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Volume I • Issue 03 • Fall 2011

Kalimat talks to Dr. Suad Amiry about architecture, her career, writing and running for mayor. Page 12.

Current Affairs From Amman, Ali Suleiman sits down with Jordanian Minister of State & Minister of Agriculture His Excellency Samir Habashneh. Page 16.

Culture Kalimat sits down with filmmaker Michel Khleifi in London. Page 32.

New Media Stop twirling your thumbs wondering what you should do, we got you. Page 144.

Kifak Inta? witter: @kalimatkalimat acebook.com/kalimatmagazine flickr.com/kalimat

Art + Design The revolution will now be spray painted. Cairo correspondent Angie Balata analyses Egypt’s graffit scene. Page 82.

info@kalimatmagazine.com


$ DONATE HELP US PRINT KALIMAT SO YOU CAN HAVE SOMETHING TO HOLD ON TO. YOUR DONATION IS GREATLY APPRECIATED. www.kalimatmagazine.com


EDITOR’S LETTER

It’s hard to believe we’ve come this far - three issues already and this is our largest one yet (and packed with photos too)! Since the summer, we’ve been busy at work putting together this issue and planning for the future of Kalimat. Where are we going? Education. We want to change the ways the Arab region and the Diaspora view media and design and the power these fields have in everyday choices that impact the communities and places that we live in. Our goal is become a media vehicle, one that works with people to develop the essential tools needed to realise this potential. With the magazine, we have begun our process of media and design education with our collaborative editing process where we work rigorously with writers from different backgrounds on polishing their submissions. After all, design is more than a poster and making things look pretty, even though that is definitely part of it. Okay, back to Issue 03: flipping through the pages, you’ll notice that this edition is all about interviews. Did I purposely plan it this way? Not entirely, it just so happened that we had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people, exploring a set of diverse voices with tones that don’t necessarily agree with each other but that truly highlight our community. The Fall issue is dripping with great content - from interviews with a Jordanian Minister, to filmmaker Michel Khleifi to our first feature on a Kurdish-Iraqi artist, Walid Siti. That’s not our only first, we’ve added a new section called “What should we do?” which features a list of events from across the world that are taking place in the next few months. Further to that, we’ve relaunched “Isma3oo” into the official Kalimat podcast compiled by Editor Karim Sultan. Make sure to download or stream that off our website at kalimatmagazine.com.

up is how are we different from other projects that are springing up (some from people that finally feel a sense of pride with their community after the Arab Spring)? For one, we emphasise the aesthetics - we avoid stereotypical design and patterns and our design isn’t just for those that appreciate it, but for everyone. The second reason we’re different is we aren’t a blog (although we do have one), and we aren’t just a magazine either. The other question that comes up is why you can’t just link and jump to a specific page on the magazine. Simple - Kalimat covers four very broad dossiers that include articles on just about anything. Kalimat is based on the idea of discovering something new and we encourage our readers to take in every page. Even if you’re interested only in politics, you’ll find them across every dossier, in different fields. So don’t flip too fast, you just might miss something! With all the support from our readers (and constant nagging about a print edition), we’re still aware that there’s nothing like holding a magazine and flipping through the pages with your own hands, and so we are still working to attain our goal of printing our first issue, but we need your help. If you are interested in holding Kalimat in your hands and seeing us on the shelves of book shops and magazine vendors, you can donate at kalimatmagazine.com. I want to end by thanking the entire team that helped put this issue together and our recurring contributors who continue to believe in the power of this project and of course to our readers, who take the time to read our emails, updates and issues. We hope to continue to publish relevant and engaging content for thought and for laughs.

We continued to be overwhelmed with the wonderful feedback we are receiving for Kalimat. We’ve even been considered important enough to speak at an event Danah Abdulla or two! (Modesty kicks back in). A question that comes danah@kalimatmagazine.com

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STAFF DANAH ABDULLA CREATIVE DIRECTOR+EDITOR Danah Abdulla is the Founder, Creative Director and Editor of Kalimat Magazine. She is passionate about education in design, journalism and media alongside the creative industry in the Arab region. Danah completed her BA in Communications at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada and is a Master of Arts candidate in Social Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).She has experience in marketing and advertising where she has worked for companies like Matchstick, DDB and Isobar and is also a freelance writer. Her works have appeared in The Washington Report on Middle-East Affairs, blogTO, Heeba and FEN Magazine. With one foot in the East and another in the West, her goal is to make you rethink the way you know Arabs. Twitter: @theyuppie Web: www.danahabdulla.com

KARIM SULTAN EDITOR Karim Sultan is a Toronto-based electronic music producer, oud player, and writer. Born to a mixed household (Syrian-Arab and Indian) that moved and spread from country to country (Egypt, Canada, the Gulf, etc.), he found his home in the variety of music and literature he adopted when left to his own devices. While studying the basics of Western (composition and theory) and Arab (oud technique and the maqam—pl. maqamaat—the Arabic tonal system) art music, he is largely self-taught, inspired most of all by the chaotic structures of the world’s major cities and what Mahmoud Darwish, Said, and others call exile. Currently he is working at attempts to adopt a cosmopolitan approach to produce music based on encounters with electronic music and sound design and an understanding of composition and improvisation found in Arab art and popular music. Twitter: @karimsultan Web: www.karimsultan.ca

----------------------------- ------------------------------LAMA HANNOUN RIME EL-JADIDI INTERN Lama Hannoun is a 21 year old from Jordan who was born and raised in the United Arab Emirates. She recently completed her Bachelor degree in Mass Communication and Advertising from the American University of Sharjah. Lama is all about accuracy, honesty and respect, values she feels leads to success. She is passionate about being part of the media industry due to the creativity a fast paced environment fuels. Lama loves reading all types of magazines whether it’s fashion and beauty or architecture, relaxing at the beach and spending time with her family.

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Rime, which signifies white gazelle and rhyme, is a 19-year old student from Casablanca, Morocco currently pursuing her BA in International Studies at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane. She is interested in Middle Eastern politics, new media, cinema and travel and hopes that someday, she will become a solo traveller and pursue graduate studies in journalism. Twitter: @rimerrante

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CONTRIBUTORS ALI SULEIMAN Ali is a recent graduate from the University of Waterloo’s Civil Engineering (surprised?) program, in Ontario, Canada. He is of Palestinian and Turkish origin, and is fluent in Arabic and Turkish. Ali has worked in project management and construction in Canada, Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Currently, Ali is the director of Media and Public Relations for the Toronto Area Interfaith Council and was Project Coordinator of the University of Waterloo Sustainability Project from ‘07 to ‘10. His passion for entrepreneurship extended as far as fashion: in ‘09 he organized R4 Fashion, an eco-fashion show in Toronto. He has also provided workshops on sustainable business practices for the Youth Employment Services, and is an avid supporter of green design and development. His interests include historical research, film studies, windsurfing, and theatre. Ali is glad to be a contributor to Kalimat (and we are glad to have him on board too!), and hopes to provide comprehensive pieces that stimulate the minds of readers. He likes comments, suggestions, and criticism, so feel free to contact him whenever you wish: a.suleiman@gmail.com.

-------------------MAHDI SABBAGH

Mahdi Sabbagh was born in East Jerusalem. He is currently based in New York City where he is training in the field of architecture and urban planning. He has experience with the UNRWA Camp Development Unit, Decolonizing Architecture, and L.E.FT. architects and is now training at Robert A.M. Stern Architects. When not fully immersed in architecture, Mahdi enjoys venturing into political activism, writing and tweeting. Twitter: @mahdisabbagh

-------------------ANGIE BALATA

Angie Balata moved to Egypt promptly after graduating from the University of Toronto. She followed the ‘moral’ path, dedicating her life to human rights and put her mind towards pursuing a Master of Arts. It took a revolution to realise that any change and any event began on the streets. She’s an activist and a tweeter, a writer and a trouble-seeker, and still trying to figure out the ‘everything in between’. Twitter: @3aasy

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LAMA KHAYYAT Born in the UAE, raised in Jordan, and of Palestinian descent, Lama Khayyat is interested in religious stereotypes and how they form and evolve and focused all of her energy in creating a children’s educational programme to fight negative stereotypes surrounding Muslims for her MFA thesis. She holds an MFA in Graphic Design from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Portfolio: www.lamakhayyat.com Blog: www.lamakhayyat.blogspot.com

-------------------RAWAN RISHEQ

Rawan is a young Palestinian woman who has spent the first half of her life in Jordan, and the second half in Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a double major in Political Science and Middle Eastern Civilizations. She has since traveled to Indonesia and Palestine where she volunteered and documented and has now settled on development work with an NGO as part of Queen Rania’s education initiatives. Independently, Rawan has started her own campaign, “Message In A Bottle”, to raise awareness of the water crisis in Gaza and collaborate with purification companies in an attempt to alleviate the dire need for clean drinking water. She is in a constant state of expression through her creative writing, photography, painting, and music, and believes in the power of art to heal and communicate across the world. Twitter: @Soul_RRebel

-------------------MIKE V. DERDERIAN

Mike is a freelance journalist, writer, comic artist, disillusioned gum shoe and rogue translator (English to Arabic and vice versa). He introduces himself as a “Homo sapien trying to get a hold of a banana in a world governed by apes.” He is the owner of the evil mind that created The Dark Side of the Spoon, a comic strip about two genetically altered animals: an amphibian shark with arms and legs, and a one eyed cat with serious mental issues. Married to a beautiful loving woman, who gave him an amazing daughter, he is not interested in conquering worlds (he just wants to conquer minds with lines and words). Blog: brickinthehead.wordpress.com Twitter: @ mikevderderian

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NOORA SHARRAB Noora is an MA graduate from York University’s Department of Political Science in Toronto, Canada. Her thesis focused on Palestinian Refugee Camps in Jordan, whereby she conducted her field research in both ‘48 and ‘67 refugee camps. Noora has actively engaged with Sudanese refugees in Egypt, where she taught them English through a collaborated Student Action Program through the American University in Cairo. She currently resides in Amman, Jordan where she recently completed an internship with UNESCO-Iraq and works with an organisation towards providing scholarships for mature Palestinian Women living in refugee camps in the Middle East. Her focus is on identity politics, refugee and forced migration, and education with particular focus on the Middle East. She is the author of: “Intergenerational Differences of Identity: Questioning the Palestinian ‘Other’ and the Romantic Nostalgia of a ‘Palestine’ in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.” Twitter: @noora888 Blog: consciousactivist.blogspot.com

-------------------ALEX KINIAS

Alexandra was born and raised in Egypt during a time where careers were not a personal choice but rather the result of parental guidance and the educational system. Following in her father’s footsteps, she graduated from Alexandria University as a Mechanical Engineer and pursued a career overseas with a corporation that built power distribution plants in Antigua and Barbuda. In ‘97, she moved to America and decided to pursue her ultimate passion: writing. She studied screenwriting and wrote her first script, Lonely Hearts. The screenplay, which was written in Arabic, was sold to an Egyptian production company. She is also the author of Cleopatra’s Sisters, a collection of short stories about women in Egypt, and several political thrillers and drama screenplays. Alexandra is a member of Scottsdale Society of Women Writers and currently lives between America and Egypt as she works on her first fiction novel that takes place between the two countries.

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CONTRIBUTORS ZAHRA FADHLAOUI Zahra is a currently completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, majoring in Religion and English with a minor in Political Science. Growing up Su-Shi, she learned to break rules and defy cultural norms. Thanks to Judith Butler and Tony Kushner she has learned to embrace her multiple selves and identifies herself as Tunisian-Canadian humanist, pragmatist and sometimes Buddhist. She dreams of someday attending a Sufi retreat, going star gazing in Tekapo, New Zealand and mastering the art of Acro-Yoga. In the meantime, she is working towards raising HIV/AIDS awareness in Tunisia. Twitter: @VenusVoyager35

-------------------SOPHIE CHAMAS

Sophie Chamas recently completed her MA at New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, where she focused specifically on the Lebanese-Shi’a group Hezbollah and carried out an ethnographic analysis of a sample of the media produced by the group. She received her BA in International Studies and English Literature from the American University of Sharjah. Sophie is a short fiction and poetry writer and has been published in UnlikelyStories, Big Bridge, and The Juke Jar. She just concluded a summer internship with the New York-based NGO ArteEast, where she served as the film intern. Hailing from Lebanon, she has lived all over the Middle East and is currently "in between" countries.

-------------------SARAH ELENANY

Sarah Elenany is a 27 year old designer of Palestinian and Egyptian origin living in London. Her inclusive fashion label, Elenany, celebrates the sentiment of Islamic Art and Culture and captures this spirit in graphics which is then presented in clothing of aptly strong silhouettes, relevance and character. Coming from a product design background, with a “design for need” philosophy, Sarah started the label to provide stylish modest clothing that Muslims could wear. Since her aesthetic is typically British, her clothes also appeal to ordinary British people. She also produces textile-based prototypes for design companies in the UK. Twitter: @ELENANYclothing Web: www.elenany.co.uk

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LAMYA HUSSAIN Lamya Hussain is a Torontobased activist, writer and researcher on issues around Palestinian refugees. Lamya holds a Masters in Environmental Studies. Her research combines Refugee Law and Development Studies. She is currently engaged in development projects across refugee camps in the West Bank and Lebanon. Her research and field work has inspired her interest in launching projects across refugee camps that help build livelihoods for displaced communities such as the development of sustainable “green” projects that can help improve living conditions and health standards amongst refugees. In working closely with Palestinians in the Levant, she mapped out a unique pilot project that helps empower them and simultaneously endorses their rights as refugees, a soon-to-be launched project she is currently fundraising and building networks for. Twitter: @ilamzzone

SARAH KANBAR Sarah Kanbar was born into a Lebanese household in Southern California. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of California, Berkeley with an emphasis on the relationship between the US and Middle East. During her studies at Berkeley, she conducted research on the experiences and lives of Arab-Americans in New York City during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Taken from her thesis, her article "Rooted in our Homeland: The Creation of Syrian-American Identity" is currently under contract for publication with Sage Publications as part of a larger text on American multiculturalism. Sarah continues to write about the experiences of Arab immigrants and her own background as an Arab and Muslim American. Twitter: @skanbar Blog: inventinghome. wordpress.com

-------------------- -------------------BASHAR NERMIN ALAEDDIN MOUFTI Nermin graduated in 2006 from the American University of Sharjah (UAE) with a BSc in Visual Communications Design. Since then, she has been shuttling between Dubai, Toronto and New York City working as a graphic designer. A corporate brand designer by day and an experimental graphic artist by night, Nermin has developed a wealth of experience in the branding and design fields. Having been part of a Western conglomerate with predominantly Middle Eastern projects, her worldly experiences have shown her the importance and need for greater multilingual and cultural sensitivity and understanding. This has led to various self initiated projects and collaborations, which aim to encourage the unmitigated communication between the Middle Eastern world and the West. She currently works and lives in Toronto, where she is pursuing an Interdisciplinary Masters in Arts, Media and Design at OCAD University. Twitter: @nmoufti Web: nerminmoufti.com

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Bashar is a Levantine mix of Jordanian, Lebanese and Palestinian origins and currently resides in Jordan. He’s digital photographer, a motion designer, a social activist and iPhone-obsessed. His two major passions in life are the visual arts and attempting to shed light on social affairs and causes in the MiddleEastern region through his photography and videos. Bashar is a tech-geek when it comes to cameras and optics. He reads a lot about philosophy, geography and the science of human emotions towards imagery. He loves food, is an Aquarius and quit drinking coffee seven years ago. Twitter: @BAlaeddin Web: www.balaeddin.com

-------------------KHALID ALBAIH

Khalid Albaih is a Romanian born Sudanese political cartoonist based in Doha, Qatar. Due to his father’s diplomatic status followed by political exile, he lived in the Diaspora most of his life, surrounded by politics and conspiracy “theories”. Currently working in the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, Khalid considers himself a virtual revolutionist, publishing his political cartoons about life in the Arab and Muslim world on various blogs and websites. Twitter: @khalidalbaih Web: flickr. com/khalidalbaih

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NEW MEDIA EXTRAS:

KALIMATMAGAZINE.COM Make sure to visit “New Media Extras” at kalimatmagazine.com for interactive components of articles in this issue. DOWNLOAD: Isma3oo is now Kalimat's official podcast. Find out more. Page 145.

WATCH: Pay a visit our video channel "Itfarajoo".

SHOP: Kalimat gear that sticks true to our design. Available at our online shop. Page 150.

CONTACT US: Have something to say? Maybe some feedback, suggestions or you would like to feature your work or contribute to Kalimat? Send us an email to info@kalimatmagazine.com.


HIGHLIGHTS

The Anatomy of an NGO Sophie Chamas

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Management Consultants Network - Danah Abdulla

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The Arab Development Initiative

Kul Saneh wintoo salmeen - A visual exploration of Ramadan

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A Conversation with Omar Al Qattan

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Ravages of Time Alexandra Kinias

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Tunis - Zahra Fadhlaoui

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CULTURE

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Longing - Tarek Al-Ghoussein

Zei: Interview with Walid Siti

Longing - Tarek Al-Ghoussein

Allah. Sooriyyah. 7urriyeh…wu bass! - Nermin Moufti

What should we do? Isma3oo No. 3 - Kalimat's official podcast launch

Ashyaa2/Things

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SUAD AMIRY: A CONVERSATION

Suad Amiry, or “Tante Suad” as we like to call her here, is best known now for her closing lecture at TEDxRamallah back in April. Dr. Suad Amiry, made the entire audience laugh with her stories and insights – not only at the event in Ramallah but during our livestream of TEDxRamallah in Toronto also. We were immediately interested in picking her brain about architecture, planning, Palestine, becoming a writer and so much more and managed to arrange an early Skype interview with her. Throughout the conversation we couldn’t stop laughing and smiling at her wonderful humour—we even made jokes to each other about how we wished Tante Suad was our aunt by blood. And that’s why we’ve decided to keep her answers as is, because we can’t seem to get her adorable Italian-cum-educated Arab accent out of our heads!

and then taught a little bit of Architecture at Jordan University. Then I pursued my Masters at Ann Arbor [University of Michigan] in Urban Planning, but soon enough I realised that I hated urban planning, the concept that one person, the planner, would come and decide, put the map on the table and colour something red and make that the centre, here are the schools, here is the hospital, industrial zones and what have you. I found that more and more I was intrigued by the architecture without the architect. I must say that a visit to Italy, where I drove from North to South in two weeks, made me ask, “How is it that the Italians protect their cultural heritage and how is it that we, in the Middle East, keep destroying it? How could they keep all those layers together?” I think that also had an impact on me, so I ended up deciding to do my research on Palestinian village architecture. Remember I am a hakawati (storyteller) I can speak KM: Why did you want to originally pursue architecture, and what forever, so feel free to interrupt me! did you want to accomplish with it when you initially began your KM: Not at all, please go on. studies? SA: I decided to study vernacular architecture in Palestine, and of SA: I think the reason I studied course I grew up in Jordan and did not have access to Palestine, so architecture—reflecting back I got my permit for one month and then ended up going in ‘81. I of course—is that my mother fell in love with the place. It wasn’t like now, 30 years later. 90% had a woman friend who was an of the buildings you see today were built after 1996. At the time interior designer, by creativity it was very beautiful with the landscape, the buildings, the olive and not by study. As a little girl trees, the small stone houses—they were all coming together in a I really liked Aunt Hikmat and most intriguing way. My PhD research in village architecture was on she probably left an impact on space, kinship and gender. I tried to understand why the Palestinian my brains. My mother is from village was divided up the way it was, the centre of town, the piazza Damascus, from the Jabri family, or the sahha, the hara al-fawqa and the hara al-tahta (the upper and I grew up in an beautiful and lower neighbourhood), and how kinship and gender organised old mansion in Old Damascus. the spaces, what was the role of women, the role of men, how they Every summer, we spent time in worked together in the fields. the Old City by the Ummayyad Mosque and the narrow streets Anyways, I ended up doing a PhD on the subject, and came back and that also left an impact on to teach at Birzeit University, by this time it was already ‘88, and me, especially since we had a realised that there was no organisation in Palestine that dealt with big family. Everyone used to the protection of cultural heritage. That’s why I decided to estabcome on Fridays and play in lish this organisation in 1991. Riwaq’s aim at the beginning (and the courtyard. current aim), was to document to understand what it is we have in Palestine. Then, as time went by, we decided to connect conservation The third, less romantic ele- with job creation because, as you know, finding a job in Palestine TOP Al Kayed Palace before ment, is I am dyslexic, so the is quite difficult, especially after the year 2000. Sharon decided he BOTTOM al Kayed Palace After last thing I expected to become did not want to have Palestinian workers in Israel, which meant one was a writer (we’ll talk about third of the population woke up without an income. At that point that later). My sister is a psy- we realised that maybe in Italy or elsewhere in Europe renovating chologist, and she told me that historic places is a privilege, but in Palestine we have to tie the when we read we use one part of economic situation to job creation. the brain, and when we draw we use the other. Since I was dys- KM: What do you see in those buildings, and the cities in which lexic, I think I depended more they reside, that other people may not see? on my memory and visual things and, by accident, I became an SA: I see that the old and the new could live together, and should architect. For these reasons I live together, to create a new building that doesn’t necessarily mean was more inclined to go towards that the old is demolished. Just for you and the readers to know, visual arts rather than literature historic centres in Palestine are sitting on just over half a percent or writing and reading. of their city limits. If you take the area of Ramallah as a city, the historic centre is sitting on half a percent, maximum one percent of KM: Can you tell us a little about the land. So I found it extremely unacceptable that people insist on Riwaq? demolishing this half or the one percent, when they have ninetynine percent to build new buildings and show us their creativity. SA: I graduated from the Ameri- And also, I personally have decided to renovate old buildings because can University of Beirut (AUB) architects, by our training, have not been given a good education 12

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to create beautiful and environmentally friendly buildings like the old buildings we have. For me it is better to renovate and keep the old building than build a new one. Many people also think that renovation is expensive, while building new is not but in reality, renovating an old building costs one third of building a new one. So these are the things I see. I also think that what the Israelis are trying to do is to erase the existence of Palestinians on their land. One of the first things done between 1948 and 1951 was to demolish 120 Palestinian villages when it all became Israel. What I find quite amazing is that we Palestinians are demolishing the rest of this historic architecture. For me, it is also our haqq (right), our heritage, our identity, and our culture, and that’s why I feel that it is our duty to protect it for our future generations. KM: What is the relation between architecture and the people who inhabit it, and how does this relation change over time? SA: In the case of Palestine, the architecture normally reflects the mode of production. There are three communities: the urban dwellers, whose mode of production was commerce, the peasants whose mode of production was agriculture, the Bedouins, inhabitants of the lowlands...this made three types of architecture. The relationship, and I am an expert in peasant architecture, in the housing reflects how people lived the land, how they can accommodate their animals, their product, and themselves. The Palestinian peasant houses had spaces for their animals, which were used in the fields, but were also a source of heat, in the lower levels, with the human beings in the middle and their cultural products on the upper level. The village was inward looking, towards the piazza, and the land around it was the most important source of livelihood. In the case of Palestine with the British Mandate, in the 1940s, more and more people became employees, going to the coast

to work as labourers. That changed the family from being an extended family to a nuclear one, the houses, instead of having the whole hamooleh (extended family), they started having the nuclear family, in which the father only went out to work. This reorganised the village, spreading out from the piazza to the road to wherever the people worked. Architecture tells us all this about the people, who they are, and how they worked. Now the role of the architect and urban planner is very strong. In the past, it was the builder that would ask the people, “What is it that you want?” and they went accordingly. Now the architect has a role where they assume superiority and knowledge, and the client often has very little to say, or the people have very little to say, that’s why we live in cities where we feel a little alienated. The scale—not only in Palestine, but everywhere—of places had a human scale, while new towns and cities have a new scale, a state scale, we feel alienated when we cross streets that are very wide or live in a building that is very tall. The human being and their natural needs were taken over by technology’s needs. KM: I know we’re speaking to you as Suad the Architect instead of Suad the Writer, but do you find any connection between the architecture in Palestine and the rest of the region, along with other cultural forms? SA: Absolutely. In my mother’s time, it was Greater Syria. Of course, dividing Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria happened in 1917 to 1923, but in fact it was always a rather open area. There are a lot of similarities between cities and city-dwellers. For example, most coastal cities look alike: Alexandria, Gaza, Jaffa, Beirut, Saïda (Tripoli), Constantinople…I think we forget that, not long ago, these areas were connected by the Mediterranean. There were a lot of similarities between these places because they were connected by the sea. After the creation of Israel we were thrown off—we not only lost a country, but we lost the sea. The sea has a very strong culture and a very open K A L I M AT

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KM: Perfectly clear. SA: We all have a lot of identities, and it is changing. The whole issue of belonging to one place has changed in the world, at least for a certain class around the world. Are you, across the world interviewing me, an Arab, Canadian, Palestinian, Lebanese, or whatever? What is a Canadian after all? The whole issue is changing, but our brains refuse it. We are still sticking to old paradigms. KM: Sometimes the old paradigms can be the safest, and the most dangerous in many ways.

Alkamandjati

culture, and unfortunately Palestinians have lost their main sea cities. Secondly, my father, who also studied in the AUB, used to tell me about how he used to travel from Jaffa to Beirut, with a stopover in Saïda for lunch—these days this is unthinkable! Today we cannot even imagine going straight from Jaffa to Beirut. The geopolitics have really changed, have created a lot of borders. For example my mother’s mother is from Arrabeh, a village close to Nablus, and when they went from Damascus to Nablus they went through El-Houleh and Tabarriyah (Tiberius). It was an open area where people moved more, intermarried (a Syrian or a Lebanese marrying a Palestinian was common), and so on. If you asked me, I would say that maybe the Arab World has a few subcultures, one being Greater Syria, Iraq, another the Gulf, Egypt at the heart of the Arab TOP Mazare Nobani before BOTTOM Mazare Nobani after world, and the Maghreb. Culturally, Greater Syria is all very similar. Food, for example: what is the Syrian food? What is the Jordanian food? What is the Palestinian food? Maybe the Palestinians make their chicken a little differently, who knows. Unfortunately, the colonisers put these borders and we follow them in our brains, but if you ask me about my identity I will first tell you that I am Mediterranean, then I will tell you I am an Arab, then I will tell you that I am a Palestinian by cause. But our identities are changing all the time, and the identity that is strongest is the one that is under attack. If women are attacked, then our identity as women becomes very high; if Palestinians are under attack or occupation, then the identity as a Palestinian comes to the surface; if there is Islamophobia, and even someone like me who isn’t religious (I am an atheist), then my identity as an Arab, a Muslim, Palestinian comes forward. But if I am sitting at peace with myself, really I feel I am a human being, nothing more, nothing less, all the rest have to do with how people relate to me and not to do with how I really feel. I don’t know if I made my point clear...

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SA: Let’s say that it’s comfortable. If we are brought up and we fear the other, we feel very comfortable with the ones who are like us, but this could also become very dangerous—we become very conservative, very racist, if you feel that you are afraid and you are better. Anyways, it the whole issue becomes more complex for people like you and I who have decided that we belong to two worlds and not only one, and what is wrong with that? KM: Let’s talk about the future and go back to architecture. In terms of the future of architecture in Palestine and the region, have you have any conceptions, and proposals? SA: Not really, I wouldn’t be that pretentious to pretend that I know. But I will tell you something, that one of the real problems we suffer in Palestine for now is that we have control only 10-12 percent of our land, we can only build on 10-12 percent of the whole West Bank, which is Area “A” and “B”, and then Area “C”, which is almost 90 percent under Israeli control. That is why everyone is going high-rise, and why buying a piece of land in Palestine is so expensive. We don’t have access to that other 90 percent, and perhaps that is why when people buy land they always go for the high-rises. Once we have control over the land—and we’re talking about the West Bank here—number one is I think we should stop going vertical, and create green areas. If I was the mayor of Ramallah, one thing I would want to do is create parks: we don’t have any green areas. If I had some money, I would buy tables and chairs to sit in the streets, unfortunately now the cities are only made for cars. We have followed, in the Arab world, in Palestine, in Jordan, the American example where the car takes over. We find that there is no human scale, but I would have made green areas, pedestrian areas, a centre of town where people would have to park their cars far away and walk and meet one another. I always say that if I want to be something, have an official position, I think being a mayor of a town is extremely important. If I want to change something in Palestine I want to empower the municipalities and the local communities, which is not the case in Palestine, everything is very centralised. I would make public transport, a free tramway or bus that can come in and out of town rather than every other person with their car. KM: I think you should run for Mayor. SA: Maybe at the age of eighty—I’m a writer, I have to go to the theatre, then at eighty I will become the mayor. KM: A writer by the name of Ziad Jayyousi, you might be familiar with him—who is a very funny person—wrote


an article blasting the city of Ramallah about the amount of garbage filling the street and the lack of garbage bins, which they implemented shortly afterwards. People have more influence than they think, and even though the new garbages don’t hold very much trash, at least they are there, it’s a start. SA: You see, there is a thinking against the people. I remember with the municipality, they would say, “If we do this, then all the young men will come and sit in the street, on the rail.” Why are you against this, young men coming out and sitting in the streets? “Because,” they would say, “they would come and harass the women.” If you put them together, sure, they might harass them the first day, the second day, but then they get used the idea. You are the ones making society reactionary by forbidding the mixture between people; you know what I am saying? Sure, the villagers will come and harass banaat Ramallah (the young women of Ramallah)—so what? Let it happen for a day, two days, a month, and people will get used to it, people will grow. It has happened in other places in the world. Planning can be really separating, and that is what I don’t like about planning our cities like this, it is meant to separate people from one another. KM: It doesn’t take into account the community and its growth.

successful, and when I reflected on it, I think people saw the Palestinians as normal human beings: I talked about my mother-in-law, the traitors and collaborator, I talk about my dog. People relate to us on a human level. I receive many emails all the time: “You were reading that book? I was also reading that book!” “You like La Traviata? I also adore opera!” “You have a dog?”—You have no idea how much my dog Nura made publicity for Palestine. In America, my publisher told me that there is a magazine for dogs, Bark, and they wanted to put her story in it. They have a 100,000 subscribers, and Nura’s photo featured in it. The world is tired of seriousness, and people like crazy things. Being a little crazy is an asset and not a negative quality—the crazier my stories got, the more people loved them. I think we should allow ourselves to be free, talk to the reader like we would talk to our closest friends, and never be too formal or take yourself seriously. That was the name of the game for me in that book. My most recent book, Nothing To Lose But Your Life, wasn’t as successful. I moved on, and there I did a trip with Palestinian workers and walked 18 hours from the West Bank to the Israeli border, and I was angry, as we all are. If you make people laugh, they open their heart, and they open their ears. Sharon And My Mother-In-Law made people laugh, but it also made them cry, and once they laugh then they are susceptible to what you say.

