Meanwhile, at Tahrir

The movement to boycott the elections seems not to have gained much traction; Thanassis Cambanis’ post yesterday quotes some voters explaining why.  The popular blogger Sandmonkey (aka Mahmoud Salem) is even running for parliament himself!  But a number of activists remained in Tahrir yesterday, or showed up there after voting.  As I went to take the metro around 4pm yesterday to pick up my kids from school, I saw them organizing themselves to perform the protest recorded here (Activist Gigi Ibrahim’s video: Tahrir, Nov 28 2011):

The video includes an interesting argument about the Salafis.  Says the man on the left: “They were with us in Tahrir from the first days. Some of the young guys are quite sincere. Those are the people we want.”  His interlocutor is skeptical.  These are some of the divides these activists will have to bridge (and it will require some ideological nose-holding of which almost no one I know would be actually capable!) to be effective rather than just self-righteous.

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Mohamed Mahmoud Street, home of the AUC side gate (through which we would normally enter for our classes on the Downtown Campus) has been renamed “Ayn al-Hurriyya” street: Eye of Liberty. It looks like a sort of modified war zone now: cleaned up, but the field hospitals are still in place (that’s the guy in the blue helmet with the goggles and the piles of donated blankets) and you can see where the pavement has been torn up for rock-throwing ammunition. The guys checking passports at the entrances to the square were exceptionally polite to me. The young man in the white t-shirt and red keffiyyeh encouraged me to take a photo over the tape divider into Mohamed Mahmoud Street.  He said he is not voting: “I lived in England for two years, and when there were demonstrations there, the cops hit you, but they were civilized.  Here, it was like… [a gesture of severe beating].”

Iconized already

Again you can see the revolution iconizing itself in almost real time, and with excellent graphic design help coming from somewhere: the big poster with the running man and the tear gas says: “Heroes of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Thank You!”


How did Gamila Ismail get my phone number?

Just got a text message from Gamila Ismail, parliamentary candidate from the downtown district and ex-wife of Ghad Party founder Ayman Nour. “We made a revolution, and we deserve happiness,” the text says: the same charming slogan that appears on her glamorous election posters all over Wast al-Balad.  Here’s one from Abdin Square:

Her son Nour recently said she  had frozen her campaign to protest the detention of Alaa Abdel Fattah, but apparently it’s still going.  How did she get my number? Why does she think SMSing Vodaphone users in other neighborhoods (we’re in Dokki) is an efficient way to target voters in Downtown? Amazing lady, anyway (it’s a profile of three women; scroll down past the inevitable Nawal Saadawi).
Overall it’s been a quiet few days of Eid here. Nothing much happening except a lot less traffic than usual, and a lot more electioneering – in two days I’ve received three separate pamphlets from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (one of them is interesting – will try to get time to translate), and that’s aside from the little flags for kids, subsidized meat distribution, etc., undertaken in religious venues.  Other candidates have been showing up at prayers to electioneer; Al-Masry Al-Youm called it the “Eid of Elections.”
Have trouble keeping the 3000 parliamentary candidates straight? Bikyamasr has a helpful summary of the different major parties and their platforms.  Must be hell to maintain, as they keep realigning themselves in various coalitions, alliances, groupings, etc.

One relatively trivial example: Does the FJP really still oppose beach tourism, in contrast to Essam El-Erian’s implicit support for it in this rare 1988 audio recording (after the khutba – go to about 46 mins in), from a meeting with constituents in Bulaq when he was just a junior parliamentarian?  (“We need to develop our tourist sector. Even Tunisia has more tourists per year than Egypt, and they don’t have antiquities!”)

Atlantic covers Egypt’s street artists

graffiti under Zamalek bridge

Nice piece today on Egypt’s Graffiti Artists by Lois Farrow Parshley in The Atlantic, with a slide show of some Cairo street art and a profile with artist Mohamed Fahmy (alias Ganzeer).  I have been admiring his “bread-delivery bicyclist confronts tank” painting for weeks now (the Atlantic doesn’t show the tank, and I’ve been unable to take a good photo of it yet either).  The article also explains the the large panda behind it.

