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Vol IV • Issue 09

This issue’s cover image “Revival of the Mythical Creature” is designed by Cairo-based graphic designer Nora Aly. Illustration on Page 110.

Current Affairs

Culture

Contributor Zeina Elcheikh delves An excerpt from Saleem Haddad’s into the informal sides of Cairo. yet to be published novel Last Page 30. Round at Guapa. Page 58.

Art & Design

New Media

Malaysia based Dina Amin sits down with Reform, an Egyptian Design Studio making use of local elements. Page 88.

Despite the sense of normalcy, there is a tense mood in Damascus. Page 123.

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K A L I M AT


A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR

I had a personal debate with myself regarding the format, or use of a letter such as this one. It was not a debate relating to the expectation that there is an editor’s letter. It was about the format, and if the best way for people to read this letter would in fact be by playing with the design of the text itself. Despite the ideas I had sketched out, I decided to stay put. Then again, my hesitation with changing the formatting was likely due to the fact that I often wondered what the real point of this letter was: to inform you, our reader, of the contents of the issue? To inform you of how much blood, sweat, and tears go into each page? or to motivate you into doing something ‘good’? Of course, at the end of the day, the whole point is to entice you to turn the page and continue reading. You might also skip this page and flip to the contributors page, searching furiously for anyone you might know! For one, let’s state the obvious. After delivering Kalimat in print for awhile (maybe some narcissistic gratification of seeing ones work in print), we’ve decided to return to an online format (we’ll save you the sappy story of how we’re independent and need your financial help to continue our work) that continues with our traditional ad-hoc publishing model (borrowing from Emigre’s former model). Print has a number of difficulties, and online provides accessibility – so anyone anywhere in the world with an internet connection can access the issue for free. Now then, what’s in this edition? The Art and Design Dossier is [filled, dripping] with design projects including Wajha, Reform, Gina Nagi and more, as well as discussions on the museumifcation of trauma, ‘shocking’ public art, and an in conversation about the 5th edition of the Marrakech Biennale. The Culture Dossier delves into opinion pieces on the power of pop culture, self-censorship, as well as features photo essays shot in Numidia and the Arctic, alongside pieces on theatre, travel, and a novel excerpt. Our guest Current Affairs Editor Akram Al-Turk has (don’t worry he’s not ‘curating’)

developed the Current Affairs dossier with fantastic opinion and analysis pieces that are sure to spark discussions, and the New Media Dossier explores Damascus, and a new social network merging elements of forums and blogs. Loads has happened since we launched Issue 08 in Summer 2013. We curated In the City, a design and sound exhibit that took place in London. We also proved once again that we won’t allow an issue like censorship to stop us. We are an open platform, and being held back by the concept of – to borrow Saleem Haddad’s recurring theme from Last Round at Guapa (make sure to read the novel excerpt featured in the Culture Dossier) – ‘3eib’ in discussing such matters and standing up for what’s right. We’re also happy to announce that the design_atelier_ will be curating the Amman Design Pop-Up Shop at Katara Art Center in Doha, and the Choose Your Own Adventure graphic design exhibition at the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival in Liverpool. Since our launch in November 2010, we have struggled with definitions and placement, and we continue to struggle with that. I say – so be it. We’re generalist, we’re uncategorisable, and that’s perfectly okay. Who wants to be placed into a box anyway? We are about education and design, about openness and collaboration, and about helping people share their experiences, ideas, and opinions. We celebrate the contributors – the people with the interesting, sometimes provocative, sometimes cringe worthy, sometimes [insert whatever else you like] stories and opinions. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this issue, and to Kalimat’s projects. A special thank you goes out to Emma Heidorn and Bait Al Zubair Museum in Oman for their support.

Danah Abdulla danah@kalimatmagazine.com

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STAFF DANAH ABDULLA |

Founder, Creative Director + Editor

Danah is the Founder, Creative Director and Editor of Kalimat Magazine. A designer/editor/writer/researcher, Danah is an MPhil/PhD candidate in Design at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focuses on integrating the ‘local’ in design education in Jordan. She completed her MA in Social Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art and her BA in Communications at the University of Ottawa. She has also worked for marketing and advertising agencies like Matchstick, DDB and Isobar. moncarnetdebord.tumblr.com

BASHAR ALAEDDIN |

Photography Editor

Bashar, a Jordanian-Lebanese of Palestinian origins, is a commercial and advertising photographer by day through his studio space Adasat; and a fine-art travel photographer by night, showcasing the beauty of the Arabic culture and landscape. He carries degrees from Beirut, Amman, London and Vancouver and has over ten years experience in the visual-media industry. adasat.co

ALI SULEIMAN |

Business Development Director

Ali is a graduate from the University of Waterloo’s Civil Engineering programme (surprised?) in Canada, and holds a Certificate of Advanced Project Management from the University of Toronto. Of Palestinian and Turkish origin, he is fluent in both Arabic and Turkish. He has worked in project management and construction in Canada, Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Ali was the Project Coordinator of the University of Waterloo Sustainability Project from 2007-2010, has provided workshops on sustainable business practices for the Youth Employment Services, and is an avid supporter of green design and development. He currently works with an engineering firm in Jordan. His interests include historical research, film studies, music, and theatre.

AKRAM AL-TURK |

Guest Current Affairs Editor

Akram is at the International Budget Partnership, where he works with civil society organisations to improve their capacities for budget analysis and advocacy, and with media-training institutes to develop training materials for journalists interested in covering budget-related issues. Previously, Akram worked at the Brookings Institution, where he was a researcher and a publications manager. He focused primarily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on democratisation and political reform in the Arab world. Prior to Brookings, Akram worked at the Palestinian Hydrology Group in the West Bank and as a Research Fellow at FINCA Jordan, a microfinance institute. Akram has a Master’s of Global Policy Studies from the LBJ School at the University of Texas in Austin and a Bachelor’s in Chemistry from Millsaps College.

COLOPHON Kalimat Magazine (ISSN 1927-7865) is a registered non-profit in Canada and published twice per year. © 2014, Kalimat Magazine, no part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission. The magazine is fully independent, published by Kalimat Magazine. The opinions expressed or recommendations given in Kalimat are the views of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of Kalimat Magazine. ADVERTISING ENQUIRIES alisuleiman@kalimatmagazine.com PURCHASE ISSUES/FRIENDS Single issue sales and back issues are available on our shop at kalimatmagazine.com/shop. To become a Kalimat friend, please visit kalimatmagazine.com/friends. Contact us at info@kalimatmagazine.com for more information. ICONS All social icons on the cover courtesy of the Noun Project. Tumblr icon by Luboš Volkov and Facebook Like by Thomas Le Bas. Kalimat Magazine is designed and produced in house by design_atelier_ (kalimatmagazine.com/atelier). The text in this publication is set in ITC Officina Serif Std, Avenir LT Std, Tungsten and Egyptian Slate Pro. British English spelling is used. We make every effort to avoid errors, misspellings and omissions. If you come across any, we apologise and please notify us.


CONTRIBUTORS NORA ALY Nora is a graphic designer born and bred in Cairo, Egypt. The city's diversity and culture has perpetually been an inspiration to her work. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from the German University in Cairo, and while a student, Nora worked as a teaching assistant, teaching Arabic font design, typography, information system and Graphic Design courses. She has worked at Madeo, and Kairo. and specialises in infographics. Her work has been awarded the Silver Prize at the dubailynx (2013), and published on correspondents.org. behance.net/noraly

ZEINA ELCHEIKH Zeina is a Syrian architect doing her M.Sc. in Integrated Urbanism and Sustainable Design at the University of Stuttgart. She worked as junior consultant with the German International Cooperation in Syria, the French Institute for the Near East and other firms. She is currently based in Egypt for her thesis work on cultural tourism in Nubia.

FARIS HABAYEB Faris is a twentysomething graphic designer and a writer. A Palestinian pedigree, he is kheleeji bred but now resides and works in the city of cities that is New York. @fhabayeb • behance.net/faris

NINA MUFLEH Nina Mufleh is a painter and writer with a passion for travel and adventure. Her work can be experienced on her blog eatwritewalk.com

SARA ALSARAF Sara is a Creative Therapist and Writer, living in London.

SALEEM HADDAD

NOUR FLAYHAN

Saleem Haddad is a writer and aid worker. Born to an Iraqi-German mother and a

Nour Flayhan is an illustrator, an American Lebanese mountain girl

Palestinian-Lebanese father, he grew up in Kuwait, Jordan and Cyprus. He writes short stories and has just completed a novel, Last Round at Guapa. He currently lives in London. @sysh

and Nomad, who has travelled far from the civilized sunny desserts of Kuwait to the cold grey city of London. She is currently on an adventure. nouriflayhan.com

MOHAMED MEGDOUL Born in France in 1985, Mohamed is a Algerian-French film director and photographer. He studied art at l’École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs in Paris, and at the School of Visual Arts in New York. His current works revolves around social issues, history and politics. In 2014, he founded Imperatorem, a French based movie production company, and is working on a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

RIYAD JOUCKA Riyad is an Architect and Researcher, based in Hong Kong. He earned his MArch at the Emergent Technologies & Design programme of the AA School of Architecture in London. He has worked with major practices in Amman and Beirut after graduating from Carleton School of Architecture in Ottawa. Riyad has taught AA Visiting Schools in Paris, Penang, Shanghai and directed AA Visiting School Jordan and Dubai. His research is focused on simplifying the nonlinear logistics of complex building construction through material research and computation.

SAEED TAJI FAROUKY Saeed is an award-winning Palestinian/British documentary filmmaker and cinematographer specialising in human rights issues in the Middle East and North Africa for over ten years. He is co-Founder and Director of the production company Tourist With A Typewriter. In 2011, he was awarded a Senior TED Fellowship for his creative approach to documentary filmmaking, and was previously named Artist In Residence at the British Museum and Tate Britain.

SAHAR KUBBA Sahar is a freelance designer living in Montréal. She is a graduate of McGill University’s Professional Master’s of Architecture programme. Using architectural language as a medium, Kubba is interested in exploring immersive installations that orient the viewer towards specific elements of experience in the hopes of creating a common ground for understanding and challenging them.

HABIB BATTAH Habib is a Beirut-based investigative journalist, filmmaker, and author of the blog beirutreport.com. Habib is a regular contributor to Al Jazeera, BBC World, the Daily Star, and Bold Magazine, and is a two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. @habib_b • beirutreport.com

JAIMEE HADDAD Jaimee is a third year journalism student at Northwestern University in Qatar. Curiosity flows deep in her veins.

DINA AMIN Dina is a multidisciplinary designer and writer. She studied Industrial Design in Malaysia and is now based in her motherland Egypt. Culture, Design and Human Behavior are the three dearest things to her heart. Her interests and curiosity drives her from one field of Design to another including Service Design, Urban Design, and Food Design.


CONTRIBUTORS KHALID ALBAIH Khalid is a Sudanese cartoonist living in Doha, Qatar. His stark, politicallycharged images rose to prominence during the early stages of the Arab Spring protests. Posting his work in the public domain through social media, Albaih quickly became an artist from the revolution, his work being shared online across the Arab region and worldwide. His cartoons were made into stencils to be reproduced on walls in Beirut and Cairo, and his work is used by revolutionary groups in his native Sudan, and by political activists in Yemen, Tunis, Syria. He has also published his work in the Atlantic and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He has staged exhibitions of his work, most recently at the Edge of Arabia Crossway Foundation in London. Khalid constantly publishing new works on his Facebook page Khartoon! for all to consider, use, and share. @Khalidalbaih

WIDED KHADRAOU Wided is an Algerian-American freelance writer who recently relocated to Riyadh after a failed stint in Beijing. Her writing generally centres on making sense of the Middle East and North Africa. She holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from the LSE. Her previous work has appeared in Al Jadid, Your Middle East, and Foreign Policy in Focus.

ZAHRA ROSA Zahra is a graduate from the University of Toronto. She was born in Tunisia, raised in Toronto and a major sports fan. She has been active in women-only facilities and organizations for years and looks forward to a future of empowering women in society its culture and landscapes.

HANNAH KHALIFEH Hannah Khalifeh is a 21-year-old Syrian-American student at Bard College in New York. She is a literature major and currently writing her thesis on Syrian author Zakaria Tamer. Her family hails from Damascus, Syria

AMROU KOTB Amrou Kotb is a freelance writer based in Cairo. His articles have been published in CNN, the Atlantic Council, and Al Jazeera America. He is currently working towards a Master of Public Administration, a Master of Arts in International Relations, and a Certificate in Middle East Studies from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He maintains a blog on current events in the Middle East with colleagues from the Maxwell School at unclesalam.com • @amrqotb

ALYA SEBTI Alya is a curator specialised in contemporary art from North Africa and the Artistic Director of the Marrakech Biennale. After graduating from ESC Reims with a Masters Degree in Management, she studied History of Art at École du Louvre, followed by a post-graduate degree in Business of Contemporary Art, at Institut d’Etudes Supérieures des Arts. In 2009, she worked as general curator at the Paris Photo Fair, and then worked in Morocco as manager of International Contemporary Art within the Art Holding Morocco. She recently curated Fashion Loves Tribe (Berlin, 2010), Youssef Nabil (Casablanca, 2011), Urban landscape (Moroccan pavilion of the Amsterdam photography biennale, 2012), and Des Espaces Autres (Al Hoceima, Casablanca, 2012).

OMAR OUALILI Omar is from Casablanca and has recently moved to London to study Accounting and Finance. Besides studying, he discovers the world and runs a travel blog which was nominated for a UK Blog Award in 2014. inacitynearyou.net

ALEXANDRA KINIAS Alexandra is a screenplay writer, novelist, women right's advocate, and photographer based in Scottsdale. She cowrote the story of "Cairo Exit," winner of best non-European film award in the European Independent Film festival. She is the author of Black Tulips and is working Silenced Voices, a non-fiction book of her articles about women’s issues in the Middle East.

NOUR TABET Nour was born in Lebanon towards the end of the civil war, which is probably why she has always been intrigued by art emerging from conflicts. She is constantly re-evaluating her definition of graphic design and believes that design is a mighty force that alters the ways people speak, think, feel, react and interact. She is trilingual and loves the adrenaline rushes from being in foreign milieus. She holds a BFA in Graphic Design from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon and currently lives in Baltimore where she is pursuing her MFA in Graphic Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art. nourtabet.com

HICHAM KHALIDI Hicham is a Dutch-Moroccan curator of contemporary art. From 2003-2011, he was the artistic director of TAG (Institute for Audiovisual Art in The Hague, the Netherlands). Khalidi studied finance and worked for a couple of years in the fashion industry. Hicham is currently head of exhibitions at Stuk kunstencentrum in Leuven, Belgium and the visual arts curator of the fifth Marrakech Biennale (2014) in Morocco. Most recently he has curated On Geometry and Speculation (Marrakech Biennale, 2012), Transnatural Festival (Nemo Science Center, 2012) and Alles, was Sie über Chemie wissen müssen (Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 2011).


CONTRIBUTORS TAREK CHEMALY

TAIBA AL BISHER

Tarek Chemaly, born in 1974, is an agriculture engineer

Taiba is a Kuwaiti culture and art enthusiast. Riveted

and an environmental economist who converted himself into a communication consultant (advertising and marketing) and university lecturer, but also has recycled his talents as blogger, online publisher, and artist. beirutntsc.blogspot.co.uk

by her intercultural studies, she began to look into how museums deal with the tragedies in areas of conflict and how it plays in the greater context of nation building.

MAYS CHAMI Mays lives in Abu Dhabi. She graduated from McGill University in 2012 and is now working at Masdar Institute as a research engineer.

MOHAMED MOSTAFA Mohamed Mostafa is an Egyptian-born designer and technologist based in Montreal. Radio Zinhum developed out of his penchant for the nostalgic archival of cultural production. Every digest features content from across the region, presenting new media in a historic context. fustat.org

CHRISTINE GREIGE Christine is the former managing editor and a contributing writer for Worcester Publishing, Ltd. A Communications graduate of Curry College, she is currently a writer for the Open Door Newspaper and a Host on WCCA TV-13. She has an eye for detail as well as a growing knowledge of the ever expanding world around her. @kiki34226

SOPHIE CHAMAS Sophie is a freelance writer based in the UAE, and coeditor of Mashallah News. Her work has been featured in The State, Al Jazeera English, The Outpost and REORIENT, among other publications. Never quite capable of settling down, she continues to think of herself as “in between” countries.

NADA DALLOUL Nada is an illustrator, painter, and doodler, inspired by the absurdities of humanity. She holds an MA in Design in Learning & Teaching.

ZANE RAZZAQ Zane Razzaq is currently completing her B.A. in American Studies and Sociology at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She is also a member of the news team at Aslan Media.

SABRIEN AMROV Sabrien is a graduate student at the School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa. She works on security governnance, transnational social movements, political economy of oppression, and the history of Arab intellectuals. A CanadianPalestinian from Montreal, she is currently a political affairs intern at the Canadian Embassy in Ankara.

AL-SHARIF NASSEF Al-Sharif Nassef is an advocate for democratic development, civic engagement, and legal reform in Egypt. He is an associate with the Egyptian-American Rule of Law Association and Middle East contributor to Fair Observer. @alsharifpasha • @EARLAEgypt

RAMI ABBAS Rami grew up in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. He specialises in graphic design, cartoons, and Arabic calligraphy. His work has been published in international journals and he has participated in art exhibitions worldwide. He has also produced several short films. ramiabbas83@hotmail.com

RIMA A. As an Iraqi-American journalist, Rima works out of different cities in the Middle East with Beirut, Lebanon being her last base. Currently, she is writing for different arts publications.

SUNDUS BALATA Sundus completed her BA (Honours) in Political Science at York University in Toronto and her MA in Comparative Politics and International Relations at McMaster University in Hamilton. Her thesis “Revolution Underway: The Egyptian Experiment,” was written as the January 2011 uprising was unfolding. Shortly after, she published “The Egyptian Uprising: A Movement in the Making” in the Inquiry and Insight Journal, University of Waterloo. She currently lives in Cairo working as a Senior Advisor for Gender Mainstreaming and Youth, as well as Deputy Programme Coordinator of the Participatory Development Programme in Urban Areas implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH.


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HIGHLIGHTS

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CULTURE

54

ART &

NEW

DESIGN

MEDIA

86

122

Fear & Speculation in Lebanon – Habib Battah

15

18

Solar Revolution – Ali Suleiman

Power of the Pen: Yasmin Helal – Alexandra Kinias

32

49

Yarmouk, Under Siege – Rami Abbas

There will be some who will not fear even that void – Saeed Taji Farouky

54

72

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Tarek Chemaly

The Self-Expression Taboo – Mays Chami

76

81

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom in North Africa called Numidia – Mohamed Megdoul

His Memories: The Story Behind the Objects – Nour Flayhan

86

92

Post-Geographic – Nour Tabet

Supporting the Community through Graphic Design: An Interview with Wajha – Nora Aly

96

101

Desert Ecologies – Riyad Joucka

The Talk – Nada Dalloul

106

112

Where Are We Now? In Conversation– Hicham Khalidi & Alya Sebti

Pngine: The Hybrid Forum & Blog – Dina Amin

122

125

Coluring Book


Turbulence


ALGIERS Although President Abdelaziz Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013 and has not publicly addressed the country for three years, he will be running for a fourth term in the upcoming presidential elections. While it was expected that this decision would draw criticism from the main Islamist party in Algeria, it has also potentially exposed some cleavages among the political class, notably among Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front and the military.

TUNIS Three years after the fall of Ben Ali, Tunisia held a ceremony in which the president, prime minister, and speaker of the national assembly all signed the country’s newly drafted constitution. Although many in the country were frustrated by the slow progress of the assembly, the new constitution was hailed by many as both a document that was drafted by consensus and one that enshrines citizens’ basic rights. The signing of the constitution, which was passed with 200 out of 216 votes, paves the way towards new presidential and parliamentary elections, likely to be held later this year.

TUNIS ALGIERS ORAN SIDI BOUZID R A B AT

TRIPOLI

SIRTE

MARRAKESH

TINDOUF L A AY O U N E

NOUAKCHOTT

SIRTE A day after the General National

K I F FA

Congress sacked Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, Sirte once again became a flashpoint and an indicator of the divides that still plague Libya. The clashes that occurred in the city between pro-government militias and autonomy-seeking groups from the east, along with the prime minister’s ouster, highlighted many unresolved issues in the country – including the redistribution of oil revenues, the tensions between the central government and local authorities, and ongoing bitter geographic rivalries

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BENGHAZI


RIYADH The Ministry of Culture and Information banned a number of works from being displayed at the Riyadh International Book Fair. The stall of the Arab Network for Research and Publishing was raided on the second day. Shortly after, the fair’s management shut down the stall, and the Minister of Culture and Information justified the decision by saying that any publishing house that tried to “destabilise [the country’s] unity cannot be tolerated.” A few days later, poems by Mahmoud Darwish were confiscated after some young men, reportedly from the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, complained that some of the Palestinian poet’s works contained blasphemous phrases.

ALEPPO DAMASCUS

BAGHDAD

BEIRUT RAMALLAH

AMMAN

FA L L U J A H

JERUSALEM

BASRA

ALEXANDRIA K U WA I T C I T Y

KUWAIT CITY Kuwait’s lower court ruled that 70 opposition activists, including nine former ministers of parliament, were not guilty of charges of storming Kuwait’s parliament building. The activists stormed the building in November 2011 to bring the country’s then-prime minister in for questioning over allegations of fiscal mismanagement and corruption. While it’s unclear whether the court’s decision will reignite Kuwait’s opposition, it does reinforce the perception that the country has a relatively robust and open political culture.