SA: It is anti-community, I think. KM: My next question is a simple one. What do you love about Ramallah? And please don’t say “the Duwwar Assad Abu Seiya!” (the roundabout where the statue of the lion is wearing a watch). SA: It overlooks Jaffa, my homeland from 1948. I love my friends in Ramallah. And to tell you the truth I think Ramallah, for all the odd reasons, has become the only real city in Palestine. Ask me why. KM: Why? SA: Because if you go to Hebron, you only find Hebronites, if you go to Jerusalem, you only find Jerusalemites, if you go to Nablus you only find Nabulsis. If you come to Ramallah, people are from all over Palestine, if not further. In that respect it has become a city that tolerates the other, an open city, because people assume there should be space for the other. And that’s what I love, it has become a real city of a little bit of anonymity, and the other. The original people of Ramallah have become a minority, two thousand out of the forty or thirty-five thousand. That is what I love it, and I love my garden there. KM: Our last question is about your book Sharon and My Mother-in-Law, (which we enjoyed a lot), which was a rather light-hearted look at the occupation. Do you think writings like this are necessary amidst all the serious writing on the Occupation that are found on bookshelves today? SA: Well, first of all, I must admit that this book was an accidental book for me. As you probably know, it is mostly emails sent to friends, so the lightness of it comes from the fact that I did not have a reader in mind, and I did not have the oppression of thinking what will people think if I say this-and-that. It was written as a free person writing to my niece and my friends. I think we Palestinians have made a big mistake by only talking about politics and repeating the same five sentences: Jerusalem, the refugees, the right of return, etc, etc, and I think people got tired of us. I think the power of culture is much stronger than the power of politics, and culture reaches everybody. We have only been addressing politicians and the people who read newspapers. That’s why it was a surprise for me that my book was translated into 19 languages in no time and

Alkamandjati


UNDERSTANDING THE KINGDOM: AN INTERVIEW WITH HIS EXCELLENCY SAMIR HABASHNEH

CURRENT AFFAIRS

by ALI SULEIMAN

H

is Excellency (HE) Samir Habashneh is the current Minister of State and Minister of Agriculture of Jordan. Born in Bethlehem in 1951, he completed his studies in agricultural engineering at Baghdad University in 1974 and has been active in politics since the early 1990s. He was the Interior Minister to Jordan from 2003 to 2005, and has been an active figure in shaping policies impacting the country. I had the chance to sit with Habashneh and discuss the latest issues affecting Jordan.

independence, the Arab people have not fully enjoyed their freedom and suffered from social prejudice that divided Arab society into a small wealthy group and a larger, impoverished group. Therefore, following their national independencies, neither social justice materialised nor did the Arabs assert their freedom. In addition, we did not achieve the socio-economic well-being and democracy that the West established. Our growth was aesthetic and did not establish a firm Arab economic structure. In Europe, countries grew on economic, agricultural, or service AS: How do you see the Arab Spring, including its influ- principles, among others. ence and future in Jordan? Are the demands reasonable and feasible? Combined with the internal affairs of every Arab country’s decreased involvement with the Palestinian issue, this led to SH: Some are suspicious that the Arab Spring is of Western the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring has objective, historical, architecture or manufacture. The Arabs lived in difficult economic, social, and human rights-related justifications. circumstances in the past 60 years. Since their national All of these have quantitatively accumulated to a critical

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moment when they become pressing and result in a qualitative change. Just as water boils at 100oC, at 99oC it remains water. I always said that the Arabs might reach a dead point. However, at a certain moment they wake up and rejuvenate their people and aspirations. Looking at the Jordanian system, the difference between others is that Jordan established a civil government. It is able to reform and adapt. It is not solid, as other Arab nations; Tunisia, for example, is a system that operates on a stiff security rule. Such political systems either remain or break, but do not adapt. TOP Youssef Allan BOTTOM Getty Images

Jordan has a civil system that is flexible and allows the adjustment of institutional powers. It enjoys key features such as a constitution, Parliament, and a King with constitutional powers. Moreover, Jordan’s political system has a bloodless journey. No one is killed or sentenced to death due to their opposing views. They may face imprisonment and sanctions, but there is no blood. I believe Jordan has the basis and capability for reform without the deadly shakings as in some areas. Thus, the movement happening in Jordan is vital and its ambitions are in line with freedom, social justice, fighting poverty, and ending unemployment. It also is in response towards the Palestinian question; Jordanians are cautious to the Palestinian case since the case is an internal issue. We share it with the Arab world, but for us it is an internal matter. Thus, the recent constitutional amendments taken, 42 of them are constitutional changes. We expanded the power of the Parliament and called for a constitutional court to approve laws. Obligations have been placed on elections including impartiality and the need for an observatory commission. The minimum less influential. The situation needs generations to change the nature age requirement to be a Member of Parliament is lowered from 30 to 25. of our cultural and psychological structure. But Jordan is very serious on this matter. Jordan was the first Arab country to allow women to I see the Arab Spring movement as positive. We should not scrutinise it, take up jurisdictional positions in early 1990s, before Egypt and Tunisia. but positively cooperate to move it from the streets to the institutions. I do not believe as others that the West may kidnap the movement, Last year, Reem Badran won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies (House because this is a popular movement and the Arab people rightfully do of Representatives) without a quota, through direct competition and not accept anything lower than a complete democracy. And I believe if outperforming her rivals. Falak Jamani of Bani Hamide (a Bedouin tribe) we achieve full democracy, the Arabs will be on track moving forward. competed away tribal lords, ministers, past senators and deputies, and became their representative in the House of Representatives.1 AS: There has been an improvement of living standards for women in Jordan. What are the remaining challenges and what is being done to We also have more independence now. In the past, a woman would further enhance their livelihood? vote as her husband would. However, this is not the case anymore; we have more women voting and more independently. We are a bit conSH: The Jordanian people have achieved many gains in women rights. servative in the rights of woman granting citizenship to her children, The Jordanian woman was the first to have the right to vote and due to demographic equilibrium concerns. There are 60,000 marriages candidacy in 1974. On the education level there is qualitative leap as of Jordanian women to non-Jordanian men, 50,000 of which are with well. An overwhelming majority of university students are female. The Palestinian men. Now the question is not legal anymore, it is political; Jordanian woman is also present in all areas of the workforce: pilot, our position is not against the Palestinians. engineer, veterinarian, minister, Member of Parliament. The Jordanian woman, I believe, achieved great leaps. The average Jordanian household is six members (two parents, four children). If Jordan neutralises 50,000 persons with an average household What remains is the Jordanian social structure as a patriarchal society. size of six, it would seem that Jordan validates the alternative PalesThe real authority remains with the male. In my opinion, this requires tine that Israel speaks of, dismissing it from obliging with the Right of generations until we can place the woman, psychologically, on the same Return. Thus, this is the purpose of this decision: fear of it (granting level as men, although it is engrained in the laws. We experience this the right) being interpreted outside the context of human or women at the voting booth. There is a highly qualified female candidate and rights and understood as a wrong political message. a relatively less qualified male one. Our feelings are won over by the male; in our consciousness equality had not been realised. AS: A recent report indicates that 60% of Palestinian refugees in Jordan live under the poverty due to decreased educational, social, and For a woman to become a Member of Parliament without a quota is medical services provided by UNRWA. What is Jordan’s stance on this difficult. Thus, when I was a member of the Royal Commission for the matter and towards the Palestinian refugees? Formulation of the National Charter, we proposed a minimum quota in the Parliament for women. The current constitution requires a minimum SH: Foremost, UNRWA provides basic services compared to the Jordanian of 12 female members, to ensure each province at least one female government. Our preservation of UNRWA keeps the refugee camps as a representative. In the new constitution (to be voted on October, 2011) living witness to the livelihood of the Palestinian case. The presence we are aiming to raise this number. In municipalities, we placed the of the camp and UNRWA offices acts as a symbol to their return, keepminimum quota for women as 20% of all seats. The purpose of the quota ing the case vital on the international level. Therefore, when UNRWA is to have Jordanians psychologically accustomed to accepting women in reduces its services we loudly raise objections because we need to keep positions of leadership. Such that when you enter the voting booth, the the case of Right of Return alive. UNRWA is important to us because it psychological attachment that a patriarchal society has placed in you is 1 http://bit.ly/rl5g1L


is an international institution that not only deals with refugees, but also confirms the Palestinian identity. AS: Youth unemployment is a major concern for the Kingdom. What are the obstacles in this matter and what actions are required? SH: There are two elements to this. First, in the last 30 years the youth headed towards education in a revolutionary way. In Jordan we have approximately 40 universities, considering the relative number of citizens. Annually, there are 35,000 university graduates. When a person is educated, they do not accept, psychologically and culturally, a profession below their education level. Thus, our youth are not accepting positions lower than what is satisfactory. There is also a problem with the education system: everyone is seeking education in engineering, medicine, law, and such. We are not paying enough attention to education that provides semi-skilled labour. There are employment possibilities in Jordan, but they do not match the education level and aspirations of the youth. This kind of change is needed in our education policy such that the youth become accepting of such professions. Thus, there is a problem with unemployment—the government is responsible for a part of it (education policy), and the psychological and cultural structure of the people is responsible for the other. AS: What is in plan for developing health care access to Jordanians? Can we expect any projects targeting rural areas? SH: Approximately 80% of the Jordanian citizens have health coverage. Whether it be coverage by the military, government, or private sector. The plan is to provide complete health coverage for all Jordanians within two years. We took important steps in the recent years. Now all children under the age of five and persons over the age of 60 have become insured. In addition to other categories mentioned in the law, all those who are on government welfare are also covered. Any Jordanian who applies to the Prime Ministry or to the Royal Court and claims not to have health insurance for a medical case will be given coverage for its treatment. This of course excludes dental and cosmetic surgery. AS: What is the basis for the peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims in Jordan? Are there any interfaith dialogue initiatives? SH: Jordan is a true model for coexistence between Christians and Muslims. It is the only country in the region that has various sects but no sectarian tension. One of the reasons for this is the common socio-culture of Jordan and Palestine; historically we do not have sectarian strife. It is a beautiful inheritance. Furthermore, the political system was built on the foundation of granting minorities satisfactory rights. For example, Christians make up less than 4% of the population. Yet, their share in the Parliament is more than 10% because there is a minimum quota of 9 seats (out of 120). This quota also targets specific ridings to ensure areas with significant Christian populations of having a representative.

of Caliph Omar bin Khattab with the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The Covenant of Caliph Omar was the basis that allowed Arabs to conquer Egypt. The Coptics in Egypt heard what the Muslim Arabs accomplished, how positive they were towards the Christians in Syria and Palestine. And they compared it to the Byzantium’s imperialism in Egypt, deciding to help the Muslim Arabs in conquering Egypt, fighting against Christian Byzantium. Amr ibn al-Aas conquered Egypt with 3000 to 4000 knights. Muawiyah ibn Abu-Sufyan (first caliph of Umayyad Dynasty) at one point had seven ministers, five of them were Christian. These lands historically did not suffer from sectarianism. Do not forget that the Christian Arabs had a big role in the Arab Renaissance that occurred in the 19th century. There are interfaith dialogues, but not solely reserved for Jordan. It is to promote it on a global level, like the Amman Message2. AS: Jordan has one of the lowest water resources in the world. What is planned for improving water resource management? SH: There are two key projects. First, the Disi aquifer project will help draw water to Amman3. This is a temporary solution due to its limited supply (non-rechargeable). The other is the Red-toDead project4. This is a strategic yet costly project. The aim is to draw water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Water will be pumped a certain distance and benefit from the height difference where the Jordan Valley begins. This potential difference will allow for hydropower generation. The water will then be treated (for drinking and agricultural purposes), and the third benefit is to save the Dead Sea from rapid shrinking (through diversion of untreated saline water to it). This is a strategic project and still is in feasibility studies. There is conflict with Israel so we are attempting to implement it on Jordanian land, though they will also benefit given that saving the Dead Sea will save their tourism and companies operating in the area. AS: Jordan imports more than 90% of its energy demand. Are there any projects towards domestic power generation? What is Jordan’s position on sustainable/renewable energies? SH: Generally speaking we have research projects in wind and preliminary works on solar energy in Ma’an. The Red-to-Dead project is also a potential source of power generation as discussed. There are also oil shale reserves; we have licenced three companies so we will be commencing on that immediately. AS: You are a founding member of the Jordan Society for Science & Culture. Can you briefly describe this society and its achievements? SH: The Jordan Society for Science & Culture is a proactive thinking group composed of government officials, economists, politicians, academics, and others. It studies the matters concerning Jordan and, in general terms, the Arab world. When we produce recommendations, they are lifted to the decision makers. It spearheads positive decisions in various areas of life. There is an active group, possibly one of the most active civil groups in the Kingdom. We have various achievements. Three years ago we drafted an economic platform for the King. We lectured ministers with many ideas that serve the ministries currently. Finally, it is creating a positive intellectual movement in the country.

Similarly, the Circassian population size is so small that it does not grant them seats in the Parliament. Nevertheless, they have a minimum 3 seats quota. The minority’s presence in the Cabinet of Ministers, Chamber of Deputies, public institutions, is continuous. They are not treated as a minority such that you feel their absence. The background of this is very important; the positive relation between Christian and Muslim Arabs is due to two reasons: first, the constructive and positive position of the Prophet Muhammad towards the Christians of Najran; secondly, the Covenant

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2 http://bit.ly/plgcAP 3 http://bit.ly/rhSeIz 4 http://bit.ly/3BfpqG


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CURRENT AFFAIRS

THE ANATOMY OF AN NGO

opinion piece by SOPHIE CHAMAS

N

ot so long ago, I was an ambitious graduate student who thought it wise to add an internship onto the already spine-cracking three-course load I was carrying on my back. Twice a week I dragged myself, sleepy-eyed and frizzy-haired, to a small social services agency in one of New York’s outer boroughs that caters primarily to new immigrants from the Arab, South Asian and Hispanic communities of the area. Besides the “real-world” skills I hoped to gain through my internship, I also saw it as an opportunity to prepare myself for the thesis research I planned on doing the following summer in Lebanon. My advisor suggested I keep a journal, my own modest field diary, in which I

could record my observations and thoughts on the inner workings of the agency. It was exciting inhabiting the role of a junior anthropologist - or at least, in my own dreamy world, that is how I chose to think of myself. I jovially skipped into the internship and familiarised myself with the friendly and dedicated staff, attended three-hour long staff meetings which I secretly looked forward to because of the free donuts, and asked question after question ranging from legitimate inquiries into immigration law to embarrassing ones regarding the mysterious workings of that monstrous machine they call the combination fax-printer-copier. After all of this spastic activity I would return home to jot down my thoughts before turning my bloodshot eyes to the pile of coursework that impatiently awaited me.

Writing in my internship journal, I was often reminded of the concept of self-reflexivity which we had been discussing in my “anthropology of Islam” class. In the short time I spent at the agency, the interests and questions I came armed with on my first day evolved, and as they continued to transform, I kept in mind the anthropologists I was reading at university, who remind their readers that field research should not work to reaffirm one’s previously held assumptions or simply answer preconceived questions, but rather, should transform and shape these questions and impose new ones. I came to the agency with a personal interest in the anatomy of the Arab-American community in New York. I grew up in the Middle East but attended American schools. English is my first language, Arabic my second. As a child in Lebanon I spent Sunday mornings visiting my grandmother, listening to her recount memories of life in our village and my father’s pet sheep, taking in the tales of clan rivalries and confrontations that rolled off her tongue like a thread of words pulled straight

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from the pages of A Thousand and One Nights. But as she spoke I struggled to understand her thick Baalbaki accent, and after our visits I would spend the afternoon with the vast world of Western pop culture in which I was enthralled, playing my N’Sync CD, watching Looney Toons, begging my mother for McDonalds. Prior to moving to New York for graduate school I had never physically been to America, but I had lived in this abstract, diffuse America that permeates the Middle East, that made me not quite as Arab as my parents but not American either - a hybrid that existed in a constant state of cultural discomfort, feeling slightly out of place in all locations. I wanted to know, despite the significant differences that punctuated our experiences, how Arab-Americans struggle and deal with their own complex identities, how they attempt to reconcile their nations of origin with their new host countries, and how they confront discrimination. Throughout my time at the agency I maintained an interest in these complex topics, but I also grew curious about a number of questions I hadn’t originally brought with me and that arose as I carried out my assigned tasks. I began to wonder about the politics of funding - the life support of all NGOs - and how it affects the communities they serve. And, I became increasingly unsettled by the realisation that in serving and, to a certain extent, representing a specific community, an NGO can impose certain characteristics onto it, defining it on the basis of subjective “needs assessments” and constricting it within its descriptive borders. I was originally hired as the outreach intern, but as is the case in most small, under-staffed NGOs my responsibilities often changed. I greatly appreciated the variety of tasks assigned to me, which nourished my appetite for professional skills. As outreach intern I was asked to take my Lebanese tongue down to the nearby Arab neighbourhood to promote the agency’s services. I was also sent on visits to public schools in the borough to talk to guidance counsellors about the needs of students who were part of immigrant communities. My original desire to hit the “Arab streets” and learn first-hand about the lives and struggles of Arab-Americans didn’t turn out as I thought it would. I was socially awkward and they were often uninterested. I would give them flyers and they would thank me politely. Their reactions were not surprising, given the way I shyly walked into their establishments, stumbling over my Arabic, struggling to understand their non-Lebanese dialects, telling them about social services that they didn’t really seem to need standing in their successful little businesses or casually walking down the street. What I had to learn, so it turned out, was not necessarily in the Arab neighbourhoods but in the agency itself, in conversations with the staff that revealed our different understandings of the Arab-American community, and in what I originally took as the tedious and mechanical task of grant writing, but that turned out to be a window into the inner

complexities of NGO work. When carrying out “coffee-shop outreach”, talking to members of the Arab community about the agency’s services, I always found them friendly and accommodating, humouring me even when they didn’t seem particularly interested in our services, cracking jokes about Lebanese pop-stars. These encounters contrasted with the image of a stubborn, standoffish and sometimes hostile community that the agency founder, an Arab-American who has spent decades working to better her community’s living conditions, had painted. I do not wish to undermine her decades of experience. I know that social service work can be extremely frustrating and taxing, and that she has nothing but the best of intentions. I wonder however, if over the years she has begun to make certain generalisations based on her experiences, generalisations that she does not necessarily question because of her own subjectivity as an Arab-American. The more time I spent with her the more I worried about the problematic aspects of working with or analysing one’s “own” community, which I was set to do the following summer. Many of us in the Arab world are quick to point out the disconcerting assumptions and pre-fabricated categories that scholars working with foreign communities can sometimes bring with them to the field. The founder herself often did, emphasising the importance of combating orientalist stereotypes. In the aftermath of 9/11 she bravely and publicly spoke out against the discrimination and harassment that the Arab-American community began to increasingly face and actively worked with those who suffered as a result of it. But she, like all of us “natives”, also has her own set of questionable assumptions. The “native” may take her assumptions for granted, she may feel that what she “knows” or thinks about her community is accurate because she’s seen it and lived it herself, failing to take into consideration her particular positionality and the diversity of experiences within her community. I noticed not only the founder’s tendency to behave this way but my own, as I privately positioned my “truth” about the Arab-American community against hers, as I problematically came to think that she had been away from the region for too long, that she didn’t understand “us” anymore. As I came to realise my own propensity to fall into this husk of the native expert, I began to appreciate the tragic complications involved in the noble work agencies such as this were trying to do, complications that they, with their case files so close to their faces, couldn’t necessarily see and that I would also often neglect as I got more involved in agency work. One day, a man from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) came by the office to give a presentation to the staff. The Department of Consumer Affairs helps consumers ensure that the market is fair and equitable. It

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does so by mediating complaints against businesses and making sure that they comply with state laws. Following the presentation, a conversation unfolded about the agency’s clients. The staff voiced concern over their clients’ tendency to look inwards towards their communities for support and brainstormed means of breaking this “wall of isolation.” NGOs, they agreed, should serve as mediators and translators, connecting their clients with institutions like the DCA. The founder began the meeting by explaining that the agency worked with communities isolated from resources and from other communities. Throughout the session she continued to emphasise that NGOs need to end this isolation by building trust and partnering with community organisations. Nurturing trust and working with community leaders both seemed like admirable and important goals,

Very little can rival grant writing in tediousness. I dreaded the character limits, the rifling through old proposals to extract relevant information, and the endless editing. But in between all the mundanity there were interesting observations to be made. Projects, I noticed, had to be framed according to the wishes of a prospective financial donor. The agency’s mission was constantly reworked, its limbs dislocated so that it could better fit into the little white boxes on a grant application. An NGO needs funding in order to help people. Adjusting its goals to meet the desires of financial backers is not unethical, it is just unfortunate. Agencies and the communities they serve are tangled up in a network of power, their movements limited by the politics of funding. For agencies this means that their hands are loosely bound, that they can only serve their communities in particular ways. For the communities represented by these agencies this often means being

The more time I spent with her the more I worried about the problematic aspects of working with or analysing one’s “own” community (...) but the conversation soon took a bizarre turn. The staff went from discussing the ways in which their clients could be taken advantage of, which was the initial purpose of the session, to the business ethics of their clients. “In America we have laws,” asserted the founder. “We have rules and they’re not used to that,” she said. “They’re used to bargaining. In their societies dishonesty is expected, it is the norm. They don’t understand that laws do not simply exist, they must be abided by.” All these “we’s” and “they’s” bounced around the inside of my skull as these cartoonish images of Arab immigrants were being projected onto the presenter’s impressionable mind screen. The founder articulated a desperate need to rid “them” of their “disorder” and to inculcate them into the American “order”. Nobody stopped to consider whether “their ways” could constitute an order as well - a different kind of order. The agency’s mission, it was proclaimed, is to educate new immigrants before they learn wrong and inappropriate behaviour from their communities. We must break the wall of the “ethnic ghetto,” the founder said, ending the session. The founder deeply cares for and loves the ArabAmerican community - her community. But she views the world and her field, like we all do, through the particularities of her own perspective. She has been waist-deep in the system for so long, battling bureaucracy and racism and clawing at a deeply flawed public opinion. I think, subconsciously, she finds it easier to try and change the community she works with, to look for adjustable flaws within it and to bend it to fit the system than it is to change the problematic system itself, which discriminates against immigrants socio-politically and economically. She blends in, and she wants them to blend in too for “their own good.” I think her assumptions and approach to her work are rooted in the network of power in which NGOs are caught up, which pushes this perception that assimilation is the correct path from all angles, this idea that immigrants must be rid of the old “habits”‘ that keep them from becoming full citizens. I think after years in the “system”, these ideas have sedimented in her tired bones. As I engaged in tasks like grant writing that highlight the invisible chain of command in the NGO world, that reveal how many people, rules and guidelines an agency has to satisfy in order to help its constituency, I began to better understand how the agency came to approach the communities it worked with the way it did.

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defined in manners that do not necessarily resonate with or highlight the diversity of their experiences. The trouble with representation is that it often involves an inadvertent stitching of the lips of the individual(s) one purports to assist. I was once asked to help write a grant aimed at organisations with programs geared towards “empowering” South Asian women in New York. I was asked to answer two of the questions on the application: How would our project help in achieving gender empowerment and equality in the South Asian community? And, how would our project help fight economic, racial and social justice? The first question made me particularly uncomfortable. How could I leave uncriticised the term “gender equality”, flopped onto the page as if its meaning were set in stone, as if it were so universal in definition that we, as good modern subjects, should all know exactly what it entails. It was as if it were a given that all South Asian women were leading terrible existences and were desirous of this pre-packaged gender equality that we wanted to import into their lives, as if they were waiting for us - unable to speak for themselves - to come and save them. I had to answer the question. I had to tell these financial backers just how we would bring their particular understanding gender equality to the undoubtedly oppressed South Asian women of our borough. To make it all worse, I was limited to 750 characters. So in roughly four sentences, I filled out the little white box about women I’d never met, wondering if they even needed or wanted me to empower them, wondering what it means to empower someone to begin with. I have attempted to use my experience at this particular agency to reflect the difficulty involved in NGO work more generally, and not to condemn this hard-working and benevolent organisation. We all have assumptions, no matter how educated we are and no matter where we are from. When we dedicate ourselves to helping others, to representing them and their needs, we inevitably have to define them, and this definition is filtered through the lens of our subjectivity - specially designed and constantly remolded by past and present contexts. Even the best of deeds then, harbour a subtle danger.


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illustration KHALID ALBAIH

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Khalid Albaih


CURRENT AFFAIRS

MANAGEMENT CONSULTANTS NETWORK

text and photo DANAH ABDULLA

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ommerce students are generally very competitive people. It is rare that you will find one attempting to help fellow colleagues by setting up a network that helps them connect with one another. Khaled Kteilly, consultant at Oliver Wyman and recent graduate from Montreal’s McGill University with a Bachelor of Commerce in in Finance, Organisational Behaviour and Information Systems, set up The Management Consultants Network a few months ago in order to help recent graduates connect with consultants and other students. “My initial focus was specifically on McGill because when students are recruiting for consulting jobs, which is a tough and rigorous process, they need all the help they can get,” he begins. Kteilly found that other schools had excellent resources in place for their students and McGill was no different but that there an extra effort needed to consolidate those resources. Having gone through the consulting process himself, he thought to himself that he could put something together that can be two fold—first to help students get access to the right resources and filter out the good from the bad. “The second,” he explains, “is connecting people with one another—students with students, students with consultants, and helping them understand what it means to be doing that kind of work and what they need to do to get there. And I felt that one thing that people say about Arabs is that we are very well connected, I know pretty much every Lebanese in Montreal and this is true of almost every Arab and I think you see how important it is to be connected to other people because, ultimately, they are the people you learn from and benefit from and so I think it serves a good purpose.” So what exactly is a consultant? Well, there are many different types, but a consultant is primarily hired to fix an existing program in a company that they can’t or don’t want to fix themselves. For example, Human Resources consultants are hired when employees lack motivations or perform poorly. The consultant can come in and diagnose the situation and provide a remedy. Khaled describes this a little further: “What I’m doing is more general management consulting, so I’m working for a retail company, and basically they’ve come to us to help them do like a complete transformation to their business, fix up all the operations, help them lower their cost, help them set the right kind of promotions, you know when you go into a grocery store and you see all these different items that are on promotion, there’s actually a very complicated systems that go behind that to determine how much a price of an item at, for how long, etc. it’s such a tiny little thing but what goes behind it is actually very complex. So we’re basically help them fix their pricing, fix their promotions, get better deals on all their stuff, advertise better to customers, basically anything else they need to do to be more successful.” Originally Palestinian, Kteilly grew up in Lebanon and moved to Montreal to pursue his studies five years ago. “My long term is to give back to my university. I felt I got a lot out of it after my four years there I had a few months

before I started work and I got a little antsy sitting at home doing nothing so I wanted to put my time towards something that helped students.” So far, the Management Consultans Network has around 150 members and 20-25 consultants who have signed up from top consulting firms worldwide. The network is working—some consultants have reached out to students through the website and students are getting in touch with one another, sharing resources and setting up mock interviews. “What’s funny is, I spoke to a few friends that study at the American University in Cairo (AUC) who want to get into consulting and there’s actually a small group on the site of AUC students and they are connecting with students from McGill in Montreal setting up interviews via Skype, which I think is pretty cool. This is exactly what I hoped it would achieve,” he says. Kteilly affirms that his Arab identity is very important to him and is a part of him: “Inevitably I feel that anything that I do now be it the Management Consultants Network or wherever my career goes, I ultimately would want to be doing something that helps the Arab people, the people in the region, one thing I want to push towards is getting the benefits of the site, which initially was going to be a McGill only thing, and expanding that and bringing it to all the people that I know growing up in the Arab world so they can benefit from it as well.” The fact that the network is online helps it attract people from anywhere to participate—as long as they speak English. “The accent doesn’t show up in the text,” he jokes. There are no immediate plans to offer an Arabic-language site since consulting in the Arab world is primarily done in English. www.mcgillconsultants.com

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CURRENT AFFAIRS

HELP ME I’M THE PRISONER, WON’T YOU HEAR MY PLEA?

by SOPHIE CHAMAS

“Can there be anyone in the civilised world who didn’t feel a surge of empathy with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he responded to the death of seven Israelis at the hand of terrorists from Gaza? Most elected leaders would go on the air at such an obscenity and attempt to reassure their people. But not all are Netanyahu...outsiders have no way of knowing details of what happened. But the Israelis don’t make any mistakes in these sorts of situations. And one can’t believe a word that comes from Gaza, where Hamas is dedicated to the annihilation of the State of Israel.1 1  From “Leading by Example” written by Peter Worthington and published in the Toronto Sun on August 22, 2011.

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hese words were written by Peter Worthington of the Toronto Sun, a conservative Canadian tabloid newspaper. Worthington’s article was amongst the first to pop up when I curiously looked up ‘Canada and Israel’ online in order to see what rudimentary information I could gather about the two allies’ evolving relationship. Another piece I came across focused on the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who has “transformed Canadian policy toward Israel and the Middle East.” Relinquishing its traditionally ‘evenhanded’ position on the Arab-Israeli conflict, writes Jordan Michael Smith, “Canada has become arguably the world’s most pro-Israel country.” 1 Reading on, I learned about the Members of the Friends of Jesus Christ Canada congregation their recent participation in the 11th “Israel Rejoicing Celebration”, and their upcoming involvement in the “Stand with Israel Rally” set to take place in September where they will pray for Jerusalem, believing it to be the “undivided capital of Israel.”2 I also came across a piece about a large Toronto-based celebration honouring Charles Bronfman, founder of Taglit-Birthright Israel, among many other articles3. If the United States is Israel’s dedicated best friend then Canada, in recent years, has become its loyal, adoptive grandmother fuelled by blind love and support, unable to think ill of its wideeyed, pouting adolescent let alone punish it for its “transgressions.” Despite Canada’s present love affair with the State of Israel, advocacy work on behalf of the Palestinian people continues across the country. It is carried out by individuals of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, united by common ideals and a deep-seated belief in the importance of speaking out against human rights violations and standing with movements for self-determination and civil rights wherever they might unfold. In an attempt to get a feel for the texture of this kind of advocacy in a Canada increasingly hostile towards the vibrations of Pro-Palestinian voices, I spoke to members of a few Montreal-based organisations engaged in solidarity work. 1  From “Prime Minister Steers Canada on a Pro-Israel Course” written by Jordan Michael Smith, found on Jweekly.com on August 18, 2011 and originally published in Tablet Magazine. 2  From “Rejoicing for Israel”, written by an unknown author and published in Jewish Tribune on August 24, 2011. 3  From “Taglit Celebrates Israel-Diaspora Ties” written by Sammy Hudes and published on ynetnews.com on August 22, 2011

I met three members of Tadamon! (“solidarity” in Arabic) at a café in Montreal. Introducing myself to Claire, a teacher from Toronto, Ramy, an engineer of Lebanese origin, and Mahmoud the Palestinian data manager, I got a sense of the eclecticism and diversity cradled within this collective. What they and other members of Tadamon have in common is not an ethnicity, religious faith or profession but rather, a shared vision of the world which they together aspire and work towards. Tadamon defines itself as a collective “which works in solidarity with struggles for self-determination, equality and justice in the ‘Middle East’ and in Diaspora communities in Montreal and beyond.”4 Its wheels are oiled by the hope for a utopia on earth in which “every human being is free to live and flourish in dignity and justice,” and by a commitment to oppose “all systems of oppression whether based on gender, sexual orientation or class.” On its website, the collective announces its rejection of “racism in its various forms, including Islamophobia and antisemitism.” Its various activities are inspired by the anti-colonial and anti-capitalistic convictions of its members. In addition, the collective is highly critical of nationalism and movements that espouse some variation of it. Nationalism purports to be inclusive, to create a shared sense of identity, common convictions and ideals. But in its effort to include nationalism attempts to homogenise, and in so doing it tends to exclude and reject some while welcoming and embracing others. In explaining its position towards it Tadamon cites nationalism’s “tendency to exploit, rather than challenge, oppressions based on class, gender, ‘race’ and ethnic or religious affiliation.” Taking a critical rather than a dismissive approach to the concept however, the collective recognises “that anti-colonial movements have, historically, been nationalist and statist in expression.” It stands in solidarity “with the popular movements striving for self-determination behind these expressions.” Displaying intellectual maturity and a carefully crafted worldview, the members of Tadamon are able to critique the alienating tendencies of nationalist movements while simultaneously recognising the conditions that enable the popularity of such movements in the Middle East, and respecting 4  All quotes were either derived from the interview or from the organisations’ websites tadamon.ca, imagingapartheid.org and artistsagainstapartheid.org

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the individuals who identify with and support them, taking them seriously on their own terms. Tadamon was founded, the members explained, by a group of activists, artists and teachers from the Lebanese community in Montreal in order to support Lebanon during the turbulent years of 2005 and 2006. One of the collective’s most significant early achievements was the demonstration it organised in solidarity with the Lebanese people during the 33-day war with Israel in 2006. Around 8,000 people attended the demonstration - many of them not Lebanese -making it one of the largest gatherings in support of Lebanon that took place that summer. Among the 8,000 demonstrators were Federal Liberal and Bloc Quebecois leaders who, in a defining moment, marched side by side with people waving Hezbollah flags. During this time period Tadamon also worked closely with members of the Lebanese diaspora in Montreal, helping them deal with the increased harassment and discrimination they began experiencing at an inflated rate in the aftermath of 9/11.

tadamon.ca

Gradually the collective grew, adopting many more non-Arab members and expanding its focus from Lebanon to encompass the Palestinian struggle to end Israeli apartheid and achieve self-determination. During the last couple of years it has focused on participating in and supporting the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign launched in Canada by the Toronto-based Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) as a result of the international appeal made by over 170 grassroots organisations in Palestine and the diaspora. Boycott is a nonviolent means of putting both financial and moral/ethical pressure on Israel to acknowledge the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, to end the illegal occupation of internationally-recognised Palestinian territory, and to respect the human rights of the Palestinian people. In addition to the economic boycott, which encourages people not to buy Israeli-made goods and to protest their sale abroad in imagingapartheid.org order to keep from indirectly participating in the financial fuelling of Israeli apartheid, Tadamon and organisations like it also promote cultural and academic boycotts. As Tadamon writes on its website, despite a few notable exceptions Israeli academic institutions are “at worst active supporters of Israeli state policy, at best in passive compliance with it, from direct support for the military to discrimination against non-Jews and particularly students from [the Occupied Territories], to providing ideological support for Zionism, or links with high-tech and military companies.” The academic boycott targets those educational institutions that contribute to the perpetuation of Israeli apartheid by refusing to collaborate with such institutions, rejecting funding from them, protesting the transfer of financial support from countries abroad to such institutions, etc. The academic boycott, importantly, does not target individual Israeli academics. The cultural boycott, largely symbolic but nevertheless powerful in nature, calls on artists, filmmakers and cultural workers to, among other things, refrain from participating in exhibitions and film festivals hosted in Israel, to keep from collaborating with Israeli art and cultural institutions funded by the government, and to use their social clout to advocate on behalf of the Palestinian people. Like the academic boycott, the cultural one does not target individual artists and both recognises and welcomes partnerships with non-Zionist Israelis in the art and cultural sphere who use their positions to lobby on behalf of the Palestinian people and oppose the apartheid 28

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policies of their state. An example of Tadamon’s participation in the cultural boycott is the protest it organised in 2007 along with CAIA Montreal of the Israeli Film Festival, the date for which was chosen by the Israeli consulate to draw the public eye away from the commemoration of 40 years of illegal colonisation in the Occupied Territories. The demonstrators organised in front of Cinema du Parc and hosted a counter-festival of Palestinian cinema screened on the street.

