Muslim Brotherhood Leader Stepping Down

March 27, 2009

Mohammed Mehdi Akef, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, has announced he is stepping down from his post and will not be running for a second term. Marc Lynch knows way more about this than I do, so check out his great post here.

Problems with Nahw? I Think Not

March 22, 2009

So Islam, one of the cute 10 year old kids who lives on my street, has taken lately to quizzing me on Arabic grammar (nahw), which in all honestly I actually suck at. He comes up to me and says a sentence and asks me to put the case endings (i’arab) on it. Modern Standard and Classical Arabic, because Arabic is such an easy language to learn, have case endings at the end of words depending on what role the word is playing in the sentence. For example, if you are talking about a boy (weled) and the boy is the subject of the sentence, one would put the case ending damma (in the position of marfuah) on the end of the word, turning it into “weledun.” If the boy is object of the sentence, it becomes “weledan.” Now no one actually speaks this way and in fact, no ones speaks in Modern Standard Arabic, but it is important to know for reading, writing, etc.

So Islam gives me the setence “the boy is playing in the garden.” Which with the case endings should read “yelabu al-weledu fil hadiqati” (marfuah, marfuah, and then because of the preposition, majrur). Which is what I said, which was correct. But he told me that “garden” should be marfuah! Pfff. WRONG. Who should be quizzing who now? 10 year olds…

Who Comes to Cairo to go to Bars Anyway?

March 19, 2009

I had wanted to comment on this silly article from the BBC about the decline of Cairo’s bar scene but of course AMS beat me to it. You can read the article but you probably already know what it is going to say. Here’s Rob’s take:

1) Islam  not “Conservative Islam.” The story blames some kind of  new wave of “conservative”  Islam as if Egyptians are suddenly abandoning centuries of tolerance, cosmopolitanism and bar crawls only  after coming across newer, more dogmatic interpretations of religion.   There is no interpretation of Islam that says going to a bar and drinking alchohol is permitted.  Does that mean some do it?   Yes, of course.  But the Egyptians who drink alchohol fully admit that this is a slip or an inconsistency and notice how scrupulously they avoid it during Ramadan.

2)  The myth of the Golden Age. At no point in Egyptian history have normal Egyptians ever frequented bars and nightclubs in signifigant numbers.  Some  Egyptians do think of the 1930s and 1940s as a Golden Age, but because of the belief that this was the only era  in modern Egyptian history with a functioning democracy.  Not, as Western writers keep implying, because there was a thriving nightlife.  Furthermore, the main patrons of these clubs and bars during this period were British soldiers, colonialists, and only a very small portion of Egyptians.  The difference between now and pre-1952 is that the early period was dominated by foreign values which made it more socially acceptable for the very small percentage of Egyptians who drank (mostly upper class) to do it openly.  Once the foreigners were kicked out, it was only natural that local values would return.

3)  Who’s angry about this? It’s certainly  not Egyptians.  This is a total non-issue in Egyptian media and Aswany’s view on this being a bad thing is not shared by the overwhelming majority of Egyptian intelectuals.   Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not some puritan and sometimes I wish Cairo was more like America.  But it’s not.   It’s a different culture, so complaining about those differences in these kinds of articles is pretty pointless in my book.

Agreed, this is Alaa Al-Aswany journalism.

“Struggling to Learn Arabic in Egypt”

March 19, 2009

I kind of feel obliged to post this article; but it does do a fairly good job of explaining the usages of Modern Standard Arabic (fusha), Egyptian Colloquial (amiyya), and English in Egypt. The vast majority of Egyptians do not speak fusha but can understand it when they read it in papers. And using it in the street will certainly elicit blank stares. As the author gives an example of trying to use his fusha in a taxi when he first arrived in Egypt, I remember trying to buy a cell phone in the 2006 when I was here for a summer. I went into the Vodaphone store and said “I would like to buy a phone please,” which to the guy working there probably sounded something like “It is my desire to undertake the act of purchasing a device with which I might correspond over the air waves” (ok, that is an exaggeration, but you get the point).”  “أنا أريد أن أشتري هاتف من فضلك.” So I quickly learned for example, that not a single Egyptian says the word “hatif” for phone, but rather “mobile.”عايز موبايل”

Egyptians speaking to me or responding to me in English used to be something that really annoyed me. I am here in your country, living among you, learning your language, so help me out please and don’t treat me like a “khawaga” (kind of like the term “gringo”) all the time, especially when I am speaking to you in Arabic and may I say pretty damn good Arabic, relatively at least. But then my roommate made a good point after one of my rants about it that if I were at home in the US and I met some Egyptians I would probably do the same thing and speak to them in Arabic to either practice or show off that I know it or both. So I have come to understand why it happens and try to get a little less annoyed by it.