CAIRO

MANAMA DOHA A S WA N R I YA D H

ABU DHABI M U S C AT

JEDDAH

KHARTOUM

S A N A’ A

DJIBOUTI

JŪBĀ

MOGADISHU

DOHA In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha. In a joint statement, the three countries urged Qatar to refrain from supporting “organisations or individuals who threaten the security and stability of the Gulf States” and “hostile media.” The rebuke is seen by many as a move to isolate Qatar for its post-Arab Spring assertive foreign policy and, in particular, its alliance with Islamists in the region.

MORONI *MAP NOT TO SCALE


CURRENT AFFAIRS

THE WRATH OF THE MILITARY AND THE LIBERALS WHO MAKE IT POSSIBLE text: AMROU KOTB • illustration: KHALID ALBAIH

F

ollowing the three-year prison sentence of prominent activists Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, and Ahmed Douma, April 6 Movement spokesperson Khaled El-Masry lamented that the verdict was an act of “revenge against the January 25 revolution.”1 El-Masry was referring to revolutionaries’ ability to expose a corrupt system of government rooted in military supremacy over three years ago. Aside from re-entrenching its own authority, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has repeatedly taken action to co-opt, marginalise, and eradicate the revolution’s gains. The security state’s vendetta could not have been possible without the overwhelming support General Sisi and his fellow comrades have received from the Egyptian masses. “Sisimania” is far from hyperbole. Even the nation’s most influential liberals now stop at their local bakery on their way home from work for their daily dose of Sisi cupcakes.2 As prominent academic and political liberals who once linked arms with revolutionaries in Tahrir Square continue to laud the general as a hero, the attainment of Bread, Freedom, Social Justice, and Human Dignity risk fading into obscurity.

The Return of the State 1

The 2011 revolution was not about toppling Hosni Mubarak. Citizens who filled plazas and squares from Mansoura, to Suez, to Cairo, were protesting a corrupt system initially created by the Egyptian military over 60 years ago. While revolutionaries did not explicitly target the military, an essential piece of their goals was the establishment of a civilian government. The protesters sought to diversify an economy dominated by the Armed Forces, require the military to release details of its budget, put an end to the placement of retired generals in civil-

1  english.ahram.org.eg/News/89748.aspx 2  observers.france24.com/content/20131028-sisi-maniaposters-chocolates-army

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ian posts,3 and create a government that served all Egyptians. The Armed Forces and its security counterparts returned on 3 July 2013, when Defence Minister Sisi deposed Mohamed Morsi and created an interim government under the auspice of the military. In the months following Morsi’s ouster, the military reasserted its dominance and disregard for civil liberties by employing violence4 to disperse protests, approving military trials5 for civilians, handing down inhumane prison sentences,6 and arresting prominent international journalists.7 More recently, ahead of the constitutional referendum, seven peaceful activists were arrested on charges of “provoking citizens to reject the constitution.”8

Exacting Revenge on 2011 Beyond this resurgence of the old guard is a story of vengeance. Through a series of political gestures and draconian tactics, the interim government has sought to rewrite the story of the January 25 revolution, while completely undermining its most ardent activists. This past November, the interim government erected a monument in Tahrir Square to commemorate protesters who died in the eighteen days leading up to Mubarak’s resignation.9 The monument’s erection came on the heels of a ceremony that honoured security forces – the very forces responsible for the human rights abuses protesters 3  mideastafrica.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/05/08/the_ egyptian_republic_of_retired_generals 4  theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/03/two-egyptianprotesters-killed-police-clash-cairo 5  al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/11/egypt-military-trialscivilians-draft-constitution-protests.html 6  washingtonpost.com/world/islamist-women-and-girlsreceive-heavy-prison-sentences-for-egypt-protests/2013/11/27/ af5cd526-57b1-11e3-835d-e7173847c7cc_story.html 7  http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2014/01/egyptextends-al-jazeera-cairo-team-custody-201419162141361919. html 8  hrw.org/news/2014/01/13/egypt-activists-arrested-nocampaign 9  theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/18/tahrir-squarememorial-co-opt-egypt-revolution


railed against. In fact, a great deal of the “martyrs” whom the monument commemorates met their fate under the wheels and bullets of the security apparatus. Protest, the primary means of response to injustices, has been virtually outlawed. A new protest law has been instrumental in the ability to arrest the country’s most prominent activists.10 Kicking their foes while they’re already down, the interim government sentenced Maher, Douma, and Adel11 soon after the acquittal of Mubarak’s sons and former prime minister.12

Explicit Backing from an Unusual Partner This story of revenge could not have been possible without the support of numerous influential “liberals” who openly aligned themselves with the interim government’s agenda. Amr Moussa, former leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a group formed in opposition to Morsi’s authoritarian tactics, has frequently endorsed Sisi’s presidential bid. Moussa also chaired the constitutional drafting committee, which approved2 the application of military trials for civilians, passed an unjust anti-protest law, and loosened the constitution’s definitions of “libel” and “defamation” to enable detainment of journalists (effectively nullifying a law saying they cannot be imprisoned). Intellectuals, authors, poets, and activists who had previously 10  worldnews.nbcnews.com/_ news/2013/11/29/21671160-egypt-arrestsprominent-blogger-alaa-abdel-fattahunder-new-anti-protest-law?lite 11  english.ahram.org.eg/News/89748. aspx 12  upi.com/Top_News/WorldNews/2013/12/19/Mubaraks-sons-PMAhmed-Shafiq-acquitted-in-corruptiontrial/UPI-14441387460792/

fought for democracy have also started supporting the military.13 Critically acclaimed novelist Alaa Aswani, a strong supporter of the 2011 revolution, recently referred to General Sisi as a “national hero.”14 Famed political novelists Gamal-Al Ghitani and Sonollah Ibrahim have also explicitly backed the interim government.

The “Liberal” Rationale Politically, liberals have failed. Liberalism is an ideology that has yet to take a firm hold in the minds of the majority of Egypt’s voters. More than two-thirds of the votes on the constitutional referendum and in presidential

and parliamentary elections in late 2011 and 2012 went to representatives of political Islam.15 “Liberals” like Amr Moussa support General Sisi because of their inability to garner any support themselves. The Muslim Brotherhood could not be beaten fairly in elections. Liberal politicians see working with the military as 13  opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/ rana-nessim-rosemary-bechler-samehnaguib/sisi%E2%80%99s-egypt 14  newyorker.com/online/blogs/ newsdesk/2014/01/why-egypts-liberalintellectuals-still-support-the-army.html 15  mideast.foreignpolicy.com/ posts/2013/08/13/the_dilemma_of_ egypts_future_elections

an opportunity to eradicate the Brotherhood from Egyptian life by banning them and labelling them as a terrorist organisation. The result is a man-made political landscape handcrafted to empower the country’s most powerful “liberals.” Intellectually, the military’s return is a provisional necessity. The narrative says the military has only stepped in temporarily to save Egypt from plunging into theocracy. According to Aswany, and fellow academic Ibrahim Eissa, the military stepped in to prevent the Brotherhood from allowing the country to transform into another Iran.16 Unlike their political counterparts, academics

are still invested in a civilianled, democratic Egypt. Aswany recently stated that, “If in one year we end up with military rule, we don’t blame the military. We can only blame ourselves.” This is a mistaken philosophy that pays little attention to both the past and the present. The military not only has a long history of dominating political, social, and economic dimensions of Egyptian life but has done little thus far to prove its current period of rule is 16  newyorker.com/online/blogs/ newsdesk/2014/01/why-egypts-liberalintellectuals-still-support-the-army.html

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an aberration from the past.

Changing the Liberal Mindset and Taking Action The architects of Egyptian corruption are back. They are once again entrenching their authority, going after the very actors who sought their removal, and have significant support from many of the country’s influential liberals. Both political and academic liberals alike should reconsider their positions and take courageous action as exemplified by a handful of their peers. Politicians such as Moussa should look less toward the pursuit of short-term gain and more toward the long-term interest of a freer Egypt. The intellectual community’s stance on the Brotherhood is justified, but while Morsi’s weak and authoritarian leadership was a disservice to the aims of the 2011 revolution, it was nonetheless a deviation from military rule. Even if the political system was broken, revolutionaries and liberals would have had a much easier time combating the authoritarian tactics of the Muslim Brotherhood than the deeply wedged security apparatus. Moreover, the binaries of theocracy and security advanced by the Brotherhood and the military, respectively, must be rejected. Liberals must think less about choosing between the historically dominant military and Brotherhood and more about creating a space for a force that will take sincere interest in realising the goals of the revolution. Despite the popularity of the military brand of liberalism, there are a few isolated voices who have spoken out against its authoritarianism. Amr Hamzawy, a former member of parliament, and head of the Egypt Freedom Party, lambasted his fellow liberals in one of Egypt’s daily newspapers, Al-Shorouk, for betraying their principles in support of the military.17 Mohamed Elbaradei resigned from his position as interim vice president because of the violent crackdown on sit-ins at Rabaa el-Adawiyya and el-Nahda. Unfortunately, both of these men have been met with insults, accusations of allegiance to foreign governments, and affiliations with the Brotherhood. In an interview with the BBC on the 16 August 2013, Egyptian actor, activist, and revolutionary Khalid Abdalla stated that both the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood are “fundamentally fascist organisations” and that he “rejected the binaries” they have presented to Egyptian society. Abdalla went on to state that the future had to be “inclusive with everyone represented.”18 Change and progress will not come until actions such as those taken by Hamzawy and Elbaradei become commonplace rather than outliers. In order to change the liberal mindset, influential figures must use press conferences, social media, op-eds, interviews, and novels to denounce a roadmap which has veered far from the path to democracy and recommend mechanisms for moving forward. Politicians and intellectuals alike can educate and raise awareness of the benefits of civilian governance while providing evidence of the downsides of military rule. Liberals sincerely interested in serving their principles can also use their networks to mobilise international actors when addressing abuses of civil liberties. Egyptian journalists’ participation in the international call to free recently detained Al Jazeera journalists is a step in the right direction.19

The Revolution Continues Whether Egypt’s “liberals” take a stand or not, the revolutionaries’ dreams for Egypt continue. They reject the authoritarian tactics of both the Brotherhood and the military and remain steadfast in the pursuit of their goals, despite the ever-present threat of unjust detention and even death. How much longer can they last without help?

17  english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/78385/Egypt/Politics-/Hamzawy-Current-regime-is-trying-to-silence-prodem.aspx 18  bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23731219 19  aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2014/01/egypt-journalists-want-al-jazeera-staff-freed-2014113134145612260.html

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FEAR & SPECULATION IN LEBANON by: HABIB BATTAH

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arely twenty-four hours after the latest car bombing in Beirut, the crime scene had been swept clean. A pile of dirt was brought in to fill the crater in the asphalt, the mangled vehicles were briskly towed away, and the street was reopened to traffic. There were no press conferences by the police or forensic teams, and over a week later, little was known about the perpetrators beyond a tweet of responsibility from the infamous Al Qaeda-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. The head of the local municipal council accepted the claim without entertaining other possibilities or even offering a qualification that the investigation was still pending. Speaking to television cameras on the scene only hours after the explosion, he reported with certainty that the culprits were takfiriyeen or religious fundamentalists. They had targeted a neighbourhood where many Hezbollah supporters live to inflict pain on the party for its support of the Assad regime in Syria. The narrative was picked up and replayed by media outlets and television stations locally and across the world with few asking questions about the status of the police investigation or lack thereof.  

This latest attack was preceded by a string of nearly weekly car bombs and explosions in Lebanon over the past two months. Some have been claimed by the Azzam Brigades, while others have been claimed by other armed Islamist groups. Yet can a claim take the place of an investigation? Can a tweet substitute forensic work? What then do we make of the many explosions and assassinations in Lebanon that no group has taken credit for? One of the most notorious of these unclaimed attacks shook the country earlier this year when a library in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, was partially burned. That it was owned by an old priest in a majority Muslim city proved evidence enough for many. The pictures of charred tomes went viral on social and traditional media, as did the livid stereotyping. Like many previous bombings, there was little investigative work or detailed information about the assailants. But minutes after the library fire was reported, firm conclusions were already being made and disseminated. A graphic of an open book was shared widely across Facebook with a caption in large print that read, “An Islamist’s Worst Nightmare.” One of Lebanon’s popular bloggers wrote, “Brilliant how terrified Islamist fundies are of books and knowledge…savages.” That language was reflected in hundreds of comments on “Stop Cultural Terrorism,” a Facebook page that documents censorship. Comparisons to the book burning of Nazis and Stalin and even to the Spanish inquisition were made. On television, a fleet of politicians rushed to Tripoli, holding a series of live press conferences, vowing to

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protect “civilised” Muslim-Christian coexistence. “The battlefield has moved from the streets to literature,” a news anchor for Lebanon’s largest broadcaster, LBC, announced. Clearly, civilisation had been threatened by the forces of darkness, presumably stemming from the bearded Salafist community in Tripoli. Major Western media outlets also parroted this narrative, although no details about the culprit or extent of damages had been revealed by police. “Lebanon library torched, 78,000 books burned by Islamists,” claimed a headline in the Huffington Post. Like scores of other prominent publications, the website speculated the attack was instigated by an “antiIslamic” article authored by the priest, Father Ibrahim Sarouj. But the claim, which had been based on unnamed sources, was later denied and the article in question never named or produced. So was this really a premeditated attack on literature and civilisation, as Lebanese politicians and media outlets had framed it? Even if the arsonist was found to be Muslim – or identified himself as such – surely his actions did not represent mainstream Islamism in Lebanon or Tripoli, where, a number of the city’s Salafist preachers also appeared in a press conference condemn-

ing the arsonist. So could there have been other possibilities? Speaking on television a year earlier, Father Sarouj complained about a “conspiracy” to eject his library from the Ottoman era building where it was housed, not by extremists but by real estate developers. It wouldn’t be the first time in Lebanon’s history that developers used violence to evict tenants from decaying buildings, but this angle was barely investigated, let alone mentioned by politicians or the media.

dialogue,” renowned Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk indirectly pointed a finger at Hezbollah and its allies merely because Chatah had been one of their many critics. Fisk described Chatah as a martyr, “a good guy,” a “man of integrity…. a rare quality in Lebanon.” The latter may be true, but is personal familiarity grounds for such sweeping claims? Elements of Fisk’s heartfelt analysis and unverified accusations were carried by nearly every major Western newspaper and television report, which automatically labelled Chatah as a peaceful moderate. Yet scarcely was a single policy referenced to support the claim. In fact, Chatah long served as a spokesperson for the immensely corrupt and dysfunctional Lebanese regime. He was also employed as an advisor to Saad Hariri, the billionaire former prime minister and heir to an immense political and economic dynasty, one of the most powerful forces in the country. Hariri’s father, also a prime minister, had authored bitterly divisive and violent neoliberal economic policies, while his son has become an important participant in the Syrian conflict, through his network of political operatives, propaganda outlets and direct patronage from Saudi Arabia, one of the war’s key weapons suppliers.

It wouldn’t be the first time in Lebanon’s history that developers used violence to evict tenants from decaying buildings, but this angle was barely investigated, let alone mentioned by politicians or the media.

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A similar intransigence followed the death of political advisor Mohammad Chatah in a 27 December 2013 car bombing near central Beirut, which was immediately framed as an assassination of one of Lebanon’s rare moderates. Again, despite the lack of evidence released by police, the visceral responses poured in. The Western-educated politician had befriended many of Lebanon’s academics and foreign correspondents. Under the headline “Lebanon’s man of

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But all this nuance was ignored in the convenient dichotomy of good guy versus bad guy, moderate versus extremist. Just like the library burning, the lack of evidence or suspects meant little to the media narrative. The forces of darkness had struck again, not the Salafist Islamists this time, but Hezbollah. Nadim Koteich, one of the country’s most visible journalists, who like Chatah is employed by the Hariri empire, tweeted: “Killing us lingers in the back mind of most of the supporters of Hezbollah.” When asked to explain this blanket accusation, virtually implicating hundreds of thousands of party supporters in murder with no evidence, Koteich replied: “The base adopts unconsciously the fact that Hezbollah kills us and that we are helpless.” The assertion here is the often-heard and dehumanising mantra that Hezbollah supporters can be compared to sheep unknowingly herded by a shepherd. And yet Hezbollah officials have repeatedly condemned the killing of Chatah. Would this then mean the party speaks to its hundreds of thousands of supporters in secret code? Or that “most” Hezbollah supporters, as Koteich claimed, value the killing despite their own leader’s condemnation? Days later the whirlwind of speculation reignited when a second car bomb exploded in a southern Beirut neighbourhood where Hezbollah is popular. Again, no evidence emerged but Hariri, his media outlets, and members of parliament immediately mobilised to take aim at Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria as a probable, if not justifiable cause. “The insistence to drag Lebanon into the heart of the regional storm, is the danger that is luring terrorism into our cities and towns,” Hariri said. But left out of this narrative was any admission of his party’s own involvement in Syria through his Saudi partners and media outlets, not to mention the many armed Lebanese Sunnis who have crossed the border to fight. This isn’t to say Hezbollah leaders did not jump to their own conclusions, once again immediately claiming the attack had been carried out by takfiriyeen. The vague accusation does not implicate any Lebanese party, yet is heavily used to stereotype the opposition in Syria and draw indirect links to its “misguided” Lebanese supporters such as Hariri. This is because Hezbollah media outlets often claim, without providing empirical evidence, that the vast majority of regime opponents are foreign takfiriyeen, while local Syrian fighters, both secular and Islamist, are given very little attention. Detail and nuance are lost in favour of blunt and uncritical arguments, not unlike the blanket accusations made by Hariri. The zeal of both parties to generalise and jump to conclusions in the absence of hard evidence raises questions about their commitment to criminal justice and citizens’ right to information. Why, for example, are so few details released by police in Lebanon? The country has been rocked by dozens of explosions over the last five years, yet scarcely a suspect has been convicted or imprisoned. Have the blasts all been carried out by one party as both sides like to conveniently claim? Or could there be other players taking advantage of the lack of questions and subsequent atmosphere of impunity? Instead of rampant speculation, pressure from both the media and public officials could be channelled towards the investigators. Even the FBI has been sent to Lebanon on several occasions. Where are the results? In the absence of public information, entire political movements are blamed instead of individual criminals, fuelling stereotyping and Islamophobia, which is increasingly broken down into phobias of both Shi’a and Sunnis. The simplistic dichotomies of good versus evil, Sunni versus Shi’a are picked up and amplified by the foreign press, further reducing the possibility of individual accountability. One wonders if there is a vested interest – by many operating in Lebanon – to keep details at bay, as well as the accountability they may engender. An earlier version of this article was published in Bold Magazine.


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SOLAR REVOLUTION text: ALI SULEIMAN • infographic: DANAH ABDULLA

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e are witnessing a revolution. Not that overly-used-and-now-cliché term for the mass demonstrations in the Arab world, but a real industrial one that is set to shape our socio-economic dynamics: the solar revolution. Faced with increasing domestic demand and energy shortages, governments are seeking alternative sources of energy as a means of security and economic sustenance to keep their growing populations and industries alive. Indeed, most governments have committed to source 10-20 per cent of their energy needs from renewables by 2020. The most popular of these announcements is Saudi Arabia’s ambitious goal of 54GW1 of renewable energy by 2032. It’s important to dismantle the illusion that these decisions are intrinsically of environmental concern. Whilst countries that lack fossil fuels and heavily depend on energy import such as Jordan, Morocco, and Lebanon are seeking renewable energies as an energy security (i.e. political stability), the more fortunate petro-monarchies can simultaneously meet growing domestic demand and off-set oil for exports and downstream industrial applications.

Solar 101 With various alternative energies to choose from, the sun (surprise!) is the most prominent given its unique resourcefulness in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), with most states falling under the Sun Belt. For example, Arab states receive on average 2000 kWh/m2 of solar irradiation per year, and over 3200 annual sunshine hours. Such parameters greatly enhance the feasibility of solar power plant projects. While some areas prove feasible for other technologies such as geothermal and wind, solar is proving to be the most promising. The sun’s energy can be harnessed in two different ways: heat or light. Most of us are familiar with solar heating, and one can easily spot hundreds of the system on rooftops in nearly all Arab cities. For utility-scale power plants the heat energy captured is knows as Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). This works by reflecting the sun’s rays off specially designed industrial mirrors unto a central water tower to boil the water into steam, thereafter directing it to a turbine for power generation. Another method is to reflect the rays onto local tubes carrying the water or another fluid. The other type of solar energy is light, known as photovoltaic, or PV. This involves capturing sunlight unto PV cells (usually silicon) that chemically generate current (electricity). The cells are assembled on panels, which are connected in series to carry the current to a load or grid. Governments’ and developers’ choice of technology depends on various factors such as its bankability, capital cost (CAPEX), operational costs (OPEX), feasibility, and often strategic partnerships with technology providers. Looking at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) country profiles for the Middle East (November 2012), most governments are giving importance to PV over CSP, with a few exceptions. Although CSP offers larger energy output per land area compared to PV, however, it requires much larger CAPEX. While utility-scale PV can cost as low as $1.40 USD per Watt capacity, CSP may demand as high as $4-$5 USD per Watt. Furthermore, the OPEX involved is much lower for PV plants due to its virtually static nature (no moving parts), demanding at most 1 per cent of the CAPEX value per year as operational and 1  1 GW = 1,000 MW = 1,000,000 kW. This is a unit of power. For reference, each 1MW of solar energy capacity in the MENA climate can power on average 340 middle-income homes.

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maintenance cost. CSP technology employs turbines and many other moving components that demand more frequent servicing. Yet some states have given more importance to CSP, which is partly explained by private ventures and agreements between the private and public sectors. For example, Morocco has far more CSP-based projects in the pipeline than PV, which can be explained due to a history of Spanish and Portuguese business relationships in the country, two countries that have a long experience in CSP technology.

Current Activities To meet their targets, various projects are taking place on-ground ranging from utility to fabrication facilities. The key raw material for PV modules is polysilicon, a very pure form of silicon that is produced through various chemical processes. There are currently two on-going projects in Saudi Arabia, and one in Qatar, part of Qatar Solar Technologies (a joint venture involving Qatar Foundation, Qatar Development Bank, and Qatar Solar). There is no other polysilicon producer in the area, and this is a highly prized business that will have a greater control on the downstream PV components. Surprisingly, manufacturing of PV components isn’t new to the area. There are a handful of module producers in the region, including Lebanon, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Philadelphia Solar, located south of Amman, is the sole producer in the Kingdom, with a capacity of 60MW per year. However, a majority of its products are exported to other markets, including Europe. Microsol, a PV cell and mod-

ule producer has been active in the eastern Emirates province of Fujairah since 2003. It is owned by Indian businessmen, and is a serious contender in the region due to their financial and technical capacity. In terms of solar energy generation, there are several projects that have been completed and underway. The most recent and news-making was the inauguration of the Shams 1 plant in Abu Dhabi: a 100MW CSP plant developed by Masdar, in partnership with Total and Abengoa Solar (a Spanish firm). Morocco currently has 15MW and 20MW of PV and CSP plants installed, respectively. Hoping to increase its currently installed renewable energy capacity from 32 per cent to 42 per cent by 2020, Morocco has planned (and began implementing) serious projects. The 2020 plan evenly splits installed renewable energy capacities between wind, solar, and hydro, with solar amounting to 2GW. Construction is in progress for the 160MW CSP “Ouarzazate 1” plant, developed by a consortium spearheaded by Saudi-based ACWA Power. Another near 2GW of CSP and PV projects will be tendered in the coming years. It is no surprise that the Arab Future Energy Index2 has ranked Morocco as number one in terms of having the right business environment for the success of renewable energy projects. Morocco’s solar project developments are handled by the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), a joint stock company with a supervisory board consisting of ministers, utility company 2  Published by the Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, focusing on the Arab world.

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directors, and the adviser to King Mohammed VI. Their achievements is superb, having realized so many projects in a short period of time demonstrates the willingness of the energy-poor state in securing its energy needs. Not stopping there, it has also shown interest in establishing a local solar industry for manufacturing components of solar power plants. Nevertheless, the Arab Future Index also calls upon Morocco to formalize all legislation and supporting policies to sustain growth. Oman – where power shortages are common – is also commissioning four solar plants as pilot projects, one of which will be a 300kW system in Al-Mazyunah near the Yemeni border. It is being developed by US-based Astonfield, which has signed a Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) with Omani Rural Areas Electricity Company. The Omani cabinet has been delayed in issuing laws towards solar energy, and many believe such pilot projects is the kickstarter needed. The Sultanate’s new natural gas findings eased its concerns of stagnating oil and gas production – something that may delay Oman’s solar prospects. Nevertheless, it should be well-noted that Oman is the only country in the area to have a government body fully dedicated towards climate change and environmental affairs. Other notable mentions include existing 25MW of CSP in Algeria and 15MW PV and 20MW CSP in Egypt. Some of the smaller Arab states in Africa are also setting their visions far; Djibouti has set to source 30 per cent of its rural electrification from PV by 2017.

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The right business environment

Let it shine

Other than the climatic conditions which the Arab world is lucky with, one needs the right supporting legislation, infrastructure, and financing mechanisms for solar projects to develop. Supporting legislation involves elements such as a minimum renewable energy share from the national energy generation mix, or a framework for Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) and associated Feed-in-Tariffs (FIT) (this governs the conditions of electricity sale from solar power plants to the national grid). Policies may also involve local content requirements to promote local manufacturing businesses of solar power plant components. Indeed, most of the Arab states’ weakness is in legislation. An exception to this is Jordan, which is offering a FIT of 120 fils ($0.17 USD) per kWh sold to the national grid. Systems employing local content can benefit from a 15 per cent bonus incentive. Financing mechanisms are also imperative. Richer states have more attractive investment conditions as it’s easier to attain capital from investors/ developers and loans from banks or other financial institutions. The best example of this is the Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF), which provides loans up to 60 per cent of the project value at no interest. It is not an understatement when analysts claim Saudi Arabia to be the hottest solar market in the world. The Kingdom’s solar projects will be handled mostly by the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE), which recently released a whitepaper outlining the framework of KSA’s solar ambitions. It includes a schedule of solar project deployment, policies, and local content requirements for projects, highlighting the Saudi interest in establishing a strong and globally-competitive solar industry covering the whole value chain. Unlike Jordan, Saudi Arabia has not stipulated any form of PPA or FIT framework. Instead, developers will negotiate the terms with the government. A smart move: Saudi Arabia waited for sample pilot projects to be setup and run, thereafter using their respective cost of energy production and performance as a benchmark for bidding developers. Saudi Arabia’s plans aren’t without a few hitches; the process is somewhat delayed due to conflicts of interest between KACARE and Saudi Aramco (which has a de facto say in the Kingdom’s energy matter). Some clarity is expected in March of this year, upon which investors will proceed with their plans.

Benefits associated with this industrial wake-up are multifold. Given that solar has attained lower Levelized Cost of Electricity3 (LCOE) than conventional power plants, energy-poor states can establish internal stability and energy security against volatile oil and gas prices that have been only climbing in recent years. Reducing domestic oil and gas consumption and dependence translates into control of inflation, economic independence, and debt management (as net-importers of energy move towards self-sustenance). Similarly, energy-rich states such as Algeria, Libya, and the Gulf can offset oil production from domestic consumption to exports at higher values. It can also be diverted to downstream industrial businesses, offering more value and industrial diversification. Most importantly, there is one common benefit between energy-poor and rich states that’s associated with solar energy. Miraculously it also solves another dire issue for the Arab world: water. Water desalination plants consume large amounts of energy, often rendering them expensive to operate. Solar energy can be an effective alternative in solving the region’s water crisis, in addition to reducing dependence on foreign aid. Integrated with other solutions such as solar water pumping stations, it can proliferate and grow agricultural practices aiding in food production and employment opportunities. Oman’s solar plant at Musandam (in construction) and Utico’s (a utility company in UAE) recent tender announcement for a 40MW PV plant are both set to power local desalination facilities. With all Arab states having access to the sea, solar power is a promising solution for their water challenges. The solar revolution will also create new job opportunities. Specifically, per each MW installed CSP can generate on average 18 and 1.33 MCI4 and O&M5 jobs, respectively. Its PV counterpart can generate on average 18 and 0.30 MCI and O&M jobs, respectively6. These figures are estimates for developing countries, and the potential could be higher with the right policies.

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Too hot Benefits also come with challenges. While solar 3  The cost of generating electricity over a power plant’s lifetime. 4  Manufacturing, Construction, Installation 5  Operation & Maintenance (this also refers to permanent job creation) 6  Source: IRENA 2013


energy is a serious contender in shaping the future energy mix, the harsh climatic conditions in MENA (dust and high temperatures) can reduce the efficiency of such systems, not to mention the added O&M costs associated in cleaning the mirrors and panels (labor costs being low, few consider this a drawback). Regardless, the solar industry is already tackling these issues with serious R&D commitments, with several centers in the region focusing on technology improvements. Concepts such as higher heat tolerant PV modules or self-cleaning mirrors are innovative solutions that can overcome such technical barriers. Other challenges include political and economic self-interests. Governments are not moving towards renewables in unison; personal interests (e.g. utility shareholders) are actively attempting to limit the role of renewables within the national energy mix. Often, other forms of energy “solutions” appear, such as Jordan’s 2GW nuclear power plant that will be situated just 70 km north of Amman. The project – valued at $10 bn USD – will be undertaken by Russian state-owned Rosatom, covering both construction and operation. It’s important to mention that no Environmental Impact Study has been carried out, and neither the final project site nor the operating nature of the plant has been confirmed. In addition to the fact that Jordan struggles to source drinking water (let alone enough to keep this nuclear plant from overheating), how was this project approved? In the UAE, though Masdar has done great in promoting solar energy, it may soon be the very cause of its death. Masdar has already barred other industrial players – such as Senaat Holding (owner of giant Emirates Steel) – from entering the PV manufacturing business, as it slowly transforms into a state-owned monopoly. Given Masdar’s technology partnerships, this may very well hinder R&D developments and innovations, the main nutrient for the renewable energy industry.

The sun also rises But all is not at loss. The solar revolution is real and inevitable. Utico’s recent tender call for a PV plant in Ras Al-Kheimah is a sign that even utility companies will sooner or later embrace the sun and realise that solar is a cleaner, cheaper, and more secure energy alternative for the Arab world. All data for infographic from Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency’s Arab Future Energy Index rcreee.org/projects/arab-future-energy-index™-afex

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text: SYRIA • illustration: NOUR FLAYHAN

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OUTSIDE THE CAMPS by: SABRIEN AMROV

SINCE IT BEGAN IN MARCH 2011, THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR HAS CREATED ONE OF THE BIGGEST REFUGEE CRISES OF OUR TIME. SYRIA’S NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES – LEBANON, JORDAN, IRAQ, AND TURKEY – HAVE BEEN HOSTING THOUSANDS OF SYRIANS. THE NUMBER OF SYRIAN REFUGEES IN TURKEY HAS EXCEEDED 600,000, AND MORE THAN 400,000 OF THEM ARE LIVING OUTSIDE REFUGEE CAMPS. WHILE MUCH ATTENTION HAS CENTRED ON THE CAMPS, SELDOM DO WE HEAR ABOUT THE FAMILIES THAT VENTURE OUT INTO THE BIG CITIES. THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS NOT A REPORT, BUT RATHER A STORY OF HOW WE NEED TO BE REMINDED THAT THE NATURE OF HELP IS NOT TRANSACTIONAL.

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couple of colleagues and friends are running an informal charity network amongst their social circles for Syrian refugees that have made their way to Ankara, Turkey. They have gathered some donations and had spent the day buying portable heaters and house supplies for a group of Syrian families that ended up in the Turkish capital. They needed an Arabic-speaking translator, so I tagged along. After driving forty-five minutes, we park the car on top of an intimidating hill that opens up to a view of the outskirts of Ankara. A group of about twenty men were standing and discussing registration. I hear Arabic. I haven’t heard Arabic in a long time in Turkey. It was nice. “We brought an Arab speaker,” my friend tells a representative of the municipality who’s there to register the Syrians. But no one was excited to see me. They seemed to have been doing just fine understanding each other through the crisscrossing of broken Arabic by the Turks and broken Turkish by the Syrians. I watched and figured that, if they need me, they will let me know. They were in the midst of registering their names with the municipality, deciding amongst themselves who will get what help depending on the current needs of each household. At some point, a little girl, maybe seven years old, pops up in the circle of men. “Are they here to tell us where the classes are going to be? Tell them we are ready to go to the classes, we just need to know where they are. We can find our way all by ourselves, we just need to know where the place is,” she speaks out loud in Arabic as to get everyone’s attention. She was referring to Turkish classes that the municipality was going to start providing them. One man looks at her and says, “They are not here about the classes, but don’t worry. You will get to go to your class.” “Alright, just make sure you tell them that we need to know where they are. We can get there alone, I can find a way to get there, that is not a problem. We just need to know where.” She insisted again, “Make sure you tell them,” before leaving the group of men. “It’s not easy to ask for help. It’s not easy to accept help from others. It really isn’t,” a woman said to me as she offered to give me a tour of the terrace of what will become her new home in the outskirts of Ankara, near the capital’s main airport. She had left her village near Aleppo a week before with her three boys to join her husband, who had been in Turkey for four months looking for a job and a decent place


to stay before he brought them over from war-torn Syria. “I could not bring them here without making sure they had a roof over their heads and I sure was not going to stay in those camps,” he tells me. The place he found is an old, broken Turkish home, with a roof that would fail to protect them from the rain. There’s no glass for the windows, no blinds, no proper flooring, let alone a heating system. But he says to me, “It’s much, much better than staying under rains of bombs. Here at least, we know we are not being chased.” We had arrived to offer them basic assistance, nothing out of the ordinary: food, medicine, hygiene products, and carpet for the naked flooring. But saying thank you did not come easy. He had a hard time. She had a hard time. Seeing people battle with generosity is eye opening. You see gratefulness in their eyes but you also see embarrassment. It was clear she appreciated the help – I could see her offer it to us through her eyes. But perhaps at some point, in the midst of crossing borders and fighting against death, you are absorbed with figuring out how you actually got to this point. The thank you’s were there, paralysed in their throats. “When the kids hear planes, they think we are back home and they get scared. They get really scared,” the woman explains as a plane passes by over the hill. “How about food, how are you managing?” I was told to ask her. “Well, he works, so it’s been okay.” She tells me he found a job at a factory and managed to save up enough money during the past four months to afford rent and the basics. As she goes on about how proud she is of her husband, he barges in the conversation: “I make my own bread, every two days, from scratch. The kids love it, and my wife is from the madinah (the city), so she needs her bread to be baked – madinah ladies like their

homemade bread,” he says flirtingly as he looks at her. She gives him a laugh, followed by a wallah?! (Really?!).“We are lucky,” he continues. “We have our passports. Many others don’t have their papers so they are stuck in really bad situations. And we are registered, so we are going to be okay. We have figured it out.” My friend tells me to ask her if she has any specific needs she wants us to know about. “Well, I mean, today I washed the house,” she tells me as though she had been living in the house for years. “But do you need anything urgent?” I ask her. “Well, I don’t really know how to answer that question. What do you mean?” “It’s okay. I mean do you need anything at all for the kids or maybe for yourself?” I insist. “Ouf, I really don’t know,” she tells me with a broken smile. “I understand,” I say to her, knowing that it is not the easiest of questions. “They will come back again in the coming weeks so they can check on you.” “Mashi, I don’t know what to say,” she responds with her two hands on her chest. My friend, even though he doesn’t understand Arabic, seems to have read her discomfort and says to me, “Tell her she doesn’t have to say anything. We will be back.” We say goodbye and get back in the car, and he turns to me and says, “It’s not easy to ask for help.” We head to a hospital the same week. A Syrian woman just gave birth to her first child and had extended her stay in the delivery room due to some complications. A colleague at work, who also runs an informal charity network, needs an Arabic translator. We arrive at the hospital with some items collected for the Turkish-born Syrian child, Shadi. My colleague shows off the bags as she comes into the room, announcing that she’s bearing gifts. Tesekurlar (thank you), the new mom says in broken Turkish with her hands in the air, almost

“I make my own bread, every two days, from scratch. The kids love it, and my wife is from the madinah (the city), so she needs her bread to be baked – madinah ladies like their homemade bread,” he says flirtingly as he looks at her.


comically. My colleague, a mother of three, begins to take out some of the baby accessories, one by one from the bags. She says to me, “Tell her this is for the baby to wear, this is for the baby to put in his mouth, this is for the bed, tell her that…” “But I know!” the new mum replied to me. Patronised not so much by the gift, but by the delivery, she repeats in a monotone, “Tesekurlar, tesekurlar.” My colleague turns a little red and starts talking in Turkish with the other women standing, while looking at the new mother. I zone out of their conversation as I see the mother ignoring them and looking at her child. Pity is never easy to handle. But it’s even worse when you are receiving it in a language that you do not understand and you’re stuck between eyes fixated on you with uncompassionate compassion. No one likes to be patronised, not even with generosity. My colleague continues, “Ask her if she wants food. We brought her food. Is she alone here? Ask her, ask her if she is alone, we can help.” I ignore the request, myself irritated by the hollowness of the interrogations. I turn to the new Syrian mother and instead ask her, “How are you feeling after the delivery – how was it? It’s your first child; you must be over the moon!” “Alhamdulillah, I feel a little weak but we are good. My husband comes every morning and night. He can’t stay during the day because of his job, because he has a job – he works,” she replies to me, emphasising as to make clear that they are taking their lives into their own hands. “In the meantime, I am getting to know this handsome boy,” she smiles, staring at her newfound friend she is carrying around with care. Her doctor asks me to tell her that the reason she is here is because her blood level is low and that, as soon as it’s back to normal, she can head home. I translate. She smiles and says, “Inshallah khair.” She then turns her face back to my colleague and says to me, “Tell her that next time, I’ll have her over to my house. Tell her that, in fact, I’ll have you all over to my house.” I do as she asks, and the group uniformly says, “Inshallah,” (if God wills it) and get ready to head out. We leave her with Shadi, one of the hundreds of kids who will become a generation of Syrians from Turkey. People do not abandon their lives when they cross the borders that make them refugees. In their minds, in their hearts, and in their social demeanour, they still carry their homes. Somewhere between the outskirts of Aleppo and the Turkish-Syrian border – travels from a refugee camp to the capital – they battled to keep their sense of worth, and nothing or no one can take that away from them.

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Overview

SYRIAN REFUGEES IN TURKEY Source: UNHCR – February 2014

Total registered refugee population in camps and noncamp locations by province Above 50,000

HATAY KILIS GAZIANTEP SANLIURFA ICEL 25,000-50,000

MARDIN K.MARAS Below 25,000

ADANA OSMANIYE ADIYAMAN MALATYA CAMP POPULATION 35.1% NON-CAMP POPULATION 64.9%

Monthly increase in registered Syrian refugees living outside camps 34,979 24,299 18,967

18,196

Oct 13

15,658

Nov 13

Dec 13

Jan 14

Feb 14


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INFORMAL CAIRO text & photos: ZEINA ELCHEIKH

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ne could read a lot about the city of Cairo – on its glorious history, fascinating monuments and the River Nile that flows through it. However, the “city of the thousand minarets” has another unconventional face, not usually exposed to visitors. The rapid urban growth which has been experienced in Cairo the last few decades, associated with the sharp population increase and deficiency in housing policies, has imposed many challenges and played a major role in increasing deficiency in housing settings. These reasons caused an expansion in residential settings generally described as “illegal” or “poor.” Today, in greater Cairo, urban planners estimate that over 70 per cent of the residents live in informal areas. They are either squatting on stateowned lands; building their houses illegally on their privately-owned agricultural lands; or living in deteriorated houses in the old neighbourhoods; or even living among tombs in cemeteries. Regardless of how poverty is measured and how its multifaceted aspects are discussed, poverty is mainly reflected in inadequate housing and unhealthy living conditions, which are collectively known here as “informal.”

Inhabited burial plot in the City of the Dead The terms of “informal areas” or “informal settlement” convey meanings of an area with severe social degradation and insalubrious dwelling. These terms relate the residents of these areas –intentionally or unintentionally – with illiteracy, anti-social attitude and even with criminality. Although such social aspects exist – more or less, in some informal settlements – poverty is not a permanent feature that characterises a person, a community or an urban texture, but it is a condition. People in these informal areas did not choose to be poor. In Egypt,

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like in other countries of the region, the improper economic planning, misgovernance, corruption of state officials and administrators, and many other factors1 played a role in the multifaceted conditions of poverty they live in.

House in the informal area of Ezbet el-Haggana The dwellers of informal settlements in Cairo developed informal income generating activities, which are unofficial and with no formal authority involvement.2 One of these activities is garbage collection and sorting, which became a main characteristic of some informal areas such as Zabbaleen, however piles of sorted wastes are typical scenery in all informal areas in Cairo. Waste and garbage is collected from dumps and street bins, or even directly from households in other parts of the city.

Garbage collection and sorting in the informal area of Ezbet elHaggana Need made the informal areas in Cairo grow, the same reason caused the spreading use of the threewheeler tok-tok as a means of transportation. Although it is cheap – if compared to normal taxi fares 1  arabiangazette.com/poverty-matrix-troubles/ 2  giz.de/Themen/en/dokumente/gtz2010-waste-expertsconditions-is-integration.pdf


in the city – the tok-tok is not completely safe to ride. It is often driven by unlicensed teenagers and does not have a plate number. Moreover, incidents of rape, theft, and drug abuse have been linked with tok-toks.3

A tok-tok in the informal area of Ezbet el-Nasr Women and children are, in one way or another, a vulnerable group living in these areas. Many girls and women do not have proper access to education and job opportunities. Women-headed families (12 to 15 per cent of households in Egypt) are much more likely to be poor than male-headed families.4 Moreover, the hardship of living conditions in these areas puts on women difficult task of managing the household expenses and needs with raising their children. A large number of children in the informal areas are deprived from proper education, due to the expenses which their families cannot afford, and due to the fact that many of them leave school in order to work and support their families. Many of these children are exposed to unsafe situations in the works they are doing. The unsanitary conditions and the already poor health system, increases the risk of getting sick. Moreover, children living among tombs in graveyards and burial plots are prone to certain diseases and other mental and psychological ill-beings due to living in a frightening environment, not dedicated to accommodate the “living.”