As essential as articles and academic works are to shedding light on this conflict, they are less capable of touching an individual affectively the way that art can, of tapping into his or her visceral register. While the former may transmit important information and knowledge, art draws the individual in body first. Education should not only be cerebral and ‘rational’ but emotional as well. The urgency and horror of a given situation can only be partially and somewhat inadequately relayed through scientific-type descriptions and statistics. In order to be communicated Importantly, the BDS campaign is not all about fully, it must also be felt, a task that activities such as IA’s protest - it is also about education. As anyone who has spent poster series are well suited to accomplish. enough time butting heads with Zionists and supporters of harmful Israeli policies can tell you, their positions are more Curious about the complications involved in apoften than not grounded in fear, propaganda and ignorance. proaching the region from abroad, I asked the members of Many individuals engaged in raising awareness about the Tadamon how they navigate their geographical difficulties. conflict have witnessed “conversions” facilitated by an Having connections with individuals and groups in the reexposure to the harsh reality of the Palestinian struggle gion is essential, they explained. “We don’t want to speak - a reality that when confronted without the blinders put on behalf of anyone,” Claire elucidated. All of their work is in place by the mainstream Western and Israeli media is carried out in conjunction with grassroots organisations in quite difficult to dismiss. The members of Tadamon see the Middle East. For example, one of Tadamon’s campaigns themselves as fighting against ignorance and as working involves solidarity work with the Palestinian village of Bil’in to educate the general public. “Boycott is more a tool for and the villagers’ lawsuit against two Quebec-registered raising awareness than it is a means of bringing about companies that have built illegal settlements on their tersubstantial economic pressure”, Ramy explained. ritory. “Solidarity is not something you do for someone, but with someone,” Claire said. Another example of their Similarly, Artists Against Apartheid (AAA) and collaborative approach to advocacy is the work they did smaller movements/projects that have sprung from it like with Samidun, a Lebanese-based group that aided the the Montreal-based Imaging Apartheid are heavily invested displaced and injured by the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. in education through a variety of artistic mediums. Imaging Tadamon raised money which it sent to Samidun to help Apartheid is an initiative “with a global reach aimed at with their efforts to rebuild destroyed homes. bringing awareness and support to the Palestinian struggle for liberation through the production and dissemination of I was left saddened after hearing about the inposter art.” AAA’s mission does not solely revolve around creasingly hostile and challenging environment these getting artists to culturally boycott Israel, but also to solidarity workers have to struggle through, but still use their talent, popularity and respected voices to help pleasantly surprised by what they described as a Montreal shed light on the Palestinian struggle and advocate for a more receptive and accommodating than other Western resolution to the conflict. “Art is the heart of any social cities to the work they are engaged in. The members of movement,” Stefan Christoff of both AAA and Imaging Tadamon described the crackdown on freedom of speech in Apartheid told me. “You engage the humanity of struggles Canada as it relates to discussions about Palestine-Israel. for change often through artistic expression. That is how The increasingly powerful Zionist lobby in Toronto and the we remember civil rights movements - through the art that governmental committees in parliament that support them surrounded them.” Artists aren’t necessarily activists, he are advocating for a ban on educational and outreach events explained. “There isn’t a space for them to express how such as “Israeli Apartheid Week” and the use of the word they feel collectively. It is difficult to translate general “apartheid” in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict sentiment into action.” AAA and Imaging Apartheid provide altogether. Solidarity work, they told me, is going to be such a space. In Montreal alone, 500 artists signed a letter increasingly criminalised and limited. On the other hand circulated by AAA in support of BDS - the most extensive were Stefan’s more uplifting remarks about the peculiar list of artists from any city in the world. island of Montreal. Quebec’s own history has conditioned a much more common and immediate sympathy with Palestine For Stefan, cultural and artistic boycott is sig- that one doesn’t see in other parts of Canada, he told me. nificant because artists are “the moral heart of society,” In the 1960s and 70s Quebec experienced its own struggle because they “express the humanity of our society.” At for the recognition of Quebecois linguistic rights and the a basic level, he elaborated, “There is an appreciation of end of their economic marginalisation. What was known as art that transcends the difficulties we face in our lives. the “Quiet Revolution” was a grassroots movement, and it Artists touch into emotional and spiritual levels that are touched a huge portion of the province’s population. Given beyond our comprehension. They express that deeper hu- this history, Stefan explained, the residents of Quebec are manity that we all hold.” As a result, artists hold a moral much more receptive to the Palestinian solidarity campaign,. weight and authority that allows their voices and views to resonate among a wide audience, and that puts them in a It was both heartening and encouraging to sit position to effect real change by putting their fans in touch down with these dedicated individuals who claw on a with issues desperately in need of attention and support. daily basis at the walls erected by lobbyists, government Cultural boycott is essential, continued Stefan, “because officials and journalists to separate them from the mass what we are talking about with regards to Palestine is the public, pushing their voices through. The little island of need to project the reality of a story that is so untold.” Montreal is one amongst a significant number of multiculArt reminds us, he explained, “that what we are doing in tural cities bursting at the seams with solidarity work and solidarity work is, yes, dealing with a political reality, but advocacy on behalf of the Palestinian people. One can only it is not so much political posturing as trying to shed light hope that this global movement of nonviolent resistance on a very deep social injustice, to tap into a very basic level will continue to grow. of human emotion, to evoke solidarity with a people that you might not share the same experience with but with The title of this article is taken from Gil-Scott Heron’s whom you have your humanity in common. It is our shared “The Prisoner”. humanity that allows us to collectively appreciate art.”

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THE ARAB DEVELOPMENT INITIATVE

CURRENT AFFAIRS

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n the wake of events in of this year, there have been a number of organisations that have come out of the woodwork to deal with glaring issues—long obvious to people of the region—that have only now come into the international eye. One of these, the Arab Development Initiative (ADI), covers a wide selection of issues important to many Arabs in the region and in the Diaspora. We had the chance to have a conversation with one of its coordinating members, Yezin Al-Qaysi, to get more in depth: KM: How did the Arab Development Initiative come about? YA: The Arab Development Initiative came as a response to the recent unrest in the Arab world. It was inspired by the Arab people’s desire to see change when mass demonstrations shook the Arab world early this year. As an organization we started off very small. Five months later we have over 40 volunteers working tirelessly to realize the ADI’s mission to bring Arab youth together. Although we were inspired by the changes in the Arab world, we are not affiliated with any political party or ideology, religion, or ethnic group. The ADI focuses on development in six divisions: Society and Culture, Law and Human Rights, Economic Development, Science and Technology, Health and Well-being, and Education. We hope to bring together Arab youth so that they can understand the obstacles in the way of development in the Arab world and find solution to overcoming them. Late last May we released our first video to announce the launch of the ADI. We hadn’t anticipated that this video would garner such a heartfelt international response. In a matter of days, hundreds of Arab youth wrote to us about how much they wanted to be involved in our initiative. In their applications, some poured their hearts out to us about all the things they wanted to do for the Arab world, others offered us to help out in any way they could. Not only were we encouraged by this outpouring of support, but we were also humbled by the sincerity and passion of those offering their support. We realized that there were so many educated, skilled, and extremely talented youth out there who were ready to dedicate their lives to developing the Arab world. With this knowledge, we took it upon ourselves bring our fellow youth together and create a space for us to play a bigger role in shaping the future of the Arab world. The most remarkable aspect of the Arab Development Initiative is the team behind the project. I have never worked with a more talented, passionate, and dedicated group of people in my life. We are also a very diverse group. Some of us are undergraduate students, recent graduates, graduate school students, young professionals, artists, teachers, entrepreneurs—you name it. The is also ideologically, religiously, and ethnically diverse, but I don’t think many of us have given it much thought.

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Our overriding interest is working towards catalyzing development in the Arab world through the ADI. We don’t have much time to think about our differences because we’re all to busy working toward a common vision for a future that we all want to see. KM: What are the goals of the Envision Arabia Summit? YA: The Envision Arabia Summit (EAS) is the ADI’s first major event. It’s goal is to bring together youth to start thinking about the future of the Arab world. Many youth want to contribute to the development of the Arab world but they don’t know what to do. The primary goal of the EAS is to educate youth about the challenges to development in the region and what role they can play to overcome them. Through a series of inspiring talks, engaging workshops, and seminars that help youth take action, the EAS will prepare attendees for the challenges that we face in building a better future for the Arab world. Another goal of the EAS is to bring Arabs together so that they can forge new friendships and strengthen their networks. One thing that we realized when spreading the word about the ADI and the Envision Arabia Summit is how disconnected Arab youth are from one another. There are huge pockets of Arabs in London, California, Michigan, and Toronto that we had a hard time integrating. We tend to form isolated clusters without having many links with other large Arab communities around the world. It was even very difficult for us to reach out to youth in Arab countries because the networks between us were so weak. By strengthening these connections between Arab youth we will be able to better organize and engage youth in the development of the region. Youth delegates at EAS will be tasked with putting together a vision for the future of the Arab world. Through their participation in the Vision building workshops, their ideas and visions will be compiled together in a document that will attempt to articulate what Arab youth want to see for the future of the region. The vision will be divided into our six divisions and is meant to be an intellectual exercise for delegates to think about what the Arab world can look like if we successful and overcoming all the challenges to developing the region. By envisioning a future that we want to see, it will help us understand what we need to do to turn our vision into reality. This year’s EAS is pleased to be welcoming delegation of youth from all over North America, Europe, and the Arab world. It hasn’t been easy reaching out to as many youth as we can, but we’ve tried our very best. The EAS will provide the perfect space collaboration, discussion, and exchange on issues central to future of the Arab world.


KM: Is it appropriate to pursue such a large undertaking when most of the delegates will be Arabs who are not living in the Arab world? What are you doing to ensure that your vision is more inclusive?

KM: How is the Envision Arabia Summit different from other similar events?

YA: Given that this is the first of many Envision Arabia Summits, I think that it’s a good start. Although this year’s international participation is expected to be relatively low, creating a vision is still a worthwhile exercise regardless of whether or not the delegates are living in the Arab world. The fact the the Summit is happening in Montreal makes it logistically difficult for many for participants to come from the Arab world- but a good number are coming. Although this year’s Summit, it is very likely that next year it could be somewhere in the Arab world. Montreal is our launchpad, but it is not our fixed location.

YA: The EAS is different in many ways. First it is an entirely youth-driven project and is not coming to you from an organization with an agenda or an established mandate. We want to bring youth together to give them a platform that can engage them in developing the Arab world.

A vision is also not set in stone. It is constantly evolving and improving. We hope that creating a vision will be part of future Envision Arabia Summits and that it will get better and better with time. We should always be thinking about our future and planning for it. The lack of vision and planning in the Arab world has allowed us to loose sight of our biggest problems and not prepare for their consequences. Hopefully this will change. The Envision Arabia Summit will be streamed on our website and viewers can engage through our social media channels to give their thoughts and ideas about the talks, workshops, and seminars. The Vision General Assembly will also be lie tweeted so that followers can keep up with how the vision shapes up to be. They can also comment and make suggestions on it. The Envsion Arabia Summit will be very social media friendly and we encourage those who are unable to make it to engage with us online.

The EAS is very content-centred, and the biggest element of the Summit is the content. We have brought world renowned experts and practitioners who have actually done something to improve the Arab world. The talks will not just be inspirational, but they will contain stories and experiences that can give youth necessary insights on the realities of working in the Arab world and the unique challenges that apply to that region. Our vision workshop moderators will not be giving lessons, but instead will be guiding a youth-led discussion. We have ensured that the Summit’s content will not be directed from the top down, but instead, it will be from the bottom up. There will also be skill building seminars that will help youth delegates at the EAS learn how they can put their ideas into action. We will have seminars on adaptive leadership, idea development, social media in the Arab world, and the future of the ADI. These seminars will help delegates take action after the Summit. www.arabdevelopment.com

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CULTURE

DO NOT CONSUME, CREATE: A CONVERSATION WITH MICHEL KHLEIFI I

n a meeting with the renowned Palestinian director, we proposed to Michel Khleifi that, rather than a rigid interview, we would have something more akin to a conversation, from the perspective of younger creatives to someone who has established himself in a difficult field. This allowed him to express how he sees things, his process, his politics, and the role of the Arab creative in a relatively free way. While we suspected that he was an individual with a lot of depth, we were immediately struck by the conviction he has as an artist for art and his people, and the ease he had in sharing all this with us at Kalimat.

which is amazing to see the same love and hatred for various things after so long. I don’t work with what is à la mode. The present is an instant past. My philosophy of cinema in how to approach a subject—and this is one philosophical idea that is very interesting to me—is to examine what happens in that instant. Time and space is the basis for what happens in art. And because I am not afraid to confront certain subjects that might be taboo, sexuality and politics for example, what I think I bring to Palestinian and Arab cinema (and remember that I am not a critic of my own work) is the birth of the individual.

“Ask me what you would like, and we will take our time”, he says. KM: Your work has, of course, a political dimension. This is a common question, but what is the role of the artist, the film maker—the creative person in politics? MK: There are many roles, not just one. With my last film, I asked myself this a few times, the role in cinema, in my case, or the novel, literature, art. Now, with art, our present era is one of consumption… Art, however, is an indicator that shows the direction of the movement of the society and its people. KM: When approaching your work, with this understanding, do you have any guiding principles or do you let the work itself guide you? MK: When the time comes to write, there are so many stories to tell, to develop and many emotions and sentiments to capture. The problem is how to find the point of meeting between emotions, and movement between developed subjects—which one to take, and why one over the other? It is a difficult alchemy. In my case, making films, you can’t forget that it takes two or three years to complete, with the issues of money, different organisations to deal with, the process of shooting the film itself. Thinking of a single subject early on—can you imagine it even being interesting after that long? KM: It seems that the person making the film will also change after that long. Has this happened with you? MK: I am conscious of this, and try to find the substance at the core of the subject itself. There are elements, in Wedding In Galilee for example, that have changed since 1986. But, there are many things that are the same. You will have the same reactions as one would 25 years ago, 32

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In the early 1980s, there was this idea of birth of the individual, the individuals right to live autonomously from family, nation, and specific political circumstances. I began to make films without permission from the political authorities, which broke free of established structure. I feel it is important to show the youth in our region in our times that you have the force we have to create what you want, to show what you believe is important. I have mentioned this concept before in various debates, that you cannot create a free society without free individuals. This is precisely what I have tried to do in my work, what I feel is important: I have tried in my work to decolonise daily life. In my first film, Fertile Memory (1980), I said, “If you want to defend something, you have to love it. And if you have to love something, you have to know it.” I said this about Palestine, and the same goes with women in our countries, the right they have to live in dignity. Many people don’t know what “woman” means, what “citizen” means, what “child” means, and when I ask the older generation they say “That’s just the way we are, and the way they were in my parents time, and their parents time before that.” But life is dynamic, things change constantly, and we have to change with them. KM: Do you feel like you have moved beyond these ideas, the decolonisation of every day life, or have you changed? MK: Society itself has moved, has changed. We were only a few in the 1980s who may have thought that way, but now we can see, especially this year, that people have finally acted to recognise their autonomy. In your generation, unlike ours, they don’t say, “We need a leader,” but instead, after so much degradation, “We can build


together.” We don’t need a leader, we need each other. KM: You mentioned earlier that art reflects the movement of society. With the historic developments of this year, the Arab Spring and so on, has this changed your work in any way or are you, in a sense, seeing past them.? MK: I will tell you, if I am trying to write something, I have an extreme sense of urgency, I will go with the entirety of my effort, everything that I can do to the subject I cover, I do it. When shooting a film it is the same. Now, I feel that many young directors do not have that same comprehensive urgency. Does that mean that the film making is bad? It is simply another approach. They can respond, “You are being too old-fashioned, too classical.” The most important thing in art is to liberate the language of art. This is what I attempt to do. All the artists I admire are the ones who liberated their languages. They had that urgency, which I love, but I also understand that now there are new approaches, new points of interest, and life moves on. KM: How important is it for you [and for artists in general] to understand the established tradition of the medium in which you [and they] work? MK: Like I mentioned, what is important is the relation between time—which is vertical—and space—which is horizontal. This is to know what is happening now and its relationship along that horizontal line, to history. You cannot just close yourself off to this, to think that what happens in the world and in history is separate from you. You are a part of it. You also cannot look to the future without also looking along that horizontal line of history, as it is time as well. I know that some, theoretically, are against that (like some of the postmodernists). To them, it is not necessary to know the past as one can simply reference history. But to truly understand, one must deeply know other films, other literature, what came before. To understand Palestinian cinema, for example, you need to understand all the reference points. And we are all subjects in history, and every day life has an element of the fantastic. Eisenstein said, “The person who wants to know the complexity of the world, they will find it in a single drop of dew,” but some may look at the world in its entirety and feel nothing, see nothing. Art is to discover, to change your point of view, and in a way it becomes a thought process. KM: Many young creative, cultural people in the Arab world now are rushing, in a way, to make something new. Some of it has elements of a romantic approach. So, let me ask you, as a bit of an exercise: if you were someone who was younger, more naïve, but with the same understanding as you have laid out, what would you do? MK: I would perhaps make a documentary. Its difficult to say, and there are so many stories to tell. But I don’t feel what they feel, and my problem now is that I am afraid. For some time I have thought that we are in a period of civil war, and now I see these elements in place. Perhaps I would make a film about that, the continuing absurdity of our society. Earlier I mentioned the birth of the individual, but I did not only mean the good individual. All the energies will collide, and explode, rendering both the good and the bad. Even the best people have fascism in their minds, the “sleeping beast” that Brecht spoke of, and he is correct. I see this in ourselves and our society. For example, the process of the birth of individuals in North America took a specific path, a horrifying and violent one. For K A L I M AT

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the individual to exist there, they had to kill. It was at great expense, the genocide of the indigenous people there. It was the assertion of this “natural right” to exist. Who were these people? We can see them amongst us as well, and because of this we must work to revive morality, individual and social, in a new and contemporary way; a modern morality. KM: Does creative production, art, have a role in the development in this modern morality? MK: I myself do not have a project, a programme. For this to occur, there first needs to be an accumulation of creation. Instead of making Zindeeq, for example, I could have made an action film (“Abu Rambo”), but I took an ethical decision to remove the violence from my film. Yet that does not mean that there was no violence, but it was distant, implied. The philosophical question is that “is the only legitimate violence against one’s self?” There must be the liberation of words, of speech. We are a traumatised society. Art needs to liberate this trauma, and it has the ability to do that. If you do not know why you suffer, you will continue to suffer—and you will transfer your suffering to the next generation, your children, your surroundings. It transforms into something negative, and more than that. You cannot build the future on a foundation of trauma. KM: Something troubling is the visual image, the sounds, music, writing used to justify the status quo, in particular after the limited, incomplete victories of things like the Egyptian Revolution. MK: Nothing is complete, nothing is finished. Completion is a closed, religious view of the world. Things work in cycles, and not often in a fixed direction. In Egypt, 3,400 years ago, there existed the most comprehensive freedoms for women that even the most progressive countries of the world do not have now. Dust has never settled. Look at the music the youth is making now. Then take [Egyptian political musician] Sheikh Imam, whose beautiful work from the 1960s onwards—which accompanied me throughout my years of training—I would much rather sing and hear more than anyone. His music and poetry seems to resonate now more ever. It is a tragedy of our society that he is not more well known, his voice and his songs, but he left for us a great heritage. KM: Speaking of Sheikh Imam—what of his songs stand out for you? MK: “Askandaria,” (“Alexandria”), “Allah Haye,” so many. In one song, he talks about going into and out of exile and that the only way for him was to work with the people. He has countless beautiful songs. I used some of his music in my first film. A year after its release, I went to Egypt to film the funeral of [former Egyptian president] Anwar el-Sadat for Belgian television, and took some money to pay him for using the music, and I remember he was surprised, shocked even, that I came all that way with the royalties. I thought it was natural, and I didn’t even have that much money, and supposed it was the right thing to do. What poverty in which they lived! Interestingly, I learned from Sheikh Imam not to embrace popular culture—to learn from it, but not to imitate it. Sheikh Imam takes popular songs, chants, that resonate deeply in the popular imagination, and makes art with it, makes them relevant in a different way by re-appropriating them. I created independent Palestinian cinema when there 34

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was none. For 12 to 15 years I saw the world in front of me change very quickly, and I look now and see that things will not stay the same as well. I had to film it. The film becomes a historical document because people forget the small things, and the inclusion of things like popular songs will show those in the future how things were. They can see how things will change in their own time. In Tale of the Three Jewels (1995) I showed Gaza, and in only a few short years it has completely changed. If you want to see the change—the disappearance— watch the film. The function of one’s own art is not simply narcissistic. I understand the narcissistic artist, but that is not what it is about. It is a documentation as well. In my student days in Belgium we used to go to the movie theatre as we did not have much money. Once, the box office told us there were no seats left. Disappointed, we left, but returned to find, by chance, tickets for us. Unsure what to see, as I had just come from Nazareth with a different, more popular approach to film, we saw Visconti’s The Leopard. Dealing with an aristocratic family, it showed the change of Italian society at the beginning of the 19th Century—it was an extraordinary film, in every way. It goes through poetry, music, opera, history, sociology, psychology, everything imaginable. I said to myself, “We can do that in Palestine too,” that kind of examining film. You have to understand that I love Palestine, for me it is more than a cause, but a passion. There are so many elements, the injustice, repression, denial of human rights, the falsification of history. We don’t need to be politically charged to say nice things about Palestine, we just have to love it. KM: In your film Zindeeq, when a character asks his mother about what happened in 1948, there is no response. What is the significance, as many in their personal lives until today have that exact experience? MK: The first generation can never—or with great difficulty—talk about what happened because it was so traumatising. Talking about it destroys their human dignity in a way. They don’t talk about it because their human dignity allows them to survive, to remain intact, to move on. To be able to grow and resist, they keep these secrets inside. It takes a certain maturity to begin to talk, and a certain distance. Others are afraid to write it, so I ask them, “Tell me, and I will write it.” We have all inherited this, the combined traumas of our grandparents, our parents, and our own. What I tried to do in Zindeeq was to show these traumas. After all, it is not easy for your father to tell you that, in 1948, he was simply not able to do anything. I also ask myself, “What I can do?” I am not far from the impotence of my father. Through language, we can perhaps try to understand why this trauma is transferred. KM: The kind of distance and maturity you mentioned earlier—do you think we can get it through language? MK: Let us think of what distance means exactly. When you want to write, if you have no conscious of the distance between


you and the page, it can be very difficult to write. But if you have that blank page in front of you, and you begin to put down words, sentences, you can begin to work. If it is all still in your head, it will never leave. If you attempt to put it outside of yourself, to look at it, on the page before you, it will find itself before you. In the Palestinian experience, the question is often directed towards those who left, “Why did you leave?” In Zindeeq, I attempted the reverse of this. The Arabs who stayed became Israeli citizens, and the character asks his mother, instead, “Why did you stay?” She also cannot answer directly, but gives a universal answer—those who left say “It is for my children,” and those who stay say “It is for my children” as well. In the Second World War, half of Belgium left, but returned. This happens in periods of war, massive upheavals. But it is a human right to return, except for us apparently. With the Palestinian case, we cannot return, but those who replaced us find people from across the world to come and take their place. It is a colonialism. So, for each Palestinian who left and who stayed, it was for the same reason. The reasoning might not make sense, but the human truth is not intellectual, it is physical. One of the problems with Zionism is the imposition of ideological, religious, and philosophical reasoning against what happened, which is actually quite elementary, quite human. The story of Palestine can be sad, it is devastating, but in the end it is temporary. KM: A typical closing question, but what can you tell the young Arab artist or creative—say, someone who wants to make film? MK: We should believe in a will to equality, to liberation, we should never be racist (even in the worst times). We become the alternative. We need to work, our countries (and Palestine) need a lot of work. A villager, a peasant, never simply waits for rain but continues to work. Do not be afraid of culture. We have so much culture, do not just consume—you must create. This is what you must do, it is such an important part of our countries (and Palestine). Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, after all, we learn from them. The goal of every involved person is to create a better world. To be human is more important than to belong to one political affiliation or another. Emancipation is the return of humans to humanity, and to structures that are more human. We must build together.

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CULTURE

KUL SANEH WINTOO SALMEEN: A VISUAL RAMADAN ACROSS CAIRO & AMMAN

CAIRO by Naira Badawi

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CAIRO by Naira Badawi

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CAIRO by Amira Radwan

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CAIRO by Amira Radwan

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CAIRO by Amira Radwan

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CAIRO by Naira Badawi

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CAIRO by Amira Radwan

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AMMAN by Noora Sharrab

AMMAN by Randa Otaibi

AMMAN by Noora Sharrab

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JORDAN by Rawan Risheq

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JORDAN by

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y Rawan Risheq

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CULTURE

THE SILENT AND THE ABSURD: MEDITATIONS ON THE TIME THAT REMAINS by SOPHIE CHAMAS

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lia Suleiman’s The Time that Remains is a partially biographical film composed of four historical segments beginning in 1948 and stretching into the present. It is the story of Suleiman’s family, recreated through the stitching together of memories, accounts from his father’s diaries and letters his mother sent to relatives. The opening scene sees Suleiman, who plays himself in the film, sitting silently in a taxi with a loquacious Israeli driver (Menashe Noy), when they suddenly get caught in a monstrous storm. As the driver begins to lose his way, he starts to complain about the constant construction of roads and interchanges that have made it difficult to recognise Israel. “Where are the kibbutzes and the collective farms?” He asks. “They were everywhere. Did the earth swallow them up?” He radios in to his partner ‘Elie’ at the taxi base, but no one answers. Anxiously staring into the distance, he asks, “Where am I?”

photo from davidbordwell.net

This farcical prelude in which an Israeli complains to a Palestinian about the burial of the kibbutzes and collective farms of Israel’s bygone days beneath the hyper-modernity of highways and high-rises, while losing his way in formerly familiar territory, culminating in a distressed admission of utter estrangement, poignantly sets up the next scene. In it we meet Suleiman’s father Fuad (Saleh Bakri) in Nazareth in July of 1948, on the day that the city surrendered to the Israeli Haganah. Suleiman’s ‘representation’ of 1948 is not what one would expect precisely because it does not purport to ‘represent’ or to ‘recreate’ a cataclysmic, multi-faceted, and collectively experienced and historical event in its totality. Instead, Suleiman gives us a bright, sunny day in Nazareth, a lone, imbecilic soldier from the Arab Liberation Army on his way to free Tiberias and Haifa, a radio announcement dictating the arrival of the IDF to “liberate” the people of Galilee from “criminal gangs” posing as a liberation army, and a confused Mayor given instructions by an Israeli soldier in a language he doesn’t understand. His films, Suleiman explains in a 2010 interview with Electronic Intifada, are not only about Palestine. “They are Palestine,” he tells the interviewer, “because I am from that place—I reflect my experience, but in identification with all the Palestines that exist. The word ‘Arab-Israeli Conflict’ is alien to me in terms of the poetics of the word. I don’t think my film is about that altogether.” Speaking as an artist, he adds that, “You should have faith that first of all your experience is not local; it is a universal experience...When you compose an image you should never think about the boundaries of that image. If this image exists in one locale, it should transgress the boundaries of that locale...So this is not about moulding or summing up an experience located in Palestine. This is about all the experiences that can be conceptually called Palestinian-ally.”1 In his somewhat comical depiction of the surrender of Nazareth, Suleiman does not make a mockery or parody out of a tragedy, nor does he not undermine the seriousness and horror of the Nakba. Instead he magnifies an aspect of it that transcends its particularities, shared not only by most conflicts, but by state-society relationships and nationalist movements which are often left undiscussed. It is that thing we feel when we hear Bashar Al-Assad continue to call innocent protestors armed gangs despite 1  From “”A different kind of occupation”: An interview with Elia Suleiman”, by Sabah Haider, published in The Electronic Intifada on 1 February, 2010

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photo from blogs.indiewire.com


all evidence to the contrary, when we listened to George Bush ramble on about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and his quest to bring freedom to the Middle East, when we watched Israel attack a peace flotilla and claim it was self-defence. It is this absurdity that Suleiman taps into. The (ongoing) Nakba is not just tragic: it is absurd, and it is these sort of emperor’s-new-clothes scenarios, public absurdities, that punctuate so much of politics. It is not limited to the Palestinian experience, but something we can all, on one level or another, relate to, whether we’ve experienced settler-colonialism, growing up to think and act in certain ways on the basis of national myths, or watched our governments attempt to justify racial profiling in the name of security. To portray the occupation in a comical manner is not to detract from its seriousness, but to highlight its ridiculousness, to emphasise the absurdity of a settlercolonial state in this 21st century of (supposed) human rights and democracy. Within these absurdist sketches of the occupation we are shown snippets of everyday Palestinian resistance, a resistance that is not necessarily about armed conflict and diplomatic efforts, but something subtler. It exists in the everyday, the attempt to live a close-to-normal life despite the overwhelming. In Ramallah in the present day, we see a woman filmed from afar pushing a stroller right through a clash between rock-throwing Palestinians and the Israeli military, responding to a soldier’s request that she go home with a resounding, “I go home? You go home!” We watch a young man walk back and forth in front of his house, talking on the phone right in front of a tank whose nose follows him from side to side as he casually continues his conversation. In another interview, Suleiman explained that he didn’t want to “enter into what makes up a lot of epic films: the sensationalism, the bombastic and predictable scenes. I wanted to remain completely unpredictable and yet tell something specific about the period.” 2 In scenes like this he shows the way the average Palestinian resists their oppression through stubborn refusal to live a miserable life, practice of steadfastness (sumud). This is most strongly communicated in the scene where an Israeli patrol car pulls up to a night club in Ramallah filled with people and begins to announce “Curfew, curfew!” People dance on to a techno remix of “Stayin’ Alive” as though they hadn’t heard the announcement, and the Israeli soldiers nod their heads to the music, continuing to unsuccessfully call out to the youths. Very little is said in the film, but much is communicated through the absences of dialogue. It unfolds as a kind of anti-narrative, taking a non-linear and back-alley approach to storytelling present the viewer with a nonepical account of history. As discussed above, Suleiman departs from traditional means of recounting the Nakba, which fixate on large, collectively experienced events, dramatics, chronological retellings, and language. Instead, he carves out an intimate peephole into the everyday life of one Arab family living as part of a minority in Israel. Following the short segment set in 1948, the film shifts to a kitchen hosting an older Fuad, his wife (Yasmine Haj) and son (Zuhair Abu Hanna) in what must be the 1960s. We watch Fuad calmly leave the breakfast table to rescue his foul-mouthed old neighbour who often drinks himself into a suicidal frenzy and attempts to light himself on fire (another absurdity). The film makes public intimate memories of the familiar mundane in daily life, but as they are practiced by the Arab minority in Israel, living in an unfamiliar and extraordinary context. Suleiman does not attempt to straightforwardly speak these memories through his characters. He does not try to tell his viewer something or other. Rather, he communicates these memories sensually 2  From “Elia Suleiman: The Strong Silent Type”, by Ali Jafaar, posted on the British Film Institute’s website.

through the weight of facial expressions, a choreography of harmonious bodily stillness and movement, the poignant period music of Leila Mourad and Nagat Al-Saghira which often occupies the silence in place of dialogue, and the daily sights, colours and sounds of Nazareth. The lack of verbal dialogue does not create a gap, but instead the various silences fill holes that language cannot occupy and relay that which is left unsaid by even the most verbose of accounts. They communicate that which is deeply felt, but cannot be adequately described. The viewer is invited to participate in the unfolding of the film, to share a secret moment with Suleiman’s family shaped by her own subjectivity, by her unique perspective which guides her movement through the film and her understanding of and reactions to it. The film can be thought of as a poem or even a dance in four parts which is ambiguous but deeply visceral, that doesn’t just appear before you but acts on your insides, drawing you into its nuances, open to a plethora of potential emotional responses and mental associations. Many of the scenes are filmed in very tight frames, making the film seem even more personal, making it as though the viewer were standing behind each door or wall, outside the window, peeking into the life of this family: watching Suleiman’s young mother write her letters, observing her partially visible, aged and diabetic self (played by Samar Tanus) sneaking an ice cream cone in the middle of the night, awkwardly standing in on silent yet tense and deeply melancholic and sorrowful encounters between a Suleiman in the present and his mother. By having us watch this family through a tight lens and by limiting our perception to these seemingly banal moments, Suleiman awakens our curiosity for the world outside these frames, beyond the steps of the house, in the bedrooms we never enter, allowing our imagination to join in the narration of this story which, like all stories, can be told in a multitude of ways. The film’s secondary title is “Chronicles of a Present Absentee.” In the various stages of his life presented in the film, Suleiman remains marginal, standing on the sidelines gazing at those around him. He seems to observe his surroundings with both innocent bewilderment and sorrow, an expression that brought to my mind the simultaneous feelings of familiarity and distance that the Palestinian, both who resides within Israel or who returns to Israel/ Palestine from abroad, likely harbours towards his respective hometown. Watching the teenage Suleiman (Ayman Espanioli) and his equally solemn father grow, inhabiting their silence and melancholy, one begins to feel that even the Palestinian who resides within the borders of Israel exists in a form exile, inhabiting the town he was born in but which increasingly appears foreign, even hostile. Many of us have become desensitised not only to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but also many other living and breathing tragedies. So accustomed we are to daily accounts of conflict in the media, to violence in film and television, to chaos and destruction in video games that they no longer register with us viscerally. We blink coldly at the statistics documenting deaths, wars, diseases, and bombings listed on our television screens, we turn off accounts of massacres and join friends for outings. Conflict has, in a sense, become so normal, so banal, that it can no longer shake or shock our insides, or evoke more than a sigh or a cringe. One of the many achievements of “The Time That Remains” is its ability to unsettle the viewer, done simply by bypassing the cerebral (to which the media speaks monotonously about death and war), drowning the visceral with the particular, very-human experience of one family. “In the margin of the everyday,” Suleiman explans, “is where history has more of an impact on us.”

