when we are different and like different things.

Now I work with people studying how the people who set things up make sure that all the people have the things they need, like houses and water and food. People have a right to these things that they need, but not all people who set things up write down that they have this right. I study how this works in the far away place where the people from my first book are from. The way that the people who set things up get money to set things up and the way that they have set things up to work makes different things happen with writing down the rights people have.

I am also studying people who move between the place where I live and the far away place talk about different things for how to set things up. I want to know how moving between these places changes their thoughts about what is good and what is bad in how their places should be set up.

Sometimes I am a teacher (but not right now). I talk with young people about how people set things up and how they have ideas about how to set things up. I want those young people to think hard about the right way to set things up, and how different ways to set things up hurt or help other people. I want them to know better when to say yes or no to ideas about how to set things up. I also want them to like to read and write and think about these things, because I like to read and write and think about these things, too!

I wasn't able to work out any way to explain the Middle East in the Up-Goer 5 lexicon, but I'm pretty satisfied with "people who set things up" as a substitute for "government," and "how people live together and make their lives together good or bad" for "political science." I couldn't use the word "rules." It was challenging.

Your turn!
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 open doors of a subway/metro car, with a sign above them, reading "lilsayyidat faqat" [Ladies Only] (sayyidat faqat)
I finally finished posting all my Cairo photos to Flickr; have at. I haven't written notes on each of them, but I'll go back and do that now. No promises as to them being particularly excellent photos...

As I was uploading, I found another "language is cool!" moment. Remember my post from back in the day about English written in Arabic letters? I found a great example that complicates that:


This is a bakery on a side street in Mohandessin, called "Le Gourmet" in Latin letters on one side, and لو جورميه on the other. The Arabic here is great, because it's clearly working directly from the French, rather than via another language. Here we have the ج represents /g/ phenominon, the idea that the word ends in an /h/, and, most interesting to me, writing the vowel of the word "le" using the و, which we usually write as a u in English. I'd write the underlying French vowel as a /ʌ/, I think--and given that Arabic only has three long vowels (and long vowels are preferred for transliteration from other languages, to reduce ambiguity), u is probably a better choice than a or i. Still, though, not where I would have gone, with a more orthographic and less sound-based transliteration plan.
ajnabieh: The McDonalds Arch, with text in Arabic reading "ماكدونالدز مصر"/makdunaldz masr/McDonalds Egypt. (ماكدونالدز)
I have something of a linguistic puzzle that I can't follow. I'm hoping that both the folks around these parts better at Arabic, especially Cairene Arabic, than I am, and those who have formal training in linguistics, will be able to help me out with puzzling through this question of orthography.

So, Arabic has this letter, jiim: ج. Nice little letter, fifth of the alphabet, reasonably easy to write. In most dialects, it is pronounced like j in jar (IPA /dʒ/); so mountain is jabal, beautiful is jamil, etc. However, in most variants of Egyptian Arabic, it is pronounced like g in grip (IPA /g/); so mountain is gabal, beautiful is gamil. Generally, Egyptian Arabic doesn't have /dʒ/, and other dialects either lack the /g/ or get to it via some other sound change, frequently /q/=>/g/. In many ways, /dʒ/=>/g/ is the 'defining' sound change for marking the Egyptian accent (maybe like the vowel change in 'about' for marking Canadian English? sociolinguists, help me out). For me, at least, this was an easy sound change to remember in the switch from formal/Levantine Arabic to Egyptian; I had a lot more trouble remembering to tell the cab driver I was going 'urayyib min fundu' Flamenco, not qariib min funduq Flamenco, than that I should tell someone their baby was gamil, mashallah.

With that out of the way, here are two pictures of signs outside the same building in the Mohandessin district of Cairo:

"no parking" 2

"no parking" 1

(Sorry they're dark: my iPhone camera only works so-so at night.)

Both are intended to say "private garage," meaning that you can't park there; parking is at a premium in Mohandessin, most streets are double parked, and young men make livings rearranging parking on the streets to be more efficient. The issue is how they wrote the word 'garage.' The Arabic word is generally pronounced like the English version (though I think it actually comes into Arabic from French). Therefore, in most Arabic dialects, the Arabic alphabet would contain a way of writing the last sound, /dʒ/, but not necessarily the last; in Egyptian Arabic, the alphabet has a way of writing the first sound, /g/, but not the last.