Daily life aspects surrounding a tomb in a burial plot in the City of the Dead This unconventional face of Cairo – as seen in its informal areas, is a presentation of how people with low-income are struggling to survive. They built up their informal houses, created their informal economies and transport means based on their real needs and with their available resources. Maybe these areas could provide lessons, especially for authorities that are nowadays facing an increasing challenge of

meeting the goals of economic growth while ensuring sufficient provision of services to the inhabitants, especially to those with limited resources. 3  sites.google.com/site/transportationinegypt/audio 4 ucl.ac.uk/dpu-projects/Global_Report/pdfs/Cairo.pdf


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POWER OF THE PEN: Yasmin Helal by: ALEXANDRA KINIAS

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n June 2010, Yasmin Helal was attending a film festival in Cairo. Three children approached her asking for money. She had no change to give them, but Helal had three school bags in her car trunk that she was donating to a charitable organisation. Rather than sending the kids away, she gave each one of them a school bag. This simple act of goodness changed not just the children’s lives but Helal’s as well. The events of that night culminated with the young engineer quitting her job and founding Educate-Me, an NGO that was initially founded to help reinstate dropouts back to school. In its short lifetime, however, Educate-Me has broadened its mission, becoming an organisation that also tries to improve the well being of underprivileged children. Further to this, EducateMe is also developing special educational programmes for children to help them improve their skills and enable them to pursue their future dreams. Helal was attending a conference in Boston, Massachusetts where I had the chance to talk with her. “I was selected among ten other candidates, after winning the entrepreneurship competition of NEGMA, the American-based NGO, back in March 2013, to attend an accelerator programme and to present my project at MIT,” Helal explained. NEGMA was established after the January 25th uprising by a group of seven Egyptian-Americans and Egyptian professionals from the Harvard and MIT communities. They wanted to have an impact on the social and economic needs in Egypt by empowering entrepreneurs and innovators who are developing programmes to solve some of Egypt’s significant challenges. To support this vision, the NEGMA Conference was established to help translate ideas into action for a brighter future for Egypt. Since education is a topic that cannot be ignored, it was no surprise that Educate-Me was among those selected by NEGMA. Helal goes on to say that the “accelerator programme started with Alexandra K. Trenfor — the Harvard Arab weekend conference followed by workshops and field visits to other organisations and schools. The workshops have been really helpful in terms of covering different topics that we had identified as potential areas of development, and the field visits gave us access to a network of experts that could potentially help each of our organisations.” Helal recalled how Educate-Me started. The same night she gave the children the three school bags, she

“THE BEST TEACHERS ARE THOSE WHO SHOW YOU WHERE TO LOOK, BUT DON’T TELL YOU WHAT TO SEE.”

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was approached by a middle-aged man asking her for school bags for his daughters. “I had no more bags, but I promised to bring him the bags the following day. I also learned that his daughters dropped out of school because he couldn’t afford the small tuition. I told myself that I would confirm his story and if in fact he was telling the truth, I will pay for their tuition. At the same time, I thought this is not enough; because I was certain that there are many cases similar to his. These cases needed more effort from our side to be able to reach them. At this point I decided to start this project with a goal to look for children who had dropped out and who could not afford the tuition [in order to] reinstate them back to school. I wanted to give them a chance like the chances we were given in our lives.” Helal, who graduated with a biomedical engineering degree with honours from Cairo University, was also a player for the Egyptian Basketball National Team. She quit her job at telecom giant AlcatelLucent, where she worked as a Middle East and Africa Network design engineer, to launch her NGO – a move which raised a lot of eyebrows. When asked about the challenges she had launching her project, Helal responded, “One of the main challenges I faced was the social pressure I was exposed to when I decided to quit my engineering job and dedicate my full time to EducateMe. This was not familiar to our culture. The whole social entrepreneurship ecosystem is not yet mature or empowered like it is in the West. It was also challenging to find the right people who shared the same passion and vision for a better education.” “Even though my initial aim for Educate-Me was a small fundraising initiative that assists in reinstating school dropouts back to school, I was lucky to be joined by my co-founders Mohamed El Haw and

Amr El Salanekly, and together our journey changed course. Educate-Me evolved into a foundation that is now fully established in the community – with a community development centre and with its own educational system and educational curriculum. We are not just reinstating the children back to school, but we are also helping them develop their skills and talents that enable them to compete in today’s world. We are helping them grow up with goals, ambitions and vision, and to become of benefit to their communities,” she continued. Since its founding, Educate-Me has been well received by both the children and the parents of the village of Konayyesa, Giza, where it was established. This positive reception inspired Helal and her team to launch their first community development centre in this neighbourhood. “So far, we have reinstated more than 200 children back to school over a period of three years, and recently we have established illiteracy sessions for mothers in the community. We have also created jobs. The illiteracy classes are delivered by four women from the community who are trained to deliver the service. So our service is from the community to the community.” When asked about the method that Educate-Me has developed for its tutorial programme, Helal explained, “What we do generally is let the kids decide for themselves what they want. They come to our centre and decide what they want. We offer them many options they can choose from: English, handicrafts, digital literacy and other subjects, but it is their responsibility to decide what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. We’ve been getting more than 75 per cent attendance rate in the centre, which means that kids are actually interested in the project.”

There’s no doubt that the education system in Egypt is in peril. The 2013-2014 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report rated Egypt as the worst country in the world in the quality of primary education.


There’s no doubt that the education system in Egypt is in peril. The 2013-2014 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report rated Egypt as the worst country in the world in the quality of primary education. Egypt is listed 118th overall, eleven spots lower than last year’s ranking. Providing some insights about the poor quality of education in Egypt, Helal said, “Among the major problems that students face in public schools is the learning environment itself. The classrooms are not well equipped, the desks are broken and some classes are crammed with more than 100 children. It is impossible to learn in this environment, especially when you have just one teacher per class. Moreover, these teachers are underpaid so they force the children to get private tutoring with them. And this is the decisive factor for whether the children will pass the exams or fail. One of the children showed me his mathematics test results where he scored 23 out of 25. I tried to resolve it again with him to help him understand what he had missed, only to realise that he doesn’t even know how to read. The teachers give the answers [of] the test to those who take private lessons with them. Education should have a purpose and not just to get a good grade or a certificate. Another problem in the education system is that it relies mainly on standardised testing and getting the children to score well on exams, which defines what is going to happen in their future.” In spite of the political turmoil in Egypt, Helal admitted that the current situation has benefited Educate-Me. After the revolution, a Neil deGrasse Tyson — lot of Egyptians started feeling the urge to contribute to the development of the country, and accordingly, the number of Educate-Me staff and contributors increased immensely. And because Educate-Me started before the revolution, Helal and her team has managed to be ahead in terms of understanding the depth of the problems the country is facing. However, given the security issues and instability in the country, many of the organisation’s activities have been periodically interrupted. Educate-Me is a long-term project. It will grow and evolve, just as the children do. Helal and her team recognise that there are no speedy solutions – success is achieved and milestones are met on daily basis, but the project will really bear fruit when the children complete their high school diploma. Educate-Me in not just a tutoring programme, but is rather a second chance handed to underprivileged children who have been living in harsh social conditions and with bleak futures. When their world turned against them, Educate-Me reached out to them and allowed them not just to dream of changing their world, but also showed them how to strive towards achieving a better and more hopeful future.

“WE SPEND THE FIRST YEAR OF A CHILD’S LIFE TEACHING IT TO WALK AND TALK, AND FOR THE REST OF ITS LIFE TO SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN. THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG THERE.”


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EGYPT’S REVOLUTION EVOLUTION opinion piece by: AL SHARIF NASSEF

In the name of God, this is dedicated to all who sacrificed their lives for the revolution, and for those who continue to dedicate theirs to the cause of creating a brighter Egypt.

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hree years ago, on the 25th of January 2011, millions of brave men and women banded together in Tahrir Square to embark on a national journey to assert their rights. Egyptians rejected despotism, failed governance, corruption, economic exploitation, and police abuse, demonstrating the feats possible when people unite to march towards a single goal with selfless, wholehearted dedication. The Revolution marked a new chapter in Egyptian history as people shed fears of criticising authority, embraced their rights, and took action to change their country. Once united, the Egyptian people had high hopes for a seamless democratic transition and a bright future. But as the revolution continues to unfold, the trials of pressing for populist aims face off against entrenched elitist establishment proves difficult. Hopes of Egypt’s revolutionaries duel a bleak reality. Revolutionaries are finding out the hard way that achieving the success of the revolutions’ aims may not be attainable through the formula of mass protest and sit-in – the model of the Revolution’s first uprising in early 2011. Sidelined throughout the bloody political duel between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, Revolutionaries need to assert a clear vision, channel their efforts through civil institutions, and mobilise the masses to take constructive action for the good of the Egypt.

Battle between Millionaires, Hijacked Revolution Those who sought change in Egypt learned quickly that the fight against an entrenched system would be tough. Those who held power for generations – the military institution, former members of Mubarak’s NDP, and the corporate elite, who for years collaborated with them – seek to preserve their economic privilege and institutional power in the face of the Revolution’s mandate for broad 36

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change. Those most poised to seek power after the start of the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood – whose top ranks are dominated by millionaire neo-liberal businessmen – sought to gain the economic privilege of their Mubarak-era predecessors. The group’s brazen Islamist rhetoric aimed more to rally conservative, poorer segments of society behind its political machine rather than to promote the core Islamic virtues of justice, knowledge, hard work, and love that Egypt desperately needs. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood cast grassroots revolutionaries and liberals aside and hijacked the revolution that they started. The military regime’s most formidable and wellorganised political opponents have been demonised by the local media and cast away by the masses on the Revolution’s second uprising on 30 June 2013. But now, those who fought for freedom and reform in Tahrir are being ruthlessly suppressed once again. The military regime, which in its future form will merely replace a uniform with a suit, continues to suppress the essential freedoms of assembly, press and political ideology to campaign for a political cause that martyrs of the Revolution died for. Revolutionary street art and slogans have been washed out of public spaces in favour of giant posters of General Sisi. A massive propaganda campaign to win the support of a protest exhausted and widely ignorant mass public takes hold of the average Egyptian’s mind, with disconcerting success. Aside from banning the Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoning its members across the board, the military-backed government’s efforts of intimidation include the arrest of activists, union workers, NGO members, civil society leaders and critical academics. Mass media government mouthpieces defame the youth movements at the core of the January 25th Revolution and stirs elaborate conspiracy plots to


distract the people from the real national enemy: unchecked authority by the long-standing establishment. With the media and the people preoccupied with an alleged “war against terrorism,” government insiders profit off of the billions of dollars of Gulf aid money spent on face-lift projects contracted to companies owned by military and Mubarakite economic elites – the same ones who the people rose up against in the first uprising. The popular plight of the people remains unaddressed. The neo-liberal agenda of the establishment seeks to perpetuate the economic status quo with “security and stability” – a Mubarak-era mantra – as its slogan. The new constitution passed following a massive corporatefunded “Yes” campaign, whilst those who campaigned against it were rounded up and jailed. Now the autonomy of the military institution is enshrined, maintaining broad jurisdiction to try civilians in military courts, while the military is subject to no civil law or electable check and balance. It strengthened the police and intelligence services that for years have done its dirty work and sustained the corrupt status quo. There is little indication that the military’s shepherding of the current “democracy” will do anything but serve those who have been at societies helm for a generation. As my former professor and Egypt law expert Nathan Brown wrote recently, “Egypt toppled a dictator, only to replace it with a slew of dictatorial institutions” that lack the key mechanisms of civilian oversight. Such are vital staples of democracy which prevent corruption while ensuring that the popular will is adhered to.

As it stands, no political challenger stands much of a chance in the upcoming presidential election, given much of the public’s adoration for Field Marshall Sisi. Today’s Egypt chimes an ultra-nationalistic current, a naive nostalgia for a Gamal Abdel Nasser figure to join military might with populism. But Sisi is no Abdel Nasser: the Egyptian elites and their business partners in the Gulf rely on his repressive security measures to protect their neoliberal economic agenda above the broad interests of the people. Ironically, the elitist policy is root of Egypt’s economic woes. The nation lacks of a strong, organised, envisioned alternative to the military. The institutions that be don’t seem interested in bringing about the drastic changes in governance necessary to address Egypt’s central challenges. Rather, it perpetuates a formula of suppression to maintain the status quo. Clearly, the crackdown reminds revolutionaries and democracy advocates how long we have to go. Only tireless work, organized pressure, and actionable alternatives for reform can achieve the Revolution’s political aims. Accountable, transparent civilian rule and strike at the corrupt system.

Paving a Way to Progress The onus to continue paving the path to a bright future for the Egyptian people weighs down upon our nation more than ever at this current juncture. Though revolutionaries may not currently be able to mobilise a political force to usher in broad national reforms just yet, there is ample room for social and civic development. Arguably, such growth

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in grassroots and community sectors are vital prerequisites to democratic development and long-term progressive consolidation, as well as for the establishment of a cross-society base of progressives and like-minded reformists. The Revolution’s seeds of hope, still alive, have already been planted. Patience must root this hope. For Egypt’s tree of change to bare its promised fruits of democracy, social justice, and prosperity, the people must water it continuously by the perseverance and dedication of the people. To bloom, it requires enrichment at its core, the light of virtue and positive conscience. Like a stint for a young tree, the revolution needs ideals to keep it upright in its youth. The Revolution’s development has thus far been stunted by the lack of a cohesive strategic vision necessary to guide the Revolution’s growth. Let us, then, proffer the foundations for a broad, ambitious revolutionary mindset with the potential to unite all Egyptians and benefit all sectors of society. Let us place the first blocks in a project aiming to build an Egypt that is free, peaceful, progressive, innovative, just, clean, prosperous, healthy, and soulful. During the first uprising, we demanded freedom, bread, and social justice. But such essentials should not require a revolution – the basic tenets of human decency should ensure such demands! The Revolution’s full potential stretches toward heights beyond Tahrir’s catchy chant of basic human needs. Our target must be the summit of modern state achievement, and we must not settle for anything less. Our goal: improvement in all walks of Egyptian life. Such ambitions DOSSIER: CURRENT AFFAIRS

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are not unrealistic. But the walk toward such a national revival means that every single person across all niches of society must play an important role in achieving this aim, politics far aside. For if the government fails to advance the aims of the revolution, they will soon realise the people have started without them.

Revolution of Selves A great American thinker William James once wrote, “the greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds can change the outer aspects of their lives.” Thus, the key to the Revolution’s long-term success first resides in its potential to promote an evolution of the mindsets and morals holding Egypt back on social and spiritual level. Many Egyptians, jaded and corrupted by the dark system sewn into their souls by the poisons of colonialism and authoritarianism, are deprived of dignity and selfhood. Such has been the key hindrance of constructive, creative, intuitive and positive individual forces (necessary cornerstones for community development). The aim of an “inner revolution” is to reverse widespread attitudes of complacency and despair amongst Egyptians and rekindle the hope birthed by the first uprising. Promoting a critical mindset alongside the ideals of social or national love lends itself to birthing ideas for progress and action, which are in short supply. Such evolution begins with each individual, but space encouraging it through the intellectual, cultural, and social media discourse does exist.

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This, then, means marking the dawn of an intellectual and cultural renaissance. An authentic movement of such might only be achieved by melding togeather modern progressive values with a revival of the deep thought of the great thinkers of Islamic civilisation. Intellectuals of our age should explore the spiritual, political, and philosophical thought of our ancestors and build upon them. A successful Revolution will reinvigorate our intellectual heritage, enrich the collective mind in Egypt, and enact the prowess born within.

to “Revolutionary” responsibilities and encouraged to reshape their perspectives regarding their role in society. Such a mindset would expand the responsibilities of citizens, enlighten their consciousness with progressive and righteous ideals, and promote the integration of each individual with his community, of which he is a vital part. Such outlook should aim to bring about in a wave of self-motivation that stirs individuals to dedicate time, effort, or money to help address the challenges facing the nation. The great wise cliché of John F.

Our revolution needs to transcend politics and focus on progressivism and democracy building. Perhaps, Revolutionaries can reach out to Egypt’s long-silent Sufis, whose core tenants revolve around the individual paths of knowledge and love, to promote the virtues that Egyptian society needs most. Long-term progress, then, can be achieved by promoting a culture wherein individuals are held

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Kenndy says it all: “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” The Holy Qur’an reminds us, “Surely God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition, themselves” (13:11).

Civic Revival At the same time, in order for


this wave of individual development to translate into action for the greater good, organisational mechanisms must be in place with prepared initiatives that channel revolutionary momentum into massive action plans. The revolution inspired millions of Egyptians to take action for their country, however most of these patriots seldom have outlets of political or social expression aside from street protests, typically against something or the other. While the right to peaceful, free assembly is a fight that revolutionary forces must keep up and peacefully demonstrate for, Egyptian civil society must birth constructive, productive initiatives that channel the revolutionary spirit into large-scale national volunteerism. The idea is: instead of simply protesting against the government to induce change, organise, get to work, and physically make the change happen. When the government sees the success of civic rooted initiatives, they will eventually be convinced to step in and offer assistance or funding. For example, since education is perhaps the most pressing issue facing the nation, imagine a legally registered mass protest in Tahrir where Egyptians advocate for comprehensive education reform by the government. I envision teachers, students, community leaders, and education experts, gathering together to address demonstrators and the media about the shortcomings of the educational system, while calling for nationwide volunteer initiative to tutor children and even underfunded adults at underfunded government schools around the nation. Education-promoting NGOs would be responsible to collaborate with the teachers union to draft recommendations to the government on how to target reform. Progressive parliamentarians would be encouraged to participate, and educational experts would help them draft laws that address the issue and prepare them to present it to the democratic assembly. Revolutionary forces and youth movements would be tasked with mobilising their bases to attend the demonstration and encouraging them to take part in the initiative. To organise similar initiatives to tackle each major problem that the country faces – environment, judicial reform, unskilled labor, government oversight, and corporate greed to name a few – is to keep the revolution alive through coordinated, targeted, populist civilian initiatives that improve the national condition. Such initiatives require a wide degree of coordination between civil society groups, which will be key to the future strength of the non-governmental sector as a counterweight to monopolistic and ineffective government authority. These efforts can also help convince a wider public wary of demonstrations due to the unrest of the past three years of the benefits of peaceful assembly when coordinated with a targeted vision and an action plan. The organisational fabric and broad accomplishments of a reinvigorated civil society will prove highly effective once the opportunity for progressive liberals to compete politically at a national level presents itself. If a singular “revolutionary” leader has yet to emerge on a national scale in Egypt, any citizens can take initiative by serving as local leaders in their schools, neighbourhoods, and social groups to promote community awareness and spearhead local projects. Nothing is more revolutionary than identifying local problems, brainstorm solutions, fostering community discussions about them, and brushing off their organisational skills from the January 25th uprising to unite people to take actions to achieve these local goals. Our revolution needs to transcend politics and focus on progressivism and democracy building. If the people of Egypt, and its civil society fabric make headway in tackling social, environmental, political, and economic ills in unison, it will shine light across the region and serve as an international model for a peaceful democratic transition and grassroots civic development, a catalyst for international popular empowerment. Indeed, despite the current military winter, spring will come.

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PALESTINIAN REFUGEES FROM SYRIA by: ZANE RAZZAQ

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hile the Syrian crisis has been disastrous for the entire Syrian population, one specific sub-population is in a uniquely precarious state. Palestinian refugees from Syria, who are now enduring secondary forced displacement, are distinct from other refugees of the region because their status as “twice-refugees” has left them exposed to exploitation and blind spots within international law. Due to the fact that they are often ignored in the discourse surrounding the Syrian crisis, this article seeks to shed light on this vulnerable population. As a consequence of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, approximately seven hundred thousand Palestinians were expelled from present-day Israel and sought refuge in neighbouring Middle Eastern countries. BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights estimates that 90,000 of those Palestinians fled to Syria. These refugees were able to successfully integrate into Syrian society, partly because of the efforts by the Syrian government to protect them. As stated in the Syrian Arab Republic’s law no. 260 of 1957, Palestinians were afforded almost all the same rights as Syrian citizens: the right to work, the right to own businesses, and universal access to education and health care. As a result of this law, Palestinian refugees in Syria were able to live relatively stable and prosperous lives. By the time the 2011 Syrian uprising began, Palestinian refugees in Syria had enjoyed a better and more desirable socio-economic status than most Palestinian refugees. Notably, however, Palestinian refugees were never offered the right to Syrian citizenship. At the start of the Syrian uprising, the Palestinian refugee population in Syria was approximately half a million, according to American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA). They comprised three per cent of the Syrian population and approximately ten per cent of all Palestinian refugees registered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). When the uprising began, the Palestinian refugee population in Syria tried to maintain neutral-

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ity and remain uninvolved with the crisis. One demonstration of this desire was when Palestinian-Syrian protesters set the headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), which is based in Syria, on fire, after the PFLP-GC abandoned neutrality by taking the side of the government. Despite attempts to remain neutral, Palestinian refugees in Syria were eventually and reluctantly dragged into the crisis. As the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamist fighters began to turn Palestinian refugee camps in Syria into combat zones, it became impossible for Palestinians to remain uninvolved. One such example of this was the senseless attack on the Latakia refugee camp, when the government launched an attack on the camp, killing dozens of Palestinians and displacing thousands. As Filippo Grandi, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, said, “Half of [the Palestinian refugees in Syria] have fled from camps in Syria after [those camps] turned into ‘battlefields’ for government forces and the opposition.” As a result of the Syrian civil war, fifty-seven per cent of the Palestinian refugees in Syria are now displaced, 235,000 are internally displaced, while some 63,500 refugees have fled to neighbouring countries. The treatment these refugees have received is different from their Syrian counterparts, and is in most cases inferior. Noura Erakat, a Palestinian human rights attorney and activist, in a lecture entitled “Displaced Again: Palestinian Refugees from Syria,” identified the gaps in the international protection regime for Palestinian refugees as the reason for this group’s acute vulnerability. When the Palestinian refugee population was first created in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly gave the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) the mandate to provide Palestinians with international protection. UNCCP was mandated to assist Palestinian refugees in finding a durable solution to their plight, which could include returning a refugee back to her home country or integrating her into new countries where


she is seeking refuge. The mandate allowing UNCCP to provide Palestinians with international protection also would have protected Palestinians from being forcibly deported back to a place where they feared persecution. The General Assembly also mandated UNRWA to provide Palestinians with assistance, namely humanitarian aid. By the early 1950s, however, UNCCP’s efforts in assisting Palestinian refugees with a durable solution were proving unsuccessful. Soon after, UNCCP’s mandate had been reduced because of a lack of international political cooperation. Presently, no other refugee agency is mandated to provide Palestinians with international protection, leaving them exposed to exploitation. They still have access to humanitarian aid – which includes access to education and employment – because of UNRWA, but humanitarian aid is not an adequate substitute for a durable solution. In order to have a meaningful and positive effect on a refugee’s status, aid must be paired with the search for a durable solution. In contrast to Palestinian refugees, Syrian refugees fall under the jurisdiction of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is mandated to provide refugees with a durable solution. UNHCR also protects Syrian refugees from the possibility of being forced to return to a place where they could be persecuted. The fact that there is no refugee agency for Palestinians that can provide them with international protection has always been a problem for the Palestinian refugee population, but it has been particularly disastrous for the Palestinian refugees fleeing the Syrian crisis. The forced secondary displacement they are now enduring makes their situations more difficult and exposes them to even more international law blind spots. Palestinians, therefore, have emerged from the civil war as one of the most vulnerable groups. An example of this vulnerability is the fact that host countries have been exploiting the fact that Palestinians are not protected from being forcibly returned to a place where they fear persecution. For example, while Syrian refugees entering Lebanon are able to enter without paying an entry fee and are permitted to stay in the country for at least six months, Palestinian refugees from Syria who have sought refuge in Lebanon are granted a one-week visa and then ordered to leave after this visa runs out. This leaves all Palestinians who have fled to Lebanon in a vulnerable state. As their temporary residence permits become invalid, their presence in Lebanon is no longer legal. Fur-

thermore, the lack of a valid temporary residence permit prohibits them from access to humanitarian aid from UNRWA. Their choices are to either remain in Lebanon illegally and most likely in poverty, or return to Syria, where most Palestinians anticipate persecution. In Jordan, Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria are also subject to inferior and disparate treatment when compared to Syrian refugees. Jordan has allowed 500,000 Syrian refugees into the country, but has used force to return some Palestinians back to Syria and threatened to deport others. Again, Palestinian refugees are forced back into a country where they have reason to fear persecution if they return. Arguably, if Palestinians were afforded international protection, these countries would not be able to forcibly return them back to Syria. When Palestinian refugees from Syria flee to Egypt, the situation is different. There, Palestinians should technically be under the jurisdiction of UNHCR, because UNRWA does not operate in Egypt. However, according to Human Rights Watch, Egyptian authorities have not allowed UNHCR to provide Palestinians with humanitarian aid, which will likely create unfavourable circumstances for Palestinians and encourage them to return to Syria. The Syrian civil war has plunged the entire Syrian population into chaos and vulnerability. However, the protection gaps of the two overlapping refugee regimes leave the Palestinians of Syria particularly vulnerable. This Syrian refugee crisis has a Palestinian side to it that needs to be addressed, and is in dire need of a durable and viable solution.

