Rif Cinematheque opens

Now OpenLaila Lalami has a nice post about the opening of the Rif Cinematheque in Tangiers, which is perhaps Morocco’s first art house cinema. I visited the Rif while it was still being renovated last summer and spent time with the couple behind it, Moroccan photographer Yto Barrada and her American husband Sean Gullette (the main actor in the very funny Darren Aaronovsky movie Pi). I really hope that along with the renovation work taking place around the Grand Socco it will help make Tangiers the dynamic city it once was again. Click on the graphic to go the Cinematheque’s site.

On freeloaders

When you’ve developed something of an expertise on a topic, you become a hot commodity for people starting out their own research. A few friends of mine have lately gotten tired of being providers of (free) info, bibliographies and contacts for the latest newcomers and penned this funny standard template for freeloaders.

Dear Mr. X,

My name is White-y White. I am a researcher/PhD student working on this subject. Although I cannot explain it very well, I assure you that it is absolutely vital to the the history of the world. So and so told me to contact you.

At any rate, I have a passing interest that developed recently and is probably fleeting at best in Egypt. Not really something specific – just a general interest in some topic that may or may not be related, provable, or relevant. It does not really matter because my topic is sexy and will likely land me my dream job one day.

My topic is how global political RADICAL Islam relates to the building of Coptic Churches in Egypt and its impact on the Arab-Israeli conflict regionally with respects to authoritarianism, the Sunni-Shia divide, NATO expansion and politics in general.

What I need from you is contacts that will facilitate my research. Now, I have read extensively and know what I am doing but I would just prefer it if you opened your contact address book and just import it to mine. It will really make my life much easier (which is really what I am all about). Plus, I won’t actually have to look at newspapers or books and find out who may or may not be interesting to speak with.

And, believe it or not, my non-Arabic speaking ass will be coming to Cairo for 4 days next month to establish my credibility in the academic “street”. I just love that street term – it makes me feel like Snoop Doggy Dog. Even though I will be there with all your contacts, I would not want to pass up a chance for you to open up your brain and tell me your thoughts on my subject so I can then go home and pass it off as my own research.

Thanks for your time. If there is anything else you can do for me – do not hesitate to contact me directly but please make sure its relevant. And please don’t contact me between 8-10pm on Tuesdays. American Idol is on and its my favorite show. But really anytime other than that, let me know what you come up with.

You are probably looking forward to meeting me. Well, relax because I am on my way. I look forward to you doing my research for me.

Peace Out,

White-y White
Really Important MF
University of Better than Harvard (which is, after all, just a small community college in Boston)

Favor: Foreign Affairs article on MB needed

Update: Got it, thanks!

There’s an interesting-looking new article on “The Moderate New Muslim Brotherhood” at Foreign Affairs, but it’s subscribers-only. Can readers with access send me a copy?

The Muslim Brotherhood is the world’s oldest, largest, and most influential Islamist organization. It is also the most controversial, condemned by both conventional opinion in the West and radical opinion in the Middle East. American commentators have called the Muslim Brothers “radical Islamists” and “a vital component of the enemy’s assault force … deeply hostile to the United States.” Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri sneers at them for “lur[ing] thousands of young Muslim men into lines for elections … instead of into the lines of jihad.”

Jihadists loathe the Muslim Brotherhood (known in Arabic as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) for rejecting global jihad and embracing democracy. These positions seem to make them moderates, the very thing the United States, short on allies in the Muslim world, seeks. But the Ikhwan also assails U.S. foreign policy, especially Washington’s support for Israel, and questions linger about its actual commitment to the democratic process.

Over the past year, we have met with dozens of Brotherhood leaders and activists from Egypt, France, Jordan, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom. In long and sometimes heated discussions, we explored the Brotherhood’s stance on democracy and jihad, Israel and Iraq, the United States, and what sort of society the group seeks to create. The Brotherhood is a collection of national groups with differing outlooks, and the various factions disagree about how best to advance its mission. But all reject global jihad while embracing elections and other features of democracy. There is also a current within the Brotherhood willing to engage with the United States. In the past several decades, this current — along with the realities of practical politics — has pushed much of the Brotherhood toward moderation.

It’s an important topic, it’s nice to see someone looking at the moderate side of the MB transnationally. Will comment on paper regarding Egypt, as I have been working on this issue a little bit recently.