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OMAR AL QATTAN: A CONVERSATION

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mar al-Qattan is a British-Palestinian film director and producer, known for working with director Michel Khleifi and a number of his own acclaimed films. He is the currently director of the Qattan Foundation, a well-known cultural organisation based in London and Palestine. Home to The Mosaic Rooms, it is a vibrant and beautiful space which features a number of programmes and artists, local and international. In a loose and candid conversation he spoke to us on a number of subjects related to culture and the arts in Palestine, Britain, and the Arab Region, and its development, and its direction. OQ: We started in 1998 with a very, very small team (there were three of us) in Palestine, and we knew a few things. We wanted to work with culture, and cultural and educational development. We wanted to focus on younger people, who we felt were neglected (and thought that culture and education were very neglected), and we felt, rightly, that this was the way to real, long term change. We were kind of unique in the region, and I think that we remain unique in the sense that we are the largest privately funded cultural programme in the region. I don’t consider the Qatar Foundation nor the Emirates Foundation to be private—it’s a public institution. The idea that the cultural sector was vital was nice, of course, but it wasn’t taken very seriously, although now I think that has changed. The focus on

we are very noticed), and secondly in a very expansive, horizontal, and effective way. Of course, we weren’t on our own. I don’t think you ever do anything on your own, there’s always a cumulative process, but we were a big catalyst in all this. We also realised that this was a great method for international exchange, to bring Palestinians out of their isolation, which was mostly externally imposed (and partly self-imposed), to bring people to Palestine, and to explore themes that were preoccupying young people and society as a whole but were not being discussed in the political discourse. We also tried to tried to treat culture as a unified thing in the sense that we didn’t really recognise political borders. For us, culture permeates our borders. The Young Artists Award, for example, and this is a first in many, many years—or ever—that there was one place, one event that brought together Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, the 1948 areas, and the Diaspora, into one structure. We had somebody from Costa Rica, from Lebanon, from Gaza, from ‘48, as competitors in one culture, not as different people with different ideas. It was a brilliant event, with an international jury. This formula could be applied to other things: music, performing arts, literature. It is now twelve times the size that it began as. We’ve also developed strategic and effective partnerships with organisations who realised that what we are doing

It was very communitarian, which is very much against the spirit, our spirit at least, of cultural work. Its not a private club for Arabs, it’s a platform for people to know about the Arab world. younger children was there, but not so much on that difficultbut-wonderful and creative group—late teens to late twenties or early thirties—where real change happens in artistic form. So we started with a very minimal culture and arts program, with a budget around $70,000, which even for a small country like Palestine is peanuts, and we started with the idea of creating a library-cum-theatre-cum-cultural centre for children in Gaza. One reason for this was because we felt that children had been particularly victimised during the First Uprising, used and abused in all sorts of ways, particularly in Gaza. In fact produced a film that you might know by Michel Khleifi called Tale of The Three Jewels, and one of the driving forces for that was the children there. We started a program, and it took a long time for it to really find its way, to see how as a nongovernmental organisation, we could improve the standard and quality of teaching in Palestinian schools, the quality teaching materials, the classrooms, and so on. We’re trying to integrate, and we’re trying to crack this, the process of cultural and educational development. The centre for educational research and development which we set up is now a leader in the world in drama and education. Its fantastic, they run a summer program, and people have graduated from it, and we’re talking to Birzeit University into making it an MA program. The culture and arts program began as a grant-making program because we realised that, firstly, there was a huge demand for it and, secondly, it was a magical thing: While the Second Uprising was blowing up in everybody’s faces, here was this extraordinary method that was talking about Palestine and its struggles without, at first, being noticed by the Israelis (now 52

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was successful. Many large private and public foundations do their programs through us. For example, the Swedish government, which is the main funder of music in Palestine, is considering doing all its music programs through us. We also started the Gaza Music School three years ago. KM: Do you have anything to do with the orchestra and conservatory at Birzeit University? OQ: They wanted to start a branch of the conservatory in Gaza. We have the library there, which is now a beautiful operating project with premises, staff, and seven hundred kids in there every day, and they asked if we could set it up. We did a mapping study to see who could do what, then launched it. It was destroyed by the [Israeli] army in 2009, but we rebuilt and reopened immediately. The idea was that they would use the National Conservatory curriculum and that they would do some of the assessments for instructors via video conference and so on—it’s still very difficult to get in and leave. We’ve managed to get in many instruments through the French and German consulates and the British Council, and Daniel Baremboim has given us a piano as well. The program as a whole funds things all around the country, in Lebanon, in Syria, and in Jordan. We’re thinking of expanding it to a more physical presence in Lebanon because we feel that the Palestinians there are particularly isolated. One of the things we want to do


is to create a model project that, first of all, breaks some of the ghettoisation. It’ll be a Lebanese-Palestinian project, not just a camps-based project, and it would have a very progressive agenda of integration. It won’t just be a cultural program as such, but a comprehensive one that would be informed of the confessional and civil conflict from which Lebanon still really hasn’t emerged. My family is Palestinian, our immigration went from Kuwait to Lebanon, back to Kuwait, then to England. Although some are in the United States, London is now our family base. When we decided to establish the foundation we did it here because it would protect it legally from the Israelis, or so we thought, and also because, for charitable organisations, English law is very advanced. We didn’t have to do a lot of work to get it going. We had a rather tiny office until 2008 and after we decided that we didn’t want to pay rent anymore, we looked into purchasing a space that we could use and would rent out. When we found the space that we are in now we realised that it could not just be an office, which the space downstairs (The Mosaic Rooms) would have to be available for public use. Given that it’s London, a very cosmopolitan, with a large Arab presence, and that our initial tagline was “Supporting culture and education in Palestine and The Arab World” we realised that the “Arab World” portion was somewhat on the backburner. Looking around, there wasn’t really an institution or a space in London that was focused on the Arab World and its culture. Here, there have been things. There was the Kufa Gallery, privately owned by an Iraqi architect called Mohammed al-Makiya (who has since died) who was a sort of distinguished opposition figure, but it closed about eight years ago, and the landlords wanted the property back. There’s also the Arab British Centre, which is quite small, and the new Shubbak Festival of Arab Culture, which has brought a lot of people out of the woodwork; if there is a second edition that will filter out quite a few things. I think it is significant because after 9/11, the overwhelming identity that was imposed was that you belonged to the British Muslim community, or British something else. For those of us who are secular or don’t identify with it only started hearing the term after 9/11. I’m delightful that this term is being flushed away because a lot of it also had to do with dirty politics on the part of Muslim clerics who run mosques around the country and who wanted government funding started inventing these identities. It was very communitarian, which is very much against the spirit, our spirit at least, of cultural work. Its not a private club for Arabs, it’s a platform for people to know about the Arab world. In order to be able to run a gallery or a space like this successfully you have to have really good research and resources. In Palestine we have a team of eighty-five people who work on the three projects and are feeding programs to us, things that they are working on anyways, but just because they are in demand there it doesn’t mean that they will be interesting or work here. We’re expanding to have a greater focus on non-

Palestians. We’ve already had an Iraqi artist in our first show, Hanaa Malallah, Mona Saudi, a Jordanian artist, [Syrian artist] Fadi Yazigi, Adonis, and so on. We’ll always have a focus on Palestine—one of the best things we’ve done is to do with the Young Artists Award, where the ten finalists who have submitted a project chosen will receive six months of commission, some support to work on their project (partial, of course), and an exhibition in Ramallah that also tours the country and then comes here, to the UK. It has been very successful, as there are some really wonderfully talented artists, and of course the novelty is great, but we’ll also expand from there. KM: One of the main issues with training and developing young artists is a real knowledge of the medium and its tools, the means to production, the hard- and software, and so on. OQ: One of the things we focus on a lot is capacity building. The institutions for foundational training don’t really exist in the Arab world. In Baghdad there was the Fine Arts School, which was very famous, and in Syria there is a much more classical one, and one in Cairo. But generally speaking, in the past fifteen or twenty years, of the people who come out don’t have the proper schooling or training. All these arts are languages, and you need to know the grammar. We’ve really given that aspect a lot of thought. We’ve given an extensive training in filmmaking, for example, with Michel Khleifi as leader, and the idea is that it will eventually culminate in a multidisciplinary academy. Something like an MA project. You come with a project in mind, with a talent or skill, a designer, a great businessperson—and this is vaguely the model—but you would come in and work, teaching and be taught, but eventually produce the work while you were there. We finished the first course in 2007, and then tried some other things. We dubbed classical films into Arabic. We created film clubs in about forty-seven schools in Palestine; we gave them films and did a whole series of training programs with teachers on how to use film in the classroom, creating a subtitling unit. In 2009 I got extremely ill, so a lot of this got put on hold, but this is all certainly still in our minds. There is no illusion: you cannot create talent through a program like this, but you can certainly help it, bring it forward, create the foundations—especially the educational and intellectual foundations which might make it easier for talented people to discover their own talents, which doesn’t always happen—and the confidence to come forward and practice their talents. It’s a cumulative effect. When we started we knew that we would be in it for the long haul. www.qattanfoundation.org www.mosaicrooms.org

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CULTURE

BETWEEN RHYTHM AND SOUND: A CONVERSATION WITH EL IQAA by KARIM SULTAN

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hen I first encountered the sounds of El-Iqaa’s “Circulate” EP (available as a free download), I was struck by what was almost a painfully beautiful, claustrophobic, and highly intriguing set of tracks. There I found many familiar samples that seemed out of place, as though the original meanings of the songs and the characters behind the voices had somehow become lost somewhere between an airport and a sampler, or laptop computer. “This is what proper electronic music is in exile,” was my first response, as my understanding of the medium is one that allows for such strange and imaginative things to happen musically. El-Iqaa (“The Drummer” or “The Rhythm,” moniker of talented Detroit/Beirut-based artist Joe Namy), samples, sometimes aggressively dissembles, music that we are familiar with, placing them haphazardly in a musical framework somewhere between heady IDM (intelligent dance music), instrumental hip-hop, and ambient (whatever those genres mean) that can be quite haunting. I was curious about his method and ideas, and he was open to conversation: KS: What do you do (music)? JN: I work with sounds, making meditative, samplebased, electro-araby, head-nod, future-past-present beats. KS: Do you have an operating principle or philosophy, something you have in mind when when it comes to making or engaging with music (or other forms of art)? JN: Yes, I have three: a) be original and true to my inner voice, my community and my environment, b) be aware of—and build upon—the musical legacy that our elders have passed on and c) Don’t make music that sucks. KS: What is Arabic music to you? JN: Revolutionary music. And love songs.

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KS: Is there a tension between the music you often reference or sample in your own work and what you do (i.e. using samplers, computers, etc.)? JN: I do feel there is a tension. Because you’re working with history, each sample contains so much information— not just the audible frequencies that we hear but how it came to be. This information and tension is mainly what I’m drawn to. My next album is dealing with this directly. It’s always been present in my music in an underlying way but I’ve decided to blatantly confront it. I started this process where I’ve been finding points on vinyl records where they skip to form a loop, and then I record that loop. So it’s an analogue loop based on chance, where the record happened to be scratched. Most of these loops are slightly off, not perfectly in time, or what we are used to hearing as straight “time” (4/4)—creating their own time. I then record that loop for a while, just let it ride, and then I record myself freestyling off this off time (this is the Detroit influence: here we make our own time. It’s the legacy of Elvin Jones, J Dilla, UR, and so on) When I’m working with a sample in this way, playing against it, there is a tremendous tension that builds between me and this unyielding repetition, between the past and the present. The challenge and reward is to learn to navigate within this time, to be loose and open in riding the beat. Ultimately, I think if you respect the history of the music you sample then this tension transforms into something beautiful. KS: (If you don’t mind) what is your current setup? JN: I don’t mind at all, and I love sharing and hearing about other producer setups! I take a lot of my samples from records (using Pro Tools, but lately mostly Logic, for MIDI it’s so much easier). I use a lot of mp3s for samples, too. I know a lot of producers don’t like to use mp3s —but for much of our music, Arabic music, it’s only available in mp3 format. This is especially true of the older recordings. That’s also how I get to hear the majority of these rare recordings, how I’m exposed to them. As a result a lot of my music is deliberately lo-fi. I try to emulate the sounds I study, for example, I want to reproduce the mp3


sound off this specific recording of Abdel Halim’s “Sawwah” recording because I like the glitches as much as the actual music. I’m also into collecting sounds from the real world, field recording, using mostly my Zoom H4n (one of the greatest tools ever). For bass lines and space sounds I like to use my boy Mikey E’s Moog Rogue (which I’ve borrowed for way too long). Most of my musical ideas are developed on my derbekah (goblet drum), which I’ve been recently recording with a pzm (pressure microphone), I like how it picks up the sound, it’s a difficult instrument to record. I like to use a live drum set as much as possible too—my one and only drum set. I’ve had it since the 9th grade and it sparkles blue. I’ve modified it too many times to count, but that set can still sing! I love her voice. My riq (skinned tambourine, one of the principal rhythm instruments in Arabic music) is a Kevork, and my cymbals are “Istanbuls”. I’m very attached to my instruments. KS: What is the relationship between technology and music?

this in Beirut, thanks to Ashkal Alwan for giving me this opportunity). I believe ultimately, how we consume and produce music drives what technology is developed to support this consumption and to control what and how we hear (hence Muzak and Araby pop-music). The danger comes when technology is used to make music incorrectly, stripping all soul or emotion and creating sounds devoid of humanity while trying to pass it off as music, and we’re constantly being bombarded by this kind of music (again Muzak and Araby pop to name a few). But we can’t forget our soul, our humanity. That’s why live music is so important and why most musicians I know these days are making their money off concerts and other creative ventures, not off recording sales. No matter how insular music making and listening becomes, we need to experience music with other people, connect through collective listening, dancing, clapping and chanting. You can’t replicate that on iTunes, yet. El-Iqaa and the other works of Joe Namy can be found on his site, www.olivetones.com

JN: Music heralds society’s evolution, that’s what I believe. If we look at every major shift in any society, it was first echoed (and encoded) within the music of that society (I’m actually going to be spending the next year researching

Photos olivetones.com


CULTURE

EL-HAL ROMANCY: REVIEW by NAIRA BADAWI

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nce you get over the rather artsy album cover, Mashrou3 Leila’s El Hal Romancy is actually more than just a few guitar lick-filled songs composed by a couple of Lebanese hipsters. Only six tracks in length with the inclusion of a Sufi-sounding intro, El Hal Romancy is a concise, no fluff, beautifully put-together album that’s really easy to listen to. Mashrou3 Leila, the group’s first release, was hugely successful among educated, relatively westernised Arab youngsters. Two years later, their followup is just as successful and equally as influential. Like a slightly less inventive Levantine version of Grizzly Bear, Mashrou3 Leila’s sound will soothe you into indie music catharsis.

Sinno’s vocals are sparse and work well. Sombre and deep, they add a layer of profundity to an already meaningful melody.

Between me and Hamed Sinno, if he told me he saw me in the street and thought I was a man, I would take offense. I don’t know if “Imm El Jacket” is supposed to be “romancy,” but if you didn’t speak Arabic and heard this, you’d probably think it is. Sinno talks about how he saw a lady walking down the street in a hat and he thought she was a man. Quite a funny song, the lyrics are adorable and, once again, the beat is absolutely perfect, and the strings add a folksy touch. Piano keys hurriedly flutter in alongside the violin and the song ends leaving you in need “El Moqadima” welcomes us with one word sung in a riveting of more. For me, “Imm El Jacket” makes you feel way more voice (the likes of Dhaffer Youssef would be proud of) where than just “mnih” (good). the word “Habibi” is repeated slowly Like most albums, over a minimal, even albums with windswept inonly six tracks, there strumental. The is always that one refreshing intro track that’s just a takes you by the little bit off. “Wajih” hand and walks is the only uncool with you right kid on the tracklist into the rest of block. Again, the the album. “El Moband’s work here is qadima” very aplovely but the overly propriately mixes uppity vocals of the into “Habibi,” children and the hywhich is a bona per rock ‘n’ roll vofide toe-tapper cals that just do not and foot-stompwork with the Araer! A very simple bic lyrics are a bit snare kick and off-putting. Leaving bass line accomme to wish that this pany extremely were an instrumensoulful throaty tal track. Perhaps guitar, balanced then I would actuout by utterly ally leave it on my sexy strings. The iPod. Thankfully, instrumental acthe title track “El companiment Hal Romancy” closes feels epic, but light, and sometimes I found myself wishing the album, ending it just as beautifully as it starts. the vocals would just disappear so I can hear the melody, unobscured. Unfortunately, one blemish on Mashrou3 If only Hamed Sinno’s vocals were a little clearer and Leila’s otherwise flawless face, figuratively speaking, is more coherent, Mashrou3 Leila would probably be one of the incoherent singing. Slurred lyrics and the somewhat my favourite groups. In their third album (if they release drunken vocal style isn’t the greatest thing to juxtapose one), if the quality of their instrumentals remains the against absolutely magnificent music. same and the vocals become a little stronger and clearer, I’ll write an entire book of poems about them. I promise. Mellow guitar chords start off “Inni Mnih” while Hamed But for now, suffice it to say, El Hal Romancy is a dope Sinno tells us he’s okay despite how much the world has album that really could have been perfect if it weren’t for changed him. It’s moments like these that I’m struck with those slurred lyrics every here and there. The album has the simplicity of this group’s instrumental work, and their just enough to satisfy you while at the same time leave minimal approach has done them a ton of good. Their music you wanting a bit more. is simple and has just enough elements to make the sound rich and well rounded. “Inni Mnih” really does make you feel like everything will be okay. As much as the tinny violin music might depress you, things turn bittersweet when balanced out with syrupy guitar chords. Here Hamed 56

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CULTURE

PRESERVED IDENTITY

by SARAH KANBAR

Mohammad left the shores of Lebanon on the brink of civil war. Of Mohammad, Mike survived the journey across the sea. He settled in Southern California, married an American woman, worked his way up the corporate ladder and raised three daughters in a quiet, suburban neighbourhood. All of the houses there were painted white and each person drove an SUV. It was a long way from the hills of Zahle, where he had likely tended to a farm and studied Arabic in school. Mike’s three daughters lived well, alhamdulillah (all praise is due to Allah). The eldest aspired to become a singer or actress, but instead married and settled with her husband. The middle child dreams of saving children from disease and despair in Africa. I know little of the youngest, who is likely in her early teens. Their wishes and wants are no different than any other woman or girl at their respective ages. Mike did not raise his children with the cultural and, to a lesser extent, religious influences that he was raised upon. Mike’s daughters never had to sit during lunch and explain what kousa mahshi (stuffed zucchini Arabic dish) was to their friends. Instead they could eat pepperoni pizza and not endure the task of having to clarify that they were Muslims, and then be forced to provide an elaborate explanation on what Islam is. Mike’s children never learned, let alone understood, Arabic. Their aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents couldn’t communicate beyond the barrier of broken English. Birthday cards from their grandmother were written in Arabic, sending blessings and messages of love and fulfilment, only to be lost in translation. Mike’s children, especially the middle daughter, followed their mother’s Christian tradition. The middle daughter even completed missionary work in East Africa. They know next to nothing about Islam. Mike’s wife was worried that her children were being raised without any religion, so she asked the local shaykh if she could take them to the church. Mike claimed that he had no time to take them to a mosque, so the shaykh gave Mike’s wife his blessing. When Mike’s eldest daughter married, the backdrop was that of a traditional American, Christian wedding. There was no large buffet of tabbouleh, hummus, and other Lebanese cuisine that was meticulously prepared by family the night before. There were no traces of Arab or Muslim heritage and identity in neither the decorum nor in the faces of the attendees. The theme was nautical and was held on a cruise ship. The captain of the ship presided over the marriage. Mike’s eldest daughter is one of many children born to immigrant parents, who will leave their parents’ tradition and not look back. The bride married an Army soldier. Some of Mike’s family members were in attendance. They were the only olive-skinned faces in the room as they watched one of their own marry outside their heritage. The only outstanding, “ethnic” person was an elderly woman covered in a hijab (headscarf) who quietly watched on. She is Mike’s mother, and she appears to be the only remnant of his heritage. Her tired face watches another one of her grandchildren leave the faith and cultural tradition that she carried on her back from across the sea. The hajji (term used to describe a woman that has went on her pilgrimage to Mecca) was raised differently and raised Mike differently. Life wasn’t about acquiring material wealth or confining

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one’s self to a desk or empty career. Nor was it about building barriers in order to erect a sense of security. It was about raw survival through piety. It was about growing the family tree and forming communities. Children were to be taught craftsmanship and understand that times can be rough, so they needed to be prepared. They were to learn Islam through unwavering practice. Verses were to be memorised and recited daily. More importantly materialism and consumerism paled in the face of family and good manners, which were the truest indicators of wealth. Instead of investing lifetimes to acquire enough money to “live well,” they simply did so. Mike’s mother spent most of her time in the kitchen making the most complex dishes, and felt rewarded when her grandchildren enjoyed the taste. She would invite neighbours inside to try “our food,” with the most imperfect English. She made sure each of her hijabs were neatly folded and each ‘abayeh (robe) without a wrinkle. She embroidered, sewed, knitted, and tended to her own garden. She went on her Hajj (Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca) twice. She would prostrate in prayer five times a day. If you were to visit her, you would be treated as if you were at a five star hotel. You don’t have to be famous or wealthy to get the “luxury” treatment. You simply have to exist.

from. In another time and another place, our families used to live within the same buildings, and if not in the same building, then within a five-mile radius. We were raised to know that the only people you could trust were family. Family preserved our identities. There was no fear of being attacked, because there would be a barrier of defence. There was no need to feel embarrassed about weird foods during lunchtime or keep quiet during political discussions. More importantly the bonds of family and community enriched us. Instead we have replaced that bond with the pursuit of material fulfilment and wanting to be “normal.”

But no matter how hard I persisted and claimed that I was only an American, my Arab/Muslim identity could not be lost. Arabic was still spoken at home. Islamic tradition was practiced. I still claimed my religious belief as a Muslim. We had a Christmas tree but Eid al-Fitr (the holiday marking the end of the month of Ramadan) was our real holiday. I would secretly take my mother’s rice and chicken dish over a burger and fries. I too would invite my non-Arab/Muslim friends over and make them try “our food.” The reward was in watching their delighted reactions. I have to live between two worlds because I deeply fear the possibility of my ancestral heritage being wiped out. So I try and recreate it to the best of my abilities. Mike’s identities as both Arab and Muslim dis- I try to preserve it for the next generation to enjoy and sipated, most especially after 9/11. He did not want to take sustenance from. attend family gatherings or religious services because of the uneasy climate. It was easy to be scared back then. I can recall my mother lecturing me before attending school that I was not to talk about my political beliefs, religious beliefs, and that I had no opinion with respect to the attacks or anything about the political atmosphere. I eventually went against her wishes when the United States invaded Iraq. I was about fourteen at the time. Regardless, I too slightly fuelled the fear tank by not allowing her to speak to me in Arabic when we were in public. If we were asked “what language do you speak” or “where are you from,” my mother would respond that we were Italian. As an adult, I look back at those days with a heavy heart. I did everything I could in order to eradicate my inherited identity, just like Mike had done. I wanted to be like my friends: “normal.” I refused to indulge in Arabic pop music and dance. I rejected any traditional plate in favour of fast food. I would dare not wear traditional garments in lieu of jeans and a t-shirt. I did not want to be persecuted or punished or shamed because of who I was. I did not want to feel different. My identity was American. More importantly, Mike and I cut ourselves from our greater family tree. In turn, we each lost a sense of where we came

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CULTURE

RAVAGES OF TIME by ALEXANDRA KINIAS

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he first time I travelled to Italy I was overwhelmed with a feeling that I had been there before. I am not unique. Alexandrians who walk down the streets of Italian cities are overpowered with unexplained feelings of déja vus with the buildings, as if they had been transcended in time and space and roamed these streets in another life. The travellers are left in confusion, but they are not delusional. Alexandrians traveling to Italy had in fact seen these architectural styles, without setting foot outside their homeland. The city of Alexandria was not just built by Italians; some buildings are even identical to those in Italy. Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, and it became Egypt’s capital for a thousand years until it fell into the hands of the Arabs in 664 AD. Cleopatra ruled from it and Napoleon lost his fleet in front of its shores. Alexandria, the pearl of the Mediterranean, housed the lighthouse of Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and the library of Alexandria, the cultural beacon of the ancient world. On its sandy shores, the fiery romance between Cleopatra and Mark Anthony flamed, and the course of history was changed with the dramatic death of the two lovers. The city was bombarded and destroyed by the British naval fleet in 1882, to put down Ahmed Orabi’s nationalist movement. Under its clear skies and along its corniche (waterfront), writers like E.M. Forster and Lawrence Durrell and the famous Greek poet Constantine Cavafy lived. Over the centuries immigrants from Europe, Armenia, and the Levant settled in Alexandria, blended into the fabric of the society and created a cosmopolitan hub with a diverse and unique culture. In 1805, Mohamed Ali Pasha recognised the importance of Alexandria and its growing economic potential and made it his summer capital. With an open vision for the future of the city, he initiated a development programme that included its rebuilding and restoration. With the fall of Napoleon in Europe, those who were involved with the government of the Napoleonic republics and the first kingdom of Italy were sent to exile. Muhammad Ali offered political asylum to Italian political emigrants. A great number of Italian engineers, architects, building contractors and specialised workers settled in Egypt. The new settlers came from various Italian provinces and their designs were eclectic. In the beginning, they followed the same building codes of the places they came from, but eventually, and since no restrictions were implemented on their creativity, they became more adventurous with their building designs. By the late nineteenth century, Alexandria became the fourth most important Mediterranean port after Genoa, Marseilles and Istanbul. And with the cotton trading soaring, it was slowly leaving the Ottoman commonwealth and engaging itself with Europe. With the growth of the city, the Italian influence dominated its identity. The council members of the Municipality of Alexandria that was created at the end of the nineteenth century included elite members of the Italian community, among them prominent engineers and

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Photos by Alexa

architects. Not only did public projects come under their supervision, their influence expanded to private residences as well. The elegance of the designs transformed Alexandria to a city with no less beauty than any Italian one. The European influence that dominated the cosmopolitan city was interrupted by the coup d’état of 1952 and eventually came to a total halt in the generations that followed. As a consequence of Nasser’s doctrine that aimed at returning Egypt to the Arab sphere, and his obsession to wipe out the influence of the monarchy, street names were changed to revolutionary names. This was followed by the nationalisation and sequestration of properties from non-Egyptian and Egyptian elites alike. This nationalisation, that, in reality, stole properties from its owners, resulted in a mass exodus of non-Egyptians and Egyptian Jews in the sixties, which changed the milieu of the city and ended 150 years of Alexandrian cosmopolitanism. The seized mansions were transformed into schools, community buildings and government offices. And with the lack of maintenance, over the years these architectural landmarks suffered from negligence, misuse, and arbitrary additions and remodelling that didn’t respect the initial designs. To make matters worse, the socialist era of Nasser was dominated by a fascination with the austere Soviet building experience. The architectural extravagance and glamour was replaced with tall shapeless buildings that resembled building blocks made of concrete. But worse than the total absence of any architectural style in new construction, the government’s decision to freeze rent would be the fatal blow to the existing buildings of an already


Photo by Moustafa Eshra

Photos by Alexandra Kinias

andra Kinias

wounded city. With the devaluation of their investments and dismal rental revenues, property owners were discouraged from maintaining their properties. Moreover, developers stayed away from investing in rental properties. The increase in population, together with the migration from the surrounding villages looking for a better life in the big city, created a housing disaster. Buildings throughout Alexandria that once had marked the glamour of the passed era were demolished and replaced by the eyesore high-rise apartment buildings that lacked any architectural beauty.

They are part of our culture and art. They are part of who we are. Demolishing them and neglecting them to ruin, should be a punishable crime. Unfortunately, when the values of the land on which the ailing buildings stand are high, laws to protect them are never enforced. With the rate that the landmarks are being demolished, I fear that within a few years I will need a map to find my way around Alexandria, and the city I had once known like the back of my hand will only exist in my memory.

In his book, The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell described Alexandria as, “a city of kaleidoscopic passion, aching beauty and elusive but persistent ghosts.� Durrell indeed had a vision of the city’s future. Today when I walk down the streets of Alexandria, I am no longer walking in my birth city, but in a place that is alien to me, one I do not recognise. It is haunted by the ghosts of the life it had once witnessed. The architectural glamour that had created the character of Alexandria has long been destroyed and replaced by ugly, tall, and crowded buildings. The ailing ones are waiting for their predestined fate. The splendour of Alexandria has long faded. Old buildings are no less important than historic monuments.

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CURRENT CULTURE AFFAIRS

CAPITAINE RADHOUANE CHATTING WITH RADHOUANE FELHI by ZAHRA FADHLAOUI

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orn in March 1984, Radhouane Felhi pursued his family’s dream of making into the big league in Tunisia. Growing up in Southern city of Maknassy, he began devoting his time and effort into football (soccer) training since the age of eight. At the age of 10, he gained a spot in the junior Étoile Sportive du Sahel (ÉSS) team after a regional selection competition. After completing all sections with ÉSS, Radhouane made the senior team at 18 where he played for four years before transferring to Germany’s TSV Munich 1860. After a year with TSV Munich 1860, he returned to ÉSS where he was given the title of captain, a title he still bears today. This past August, I had the opportunity to sit with Étoile’s Captain before their training session to discuss his long journey in football and regarding his international debut. ZF: How did your interest in football begin? RF: My interest in football began through my father and uncle who also played football in their early days. Ever since I can remember, I was surrounded by football atmosphere. My dream was to one day make it to one of the bigger teams in Tunisia. ZF: You were transferred to play in Germany for a year, what made you decide to come back to ÉSS after working so hard to play for an international team? RF: I had a one-year contract with TSV Munich. That year, I played 32 games and managed to score five goals as a defender. My performance with the team was no doubt excellent for a first-timer but after a few offers from other teams and since I was technically ‘on loan’ from ÉSS to TSV, ÉSS bought me back for a bigger sum. ZF: What were the differences in playing for a larger European team in comparison to a smaller African-Arab club? RF: It is a different world. In Europe it is more professional - the conditions are perfect, and there is more money generated into the profession. It was really difficult to come back. At the beginning in Europe it was a little challenging

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- adjusting to weather conditions, to a team multicultural team... integrating into their game and changing my mentality was hard at first. ZF: Aside from playing in different continents, in your opinion, what are the differences when playing for regional team versus a national and an international team? RF: There is a difference on all levels. First, it’s a bigger honour to play for the bigger teams. Your family and friends also feel rewarded. In terms of the game, club level requires more training because you play with them all year long. The national team requires less training, it is less intense but there’s more work to do as there are less days of training.


ZF: Have you ever encountered racism in your career?

RF: Football is one of the most important things in the lives of Tunisians. It is a way of expressing themselves RF: Yes, I have. When I played in Germany we had a team- and it gives them a sense of belonging to something. In mate who is of Nigerian origin and the players on the op- Tunisia, football is something we can’t live without. posing team were yelling out “banana”, hinting that he resembled a monkey. When an argument broke out, I got ZF: What does the future look like for Tunisian football? involved in order to defend him and as a result, I received a yellow card for my actions. RF: I am an optimist, therefore, I can see the national and regional teams getting stronger if we work on a small ZF: What is the hardest obstacle you face as a football scale and help one another. There should be collaboration player? between the international and national players to see a collective strategy – this comes with better communication RF: The most difficult thing you face as a player is an skills amongst the teams and players. With those tools, injury. Last year, I tore a ligament and had to get oper- I am confident that we can be as great as other strong ated and as a result, I had to rest for six months. At first, African and European teams. I thought my career was over but then I realised I had to get back into training slowly, it is then when you feel a slight hope that you may get a second chance. ZF: What is the best thing about being a football player? RF: It is definitely the moment you know you’ve won a game. Those are the happiest and most rewarding moments of my career. ZF: Tunisia’s national team has been changing up its roster quite a bit, how easy is it for the team to adjust to new players and vice versa? RF: It is not easy at all. The team undergoes changes every 2-3 months and there are always five or six new players that join us. The positive thing about this is that we all know one another because we all play against each other or have played in regional clubs before. ZF: Tunisia did not qualify for the FIFA 2010 World Cup, what were, in your opinion, the challenges that resulted in the disqualification? RF: The teams we played against in the beginning were very challenging and we were not playing well at all because the players were always being changed around. There was a lack of communication on the field, especially between international players that come from elsewhere to play with the national team. ZF: How difficult is it to convince Tunisian players playing in international clubs to return to Tunisia and play for the national team? RF: A better question to ask is what can we do to motivate them to come back? Because for all international players, their national team comes first. If they neglect the call back, they face many consequences. They jeopardise their spot on the team, money and may even face problems with FIFA. ZF: Everyone has turned their focus on how much Tunisia has changed since the revolution. What has changed for Tunisian football? RF: The Football Federation of Tunisia remains the same: the same people, players and strategies. During the time the protests took off, we were given a three month rest from all activities, like all other citizens, we too were worried for the future of Tunisia. ZF: What is Tunisia without football?


CULTURE

CULTURAL AGITATORS by RIME EL-JADIDI

We are told that Morocco is a country that evolves on the political and economic levels but until now, culture is still neglected.” In a short video, Moroccan writer, Abdallah Taïa criticises the way culture is dealt with in Moroccan politics. Since last August, a series of videos regarding the topic have been published on the Facebook page of La Chaise Rouge.

