Category Archives: Academics

This Is What Democracy Might Look Like!

It's so hard to find a good picture of democracy these days...

Khalil al-Anani’s recentish article on the young reformists of the Muslim Brotherhood, and particularly the desire, expressed in the article and elsewhere, to morph the Brotherhood into a political party along the lines of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), got TBE thinking about what a democratic transition would mean for Egypt’s political forces as currently construed, and some other related questions.

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Take Me Down to Baradei City

Platforms are complicated but useful.

We’re not sure if the vociferous response in the government press to Mohamed al-Baradei’s sounding out of a presidential run demonstrates a genuine fear that a credible candidate might emerge to take on the ruling dynasty, or simply a demonstration of the latest in kitchen sink technology, but we’re fairly certain he won’t win even if he does end up running. We do think, however, that if al-Baradei does run, then Mubarak the Elder will definitely run for another term rather than handing over the reins to Gamal, since the stature gap would be too large in a prospective al-Baradei-Gamal matchup. (Though we were already convinced the incumbent would run again, we’re even more convinced now.)

Another thing we’re not sure of is whether NDP politician Hossam Badrawi’s apparent revulsion at government press tactics in smearing al-Baradei was voiced out of a legitimate concern, or whether it was a calculated move in what will become a two-pronged strategy, in which the popular press attacks the would-be candidate while the “respectable” NDP welcomes his candidacy, but only if undertaken within the “constitutional framework,” which will never be altered to allow his candidacy anyway. We tend to agree with the latter part of the Arabist’s comment appended to this post (though we disagree with the first part), that al-Baradei represents the best chance in a while for a split to develop within elite opinion, which is why we’re fascinated by Badrawi’s intervention. Readers interested in the idea of elite defections and their possible consequences for democratization can read all about them in Jason Brownlee’s Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization.

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Filed under Academics, Books, Conspiracy Theories, Politics

Muhammad Abduh and the AKP in Dialogue at Wolf Hall: Book Reviews

Muhammad Abduh

A couple weeks ago TBE added a Reading Material tab to our masthead, but additions to it don’t show up in Google Reader and maybe other RSS readers, and the tab’s contents have the potential to become quite unruly, so we’ve decided to publish occasional book reviews on the main page as well as adding them to the reading material section. In this edition: A new biography of Muhammad Abduh, Wolf Hall, Dialogues in Arab Politics and the effects of Turkish Islamists’ governance on women’s educational and professional attainment.

We’ve also added the “subscribe via email” button for which those who have not yet accommodated themselves to the brave new world of RSS have long been clamoring. It’s below the links.

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“Back on the scene, crispy and clean”

Not exactly fresh news, but “Rob,” of Arabic Media Shack fame, is blogging again, this time at War and Peace. For those that don’t know, Rob is something of an iconoclast, and his thoughts and ideas are always worth reading. Our blogroll has been updated. Has yours?

“You better learn how to add”

We also added Chocolate & Zucchini to the food section. While not all of their recipes are really doable in Cairo, some of them are. Also we were just pondering why zucchini is one of those vegetables that is available all year round in Cairo, along with tomatoes, onions, potatoes and cucumbers. Why are some vegetables seasonal and others not in countries where the growing season lasts all year?

“Read More Learn More Change the Globe”

TBE has also added another tab on the top of the page, called “Reading Material.” Readers should know that this decision engendered a huge argument at TBE HQ. TBE’s Facebook editor argued that he finds those “What I’m Reading Now” applications to be insidious examples of intellectual one-upmanship, meant less to recommend books than to show off, and drew a parallel between those applications and our proposed new feature. Our Long Article and Book Reading correspondent offered a vicious riposte on TBE’s in-house listserv, attacking the vacuity of anyone whose career aspirations led them to become a “social media expert.” Despite recognizing our correspondent’s tactic as attacking the person making the argument instead of taking on the argument itself, we decided to humor him, at least temporarily.

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Filed under Academics, Books, Food, Politics, Posterity

(Third) Base Politics

This was TBE's jam back in '91.

TBE Meta-Commentary: In this piece, our fearless correspondent Michael Jeffrey Flackslashman offers a highly speculative reading of recent developments in Egypt. We aren’t sure he’s right about what’s going on, but we hope it sparks a broader discussion about changing socio-political dynamics and where they are likely to lead.

For background reading, please see Jack Shenker’s recent Guardian article on the wages of structural adjustment, a glancing mention of the middle class or lack thereof at Egyptian Chronicles, and this post by The Traveller Within, which isn’t strictly related but does have some bearing on the below points.