Everyone here wants to learn English. Really. I can’t tell you home many random people I have met on the street who have said to me “I’ll teach you Arabic; you teach me English.” The English language for many people here is a way out. The better English they speak, the better job they can get, the easier it might be to travel abroad, etc. And of the course there is the ever-prevalent issue of “prestige” (which has actually become its own word in amiyya). One is more “presitgious” if one speaks English.

More From the Daily News Egypt on Egyptian Media Woes

March 15, 2009

The chief editor of the Daily News Egypt, and independent English language Egyptian newspaper affiliated with the International Herald Tribune, has published this op-ed about the problems Al-Ahram is facing with its journalists as a result of financial issues and censorship.

It is no secret that Al-Ahram is a mouth-piece for the Egyptian government but the newspaper’s censorship usually does not get this much attention, nor does it cause this much of an uproar. Salaama Ahmed Salaama’s reported defection from the newspaper to Al-Shurouq is certainly part of this as he is a big name in Egyptian media. And as the Daily News Egypt points out the issues of media coverage and especially Egyptian media during Israel’s offensive in Gaza has also exacerbated the issue.

مذكرة من مذكراتي عن حياتي في مصر

March 11, 2009

أنا باخذ فصل خاص مع معيد عشان اتمرن على العامية فطلب المعيد مني ان اكتب كذا مذكرة عن حياتي في مصر ففكرت ان ممكن يكون مثير لبعضكم اذا كتبت بعضها هنا بس مش عارف اكتب في وردبريس كويس والنقطة اللي بنحطها في اخر الجملة مش شغال فمعليش حنجرب بقى

بعدما خلصت البوكس النهارده رحت اقعد مع صاحبي حسن اللي بيشتغل في المحل جنب شقتي فكنا نتفرج على القناة الثانية المصرية ومسلسل مصري مش عارف اسمه بس على اى حال كان كذا مشهد في المسلسل مع ستاتا كانوا بيرقصوا مع رجال في دسكو وبيلبسوا هدوم مش محترمة قوي ولمحت الى المحل قللى دامنا وشفت علامة مكتوب عليها “اذكر الله

فكنت اتامل المشهد دا قياسا الى ما شفته على الشاشة فقلت لحسن ان ساعات انا متلخبط في مصر عشان مش فاهم الناس بيتصرفوا ازاي وساات اذا هو بتشوف حاجة من التناقض مع المشاهد دي مثلا في ناس كثيرة متدينيين في مصر بس في نفس الوقت في معرفة عن تصرفات زي اللي شفناها في المسلسل

فتكلمنا عن الزبيبة وحاجة زي كده وقلتله ان في امريكا عندنا ناس متدينيين كمان وناس مش متديتنيين وناس مؤدبين وقليل الادب كمان وانه بس الدين مش موجود يعني في الشوارع زيه موجود في مصر وانني بس شايف الاختلافات دي بشدة وواضحة قي المجتمع المصري

حسن قال انه فهم اللي قلته وان هي كده في مصر وطبعا فاهم دا وقال كمان ان بغض النظر عن كل دا اهم حاجة ان يكوم المتدين مؤدب واذا حد ميهتمش  بالدين قوي لازم يكون مؤدب كمان وانا مش شايف ان دا تبسيط الامر وانما حسن بيشوف الامر زي كده وهو مش غبي ولا مش متعلم بس وبافتكر انه زي مصرييين تانيين اللي ما لهومش دعوة في الموضوعات الغريبة اللي باسال عنها ساعات