La Chaise Rouge (the red chair) is a lobby of Moroccan cultural agitators. The group was founded from a simple observation: there isn’t a real cultural policy in Morocco. Culture is in fact disregarded by politicians and largely ignored. Launched by Amine Boushaba, editor-in-chief of Atlantic Radio and Jamal Abdennasser, director of the fashion festival Festimode, this lobby aims at giving Moroccan politicians concrete proposals for a cultural policy in Morocco. Both important figures of the Moroccan cultural scene and ordinary citizens are giving their proposals to the future government in short videos posted on a Facebook page. A short movie will be made out of these videos and given to the political parties in time for the electoral campaign in November. “The idea of the project is not new”, says Amine Boushaba, co-founder of La Chaise Rouge. “It’s the format that took us some time. The idea of launching an umpteenth petition didn’t seem relevant to us, so we considered this type of participatory action. We want the participants to feel involved in the project by giving their own proposals.” Participants come from various backgrounds. Among them are Abdallah Taïa, writer, film director Nourredine Lakhmari and fashion designer Amine Bendriouch. The initiative does not involve only artists and intellectuals but also Moroccan citizens, whose propositions are also being included. In a country where public libraries are almost non-existent, movie theatres are disappearing and museums are a rarity and poorly maintained, this initiative is an attempt to revive the importance of culture. Moroccans do not receive a cultural education and culture is not given much importance in daily life and even less in politics. Still, saying that Morocco is not a cultural place is wrong. There are dozens of festivals in the country all year round. But again, culture cannot be simplified into celebrations that last for a few days. Culture is also about the long term and this is what La Chaise Rouge is demanding: a structural change in cultural policies (which so far do not seem to exist). In the last decade, Morocco has witnessed an important cultural effervescence, but at the same time there are no institutions or industry that supports it. The government seems to fail at implementing efficient cultural policies, mostly because it’s a long-term investment, and our technocrats want short-term results and profit. There are around ten videos posted so far on the Facebook page. In each video, the participant is sitting on the so-called red 64

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chair. The red chair is actually a reproduction of the Cratch air junior, designed in 1934 by the famous Dutch designer Gerrit Rietveld. The chair recently became public domain and thus free of reproduction. Amine Boushaba explains the choice of this element: “Last year, a group of Dutch artists came to Casablanca for an artistic residency and they worked with young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to reinterpret this chair. This chair is the result of a workshop where young Moroccans appropriated this cult object and reinterpreted it, and the idea of having it as the symbol of our project seduced us.” The next step for La Chaise Rouge is to send its message directly to political parties. “A public meeting will be organised”, explains Boushaba, “gathering the press and some p a r t i c i p a nts in the project. This meeting will announce a synthesis of recommendations, and a best of (in the form of a 20-minute film) will be sent to all political parties before the elections.” The timing is strategic due to the importance of these anticipated elections in Morocco. The coming legislative elections are part of a reform process launched earlier this year after a series of demonstrations demanding political change took place across Morocco. In this context, La Chaise Rouge insists that cultural reforms are as significant as political or economic ones. The timing is also important because the politicians will be informed about concrete projects at a time when their main objective is to secure the maximum amount of votes. Political parties will then have to think about a real cultural policy that fills the gap in the country. But what concrete results are expected from all this? “In the best of worlds, the result [of our action] would be a national plan for culture. Morocco has initiated strategies to support many sectors and to reinforce their competitiveness and their profitability. We believe that culture is not only necessary for the enlightenment of the citizen but that it also plays a role in Moroccan economy and that it can be lucrative. But the minimum result we expect is that political parties include the necessity of a real cultural policy in their programmes.” In Morocco where culture is limited to seasonal festivals, intellectuals, artists and ordinary citizens are demanding a sustainable presence of culture and a real cultural policy. www.facebook.com/LaChaiseRouge www.lachaiserouge.ma


CULTURE

WHY HIP-HOP? by HASSANE DENNAOUI

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ove it or detest it, hip-hop has become a global cultural phenomenon. Exploding out of cities like New York in the 1980s, it quickly became the primary means of expression for a thriving global culture and, in many ways, a creative voice for those who may not have had one. Armed with quick-fire and often improvised poetry, turntables, and samplers, the artists of this new music challenged the nature of popular music itself. With a wholly unheard of language that came from the various forms of urban vernacular, they came bearing social issues otherwise ignored by many (and especially other popular musicians), presented in fresh, accessible means. Over the past decade, an emerging international scene of Arab artists have come to take the stage, leading us to ask the question: “Leish Hip-Hop?” (Why Hip-Hop?) The name of “the first real hip-hop show” on a FM Radio Station in Saudi Arabia, its host Hassane Dennaoui, a.k.a. Big Hass, attempts to give us the answer: Culture is a powerful tool that defines humanity. It is a fragile phenomenon, as it doesn’t remain constant. Always apt to change, cultural patterns are continuously evolving into products of people interacting with each other and into universal changes—politically, socially and economically. The youth are the most affected demographic as they are the most vulnerable to the troubles in a world that is far from problem-free; shouts, revolutions, and demands are the youth’s main motto. The right to live in decent circumstances summarises the people’s goal. What sort of medium enables them to convey their emotional bruises? The principal means of expression is music, through leaving-nothing-implied lyrics. Essentially, hip-hop is an intelligent music genre and movement, charged with truth, reality and freedom. Intoxicated by the mainstream money-making rappers, underground hip-hop has managed to rise and reflect its true essence and purpose. “LEISH HIP-HOP?” (WHY HIP-HOP?) Hip-hop is a culture and form of ground-breaking music and expression. Hip means “to know” and “to be aware and updated”. hop stands for “to move’” and “to act upon”. Basically, it is an intelligent movement and we can also call it a conscious movement. The so-called hip-hop we listen to on the radio has polluted the true essence and purpose of “real” hip-hop; money-oriented acts, thirsty-for-publicity “artists,” ridiculous lyrics and no real flair. Hip-hop was based on lyrical prowess and was created upon four elements: The MC, The DJ, The B-Boy, and the Graffiti Artist. These parameters have faded away and have almost gone extinct in the mainstream music industry. Although these elements

give hip-hop its character and reputation, popular artists tend to choose the path of money and corruption. Why hip-hop? Still we ask ourselves, how is our world today? While there are crucial issues jeopardising humanity, some are singing about shopping, “bling-bling”, women, cars, clubbing, and about more explicit matters such as sex, drugs and violence. No offense to every-now-and-then-a-little-fun music, but hip-hop’s main purpose is to deliver awareness not foolishness and vulgarity. The rise of a new era for hip-hop is paving the way of the neglected youth towards freedom. Proof of this new age are underground artists with revolutionary, solid and intelligent lyrics such as -Shadia Mansour, LOWKEY, The Narcicyst and Omar Offendum from the Arab hip-hop movement. They are gliding against the thickness of the loud and frivolous mainstream industry. Political corruption, social decay, economic demise and humanitarian neglect are agents causing the world to shake out of its shell and revolt against the system. This revamped version of hip-hop embraces all ethnicities and all social statuses; it is in fact a universal means of expression, translating true life’s struggles and experiences into poetry. The underground scene avoids the mainstream, which constrains the outbreak of the ugly truths surrounding the world. The artists of the new era exercise their right of freedom of speech and excel in transmitting important issues through deep meaningful lyrics and ear-catching beats. To portray this point, hip-hop was used in the recent Arab revolutions, which took place in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, to convey the youth’s message. Moreover, there were some tracks that were done in collaboration with artists from other countries. This could imply the awakening of the West and its concern and support towards the broken sides of the Arab World. Let’s not forget that hip-hop has planted its seed all over the world. Individuals with power to influence and a high-level of intellect and education are leading this humble cause of creating awareness through music, more precisely through hip-hop. They are the ones composing, recording and transmitting. Young, they recognise the problems and issues that need immediate attention and they hold within the faith in change. Positivity and reality in revolutionary acts give confidence to the crowds. Going back to the main question “Leish Hip-Hop?”, there is no doubt that breaching the mainstream in this manner threatens its fake stability and egocentricity. Underground hip-hop is revolutionary in words and in actions. It is only a matter of time for it to shed enough light on the issues of the world and for people to really listen. Strong in its entity, hip-hop cannot pass through without giving it attention or a listen. It is in its formation to impact, to shock, to aware, to explain, to describe and to plead.

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CULTURE

OCCUPIED RAMADAN

by LAMYA HUSSAIN

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n a hot summer day, I return to Umm Iyads home after a long day of work at UNRWA’s health clinic to find the women of Daar Dibbs crowded on the floor of her living room. They had formed some sort of assembly line system amongst themselves and were busy putting together various Ramadan delicacies. The youngest two were stuffing dates with almonds and then rolling them in a flurry of coconut. The middle two had made over a hundred katayeef (Arab dessert pancake, nuts or cheese). And Umm Iyad was busy playing with dough to make other simple ftoor (breakfast) items like za3tar (thyme), jubne (cheese), manakeesh (Levantine food consisting of dough topped with thyme, cheese, or ground meat), etc. Inspired by their dedication to Ramadan, I washed my hands and joined them. They laughed as I messed up the shape of katayeef and made square dough pieces instead of perfect round ones. It was the beginning of a festive month and the women were all dedicated to making hearty meals to host friends and families. The men of the Dibbs family had their own tasks, such as finding water and storing it safely for the next month. And as easy as this sounds it was probably one of the hardest tasks, because as Ramadan rolls in it becomes more difficult to access water in the camps. Some say it’s because people are afraid and stock up more than necessary, environmentalists’ argue the regional dynamics of water scarcity, politicians blame Israel, and refugees blame the Palestinian elites that steal water supplies and leave very little for the camps. Whatever the reason, for the first three weeks of Ramadan, we continued to exist without a single drop of running water from the tap. I watched the laundry pile grow into a size of a small hill like the ones around Walaja; a small village close to Bethlehem. I found myself staring at the tap fiddling with it multiple times convinced that it would have running water. We all measured the water supply we were allocated to shower (every two days) and a bucket worth of water for daily hygiene/cleaning purposes. In a family of nine, I was a tenth member living through Ramadan in the Aida Refugee Camp. Amidst our own drought season, we found ways to humour ourselves, pass time, and avoid our empty stomachs and quenched throats. Addicted to Ramadan musalsalaat (television series) and in particular - Baab el Haara - residents of Aida kept themselves pretty busy. The employed men went to work while the women slept through noon. The children were no longer in school but avoided playing during the day, and trickled into the camp between asr (late afternoon) and maghrib (sunset). The older men and women were actively seen going back and forth from the mosque in the camp. Walking in groups in the summer heat, each with their own tasbeeh (rosary) and sajjada (prayer rugs). The camp felt quiet during the day and was full of life at night. Also, each family had their own project during Ramadan; some families were preparing for a family wedding right after

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Ramadan, others had set up small entrepreneurial activities to help increase household income. One such initiative includes the annual Moeed Dibbs Sandwhiche Stand. Umm Iyads middle son, Moeed, was famous for his happy-go-lucky attitude. He would set up a table outside his small house where he would make sandwiches to sell to workers who worked through the evening and well into the hours of the night. It was his way of making some extra income on the side while also, as he puts it, collecting hasanaat (good deeds) by making iftar for people that are fasting and working. He had also turned his brothers internet café into a sheesha place after hours where he had set up a total of nine sheeshas. He figured that since most of the men can’t smoke during the day, at night they could use a space with good company to smoke sheesha until suhoor (meal consumed before dawn by Muslims before fasting during Ramadan). I have to admit it was absolutely brilliant and logistically safe given that by nightfall, the camps aren’t a safe place to wander around. Restricted lighting, along with the constant fear of an army intrusion, makes it a dangerous space especially for young men to walk around in. It was one such night when after taraweeh (extra prayers given by Muslims at night in the Islamic month of Ramadan) prayers I had returned to Umm Iyads home to find the family crowded around their television busy working through a bag of bizr (seeds). I helped myself to some chai (tea) with na3na3 (mint) and started organising my appointment book. Exhausted from a long day of fasting, I rested my head against the wall and stretched out my legs onto the carpet. I may have passed out a little only to wake up to a very distraught Umm Iyad. She was running frantically from room to room closing all windows and turning off the lights. She gathered all her daughters into the main living room and forced her eldest son to stay in as he struggled to head to the roof of their home. Not many words were needed to gratify the situation, the army was in the camps. I looked around the room to find myself and others sitting on the ground, backs rested against the walls, and legs crossed. Logically it seemed to be the safest room and the safest position in the entire house. There was a sense of helplessness and silence in the room, until there was a burst of laughter in realising the insanity and fear entrenched in the situation. I turned to my right and whispered to Iyad; “where are your other brothers?” “Moeed is in my internet café along with twelve others. I’ve asked him to keep it quiet! Monjed went to see a friend in Bethlehem, he will stay there tonight, who knows how long the army will stay inside the camp?” he responded. I felt a sigh of relief and then asked, “do you know what they want?’ He replied, “Shu be3arefni!” (How should I know?). After that, there was no room for conversation except for the one I continued to have with myself. A series of gunshots were fired to scare the residents of Aida, a home was broken into and a young teenage was taken from his family in the middle of the night during Ramadan. In the middle of


the festivities, there were reminders of the tragedies that occur in occupied Palestine. None of us had much of an appetite to eat suhoor, the fear of soldiers breaking into homes in the camp has its way of curbing ones appetite. As the azan (call to prayer) went off and the sun light started to break through the darkness of the camp, exhausted from a long night we fell asleep through fajr (dawn) into the afternoon. Later, I joined some other women in the camp to help prepare iftar for the family from whom the young boy (Mahmoud) was taken the previous night. We made food filled with love and care as a token of compassion and empathy. Closer to sunset, we made way to the family’s home to drop off the food for the family. I was in shock with how quickly life started to root amidst trauma in the camps. A clearly traumatised woman received us with smiles and big hugs. She kept it brave and kept praying hands reaching towards the sky, asking for God to give her son the courage to survive this. The women all bore these scars; each had either lost a son, father, husband or a brother

photo Beirut Street Photographers

to the occupation. They demonstrated solidarity and faith, a virtue higher than all others in the spirit of Ramadan.

photo Beirut Street Photographers

In the next of couple weeks, conversations over tea were no longer about Mahmoud but rather about how the families in Aida planned to spend the last week of Ramadan and what their Eid (festivities marking the end of Ramadan) plans were. Families started spending their nights after Eid shopping in the local souq (market) in Bethlehem trying to find new clothes for Eid. Children were no longer cranky with the thought of Eid festivities around the corner. Moeed was sad that he would no longer spend his nights having sheesha with his friends and customers. Iyad was happy that he would no longer have to open an hour early to rearrange his internet café from the night before. Umm Iyad was gearing up for her daughter’s wedding, and Mahmoud’s mother, well, she was seen spending long hours on her roof top praying for her son to miraculously return before Eid.

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CURRENT CULTURE AFFAIRS

WHAT IS VIOLENCE? REVISITING LEILA KHALED by SOPHIE CHAMAS

Leila Khaled: Hijacker Director: Lina Maqboul

Maqboul’s documentary takes us back to bygone days, to a time when the memory of displacement was still warm, when the resistance was still fresh and the Arab Left still romanticised. She transports us to a period when return still seemed possible, and when the actions of the young were still driven by the former smells, sounds and images of home that occupied their senses, refusing to let them be, holding on to nose hairs and optic nerves, steering the Leila Khaled’s of the population back towards Palestine. The documentary opens with an old, stout women who, with her hair dyed charcoal black, glasses perched on her nose and hearty laugh reminded me of my grandmother. How strange, I thought, to begin a documentary about this former militant with the warm feeling of freshly baked nostalgia for the welcoming lap of my grandma. It is hard to believe that this maternal figure now leading the most ordinary of lives with her husband and two sons in Jordan, crowding her dinner table with food every night and pushing skewers of meat onto bloated guests just as our parents do, is the same woman from that now iconic picture taken all those years ago.

O

n the 29th of August 1969, Leila Khaled sat in the departure lounge of Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport with her accomplice Salim, waiting to board American flight TWA 840 destined for Athens. Shortly after take off Leila made her way to the cockpit, threatening obstructers of her path with hand grenades. Mouth to microphone, she announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please, kindly fasten your seat belts. This is your new Captain speaking, Shadia Abu Ghazala of the Che Guevara commando unit of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has taken command of this TWA flight.” Her voice filled the plane, her words fell on terrified ears, and Leila became the first woman ever to hijack an airplane. One (wo)man’s irhab (terrorism), it is often said, is another (wo)man’s nidal (struggle). To many Arabs, former PFLP militant and famed hijacker Leila Khaled is a heroine who dedicated herself to the Palestinian cause. To many in the Western world however, she is an unsympathetic criminal. Who then, and what, is Leila Khaled? How does one define and differentiate between terrorism and freedom fighting? And can armed resistance, in some form or another, ever be justified? These are some of the complex questions that arise as one is sucked into Swedish-Palestinian director Lina Maqboul’s delicate probe into Leila Khaled’s notorious life.

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The documentary swings back and forth between the Leila of the past, brought to us through archival footage and Maqboul’s narrative voice, and the Leila of the present interviewed in various locations. Drastically different in physical appearance as a result of time and the multiple plastic surgeries Leila underwent to disguise her identity, these two bodies nevertheless host the same resilient spirit who continues to believe in the necessity of her past actions and remains guided by the memory of her childhood home in Haifa. Leila was born in Haifa on the 9th of April,1944, Maqboul tells us; when being born in Haifa still meant being born in Palestine. Her fourth birthday morbidly coincided with the Deir Yassin massacre, and at that young age she became a refugee. After her original faith in Gamal Abdel Nasser’s ability to pave her way back home was trampled by the Israeli military, Leila decided to take matters into her own hands by joining the PFLP. Leila and her accomplice boarded flight TWA 840 in order to capture a notorious Israeli assassin and bring him to an Arab state for a fair trial. The assassin was Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s ambassador to the United States at the time. Although Rabin decided not to board the flight, the PFLP considered the hijacking a success because it put the spotlight on the ‘dangerous beauty’ Leila Khaled, and with her the Palestinians and their struggle sparked a mass curiosity and gained world wide attention (albeit largely negative). Leila’s second mission didn’t go as well. On September 6, 1970 the PFLP executed a plan to hijack a number of planes simultaneously and to land them all in Jordan. Leila’s mission was to hijack an Israeli El Al plane. A security guard on board disrupted their attempts to take control of the aircraft, shooting her partner dead and capturing Leila. She was taken to London where she was detained and eventually released by the British government


in exchange for hostages from the other planes captured stewardess. They never express hatred or disgust towards by the PFLP. her. They don’t dare say they agree with what Leila did, but they display - some more explicitly than others - an Who was this mysterious Leila hidden away in a understanding of how she came to do it. British facility, and why did she spark so much intrigue? It is hard, it seems, to immediately distance oneself from And so, Golda Meir tries to clear the clouds, to Leila, to dismiss her to the realm of the sordid as her im- remind the observer just how inhuman this Palestinian age lingers before the eye with all of its sensuality and is. “What will they do when they will be free?” she asks. softness. It is difficult to perceive her as sub-human or “She will try to do it again. She will do it again. To kill animalistic as we normally do most terrorists in order to Israelis, men, women and children, this is what their assure ourselves that they are creatures quite unlike us, organisation stands for.” She is aided by the press which that we could never even contemplate carrying out the collectively pokes and prods at Leila, trying to reveal the crimes they commit. Many of us are conditioned to perceive beast in human clothing. “They used to ask very personal those who commit terrorist acts as backwards, ahistori- questions,” Leila told Maqboul. “For example, ‘do you love?’ cal animals who are completely disconnected from us, to And this used to bother me. Why were they asking me find the only explanation for their actions to be a flaw this? They were interviewing a militant, a fighter. They in their makeup, to feel that our own nations, with their should ask her about her work. There was one guy who complex past and present actions, bare no responsibility asked me how long I stand in front of the mirror. How is for atrocities committed by these ‘others.’ We tend to shy it any of his business? What kind of a question is this? away from an examination of the unfortunate historical As if I am not human. There was one guy who asked me, conditions that coalesce to form a subject capable of hi- ‘don’t you love? Don’t you have a boyfriend?’ I said no. jacking a plane, or blowing up a building. Instead we place And he went and wrote that I am a hard, cold person who a universe between ‘us‘ and ‘them‘, who appear on our doesn’t know love.” television screens with their post-suicide attack entrails morbidly plastered on the sidewalk, or their frantic bodies In some ways this documentary is as much about writhing in a flag-burning dance, arms waving posters that Maqboul as it is about Leila. She tells us that in her youth

from avaxhome.ws

read ‘death to America.’ We distance ourselves from this ‘ugly face of terror‘ so foreign and disconnected from us in its behaviour and appearance, and in so doing we are able conclude that violent responses to such ‘degenerates’ are not only justified but a moral necessity, that this isn’t a fellow human we are gunning down but something less than One of the passengers who was on flight TWA 840 recalls that Leila was attractive, “a striking individual that again you wouldn’t associate with a hijacking.” Leila’s beauty unsettles the dichotomies and assurances mentioned above. Unable to be completely repulsed by her, I think, the viewer inches closer, wanting to understand how this beauty was, as she explains, forced by tragic circumstances into her unfortunate actions. The viewer is unable to completely detach him or herself from her, unable to point a finger of blame at her obvious inhumanity, barbarity and otherness. One sees this kernel of curiosity, at times coupled with a glimmer of sympathy, in the testimonies of some of the passengers, the co-pilot, and the

Leila was her greatest role model. “She was beautiful, and brave, and Palestinian. We both wished for the same thing: the liberation of Palestine. While men were sitting in cafés and talking about oppression, she went out and took action. Now I’ve grown up and things have become more complicated. I understand now that the people who were on those planes were humans, innocents returning home from their vacations. All my life I’ve listened to people talk about plane hijackings and terrorism whenever my Palestinian roots came up. Leila Khaled is the one who gave us this bad reputation. But I still want to know why she did it. And I still want Palestine to be free. But I don’t think we are going to agree on how far we can go to achieve this freedom.” As the documentary rolls forward, we watch Maqboul struggle with and mull over Leila’s words, and we watch Leila penetrate her with the particularity of her perspective, causing her to reflect on her own position towards Palestine and how she came to possess it, bringing

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her to doubt her belief in the superiority of her own convictions as compared to Leila’s. “When I started this film,” she tells us, “I expected to find some regret in Leila, and to find that the years had made her more cautious. But then I realised she doesn’t feel sorry for anything. Maybe I am the only person who has that problem, and maybe it’s because of my comfortable life in Sweden. I want the struggle to free Palestine to be carried out diplomatically rather than through dramatic means such as the hijacking of planes. Maybe I secretly admire her for daring to do something that I would never dare to do.” It is easy to point an angry finger at armed resistance movements from the comfort of our organised, legal peace demonstrations abroad, from behind our laptops, and in the luxury of university lounges. It is easy to plead with ‘all sides to exercise restraint’ when we have no idea what it’s like to live in Gaza, imprisoned in your own territory, awaiting the inevitable shower of indiscriminate rockets. And it is easy, clutching our passports and sailing through border control to tell the residents of Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, living amidst the ghost of a massacre whose blood stains not even the Lebanese government - skilled in the art of national amnesia - can erase from the rubble, to take down the posters of Leila Khaled, to abandon this dangerous notion of ‘freedom fighting’ and to let the grownups, hands held by the benevolent America, take care of business at the negotiation table. But Maqboul, like many of us who have watched this conflict roll forward decade after decade from afar, realises that she cannot so easily pass judgement because she can never truly know what she might have been capable of if forced to exist, grow up and be moulded within these most extraordinary of situations. “Can a person now call you a terrorist?” Maqboul asks Leila. Laughing, she answers: “That’s what our enemies say. Our enemies call all popular resistance movements terrorist operations.” “But what you did is considered a terrorist act,” Maqboul responds. “Who is it who determines what terrorism is? From my point of view, occupation is terrorism, and it is my right and my people’s right to resist it. I don’t particularly care what others say about me because it is our right to resist by any means, including armed resistance.” If you open a dictionary, Maqboul asks her, “what is the meaning of the word terrorism?” Frustrated, Leila responds, “you went to Haifa. Everyone in Sweden, in the U.S., in Europe can go to Haifa, but I can’t go. There are 5 million Palestinians who can’t go back to Palestine. Why should we be silent about this? Why? What did we do? We as a people, what did we do? We are a people who has been wronged (inzalamna) a lot in this world. Why then, if I got up and did anything, whatever it is, how can you say that this isn’t our right? When we hijacked those planes everybody asked who we were. Everyone. Regardless of their motives they asked who we were. But when people were in prison, screaming from the electrocution, nobody asked or said anything. We had to say what we had to say. We were forced to do what we did, to tell you who we are, to tell you we are a people that has been wronged (sha’b mazloum). I don’t think there is a sane person in this world who would accept to be wronged.” Who defined Leila, and the various strands of Palestinian resistance as terrorists deserving of harsh repression? We are made to believe in the universality of such definitions, reminded that terrorism and violence are in the dictionary, as Maqboul points out, and that by using a simple checklist one can distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad, attacker and victim. But this is not always the case. The Stern Gang, the Israeli terrorist militia which carried out the Deir Yassin massacre killing

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hundreds of innocent Palestinians, is celebrated as a band of heroes in Israel. One of its members even became Prime Minister. And yet the Palestinians continue to be demonised, condemned by the same people who honour the Stern Gang. Uri Ban Lev, the pilot aboard the El Al flight Leila attempted to hijack, in an interview with Maqboul shows nothing short of repugnance towards Leila. You cannot justify terrorism, he tells her firmly. You cannot justify the use of violence against civilians. Leila’s family chose to leave Haifa, he asserts. Nobody made her leave. She speaks lies, he says. “Was Deir Yassin a lie?” Maqboul asks. “Deir Yassin happened,” he says casually. “It was one place, 20 or 40 people were killed. Okay, yeah there was a case like this. So?” “Maybe it’s okay to be a terrorist if you win,” Maqboul melancholically states. Now, Leila dreams. She dreams of the day when she will return to Haifa and “sleep under a tree for three days, smelling the soil.” She lovingly places the brick and tile Maqboul brought her back from her childhood home on a tabletop in her house in Amman, and waits. www.leilakhaled.com

from retrozone.tumblr.com

from leilakhaled.com


5th annual

boston Palestine

Co-Presented with

Film Festival

Celebrating Palestinian Culture

OctOber 21-30, 2011 Museum of Fine arts, boston + other venues For full program, please visit:

w w w. b o s t o n p a l e s t i n e f i l m f e s t . o rg

the boston Palestine Film Festival is made possible by the generous support of:

the genevieve MCMillan - reba stewart Foundation

BPFF’s Official Airline Carrier for 2011

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TUNIS

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photography ZAHRA FADHLAOUI


"When a Tunisian says 'tonight' they usually mean in a few weeks, when they say 'ok, tomorrow,' they most likely mean 'yeah right, it's never going to happen!'"

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ARABIC MUSIC TODAY PART III by KARIM SULTAN

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n our third installment, I’ll extend our conversation to something that’s often discussed in creative circles (especially more academic ones), but one that can be difficult to communicate: form. This instalment might present itself as somewhat of a departure, but we assure you that it is an important one, as we will try to figure out how to read something we can’t actually see. There may be more questions asked than answered, and more ends left open than are usually recommended—I apologise in advance, and hope that we can reach someplace mutually agreeable, or at least a location somewhat interesting.

to us a complex set of signals and instructions that appeal to us in the way one organism will to another and not in a constructed, detached way, one that is overly reliant on a conscious language. It is through this—especially for the city-dweller—ever-present vehicle that we can begin to understand the power of form, the manipulation of the physical world around us, to communicate and set about indicators, codes, systems, paths, instructions, and ideas without even mentioning a single word. After all, these vehicles could have been designed in any way, but after the historical precedents of past vehicles that actually used living things (especially in urban areas, i.e. the carriage), As mentioned before, it’s always a bit difficult such a design made sense. With no effort, one “reads” talking about something that can be so personal to us. something from this without actually reading anything. While we have no problem talking about other things— What does this have to do with music? Think of sports, politics, our fashion, design, relationships—it can be difficult to talk about culture that you can’t see. With a the music that you enjoy and listen to. In many ways, the film, graphic design, architecture, literature and painting same kind of deliberate-but-unspoken design takes place you can actually see the words and lines, and the vision there too. Everything from the way a word is uttered to the of whoever thought up the thing actually becomes mani- production techniques and broadcast infrastructure that fested in a physical form in front of you. You can look at exists around that music communicates so much that is not spoken. What is said is not simply the words spoken, it, which makes a big difference. but the language used as well. We also believe that what we know is the result of To the unfamiliar, the sounds of city might seem what we directly encounter, or receive in dialogue somehow: conversations with parents, lessons from teachers, books chaotic, but those who know can instantly pick out what that we’ve read, advertising we are subjected to and films is happening by just hearing. Images come to mind, and we watch. There is an ancient theory of optics that suggests even perhaps an associated feeling—routine, nostalgia, that vision is the result of something actually coming out annoyance, hope—comes as well. There are a few familiar of the eye, some energy or substance that reflects back, things, but of the produced sounds (that is, not the sound and that our perception is something quite active in some of cars traffic—human or otherwise—conversation, or industry, but sound deliberately put together for sharing), unseen way. Our popular attitudes seem to reflect this. there are two quite commonplace in most Arab cities that Consider the car, that ever-present machine. matter most: popular music and religious recitation. Despite its relative newness in the repertoire of human Now both the extremely religious and the overly technology, it is one of our most recognisable machines, fully integrated into every facet of our collective life (after committed secularist will fail to see the connection, but all, many of our streets are clogged with every imaginable historically, especially with Arabic music (and we’ve talked variety of them). Looking at one, we know immediately about this in previous instalments), there is a strong rewhat it is. Furthermore, we actually know a lot about it lationship between the art of religious recitation and of and its function without even reading a manual or having performing songs. In many cases, popular singers learned someone tell us. We know how to open the door (and we how to vocalise their lyrics and poetry in a careful and recognise where the doors are), we know how to operate committed way by recitation (whether or not they were it generally, but most striking is we know where the front religious, or even Muslim), and professional reciters often and the back are. Car reviews will sometimes talk about performed songs. Both share an intimate relation between the “face” of a particular model and its overall character voice and the text, both are performed in a live setting and (“This year’s revision reflects its target market and feature in the recording studio, and both attempt to communicate set with a cheeky, energetic face”), which may not strike something powerful that seems far more effective if it is you as odd until you also realise that there are in fact two done in a stylised manner. of them: one showing the front, one showing the back. Regardless of intent, the context of the studio, These two faces, in a very deep, difficult-to- broadcast, and the performance venue placed challenges understand but immediately knowable way, communicate in the way of the producers of these sounds. The presence

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of a microphone, the expected response of a (potentially) wider audience, the reliance on the recorded image to accompany the sound (for marketing or identification purposes) changed entirely the type of people involved in such production, the abilities of the performer, and the function of the sound itself. No longer is the individual producer of, say, popular music “in front of” the expected audience, but instead a voice that is passed and sold by cassette (still common in many places), CD, or other format that can be played anywhere, and at any time (which adds to the cacophonous soundscape we mentioned earlier). This voice is produced in a specific way to give the desired effect—for example, many recordings of religious recitation are produced with effects such as reverb (which causes the sound to reverberate as though in a large or small space) and delay (echo) to give the impression of an of immense space, produce religious affect and a sombre, reflective feeling. In popular music, the very same production, the way the sound is manipulated, means something completely different. The voice is thickened or thinned and placed with many other sounds, some synthesised and some performed on instruments, and put together in a certain way, usually imitating the same arrangement as a live performance. Why? The recording studio holds near limitless possibilities for creating how a sound exists in a certain space (many other places can be implied other than the stage of the cabaret, and even places that don’t have a worldly analogue can be suggested), but still the most familiar is reproduced, time and time again. Imagine the competing emotional impact of other sounds, music and otherwise, on what we consider “ours.” Think of, for example, news announcements around the world, and why the broadcast is spoken in a particular way, why—whatever the country—a similar musical introduction is used, the format the content is presented in, and so on. Think of the dominant music on the radio or other widely-distributed media that cause instant emotional impact and how they came to be that way, the style of singing and playing instruments, the production style, and listen to what we consider “ours.” The way we interact with the technology used to produce the sounds that are vital to everyday lives has an impact on how the received as well as what they mean. Yet to produce something that we can even call “our own,” and which will stand as such, we must have both a deep understanding of what we do and how we do things and how we shape that into something we can share. Understanding the language we use, spoken and written languages like Arabic, is more than just being able to communicate ideas and feelings, understanding a film or song, buying and selling. Instead, to actually create, you must have surplus understanding. What this means is that your knowledge of the tool you are using (in this case language) extends well beyond your tastes and interests. In the case of Arabic music, this means an understanding of the language, its

history, the influence of other languages, and how it was presented. Calligraphy and architecture are two technologies that made the written language ubiquitous and associated it with faith and power, infusing two very basic things (writing and building) with language that transmits very deeply, regardless of our convictions. Going back to the car, and related automotive transportation (buses, vans, and so on) just for a moment, let us think of how it was originally designed and where it is now. For the European, then American streets, it reflected the height of industrial production, of powerful, practical comfort in transportation. A new generation appropriated it and its function changed dramatically. It became the mobile private sphere, a place where, for the youth, major life experiences took place and were shared, where music was consumed, where conversations, adventures, love, and aggression were explored. Think then of the car elsewhere, in the Arab region for example: While mass production, a wide driver- and ridership, and the simultaneous export of a related culture took place, the car takes on its own meaning. The formal aspects of a car and a city (and demonstrated culture through popular film, for example) might replicate things somewhat from place to place, the meanings they have, the histories and experiences, will be very different as well. For now, think of what this would mean for recorded and performed music. A studio or stage, recording and performance techniques, norms and genre, might come from one place and be imported wholesale to another, the way they are used can be very different and reflect totally the new context. The most striking examples are in the example of sacred recitation mentioned above, as well as the state-level aesthetics of a tarab concert, in which a formerly elite, private ‘salon’ experience was brought, in spectacular and emotionally unsparing way, in an utterly distinct way. There has been enough historical distance from it to learn great lessons about art and technology, and we will begin attempt that that in the next instalment. Having access to technology is not enough in ensuring that your identity and your message will somehow come across. Instead, the existence of dominant ways of seeing (in this case, listening) that come to be in countless ways (economics, culture, power, style) will determine how effective your production is in carrying across what you mean. After all, sometimes the simplest cues rooted in routine and familiarity will have the most powerful impact.