Overview

SYRIA Source: UNHCR - March 2014

2,570,527

2,570,527

Total Persons of Concern

Registered Syrian Refugees

962,385

226,934

Individuals in Lebanon

Individuals in Iraq

584,600

641,771

Individuals in Jordan

Individuals in Turkey


Editor Akram Al-Turk, Designer Faris Habayeb

4

Following Mubarak’s departure in 2011, four newspapers were launched in Egypt.

MAGAZINES

18

Today, Kuwait overcrowded with 18 paper population of

Be mag

T.V. HOUSEHOLD PENETRATION HAS PRO OVER THE YEARS. IN 2011 FREE-TO-AIR SAT MORE THAN 60% OF DIGITAL PLAT

INTERNET

214

Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi A ranked amongst the world’s top 5 Readiness Index. The scale measu make full use of the opportunit

An audit of the number of FM radio stations calculated a total of 214, with the U.A.E. cla the highest number in the region.


t constitutes an market rs serving a f 2.5 million.

etween 2010-2011, more than 60 gazines were launched throughout the Arab region.

OPORTIONALLY INCREASED TELLITE T.V. ACCOUNTED FOR TFORMS IN THE AREA.

TELEVISION

Arabia, Tunisia, and the U.A.E. are 50 countries with a high Networked ures the propensity of countries that ties offered by digital technology.

s in 2011 aiming 38,

RADIO SOURCE: DELOITTE'S ARAB MEDIA OUTLOOK, 4TH EDITION 2011 - 2015


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THE DIGITAL ACTIVISTS by: RIMA A.

B

ahrain Watch, an independent research and advocacy organisation, is Bahrain’s leading digital platform for information concerning the activity of the country’s government. Formed by a group of activists, Bahrain Watch was first established in February 2012, a year following the political uprising that left many protesters wounded, imprisoned, and killed. While the government paid a number of Western and regional publications to publish positive stories of change and reform – as Bahrain Watch exposes with its PR Watch project – those inside Bahrain were left with little access to legitimate information. While Bahrain Watch has a team of eight, none of them take credit for starting the organisation. Rather, their individual interests would ultimately become something much bigger, something that scrutinised the Bahraini government and analysed media reports. The main idea behind Bahrain Watch is that information and data provides the masses power. The organisation has delivered a number of projects, including IP Spy Files, which looks at arrests made against seemingly anonymous web and social media users; Arms Watch, which explains the different weapons that were being commonly used against the public and exposes the governments that likely supplied them; and Bahrain: The Unauthorized Tour, which offers a sarcastic yet brutally honest look at some of the areas and landmarks in the country that have been affected by the uprising and that the government doesn’t want people to see. The uprising began in February 2011 and continues until today, even as the government tries to end it. As the population tries to fight back in various ways, the government continues its efforts to silence any dissent. For example, NGOs struggle to register because the Ministry of Social Affairs withholds formal recognition of these organisations. Ala’a Shehabi, co-founder of Bahrain Watch, explains: “Those who have registered as formal NGOs have such strict restrictions around their activities – particularly political activities. Their works and movements are very much contained and they’ve been shut down. Human Rights Watch published a report last year called ‘Interfere, Restrict, Control,’ and it shows you how the state is attempting to reconstruct civil society in a way that doesn’t allow dissent or challenges to political authority. So it’s very restrictive. “Part of our philosophy has been to remain as informal as possible and that comes with challenges, but the idea is that we’re working remotely and almost ephemerally. We exist, but not like a formal organisation that has structure [...] And we like the idea that we’re not about hierarchy at all in the NGO – we all have an equal voice and an equal vote. We are all committed, yet no one is bound contractually.” According to Shehabi, the members of Bahrain Watch didn’t know each other per se, but because many of them were blogging for quite some time before the founding of the organisation, they were familiar with one another. Their similar views and beliefs were ultimately what drew them together. They knew they could trust each other, and they respected one another’s writing and work. While each member contributes to Bahrain Watch from his or her own location, the majority of them lived in or were born and raised in Bahrain, cementing their ties and connection to the country and its development. “[Our members] didn’t go [to Bahrain] just because their parents were there [...] They are quite passionate about it and they are giving back to the country and working toward its development, and I find that amazing,” says Shehabi. She adds that Bahrain Watch operates as a watchdog, where “we have to empower the people with the knowledge and information they need to make decisions. That’s how we started. That was the initial [impetus] and the principle for why we set up Bahrain Watch, as an independent monitoring group [of the government’s actions]. But since then, we’ve increasingly had to look at private sector companies

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and how they are helping the Bahraini government do what they do.” “For example, we knew the government was spending a lot on public relations companies, so what are they doing with [with the pay-outs]? And who is supplying the government with tear gas? This tear gas is being misused, but who’s supplying it? And then we find out the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Korea were supplying the tear gas. The US and the UK have revoked export licenses for tear gas because Bahrain uses it for internal repression, but South Korea hasn’t – so we started a campaign to stop it from supplying tear gas.” After successfully prompting Korean activists to protest and eventually stop their government from shipping weapons to the Bahraini government, Bahrain Watch moved on to other projects. The organisation is currently looking into what’s called “GNGOS,” NGOs set up by the government. “[The government] tries to reconstruct civil society in a way that suits it. There are at least twenty [GNGOS], which look like independent human rights groups but are in fact set up by the government. So [the government is] trying to take over civil society. That’s something that’s in the pipeline,” Shehabi says. Bahrain Watch is also currently looking into the real estate dealings of the royal family, which is notorious for its privatisation of Bahraini resources and mismanagement of government revenues. Although the government is tracking anonymous web users and arresting them for making perceived insults towards the king, Shehabi notes that Bahrain Watch is ahead of the government’s intelligence. “We rely on the internet as our main digital platform and that’s the space the government, although it has tried to encroach upon it, hasn’t succeeded because we’re one step ahead technically. “The intelligence services tried to find out what we were up to, but we now have people who are ten steps ahead with software – they know how to protect us from [IP spying]. We know people are being arrested for their online activity, but we had to find out how their identities were being uncovered. [We weren’t] just looking at how surveillance was taking place, but we looked at the legal files to find out what cases were made against them in court and what evidence was provided.” Shehabi notes that the members of Bahrain Watch are well connected in Bahrain, making the organisation a reputable source for information in the country. She and other members of Bahrain Watch don’t

want to duplicate the work of others. Instead, they want to add something new to the table, something readers can take away from and absorb. She adds, “For me, the key is what’s called a digital activist – someone who is a techie with an eye for social justice, who wants to use his technical skills...me as a writer or an academic, I’m good at writing but not good at getting things out there on the Internet. So we have members in the group who are these digital activists and they really make things happen.” When I last spoke to Shehabi, she and other team members were on their way to South Korea to meet with the activists who helped stop the shipment of tear gas into Bahrain. While she and her Bahrain Watch co-founders continue to strive for a modern, democratic Bahrain, she also seems to be finding her place in a more universal setting. “I’d like to build bridges between people, between Bahrainis and Koreans, who – before the shipment campaign – thought we had nothing in common. But Koreans pushed their government to stop sending tear gas to Bahrain, and now they’ve invited us to go there and visit. It’s quite a nice story to tell the rest of the world. Even the state newspaper had a whole article [asking] how the hell did these activists reach the five continents of the earth – how did they get to South Korea? And I, too, find myself asking: how did we get to South Korea?” “But what we’re doing got a lot of support around the world. Bahrainis and Koreans worked together to stop a shipment of tear gas that we have evidence is being misused [...] What keeps sustaining our work is the fact that we see the impact and the result, and there’s a lot more to do. But at the same time, when we start a particular campaign, we do see results [...] So as long as we keep shedding light on these companies and governments, the more likely we’ll see our work having some payoff.”


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UNVEILING SEXUAL HARASSMENT opinion piece by: SUNDUS BALATA

T

his is probably the most difficult article I have ever written. It demands that I take a truly critical and introspective look at sacred beliefs, rituals, and practices. It requires me to delve into the depths of culture and unveil its ugliness and mistreatment of women. I am not here to make a west versus rest comparison. And I am not vindicating those who, like Salman Rushdie, Irshad Manji, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, drew their fame from launching unqualified, heinous, controversial, and prejudiced attacks on the religion of Islam. This is one person’s view from inside the faith and the culture, re-examining our collective mistakes that have brought us to the brink. Or I shall hope this is the brink. Before I begin, I should state that: 1) the religion of Islam is blameless against malicious accusations of sanctioning, justifying or dismissing (sexual) brutality of women, 2) the veil in its purity, without the interference of society, is a personal act and a covenant, and 3) I am not a scholar nor am I am a spokesperson for Islam. We are witnessing a serious shift today: Muslim women around the world are taking off the veil. Wearing it, in my opinion, became a trend in the 1980s and hit its peak in the 1990s,1 but a trend in the opposite direction is underway. More and more women, including some in my extended circle of friends and family, are doing it every day. Some have worn it for five, ten, and even twenty years, which begs the question: why are they removing it? Interestingly, women are increasingly unveiling after being married, whereas in the past, women like my mother, for example, wore it after being married. When I was a young child, it was the talk of the community when someone took off the veil. Nowadays, people are perplexed for a few seconds, followed by an embrace and polite talk of the weather, family, and politics – careful not to discuss the elephant in the room. Thankfully, Facebook has made this transition easier by preparing many people beforehand, making conversations less awkward. As a young girl growing up in the West, born to immigrant parents from Egypt, my childhood was laced with so much fear of losing cultural and religious values that I was bombarded with religious discourse. I listened to the colourful interpretations of women in Islam – some scholars said that a woman’s voice must remain as silent as a whisper, while others re-examined verses in the Qur’an that have long been used as a tool to disempower women. All, however, discussed the veil as a screen between men and women. They preached against Western sexual objectification of women. Surrounded by billboards, advertisements, commercials, and music videos plastered with women who had “Coca-Cola” bodies and stood in overtly sexual 1  See content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2076653,00.html, foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/04/25/veil_of_ignorance, and harvardmagazine.com/2011/09/the-veils-revival

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poses, along with pressure on young girls to have slim Barbie doll figures, I was caught between being unconsciously cultured into seeing women as sex symbols and between a very entrenched history of women’s suffrage and the feminist struggle for gender equality and social empowerment. Sexual objectification of women, however, is not reduced to the West or to “non-Muslims.” In fact, Muslim scholars have repeatedly scrutinised the woman’s body and its need to be covered, using rhetoric like “modesty”, “honour,” and “chastity,” and this obsession with women in scholastic Islam has inadvertently put women’s bodies at the centre of attention. As a young girl, I asked why the four Sunni schools of law and the three Shi’ite schools of thought were all named after male scholars. Where were the women? When were women excluded from scholasticism? And why are men given the sole right to dominate the discussion on Islam? What happened to the underlying principles of Islam – to be dynamic, dialogical, and ever present through ijtihad? In Cairo, where I now live, the level of sexual harassment has skyrocketed, helping place Egypt at the bottom of the twenty-two Arab states in Thomson Reuters Foundation’s 2013 poll on women’s rights in the Arab world. The other twenty-one countries are not far behind. Indeed, all Muslim-majority countries (like many countries in the developing world) carry the stigma of institutionalised gender discrimination, gender violence, and gender inequality. Most, if not all, of these countries exhibit a serious problem with sexual harassment. If the veil is a screen, as many scholars have preached, has it somehow become invisible? Or broken? Today, if I venture into Tahrir Square, carrying pepper spray is no longer sufficient as self-defence. Today, I run the risk of being raped, sexually tormented, abused, and violated in ways no person should. So, how have we gotten to this point,

where I feel like I need a gun to protect myself from Egypt’s men? Our faith has been hijacked by scholars (mostly male) and patriarchal female supporters who have reduced a woman to an object and the possession of a man, and this is a far greater crime than sexually perverse billboards or advertisements. And herein lies the greatest crime against Islam: the creation of a hypersexual culture interlaced with perverse understandings and interpretations of the veil, where women need to cover themselves for their chastity and modesty, to protect themselves from the gaze of men. In the Qur’an, it states, “Tell the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their private parts. That is purer for them….And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts” (24:30-31). Note that the verse says it first to men. But are there consequences if men look? In Egypt, there have been no consequences from anyone – not their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, teachers, or friends. Not a single person has punished or even raised concerns over a man gawking at a woman as she appeared in public space. What about if they touched? What about if they raped? Men have harassed veiled, unveiled, and face-veiled Egyptian and non-Egyptian women for decades on public transportation, in taxis, on streets, in markets, and everywhere else in Egypt.

So, how have we gotten to this point, where I feel like I need a gun to protect myself from Egypt’s men?

How did we get here? Taliban rule in Afghanistan suggests some clues: when women are reduced to nothing but objects for men’s possession, when they are not allowed to travel, work, leave the house, or sneeze without the permission of their husband, brother, or father, women become vulnerable to violence of all sorts, especially sexual. Iran bore similar trajectory after the veil was imposed by Ayatollah Khomeini – rendering the veil a tool for totalitarian will and conformity in one swoop. What all of these countries

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have in common is the perspective on how gender has been constructed, and what women are and to whom. In my parent’s country, I am not seen as a human being. I am not respected as a human being. I am not seen as an independent legal person. I am referred to only as mother, sister, or wife – never as a person. I am part of the 99 per cent that is harassed on a daily basis. I rarely take taxis, I don’t stay out late at night alone, I no longer ride the metro, and I try very hard not to stand in the street for longer than a few minutes. When I am in my car and I am harassed, I fight back, but then I sit in perpetual fear that, in the ugly traffic deadlock that is Cairo, this person may get out of his car and come after me. I know no one will stop him. The country is split into men who are harassers, and men who are afraid or don’t care to do anything about it. A select few are willing to take up the fight, but they are insignificant amidst a majority. I wrote this article not attacking the veil; instead, I see it as a useless lens in which to discuss sexual objectification in “our” culture. I assume many women are shedding the veil because they wore it for the wrong reasons. The veil is a sacred and personal covenant, one in which a woman enters into with her God. Should she decide to wear it one day, take it off the next, and wear it again is not for you or me to judge. However, when society barged in on this relationship, when it thought to categorise women, evaluate their religiosity, obsess over their sexuality, burden their bodies with the honour of a nation, lace fabric around their bodies and a noose around their necks for fear of male transgression, and when males were no longer held accountable for their actions, when scholars felt the need to preach about the need to hide women in their homes, and when the veil became the symbol for Islam, it stopped being about God. It became about everyone else. It is not surprising, then, that the number one question asked when a woman explains she was harassed is: what was she wearing?

What are the...

STATS The most significant places where harassment is common: Frequently

Moderately

Markets

Beaches

59.3 25

60.7 19.2

Public Transportation

The Street

81.8 10.2

89.3 7.9

Malls

Through Cell Phones

34.6 25.7

39.2 27

Deserted Areas

Public Gardens

46.2 16.9

53.3 24.6

The percentage distribution of the respondents on their opinion on whether the girl herself is the cause for harassment:

NO 63% YES 37% Comparison of Harassment Rates Before and After the January 2011 Revolution (%)

48.9 44 7 More after the revolution

Same before and after

Less after the revolution

Source: Study on Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Egypt

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YARMOUK, UNDER SIEGE illustration: RAMI ABBAS

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BABY STEPS opinion piece by: SOPHIE CHAMAS

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e’ve been talking about brain drain in the Arab World for decades, long before the region was dragged into a state of seemingly indissoluble malaise by the failures of the recent uprisings. Stories about political and economic instability, socio-cultural repression, and human and women’s rights abuses, all of which have driven away those privileged enough to identify and pursue an exit route, continue to roll off local and international media’s monotonous conveyer belts. Little, however, is said about those who have chosen to stick around through all the chaos and, even more perplexingly, those who decided to return after years abroad to what – for many – is a moment of hopelessness in the Arab World. These individuals are either pitied as loathsome cynics or dismissed as naïve idealists. Those who occupy a more in-between space of wilful optimism are often overlooked.

It doesn’t bode well for a country and its people to be near universally associated with cynicism, but many Lebanese long ago embraced what they consider the permanence of their dismal state of affairs, blurting out “this is Lebanon,” “only in Lebanon,” “welcome to Lebanon,” and other variations in response to domestic blunders. “Lebanon is like a toy car pretending it can actually move,” says Raafat Majzoub, a Lebanese architect, writer, artist, and former creative director of independent, Beirut-based magazine the Outpost. “The moments I hate most are when I see talented friends realise it was plastic all along, and that it was never going to get them/us anywhere.” As a creative who has spent his entire life in the country, living between Tripoli and Beirut, Majzoub is quite familiar with the many obstacles hindering personal and professional development in Lebanon. What distinguishes him, however, from those who have surrendered to a more nihilistic perspective – content with just “getting by” and satiating their need for escape with hedonistic binges – is his ability to recognise and make use of the possibilities paradoxically produced by a lack of opportunities. “We get to learn how to survive with so little here. We create energy out of thin air. I hope that the people who decide to stay are taken more seriously.” Majzoub, however, says he wouldn’t necessarily encourage other creatives to move back to Lebanon. “Depressed creatives are the worst kinds of people. They have the creative tools to express depression so eloquently that it makes it politically correct to break down. Who wants that? The influx

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of creatives should be natural, not forced. Even in an intellectual and cultural vacuum, a handful of happy creatives can improve their world.” Habib Battah, on the other hand, is a journalist who grew up between the United States and Beirut and found his way back to the latter sometime after the start of the Arab uprisings. He enthusiastically encourages his fellow Lebanese reporters to head back home. “We need hundreds, if not thousands of journalists to document, to dig, to shed light and to get people thinking about how their money is being spent and what is being done in their name. Contributing is very rewarding. Contributing, in my view, is citizenship, and citizenship is desperately lacking. Many young ‘entrepreneurs’ come back to make money – there’s no shortage of that. What’s lacking is people who are thinking about how to help others.” Battah, who is also author of the blog The Beirut Report (beirutreport. com), moved back out of a sense of obligation. The Lebanese, he explains, are afflicted with self-loathing and apathy, constantly teetering on the edge of throwing in the collective towel. They have been conditioned, he says – by politicians, events, and their corrupt media – to settle for less. “The challenge is to work against all the odds to make a difference, to work for change when people have lost hope, to make people believe again. There is a satisfaction in asking questions and writing about things that have never been written about. You feel like a pioneer in some sense.” Alexandria-based journalist Mona Abouissa, a Russian-Egyptian, also believes that Arab journalists are capable of wonders. “There are politicians, other mortals, and us in between,” she exclaims, “and we can change the dynamics for better or for worse, simply by bringing information to them,

educating them, exposing their demons, and even inspiring them.” It would be an understatement to say that practicing journalism in Egypt is challenging. People are suspicious, explains Abouissa. Bureaucratic measures make seeing a story through a long and arduous task. “We have an illiteracy rate that is no longer seen as a problem to be solved, but as a local attraction along with the pyramids.” But, despite the difficulties, for Abouissa, the matter is quite simple: if you’re interested in Egypt, you need to be in Egypt, and if you want to bring about any kind of substantial change, you need to bridge the colossal gap between the intellectuals and the fellahin – the impoverished bulk of the country’s population. “Set up free libraries, speak at schools, eradicate illiteracy – it’s not a monument like the pyramids,” she says. Abouissa tells me that she can control what she writes, how she writes, and from where, but “the rest is up to the world.” An anonymous Lebanese journalist who spent most of her academic years in the United Kingdom doesn’t think she would have even ended up pursuing journalism had she not moved to Lebanon. “I became a journalist because I felt the news coming out of here was incredibly skewed and people were not being given the opportunity to really grasp the complexities of the region.” Despite constant talk of socio-cultural bankruptcy, she thinks Lebanon still has plenty to offer by way of intellectual engagement. “The fact that there is still debate and discussions about what Lebanon is, what it was, what it has to offer, and what continues to grow within its borders shows that neither its intellect nor its culture has been forgotten or replaced. There is obviously concern over the current ‘brain drain’ from the country – especially within society’s intellectual and cultural

There are also those who are thrust back to the region by a much more visceral need, who come in search of a sensibility they are inexplicably attracted to, and which they can’t locate or replicate elsewhere.