When it rains…

Rain in Damascus
Syria—well, Damascus—doesn’t feel like a place ready to come apart at the seams just yet. The mess of swish new cafes and expensive clothing stores, the shiny new cars and a general air of confidence belie the rumors of fraying domestic security and an unhappy economy. Maybe the feeling is deceptive. The flash is largely restricted to Abu Roumani and Shalaan and is mostly fueled, they say, by an influx of unclean money from Lebanon and Iraq.

It was raining yesterday when I went out to Jaramana, where many of the million or so Iraqi refugees have ended up. Taxies splashing through the pothole-lakes and vegetable dealers huddled unhappily on the sidewalk. A few big 4X4 taxies with Iraqi plates, piled high with plastic wrapped bags. Nobody had heard of Hajji Hussein’s, which was apparently Zarqaoui’s favorite kebab stop in Falluja until the Americans flattened it and it’s proprietor relocated to somewhere in Damascus. Not that I spent a hell of a lot of time asking after it. Between the rain and the serious looking men in cheap leather jackets and white socks, my sense of adventure was damped. So back to the very civil pleasures of Bab Touma and Abu George.

I’ve posted a few pics on my flickr site.


As some of you may remember, I mentioned last week that Israeli Apartheid Week was held in New York. As we’ve all seen from the reaction to former President Carter’s recent book, some people find the use of the word “apartheid” offensive, shocking, or far-fetched. Even within the Palestinian solidarity movement, there has been some discussion of the term’s usefulness and drawbacks. But when looking at the Occupied Territories–where settlers and Palestinians live in different areas, drive on different roads, go through different checkpoings, and are definitely subject to different treatment–it’s hard to argue that the term does not apply. And a South African law professor and UN human rights investigator agrees.

Jack Bauer, torturing hero

For at least the last few years now, friends have been mentioning their suspicions that the popular US TV show “24” has a right-wing agenda of some sort, or at the very least legitimizes torture by showing its hero constantly “having to” torture terrorists to save LA from a nucler bomb or some such threat. Well, my conspiracy-minded friends, you were all right.

Not only has Human Rights Watch come out with a report that shows that 76 people (excuse me, terrorists) got tortured in “24” last season–and that there’s been a huge increase in torture scenes on American TV since 9/11. But a new article by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker profiles the show’s creator, Joel Surnow–a good friend of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter who has been invited to the White House and who keeps on a wall of his office a framed American flag that was raised in Baghdad. And who sees no problem with the US torturning its enemies.

If you read the article, you’ll learn that the creators of “24” have actually been approached by army and intelligence officials concerned with the shows influence on soldiers and cadets and with the fact that it does not depict realistic interrogation techniques. You’ll also learn that the “ticking bomb” scenario–which we are all so familiar with–comes from a French novel set during the Algerian war, a conflict in which torture was endemic. Another example of fact and fiction intersecting.

Debating the amendments

I am catching a plane to Rome in about 20 minutes and have just discovered that Cairo airport finally has free wi-fi. Because of my travels I probably won’t be posting much until Tuesday. I did want to mention a debate I went to at AUC last night about the constitutional amendments and the Muslim Brotherhood. Kudos to the organizer for getting a nice panel of people — constitutional scholar Yehia al-Gammal, seasoned lefty journalist Salah Eissa (who wrote a book a few years ago about the ‘lost’ constitution of 1954), prominent reformist Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and veteran leftist Hussein Abdel Razek of the Tagammu party.

I was rather miffed that al-Gammal and Eissa spent so much time talking about the provision that sharia is a source of law in the Egyptian constitution. Although this was relevant to the topic of the debate and the whole issue of whether the MB want a theocratic state or not, to be honest I think it’s rather besides the point when you have such a calamitous set of constitutional amendments coming through that threaten to permanently reduce personal and political freedoms. For this reason I was rather impressed by the impassioned speech Aboul Fotouh gave, skewering Eissa and defending the MB who are after all the ones being arrested and having their private property being confiscated these days. Although that was perhaps the easy political speech to make (and he was the only real politician of the panel), I do get the feeling that the pointless debate over sharia law (and Coptic demands for a fully secular state, which I personally support) is eclipsing the serious injury done to the constitution. It was particularly disappointing to have al-Gammal, the expert of the group, not give AUC students a better explanation of some of the more damaging changes that would give security forces routine powers to wiretap, search homes, and more. Or how despite rising fraud in elections, fewer and fewer judges will supervise future elections.

It’s not the best study of these changes made thus far, but the Land Center has a long report on the constitutional amendments for those who are interested. (Download Constitutional Amendments.doc)

Time to go!