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A DATE IN DAMASCUS

by DANAH ABDULLA

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adia Hubbi is the founder of Sweet Pillar & Co, a company whose goal is to give you a little piece of Damascus. Unable to find the same cookies and snacks her late grandmother use to make, Nadia launched Sweet Pillar & Co in 2010 and produces Arab cookies and snacks for everyday consumption. The brand is available across the United States at select specialty food stores including DPI Specialty Foods and Wholesome Choice. Kalimat had a chance to discuss the newly launched venture, desserts and Damascus with its founder Nadia. DANAH: What was the idea behind the Bon Date? NADIA: “Bon” means “good” in French and we thought adding it to describe our chocolate covered nut stuffed date is perfectly short and sweet. Having to say “chocolate covered nut stuffed date” was just too long! DANAH: What were some of the first reactions to your confections in the American market? NADIA: The initial reaction was definitely positively curious. People are interested in the Arab region and what it has to offer. Many people have also never tasted a date and some have never heard about it. After the first taste, they are pleasantly surprised and then excited when they learn that not only are bon date deliciously sweet but are also packed with nutrients! DANAH: Damascus is a common reference — why Damascus? And what does it (Damascus) mean for you in terms of food and sweets? NADIA: Damascus has a warm nostalgic spot in my heart. It’s where my parents are from and where I spent many summers with my grandparents and cousins. As the oldest inhabited city in the world, Damascus is rich in history and culture and that translates to the culinary world. I find almost everything in Damascus is centred around food - which is great because the culinary world is phenomenal there! DANAH: What are you hoping to promote in the American market? NADIA: An adventure of the taste buds is our priority. We also want to promote a cosmopolitan understanding of the world and its various cultures; starting with opening up your sensory palette and trying new flavours. We want to bring awareness to a culture through the journey of exploration using chocolate and dates as a medium. DANAH: What sort of market or niche are you hoping to find?

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NADIA: We don’t have a particular niche in mind. We think our products are universal to people who have an adventurous flair, a curiosity for different cultures, and a taste for sweets. DANAH: Are your customers mostly new to Arab desserts and sweets or are they familiar with them and willing to try something new? NADIA: Both. We attract customers from all sorts of backgrounds. I think people who already have a taste for Arab desserts are more interested in our products because it is something they are semi familiar with but with a new twist. Our products also appeal to health conscious foodies. DANAH: Can you take us through the creation process? NADIA: The idea of starting Sweet Pillar started when I moved away from my mom and had no easy access to Arab desserts; especially Mamool cookies. My grandmother would send some to my mom and she would ship them to me. I knew I couldn’t be the only person that wanted easier access to them. The other option was to make them myself and so I began to experiment with the recipes and add my own original twists. My creativity just sort of spiralled and now we’re working with different ingredients and design images. DANAH: Are you looking to expand your line of confections? If so, what else can we expect? NADIA: We are currently working on a new line which I am extremely excited about. We teamed up with leading chocolate makers and artists in the industry but that is as much as I can reveal at this time! Best way to stay tuned is through Facebook or on our website. www.facebook.com/sweetpillar www.sweetpillar.com


CULTURE

BUMLICKING AMREEKA

by SARAH ELENANY

My first offer of marriage came from a taxi driver in Morocco a few years back. I had only said two or three words in English, when he took a look in his rear view mirror and asked mother,“how much for the girl?”. They then proceeded to barter but mother was not satisfied with his best price. Oh, it was so romantic, we were in Casablanca after all. This then happened again in an internet café in Egypt when Mahmoud, the owner, tried to impress me by singing along to a Celine Dion song in English, after he had overheard me calling it a “computer” instead of “combutar”.

1) Responsibility Our parents would much rather encourage us to pursue “safe” careers (accounting, engineering, medicine, etc) so that we are able to financially maintain families, thus fulfilling the expectations of our Arab culture. This is compounded by the fact that with this safety, comes “presteej”. We love telling our friends that our kids are doctors, don’t we?! I mean, what exactly does an artist do anyway? So does the emphasis of responsibility stop us from pursuing unpredictable arts/ideas based careers?

Why was I getting bumlicked purely because I was from the West? Was it the same reason Arab boys are obsessed with blue-eyed blonde-haired white girls with names like “Diana”? The same reason an Arab in Dubai is more likely to give a job to a dim-witted Westerner, rather than one of their own cleverest? The same reason Arabs like to throw in a few English words in conversation to show how educated they are? Maybe they’ve just been listening to lot of Celine Dion and learning from her.

2) East vs West social structures Countries in the East generally believe in the power of the people and communities versus the West’s belief in the power of the individual. So is thinking independently at odds with the cultural norms of our Arab culture?

Ironically, the thing that makes Western culture “so great” is the thing that is generally rejected by Arabs. Western culture is defined by the importance of independent thought; the progress of humans through new ideas. Yet when presented with a report on TV about the Icelandic education system pushing creativity in schools from a young age, father’s response, which would be typical of most Arabs, was “Eh dah, il kalaam il faadi dah?” (what is this nonsense?). Well, baba, the simple equation is this: ideas=money. Innovation=money. So who’s talking kalaam faadi (nonsense) now?

3) Power Yeah, everyone likes a bit of power, but Arabs especially love it. Is this bumlicking a consequence of the desire to create an alliance with that which is powerful? So when the global power shift happens in the next few years, will burger and chips become passé whilst Peking Duck becomes the new status meal? Are we fickle like the love Celine Dion sings about in “It’s all coming back to me now”? Whatever the reasons, maybe the time to change it is now. The Arab Spring has shown a pride and belief in “being Arab”. Maybe in the next few years we will realise we are capable of big things, take a few risks and be world leaders instead of followers. Mafeesh bumlick taani (and there will be bumlicking no more).

So what is it that’s stopping us from generating ideas and leading the world, instead of licking its bum? It’s certainly not because we’re not capable….or aren’t we? Is our Arab culture hardwired to hinder the generation of ideas? Could this be because of:

Ironically, the thing that makes Western culture “so great” is the thing that is generally rejected by Arabs.

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ATAYEF

text and photos NAIRA BADAWI

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tayef! Unfortunately, we only ever eat these crunchy doughy nut-filled dumplings in Ramadan but who says you can’t eat them all year-round? When you bite in, you think atayef must be the hardest things to make, but in fact, they’re extremely easy to make!

INGREDIENTS: Dough: • 1 cup of flour • 1 1/2 cups water • 1 tablespoon sugar • 1 teaspoon yeast • 1 teaspoon baking powder

STEPS: 1. Whisk all the ingredients needed for the dough and leave the mix to rise for about 30 minutes. The dough should be slightly runny; a little less viscous than regular pancake batter. 2. Pour about a large spoonful of the dough onto a hot unoiled pan or griddle and wait until bubbles surface. Make sure the dough doesn’t cook all the way through. 3. The second the surface of the mini pancake dries, take it off the heat and leave it on a wooden cutting board. Continue the process until the batter is done.

Filling: • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and crushed • 1/4 cup almonds, toasted and crushed • 1/8 cup raisins • 1/8 cup shredded coconut • 3 tablespoons sugar • 2 tablespoons cinnamon

4. Take the cooked pancake, fold it and pinch it at one end. Then add approximately one teaspoon of the filling mix and close up the pancake over the filling. You should have a tightly closed dumpling.

• Confectioner’s sugar • Canola oil

6. After they turn golden brown, put them on a plate covered in paper towels. This is to make sure enough oil drains from them as possible.

5. Put enough oil in a pan to fully cover the atayef. Fry them until they turn golden brown.

7. Transfer the hot atayef onto another plate and cover them in confectioner’s sugar. 8. Pick each one up and devour slowly. You can also DOUSE the hot atayef in cool simple syrup instead of coating them in confectioner’s sugar. These taste BEST when served with black tea or iced hibiscus!

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CURRENT ART & AFFAIRS DESIGN

THE GRAFFITI “SUPERHEROES”

text and photos ANGIE BALATA

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raffiti has become Egypt’s new fetish thanks to the almost exclusivist self-perpetuating circle of ego jockeying among artists, picture frenzy groupies caught in a race to be the ‘first’ to capture new pieces, and the instant fame-profiteering from journalist production of ‘feel good’ articles praising the phenomenon. It’s hard not to feel like many of the artists seem on the verge of hustling the art rather than producing it at a quality level. Much like a bad Marilyn Manson song, the graffiti scene in Egypt is living up to its addictive reputation where “we’re all stars now in the dope show”—dropped like acid by its artists and consumed like opium by the masses. Whether as a tool for change or an expression of alternative art, graffiti in Egypt is a basic mess of hyper production and over consumption. The allure of graffiti is certainly related to its illicitness, the rush one finds in breaking the laws of space and, essentially, telling corporations and governments to “stick it”. But the impact of graffiti lies far deeper than its allure; in essence, it is an attempt to counter-colonise space and influence what people see and how they think. It is a creative response and a tool of power for those left without access to resources or public spaces. We write on walls because we want to be acknowledged, we scribble our thoughts because we want to be heard, and we paint in the public space because in the chaos of it all we need to feel we exist. With so many decades of stunted cultural growth of the general population and the daily serving of what amounts to glamorised crap, it is no surprise that Egypt is essentially in stage of reawakening. It is interesting that one of the most popular images that made the rounds on Cairo’s streets and, more broadly, on virtual media in the early days of the Revolution was a stencil of Mubarak and the word “leave” written underneath. January 25 opened a floodgate of repressed expression. Graffiti has the power to change things, or at the very least offer an alternative opinion and open a path to discussion. It can act as an alternative form of media, a different voice. But looking at Egypt’s walls today, one wonders what does it all mean and who’s the audience? For an art form that is meant for the “public”, i.e. regular citizens on the street, we must consider how graffiti and their producers are affecting the public space1. Is graffiti really engaging the audience in some form of dialogue or is it merely an individual expression of an artist’s state of mind (in which case, who cares)? Is graffiti speaking with the people or are artists merely offering more unsolicited noise? Is the public space being utilised as a ‘shared’ space? In looking at graffiti in Egypt, can we consider the streets as an alternative space (i.e. as a counter to big media)? GRAFFITI ART AS BRIDGE: ALEXANDRIA’S MAVEN RECLAIMS MINDS AND SPACES Much of the articles on graffiti in Egypt have been a recycling of explanations revolving around the singular, though severely mistaken, idea that the mad rush to paint Egypt’s walls is some novel phenomenon reflecting the “peoples” new found freedom. The story of graffiti in Cairo begins long before the Revolution, by individuals and one company that have worked quietly in the shadows under the very eyes of the state. Predating the revolution, graffiti had existed on Cairo’s streets fleetingly, yet prominently. Cairo’s walls 1  Here “public space” is meant to refer to a very general idea, namely, space that we all share. This includes the walls and streets not owned by any private entity.

were adorned with an unusual mixture of love declarations (often a boy named Ahmed and whatever girl he was fancying), claims to football club greatness by various football fans, the odd advertisements for apartment rentals, the bizarrely prevalent stencil ad for Rasha Car2 and religious pronouncements. But graffiti, as a movement really began in a place far from Cairo in a time long before the revolution. On the shores of the Mediterranean, far from the centralised bureaucracy, intense government repression and the ever-vigorous eyes of state police, Alexandria exists as the closest thing to a haven in Egypt. Often the quiet leader of intellectual thought and art production, this city is rarely given its due for its tremendous accomplishments, including offering a safe ground for writers, artists, and activists to engage in much needed interaction with each other and with the outside world. There, in the downtown core, an 18-year-old girl began a quiet movement to reclaim public access to art and to space. “I began in 2008. The approach was different – it wasn’t political. I’ve never worked for anything political. I can’t say I’m an intellect. I’m visually based…I began in 2008 when there wasn’t anything to begin with…so we’re the trend starters,” says Aya Tarek Hassan to me in a coffee shop at one of Alexandria’s seaside. To set the record straight, if we want to properly talk graffiti, then we must begin with Aya. The granddaughter of a prominent movie poster artist, she has made a reputation for herself as being a maverick, daring to experiment with art in ways that belies her young age. This petite girl is full of such passionate dedication and an overwhelming sense of professionalism that she herself is as great of a story as her artwork. Aya figured prominently in Ahmed Abdallah’s Microphone, an indie film on the underground art scene in Alexandria and is often a key stop in understanding the Alexandrian independent art scene. Despite being a true rebel artist, her contributions have been lost to the roaming journalists who have focused solely on Cairo. Excluded from the elitist circles of the art community and not totally fitting in with the general atmosphere at the Fine Arts College where she first started, Aya decided to not just create her own community, but her own art form. Breaking the lines of conformity and revising the rules of individuality, in a society often comfortable with hegemony and the ordinary, Aya began using graffiti as a way take back public space and to assert her being. “Graffiti,” she says, “is not about being rich, or having a secluded space.” Graffiti for her was about an expression and affirmation that art was for all and not something to be invited to or to pay for. Art was about making spaces open. Choosing the streets, in particular, was not just the perfect tool for a self-described misfit, but it represented a safe place: “The street won’t judge you the way that other places do it.” Aya’s relationship with space began with a grounded understanding of the environment around her. As a woman and a street artist, she encountered many difficulties in the beginning. Long before Cairo, she had begun a movement to reclaim the streets and minds of the public. “They [shop keepers and passers-by] used to look at me very weird, that I come out with a bunch of guys,” she tells me about the reactions in the beginning. “They would 2  Rasha Car is a driving school company that has been stenciling ads for years around Cairo

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Mural by SAD PANDA depicting various figures, moments, and locations related to the revolution. It is couched between lighter murals of the Egyptian flag and various “happy� symbols in the Sawra tunnel of the Heloopolis suburb in Cairo. The piece is a strong statement on the current state of chaos felt by many.

A self-portrait of the graffiti alter ego? Artist: SHANK

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mock me. They would harass me. So I wouldn’t allow it for long. Right away I would say – ‘what do you want?’ How could you harass your neighbour?” Understanding her audience and relying on the public moral system of her environment, she shamed her harassers, most often males, into reconsidering their reactions. “He would get shy, and reconsider. He would start thinking about it and say to himself that instead of harassing my neighbour I should be protecting my neighbour. I would play with the feelings that are already there, the feelings in the people. “You have to know street language to know how to talk to them.” She would then invite those who mocked or questioned her to look at her artwork, engage them in the process and offer to do pieces for the nearby shop owners. “The people are simple. They’re nosy but once they know and find something nice on the wall and understand it’s cool, they like it,” she affirms knowingly. In many ways, what she had begun was an important transformation in and of itself. Long before the public took to the streets, she had taken the streets to the public. By putting up her own art on the street she was announcing her right to space. The revolution helped make this a reality in many ways. “You have public space, no one’s going tell you anything…but post-revolution, we’ve taken back the street again…the corniche (waterfront) is mine, this was my home, my sand, my water. I live here, this is my street, this is my home. Now you can do what you want in the street. Or at the very least try. Whoever wants to do something will do it.” Oddly, since the beginning of the revolution, Aya has stopped, for the most part, doing graffiti (though a group piece has been produced very recently). “During the revolution, I went down and protested, and choked on tear gas like the rest. Sorry, but holding a can and writing on the wall wasn’t my job at the time...I’m an artist is something and I’m a citizen, that’s something else. I went down with my body and performed with my body saying, ‘no!...I don’t have a political motivation in my work.’ I draw things because I want to express something…I’m not gonna force myself to do a piece because, well, the revolution erupted. But now I photocopied my passport. I felt like I was disappearing. So in my area I brought the pictures of my passport and photocopied a lot of them and put them up on the walls as I walked. All the chaos that was happening, I felt like I was disappearing,” she explains. Though definitely shunning the idea of being an activist or being a revolution artist, her role prior and, especially after the first 18 days has served the social change process well. For her serving the revolution is not limited to producing “revolutionary art”. “For sure, the role of artists has changed…even if you just sell rice, after the revolution, there’s a change. We have to do political things always. I’m an artist, I’m not gonna stay unemployed, stop working…yeah, I tweet, I’m involved, but from my place, from where I am. It’s not indirect. This is the problem in Egypt, this is why things haven’t changed. We need to change ourselves, we have an inner corruption that we need to change. Just as there were honest policemen, there are honest people, so we were all part of the regime in a way. We all profited from it, we lied to each other, we moved away from our principles and our beliefs. It’s a problem of principles. People understand the revolution wrong. Yes, we need to focus on our martyrs, but still we haven’t changed our principles,” she says critically. In changing the idea of space and exposing her public to different art forms, she is engaging the audience on a level that is socially avant-garde. Her greatest contribution lies in her desire to produce. Her newest project aims at creating an alternative form of advertising that uses grassroots approaches. Teaming up with diverse artists, from musicians to skateboarders, she created a collective, in the social sense, based on reforming the ‘social contract’. Much like the message of her short two minute film, How to Fuck Up Your Mind3, and incidentally an amazing example of how she’s taking graffiti as an art form to a different level, she wants to 3  The film is a graffiti-in-motion piece dealing with the media’s affect on individuality and imposed frameworks on artistic independence.

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move beyond the notoriety of which many graffiti artists have sunk to (in large part due to the fetishisation of the art form) and return to the idea of producing “art” and of reforming self. It is the kind of art that builds on the very foundations of change that made the revolution possible. LOST IN TRANSLATION: THE ART OF RESPONSIBILITY Standing before one of the larger graffiti murals in one of Cairo’s more affluent quarters, a taxi driver walks up to me and my friend as we were taking pictures of it. Belonging to Ganzeer, one of Egypt’s uniquely talented visual artists who is often mislabelled (and adamantly rejects) as a graffiti artist by inexperienced media, the graffiti has managed to survive self-censorship despite its overt message. In the piece, a tank stands directly opposite a young bread boy on a bicycle carrying an imaginary city on his head in place of the bread. To the left of the graffiti, Sad Panda, a self-defined graffiti artist, has stencilled his signature slouching panda. Curious as to how the driver might interpret him, my friend and I ask him to explain the drawings to us. The older man, a former school teacher, explains that the tank represents the former regime and that it is attacking the boy who is carrying the imprisoned city on his head. Drawing in the panda in his description, the driver explains that that the “teddy bear” (as he refers to it in colloquial Arabic), who had run away from the Giza Zoo during the revolution because he too, like the other animals, were not taken care of. In his explanation, the panda is subsequently martyred in the revolution as he tries to save the people. When we asked if the tank might be representing the army the driver adamantly denies the interpretation—after all, he explains, the army had protected the people and saved the revolution. This was not the first time I had heard these ideas. In a subsequent encounter with two gentlemen in a coffee shop across from one of Ganzeer’s martyr murals in downtown Cairo, one of the men had gone so as far as to say that any political messaging, particularly related to the army, was just unacceptable. Though he had not seen Ganzeer’s piece in Zamalek, the very description irked him as he felt we were not at odds with the army. In his opinion, Cairo was not a Palestine; we were not fighting an occupying army. In discussing the idea of graffiti, using walls for art and/ or messaging, in both encounters the men felt that it was somewhat an invasion of space. The taxi driver assumed that artists were drawing on walls because they had been excluded from the proper areas where such things should be shown, i.e. galleries. The men at the coffee shop appreciated the attempts to memorialise the martyrs, but they felt that the lines of censorship should begin with any messaging outside of memorialisation or celebration of the revolution. Both encounters raise the questions on the audiences’ willingness to accept diverging views, particularly the political, and on the accessibility of the messaging. Are artists living up to their responsibilities of bridging mental gaps, of creating dialogue, of leading the way towards a recognition of the public aspect of space? Are artists speaking to the public or are they just speaking to and for themselves? While not all graffiti should be assumed to have some defined political role, the fact that many of the artists rose as a result of the revolution what they put on walls will, intentionally or otherwise, have some affect on the current social, if not political, state. However we feel about it, the context itself seems to have boxed them into a certain framework and it is difficult to not read walls as some measure of the political and social atmosphere. The competing graffiti around Tahrir Square is a good illustration of this phenomenon. In politically charged situations, the conflict itself becomes the lens by which we understand things—a situation that has historically been proven in other places of political conflict, including Ireland and Lebanon.

LEFT: The hijacking of the Republic by


y the army with monarchical characteristics (i.e. the inheritance of power consistently by military men) or a statement on the priority of the republic (i.e. the civil state) above the monarchy (i.e. the Mubarak regime and its many inheritors-in-waiting) and the army? Piece by SAD PANDA. RIGHT: “The difference in hairstyle, does not corrupt the camaraderie of the cause.” Artist unknown

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LEFT: Self portrait by SHANK RIGHT: Tantawy’s underwear by ADHAM BAKRY

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S

Mural referencing the revolution by the College of Fine Arts, Zamalek.

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Signage to Shahd, a local café. Sign reads “Café Shahd”

LEFT: Seen during the July month long sit in that aimed to reaffirm the unfulfilled demands of the revolution, depicts the army’s control of media space. The author did not want to be identified. RIGHT: Seen at the AUC campus in Tahrir, the stencil began making an appearance shortly after the violent events between demonstrators and the police on 27 June. The stencil refers to the low cost of tear gas, many of whom believe was expired and which evidence supports, used excessively by police on 27 June and with reports that the side effects experienced by demonstrators was unlike any previous encounter. “$25, the price of oppression…?” Artist unknown.

LEFT: Stencil of Khaled Said and two lines from the late Amal Donqol’s poem “La Tosaleh” (Do not reconcile), that reads “Will my blood - through your eyes - turn to water? Will you forget my blood-stained robe?”. Artist: HOSSAM SHUKRALLAH. RIGHT: Reads: “Strike”. Stencil resembles many of the Eastern European images of the workers or socialist movements. Artist unknown.

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LEFT: The head of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), General Tantawy, as a Salafi (an extreme sect of Islam). The stencil questions the relationship between the army and certain Islamist groups. Artist EL TENEE. RIGHT: “I do not vandalize my intentions are honest.”Found on the back walls of the Mogamma’a, the main government administrative building in the centre of Tahrir and the site of most concentrated explosion of graffiti throughout the revolution. Artist: HK


LEFT: Mural movie poster for the upcoming film on the revolution, “Tahrir 2011”. Movie poster: AYA TAREK. Photo: AMR ABDELHAMID RIGHT: Reads “Revolution First” and was on the Mogammaa walls during the BOTTOM: Mural movie poster for the film “Microphone”. Graffiti: AYA TARE. Photo: TAREKY HEFNY

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LEFT: The stencil rejects what is commonly referred to in colloquial Arabic as the “party of the couch” or the silent majority that watches events at home (though having once played a key role in the early days of the revolution). Artist unknown. RIGHT: The signature stencil of the April 6 movement. Reads: “Persist”. Artist unknown.

e July sit in. Artist: HK

TOP: A graffiti calling for the public participation in the 27 May demonstrations. Artist: EL TENEEN. BOTTOM: Reads: “No to the criminalisation of Striking on Labour Day.” Signature: The Revolutionary Socialists, Artist unknown.

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The messages and the chosen symbolism remain, for the most part, detached from any seeming understanding of the audience. Much of the graffiti is limited to mixed media pieces and stenciling (to varying degrees of complexity). The types of symbols/images used are often diverse. On one end is the graffiti shrouded in purely Egyptian images and Arabic writing and on the other is stenciling of Western pop culture images. Keizer, whose work is found in diverse areas, relies heavily on Western pop culture images mixed with a bit of Banksy-esque pieces. On one of the walls in Cairo’s affluent suburb of Zamalek, and, seemingly, his “idea board”, a range of his stencils exist, from Shepher Fairey’s “Obey” to stencils employing Egyptian icons with Arabic messaging. While Keizer has branched out more extensively, in terms of geographical output (including going to less socio-economically developed areas like Imbaba), than his counterparts and seemingly an artist who marches to his own tune, he has been the focus of much criticism for his apparent recycling of existing western graffiti. El Teneen, another prominent

graffiti progeny of the Revolution, has been the most vocal about criticising what he views as the unoriginal production that is inaccessible to the general population. His disregard for such work, for example, has gone as far as stenciling “Replica” around Keizer’s work. Highly secretive about his identity, he explained in a phone interview that, for him, graffiti has an important “social role” to play in terms of bridging ideas and reflecting change. For him, graffiti art should be about the piece and not the artist. Angered by the ubiquitous plastering of Mubarak’s face in public spaces around Egypt and the lack of access to this space, El Teneen produced his first piece on January 26th using Mubarak’s face—except this time, he’d boldly written under the graffito “Leave”. And while his critiques have been strong, his work, while for the most part being unequivocally political, has also bordered on the inaccessible. He too has resorted to “borrowing” from the abstract art of 90s Western pop culture, for example, in a large mural piece in a recent gallery showcasing graffiti artists in Cairo depicting a zebra, Qaddafi’s face and the lines “Zebra, Zebra/Not a Zebra” adorning the sides of the piece. Beyond the quibbles of a maturing artist group still discovering themselves, there is an overall problem of disconnect from the audience, not just a critique at Keizer or El Teneen. While many on the street appreciate the artwork, the messages themselves aren’t always so clear. But while clearly the audience is a factor for many graffiti artists, the extent to which many actually produce pieces that connect with the audience is still questionable. As one artist, who preferred to not have his name used, reflected to me “The audience and the message are both important because art is meant to force you to stop and think, regardless of how you feel about it. Thus, graffiti needs to question you and make you question it.” And in times of political and social upheaval, the responsibility towards the audience and to ensuring that the message is accessible is even more vital. Otherwise, how is the work any different from the imposed messages from either big corporations or the government? In an email response to me on the issue of messaging and accessibility, Ganzeer offers: “I actually do think that artists who share the revolutionary sentiments of other individuals in society are definitely responsible in using their artwork for the cause they believe in. Unfortunately, however, I think the majority of artists have become too accustomed to creating a breed of artwork that does not directly communicate with the masses, and hence do not

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really have the knowhow of using their skills in such dire times as now. We’re in a time where we need to use all the “weapons” under our sleeves to make this work.” One of the systematic attempts of employing graffiti in a socio-political role has been Ganzeer’s Mad Graffiti Weekend. Aimed at engaging people, space and art, the project produced two murals, one celebrating the martyrs and the other, a political piece, questioning the popular notion that the “army and the people are one hand”. Mostafa El Gamal, one of the organisers and volunteers, asserts that within this context of political upheaval, art plays a fundamental role, El Gamal asserts, in not just challenging the status quo, but, more importantly in presenting an alternative voice to the people. For him, graffiti isn’t just about a political statement, but more importantly, it serves as an educational and social change tool. An architect by profession, El Gamal believes that colossal urbanisation projects that have taken place in the last decade are devastating to modern architecture. The cookie cutter designs of big real estate development firms and government planned projects have destroyed the individuality and beauty of much of Cairo’s architecture landscape. In this way, El Gamal feels that graffiti can work to illustrate diversity and ownership of the public space. “People are not used to the idea of artistic expression on walls,” he explains, “And the project is helping in creating a sense of community.” Ahmed Nadim, another of the volunteer organisers and also an architect, concurs with El Gamal on the public’s understanding of space. “The ‘public’ space was never for the public,” he claims, “it belonged to the state and, consequently, was often considered ‘private’.” He says there still remains a sense of repression in terms of space that has not really changed since the start of the revolution. Graffiti is helping change these ideas. As Nadim points out, graffiti is important because it is easily accessible to the public since it is in the streets which are part of the urban fabric. He believes that by adding and changing to that fabric, graffiti artists are contributing, in a sense, to the design of the city. While the discussions with Nadim and El Gamal offer a sense of empowerment, the reality on the streets seems very disconnected from the artists. On one hand, there remains a prevalent sense of self-censorship on the part of the public. Prior to January 25th, Egyptians lived in a self-perpetuating and self-fulfilling cycle of censorship. Oscillating between the lines imposed by the State and those imposed by the public in servitude of the State, the idea of anything being “public” has long existed beyond the imaginations of the regular individual. It was a common saying among the people that walls have eyes and ears. And for the most part, people behaved as their own watchmen, forcing each other to act within conformity as expected by the State. Self-censorship operated in varying degrees, but drawing on a wall would have almost certainly turned into a public spectacle in an effort by citizens to police each other. The idea of space being “publicly” owned and shared is problematic at best.

THE STREETS AHEAD… Graffiti, whether as an art form or a socio-political tool, remains very underdeveloped in Egypt. The mental space of understanding that the “streets belong to us” is far from a reality. The revolutionary spirit of manipulating the streets for public benefit has still not begun. In Egypt, self-censorship feeds on not only decades of repression, but also, on the changing ideas of what is “publicly” acceptable - what the community deems as okay. Street art, especially graffiti, can have the potential for being the most powerful bridge to new ideas and art forms. The revolution has begun to tear down old walls of fear and offer a sense of “home” in the public space. And already, some artists have begun to branch out in more social roles. Artists like Keizer, Kook and Adham Bakry have made attempts to “take back the streets” from corporations by attacking their promo ads and their uninvited public invasion. Providing stencils and instructions, Bakry boldly invites the public to help him in a counter campaign against Pepsi and sends a clear message to the soda giant: “Keep your advertising campaigns off the streets and stick to your costly billboards, this is what happens when you decide to make a street art campaign and cover my graffiti with your posters.” And there are of course the others like Hend Kheera, one of the few female artists in Cairo, who has worked on dealing with the sexual harassment issue and HK who has focused much of his graffiti on affirming the common social principle ideals we want to uphold. What ties most these artists together is that they are not defined, necessarily, by graffiti but employ it as a form to engage the wider public. But it is a process in becoming—it will take many years before Egypt becomes comfortable in its newfound skin of freedom. Art in general and graffiti in particular can play a key role in this process. Graffiti artists have a stage that is far more accessible than anything on TV or on the internet. Whereas the old regime utilised art for propaganda and for stunting innovation, art in times of revolution can counteract this if used wisely. Graffiti enters the personal space of each individual like no other form of expression. But it is also the tool for those most excluded from access to the public in other forms, allowing for a means to assert identity and visibility. For a nation that has lived largely excluded from any and all, graffiti artists have a unique connection to the audience. Unlike other cities where graffiti artists are criminalised, in Egypt, for now, they are still appreciated for their effort. As one bystander said to me: “This revolution allowed for victims to have a voice and stand up for themselves. Graffiti artists are victims of the Ministry of Culture because they had been excluded from most art spaces. This is the perfect way for them to break that control. Their role now is absolutely necessary as artists. Everyone has a role.” The power of graffiti lies in its subversion. The downfall of graffiti is when it becomes authoritarian, when it is hijacked by galleries trying to control an art form that essentially thrives in the streets, or when it fails to bring the audience in and illustrate the possibilities of an alternative space of being.

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ART & DESIGN

ZEI: INTERVIEW WITH WALID SITI

Walid Siti is an Iraqi-Kurdish visual artist based in London. Kalimat had the opportunity to speak to him to discuss his latest solo show at the Rose Issa Gallery in London as well as some of his thoughts on art, politics and the Iraqi Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2011. KM: Can you give us an introduction to your work that is currently showing in London? WS: This work is part of a series of sketches for another project in Venice for Iraqi Pavilion at the 2011 Biennial. I developed some of the sketches and ideas into the paintings that you see here. The main theme is water, as that was the main theme in Venice. The issue of water shortage is apparent everywhere, but is present in Iraq for many reasons: rapid increases in population, rapid industrial development, and war. There is a lot of pressure on this very important resource. The work here is a continuation on the same theme, focusing on a 420 kilometre-long river, Zei (also known as Zab), a tributary of the Tigris. Iraq’s oldest known civilisations have been linked to these tributaries, many of which have dried up, and although this one still exists, the tributaries that feed it have all but dried up and the river itself has become very shallow. This is also reflected in one of the pieces shown in Venice was of an iconic waterfall that has existed for millions at Geli Ali Beg, (featured on the 5000 Iraqi dinar note). It dries up in the summer, and has actually been kept flowing by other artificial sources, so only the image remains for sightseers and others for whom it is an important cultural and historical site. Altogether, the theme here is also water, and there is a vertical aspect to it. The river shown is near where I lived and was brought up, and I have crossed it countless times. Last November, I was given a chance to see it from a different perspective for the first time, from the air, and it put me in a totally different frame of mind. I never thought to see this river from above, especially since I know it so well. Normally it is something tangible, something to cross, something to swim in, but now it appeared different, like a snake, on a dry, golden brown landscape. This gave me a different sort inspiration to work further on this idea and explore how important water is to this land, to this civilisation that is and has been dependent on it for centuries, something now under threat. Focusing on and conveying the idea of a threat to this vital resource and the idea of environment as an important issue is very important at a time when Iraq is in a 90

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period of transformation and development without much planning, and not much respect is given to this resource. KM: There is a stark, ghostly character in much of this work. Given the kind of ideas you were working with and this inspiration derived from the land itself. How did you translate these ideas into an aesthetic? What was that process like? WS: Initially there is a concept, an idea, that I find myself wanting to explore. In the process itself, I give a lot of freedom to myself to be loose, indulge myself with the material and the theme, and the idea of the work that I try to convey. It’s a combination of the two. There is an element of the coincidental in my work; it is controlled coincidence of paint strokes and drops that eventually reach the idea that I want. Through this I let the thing emerge and build up in different, material layers to the point where I feel satisfied, where I feel it encompasses the idea, the aesthetic, and invites the viewer to look with some depth into what I want to convey. KM: Is this a theme you could continue to explore, or is it more or less finished? WS: This one specific element could be considered finished, but now I can explore other, related themes related to the environment. Much of my work relates to where I come from in Iraq and the Kurdish region, which is very interesting to work from because it has been through many upheavals, and this period of transformation is to bring about many rapid changes—the effects of which may not be immediately understood. For me as an artist it is interesting to raise these issues, to question, to sometimes provoce, to invite people to look at their surroundings in a different way, to slow down. In the process of development people might have to destroy, but there might be a better way in finding a harmonious and an aesthetic relation with one’s surroundings. KM: In a wider sense, and this is a common question, what do you feel is the role of the artist, especially if they have a political background and the circumstances of their work?


