Hiatus Interruptus

I was traveling much of last week, then recovering from jet lag over the weekend, and at the same time quite busy finishing off various projects. Hence the conspicuous absence of new posts in the last ten days. Unfortunately, two days ago my DSL went kaput and it will take a few more days to solve the problem, since it involves migrating to a new ISP. And on top of it all, the hosting service for this site has informed me of some problem with the software that runs this blog, notably affecting the RSS feed, which could cause end-users problems.

I am going to resume blogging (and tell you what I was doing last week) shortly, but until I get my DSL back I am back to dial-up, which means much more limited usage of the various services I use to get online and prioritizing of work-related stuff and getting the site fixed. Everything takes five times longer on dial-up.

Of course, just as this happens I am informed that The Arabist has been nominated for a Best of the Blogs – English award. Thank you to whoever nominated me, it’s really quite something to be running against wonderful major blogs such as TPM Muckraker, The Consumerist or MAKE ZINE. I have been running this blog for nearly five years now, and it’s been a great experiment. Contributors have come and gone, as has my ability to keep posting regularly despite some good political and professional reasons to stop altogether. Most recently, a change of jobs meant I had to negotiate to keep it running, and the price to pay was taking my name off ( for good reasons.) In the meantime the creation of the sub-blogs 3Arabawy and Hatshepsut has added variety to the content we offer, and Hossam and Eman (who are behind those efforts) are part and parcel of what got the site nominated.

So if you want to give a little something back, head over to the Best of the Blogs site and vote for us — there are 16 days left to do so. I’m not hoping for much against that kind of competition, but let’s show them a fight.


Egypt and China – a win-win situation?

German scholar Thomas Demmelhuber recently presented an interesting paper on Egyptian-Chinese economic relationships at the German Orientalists Day in Freiburg, Germany.

These are the main points:

The rise of Egyptian-Chinese economic relations needs to be seen in the context of the Nazif cabinet which took office in 2004 and tries to orientate the Egyptian economy towards foreign trade. But it is also a political manoever, a message to the established partners EU/US.

However, the reality does not live up to the bullish statements made by economy minister Rashid and others on the potential of Egyptian-Chinese trade. Up until early 2006, China was only the 29th largest foreign investor in Egypt.

Now a few committees and investment zones were created, and Chinese investment as well as mutual trade is likely to grow.

Personnally, I don’t see a lot of trade potential for Egyptian companies here, other than production joint-ventures in Egypt, which could serve Chinese companies well to re-export to Europe and Africa, while creating desperately needed jobs for Egyptians.

Other then that, Egypt will remain a market for cheap Chinese products (I guess nowadays few products under LE20 are sold in Misr which are not ‘Made in China’) which is smuggled into the country via the Gulf (much of Dubai’s rise is down to smuggling).

I heard from European diplomats that most of current Egyptian-Chinese trade takes place outside statistics, and I’d love to know how much Chinese companies are truly selling in Egypt (and elsewhere in the Middle East).

Salah on the permanent black cloud in US-Egypt relations

Al Hayat‘s Muhammad Salah uses Cairo’s seasonal “black cloud” of pollution as a metaphor for Egypt-US relations. There are some interesting ideas there about mutual blackmail, notably over Hamas — which Cairo has visibly warmed up to recently — and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The conviction even prevails among Egyptians that US reform plans have evaporated and that the pressure the White House can exercise to achieve political and economic reforms in Middle East countries, headed by Egypt, are no longer operative and are unlikely to take place in the future. However, Cairo believes that the Americans are using some domestic Egyptian issues to blackmail the country’s foreign policies and direct them on a path that satisfies Washington, as is the case with issues such as Palestine, Iraq, Sudan and Iran. Although Rice’s visit to the region, which included Egypt, focused on the fall conference on peace and trying to reach a joint Israeli-Palestinian document that doesn’t face Arab opposition, in addition to the request from Arab parties, including Egypt, to alleviate its criticism of the conference and try to make it a success, a “black cloud” continues to darken the sky of US-Egyptian relations and it will be hard to hide it.

Adding to this is the official Egyptian sentiment about the conference and criticisms by officials, with President Hosni Mubarak at their head; the president was surprised at the lack of a clear agenda for such a meeting. If the Americans were busy preparing for the conference, the secretary of state avoided getting into a debate that might anger the Egyptians. She didn’t raise the issue of Ayman Nour or the demands of the opposition, but this did not prevent her from expressing her rejection of joint Egyptian-Sudanese efforts to arrange a dialogue in Cairo between Fatah and Hamas, to treat the deteriorating situation in Gaza and achieve a reconciliation among Palestinians.