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corners – but the fact that people do move back despite having opportunities abroad demonstrates the will of the people to continue to contribute to improving the nation, despite the many forces working against them.” Like Abouissa, this journalist believes her peers trying to effect social and cultural change have a duty to bridge the communication gap between the privileged and the so-called masses – reminding the former of the most

hour electricity, why should they bother supporting a law that allows for civil marriage? When the majority of the intellectual class comes from backgrounds that allow them access to private generators, how can they understand the demands of the masses?” Many are bound or drawn back to the region out of a sense of responsibility. Artists, writers, and activists want to channel their skills into their own countries instead of foreign ones and aspire, like Jordanian band Autostrad, “to reflect and celebrate the beauty of our culture, to share knowledge, and support our community.” Others, like Egyptian designer and artist Manar Moursi, recognise a potential enabled by the very limitations that others criticise. “There’s a lot going on in the street,” she explains, “so there’s a lot of stimulation as a result of the problems related to life here. A lack of access to proper research institutions or libraries is frustrating, but it also leads to a different kind of art and design practice that’s often more concerned with social issues. You see it in literature, in films, in all kinds of artistic production really.” There are also those who are thrust back to the region by a much more visceral need, who come in search of a sensibility they are inexplicably attracted to, and which they can’t locate or replicate elsewhere. “Living in America,” reflects Battah, “felt very banal in comparison. There

I found my misplaced Arab pride in the U.S., where the tired adage “there is no place like home” took on a whole new significance for me. pertinent issues affecting their society and drawing their attention and focus away from their personal, individual concerns towards those of the country as a whole. “While intellectuals rightfully call for human, civil, and social rights, the bare necessities of water, electricity, and good wages that the masses have to deal with and pay dearly for are less of a concern for them. This is part of the reason why we haven’t had mass mobilisation yet. When people can’t get 24-

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is a certain mildness when everything is in order and the focus is on shopping and recreation, sports, celebrities, franchise restaurants, the banter you hear on television, the stereotypes about the Middle East. Sometimes the U.S. felt foreign, out of touch with the hardships of the rest of the world, the grittiness. Life feels fuller and more exciting here.” There are even those who are motivated by a much more uncomfortable impulse, one rooted in the feeling that it would be unethical to go on with life in the safe bosom of self-imposed exile, audaciously writing on, artistically engaging with, or preaching about the situation ‘back home’ while a lack of experience made ‘home’ more and more incomprehensible; that it would be unforgivable to just let it die, to sever roots from dried up soil; that it would be unbearable to have not spent as much time as possible with the place that nourished one into subjective being before it potentially implodes. “It’s only when your country is on the brink of change and going through such painful transformations, only when the risk of not even having the option to go back hits you, that you feel the need to go back immediately,” reflects Hania Mourtada, a Syrian journalist who recently moved to Beirut in order to be close to and write about her native Syria. “It’s not an easy thing to do,” she continues. “You become mired in violence. I’ve developed an anxiety problem, because I spend most of my days talking to Syrians whose lives have been irrevocably damaged by senseless tragedies. I resist the temptation


to simply walk away on a daily basis. I have my Canadian passport – my most prized possession – and I have enough saved up to try and make it elsewhere. But something keeps holding me back. I don’t want to give up on the region just yet. I feel guilty that I’m privileged enough to even have a choice, so I force myself to hang around for a little longer, even if life in Lebanon is becoming increasingly unstable and frustrating.” Mourtada describes herself as Syrian in every sense of the word, despite her mother and paternal grandmother being Lebanese. “Damascus is my essence. It’s my core, my values, a sensation, and a box of memories. It’s this visceral feeling you only get when you spend your entire childhood in one city. One thing that terrifies me is that if I have kids one day, they won’t inherit that part of my identity. I don’t know how to do it. You can’t package and hand it over to them. So, if I do have children, I will have to accept the fact that I might not be able to give them that impalpable something I feel is the foundation of my identity.” Mourtada and I attended New York University (NYU) together and, as was the case with her, my time in New York showed me that what I really wanted was to live, work in, and contribute to my Arab world and my Lebanon. I remember sitting on the floor of a cramped lecture hall at NYU, days after returning from winter break in January 2011, surrounded by students and professors, programme coordinators, and administrators. Some were familiar faces from my own Middle East Studies department, and others were completely foreign – visitors from distant and seemingly unrelated disciplines, gathered with students and scholars of the region, sharing in our confusion, excitement, joy, and nervousness. Like anxious fathers jittering helplessly in a hospital waiting room, we fixed our eyes and ears on the blank screen hanging before us in anticipation of choppy news, communicated via Skype by our friends in Egypt’s revolutionary delivery room. Everything had changed. Only two years before, I was gazing out of tinted windows in Dubai, fantasising about New York – about lost time in corner bookshops and beer-infused scavenger hunts for soul and self in seedy bars, and about long afternoons wasted sinking into timeless café cushions, on which the thighs of writers I loved once flexed with inspiration, hoping to awaken the madness in my own muscles. I left behind the Arab world, the home of my yesterday, an attic full of fond memories but an attic nonetheless, for the red, white, and blue pastures of an America I was convinced I belonged in. New York, ironically, changed my perspective. It was perhaps because, somewhat unconventionally, I left the Arab World to purposely immerse myself in it as a scholar. Abroad, I was more enveloped by the Arab world – its cultures, dialects, histories, achievements, miseries, and idiosyncrasies – than I had ever been growing up in the halls of American schools in Lebanon and Qatar. I delved into the nuances of my region of origin and discovered how connected I was to it on an emotional and bodily level, through the nature of my humour, my understanding of hospitality, my commitment to family, my – in an American context – skewed interpretation of political correctness, my perception of food as a deeply communal substance and practice, and so much more. I found my misplaced Arab pride in the U.S., where the tired adage “there is no place like home” took on a whole new significance for me. I was made in the Arab World, I realised, and that didn’t “mean” anything effable per se. It only meant that a childhood spent and bred in the arms of that region had produced a bond that could not easily be undone or replicated, and that no matter how familiar or appealing America seemed, it would never be home. So, when home imploded, I too was overwhelmed by the itch to return. To appease my parents, whose nerves most likely wouldn’t have survived my move to Beirut, I came to Dubai which, for now, is close enough – close enough for the tragedies to still resonate, for my words to still feel somewhat relevant, for the hope of a future in and for Lebanon to not be completely extinguished. For now, I closely follow the work of people like those discussed above, as I bide my time, eager to join their patient revolution.


CULTURE

THERE WILL BE SOME WHO WILL NOT FEAR EVEN THAT VOID. text & photos: SAEED TAJI FAROUKY

There are two sides to every story of exploration. The first is the heroism, the conquest, the success. The other is the destruction, the death and the exploitation. It’s impossible to talk about one without the other. There Will Be Some Who Will Not Fear Even That Void is based on this premise, and the realisation that the same ambition that creates a constructive genius like Johannes Kepler (who gave us the project’s title) can also create destruction so efficient we have to stare in wonder at its gruesome perfection.

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I heard no one is ever born here, no one ever dies here.

O

n board a tall ship for a two and a half week nomadic residency, I observed, filmed, and collaborated with 19 other artists as we sailed around the Arctic Svalbard archipelago. Slowly, as any documentary filmmaker, I started to manipulate and provoke. When Gareth Keogh, MarieThérèse Garvey and I came to edit, we approached the material as though it was a collection of found footage, like the last transmission of a doomed expedition. We wrote a fictional plot from the real footage, creating what we called a science-fiction documentary, or what one reviewer called “a documentary from the future.” We enjoy seeing that moment when viewers begin to realise everything they’re watching is not entirely true. This ambiguity isn’t an accident, but a reference to the Arctic itself, a region that’s often approached as a blank screen where visitors can project their fantasies. Some see it as a hostile wasteland, others as a place of peace and abundance. It’s all about perspective; seeing what you want to see. I approached the Arctic as the frontline of three extremely powerful and destructive forces: the nationalistic imperative for militarisation, the capitalist drive for control and commodity and our voracious appetite for resources. The Arctic sees all three forces converge. In 2007, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this Government intends to use it,” as he inaugurated a massive Arctic militarisation project. Later that year, a Russian submarine planted her country’s flag on the seabed under the North Pole, in a display of classic Victorian conquest. Consider that two years earlier, the New York Times wrote “Claims of expanded territory are being pursued the world over, but the Arctic Ocean is where experts foresee the most conflict,” and you can see the dark side to this posturing. This approach, that the Arctic is ours to “use”, is at the core of the film’s tragedy, a tragedy that’s as personal as it is environmental and political. Two months before the expedition, my mother died in a fog of fragmented memories. I wondered what it would be like to see the Arctic the way she often saw the world: discontinuous, narratives overlapping, reality mixed with your own overactive imagination. We constructed the film from such fragmented memories. The Arctic of our imaginations is a collection of fragments. Asked to picture it, we often paste together disparate references from films, photographs and paintings. The word is shorthand for the (almost exclusively) male, ego-driven, racist and nationalistic Victorian sense of adventure. We like to think of it as a pristine frozen desert but we forget it’s also home to about four million people. And Svalbard has its own unique status: it belongs to no one. It’s under Norwegian sovereignty, but isn’t owned by Norway and can’t be used for military purposes. For someone from Palestine, surrounded by the rhetoric of dying for a nationalist cause, this is fascinating. On Svalbard, those lines on a map mean very little. I’m a physical filmmaker - I like to feel the weight of the camera and use manual lenses so that I have to negotiate with the equipment to get what I want. I like inefficiency and impracticality because it makes my muscles ache and my fingers numb and forces me to pause and think. It reminds me that this is a machine, whose simple optics must point in the direction of that thing, so that you - the viewer - can see that thing on your screen. I went for regular runs outside while filming; I swam under the surface of the water in a dry suit; I wanted to feel the extreme physical sensation of the cold and, through that discomfort, record also the non-physical. As I ran, I remembered that my mother could barely walk for the last few years of her life. The project is about conflict – in nature and in ourselves – and the consequences of our limitless imagination. It’s an ecological film for the 21st century that looks not at our influence on the environment, but at the environment’s influence on us. The barriers to exploring and dominating nature are no longer technological, but moral. We now have the ability to “conquer” virtually any part of the planet - the question is no longer “can we?” but “should we?” K A L I M AT

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Did you know ice isn’t really solid? It looks static, but it’s constantly in motion, tearing itself apart or splitting the earth as it expands.

I believe in ice. I believe in memory. I believe you didn’t mean it. I believe you wanted to explain everything, but couldn’t find the time.


CULTURE

LAST ROUND AT GUAPA: Novel Excerpt text: SALEEM HADDAD • image: NINA MUFLEH

Last Round at Guapa is a coming-of-age story of one young man’s political, sexual and cultural awakening in the contemporary Middle East. Rasa is a young man living in an Arab country ruled by the repressive grip of the Leader. Living a quiet life with his grandmother, he hides his sexuality from her and from society. Jaded by the world around him, Rasa spends his days pining for the overpriced beer at Guapa and for nights when he can sneak his lover, Taymour, into his room. But the country is changing forever. As opposition to the Leader’s rule grows, Rasa’s precarious balance between communal obligation and the shifting field of desire is shattered when his grandmother catches him in bed with Taymour. In response to this, Rasa is forced to emerge into the world, and choose between love and family, and between dangerous political opposition and reluctant acquiescence.


I

don’t realise I have fallen asleep until the door to Teta’s bedroom creaks open. I am thrust back to the present. I rub my eyes and look around. I’m sitting naked in the empty bathtub. The toilet bowl is full of dead cigarettes. I know it will not be a good day when I have spent much of it in the bathroom. How long have I been here, dreaming of a time that seems so long ago? Why do I recall the past so much, and anticipate the future as if it is too slow in coming? Am I so unwise that I wander about in times that don’t belong to me? But the present hurts. I want to thrust it out of sight because it distresses me. So my thoughts are often spent in times I have no control over. I pull myself out of the tub and stand naked in the centre of the bathroom. The sound of Teta’s footsteps shuffling across the carpet fill me with an inexplicable sense of disappointment. Disappointment that she has woken up at all, perhaps, as shameful as such a thought is. Ever since returning from America, I have found living with Teta to be a nightmare. She is a difficult woman, always sitting in her chair, watching the news and my movements. I hate being asked where I am going every time I get ready to leave the house. When I tried to move out once she accused me of abandoning her. I know I can never leave her now, not unless I get married or she dies, and she could live for another twenty years. So until then I suppose I will have to continue to avoid her, to read in my bedroom or dream in the bathroom. I won’t come out until I can hear her snores, and then I might find her asleep and I would feel sorry for the both of us. I have studied the sound of Teta’s footsteps for so long now that I can tell by the number of steps she has taken that she has paused by my room. Any shame I feel turns to anger and hatred of this old lady with her antique ideas. Her ideas should have died a long time ago, and yet they persist in the air like a fart. It is her and people like her who keep Taymour and I apart. Does this ancient woman not know what love is? Has old age and her stagnant sense of shame dried out her heart? Eib, she would say. Eib. This obsession with what people will think has stripped her of her humanity. Life for her has become nothing more than a desperate struggle to fit in. Her shuffling begins once more and stops just outside the bathroom door. I hold my breath. Who knows what Teta had seen last night? Before the screams it had been a night like any other sum-

mer night. The cool air and slight breeze brought the smell of jasmine through the cracks between the shutters. On the bed Taymour and I had been lost in one another. Taymour lay on his back and I fawned over him in bed, stroking his hair and kissing his neck and cheeks. I wasted it all away. No, not wasted. Ruined. Because all I can think about is how disgusting we must have looked together. All I can picture is Teta watching her grandson, the man of the house, fawning over another man. A pervert, I am sick and diseased. I have strayed down the wrong path, and it’s taken me here, to the point where I seduce men into my father’s house to indulge these perversions. Teta’s gaze has ruined us. Taymour and I, and all that we shared, it’s gone forever now, isn’t it? I rest my head on the cool tiles of the bathroom wall. I wait but I don’t know for what. I am aware only of my solitude, and of the unbearable heat, and of the great weight in my heart. I wait for her to knock on the door or try the doorknob or perhaps to scream and bang on the door as she did last night. She’ll kick the door open and drag me out of the bathroom by my ear. She’ll throw me out of the house, and if I don’t leave, she’ll call the police or the neighbour’s son to drag me out. Instead she stands there. She is on one side of the door and I am on the other, two heavy souls separated by the flimsiest of wooden doors. I bend down and gently move the underwear hanging on the doorknob. I peer through the keyhole, halfexpecting to see her wrinkled brown eye staring back at me. But all I see is her white nightgown and nothing more. Her body shifts and the nightgown rustles in the hot afternoon. She lets out a deep sigh and lumbers towards the kitchen. ‘Doris,’ she calls out. And then, quieter, but still audible: ‘How long has he been in there?’ I don’t hear Doris’ response, but I imagine Teta sitting at the kitchen table while Doris fills her in on my whereabouts and movements. I had noticed Doris look behind me to see who had dropped me off from work earlier today. Perhaps they were in this together, Sherlock Holmes and Watson, private investigators out to make sure my movements are not connected in any way to Taymour. No secret could escape this network of silent observers, housekeepers. I move away from the door and look in the mirror. I look like shit. There are heavy bags under my eyes. My hair is dishevelled and my skin is grey. There is

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no escape here. America is no more. I can never leave this. I won’t, and even if I wanted to, I would not be able to do so. I’ve wasted my chance in America. It’s gone from me now, like Taymour, like Teta. I am a sick man. I am a spiteful man. I look at my body, like a prison. I live within this prison of contradictions that fight each other like stray cats in my mind. I’m neither here nor there. Not in America and not here. Stuck in a time warp between hundreds of different worlds at war. Each different and out of sync with one another. Each forms a part of me, and when they all add up, all that is left is shaath. Ana shaath, I whisper to my reflection. If said in the right way there was a ring to it. Shaath, allowing the breath to ride the ‘aa’ in the centrepiece of the word like a lazy wave. Shaath. It wasn’t perfect but it was something I could work with, if on inflection alone. Shaath: queer, deviant, unusual, irregular, bizarre, exotic, offbeat, odd, anomalous, aberrant, exceptional, freak, monstrous, preternatural. What social norm is the deviant shaath flouting? Is it heterosexuality, or something more than that? I tear myself from the mirror and turn on the shower. No water comes out. I suppose I’ll have to go to this joke of a wedding in my filth. Besides, Taymour has seen me at my worst: naked, hysterical, pleading with Teta to stop screaming. If he still wants to run away with me then a bit of filth certainly won’t put him off. I put my clothes back on and unlock the door. The hallway is dark and quiet, but there is movement in the kitchen. I tiptoe to my bedroom and carefully shut the door. The afternoon is well advanced, the sunlight like gauze on my bedroom walls. The side-table by my bed is filled with empty coffee cups, their shadows lengthening in the dying sun. I would much prefer to spend the rest of the evening here. I want to sit in my underwear smoking cigarettes and dream that I am somewhere else. But if I miss that damn wedding tonight I would be inviting people to ask too many questions. I open the closet and pull out my suit. I have only ever owned two suits in my life. The first one Baba bought for me many years ago. I needed something to wear for his burial, and he had the foresight to buy one for me. He didn’t tell me what the suit was intended for, but one of the first things he did after he found out about his illness was to take me to a tailor downtown. We parked the car and walked into a quiet shop in the attic of an old building. The tailor, an elderly man with a salt and pepper moustache, quietly measured the length of my inseam and took my measurements using his hands. He used various pockets and his mouth to carry the tools he needed for the job. He complimented me on the breadth of my shoulders and I remember thinking it was an odd thing to compliment somebody on. My father picked out a classic black suit. I wanted a grey one but there was no arguing with Baba. When he set his mind on something he was insistent, and trying to change it was an exercise in futility. He also picked out a tie that was dark, almost black, except under the sun the colour turned a deep blue. When we arrived back home he knotted the tie for me and said, in a very serious tone, ‘Don’t undo the tie. You won’t be able to knot it back again.’ I only wore that suit once, on the day of his burial. After that it hung from a metal hanger in the corner of my closet, the blue-black tie hanging over it, the knot still in place. When I returned from university after my first year I noticed the suit was missing. ‘Where did it go?’ I asked Doris as I rummaged through the shirts and trousers that hung in my closet. ‘Teta throw,’ Doris said. I ran to the living room and asked Teta what she did with the suit. ‘That tiny thing? I threw it out, it was too small.’ ‘What do you mean you threw it out?’ I bellowed. I had never raised my voice at Teta before or since then. But the thought of losing that suit and tie, which had remained firmly knotted and that carried Baba’s touch and breath within its knots, was too much to bear. ‘What are you yelling about?’ Teta snapped. ‘Baba bought that for me,’ I said. ‘He bought it for you on his funeral. For God’s sake why would you want to keep that? If you loved your father so much why not hang on to happier memories?’ ‘I don’t want to pick and choose memories,’ I said. ‘We’re worse than the government with the way

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we re-write history. I am sick of hanging photos of him smiling when I know he’s rotting in the ground somewhere.’ She slapped me, almost impulsively. When she withdrew her hand her palm was red. She held onto her wrist, as if using one hand to stop the other from taking another strike. ‘Shame on you,’ Teta said. ‘Shame, shame on you.’ I bought another suit, years later, when I had come back from the States and my friends started to drop like flies into the cesspool of marriage. I put this suit on and look at myself in the mirror. There is nothing special about this suit. There was no tailor and no measurements or anything like that. I simply picked a suit hanging from a rack alongside hundreds of identical suits. I hate this new suit and I only wear it to weddings, which makes the suit even more distasteful to me. I despise weddings. They are perhaps the most cynical of events, so reliant on how much money you earn, what family you come from. Weddings are the most unjust of exchanges dressed up in the language of beauty and love. Each wedding adds a stain of hatred to this suit. And tonight’s wedding, of all weddings, is the pinnacle of this façade. Given the amount of bullshit tonight’s wedding will have smeared on the cheap fabric I will probably have to throw this suit away tomorrow morning. I step out of my bedroom and walk towards the kitchen. My heartbeat quickens and I resist the urge to run back inside. They can hear my footsteps now. There is no turning back. I stamp down the hall to make sure they hear me coming, to make sure I won’t chicken out at the last minute and lock myself in my bedroom for the rest of my life. I arrive at the kitchen door. Doris and Teta turn to look at me. ‘You’re awake,’ Teta says. She is sitting at the table in front of a saucepan of carved courgettes and a neon green plastic bucket of stuffed ones. An unpeeled onion sits in the middle of the table. A warning that things might get ugly. She looks at me. I feel naked under her gaze, as naked as I was when she peered through the keyhole last night. She sits there looking at me, surrounded by the courgettes, the neon green bucket, that damn onion. I want to snatch the onion away and demand that she just cry without it. But in fact she’s doing us both a favour, isn’t she? Teta sighs and returns to stuffing a courgette. I hand Doris the empty mugs I gathered from my room. She begins to wash them as I pour myself a

glass of water. I can feel Teta’s eyes on my back. When I turn around she turns her attention back to the courgette in her hands. She stuffs the courgette with a lifetime of experience. First she spoons the rice and meat into the courgette with a quick jerk of her thumb, and then pushes it deep inside before dropping it back into the plastic bucket. Her long fingernails are crusted with dried meat and sauce. There is silence as Doris and I wait to see what direction Teta intends to take, and whether she will mention anything about last night. If she has watched the news today she would know about the arrests, which may provide an entry-point to the subject. I consider asking her but decide not to mention it for fear of inviting a discussion. I stand in the kitchen, paralysed by the fear that anything I may say could tangentially be related to the events of the night before. ‘I don’t understand this girl,’ Teta finally says, pointing towards Doris without looking up from her courgette. ‘I specifically told her not to clean the floors every day because it’s a waste of water. Now we don’t have water and need to wait until Friday for the delivery. Clean the floor maximum every other day but at least once a week. Tell me, is that difficult to understand?’ ‘Teta…’ I begin. ‘There’s no need to clean every day. There. Is. No. Need!’ Teta throws the courgette she is stuffing back in the bowl to drive her point home. Doris looks up from the sink for a moment then, shoulders slumped, lowers her head. ‘Ma’alesh Teta, just let it go.’ ‘It’s a waste. I don’t understand why she does it. Why is it so difficult to follow simple instructions?’ ‘Teta if she cleaned too much you say she cleans too much and wastes water. If she doesn’t then you say she is lazy and dirty. Don’t you see that she can never win with you?’ ‘Don’t start acting like a human rights lawyer. My God, we sent him to study in America and he comes back and tells us we are slave owners. The real problem is that you spoil her. Look at her, she’s become a daloo’a. You joke and laugh with her and she thinks she doesn’t have to work. Are we paying her to clean the house or to be your friend?’ I look at Doris. How would Teta react if I told her I was in love with Doris and we wanted to marry? Would she find that preferable to me being with Taymour? On the scale of public humiliations, which would shame her more — that I have fallen

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in love with a man from one of the best families in the country, or that I have fallen for our maid? I need to get out of here. ‘I’m going to meet Maj,’ I say. ‘Just Maj?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Where?’ she asks. ‘Guapa.’ ‘You’re always at Guapa. Aren’t there better places than Guapa?’ ‘I like Guapa,’ I say, handing the empty glass of water to Doris. ‘Why are you dressed like that?’ she points a courgette at me. ‘I have a wedding.’ ‘Whose wedding?’ I hesitate. ‘A friend from university.’ ‘Then why are you going to Guapa?’ ‘The wedding is not until later, Teta. I will leave straight from there.’ ‘Do whatever you want,’ she says, dropping another stuffed courgette into the bucket. ‘Can I use the car?’ I ask her. ‘I need the car.’ ‘What do you need the car for? Are you going somewhere tonight?’ ‘No,’ she says. ‘But I don’t like not having a car. I feel like a cripple. Can’t Maj pick you up?’ ‘It’s fine I’ll just take a taxi.’ ‘Don’t get yourself in trouble. There are problems out there. The last thing we need is for you to get caught in them.’ ‘I won’t,’ I say, grabbing my wallet and keys. ‘It’s a republic of shame we’re living in these days.’ ‘Khalas, stop worrying.’ I begin to walk out of the kitchen. At the door I pause. If I mention nothing now, will we ever discuss last night? In any other family being caught in bed with another man might have meant being beaten to within an inch of my life, or at least straight into hospital without delay, and then once I was better beating me until I was back at the hospital again. Or else I could have been thrown out with no money and only the clothes on my back. But that’s not what Teta intends to do, because Teta needs me as much as I need her. Perhaps more. And if I’m out of here then she can’t control me anymore. She’ll be on her own. Last night all she could do was wave her arms in the air and pull at her hair as she hurled laments my way. And now? Nothing. Denial. I turn around and look at Teta’s back. She is still stuffing courgettes, although her shoulders are now drawn in. She knows I’m standing behind her, watching her. If I leave it like this she will have won. She’ll have had her way, and Taymour will be relegated to the dustbin. ‘Is there nothing you want to say to me?’ I ask. Her back stiffens. She drops the courgette she is stuffing in the bucket. I hear it fall on top of the pile of courgettes with a wet thud. She turns in her chair to face me. We look at each other, and I can see in her eyes she knows I am challenging her. She licks her lips, like a cat that has just caught a mouse by its tail. ‘When is Maj going to get married?’ she asks in a sweet voice. She’s played her card skilfully. When is Maj going to get married. So she has given up hope on me now, is that what she is trying to say? That there’s no use for me anymore, let her start on the next person in line. ‘So now you’re working on Maj?’ I ask. ‘He’ll miss the boat soon.’ ‘Oh don’t worry about him,’ I say. ‘He has his own mother to do the nagging.’ ‘Haram. He’s a wonderful young man. What a shame if he doesn’t start his own family.’ ‘What is it with us Arabs?’ I snap. ‘Our only goal and dream in life is to get married?’ Teta turns back to the courgettes. ‘Go to Guapa,’ she says.


CULTURE

A DAY IN AMSTERDAM text & photos: OMAR OUALILI

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msterdam, the capital of The Netherlands, is famous for its vibrant atmosphere. From its magical canals to the hundreds of art galleries, the night scene of the Red Light District, and its coffee shops in every corner... Amsterdam is for everyone. Anythingl you want is there but you have a choice to make: culture or party? Not to worry, if you are like me and like a bit of both, you can combine and see everything the city has to offer in one night! Before arriving to the city, I thought having only one night to stay was not nearly enough time. It is indeed not enough, however, I was able to cover the main spots of the city in a short time. And so I offer you a guide on things to do in Amsterdam in 24 hours. I arrived to Amsterdam from Hull, England by ferry. The ferry arrives in the morning around 8.30 in Rotterdam’s Europoort. I then transferred by coach to the capital.

10.00: Check in at Hans Brinker Hotel The worst hotel in the world is Hans Brinker. This is how it is described in its powerful marketing campaign. This budget hotel/hostel is located in Kerkstraat and is quite central. A few steps away from busy shopping streets filled with restaurants, shops, supermarkets, and all I really needed. By walking I could reach the main places of interest in Amsterdam. Rooms have everything, as stated during the booking process, and the staff is always ready to help. One of the highlights of the hotel was their morning buffet, which offers a proper continental breakfast with yogurt, fruits, pancakes, coffee, tea, jam, toasted bread, cheese, eggs and much more to get full and kick off to a day in the city. The WiFi works at the reception however not in the rooms which was a shame. But it is actually enjoyable to stay at the bar to catch some internet connection and also the happy hour that offers two for one drinks and cheap dinners. Well, in reality, not the worst hotel in the world...

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11.00: Stop at the poetry bookshop Perdu

The name of this bookshop is taken from Marcel Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu. I discovered this place randomly by walking around the beautiful canals. It is very calm inside, with loads of interesting books and a friendly, smiling staff. This bookshop is linked to a theatre that features a number shows all year long. It is well maintained and if you like poetry and exploring bookshops, you can’t miss this one!

11.45: Van Gogh Museum

The hotel Hans Brinker is located a few minutes away from the Van Gogh Museum. It’s an interesting and unique building with treasures famous Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. From the start of his career, to the techniques he used, until his days at the psychiatric centre, the museum invites you into all the aspects of Van Gogh’s life. Some fabulous paintings that I admired for few minutes left me speechless. But since I had a very limited time in Amsterdam, I saw the whole museum in less than two hours and I finished by having my lunch at their restaurant that offers high quality food which was a bit pricey for me: a traveller on budget. On the way back to the historical centre, don’t miss the opportunity to snap a picture in front of the giant ‘iamsterdam’.

14.30: Dam Square Considered as the ‘heart of the city’, Dam Square is located a few minutes away from Central Station, the historical centre, and the Red Light District, all connected through various tram lines. Throughout the year, it is a theatre of entertainment with fun fairs, concerts and more. The time I was there, a Christmas concert was happening with various Dutch celebrities present. Something else I have noticed is all the bicycles parked there - there were literally hundreds! But to be honest, I didn’t find that square particularly beautiful even though it’s a must-see in Amsterdam because of its history and location.

15.30: Barber and/or Espresso? While randomly walking around, I noticed a very interesting concept. A shop is divided into two parts: a barber and a café. You can either have your hair done or get a quick espresso or both. I admired this special concept that I have personally never seen before. Also, on the same street you might notice the Candomerie shop, a store specialised in condoms, in every colour and every shape!

16.00: Jazz Concert at Compagnie theatre Again, while randomly walking around, I found a venue that plays free concerts quite frequently. This particular time it was jazz, and the concert featured a bunch of talented musicians and a local radio covering the event. It was a relaxing moment after a day walking around the city in slightly cold weather. Also a great time to have a drink and meet with locals.

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19.00: Shopping around Bloemenmarkt (Market of Flowers)

JOT THIS DOWN • Don’t buy a map at the tourist office. I was charged 2.50€ for a map of the city which is provided for free at most hotels. • It is not necessary to get a transport pass for a short stay in Amsterdam. Walking is very easy and enjoyable. Or maybe like a local, a bicycle would be a good experience and some good exercice! • Everyone speaks English, so there is no need to invest in translation book

Time for shopping maybe? The Bloemenmarkt sells flowers but the area all around is very commercial. Shops seem to attract lot of people with some special sales but they didn’t succeed in attracting me... Although, I gave in and did some shopping at the end by buying some cheese! Holland is famous for its good quality food and for cheese in particular. I bought mine at a store named Henri Willig. It was hard to choose what to take home as it might be heavy but with the help of the staff and the samples, I tasted and I made my choice for a traditional Gouda and an exceptional Pesto cheese.

20.00: Time for the Red Light! Probably something Amsterdam is most famous for, this district made me feel like everything is permitted. This place is the heart of the nightlife in Amsterdam and also the centre of prostitution, sex, and drugs. Indeed, in every corner I noticed strip clubs and windows with prostitutes openly waving to attract clients. And an incredible amount of coffee shops where it is legal to smoke marijuana. However, this place is a bit too touristy, but at the same time it feels safer and more like an open-air zone of entertainment where people from around the world witness this liberal environment. This area is great to party until late and to have a memorable night in Amsterdam.

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CULTURE

THE BRIDGES OF CONSTANTINE by: WIDED KHADRAOUI

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hat one first notices in the English translation of Ahlem Mosteghanemi’s novel The Bridges of Constantine, first published in the 1990s, is inundating melancholy. Mosteghanemi manages to cover more than four decades of Algerian history as they interweave with the characters’ memories overlapping love, disenchantment, and, of course, politics. But The Bridges of Constantine is not merely a story of love. It’s an insightful look at notions of homeland and reclamation, intensely precise in exploring the degradation of Algerian society since the war of liberation. It begins with the lamentation of Khaled, a painter who was once a revolutionary in the Algerian war of liberation and lost an arm due to a gunshot wound. Khaled has been in self-exile in Paris for two decades, repulsed with the corruption riddling Algeria. Mosteghanemi’s scathing portray of Algeria’s elite, made up of ex-generals who capitalise on their cachet as veterans of the liberation to monopolise power and state resources, does not hold back. The author’s personal history is interwoven with the plot of the novel to form a powerful subtext. In attempting to create a new identity after the war, Mosteghanemi became one of the first Algerian novelists to write solely in Arabic: a move to reclaim a language the colonist denied. The novel is dedicated to the story of Mosteghanemi’s militant father who, like Khaled, fought in the war

of liberation and lived in exile in Tunisia, as well as Francophone Algerian poet Malek Haddad, who stopped writing due to his dependency in French. Mosteghanemi uses Algeria’s complex, post-independence problems, which continue to plague the nation, as the narrative framework for the unconsummated affair between Khaled and Hayat, the novel’s heroine. Khaled knew Hayat, when Hayat’s father, Khaled’s former commander and political leader, Si Taher, during the War of Independence, entrusted him to complete the formalities associated with Hayat’s civil registration when she was born. Khaled meets Hayat again two decades later, at an exhibition opening for his work. Personal passions cannot be removed from national dramas as Hayat acts as a catalyst, embodying the country Khaled left behind, and forcing him to confront his feelings about her as well as Algeria. As Hassan, Khaled’s brother, explains to Khalid on his first trip back to Algeria, “Our concern is just surviving; anything more is a luxury. We’ve been turned into a nation of ants hunting only for food and a nest to hole-in with the children.” The downward spiral from revolutionary glory to mundane concerns is a major motif that Mosteghanemi explores. As The Bridges of Constantine unfolds, Khaled’s mourning for his country grows more overt, especially as his relationship with Hayat deepens. It’s a powerful example of the allegorical richness of

It’s a powerful example of the allegorical richness of Mosteghanemi’s storytelling, and the compelling humanity of her characters. 66

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Mosteghanemi’s storytelling, and the compelling humanity of her characters. Tragedy does not destroy her characters with sudden, dramatic blows, but rather steadily erodes at them over time: Hassan’s sole, and ultimately unfulfilled, dream to find someone with wasta (clout) to aid him in purchasing a new fridge; the wrenching moment when Khaled’s friend, a Palestinian poet named Ziyad, is killed in Lebanon during the 1982 Israeli invasion while working on a collection of poetry; and in Hayat’s brother’s boycotting of her wedding. The plot of The Bridges of Constantine is filled

with tragic moments, and the novel’s elegiac quality is not only thematic, but also linguistic. Khaled’s narration is poetic and evocative; “I want your death to resound as much as possible. I’m killing more than one person along with you. Some had to be daring enough to shoot them one day.” At times however, Mosteghanemi is overtly literal in highlighting the parallel between Hayat and Algeria. “You aren’t just any woman – you are a homeland,” and “My hunger for you was a lifetime of thirst and waiting,” are examples of how the copy becomes burdensome to the already strong framework. Constantine’s bridges function beyond natural landscapes that personify the city, becoming metaphors for the attempt to bridge the psychological and political chasms. Ultimately, the novel is about the necessary contradictions at the heart of transformation. Hayat, the daughter of a revolutionary ends up marrying a character that embodies Algeria’s new bourgeois class. Khaled’s act of painting Constantine’s bridges ends up consuming him and becomes a hymn to his lost city and also, his path back home.


CULTURE

SOMEWHERE CALLED HOME text & photos: ZEINA ELCHEIKH

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ome, from a broad perspective, is a place where one is born, grows up, draws childhood memories, and possibly dies. For many, home could be native, second, or even spiritual. Nevertheless, a change in place could happen, for different reasons, forcing people to leave their home. In construction and development projects, a shift in people’s setting is sometimes hard to avoid. Yet, many resettlement schemes were considered a failure: people’s livelihoods were seriously affected, communities were shattered, social fabric and networks were disrupted, and compensations - when they occurred - were below the actual needs and the real loss. In November 2012, I met Ms. Tamar Teneishvili at the UNESCO office in Cairo, in my search for a host organisation and a topic for my thesis. She began to describe the ongoing projects: from Port Said to Dahshour, and from Thebes to Historic Cairo. Then she suddenly remembered: the community museum in Wadi Halfa. It may sound overstated, but I nearly fell in love with the name of this place which was unknown to me, and we had the following conversation: -Where is exactly Wadi Halfa? -It is a small border town in Northern Sudan 68

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-What about the museum? -A new Nubian museum is planned there. So Nubians who left would be encouraged to return back, by promoting cultural tourism -But why did they leave in the first place? -In the 1960s, Nubians were forcibly displaced in both Egypt and the Sudan, as a result of the construction of the High Dam in Aswan. Their historical land was submerged… This overview roused my desire to know more about a remarkable place, its people, its history and tragedy. A place and a people, on which my knowledge, just some time ago, was nothing but shallow. The region between the south of Aswan in Egypt and Dongola in the Sudan was given the general name of “Nubia”. People who have historically lived there, Nubians, have long been considered a distinct ethnicity. Collectively known for speaking the Nubian language, Nubians are divided by linguistic differences into Kenuzi (Matoki) and Fadija (Mahas). Although they were known for their isolation, the Ottoman military garrisons had integrated into Nubian society people from different origins. Nubians were noted in many travel literature accounts in the 1800s, such as John Lewis


Burckhardt’s Travels in Nubia in 1819. However, their civilisation is deep rooted in history, and dates back nine millennia. As they lived in the belly of the Nile Valley, their relation with the River was intimate. The Nile was an essential part of their lives, not just by being the only source of water, but by being the centre of many of their daily activities. Communication, ceremonies of marriage, death, birth, and many other private and communal rituals were celebrated in a close association with the Nile. The traditional economy of the Nubians was more than just a livelihood providing subsistence. It was strongly related to their natural environment and culture. Nubia has been known for being economically poor in resources, and lived mainly from what the River Nile provided. Nubians were not familiar with agriculture, but their small and fertile pieces of land allowed them to grow date palm trees, which were a sign of fortune. Nubians experienced labour migration, and thus a dilemma: the need to seek urban settings to earn a living, whilst at the same time looking back to their rural settings to hold onto their identity. However, the morphology and ecology of the Nile Valley was changed forever, and the romantic picture of the quiet land with date palms ceased to exist. On the dawn of the High Dam’s construction, Nubians, in Egypt and the Sudan, were confronted with the obligation of abandoning their homeland. The Egyptian government one-sidedly decided to resettle them in ready-made settlements in Kom Ombo, 50 km north of Aswan. The arrangement of the new settlements roughly parallels that of Old Nubia, as well as the names: those of the villages in Old Nubia. On the other hand, unlike in Egypt, the Sudanese government did its best to test public opinion. Although possible resettlement areas were laying in a Nubian land from an environmental and historical viewpoint, the government thought about integrating them more into Sudanese life. As a result, they were resettled in Khasm el Girba, near

the Eritrean borders. In a displacement of such magnitude, the “sense of loss” was expected, mainly for a community known for being isolated. This loss of isolation and the change in their income generating assets were two of the new life conditions for Egyptian Nubians. Similarly for Sudanese Nubians, the 2 rainfall region to which they moved to; forced them to abandon their traditional Nubian houses in sun-dried mud brick and their rotation system of crops. At the village of Ballana, in Southern Egypt, I met Awada, who spoke about the day she left her village in Old Nubia, when she was a nine-yearold girl, and how their furniture was first taken, and then all members of the same family were put together: “My father was blind, perhaps for his own good. People died because of this displacement. At that time while we were all crying, you could hear zagharit (celebratory chant) not from any Nubian but from Sa’idis who used to work among us. These Sa’idis were not losing anything, on the contrary they got a piece of land in the new settlements exactly like us, who lost everything.” Such narrative was also emphasised by an Egyptian official servant at the Nubia Museum in Aswan. He mentioned how Nubians were asked to sing and play music on their way to the boats while being transferred to their new villages, and how they were shocked that the reality was not exactly as bright as what it had been promised to them: “Nubians’ response towards the resettlement was similar to that of someone who was offered a wrapped gift, and had lot of courtesy to keep smiling even after noticing how cheap that present was, compared to the sacrifice he made.” At that time, grand accomplishments took place. I was personally amazed by the way the temples of Abu Simbel were saved, during the International Campaign for Saving the Monuments of Nubia, which is perhaps the greatest achievement ever made by UNESCO. But yet, a tragedy was untold, and stones were saved but not the people. These are the words of Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy in his correspondence to President Gamal Abdul Nasser, criticising the resettlement process. They are those of A’m Murad, in Yousef Chahin’s movie’s “Those People of the Nile”, frowning at the stones of the temple carefully moved while his people

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“NUBIANS’ RESPONSE TOWARDS THE RESETTLEMENT WAS SIMILAR TO THAT OF SOMEONE WHO WAS OFFERED A WRAPPED GIFT, AND HAD LOT OF COURTESY TO KEEP SMILING EVEN AFTER NOTICING HOW CHEAP THAT PRESENT WAS, COMPARED TO THE SACRIFICE HE MADE.”

