Egypt’s unhappy many

“Once More Unto the Breach” is the headline of Sarah Topol’s wonderful analysis piece from Cairo, written before the latest developments in Egyptian politics (like the dissolution of the parliament) but already capturing the sense of disillusionment and self-reproach among the activists who helped propel — and then allowed the military council to squander – the Egyptian revolution.
Alas: despite the Henry V-quoting heading, much of the rest of the mood in the piece is hardly Shakespearean.
“We fucked up a lot,” one leading activist tells Topol. “We’re always fucking up. Since day one, it’s all a series of being fucked over by our own decisions. Since March 2011, it’s downhill all the way from there.”
More hand-writing abotu current Egyptian politics, for the next week or so at least, on my other blog.
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Another "Hamlet" protest sign – Syria last spring – in Arabic this time

Just found this too, from Syria. Over a year old: Dera’a, April 2011. Reported here. The sign with two lines of black text right in the middle says “Imma an takuun aw la takuun.”  Written in Arabic, in case you were wondering whether only Anglophones use this line. 

Heading back to Cairo, briefly

I’ll be in Cairo briefly June 15-23.
Just found this image from Feb 5, 2011 – from the demonstrations in Tahrir that “toppled,” as the phrase goes, the dictator Hosni Mubarak. With the bitter wisdom of hindsight we might erase that “toppled” and write in: “allowed the Armed Forces to self-interestedly remove.”  The poor girl in this photo – what kind of country will she grow up in?
[Update – image has vanished from Transterra Media web site… this is just a Google cache thumbnail; anyone know how to get it back?]

"Shakespeare, friend of Arab democracy"



Thanks to all who helped organize or who attended my recent talks at Cairo U, Ayn Shams (Al-Alsun and Drama Dept), and/or AUC. It was humbling and mind-sharpening to do them in light of everything that was happening in Cairo. And is still happening. Happy (to the limited extent possible) Election Day!
Thanks also to Sameh Fekry Hanna from whose dissertation I lifted the 1912 image at left: “Shakespeare, the democratic English dramatic poet.”
One more talk coming up at Helwan U on Dec 8.

Qaddafi as Macbeth one last time

Robert Worth in the NYT:

That is what made the Libyan revolt such a riveting spectacle: unlike the other embattled Arab Spring dictators, Qaddafi showed no doubt, no instinct for compromise and self-preservation. He never really tried to stave off the end with half-hearted “reforms.” He seemed to know he was plunging himself and Libya down a tragic path, and, like Macbeth, to embrace it. Perhaps he understood that he had gone “so far in blood” that there was no turning back. In retrospect, his whole 42-year reign seemed to follow an inexorable arc toward ruin. From the handsome young revolutionary who inspired such hope in his people he transformed into the drugged, puffy-faced madman howling for slaughter in the streets of his own cities. Many Libyans told me they believed Qaddafi used black magic to keep himself in power for so long. I was almost tempted to believe it. I found Chadian witchcraft amulets in some of the weapons depots abandoned by his loyalists. Before his death, he behaved like someone who had sold his soul to the devil, and, like Faust, was waiting to be dragged down to Hell.

Shakespeare on Palestine on Fox News

Here’s a totally unreadable piece on the Fox News web site by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center published in the runup to Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the United Nations.  Cooper recycles all the old cliches – “backed by Iran,” “they teach their children to hate,” etc. As though it were a matter of Palestinians recognizing Israelis’ rights! Of course no such screed would be complete without an appeal to Shakespeare (the only universally agreed-upon scripture we’ve got on this planet) to buttress the opinionator’s authority.  In this case, he invokes both Julius Caesar and Hamlet.

In Shakespeare’s words, “The fault lies not in our stars, but ourselves.” The Palestinians might as well be relying on astrology rather than looking in their cracked national mirror.
Despite their attempted charade at “unity” by Fatah and the Hamas a few months ago, the Palestinians (like Hamlet) are fatally unable to make up their minds. There are two Palestinian presidents, two prime ministers, and a legislature that neither meets nor passes laws.
As it happens, the context is interesting. Julius Caesar and Hamlet were written one after the other, and what is striking (as I learned from David Bromwich in his excellent Yale seminar on “Political Shakespeare”) is the similarity between the two plays. The sulky insurgents Brutus and Hamlet, at varying speeds, both “make up their minds” to – hello, Rabbi Cooper! – take up arms against a corrupt, unaccountable, increasingly arrogant autocrat.  Here’s the speech spoken by Cassius in Julius Caesar 1.2:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Both plays, alas, end with the death of the hero and various other corpses littering the stage as well.  So I’m not endorsing that approach. I just want to point out that the general intellectual laziness of rote-Zionist discourse extends to its sloppy citation of Shakespeare.