The Review is the cultural supplement of the Abu Dhabi daily The National. They’re only about two months old (maybe three, time flies) and I’ve been writing for them this summer. I still haven’t formed an opinion on the daily paper; I simply haven’t been reading it often enough. But I read The Review online yesterday and was impressed–I feel like it’s really coming together.

Youssef Rakha, formerly of Al Ahram Weekly, reviews Sonallah Ibrahim’s new novel. Rakha emphasizes the importance and originality of Ibrahim’s debut autobiographical novel تلك الرائحة (translated as “The Smell of It”) and gives what strikes me as perhaps too short shrift to later works such as “Zaat” and “Sharaf,” but he has his arguments, and he’s very enthusiastic about Ibrahim’s latest, a historical novel set during the French invasion of Egypt and entitled “The Turban and the Hat.” 

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, who used to write for the Daily Star and whose work I’ve been impressed with for years, writes about Palestinian conceptual artist Emily Jacir, whose latest work re-constructs and explores the assassination of Palestinian intellectual Wael Zuaiter in Rome in 1972; the work opens a discussion about the assassinations of many Palestinian artists, writers and intellectuals in that period. Wilson-Goldie also discusses previous works by Jacir, all of which show how relevant and thoughtful conceptual art can be.

Finally there’s a very nicely written piece by Suleiman Din about the homesick musical gatherings of Pakistani construction workers in Abu Dhabi. 

Sectarianism on and off screen

Two Egyptian movie legends, Omar Sharif and Adel Imam, are starring in a new movie that addresses sectarian tensions. In “Hassan and Morcos,” Adel Imam plays a Christian and Omar Sherif a Muslim who struggle against the extremists within each of their religious communities. As incidents of sectarian violence occur at a seemingly weekly rate, this is a promising and relevant topic–although I fear the film tows the government’s tired “national unity” line, ignoring real grievances and power imbalances. The trailer does show some pretty dramatic and realistic depictions of sectarian riots. 

Of course, the film has been deemed “controversial.” Imam, a Muslim, has been criticized for playing a Christian onscreen. The Al Ahram Hebdo reports that a few geniuses have started a Facebook group entitled “Call to Muslims: Boycott the Christian Adel Imam.” 


Iran-Egypt culture wars

The naming of a Tehran street after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassin, Khaled Eslamboli, has long been a source of diplomatic tension and the object of repeated negotiations. Now comes news of a documentary, by the Committee for Commemoration of Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement (the Iranians always have the best committee names), celebrating Eslamboli. It’s called “The Execution of a Pharaoh.” This has not gone down well in Cairo. One Egyptian columnist has suggested erecting a statue of the Shah in a Cairo square. There’s an article on this is this week’s Al Ahram Weekly, but I can’t find a link. 

Links July 7th to July 8th

Links from my account for July 7th through July 8th:

Market Islam

I was asked a while back to contribute a guest post to Washington Post reporter Jack Fairweather’s blog “Islam’s Advance” (about “Islam influencing and adapting to the modern world”).

I ended up writing on a phenomenon that has interested me for a while, every since I read Patrick Haenni’s great book “L’Islam de Marché” (“Market Islam”), which I think unfortunately has never been translated into English: Islamic “branding” and Islamic consumer lifestyles. I also got to use one of my own all-time favourite interview anecdotes: the time a young Islamic TV preacher quoted Brian Adams to be to explain the concept of submission to Allah.

The post just skims the surface of what is a complex and interesting subject. (And this should go without saying, but my discussion of the intersection of capitalism and Islam is not meant as a critique of the Muslim faith).

From the pharmacist’s counter

I went to an interesting book signing yesterday at Dar Al Ayn (I think it’s a new independent publisher–I hadn’t heard of it before). The book was Karima Al Hefnawy’s يوميات صيدلانية (“Diaries of a Female Pharmacist”), a collection of anecdotes and recollections from the decades she chose to spend working as a pharmacist in a small Egyptian village. It reminded me of course of Tawfiq Al Hakim’s “Diary of a Country Prosecutor” (which has some great stories)–although Al Hakim was miserable being banished as a young prosecutor to the countryside whereas Hefnawy chose to go work there to put her socialist beliefs into practice. The book (I’ve only read the first few stories in it) also strikes me as a very similar project, in its documentary nature and its insistence on “passing along” the voices of Egyptians who are often ignored, to Khaled Al Khamissi’s Taxi. The underlying intuition seems to be that there is no need to invent stories these days–the average day of the average Egyptian has its full share of comedy, pathos and drama. 

The book signing took place on the same day as Abdel Waheb Al Messiri’s (the leader of the opposition Kifaya movement) funeral. Hefnawy is a founding member of Kifaya, and the room was packed with opposition figures, from judge Hesham Bastawisi to author Alaa Al Aswany to editor and activist Abdel Halim Qandil. State security officers made a brief appearance as well. 

Links June 23rd to July 4th

Links from my account for June 23rd through July 4th: