Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘Egypt’ Category

All Things Considered

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I was a guest on BBC Wales’s All Things Considered, a religious programme, talking about Christians in the Arab world in the light of the Arab revolutions. Also talking are the Right Reverend Bill Musk, based in Tunisia, Bishop Angelos, who serves the Coptic community in London, and the Reverend Christopher Gillam, who admires the Syrian regime and overemphasises Syrian Christian opposition to the uprising. Apologies for my voice, which was heavy with cold.

Gillam’s problem may be that he only speaks to ‘official’ Christians. Here‘s an article on Christian opposition to the regime. I like this quote: “The Christian churches have been bought, and have allowed themselves to be bought,” criticizes Otmar Oehring, a human rights expert with the Aachen-based Catholic aid organization Missio. “They’re ignoring the fact that so many people are dying.”

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

July 12, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Lyrics Alley

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This review of Leila Aboulela’s novel was published in the excellent Wasafiri magazine.

It’s the mid twentieth century, as British control over north east Africa fails. Sudanese cotton tycoon Mahmoud Abuzeid, awarded the title Bey by Egypt’s King Farouk, is pulled between his two wives.

“They belonged to different sides of the saraya, to different sides of him. He was the only one to negotiate between these two worlds, to glide between them, to come back and forth at will.”

The two wives share a compound. Sudanese Waheeba in her hoash – a traditional living space half open to the air – represents “decay and ignorance…the stagnant past” to gregarious, multi-lingual Mahmoud. Egyptian Nabilah, much younger, better educated, attempts to recreate Cairo in her Italian-furnished modern salon. She represents “the glitter of the future..sophistication.” But events question such easy distinctions.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

May 4, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Hossam el-Hamalawy on The Workers and The Military

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Egypt’s revolution could go in any direction in the months and years to come. It could end up in a tame army-supervised semi-democracy under the presidency of Amr Moussa, with the army running foreign policy. More likely, the result will be far more interesting than that.

The Supreme Military Council has decided not to lift the state of emergency. The core of the old system remains in place. And Communique Number Five calls for an end to industrial action. But oil and gas workers continue to strike, as well as transport, textiles and media workers. More significantly, workers are refusing the authority of Mubarak-era union officials, and are organising to represent themselves. Another instance of spreading revolutionary fervour: state TV workers chased the head of the news department out of the building.

Writing for Jadaliyya, Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy examines the role of the working class in the revolution. He concludes: “We have to take Tahrir to the factories now. As the revolution proceeds an inevitable class polarization is to happen. We have to be vigilant. We shouldn’t stop here.”

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 15, 2011 at 12:51 am

Posted in Egypt

Tagged with

Arab Earthquake

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art by Chant Avedissian

Throughout yesterday messages were sent out from within the Egyptian regime to the effect that Husni Mubarak was about to resign. Millions went onto the night streets to celebrate the victory. Then, incredibly, Mubarak repeated his intention to stay. He lied about his contributions to Egyptian sovereignty and addressed the Egyptians as his children, to screams of derision. Despicable as he is, there was something of the tragic hero about him, tragic in the Greek or Shakespearean sense. The very traits which had thrust him to greatness – stubborness, brutishness, contempt for the people – were condemning him, with every word, to the most ignominious humiliation. He spoke from the gravel of his octogenarian throat, a man of the past adrift in a strange new world.

Tragic or not, it was certainly theatre – directed by the military. Communique Number One had already been delivered. Then this evening Omar Suleiman made a curt admission of defeat, for he too has been deposed (although he announced only Mubarak’s fall). The military’s Supreme Council is in charge.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 11, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Posted in Arabism, Culture, Egypt, Tunisia

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

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