WS: In a way I believe that art itself cannot be a direct response to any political issues or an answer to anything—it is a free thing. It can be very important to contribute to or raise an issue, to question, to help focus on issues, to allow people themselves to take it further (and for me, that is the ultimate thing art can do) but not to expect instant, magical results. Art certainly has a role in politics, but in developing the language of art, its’ concept. KM: Speaking of the language of art, in developing your language—and there is a consistent language in the works here—how did that come about? WS: For me, it was a process. Three decades ago my work was very different. Coming out of school, you attempt to crystallise your method and your thought, and the material you use. I’m trained as a printmaker, and have always loved drawing. Painting came much later, and working with installation is still new to me. Altogether, it is a process of development, engaging with the material, and slowly building a path that takes you someplace that will come to identify you, your character, your style. Not that there is a unique style that is ever completely individual, but something that will have your imprint, something that will differentiate you from others. My goal has always been to somehow achieve that, and I hope that I am in that process, and can always go further. Like everything else in life, there is a constant struggle and effort to crystallise, to make things more cohesive. KM: Is there an influence of other art/media, such as literature or music, in your visual work? WS: Literature of course, and poetry in particular, and I sometimes read books on history. Politics is always an influence, and especially coming from that region you cannot avoid thinking, even indirectly, about what is happening. In one way or another, it reflects in my work, although at one stage or another it comes across in my work in different ways.

KM: Can you tell more about the Iraqi Pavilion at the Venice Biennial? WS: There were six Iraqi artists, all from the Diaspora, who work in different media, mainly video and installation. They were invited to participate, but were not sponsored by the Iraqi government but by independent and external means. Altogether, tt was a great and positive experience and we were very proud, as it attracted a lot of attention for Iraqi artists, both for Iraq’s story and the quality of the work. Iraq hasn’t had a pavilion at this important international art event for 35 years, and it gave us a chance to share something different about our country and our story in relation to the main themes: water and illumination. KM: For other artists who are still in the early development stage, they are still, as you put it, crystallising and developing their own style, do you have anything to share with someone who is further along that path? WS: It’s difficult to say, but it’s just work—a lot of work. Seeing different things, getting involved in society and what is happening in it, being exposed, and reading. But work, hard work, and believing completely—I should emphasise this—in what you are doing and to persevere, hopefully recognition will come. But the initial belief and the hard work to back it up are the most important things I can share. KM: Are there any future projects in the works for you that we should look for? WS: There are two main things coming up: a show in Dubai in October, and a contribution to the exhibit at the British Museum later in the year, which is covering the theme of Islamic pilgrimage, Hajj. www.walidsiti.com

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ART & DESIGN

LONGING

text and photography TAREK AL-GHOUSSEIN

In the last ten years while living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) I have witnessed tremendous change that has challenged my understanding of what is meant by the term “identity”. Since 2003, I have explored various aspects of “identity” through my work as a photographer. The rapid transformation of the UAE has been a catalyst and starting point for an investigation into issues related to my own personal relation to land and place. The anonymity of the desert has offered the perfect stage for the investigation.

The “C Series” is an extension of themes I have been exploring for the past few years. While the work has been concerned with barriers, land, longing and belonging, this most recent series departs from these defining/confining concepts and instead focuses on visualised ideas of transience.

Although I did not set out to investigate the notion of transience, my work has developed from a process of exploring ideas related to land and place. While unexpected, The “Self Portrait” series represents a commentary on the strong emphasis on longing led to a consideration of contemporary Western media representations of the Pal- changing landscapes and ephemeral moments that are fixed estinian as terrorist. This project started as a result of in time rather than located in a specific place. my growing frustration with the way in which the Palestinians and other Arabs were being (mis)represented in The “D Series” continues the exploration by examining Western Media. In addition, I was drawn to the apparent the relationship between the subject and space, particusimilarities between the Myth of Sisyphus and what can larly the relationship between the solitary figure and the be characterised as the growing “myth” generated through temporary boundaries that define a place. The series has the Western media, specifically the myth that all Palestin- allowed me to explore how the individual both affects and ians are terrorists and that the Palestinian Intifada, like is affected by space. Sisyphus, seems condemned to an endless cyclic struggle. Transcending media representations has been an on-going The most recent work, “D II Series”, responds to several “uphill battle” for all Arabs. of the United Nations resolutions, specifically those that address issues of mapping and displacement. The “Untitled” A and B series are both concerned with barriers, land, longing and, ultimately, belonging. It is an The series consists of “location observations” over an exextension of themes I have been exploring for the past tended period of time and mild interventions with the landfew years. During the process leading to these images, it scape. The images represent interactions between myself, became increasingly clear to me how barriers, land, long- the weathering process and the changing landscapes that ing, and “identity” inform, shape and define each other. result from development. Choosing locations much in the same way a film director does, I move between abstraction The term “identity” is highly contested and can be taken and the specific circumstances found in particular places. to mean many things depending on the context. Nevertheless, there has been widespread agreement that significant The roundabout is a means of imposing order on the aspects of identity are related to a particular place; hence, landscape and an element that controls movement. In the national identity results from connections to an individual’s images that form the “E Series”, the roundabout becomes country of origin. As I attempt to come to terms with the a site for examining the relation between the figure and issues related to my personal experience as a Palestinian- defined networks that order and control. Kuwaiti that has never lived within the borders of Palestine, it has become apparent that this current body of work Whereas the barriers that were the focus of earlier work seeks to transcend the obvious reference to the unethi- form identifiable boundaries that can either include or cal “defence barrier” being constructed in Palestine. The exclude, the roundabout is a space defined by movement. “walls” and “mounds” that appear throughout the images The “E series” considers the location of the individual also speak of my own individual struggles irrespective of within larger systems of order that may affect our ability the conventional notions of national identity. to move freely.

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ART & DESIGN

&CAIRO

by DANAH ABDULLA

M

akram Khalil started a family business specialising in furniture manufacturing. A decade later, brothers Cherif and Ramy Makram, both passionate about design, decided to take the family business into a more design-oriented direction and created the brand &CAIRO, furniture design inspired by the city and lifestyle of Cairo. Inspired by vintage and retro pieces unique to Cairo’s character, the brothers set out to capture the city’s by using materials that emphasise craftsmanship in what is dubbed “Makramish Style”. DA: Why is Cairo the influence for &CAIRO’s work? How do you feel the items you create capture the city’s essence and how do you extract elements for your design work? Cherif Makram: The first collection was about capturing what Cairo meant to people from different backgrounds. The concept was to allow each designer to tell his story with Cairo; the designs took the form of abstract representations of their impression of the city.

Karim Mekhtigian

Looking at the collection, you can notice that the inspirations ranged from tangible to intangible depending on their experiences. If we take the Utchat Stool by Rami Makram, it is apparent that my brother was inspired from the Ancient Egyptian symbol of “Eye of Horus”, which is a symbol for the ability to spiritually perceive what is illuminated, as well as that which is hidden. On the other hand, the Prop Console by Viable London originated from the chaotic construction sites showing sleek buildings covered with intricately detailed steel scaffoldings.

Cherif Makram

The L Lounge Seat by Karim Mekhtigian is a good representation of the multiple sides of the city, as it mixes and matches different styles into what becomes a coherent whole. As for the K Table, it was for me a representation of the traditional coffee-shop table, which is a staple design item from Downtown Cairo.

(...) we don’t have specialised institutions when it comes to design and this is a catastrophe. DA: Why reflect Cairo exclusively as opposed to a more cosmopolitan approach?

Rami Makram

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Rami Makram: If anyone ever visits Cairo, they will know how overwhelming it can be. There are so many ways to experience the city; it’s not only about the physical journey but also about its very strong emotional and spiritual aspect. Therefore, we attempted to go into the heart of the Cairene experience and dig inside ourselves to stay true to the authenticity of our little story.


DA: What is the significance behind the name &CAIRO? Cherif Makram: Well for us it means, “Us and Cairo”, “Us and the city we grew up in” and “Us and the city we live in” but it’s also about other people’s experience with the city. In our first collection, we featured different international designers and they all, in one way or another, expressed their experience with Cairo in their designs. If you think about it, &CAIRO is more intriguing, it makes you wonder what’s behind the name and what’s the story. We could’ve chosen a more self-explanatory name like “Us & Cairo” or “We & Cairo” but we didn’t want to limit ourselves to this one side of the city. Rami Makram: Cairo has so many layers that could be unravelled and it would be too bad if we only limited ourselves to the only side that we [the Makram Family] know. Honestly, working on this brand allowed us to explore and experience new things in the city we’ve been living in for more than 20 years. That being said, &CAIRO is also a dedication to the city and all its hidden treasures, whether tangible or intangible. DA: What do you see as the history and future of furniture design in the Arab region? Karim Mekhtigian: The history of the region when it comes to design has been really low-key. The potential of the Arab region has not been exploited to its best, there’s so much raw talent and hidden resources that we have to learn to manage better. For a very long time, we have believed that we were not up to par with international standards. However, I think we’re realising that sometimes design standards might be different from a European to Occidental and Oriental industry. There’s also a realisation that these standards are not specifically related to quality but to design characteristics that may vary from one region to another. For example, European countries are leaning towards industrial designs while maybe Arab countries would prefer a more emotional approach towards design. In that case, the characteristics change from high-tech to human-tech.

Karim Mekhtigian: The creative industry in our region doesn’t really have a well-established academic system, we don’t have specialised institutions when it comes to design and this is a catastrophe. If we look at current design professionals, we will notice that most of them studied abroad. I really believe that there should be other solutions; I think we should have our own system and model for design education. DA: Tell us about the Egyptian Designers Forum and why an Egyptian design community is necessary. Karim Mekhtigian: The Egyptian Designers Forum (EDF) is a non-profit organisation created by a group of leading designers to build a strong relationship between designers and the local furniture industry as well as promote the Egyptian design industry. During the course of the past 6-7 years, we notice how the industry has started to evolve through the introduction of different initiatives that focus on developing local skills and aim to brand Egypt internationally. DA: How would you approach encouraging interest in design in the city? What is important about it for you? Karim Mekhtigian: I think people want designers to work on shaping and materialising their needs according to their expectations. For example, at the moment, people in Egypt need dignity, freedom and democracy, so I believe that it’s our role as designers to materialise this. If we fail to achieve this, then our job is not important anymore. Press Office - Ghada Ibrahim: press@andcairo.com www.andcairo.com

ZigZag Bookcase design Viable London, photo Miral Ramzy

DA: When working with other designers, how do you ensure coherence in your concept and brand? Cherif Makram: Well, we contributed to the creative mix with our own designs and ideas but generally we have a detailed design brief, which we send to all the designers we work with. This brief has been created by our Art Director Karim Mekhtigian, to make sure that all our collaborators have the same understanding of the brand as we do. The document goes into details about all the different aspects of the brand from its concept to corporate identity to an elaborate explanation of the company’s visual language and inspirations. There’s also a complete section for the collection guideline, which shows references of the different elements that we want to develop and the typology of the products we’re looking to create. Rami Makram: We believe that we need to work on consolidating our image and identity in order to properly communicate the story of our brand. Therefore, we are trying to make sure that all the different aspects of the brand are in sync, starting from the corporate identity and visual language to the collection and communication style. I guess we believe that we need to unify our overall design language and identity to have a strong brand image. Hopefully, we are on the right track! DA: How do you feel about the institutions that teach design in the Arab region? Do they prepare the students with proper training? Do you feel that the programmes are encouraging to students or must they seek education abroad?

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Flow Table design Leonard Bila photo Miral Ramzy

K-Table design Cherif Makram photo Miral Ramzy

Tea Tables design Cherif Makram photo Miral Ramzy

L Lounge design Karim Mekhtigian photo Miral Ramzy

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Utchat stool design Rami Makram photo Ahmed Zaatar

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ART & DESIGN

ALLAH. SOORIYYAH. 7URRIYEH…WU BASS! text and design work NERMIN MOUFTI photography SHAHD KSEIBI

As a politically involved graphic designer living in the Great White North, I am driven by the positions – and oppositions – that designers occupy to elicit active resistance against overt ways of socio-political control. In light of the ongoing events and political unrest in my homeland, Syria, I am constantly investigating the notion of steadfastness against repressive regimes and its manifestation in visual culture. If words, poetry, and music are translation tools that are being used as a form of verbal resistance, what visual language can support and live alongside those means towards sustaining a resilient voice against oppression? In an attempt to start to answer those ambitious questions, I have created this visual essay reflecting on a day’s worth of my personal observations, interpretations and responses to the current events in Homs, my hometown.


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ART & DESIGN

PERSONAL: RANIA MATTAR text and photos DANAH ABDULLA

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sit in a conference room in the offices of the Mosaic Rooms in London, waiting to speak to award-winning photographer Rania Mattar. The gallery is being prepared for Rania’s solo show A Girl and Her Room, a series of intimate portraits of teenage girls in their bedrooms. She walks in with a big smile on her face and looks at my recorder and camera, she’s curious to know what I need them for. “Don’t worry, this is very informal,” I reassure her. It’s strange how camera shy photographers are. I wasn’t expecting to meet her, I had made my way to the Mosaic Rooms to chat with Palestinian British film director and producer Omar Al-Qattan, and was planning on attending the opening of Rania’s show a few days later. Instead, I not only had the chance to check out the exhibit before the opening, I sat down with Rania and had a conversation about, well, whatever came to mind. It was informal after all! DA: What’s your background, and how did you get to where you are now? RM: I was an architect and I trained and worked as an architect for many years. I also have four kids. By the time I was pregnant with my fourth, I needed a break from architecture, so I decided to take photo classes, doing mostly fine art photography. In 2002, I went with a cousin of mine to Shatila in Lebanon, and I started taking photographs there. I was shocked that I lived not too far from there and I had never been or seen the conditions of the place. Eventually, I decided I wanted to visit on a more regular basis and take more intimate photographs. This gradually became what I was doing full time. The work was very well received and it kind of took over at some point. I was working on this photography seriously for about four or five years and this came to be a book

now called Ordinary Lives whose subject was a combination of the refugee camps. Soon after, I became interested in the veil, and how it was worn and perceived. In a way, it was triggered by living in the West and being around all sorts of negative ideas. I wanted to show that, even if you’re in a refugee camp, even if you’re veiled, whatever the stereotype they may have, people are simply people at the end. So I found that I wasn’t really focusing on showing the misery in the camp, but about showing the quiet beauty that I saw there, the dignity and the humanity. Then, in 2006 I was stuck in the [Lebanon] war, and left with my kids, only to come back to photograph its aftermath. So throughout my work, at first without realising it, I was learning to own it and find my voice, focusing on women and children. I realised this after someone asked, “why don’t you have any men?” I was surprised at my unconscious choice, and then said to myself, “You know something Rania? You’re not trying to make a photo journalistic story, you’re making personal stories, and you need to follow your intuition, instinct, and inclinations.” That is when I consciously came to photograph mainly women and children.Once this work was published in a book, I felt that I was ready to move onto something else. I have a teenage daughter—she was about fifteen at that time—and I was fascinated by how she was completely transforming from being a tomboy to such a lady. I decided I wanted to do a project on that at first. Once, when her friends came over, I noticed that they had completely changed and thought to myself, “I don’t know this person.” And so I wanted to photograph each girl by herself, and asked the girls where they want to be photographed. After I photographed a couple of them in their bedrooms I quickly realised that this was to be my new project. K A L I M AT

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By then I knew that I wanted to photograph girls in their rooms, but eventually it grew so fast, you know, girls with all their friends and their friends...It got to the point where I was stopping girls on the streets if I found them interesting. Although this project started in the United States, it went full circle because I decided to also include the Middle East. I have sometimes been asked, “Why are you not photographing girls around the world?”. The answer is simply personal: these are the two cultures I experienced while growing up, this is what my daughter knows and this is how the thing came to be, but its not meant to compare the girls in any way. DA: How many girls did you photograph? RM: Close to 300 by now. DA: And are you still continuing the project? RM: You know, I just signed a book contract for this project, and I feel like now I’m starting something different. This is how the other project ended, with the release of a book and me starting something on the side. I feel like I’m at that point now. But again, I did photograph a girl a couple of weeks ago. Let’s just say that its towards the end of the project. DA: Besides the book, where else are you exhibiting A Girl and Her Room? RM: Right now I actually have four very large pieces exhibited in Lebanon at the Beirut Exhibition Centre at “Rebirth,” which includes 49 other artists. It’s a beautiful exhibit, sort of like an installation because of the size, so I was honoured to have my work featured there. I’ve also exhibited in Houston, and in Boston, but now I’m going to focus on the book, and exhibit it more afterwards. DA: You mentioned the book Ordinary Lives. Is that just your photographs, or is that a compilation? RM: It’s actually a book of photos, but it includes beautiful text by Anthony Shadid, who is the New York Times correspondent on the Middle East. DA: What has been the reception to your work so far? RM: Actually it has been received extremely well, and I’m kind of overwhelmed to be honest with you. It’s very exciting too, when you finish a project and you’re about to start something else. It can be hard to know where one is going. And to have done a project that did well and another one that’s doing even better is extremely rewarding for me. DA: How excited were your daughters friends about the project? Have they seen it? RM: Actually, in the finished work, my daughter and almost none of her friends are in the photographs. I found that I actually enjoyed photographing girls I did not know at all. That was the only relationship between them and I, that model-to-photographer relationship where I was discovering them completely without any expectations from either end. And because I don’t know them they were not self-conscious, it freed me up quite a bit, and it freed the girl up too. DA: So now that you’ve moved on from architecture, do you find the elements of that background useful? RM: Very much—if you look at the images you will see that I think it’s inherent in the way I see things, and I pay a lot of attention to composition. I don’t think its something that limits me, but it makes me careful. I tend to look at the full frame, and I’m very aware of 106

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texture and composition. I also think you get to a point where you go in with all you have. Part of it being a woman—and that’s why I’m photographing girls—another part of it is having a teenage daughter and my professional background. It all comes together to form something. DA: What kind of future projects do you want to do? RM: I think my work has moved forward. My earlier work in Lebanon was more black-and-white documentary in style. Now I think it’s slowly moving into something a little slower in pace where we see more portraiture. I’m starting something inspired by my younger daughter who is thirteen, so the subject is still younger girls, but its very different from my current work. The focus is the girl herself. I’m finding that age very fascinating for very different reasons, with the whole body language and the awkwardness. I’m also shooting medium format film, which is different. I find that when I’m starting new projects, I like to also experiment with a new medium. It keeps me invigorated, and it prevents me from repeating myself. So my black and white work was in black and white film, my current work was shot in digital, and now I’m shooting medium and large format colour. This type of change keeps me motivated. DA: It’s great that you use different formats, because a lot of photographers are all digital. RM: You know what? I found that digital worked really well for this project. I had originally started it in film but I dropped that. Digital just worked, mostly because I had a lot of control with the light. It’s all indoor and natural, and was surprised at the quality I was able to get for the size of the images. Now I want to slow down the process a little bit, so I decided to go back to film. And not just 35mm, but going to medium format and large format. Either way, I’m right at the beginning of this project, I shouldn’t say too much about it! DA: What kind of camera do you use? RM: I was originally using a Leica for my black and white, and for my digital work I used the Nikon D700, which I found worked extremely well with very high ISO settings. I even have a 4x5 camera that I’m experimenting with, you know the old style where you go under the cloth? DA: That’s great, I would love to have a room full of cameras! RM: Yeah, but you know something? I don’t view them as toys. I don’t carry much equipment at all when I go work, I don’t carry any extra lighting, I don’t carry many lenses, I don’t even work with a zoom lens (I work with a wide lens). It’s people’s faces that are important. I carry as little equipment as I can. Each camera has the right project for it. When I was working in Lebanon during the aftermath and in the refugee camps, the Leica was perfect for that. It’s very quiet, small, unobtrusive, and excellent quality. It just worked for that. To work inside with the girls in their rooms, that definitely was not the right camera for that. Now, to do more portraiture of the other girls, I thought that the larger format would work better. DA: Do you have any projects planned for the rest of the Arab world, or when you go back, you just focus on Lebanon? RM: I tend to focus on one thing at a time, and I try and give it my all, especially now, editing material for the book and this new project I’m starting. After all, I do have four kids! I feel that when I start a project I don’t like to go with a very set idea. It needs to evolve


in its own way. I was taking photos in the camps and there was a little girl who was nine years old who spent about an hour fixing the veil—I realised, “This is fascinating.” It showed me a whole different side of wearing the veil, one that I’d never thought of. I decided then to photograph the different meanings of the hijab (veil). And then when I started to work on the project with the girls, I didn’t know I was going to work in the bedrooms, things just moved that way. Even with that project, I didn’t mean to include Lebanon at first. Each project needs to evolve as you go. Only when I look at the earlier and later images together that I really understand what I’m doing. DA: You mentioned discovering, so when you approached someone with the camera in their own space, you said you were discovering something. What did you discover? Was it something in general, or each individual subject? RM: It’s each individual, but I wouldn’t approach that with the camera at first. I would be driving, and suddenly I would realise, “I need to photograph this person.” I would stop them and somehow explain that I’m a mother myself and that I would email them something about the project, send them some information, give them my website so they could look at it, then set an appointment. I would tell the girl about how and what they want to do, what they want to wear. It was enjoyable, going to their houses, not quite knowing them. Photographing my daughter, for example—I know her too well, and she knows me too well. It was difficult to discover new things, unlike when it’s someone new, someone whose room I could see the room for the first time let it grow on me. DA: Did you target a certain age? RM: I did. If they were under 18 I have to email and get a release from the parents, if they were over 18 I just dealt with the girls themselves. If I found that the parents were asking me too many questions, then I would move on and only work unless they were fully comfortable. I wanted to be able to exhibit them, to publish them, put them on my website, nothing that would be misrepresenting the girls, or showing them in any negative way at all. With this work, I spent a long time with each girl, and it really becomes a sort of collaboration, and eventually the girls really get a sense that I’m not judging them at all. I mean I’m just really there with them. So, if they have tattoos, or whatever issues they have, that’s not my issue. DA: How old was the youngest girl you photographed? And how old was the oldest girl you photographed? RM: I think the oldest was 22 and the youngest was 12, but I slowly narrowed it down to 16 through 19. Interestingly, I found that a lot of these twenty year olds lived completely like teenagers. Now we say 40 is the new 30, and with teens I found that it’s kind of the same thing. Teenage years are expanding. DA: Living at home extra long! Was there a memorable moment in the project that stands out to you? RM: Every single one was intense in its own way. Some were more exciting because the girls were just so fun to photograph and some I had to work hard to discover what was behind the person, and that would only happen after the first half hour when I felt, “Why am I here?” And it took a lot more effort for me to get some good images, and with others I didn’t expect to get any good images but, as I’m starting to edit them for the book, I’m starting to realise that they are all so interesting in their own, different ways. www.raniamattar.com K A L I M AT

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ART & DESIGN

MUSLIM: THREE TALES OF HOPE

text and photos LAMA KHAYYAT

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hree years ago I relocated to San Francisco to pursue graduate school. Full of excitement to begin new chapter in my life, I was still unaware of what it was like to be a Muslim in a Western country.Throughout my stay, I was confronted by many people trying to instil their negative stereotypes on me because I was a Muslim. I would defend my religion and beliefs every time, but I knew the problem was much deeper. Since Muslims comprise a minority in America, most are unfamiliar with their beliefs and culture; which creates uneasiness towards its people as a whole, especially when bias television news networks attempt to mislead and pollute the reputation of the religion and its people by using examples of Muslim extremists who are considered the black sheep in the Muslim world. Misinformed people believe that Islam is a religion that encourages hostility and aggression against non–Muslims and non–believers, not realising that Islam in fact encourages peace between nations and different cultures. As a Muslim and a human being, I felt obliged to do something about this issue, and decided to dedicate my MFA thesis project to my religion. “Muslima, Three Tales of Hope” is the name of my thesis project. It combines the craft of doll making, illustrative storytelling, and online support to provide information and insights that will counter the negative stereotypes associated with women in Islamic cultures. My target audience is 5-7 year old Western girls; that bracket was concluded after an extensive study on the methods of finding the most appropriate age to introduce the concept of tolerance and acceptance of diversities. It is an age when children are curious about outer appearances, yet early enough to start building upon their personality. I was deeply affected and inspired by African American psychology professors Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s experiments using dolls to study children’s attitudes about race in the 1930s. The study was conducted where African American children were asked to choose between a black doll and a white doll, in most instances, the white doll was chosen as the ‘nice’ doll, while the black doll was pointed out as the ‘bad’ doll. When they were asked to point out the doll that looked like them, they were aware that they were the black doll. I also ventured out to read professor Kenneth Bancroft Clark’s book Prejudice and your Child, which analysed racial prejudice and its impact on both black and white children, and also provides a programme for action to end segregation in the 1940s, which was a fresh and necessary publication at the time it was written. I could feel a connection between what African-Americans in the 1900s went through, and what Muslims post 9/11 are still going through respectively. My research gave me insight into the emotional impact the experiment had on children, and was an eye opener, especially knowing that this book was written nearly five decades ago. THE CHARACTERS I chose to create three nuances of Muslim women for Muslima; Islam is a diverse religion and I wanted to reflect that in the characters included in this project. I was fortunate enough to work with a talented artist based in Italy, whom I had found through Etsy, a website I like to camp-out at in my free time. Valentina Capellino is a graduate art student whose passion and dedication I admire. Having to work via long distance was a bit tricky for both of us but we managed to work around it. The sketching process was the part I most enjoyed; it was the first step we took into making this project come to life. The first character was based on myself, a twentysomething female, born and raised in the Middle East, but currently

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a US resident. The second character was an African-American Muslim convert, whom I had met through a social networking site. She wears the headscarf and belongs to a mixed family of Christians and Jews, and the third, a hypothetical six-yearold American girl of Chinese descent. Each character’s outfit had an Islamic pattern, which was inspired from Islamic art across the Middle East and Europe; from Persian carpet motifs to Alhambra mosque tiles. THE STORIES As a child, my mom would always read Dr. Seuss books to me,. I was in love and in awe of the rhythmic quality his publications had, I would even secretly sing them over and over in my head. The stories’ subjects were based on personal incidents that have occurred while living in the US and I also wanted them to have the same rhythmic quality that reminded me of the warm sweet feeling of my childhood. Each book has its own character, each telling a compelling tale. One book is about foods allowed in Islam; where the character leads the reader into a food-filled tale talking about all the foods she loves to eat and share with her friends and the poor. The second book talks about ethnic diversity in Islam; showing the different races Muslims belong to. And the third book talks about religious tolerance; where the main character in the story introduces her diverse group of friends to the reader and talks about their commonalities. THE DOLLS After creating the three characters for the stories, I also wanted to create a doll of each. I believe that would help enforce the character into the child’s memory, and since each doll has its own book, it is inevitable for the child to learn the story and play with the doll. THE WEBSITE The idea of the website is to act as a portal and connect the Muslim culture with the Western one, to help them understand one another. This helps build the relationship needed to familiarise them and hopefully build a bond of trust and tolerance. Looking back at this experience, I faced many of obstacles along the way and was even advised by many to pick another topic for my MFA thesis; claiming that I would not be able to pass my final presentation, while others sincerely encouraged me to go ahead with this idea and be fearless about it. I do believe that the main reason Muslims are misunderstood right now is because we always seem to ignore these issues of conflict and walk around them instead of confronting them. I also believe that if each one of us tried to put a little effort into any opportunity or situation where they are given the chance to clear out misconceptions, we (Muslims) would have a better reputation in the Western world. My future plans for these books are to have them published, and hopefully contribute to making a difference into changing the negative image many people have about Muslims. www.MuslimTale.com www.lamakhayyat.com www.lama-khayyat.blogspot.com


dolls Geneviève Marquis, illustrations Valentina Capellino, typeface Laura Varsky

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ART& DESIGN

LEARNING FROM ALQUDS: MESSAGE MAPS by MAHDI SABBAGH

Al-Quds

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hile Yerushalaim celebrated its new light rail transportation system, Al-Quds mourned the ongoing erasure of its identity. I developed the following project while I was a student at Yale, in a seminar titled “Envisioning Cities�, taught by Joyce Hsiang. The goal was to represent a city, its meaning, significance and reality through maps and drawings. Naturally, I chose my hometown, Jerusalem. The idea was to extrapolate on its geographical topography and create a playful visual critique of the political realities that often define the city of Jerusalem. Each drawing brings a new piece of information, a new lens from which to study facts on the ground. By isolating the different

components that make a city (transportation, habitat, legalities/illegalities) one finds interconnected layers of disparities and injustice. Similar facts became evident when the scale is reduced from the city to the neighbourhood. Modern planning typologies are appropriated to divide communities, limit movement and serve what is essentially an apartheid system.

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Walls (the ethno-religious and hological divide between “Jewish” “Arab/Palestinian” communities)

Borders (‘48-’67 border between East and West Jerusalem

Infiltrations (2011 light rail system “masterplan”)

Noodles (the main road system as it is depicted on most Israeli maps. The “empty” areas are inhabited by Palestinians)

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TOP (LEFT): Barriers (the separation barrier, takes the shape of a concrete wall in East Jerusalem, turns three main areas into enclaves, separated from each other and from the Jerusalem city centre

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e). TOP (RIGHT): Isolation (main roads turned into “dead-end” streets because of the wall)“dead-end” streets because of the wall) FAR (RIGHT): Bir Nabala neighbourhood

Shuafat Refugee Camp and Abu Dis

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PEOPLE ARE STRANGE: AN INTERVIEW WITH SANDRA GHOSN

ART& DESIGN

by DANAH ABDULLA

photo Laura Cortès

DA: Can you name some inspiring Arab illustrators? SG: I like the work of Lama Ziade, Zena El Khalil and Jean-Marc Nahas. DA: What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced as an Arab illustrator?

An illustrator and a graphic designer, Lebanese artist Sandra Ghosn’s journey to the world of art and design wasn’t simple. She dipped her hands into graphic design and psychology before focusing her studies to illustration at Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA) where she obtained her Masters in Illustration. While studying at ALBA, she took part in an exchange programme that allowed her to develop drawing and painting techniques at l’École National Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (EnsAD) in. After completing her Masters, Sandra studied French Literature at la Sorbonne in Paris but decided to pursue a job at Al Jazeera Children’s channel as an illustrator and a children’s craft show host. She currently works as a freelance artist and illustrator with clients in both Paris and Beirut and divides her time between both cities. We had the opportunity to discuss being an Arab illustrator, her background and experience as she prepares for an exhibit with various artists at the end of September. DA: When did you find out you wanted to be an illustrator? SG: I have two major passions: food and art. I applied to Nutrition first but wasn’t accepted. Art was my second choice and I had only two weeks before the application deadline. There were some free places left in graphic design, I took one and the journey started there (laughs). DA: What was your motivation and influence to pursue it? SG: I discovered a passion for drawing human models and many artists were inspiring to me like Charles Burns, Alex Baladi and many others, but I have a bad memory when it comes to names.