Arabic has a way to handle this: it borrows the letter چ back from Persian and its related languages, where it represents the sound /t͡ʃ/. Those three dots underneath indicate that it represents a sound not found in Arabic. This is a regular pattern in Arabic: Havana Hotel, where I was staying, wrote its Arabic name with a ڤ, which is an /f/ with extra dots, for instance, and I've seen پ (/b/ with extra dots) used to make the sound /p/.

But you'll notice that these two signs don't spell the word the same way. The first spells it as چراچ, which I'd write as [dʒajadʒ], or "jah-raj." The second writes it as جراچ, which I would write as [garadʒ], or "ga-raj." I don't have a photo, but I know that I saw it written as جراج at least once, that is, as [garag].

What is going on here?

On the one hand, I really get the signs that use ج for both sounds. That letter is there, it's understood, people will get it. I don't add diacritics or accent marks to my English most of the time if I'm writing a word of foreign origin: I write role, not rôle, for instance, even though it's a direct loan from French. (OK, I probably add more accent marks than most people, but I think we can assume I'm not a typical Anglophone.) I also get the ones that get the spelling "correct," by my understanding of what the sounds in question are.

What I don't understand, at all, is what's happening when the چ is used in both positions. It includes both the 'foreign' sign AND doesn't accurately represent the phonetics of the thing. How did the sign-writer get there?

I can think of a few possibilities, and I'd love thoughts from more linguistically-trained persons than I:

Possibility 1: I've drastically misunderstood how the word 'garage' is said in Cairene Arabic. Fair enough, except that doesn't necessarily explain the inconsistency in how it's written.

Possibility 2: This is a repetition issue. Whoever wrote the sign had a thought process like, "I have to write that one weird letter. Maybe they should both be that weird letter."

Possibility 3: This is an overcorrection. "Wait, one of these ج has to have three dots. Which one? Can't remember. I'll just do both."

Possibility 4: The چis a mark of foreignness. Garage is a foreign loanword; چis a borrowed letter; they go together, somehow.

What do you think, friendly readers? How can we spell "garage"?
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.


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.


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.


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 text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
IMG_2219 IMG_2228 IMG_2218

IMG_2226 IMG_2224

Not the best photos, but here are some of the outfits I'm bringing with me to Cairo. (That mess behind me on the piano is the rest of the clothes. Although by now they've been tucked into my suitcase.) Packing for fieldwork is an interesting process; you have the constraints of a limited wardrobe, just like any trip, while also having to be prepared for multiple occasions and, usually, at least a few presentations of self. There may also be location-specific constraints. In my case, they were:

•It is going to be hot--around 90F/32C during the day, and 75F/23C at night. So I need to pack to stay cool...but also to keep from burning to a crisp (I burn fairly easily), and to go from sweltering-outside to air-conditioned-inside. (Pretty much, this is exactly like New York City at midsummer.)

•I'm going to have to look like a professional. While I don't have my whole interview schedule lined up, a part of it is going to be with professors, people involved in politics, and other people with whom I have to present myself as a similarly positioned professional.

•I can't always look like a professional. Some of my other interviews will be with activists, students, and other people who I'll be meeting in a personal, not professional capacity. You don't wear a suit to interview activists, not if you actually want them to talk to you. So both pairs of pants I brought can be worn more casually, and I'm bringing some more relaxed t-shirts as well.

•I can't bring much. I'm traveling with one suitcase of a size that it technically fits in a carryon compartment, one very small duffel-bag-ish thing that'll actually be carryon, and my purse (which probably is larger than the duffel thing, all told). So, everything I bring has to do double duty.

•Local modesty norms. I'll say more about this below, but I had to make sure that the things I brought wouldn't make me look rude or inappropriate.

After going through this mental list and my closet a million times, here is what I settled on:

Read more... )

When I tell people I'm traveling to the Middle East for work, I always, always get questions about what I "can" wear. This is an interesting balance, because I do take the location into account when I pack, but it's also not quite like what my interlocutors mean.

modesty, identity, and fashion )

Well, I'm off to the airport in a few hours--wish me three on-time flights and no line at customs!
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:


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...


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

March 2016

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