See also their earlier post, back in May, about political painting at the aspiring middle-class Faculty of Fine Arts down the street from us.

There have been lots of these stories; more pretty pix here:

“Work is Our Only Solution!”

Who are these people spending a lot of ad money to announce, in English, “From Egyptian to Egyptian,” that “Work is our only solution”? Are they Islamists, concentrating on the `amal (practice) rather than the `ilm (knowledge) side of the pursuit of felicity in this world and the next? Are they secularists, retorting to the old (now very rarely heard!) MB slogan that “Islam is the Solution”? Are they regime apologists, telling the activists and unions to cut it out with the sit-ins and strikes and go back to work?

Anyway, the signs are weird and have caused some buzz in the Twittersphere in the last three weeks. They appear prominently not only in Zamalek (the ones above are by the Hurriyya garden at the approach to the Qasr El-Nil Bridge) but also in Kit-Kat and (see below) on the Cairo-Alex desert road.
One perceptive blogger broke it down:

There is one curious political group, which started to anonymously monopolize the beginning of the desert road from Cairo to Alexandria with their huge publicity posters. They read: “From Egyptian to Egyptian: Work Is Our Only Solution!” Standing in the middle of the desert, written in English, white and red on black, the whole of it awkwardly reminded me of the Nazi propaganda “Arbeit macht Frei!” (Work will set you free) placed on the top of a gate which knowingly led to death; the one of the concentration camp of Auschwitz.
Which is the audience that the slogan “Work Is Our Only Solution” triggers? Who is it coming from? From an English speaking Egyptian to an English speaking Egyptian who both have cars and use the Alexandria desert road? Yes, those might be the ones who should start to work in order to change the country! But will they remember and want to share with the 90% of their countrymen who do not talk English, the 80% who do not have cars and the 60% who do not have work?

Al-Fann Midan

It was dark, but we took a few photos at the Fann Midan festival in Midan Abdin last Saturday night. This is a monthly event that’s been going on since shortly after the revolution: a coalition of a few hundred independent artists putting on concerts and art workshops and handicraft exhibitions in several cities in different parts of Egypt, not just in Cairo. This month’s fest, for the first time, got Ministry of Culture support; this has not been in any way a state initiative.
I talked to one of the women painting in the colors on the mural; she is a “professional artist” (like many people profiled in my friend Jessica’s amazing book Creative Reckonings): what that means here is that she graduated from the Faculty of Art and now teaches art in a school. These are essentially middle-class people, not some kind of snooty elite that has to work super-hard to “bring art to the masses.” At the same time the idea of “tathqif” (the verbal noun of a transitive verb: “to culture, culturing”) the masses is never far from view.
The artist painting people through the plastic sheet had a promising technique and also a challenge; the sheet kept sagging! He solved it by having his subjects hold up the sheet. How to explain why they all had their hands in the air? At the end, paint their hands making victory signs! I would have solved this differently, by making them straphangers in a bus or metro.
(You see some graffiti in “support” of Syria. But organized solidarity for that cause has been weak here. I looked at an apartment across from the Syrian embassy on Friday, and when I asked about possible noise from protest demonstrations, I was told there would be almost none, very sporadic, nothing serious. Egyptian papers carry news from Syria and Libya on the deep inside pages.)
Anyway – what my pix don’t capture is the music, everything from Hasaballah (a weirdly endearing klezmer/marching band hybrid played by elderly men) to “oud rock” to Arabic hip-hop. People of several social classes and cultural preferences from bohemian artist types to munaqabbat (the full face-veil people), some local and others (like a family we talked with who gave my daughter a puppet) trekking in all the way from the Pyramids neighborhood to be there. What a great scene.

The clothes’ new emperor?

He changed his clothes.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a well-preserved 75, appeared downtown on Monday wearing a civilian suit rather than his military uniform. State TV gave him the glowing coverage you might expect for, say, a presidential incumbent seeking re-election. You can read in on the whole “incident” here and view a video here.
So for the last two days the Photoshoppers have been having a field (marshal) day; my Facebook feed has been buzzing with hilarious caricatures like these, which I reproduce for the convenience of those of you not on Facebook.  This one has him saying, essentially, “Don’t like the civil/ian? Let’s make it Islamic!”:

(from indefatigable Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff)

and best of all, this, which shows Egyptians all their electoral options (#s 7 and 8 allude to the “workers” and “farmers” who play a big role in politics, since by SCAF decree members of these groups must make up half of all party lists):

Not everything is about costume politics here, but sometimes you wouldn’t know it.  Today’s newspapers also ran a photo of the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, wearing a huge scarf wrapped around her head as she endured a prickly meeting with the Grand Shaykh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb.

You will find quite a few photos from this series with a a Google image search for  “آن باترسون الأزهر حجاب ”  But curiously, searching for any English variant I can think of, like “anne patterson egypt azhar hijab [or higab],” turns up nothing. Why – is the English-language press more focused on the substance of the meeting?  (But the costumes were the substance.) Or just shy about showing their ambassador in a position that could be construed as disempowering?  Donning the headscarf had been El-Tayeb’s precondition for the meeting.

The Islamists talk Turkey

While I was delightfully off-grid in Wales last weekend (where the only twitter was from the birds in the apple orchard), lots of interesting stuff probably happened here. You can read about it elsewhere. We haven’t talked about last week’s news yet.

So Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan and his headscarved wife Emine paid a visit to Cairo, sort of a victory lap to celebrate Turkey’s new status as a leader in the region.  On my way to the airport I saw the billboards — didn’t get a photo, but found one online.  They said, somewhat unimaginatively: “Together, one hand for the sake of the future.”  (As my friend Hazem noted, this “one hand” business is getting rather overused. The people and the army — one hand. Christians and Muslims — one hand.  Now Egypt and Turkey — one hand.  Do we even know where that hand has been?)

Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies are starting to worry my Turkish friends, but never mind. The Egyptian papers duly reported on his spouse visiting a children’s cancer hospital and even noted the increasing popularity of the Turkish-style headscarf at hijab fashion shows in the region.  He got quite a hero’s welcome here. (As one Egyptian had tweeted, in Arabic, upon Turkey’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador: “The world really is round! You make a wish in Giza, and it comes true in Ankara.”)

But Erdogan surprised some of his Egyptian supporters by emphasizing that he is the leader of a secular Muslim state, not an Islamic one. He called for a secular Egypt, which, as The Jerusalem Post among others gleefully reported, led to a certain cooling of the Muslim Brotherhood’s attitude toward their visiting Turkish brother.

On the “one hand” thing, by the way (I’m interested in how metaphors of embodiment are used to rhetorically bind together a body politic, not to say a Leviathan):

“The Believers, in their mutual love, mercy and compassion, are like one body: if one organ complained, the rest of the body develops a fever.” [Bukhari & Muslim]



And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:30)

Let’s get together (and feel all right)

Two posters pasted on walls, one from Zamalek and the other downtown. These are part of a secularist-driven campaign for social unity and civil discourse, and specifically for tolerance of non-religious people by religious people. (Though the reverse might be even more a propos…)
The top sign says Ma Takaffarneesh — “Don’t declare me an infidel!”

Click on the one below (which doesn’t display, for some reason) to see another sign that says Ma Takhdhilneesh, loosely, “don’t abandon me” or “don’t let me down.” The sticker pasted over it is advertising a “maktab zawaag” (“marriage office,” aka dating service) with the tagline “Life partner offered” and a phone number.  Life goes on, I guess.