Thus, another black cloud arrived to cover the skies of the visit and what took place during it. The Americans, who have rejected and continue to reject any dialogue with Hamas or on the movement’s future role, have equated their position on Islamist Palestinians with Cairo’s position on Egyptian Islamists. They believed that Cairo, which rejects any dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, is asking the Americans to accept Hamas as a partner in rule over Palestine. Meanwhile, Egypt sees this link as further American blackmail and an absence of a realistic vision of conditions on the ground in Palestine. Thus, Rice visited Egypt and left, but it appears that the black cloud remains.

Like an old married couple, (unevenly) co-dependent and set in their ways, two countries plod ahead in policies based on the denial of reality.

Rural Egypt’s Return to the Ancien Regime

Middle East Online has a translation of a Monde Diplomatique article I’d previously linked to on the reversal of agrarian reform in Egypt. This excerpt deals with the new law passed in the 1990s that has led to many farmers losing land and helped former landlords regain land they had been forced to sell under Nasser:

The 1992 law changed farmers’ lives profoundly. Average rent values have risen 10-fold, and now represent between a third and a half of gross annual income. Perhaps three-quarters of the farmers renting in 1996 have given up because of debts. Farmers have had to indebt themselves to pay rent, and households sell jewels and livestock, reducing expenditure (less meat in the diet, fewer children at school). As the number of very small holdings has declined, those over 10 feddans (4.2 hectares) have improved in number and surface area. It is clear that inequalities in the distribution of agricultural land are again rising, despite the advances between 1952 and 1980 and the relative immobility thereafter.

Over the past 10 years there have been social explosions over land in the governorate of al-Minufiyya, where Kamshish lies. They are the result of manoeuvres by former landowners and have been ignored by the media. Dispossessed families used the new legislation to recover their previous holdings, or obtain more attractive parcels. There have been violent clashes between farmers and the police or hired agents working for these families. Villagers have been intimidated, illegally imprisoned (and tortured), or summarily tried and heavily sentenced. The Land Centre for Human Rights considers that between 2001 and 2004 there were 171 deaths, 945 injuries and 1,642 arrests.

Alaa al-Aswani in Le Monde

Readers may be interested in reading this profile of Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswani from last week’s Le Mondes des Livres, accompanied by a review of the recently launched French edition of his last novel, Chicago.
We had mentioned Chicago when it came out earlier this year, while Baheyya had reviewed it.

Click on the image below to download the PDF.

Lemonde Aswani

Update: More al-Aswani goodness over at Fustat.

Audio: Classic VOA interviews

The US Embassy recently produced a CD of old interviews from the Voice of America Arabic service archives. (VOA Arabic was canceled a while ago, to be replaced by the much-criticized, pop-heavy Radio Sawa). The interviews — of major Egyptian writers, artists, singers such as Naguib Mahfouz, Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Tahia Carioca — are also available online. I haven’t had a chance to hear more than the opening minutes of the Mahfouz interview, but I look forward to furthering my Mahfouz obsession by listening to the whole thing soon. In general, it’s nice to see the US Embassy support a cultural initiative like this.

Audio: Eissa at Journalists’ Syndicate

I’ve been wanting to put up for a while this audio file of Ibrahim Eissa’s speech at the massive press conference at the Journalists’ Syndicate on September 14th. Here is one (poorly) translated excerpt.

“We succeeded in saving the soul of this umma, which seemed about to die in the hospital of President Mubarak, and which has spent 25 years in the Emergency Room. Here she is [the umma], waking up from her coma, thanks to reforming judges, thanks to the Kifaya movement, thanks to Ayman Nour, thanks to the Muslim Brothehood, thanks to the opposition parties, thanks to liberal and socialist forces—and thanks to the independent press. The independent press, which has raised its voice as the conscience of Egypt, and has presented a model in the last few years of how to lower the president from the throne of a god-like pharaoh, and make him a human, elected president to whom we are capable of saying: no, no and again no.�

 Eissa ends the speech by saying what an distinction it is to be considered the regime’s “number one opponent� and “the journalist that the president of the republic wants to jail,� and gives a warm personal thanks to the President for this honour.