Qunfuz

Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for February 2011

The Imitator

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picture by Ali Farzat

He copies phrases from foreign newspapers into a notebook. Then he copies his notes into a larger notebook with a flag and a band of gold on the front.

His mouth imitates the words of the state TV channel, and the words of undead clerics, and the words of puff-eyed men who sit in cafés.

He curses his country’s backwardness. At the same time he proclaims that the world was brighter when his grandfather was still a rheum-eyed boy.

At school he wrote poems praising his teacher. At work he writes letters praising his boss. When the time is right he writes reports denouncing his colleagues.

He is embarrassed by his social station. In the presence of his inferiors he imitates his superiors. He swings his belly like a wealthy businessman, preens his moustache like a tribal chief, avoids eye contact like a distracted poet or professor, or establishes it, beneath beetling brows, like a policeman. He aims to provoke fear. He is scared of everything.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 10, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Posted in Arabism, Egypt, writing

Regaining Momentum

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8th February. AP photo

Until today the earthshaking Egyptian revolution appeared to be losing momentum. Regime propaganda, repeated on state TV and in Saudi-owned regional media, appeared to be convincing significant sections of the population that the protests were responsible for diminished security (although it was the regime that freed violent criminals and pulled police off the streets) and economic destabilisation (although it was the regime again which closed the internet, halted the trains, and dealt perhaps a long-term blow to tourism by encouraging mobs to attack foreigners). As 40% of Egyptians rely on daily wages for survival, success of regime propaganda in this area could fatally undermine the revolution.

The United States clearly believed that Mubarak, Suleiman and the military, having weathered the initial shock, were slowly but surely regaining control. After meeting the ruling clique, Obama’s envoy and Mubarak-business partner Frank Wisner praised Mubarak and insisted that he “must stay in office to steer” a process of achieving “national consensus around the preconditions” for the future. The White House said Wisner was speaking in a personal capacity, but didn’t contradict him. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, expressed support for Vice President Omar Suleiman’s transitional leadership. Suleiman’s credentials for midwifing democracy include personal supervision of execution by torture, a rock solid reputation with Israeli intelligence, and his oft-stated belief that Egyptians are not yet ready for democracy.

Even as the regime and its American sponsor speak of dialogue, reform and transition, arrests of opposition activists and harrassment of journalists continue, as does the decades-old state of emergency. In one hand the stick, and in the other the carrot: state salaries and pensions have been increased by 15%, and the public sector has announced it will employ the unemployed. The regime has had neither the time nor the inclination to reorder the economy to benefit the working class, so it’s most probable that Egyptians are about to benefit from a temporary cash injection from Saudi Arabia and other terrified Gulf states.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 8, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Posted in Egypt

Breaking Knees

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Zakaria Tamer’s “Breaking Knees” tugs us rushing straight into the Big Topics: religion, politics, sex and death. It deals with imprisonment, literal and figurative, its characters entrapped in unhappy marriages and by their personal inadequacies, ignorances and fears, as well as by dictatorship, bureaucracy and corrupt tradition. It sounds grim, but “Breaking Knees” is a very funny book.

by Ali Farzat

Tamer is a well-known Syrian journalist and writer of children’s books. His literary reputation, however, rests on his development of the very short story (in Arabic, al-qissa al-qasira jiddan), of which there are 63 here. Each is a complex situational study, a flash of life or nightmare, each with at least one beginning, middle and end. Some are as clear as day; some are seriously puzzling. Some are no more than extended, taboo-breaking jokes.

It’s certainly satire. Tamer uses an elegant, euphemistic language (referring, for instance, to “that which men have, but not women”) to tell some very plain tales. Delicious irony abounds. In bed an adulterous woman begs her lover “not to soil the purity of her ablutions.” In the street afterwards she frowns at a woman without a headscarf and says “in a voice full of sadness that immoral behaviour had become widespread.”

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 6, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Posted in book review, Syria

Tagged with

Zionism’s Fear of Arab Movement

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making the middle east safe for zionism. AP photo

Tony Blair, with the blood of Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine dripping from his fingers, says Egyptian dictator Husni Mubarak is “immensely courageous and a force for good.” The opinion is based on working “with him on the Middle East peace process.” Mubarak’s record on the pacification process involves helping the Palestinian Authority transform itself into a (stateless) police state apparatus, obstructing Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, and constructing, in concert with US army engineers, a metal wall underneath the Gaza border.

Under Nasser’s police state Egypt had no popular sovereignty, but it did have national independence. This was lost at Camp David in 1979, when Sadat signed peace with Israel, retrieved the occupied Sinai peninsula, and received the promise of billions of dollars of annual American aid. After Israel, Egypt is the second largest recipient of US aid. American funding of the military is the reason why top officers remain loyal to the regime despite all the humiliations (for Egypt lost its Arab leadership role long ago) and committed to the peace treaty, although Israel has reneged on its Camp David undertaking to provide a just solution to the Palestinian problem.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 4, 2011 at 2:48 am

How to Crush a Revolution

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In common with journalists and human rights workers, Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey was beaten by regime thugs today, and his blog closed down. Fotunately his last post was reposted at War in Context. And here it is below, a depressing (I hope against hope he’s being overly pessimistic) account of the last days.

The End is near,” Sandmonkey writes. “I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay “because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people”. This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t.”

I don’t know how to start writing this. I have been battling fatigue for not sleeping properly for the past 10 days, moving from one’s friend house to another friend’s house, almost never spending a night in my home, facing a very well funded and well organized ruthless regime that views me as nothing but an annoying bug that its time to squash will come. The situation here is bleak to say the least.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 3, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Posted in Egypt

Tagged with

Bloodbath

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photo by AP

When the pro-Mubarak protestors appeared on the streets yesterday they were a comical sight. The small crowd near the Egyptian TV building (so obviously a propaganda set-up) were surrounded and outnumbered by police. It was as if they were trying to remind Egyptians what a traditional demonstration should look like. It was a vision from a previous age, but not quite authentic because the police didn’t break any heads.

Last night Mubarak announced he would step down at the next election. In his last months in power he would arrange an orderly transition of power. This is the ‘managed’ change that Tony Blair, Obama and Netanyahu want. In other words, the survival of the regime, under the torturer and sadist Omar Suleiman if not under Mubarak, co-existing with an impotent parliament which would emerge from slightly-less-rigged elections.

The enormous crowds in Maydan Tahreer, Alexandria, Suez, Mahalla al-Kubra and elsewhere met Mubarak’s speech with howls of derision. But by this morning it seems that the regime has succeeeded in splitting the democracy movement. The hardcore are entirely aware of the threat to the revolution, and will not retreat. Those who are less politically conscious, however, feel that they’ve won a victory and should now go home, lest chaos ensues.

This has been Mubarak’s argument: without me, chaos. It’s certainly true that Egypt needs a resolution soon. The already precarious economy has been on hold for over a week and basic food supplies are running low. Until this morning it seemed regime strategy was to exhaust the revolution.

But now the regime is speeding things up, by engineering chaos. Interior ministy goons masquerading as ‘pro-Mubarak protestors’ have poured into Maydan Tahreer, many on horse and camel back, armed with whips, machetes and sticks. Gunfire has been heard. The army is doing absolutely nothing to protect the people. Earlier today an army spokesman on state TV told the revolutionaries to go home. Old men, women and children are amongst the crowd in Maydan Tahreer. This is going to be very bloody indeed.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 2, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Egypt

IRNA

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I was interviewed on the revolutionary events by Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency. Here’s the result in English, and in Farsi.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 1, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Arabism, Egypt