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SG: I would mention some of the givens that are widely encountered by Arabs. I believe that I faced two problems that made my job harder. The first is the lack of attention paid to arts education and academic knowledge in the Arab region, because unfortunately, the vast majority of Arabs don’t put such issues on the top of their priority list. Illustrators are very poorly paid and so most of them are obliged to get another job or work in advertising. The second problem I faced is the amount of exposure in the Arab region. The problem here also relates to the modern Arab culture that relegates the importance of art so that artists don’t find any large markets that respect and encourage them in their homelands. DA: What does your workstation look like? What are your main tools (software, hardware) SG: I use acrylic, gouache, ink, pencil, and I sometimes make collages. I also use software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign depending on the project I’m working on. DA: Does Lebanese society and culture influence your work? SG: I was born and raised in Lebanon and I came to Paris to pursue my studies in 2007. I later had an illustration job proposition for the Al Jazeera children’s channel in Doha where I was then asked to present a craft show for kids, an experience that lasted one year during which I had to divide my schedule between my literature studies in Paris and the shootings in Doha. My work is shaped by all these experiences, but of course since I spent the longest part of my life in Lebanon and it surely has the biggest place in my cultural understanding where I’m able to see the world from the lens of the less fortunate populations and at the same time, understand the positions of different cultures that are largely represented in the diverse Lebanese population…dimensions that I might not have been able to acquire that easily if I had been born and raised elsewhere. DA: How does your Arab identity play into your work (if it does at all)? SG: I’m naturally drawn to reflect on female representation in the Lebanese media, mostly on television. What I find most interesting is the fact that each channel represents its political party through the looks and attitudes of its female anchors. It seems to me the attitude and looks of the female anchor should reflect the community’s values and way of life. This applies not only to entertainment show anchors but also to


political journalists hosting debate shows too. Women are a means of representation, a tool rather than individuals with ideas and that’s unfortunately how the media insist on showing them in Lebanon. DA: What are some of your favourite projects that you’ve worked on? SG: My favourite projects include People are Strange, a 100 cm2 black and white drawing I recently exhibited at La Générale en manufacture in France. It’s about lost youth between on-going wars and bachelor parties. This drawing was inspired by the CD and EP covers I designed for the French/Lebanese Band “Backbone Party” I’m also happy with the recent drawings I made for La Furie des glandeurs magazine for its second issue. DA: Favourite city in the world? SG: Paris, Prague and Beirut, equally. DA: Favourite city in the Arab world? SG: Beirut. DA: Where can people purchase and view your work? SG: Some of my work is available for purchase on illustrationstore.com. The rest can be viewed on my blog soisgrandmonpetit.blogspot.com and on Flickr flickr.com/photos/sandraghosn. People can contact me by email on sandra.g.illustration@gmail. com. I am also a freelance illustrator and graphic designer and I use the same email address for collaboration proposals.

Sandra’s workstation


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ly r e t r te a u a q d r o u t o p r u o r f y u a t o ai e, st o t w st leas ng up u j e igni ’t r n o e D azin s r y b g e t s a t w m e l e s n w h e t wi thly n niqués u n o m m com and

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ART & DESIGN

POP CULTURALISTS: JO BEDU text NOORA SHARRAB photos BASHAR ALAEDDIN

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own the curvy road in the cosy neighbourhood of Webdeh, one can’t help but notice the flashy yellow exterior designs of Jo Bedu. Unlike your commercialised western style fashion that hugs the bodies of many youth in the Arab world, Jo Bedu introduces cool modern designs intertwined with a dense Arab culture. Kalimat visited the Jo Bedu team at their organic-style office to learn more about them. NS: Why “Jo Bedu”? Michael Meesh (MM): Jo Bedu was put together in an ad hoc manner. We were really inspired by the way Bedouins live their life, build communities in the desert and survive the harsh environment. The Bedu is a very iconic part of the name. In the beginning, we wanted it to be global, as in the “go the

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Bedouin way”. But through practices, we learned the Arab word for “go” was Jo (very ‘khaleeji’ or Gulfie Dialect). So, we decided to call it, “Jo Bedu”, as in “the Bedu’s came”. NS: What is your message? Tamer al Masri (TA): We wanted to do something that was cool, Arabic, artistic, silly and fun. We thought the best way to spread the word was for people to wear it, so we made t-shirts. Our message is Arabic Pop Culture which is both pan-Arab and local. We want people to learn more about their local culture and to celebrate their commonalities. NS: When and how did Jo Bedu start? MM: Jo Bedu started in early 2007. We were conceptualising and experimenting with the ideas. In the beginning, it was a lot of crash and burn, because it was hard


finding the right suppliers, and we didn’t know anything about the t-shirt printing business. A lot of our graphic skills were still in the infancy stage. Midway throughout the year, we had to start because we had a booth at Souk Jara (a market style on Fridays in the city) and we didn’t have products. So, we called our friends to help out, and one of our friends said she was a fortune reader. We ended up going to Souk Jara for 12 hours and pretended to be fortune readers until our products were ready. Two months after Souk Jara started and we received our products, we ended up opening the boxes and taking the stuff that we wanted, we forgot about the business for a second. “I want this T-shirt!’ ‘I want this for by brother… this for my mom!” and then we realised, ‘WAIT, we gotta count this stuff, this is serious!’ Once we came out with our products, a lot of people were surprised. Seeing their reaction was by far the most rewarding thing we got out of the shirts. NS: What were the reactions you received? MM: Some people would crack up laughing and spend an hour at our booth, although we only had six designs! NS: How do you see the MTV Pop lifestyle intertwined with your products? How is the integration of the Diaspora linked with your product? TA: It is like the MTV generation, but not the modern-day MTV; rather, it aims to be like MTV, which really spoke to the people because it was for the people. We set out to achieve that and to celebrate not only what we do but also to support artists, designers and creative people wanting to contribute to the message. NS: Do you remember your first designs? TA: Yes, Of Course! They were: “Got Jameed?”, Jo Bedu Camel Crossing Sign, “Save the Deadsea”, “Pimp Basha”, “Khisneh wala Na3ma” (Knafa T-Shirt), “I survived Mansaf”. Then closer to Ramadan we launched, “Khif 3al Gater ya Gatayef”.

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NS: Later on, what kind of messages stay out of politics, especially in this did you release? Did you have a hard part of the world at least. time with the new messages? NS: Did you ever have people tell you TA: We have such a rich culture so not to use certain messages in your it was really easy actually. The first designs? year we had 12 designs. The following year we added 12 more designs, MM: We once tried to ask permission like “Ma3eesh 2a7lig”, “Ma3eesh for a specific design. ashashwer”, “Shagfeh”, “Wanna get Freekeh?” and from there it was a TA: We asked legal authorities if we snowball effect. could sell them. MM: Sometimes the messages we want to bring out are difficult because they are sensitive, like politics for example. We had a few designs that were political but we didn’t want it to be perceived in the wrong angle, especially in the Arab world, you have multiple sides to every story. So, we tried finding the thin-line that unites people rather than divides them. That was an idea that we struggled with so many times, then we went for something uniting, like ‘Piece Middle East Back Together’, which didn’t focus on a specific country or a specific political issue. Politics always interested us, but we never knew how to come about it without having a biased opinion.

MM: This is when the situation in Gaza was going on, which is still going on. NS: Operation Cast Lead? MM: Yes. We wanted to release a T-Shirt with Carlos Latuff, posters known for the carriage and the plane dropping a bomb on the carriage. We went to ask permission, and at the time, there were a lot of people protesting in Jordan. Unfortunately, they told us not to use the image, but by that time we had already printed the T-shirts, so, we decided nevertheless to just sell the t-shirts at our store and to see what happens. And well…we’re still here!

NS: Do you ever see your products going beyond Jordan and into other areas TA: Politics is always inviting, it’s the of the Arab world? Particularly because easiest thing to do. It’s pretty hard you have a lot of Jordan based slogans, to stay creative with our designs and but do you see yourself spreading to

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Egypt, Lebanon, etc?

the beauty of it, because Jo Bedu will get so many new flavours, whether TA: Yes, we would very much follow we go to the Maghreb (Morocco) and the same model of having 40% local work with Moroccan designers, we’ll culture and 60% pan-Arab culture. take what they have to offer. So, everywhere we’d go, we’d look for the elements from that culture NS: What about the Diaspora? that we could adopt. TA: We sell it online, and they love it. NS: Do you sell your products abroad? They’re enjoying it, because it’s like a little piece of home for them. EspeMM: Yes we do, not through another cially, “ma3eesh a7lig”, because it’s retailer, but through out website. written in English and when people Eventually, we are interested in fran- wear it, you have others trying to chising the concept. We don’t believe read the shirt and understand it. It’s in finding a third-party retailer to a great conversation starter and it sell our products. There’s more to gives people a chance to talk about the brand than just selling T-Shirts, their culture. We’re proud to share the creative part, the creative in- our culture, especially when we are volvement, and the community build- overwhelmed with western content. ing part, which you can’t simply do through a retailer; you have to do it MM: Our first website sale was acthrough a personal interaction. tually in Australia and it was clear that he didn’t come from an Arab NS: Will your content change, par- background. After contacting him, we ticularly because there are differ- found out that he was actually learnent dialects that you’ll come across ing Arabic, which was really nice. throughout the Arab region? www.jo-bedu.com TA: They (the community in that country) will definitely get involved. If we go to Saudi Arabia, we’ll be working with Saudi designers, we can’t go and dictate what their culture is. We’ll need to work through them and their designers. That will be


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DAS COLLECTION: LONDON FASHION WEEK

ART & DESIGN

text by SARAH ELENANY photos ROOFUL ALI (aliway.co.uk)

When I heard that Kalimat had acquired some front row seat tickets to review the new SS12 collection by DAS, a luxury abaya label from Dubai at London Fashion Week (LFW) I was so excited. I thought, “This is it. London is finally going to see those epic golden moustaches and beaks gracing its catwalks”. Sadly, those crazy face-masks didn’t make an appearance, but Emirati tradition manifested itself in another delightful form. The brains of DAS is made up of two sisters, Reem and Hind Beljafla who started their label in 2008 by transforming the traditional black Emirati abayas into something rather more exciting. Now selling in their flagship store in Dubai and in London’s esteemed supermarket for the Queen, Harrods, they were now presenting a new, more diversified collection to the London market, as I was about to find out. We did originally have an interview lined up with the two designers but the pre-show stress meant they had to decline. I wouldn’t have taken it personally if they hadn’t done an interview for Fashion TV moments later and perhaps it was with the taste of bitter rejection in my mouth that I looked at their collection hanging on the rail with some scepticism. However, it all made sense once I saw them being worn on the catwalk. If there’s one thing DAS know how to do, it’s how to drape silk chiffon. It billows out at the top like a blown out shirt on the washing line, then comes in at the waist before exploding out into a waterfall of soft pleats. The proportions are perfect. As the models glided down the runway the motion of the silk was like watching water ripple in slow motion. They took their inspiration for this collection from Ancient Rome and Greece –and you could tell. The raised golden embroidery resembled armour of a Roman Emperor whilst one white outfit, a combination of layered chiffon and satin crepe, made you think of his Roman Empress, weeping on the palace balcony as she anxiously awaits her man to return from battle. However, the uncultured streetwear designer in me had a slight issue with the juxtaposition of the rustic braided rope-belts against the elegantly flowing silk. But I soon felt more comfortable when the golden embroidery took the place as the belt on some of the pieces that followed. Being familiar with their previous abaya-only work I was surprised to see shorter lengths in this collection, including above-the-knee skirts and exposed whole arms. Having said that, my favourite outfit of the collection was in fact, armless and legless –again that golden armour embroidery used on its own to define the look of an angular a-line dress. With the new shorter lengths, does the new collection mark the beginning of the departure from its predominantly Gulf market, or is it just a sign of the way girls like to party at girl-only parties in the Emirates? Maybe if we had had that interview we could’ve found out, sheesh! www.dascollection.com

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ART & CULTURE DESIGN

FINDING NAJI

text and photos RAWAN RISHEQ

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ucked into a corner of an old obscure street in Amman, Bait Shocair is a diamond in the rough. I catch a glimpse of a grey haired man in a suit on the balcony, and he spots me back, for as soon as I walk up the last stone step he awaited me at the entrance. He introduces himself as 3amo (uncle) Shocair, and it’s obvious he welcomes all visitors personally. He takes me on a tour starting with the front room filled with the ancient furniture his father had brought on camelback from Syria for his mother in the 1920s before their wedding. Rusty silver spoons laid out in a row, and black and white family photos were on display, giving the house a deep historic feel. 3amo Sochair then leads me into the room where the Naji Al-Ali exhibition is being held and I pause to take in the view; the old Andalusia style windows with tinted glass open to let the light breeze in and the sight out into the sun setting over Amman. I slowly wander around examining the intricacies of each and every masterful drawing, in disbelief that I stand so close to the originals. You see, like many Palestinians, I grew up with Naji Al-Ali’s work. My parents have had these two books full of prints of his cartoons from as far back as I can remember. To my surprise, the only work hanging that I recognised was that of the Palestinian belly dancer with the bloody decapitated head of a fellow Palestinian man balanced on her own head while she entertains the Israeli soldier. This dark image was a memorable one from my youth, as it symbolised to me the stripping of the power of the Palestinian man to protect, leading to the objectification of the Palestinian woman, and hence the rape of a whole culture. The other selections were equally morbid, like that of the corpse of a Palestinian baby sent out in a basket resembling the story of Moses. This time, and for the first time in my life, as an adult with a deeper understanding of the political situation and the Arabic language, I was able to catch the satire in the language used. My favourite piece was that of a Palestinian in a detailed 3-D prison drawing, as he writes in a cryptic puzzle on the ground the letters which make up the words “prisoner in my own nation”. With each piece, I continued to peel layers of meaning, pondering the amount of intelligence and talent that goes into every one of these cartoons. His signature character, Handala, the 10-year-old boy with his hands tied behind his back that witnesses the atrocities of Israel, was on each and every one. He has described the child in the past as representing him at the age he was exiled out of Palestine and how he refuses to grow up until he can return home. He also said in an interview once, “this being that I have invented will certainly not cease to exist after me, and perhaps it is no exaggeration to say that I will live on with him after my death”. Naji Al-Ali was killed with a bullet to his face in 1987, coincidently the year I was born and that of the first Intifada (Uprising), but his 40,000 cartoons have emerged and re-emerged in my life as constant reminders of the truth and his courage to be a martyr in the pursuit of it. As I

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contemplated this, sounds of the 3oud filled the room and 3amo Shocair started singing the classics! Tunes by Umm Qulthoum, Abdel Halim, and Abdel Wahab were resonating through the hall and people started to gather around, swaying and singing along. It felt as though we were transported to another place, a scene out of an old Egyptian movie, with culture seeping from the walls, sliding off the artwork and into our souls. I’m not sure how much time passed in that room, but before I knew it, artists, musicians and family members of 3amo Shocair surrounded me. Eventually, people dispersed and I followed a few further into the house, where I found a beautiful courtyard with a fountain and a surrounding terrace with dangling plants. This type of building is rare to come across and speaks of a social time in Arab history where people would gather around in such a beautiful space and tell tales, drink coffee and tea, and share life. I was informed by a striking woman by the name of Marlene Abdallah that this was the first ever girls school in this country. She also invited me to partake in an event called Ayam Bait Shocair, where artists of all kinds were welcome to come over and use the place as a studio and partake in a program where each paints a part of the house, a great opportunity to cultivate a hobby I had put on the shelf for years! Although Naji Al-Ali drew me to this place, it was the warmth of the people, the historic walls, and the talent bursting at the seams that made me come back. Painting alongside Naji Al-Ali’s works was an honour, and the sounds of sweet Nai and Violin smoothly ushered me into my second home.


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KAGE

photography PETER RICHWEISZ (DESERT FISH) models SAMA & HAYA ABU-KHADRA stylists ARWA ABDELHADI & BASMA ABUGHAZALEH

LEFT: BLACK VELVET DRESS; RIGHT: TEE WITH VELVET SLEEVES & BLACK VELVET SKIRT K A L I M AT

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LEFT: WINE DAISY DRESS, RIGHT: WINE WARHOL 1SLVE DRESS 132

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LEFT: LEOPARD-TEE & VELVET SHORTS, RIGHT: FOOTPRINTS DRESS

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LEFT: TEE WITH A FRINGE; RIGHT: FRINGE 2SL

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ART & DESIGN

CIMA AND MY 3ARABEYAT

text and design MIKE V. DERDERIAN

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n ailing Greta Garbo on her deathbed is one of and the internet wasn’t really around. Actually, I confess my earliest memories. It was around 1984, and that I only started using the internet back in 2003 – late I was a child sitting in front of a television set. adopter, I know! But now, knowledge is available to anyone with an internet connection 24/7 and that’s a blessing! A I am trying to remember the first time I watched a movie magazine like Empire Magazine was being sold for 10 black and white film because as a child, I was fed black and Jordanian Dinars; the equivalent of my monthly allowance. I white Hollywood classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I only bought three in a period of three months, without my watched Sophia Lauren, Greta Garbo, Doris Day, Cary Grant, father’s knowledge of course! God I loved smuggling those Stewart Granger, Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Stephen magazines into our house! Another magazine that I loved Boyd, Charlton Heston, James Stewart, James Mason, Rita leafing through was Al Mawed…at least whenever I had Hayworth and Jimmy Durante and many others. the chance to nab one from the coffee table of my barber or from my great uncle’s house! The market, however, was It was different however with Arabic cinema, or still lacking a comprehensive Arab Cinema magazine but Egyptian black and white classics to be more specific, which in 1999, I finally found my holy grail: The Seventh Art, an I like to refer to as our own Golden Era. My first encounter Egyptian publication that began publishing in 1997. The with an Egyptian black and white film is limited to a few Seventh Art was one of the best film magazines I came across vague scenes that I cannot accurately pin point as they are (I am unsure if it is still in print). Luckily, I bought a few merely an amalgamation of numerous scenes from differ- copies before heading up to the University of Damascus, ent films. I remember a scene in which an Arab actress is where I studied English Literature. Reading cinema magatalking about a disturbing memory. She was posing for an zines merged with the hours I spent on my grandmother’s artist, who was trying to get inside her head. Her naked couch during my five years of study, watching Nilesat and shoulders were like that of a magnificent alabaster bust. any other Egyptian channel that had re-runs of black and Looking back at it, this particular scene was tense and white films helped shape my love of Arabic pop culture that sexually charged…the lights flashed, scenes interlace and I only recently started to tap into. My addiction to black and the actress screams a blood-curdling scream reminiscent of white movies prevented me from enjoying a seaside stroll films made in the 1940s. I think it was Soad Hosni, who I after a stand-up comedy gig at a renowned hotel in Aqaba. eventually met in 2000, while living at my grandmother’s Luckily, I was there alone as my wife would have killed me place. Don’t get too excited… I haven’t actually met her if she knew I spent the remaining evening watching an old personally, although I wish I had! film starring Yahia Shaheen. The “Cinderella of Cinema” was murdered a few years ago. Her name resurfaced again during the recent Egyptian revolution, which unearthed documents that could be taken from the pages of a 1960s Alfred Hitchcock espionage film. Soad Hosni simply swept me off my feet with her smile and persona. “She was very beautiful. This is Soad Hosni, the Cinderella of Cinema!” My Grandmother told me as I sat watching Saghira ala al Hob (Too Young for Love) with Rushdy Abaza, who is Egyptian cinema’s answer to Cary Grant. “Women loved Rushdy Abaza. I believe his mother was Italian,” my grandmother continued.

3ARABEYAT POSTER SERIES

I think Hind Rostum’s passing several weeks ago was the main reason I started my 3arabeyat series. I wanted to create a tribute to Rostum, who was nicknamed the “Marilyn Monroe of Arabs”. The poster is very minimal with two basic colours. Even as an illustrator I love simplicity, however, I am still exploring and playing around with different styles, which is why each new 3arabeyat poster is different from the other. Currently, the collection is composed of six posters: Hind Rostum, Nahed Sharif, Nadi Lutfi, Mervat Ameen, Laila Taher and Soad Hosni. I will not limit the 3arabeyat Little by little, my grandmother Georgette, whose posters to Egyptian actresses. My list is almost ready and French name is from a bygone era, became my valuable it includes gentlemen like Rushdy Abaza, Ismail Yaseen, almanac for Egyptian actors and actresses. She knew them Estefan Rostti, Abd Al Salam Al Nabulsi and Abd El Men’em all even though she had a hard time remembering them all. Ibrahmeem and more. However, she never failed to deliver a name. “That’s Tawfeeq el Daqen. He is renowned for playing vicious villains. He Another reason that made me get into this phase and Mahmoud El Meligee were famous for their evil roles,” of photo manipulation and digital rendering of photographs she explains with much excitement. My grandmother had is my father’s profession. My father was a photographer and a good point, El Meligee’s eyes spewed pure evilness while his father before him. Sadly, this duck swam away from the Tawfeeq Al Daqen’s gave away a treacherous resolve that pond and ended up becoming a writer, who is trying to get involved screwing over Farid Shawqi, who is dubbed the back into the water not as a photographer but as a black “Godzilla of the Arab Silver Screen”. The only way for me and white photograph colourist. My father used to colour to learn about cinema back in the 1990s, especially Arabic black and white photos manually using paint (a family cinema, was through books and magazines that I eagerly trade secret)! picked up from used book shops in downtown Amman. This, in a way, explains why I am not completely To purchase a movie magazine from the library digitising the original skin texture in some posters because I was rather expensive for a teenager back in those days, want to reflect my father’s background in photo colouring. I 138

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want to maintain the photo-realism element. The traditional process relied on calmer and more natural skin tones with balanced shades and variants of cyan and sepia. I decided to go the opposite way and give my posters a pop-art appeal. The reason I choose two colour tones for each actress was to try to give them a two dimensional existence; a duality that we all have in our own characters. I first work around the photo, enhance the quality, clean it up, sharpen an edge or two and trace the silhouette to get rid of the background (if I want to). After the initial layout and positioning is done, I try to see what colours these ladies invoked in my mind. Yes, each colour is reflective of how I felt while working with each actress! Having watched many of their movies helped make these decisions easier; although like everyone else, I only touched the surface of the silver screen they appeared on.

As I continued to write this piece, I remembered that I met Soad Hosni before the year 2000. It was in the mid 1990s, my family and I were sitting around the television set like we used to on Friday afternoons. Ali Badrakhan’s The Shepherd and the Women with Ahmad Zaki and Yosra was playing. To say that Hosni was a shadow of her former self in this movie about a love triangle is unjust; she was still pretty, only older and almost unrecognisable, but her eyes gave her away. I was shocked… this was the same woman who jumped around and sung with unstoppable energy stealing the spotlight from everyone else in the scene. She was the girl next door and the it girl that you dreamt of meeting. Thanks to black and white movie reruns on television, I got to know Suad. In fact, I got to know them all. Now I can have her hanging on my apartment’s wall! Yes, I admit, I created these posters for a selfish reason: for myself. Another reason why I found Nadia Lutfi was mysterious in Al Nadara Al Sawda myself doing this series was because I didn’t want to do a (The Black Shades) with the debonair Ahmad Mazhar and poster of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley; not that I don’t love that is what I wanted her poster to reflect. I wanted the both of those musicians. What I am doing is not revolutionviewer to drown in Nahed Sharif’s face the same way I did ary - it has been done by many others before me. I simply whenever she appeared on screen and charmed a man with want to tap into our own icons and pop culture through her velvety voice. Hind Rostum’s fiery temper and curves our own musicians, writers, poets, thinkers, filmmakers, were like a warning sign, “look but don’t touch!” The actors and actresses. never aging Laila Taher was mischievous with her alluring eyes and lips, unlike Mervat Ameen’s tame 70s beauty and Grace Kelly like mannerisms. I think if anyone deserves to be likened to Marilyn Monroe it is Soad Hosni. However, she is more like Norma Jean than Marilyn; an amazingly talented, pretty face with a skill for comedy and tragedy alike; a pretty face that hid a sad face, especially in her last years.

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ART & DESIGN

RISE

text and design NOUR BAWAB

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riction, vanity, greed, judgment, confusion. This is what comes to one’s mind when thinking about the world today. In today’s “global village”, one needs to speak up and attempt to stop what one thinks is unjust and illogical. Some regions have constructed an image of notoriety in their methods of dealing with internal conflicts, conflicts with flagrant causes that gave birth to disputes driven by excuses and personal interests. Lebanon is a great example, as the sectarianism has divided people into opposing camps whose leaders seek outside support to impose their ideologies on the country, however, under the label of the nation that provided support. What are the causes? What are the solutions? How can one summon the voice of the people?

• The abolishment of sectarian political parties and their representatives • Effective traffic laws • To reinforce the agriculture sector • To build an environmental preservation and maintenance system. HOW DO WE WANT TO DO IT AND HOW CAN YOU PARTICIPATE?

We want to fully engage you and bring you, as the citizens of Lebanon, to demand your rights and design a government that “RISE” is the undergraduate thesis of Nour Bawab, a recent graduate represents the people without agendas. This is not a simple task from OCAD University in Toronto. The project seeks to better the and is time consuming but we will take the necessary steps to get socio-political and economical lives of the Lebanese people through there, by uniting as one people. Whether you are in Lebanon or in graphic design, a visual portal to people’s perceptions that researches the Diaspora, we would like you graphic components as a tool by reaching not only designers and design oriented people, but to people stemming from all social • Learn a lesson from our bloody history backgrounds, education levels, religions, and races between the ages of 10 and 34 who have been exposed to so much visual media • Belong to Lebanon as a Lebanese and not as a member of a in order to motivate them to speak and take action to better their sectarian political party lives. The series of posters and flyers seeks to better understand the politics, the differing points of view, compare solutions, and • Protest in demonstrations with the Lebanese flag only evaluate these solutions in order to develop an opinion on them. • Spread the word RISE uses graphic design because it is a great portal to people’s perceptions due to its visual natural. The project will prove successful • Rise for your rights, freedom and integrity. if its message transmits positive or negative reactions to it. Inspired by “Isqat Al Nizam” (http://isqatalnizam.org/), the demands posted there have been translated from Arabic to English and some materials are based on them. At the end of this project, the public should understand the reasons why such a conflict exists, what are the possible solutions, and how they (the public) can be involved in producing change. Who are we? We are Lebanese citizens who live in Lebanon and across the Diaspora. We do not affiliate ourselves with any sectarian political or religious party. We are proud to be Lebanese and we want to live in peace and equality in our country. WHAT DO WE WANT? • Secular nation • Permanent prevention of civil wars • Egalitarian job opportunities • A fair judicial and electoral system (Lebanon as one sector) • The establishment of civil marriage • The right of citizenship to maternal Lebanese descendants • The re-establishment of public education

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NEW MEDIA

WHAT SHOULD WE DO? Ah, yes, the most infamous question that many people hate to answer. Well, we’ve found a [pseudo] solution to your problem - let’s hope we covered your area! Want to post your event? Send us the details to info@kalimatmagazine.com. Just remember, we publish quarterly.

CANADA and USA TORONTO PALESTINE FILM FESTIVAL www.tpff.ca Various locations, Toronto, Ontario - SEP 30-OCT 7 ENVISION ARABIA SUMMIT www.arabdevelopment.com Centre Mont Royal and McGill University, Montreal, Quebec - OCT 7-9 CALGARY ARAB FILM FESTIVAL www.calgaryarabfilm.com Various locations, Calgary, Alberta - OCT 21-23 ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE/NATIONAL NETWORK FOR ARAB AMERICAN COMMUNITIES NATIONAL LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE www.aaiusa.org

THE GULF REGION

Dearborn, Michigan, SEP 30-OCT 2 17TH ANNUAL ARAB CULTURAL FESTIVAL www.arabculturalcenter.org

TEDXARABIA www.tedxarabia.com

Union Square, San Francisco, California - OCT 1 ARAB AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL www.arabfilmfestival.org San Francisco, Berkley, San Jose, Los Angeles - OCT 13-23 BOSTON PALESTINE FILM FESTIVAL www.bostonpalestinefilmfest.org 5TH ANNUAL

BOSTON Various locations, Boston, Massachusetts - OCT 21-30 PALESTINE Co-Presented with

FILM FESTIVALTURAATH www.adc.org/turaath CELEBRATING PALESTINIAN CULTURE

Ismail Abu Dawood Hall, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - SEP 29 ABU DHABI FILM FESTIVAL www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae Various Locations, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - OCT 13-22 DOHA TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL www.dohafilminstitute.com

Historic Lincoln Theatre, Washigton, DC - NOV 10 Various Locations, Doha, Qatar - OCT 25-29

UNITED KINGDOM

OCTOBER 21-30, 2011 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston + other venues For full program, please visit:

w w w. b o s t o n p a l e s t i n e f i l m f e s t . o rg The Boston Palestine Film Festival is made possible by the generous support of:

THE GENEVIEVE MCMILLAN - REBA STEWART FOUNDATION

BPFF’s Official Airline Carrier for 2011

FADI YAZIGI: CHE, ANGEL, IT’S ME, DONKEY www.mosaicrooms.org/fadi-yazig The Mosaic Rooms, London, UK - OCT 10-28 ABDULANASSER GHAREM: SAUDI ARABIA - ART AND WAR www.frontlineclub.com/events Frontline Club, London, UK - OCT 11 TOTTENHAM PALESTINE LITERATURE FESTIVAL www.tottpallitfest.org.uk West Green Learning Centre, London, UK, SEP 29-OCT 2

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ISMA3OO NO. 3

THE OFFICIAL PODCAST

I

n the inaugural podcast, we take things to the unexpected in the art music world just to show you what we can do. Joe Namy, who we had the pleasure of interviewing in this issue, in turn interviews the Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh. The world’s first electronic music composer, Halim is also an educator, a musicologist and a reactive witness to the change in music, technology and history around him. Further research (typing his name into a search engine) might prove fruitful.

short conversation with this rather unique individual, try to take the bigger, historical picture into focus, take some inspiration from his understanding of the meaning in sound around you into your own creative practices, whatever they might be. Even if it is just to tell your friends that the very first electronic musician was an Egyptian.

That being said, I don’t pretend to know everything—if you have any content of your own to submit for future editions of Isma3oo (new music, interviews with Framing the conversation is some interesting people, good ideas that need to original music—a piece, “I’ll Wait For You,” be shared), reach out to info@kalimatimmediately follows the interview, and the magazine.com. And don’t forget to visit background beats are original as well. Often kalimatmagazine.com to download and/ we think of Arab contributions in an ancient, or stream the podcast. historical way—which can be a tragic misKarim Sultan take. “What was good was in the past, look at what we’ve succumbed to since.” In a Make sure to visit “New Media Extras” at kalimatmagazine.com/isma3oo to download this podcast.


NEW MEDIA

ASHYAA2/THINGS

Mijwiz

George Wassuf Jo Bedu tshirt He may not be what he used to be, but Abu Wadee3 is an icon. Relieve the glory days with this tribute to Sultan al Tarab, George Wassuf. Designed by Lutfi Zayed. www.jo-bedu.com

The “Mijwiz,” a traditional bamboo flute, is usually the life of an oldschool Dabke party. Along with the tabl—that massive, wearable drum that sometimes puts sound systems to shame—this instrument adds that intense, nasal melodic drive that will get your most respectable friends and family members to lose their minds on the dance floor. We don’t guarantee results, but this version won’t break the bank and is made by Arab-American nay (flute) virtuoso Nadeem Dlaikan. arabamericanmuseum.org/arab_ american/store/product/470 Oh and some helpful instructions on how to play it: melissatheloud.com/mijwiz.html

My Life in the PLO My Life in the PLO is the memoir of the late outspoken and honest Shafiq Al-Hout. This book regarding the inside story of the PLO is hands down one of the best books on the topic so far. Bonus points to Shafiq because he doesn’t look like a sleezy 3ammo. www.amazon.com

Ordinary Lives If you haven’t read our conversation with Rania Mattar in the Culture Dossier, then, flip back, read it and find out why you need this book filled with her wonderful works. ordinarylives.raniamatar.com

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YouTube Top 100 Videos of All Time Tribute Poster

NS by NOOF Night Out Series: Andalucia Box Cluth

Ibraheem Youssef is one talented Toronto-based Egyptian designer. All we can say is, the man knows his stuff. This limited edition print of YouTube’s Top 100 videos of all time is a must have for those that appreciate minimal design and pop culture. www.ibraheemyoussef.com/ibraheemshop

We wouldn’t normally put something this pricy in the issue, but holy detailing! Made from intricate filigree plated gold, this piece from Bahrain based NS by NOOF is named after one of our favourites places in the world too. dia-boutique.com

Arabic Alphabet Animal Poster

The Time-Travels of the Man Who Sold Pickles and Sweets: A Modern Arabic Novel

Although meant for kids (decorating a classroom, nursery or playroom), this is actually a great asset for Arabs who are learning to read and write to memorise the alphabet. www.etsy.com/people/ACraftyArab

Sure, it has an interesting title: The Time-Travels of the Man Who Sold Pickles and Sweets: A Modern Arabic Novel is only one of three novels by veteran Egyptian author Khairy Shalaby translated into English, and its imaginative narrative setup is quite classic. A rather ordinary Egyptian man, looking for a job, finds himself randomly dislocated in time with nothing to keep him grounded in his encounters with other, ordinary Egyptians throughout history but his trusty watch and briefcase. www.amazon.com

Arabicity Published to accompany an exhibition by Rose Issa Projects at the Beirut Exhibition Center in Lebanon, Arabicity features the work of nine contemporary Arab artists whose works explore their cultural heritage and what they find in unique and varied ways. www.amazon.co.uk

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Have an old school colouring book you want to share? Get in touch: info@kalimatmagazine.com


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SHOP

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1) Kaf poster, designed by Nermin Moufti 12’x18’ - $5 and 23.4 x 16.5 - $8 3) Shufi Mafi poster, designed by Nermin Moufti 12’x18’ - $5 5) Map of the Arab world poster, 12’x18’ - $5

2) Cities poster, 12’x18’ - $5 4) Umm Koulthoum Tote Bag, - $10 6) Eshta Ya Man! poster, 12’x18’ - $5


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7) Kalimat Logo Notebook - 3.5’x5’ - $7 9) Les moustaches t-shirt, unisex (XS-S-M-L) - $20 11) Kifak Inta? Fairuz t-shirt, unisex (XS-S-M-L) - $20

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KALIMAT MAGAZINE www.kalimatmagazine.com info@kalimatmagazine.com Twitter: @kalimatkalimat Facebook.com/Kalimatmagazine

Profile for Kalimat Magazine

Kalimat Magazine Fall 2011 - Issue 03  

Arab Thought and Culture, Issue 03, Fall 2011

Kalimat Magazine Fall 2011 - Issue 03  

Arab Thought and Culture, Issue 03, Fall 2011

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