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Adventures in the Archives (3)

Last semester, spring 2017, I taught a class at Harvard on Arabic paleography and archival skills. Each week, we’d read a couple of Arabic, hand-written archival documents that I had culled from the Egyptian National Archives. The documents were mostly from the 19th century, although some dated from the 16th and 17th centuries. I’d have the documents transcribed and the quaint and odd words explained in advance. On their part, the students were supposed to a. translate the document,  and b. practice reading it at home and be prepared to read it in class from the original, hand-written text. The documents…

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Adventures in the Archives (2)

Last semester, spring 2017, I taught a class at Harvard on Arabic paleography and archival skills. Each week, we’d read a couple of Arabic, hand-written archival documents that I had culled from the Egyptian National Archives. The documents were mostly from the 19th century, although some dated from the 16th and 17th centuries. I’d have the documents transcribed and the quaint and odd words explained in advance. On their part, the students were supposed to a. translate the document,  and b. practice reading it at home and be prepared to read it in class from the original, hand-written text. The documents…

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Watching Giulio

Two days ago, Egyptian TV showed a video of Giulio Regeni, the young Italian PhD student who was tortured and killed a year ago in Cairo. The video was taped a few days before he disappeared on January 25, 2016, only for his body to be found dumped on a highway, with signs of inhuman, brutal torture on it. You can watch the video here. A longer version with Italian subtitles is here. For over a year I have seen Giulio’s still picture, read his published work, and learned about his character and his tragically short live. But this is…

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Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ

Posted on Facebook on June 24, 2013 Just finished reading Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. What an amazing imagination!! What radical rereading of every single detail of this most powerful of stories!! What subversive thinking of some of the most fundamental ideas of this cataclysmic event in human history!! Above all, what prose!! Among the many fascinating, gripping accounts and character portrayals I was amazed by Joseph the carpenter’s character and his deep feeling of guilt; the wise, motherly, earthly figure of Mary Magdalene and her true love for and belief in Jesus; the tense jealous rivalry between Mary…

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The Egyptian state is on a steady course of self-destruction

Posted on Facebook on April 28, 2014 About two years ago, I had a very interesting conversation with my neighbor who lives in the same apartment building in Zamalek, Cairo. I remembered this conversation today in light of the notorious verdict today by a judge in Minya sentencing 720 people to death. My neighbor is a nice, decent man in his late sixties, and we have always had a cordial relationship with each other, despite me once causing serious damage to his apartment when a water pipe burst in my apartment flooding his just below. I was rushing to some demonstration…

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On reading Arabic in the New York subway

Last week, I invited some friends over for dinner, and I thought I’d make them the fish with saffron that my dear friend Nadia Benabid taught me. So I took the subway to Citarella on B’way and 75th to buy some fresh red snapper. On the way back, I got out a book that I had just borrowed from the library earlier that day. The book was a thick one—actually three Arabic books bound together. They were all by a Saudi historian called al-Jaser حمد الجاسر, and dealt with the history of Najd in the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula.…

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Egypt and North Korea

A few days ago when I was writing the CNN Op-Ed piece on Egypt’s referendum, I had a sentence that compared the propaganda campaign and the Sisi mania with North Korea’s sick regime. Then at the last minute, I removed it thinking this is an unnecessary and unrealistic comparison. Today with preliminary results of the vote indicating that the yes vote may be close to 98%, I realize how right I was to remove the sentence comparing Egypt to North Korea. I was being unfair to North Korea. I then received some remarks criticizing me for making the comparison between…

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Opera in Seattle

Posted on Facebook on August 12, 2013 Yesterday I had the following conversation with a cab driver in Seattle, WA: Driver: so where have you come from? Me: New York. It’s been a long flight, and I am dead tired. Driver: Do you live in New York? Me: Not any more, I used to. I lived there for 12 years teaching in a university . Driver: We’ll soon be in your hotel. But tell me, where are you originally from? Me: Egypt. Driver: Well, that’s a beautiful country. But tell me, do you still have these pyramids? Me: Last time…

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The seven deadly sins of the Muslim Brotherhood

Posted on Facebook on July 1, 2013 One of the biggest casualties of yesterday’s events in Egypt is US Ambassador, Anne Patterson. For months now, she has been insisting on a slanted reading of the political scene in Egypt, constantly letting the Muslim Brotherhood off the hook (in a bizarre move last week, she even visited Khayrat El-Shater, the strong man of the MB in his personal office), and giving erroneous accounts to John Kerry about the opposition to President Morsy. The biggest casualty, however, has to be Morsy and his Muslim Brotherhood, who have insisted on a disastrous reading…

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Why Egypt is not Algeria

Posted on Facebook on July 1, 2013 Immediately after the Egyptian army issued its 48-hour ultimatum to political actors to set down their differences or else the army would initiate its own roadmap, in a thinly disguised threat to Morsi to step down, people started making comparisons with the Algerian army which, back in 1991, stepped in and annulled the results of the parliamentary elections thus preventing the Islamists (FIS) from reaping the results of their electoral victory. Egypt according to this comparison is about to enter in a cycle of violence due to the Muslim Brotherhood’s feeling it has…

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