وانا مش عايز اقول انه مش واخد باله على حاجات او قضايا مهمة بش انه غالبا مش بيفكر في نفس الحاجات وعلى نفس الطريق اللي بافكر فيها انا كامريكي ساكن في مصر

في الحقيقة مافيش قصد لعرض دا بس كنت عايز اكتب حاجة انا متاسف

Egyptian Media Woes

March 10, 2009

Here’s a really interesting post from The Arabist about growing political and economic problems within the Egyptian media scene, having to do especially with the government’s Al-Ahram publication and some of its dissenters, including well-known progressive writer Salama Ahmed Salama and Dar Al-Shurouk’s new popular newspaper Al-Shurouk. Read more about Al-Shurouk (from Al-Ahram) here.

Thanks to Rob at Arab Media Shack for originally posting the story.

Israeli Spy Candy?

March 9, 2009

Check out my post on the Foreign Policy Egypt Blog about boxes of sweets with Jewish symbols printed on them showing up in an Egyptian supermarket. Ridiculous, I know, I know.

Lend for Peace

March 3, 2009

I want to second Friday in Cairo’s shout out and support for the Lend for Peace micro-financing program in the West Bank (also full disclosure, one of the founders is a friend of mine).

Check out Friday in Cairo’s blog post about it here, and here is the direct link to the site,

Recent Polling on Muslim Views on Al-Qaeda, the US, etc.

March 2, 2009

Rob at Arabic Media Shack has an informative post on some of the findings of’s most recent polling, which can be found here. Here is the excerpt that he presents:

“Q43-S79. Thinking about the following kinds of attacks on Americans, please tell me if you approve of them, disapprove of them, or have mixed feelings about them?

Attacks on US military troops in Afghanistan
Egypt 2008: 75% Strongly approve, 8 % somewhat approve, and less than 10% disapprove in any form.

On US military troops based in the Persian Gulf States:
Egypt 2008: 70% strongly approve. A total of 12% have mixed feelings or any form of disapproval.

On US military troops based in Iraq:
Egypt 2008: 75% strongly approve. Only 10% with mixed feelings or any form of disapproval.

On US Civilians in the US:
Egypt 2008: 8% approve in any form. 78% strongly disapprove.

In addition, from the Middle East Times:

Less obvious, but probably a logical consequence of wanting the withdrawal of U.S. forces, is the disturbing finding that very significant majorities approve of attacks on U.S. troops based in Iraq, the Gulf, and Afghanistan. Large majorities approve of attacks in Egypt (over 78 percent), the Palestinian territories (87 percent), and Jordan (66 percent). In Turkey and Pakistan views are more divided. However, only minorities in Indonesia and Azerbaijan would endorse such attacks.

US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are technically occupation forces. So I can understand from that logic why, for example, and Iraqi might want to attack US forces because they occupy his or her country. However, why do Egyptians overwhelmingly support attacking US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan? In Iraq, maybe, they follow the logic of resistance an occupier as being legitimate and they see the war as illegal or illegitimate in the first place. But the US, along with a number of other countries, is also an invading force in Afghanistan, a campaign which enjoys much broader international support than does the Iraq one. Might this mean that Egyptians support the Taliban? Probably not, but then why is there such support for actively attacking US forces in Afghanistan? Furthermore, why the overwhelming support for attacking US forces in the Persian Gulf States. How do US forces in the Persian Gulf (or Afghanistan for that matter) effect Egyptians? I don’t think they really do, but I would wager that this is a result more of the general feelings expressed in other parts of the survey, such as the following as reported by the Middle East Times:

The third finding of the polls, which will come as little surprise to Americans familiar with the Middle East and the Islamic world, is the intense suspicion of U.S. goals in the region. Large majorities ranging from 62 percent in Indonesia to 87 percent in Egypt say they believe that the United States seeks “to weaken and divide the Islamic world.”

And what does this mean for President Obama? According to the Middle East Times:

So Obama’s new approach to the region faces an audience that is suspicious of the United States but likes the idea of democracy and opposes attacks on civilians. That’s not a hopeless place from which to start, even if such views have been obvious to most observers all along.

True, but as Marc Lynch often talks about, it is a much more complicated than that.