News Analysis: Bringing Order to Cairo’s Chaotic Streets

By Michael Jeffrey Flackslashman

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Filed under Academics, Conspiracy Theories, Downtown, Hip Hop, Politics


Eventually made the right call on Saree Makdisi

Tilting at Straw Men; or, Upsetting the Apple Cart Before the Horse

As others who are much more knowledgeable about Arabic literature than us have already pointed out, a big chunk of the current issue of literary journal Public Spaces is devoted to young Egyptian writers. One thing we pondered while reading the lead article, which is the only content available online, is the interest in placing writers into distinct “generations” (not least by writers themselves, it seems) and the perceived need to frame the discussion politically. Not having the vocabularial fortitude to read Arabic literature in its native language, we’re ill-suited to analyze the issue (or even moreso than we usually are, as it were). But in the spirit of Einstein, we’ll do so anyway, if only as a means of taking a couple of our hobbyhorses for a stroll around the corral, and in hopes of gaining a larger audience for the journal and its featured authors in the days and years to come.

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Filed under Academics, Books, Downtown, Downtown Personages, Hip Hop, Politics, Translations

Old Coinages and New

lebanons coins


This post gained new impetus after TBE came across a blog post at B-Side Beirut about an old Beiruti slang term/portmanteau (not technically the latter, but we’re not sure what to call this kind of word game) and an oft-overlooked museum.

At any rate, the word, or words, as it were, are انف العنزة (anf al-‘anza, for those following at home), which is a “goat’s nose,” but also a play on the word “influenza.” We tried to extend it out to include the old goat’s modern day counterpart, the pig, but the whole thing falls apart in a sea of idafa recriminations due to the necessity of ال in العنزة. At any rate, we adore this type of stuff. If you’re interested in reading an account of epidemics in Beirut’s history, please click here (Arabic).  Also, we believe Khaled Fahmy, author of the interesting if problematic All the Pasha’s Men, is doing a (similar?) type of historical epidemiology, but with Egypt, not Lebanon, as its subject, if that’s your bag.

For those among you who aren’t prudish, we also learned that goat’s nose is a slang term in Jamaica.

mauritania coins


Also, for those whose Arabic is better than ours, TBE’s Puritan Hermeneutics correspondent (title subject to change), Lady HaSha, sent in the following quote:

فكنت بادئاً بقلب البدء إذ هو معال البدء

We’re too thick to explain it in any great detail but the crux of the matter is a play on the following words, قلب, meaning “heart” but also “inversion” or “flip” (from which انقلاب is derived), and the fact that when one does flip the next word البدء, it turns into الأدب (in this case meaning manners, not literature, we are led to believe). Anyhow it’s something thought provoking and verily beautiful. Sorry we don’t know who wrote it, but word on the street is that it was a Mauritanian Sufi.

Egypt coins


One summer a few years back TBE’s Rural Affairs correspondent spent a couple months working on a desert farm in Beheira governorate. Aside from learning how to drive tractors on some Soviet-era Belarussian models, TBE also spent many days with peasants from the surrounding villages. Our Arabic was probably better then than it is now, but we still had some problems communicating, necessitating the creation of a pidgin.

The best word to come out of the whole experience, which TBE would recommend to anyone since it was amazing, was the verb root “هكرك or maybe حكرك” which means to make fun of someone, have fun at someone’s expense or just to have fun.

Sample usage: One of TBE’s colleagues, Walid, used to carry a battery-powered radio with him, because, aside from working with the regular crew, he was responsible for a large grove of banana trees, which he tended alone. Said radio kept him company during his brief forays into the serpent-strewn banana groves. This was in the early days of America’s efforts to “engage” with the Middle East (engaged for 8 long years and still no wedding? So sad…), and Radio Sawa was one of the three stations that had reception, along with one that played classic Arabic songs and one doing Quranic recitation. After finishing lunch but before returning to work we would often listen to Radio Sawa, and TBE would sometimes be asked to translate song lyrics. This was difficult, and one day Cindi Lauper’s timeless paean to girl fun-having, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” came on. A reasonable translation escaped our correspondent, so he just said “هي عيزة تهكرك و باس,” which was understood perfectly.

As an aside, Walid was engaged to, then married, a girl named Mabrooka from his village. Her name was the source of much hilarity to the assembled wits, فبيهكركو عليها كتير و على وليد كمان . That’s another usage.


Filed under Academics, Lebanon, Linguistics