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were displaced to a god-forsaken place. They are the words of Awad Al Shalali, in Idris Ali’s novel Dongola, who cursed the dam and the river that had surrendered to it. They are the words of Awada, who was wondering why the rescue of the temples was displayed at the Nubia Museum, and not her people’s pictures leaving, forever, the old village. Nubians showed in the past, a pragmatism in dealing with hardship in their lives, and demonstrated an ability to integrate new aspects into their culture. Although they were known for being isolated, they were open to many changes: mingling with new peoples, adopting new aspects in their music, architecture, and other cultural traits. The construction of the High Dam, had deprived a large number of them of many things. Yet, Nubians are still surviving culturally through the continuity of traditions and their daily practices, their insistence on maintaining their language, and keeping what makes them “them”, nearby or far from their original homeland. A fact that generates a struggle to create a balance between a glorious past and a misplaced present. A present which has witnessed other Nubian protests against other Dams on the Nile, and against being forcibly displaced for the sake of development. Forced displacement, on the contrary of development projects, starts by taking away something from the affected people. Something that might be strongly related to the place called home. Something that might be irreplaceable. Something called: identity. At the High Dam in Aswan, I explained briefly to my five-year-old daughter how during its construction, the villages of Nubians were drowned. Then she said: “Now I can speak a new language”. I asked her which one she exactly means, and she answered back: “Nubian”. I could not hide my smile with my surprise: “What could you exactly say in Nubian honey?”, she said “I can tell the story of how they lost their houses, isn’t that enough for a language” and I remained silent. But while packing to return to Cairo after my field trip to the Nubian villages of the South, she asked me why we could not stay there; I answered: “Because we are not Nubians”. She unexpectedly added with innocence: “I wish we were”. REFERENCES: • • • • • 1

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Dafalla, H., (1975), The Nubian Exodus, Hurst & Company Ltd. London. Hopkins, N., & Mehanna, S., (ed.) Nubian Encounters: The Story of the Nubian Ethnological Survey 1961–1964, AUC Press, Cairo. Fernea, R., & Rouchdy, A., (1987), Contemporary Egyptian Nubians, in T. Hägg (ed.) Nubian Culture Past and Present, Main papers presented at the 6th International Conference for Nubian Studies, Upsala. Gamal, A., n.d., “Kajbar and Nubian Lands: History, Case for Culture and Struggle”. Elcheikh, Z., Beyond the Borders: Nubian Culture and Cultural Tourism. Model of a traditional Nubian house at the Nubia Museum

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Diorama at the Nubia Museum showing Nubian women and men in a ceremony

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Decoration in a house in the Nubian village of Gharb Soheil


CULTURE

ROLE PLAY: Hamzah Saman by: CHRISTINE GREIGE

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ctor Hamzah Saman was born in Beirut, Lebanon where he attended boarding school, and afterwards, began working at Baby Guess, which is when he began pursuing an acting career. In 1993, at a local theatre in the neighbourhood of Hamra, Hamzah performed in his first play. With some theatre experience behind him, he went to the United States in1998 where he attended high school and college. It was clear at an early age that his true passion lies within the entertainment industry. In high school, Hamzah barely spoke any english, but managed to engage in a number of activities including [American] football, golf, as well as delving into music and theatre classes.This prepared him for his singing role in the play “Stand By Me” at Moor Park College. He later attended film schools in Los Angeles while supporting himself through working jobs at a hotel, a gym, and a mortgage company. It was at this moment where Hamzah decided to pursue any and every casting call he possibly could. The roles came: he was a feature extra in Hancock (2006); he played the lead in Beirut, Hide & Seek (2010) and a pizza boy in the movie Robin Hood (2008); he was cast in supporting roles in over 20 short-film productions, including Argo with Ben Affleck; Ironman (2008) with Robert Downey Jr., and Hancock (2008) with Will Smith, and he is the third lead in the Hollywood feature film Mobster (2013), which he also cast. In his first year as a casting agent, Hamzah cast over 10 films. Further to the movies, he has had feature roles in television programmes like 24 and Dexter . Within the Arab American community, Hamzah Saman is known as the first online Arab American Casting Director, President and Founder of ArabAmericanCasting.com. His versatile film career has spanned casting, filmmaking, and acting. His ambitious style helps him create viable opportunities for other entertainers through Arab American Casting (AAC). The vision of the casting agency was to unite not only Arab Americans but aspiring artists of all ethnicities as well. It welcomes everyone to join and network in hopes of reaching the common goal of being successful in the entertainment industry. Hamzah launched the casting company website with the help of his brother. Two years later, they have gained thousands of followers, and provided the opportunity for countless individuals to display their work on AAC’s website at no charge making it an accessible gateway to the industry. In terms of the future, Saman does have a few exciting projects in the works which hold exciting prospects for this year and years to come. One such project is the Arab American Film Festival. It is tentatively scheduled to debut several films in the Los Angeles area in late 2014. @HamzahSaman • arabamericancasting.com

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CULTURE

BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER: How pop culture can create bonds in politically divided society – the case of Lebanon text & artwork: TAREK JOSEPH CHEMALY

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o say that Lebanon is a country that has had a troubled past (and present) is like saying “Bill Gates is rich.” A statement that is absolutely true but that is an understatement so grave, it barely does justice to the situation. But what words could one use for a nation that is experiencing – for the umpteenth time – security rifts caused by political currents stemming from religious affiliations. At this stage, asking a Lebanese about identity is exploring a minefield – it is a conversation one does not wish to have unless absolutely sure where the other person’s ideology, affiliation, and sympathies lie. A wise man on a train once said to a friend “football is not about life and death. It’s bigger than that.” Many issues in Lebanon are like that too – for example, the basketball team you root for says a lot about your religious affiliation. The television station you watch is an ipso facto indicator, but also the shopping malls you frequent and the shops you wish to be patron of (do they offer alcohol? Is their meat halal?). As a matter of fact, all the details in our daily life as Lebanese seem to be a gigantic puzzle which recounts our identity, affiliations, and inclinations. It is pointless to delve into security issues or political problems, they are simply a side effect of a deeply entrenched problem of the Lebanese not being able to concur or agree on any topic – who are we at war with? Why are we at war with them? What’s a traitor? Who should be thrown in jail? Who is causing the economic mayhem? The list is endless. Listening to any debate show on television brings one answer – the all-encompassing al fariq al akhar (the other party). Naturally, each calls the other al fariq al akhar, which basically sums up anything and anyone who does not happen to be – at the time of the televi72

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sion interview – an ally. Keep in mind the situation can change so drastically it can put George Orwell’s history manipulation to shame. In this bleak current scenario everyone is saying “I have nothing in common with him/her”. Or better, “we have nothing in common with them” since the plural only adds to the signification of belonging to a sectreligion-party and the strength as we all know is in numbers. But is this true? There is no bridging gap between us? Let us not be so sure. Just mentioning the advertising jingle for Re-O-Vac batteries “chou bettarytak?”


(what battery are you running on) will get you a guaranteed reply “Re-O-Vac”. The slogan is so well known that when the laic movement gained strength in Lebanon, one of its preferred mottos was “chou tayeftak?” (what’s your sect) and the reply was “ma khassak” (none of your business) – which used the same musical notes as the Re-O-Vac original. The tune used in the television advert for the Italian pasta brand Barilla is so popular tune that one of Lebanon’s most famous divas, Sabah, asked Elias Rehbani (who composed the original), to rewrite the lyrics of the advertinto a proper song. Until today, the confusion is that the song preceded the jingle. Both the Barilla and Re-O-Vac adverts date back to the early 1980s, which is a testimony of the length a pop cultural item can last in the collective memory. Further to this, even though the royal couple of television – the late Hind Abi Allamah and Abdel Majid Majzoub (a Maronite Christian Princess belonging to a princely family and a Muslim Sunnite, respectively) have not shared the screen since the mid-80s, just the mention of the expression “Allo Hayete?” (Hello, darling?) which was the most famous TV programme that united them on screen, can still send generate smiles from people – no matter what generation they belonged to. When recently Future Television unearthed a telefilm that Hind and Abdel Majid shared together from the archives of the Jordanian television, the media glitz that ensued was so big – and justifiably so. However, when presenter Zaven Kouyoumjian was worried that maybe he was making a big deal out of nothing and that the whole hype was depasse, audiences on the street were surveyed as to whether they remember the couple or not. The answer, drawn from a diverse sample from many “sides” of Beirut, was resoundingly positive. One woman specifically mentioned how Abi Allamah’s eyeliner application has influenced her own make up techniques. Astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “Academic intelligence is no guarantee against being dead wrong.” Pop culture is often so derided and maligned – often associated with things too lowbrow to merit an intellectual mention. But the fact that it establishes a bond, which will create a collective memory, which in turn will lead (with time) to a national identity. Sometimes it is all in the details. When Red, the very developed cinematic camera was introduced, a French director of photography I know was among the first to get it. He showed me, side by side, images stemming from red and other images taken from less sophisticated cam-

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eras. “Which one do you like?” I gravitated instantly towards the non-Red ones. “But that’s because you’re used to video,” he disappointingly retorted. One incident comes to mind distinctly: when the last episode of the telenovela which introduced Lebanon to Mexican soap operas “Anta aw la a7ad” (Tu o Nadie) aired, I was talking a walk in Achrafieh, a predominately Christian region of Beirut. Lebanon’s mood was that of the immediate post-war. The animosities were still raging even if not actively through bullets and bombs, there was a severe risk of relapse, and in the Achrafieh I lived in, the supporters of the two Christian factions that lead the last war were still at daggers-drawn. And yet, the streets were eerily silent – not because of a curfew or a security measure – but because everyone was holding their breath by their television set. No matter what their political orientation was, everyone was watching the denouement between Raquel and Antonio with Maximiliano completing the love triangle. Somehow, the city was peaceful, united, and very much aligned under the same ideology. When the Lebanese reached a deadlock in 2008 over the election of a new president, and when major political parties were not able to agree as to a potential candidate that would not be vetoed by the “the other party,” someone sprayed “Haifa for president” on the walls in reference to Haifa Wehbe a national pop phenomenon which, it seemed, was

“CHOU TAYEFTAK? (WHAT’S YOUR SECT) AND THE REPLY WAS “MA KHASSAK (NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS)...

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a candidate everyone would agree on. Nostalgia itself, in the past several years, has made a big return. Designers such as Sarah Beydoun and Rana Salam are using the retro card for their creations and Imad Kozem – the man behind a very popular Facebook page “Pure Nostalgia (Assaleh Era)” – published a bestselling book from the contents of his own trove of treasures which he collects in a throwback to an era supposedly more simple and innocent. Naturally, the point may be debated: if the past was supposedly was more innocent, how come we ended up with the war on our hands as Lebanese? Still, names such a Phoenicia Hotel, Automatique café, Piccadilly Theatre, Modca café-trottoir, and the likes have become synonymous to an era that the Lebanese view as some sort of a heyday. The power of these names, these places, is enough to create a cohesive social element – even if fictive. As Lebanon went through the 1975-1990 Civil War, my mother would often tell tales about the “good old days” and how Feyrouz would be in Baalbeck and other such stories. So when the grande dame did come back for a concert on 17 September 2004 in downtown Beirut (Feyrouz refused to sing in Lebanon as long as war was raging), I rushed and got myself a ticket and paraded back home and said to my mother: “so now I get to see Feyrouz like you did before the war.” Her reply was so revealing of the mental state of so many Lebanese “…But I never went to her concerts. Baalbeck was too far!” So there it was, the whole “Feyrouz in Baalbeck” was a mythical national fallacy – it doesn’t mean it had to be real, it simply meant it was there. Just like Sous la mer – the legendary bar at the Phoenicia Hotel which was designed to have three windows that would show the swimmers in the pool from under the water – many people had heard about it but the social rift in Lebanon – class disparity being one of the causes which lead to the war – was such that only the very few privileged got to experience it. But the power of its existence is enough to create a memory – even if false – that would perpetuate a bond in a community otherwise fragmented. Now tell me: “Chou bettarytak?”


CULTURE

THE SELF EXPRESSION TABOO opinion piece by: MAYS CHAMI • illustration: KHALID ALBAIH

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rab society, as a sociological group, has a significant number of fundamental distinguishers, many of which are arguably markers of a stagnant civilisation. What is less obvious is that a number of seemingly unrelated character flaws of Arab society stem from an inconspicuous taboo: that of self-expression. The self-expression taboo underlies the disconnection with one’s feelings present in most adults and the resulting distrust that permeates all relationships; the propensity to let anger, emotional sensitivity and defensiveness cloud one’s objective judgement; and finally the tendency to eschew any hot-button or controversial topics. Arab society, I would argue, is one where a strong distinction exists between the private and the public spheres, and where the private sphere is further restricted to the privacy of the self; where standing out – however slightly – from the crowd is a risk that one takes at their own expense. Raised in such a culture, one quickly comes to learn that to expose one’s vulnerabilities is socially unacceptable, and to vocalise one’s uncertainties is deemed improper. The outcome of such a repressive atmosphere is that each person constructs a protective wall, effectively ensuring that nothing except the G-rated and the emotional equivalent of kitsch leaks out, save to a very select few (it’s worthwhile noting that this general frigidness is commended and glorified as ‘dignity’ in Arab culture). The resulting state of constant self-censorship effectively limits the opportunities to share one’s insecurities, and a person thus socialised inevitably develops deep anxieties and eventually shame about their particularities. This marks the beginning of a cycle wherein the insecurities reinforce the impermeability of the wall, and the impermeability of the wall in turn reinforces the insecurities. In addition, a culture of taboo and repression leads to a host of behavioural problems, all related to the insecurity-fueled incapacity to manage one’s emotions. There is a certain exaggerated touchiness that comes with harbouring insecurities that is simply unfathomable for someone who is an open book. Similarly, the self-expression taboo has given rise to a very serious anger management problem, in part because we are not trained to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and in another because we are not trained to do the introspection usually needed to analyse our emotions in an objective way. The resulting inability to form meaningful connections with people within one’s immediate community does more than just contribute to frustrations in socialising, it creates a society of withdrawn individuals that have no platform to explore shared experiences within the public sphere. This in turn means that the extent to which we are able to empathise is limited, hence limiting our ability to see the universal humanity in every person. The absence of a connecting thread running through the different segments of a society is tangible: every time someone is unnecessarily rude in a restaurant or judgemental and maligning towards a stranger, it speaks to the ease with which they can distance themselves socially from the recipient of their slurs. On a more sobering note, this creates the kind of mindset ripe for the practice of Othering, all too present in our society. When the exploring and engaging in shared experiences across different segments of society is an unnatural exercise, it can become disturbingly effortless to dehumanise a particular person or demographic, and to subsequently behave towards them as distinctly separate from “us”. This is a dangerous territory that gives way to all kinds of –isms: racism, sexism, classism, anti-Semitism, and others, all dealing with specific groups that have historically been marked as inferior or at least separate or Other in some way. I believe that if we were better communicators and made more effort to bridge gaps among different groups, such –isms would naturally fade away. Besides that, the stigma associated with sharing (never mind over-sharing) breeds a permanent state

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of suspicion regarding everyone within interactive vicinity as a default attitude. The duality of a) rarely letting our guard down, and b) rarely getting through others’ guards means that distrust is the default foundation upon which we build our assumptions. This again leads to a cycle similar to the one described earlier, revolving around in the first place inherent distrust and subsequently reactionary distrust reinforcing the former kind. This distrust manifests in various layers and interfaces of societal interaction: from the uncomfortably small space that people leave when forming a queue, to the rampant number of speed bumps in the industrialised parts of the Arab world (which serve as daily reminders that we cannot be trusted to follow instructions), to the way instructions oftentimes account for an extra margin as compensation for the anticipated disregard for instructions. As before, this tends to act cyclically to reinstate the necessity of such measures. To anyone interested in efficiency, this can be a frustrating experience to say the least. Fear is another very important consequence of the self-expression taboo. This internalised fear developed from years of living under the constant watchful eye of society is reminiscent of Foucault’s theory of the disciplinary society and its inclination to normalise and act as an invisible source of power, so that members of such a society conform of their own accord and without the exertion of force. Such a fear and the crippling effect that it has can be witnessed in the extreme homogeneity of our society (corrected for social status), for example in choice of dress, in principles and philosophy, in lifestyle, and

in the odd uniformity of artistic expression. Fear is the reason we are a risk-adverse, creativelystarved society. Since risk-taking and creativity (“thinking outside the box”, so to speak) are the catalysts for the progress of a society in all domains, be they political, social, technological or others, a campaign to eradicate fear and taboo should be at the forefront of Arab society’s priorities. Further, fear also stunts the discourse on various human rights issues, as it can be detrimental to one’s social standing if one suggests that something be done differently – for example in regards to customary traditions – especially when it intersects with sensitive topics such as religion or women’s sexuality. In terms of the latter, for example, the taboo around the subject has no doubt played an important role in the continued practice of archaic forms of avengement such as honour killings, and the reluctance of women to press rape charges: according to David Ghanim’s book Gender and Violence in the Middle East (2009, p. 30), “ninety-eight

percent of rape cases in Egypt go unreported”. Thus taboo culture functions as a tool to repress the voices of victimised groups and to perpetuate unnecessarily rigid power structures within our society. The combination of all of the above societal ailments (disconnection with the self, disconnection with the other, a general distaste for accurate representation, and fear) have come to represent a very real hurdle in the path of the much-needed change in our society. To counter this, we must strive to encourage selfexpression from a young age, and ease off on our judgemental nature in order to encourage rather than stunt innovation, applaud transparency, honesty, and forwardness, and gradually pave the way for a kinder, brighter society. When the next generation of Arabs doesn’t feel forced to resort to using the English or another foreign language the next time they discuss any taboo-sensitive topic, we’ll know we’ve made some progress.

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CULTURE

An Interview with RIHAM ISAAC by: SARA ALSARAF

48 MINUTES FOR PALESTINE IS A PERFORMANCE CONCEIVED BY MOJISOLA ADEBAYO, A PLAYWRIGHT, PERFORMER AND DIRECTOR BASED IN THE UNITED KINGDOM, IN COLLABORATION WITH ASHTAR THEATRE IN PALESTINE. OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS THE PLAY HAS TOURED BRAZIL, SOUTH AFRICA, SPAIN, SWEDEN, JORDAN, AND PALESTINE. IN AUGUST 2013, IT WAS PERFORMED OVER THREE DAYS TO A SOLD OUT AUDIENCE AT RICH MIX IN EAST LONDON. DESPITE BEING A DRAMA WITHOUT WORDS, 48 MINUTES FOR PALESTINE STRIKES THE VIEWER ON MANY LEVELS. I MET ACTRESS AND PERFORMANCE MAKER, RIHAM ISAAC, WHO PLAYS THE CHARACTER OF SAMAR, AT AN AUDIENCE WORKSHOP.

SA | Samar takes the audience on an intensely intimate and personal journey of metaphorical struggle against her ‘occupier’ (played by Edward Muallem of Ashtar theatre). Can you tell us more about how the play was developed? RI | Mojisola, the director, had an idea for this play for more than seven years. She had previously collaborated with Ashtar theatre and wanted to work with them again. They were looking for an actress and luckily [that actress] was me! We started rehearsing in 2010. 48 minutes for Palestine is a silent play between two actors using only physical actions and some props. Simply speaking, it is a story about a young woman who lives in her house. An old man enters her home suddenly, claiming that it is his house and eventually forcing her to leave. But it is also a play about conflict, struggle, about space, about property, about human existence. SA | As there was no written script, how did you put the performance together? RI | Our director comes from a background of using Augusto Boel’s Theatre of the Oppressed in which games are played to encourage creativity and performance. She is a big fan of playing and came to us with a bunch of games which she threw into the rehearsal space. These games were often about space and conflict. Edward and I started by just having fun. We were really competitive but in a very good and positive way, and this tension began to create the material for the play. The games evolved into scenes about space and conflict and from these we were able to form sketches, put them in front of us and look for transitions between them. It was not a linear process, the story developed from these sketches gradually and the play started to take a structure and a shape. SA | How has the Theatre of the Oppressed influenced the play? RI | I guess we used the principles of the Theatre of the Oppressed by not offering a solution to a conflict but rather [by] posing a question to the audience. Samar is a character who is being oppressed but she continually resists. Towards the end of the play, the audience sees her get to her weakest point and defeated [and] she looks towards them. Although she does not speak, she is asking, “This is my problem, I’m not giving you a solution. What would you do if you were in my shoes? How would that feel?”

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SA | How have audiences responded to these questions? RI | It varies a lot! Some people respond indifferently and do not feel it is a difficult position to be in, others respond aggressively and say “We must kill the oppressor!” But then we explain to them if we say that, we get labelled terrorists! It is very difficult for people to imagine being in our position or to have an understanding of occupation. The play tries to stimulate discussion about the conflict of someone coming into your house, your personal space. You can tell them to go away but what if they don’t? What do you do then? Are you allowed to fight? What other solutions are available? Edward once had a conversation with a young man in Sweden who said “What’s the big deal, I wouldn’t care.” Edward replied by simply saying “Give me your watch.” The young man gave him the watch. Edward said “I’m not going to give it back to you now. How do you feel?” And suddenly he became angry and his understanding shifted. The occupation takes something from us on so many levels but if you are not subject to occupation, or have not seen it, it is difficult to understand the impact. Oh, and of course Edward gave him his watch back! SA | In Spain you performed in a prison. How did the male prisoners respond to the play? RI | We took the play to a male prison with ReACT, the International Social Theatre Festival in Valencia. It was really interesting to perform in front of

prisoners. Most of the technicians we worked with were also prisoners. They really related to my character and many of them became very emotional during the performance, asking me if I wanted help whilst I was acting! They took it very seriously, as if it was actually happening, asking “Do you want us to come and fight with you?” They would egg me on when I defended myself against Edward. This reflected to me the way that people who feel oppressed relate to the play in a much more sensitive way than those who have not felt oppression. SA | The play appears to have many possible meanings... RI | Yes, that’s one of the interesting things about the play; it has so many layers, not just the Israel and Palestine issue. It’s more universal and encapsulates any type of oppression in the world and I think that is why the prisoners related so passionately. Some people have understood the play to be about a forced marriage, [while] others as a conflict between a man and a woman. It is called 48 minutes for Palestine and is clearly born out of our feelings about the conflict; however, it is open to the audience to project their own ideas, experiences and stories onto it. SA | How was the play received in Palestine? RI | The Palestinians know the story so it is not something new to them. They found it very obvious. Symbols such as the keys and the stones may be metaphorical to non-Palestinian audiences but

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to Palestinians they are obvious symbols of our struggle. We were told by Palestinian audiences that, through the silence, they found it a different way to tell the story and this is what they found interesting. Because there are no words and we Palestinians usually like preaching and talking, the silence makes it more intimate and represents the struggle solely through our feelings and actions. I feel privileged to have had these responses from Palestinian audiences, who appreciated the art of the play. SA | On stage there are only a few props. We see a lot of oranges and stones. Could you elaborate on why there were chosen and the symbolism behind these? RI | Mojisola chose the oranges. She was visiting Palestine, walking around looking for something, which could be found in abundance throughout Palestine, and she noticed oranges everywhere. She didn’t choose the typical symbol of olives or the olive tree. Indeed, the orange has become a political symbol in the ‘jaffa’ oranges but I don’t think she meant it in this way. We used the oranges in our games and they served us well, enabling us to be playful and creative. SA | At the end of the play we see you pack your belongings in the same suitcase which Edward brought into the house in the beginning of the play. How does it feel to end the play in this way? RI | We really struggled to find an ending. Originally there was a much more dramatic ending where I was put into the suitcase! But we changed it and now it symbolises the reality of becoming a refugee. It is a tough ending, because Samar is constantly struggling against him. She tries to win anything back, using many different tactics but she continues to lose. Unfortunately that reflects reality; in the end she loses everything. SA | What is the significance of the title, 48 minutes for Palestine? RI | It refers to the ‘Catastrophe’ or ‘Nakba’ that occurred in 1948 and the events that have happened since, and how the Palestinian struggle has evolved. In 1948, we see Samar a villager taking care of her crops, her oranges, until Edward enters and corrupts and occupies her space. SA | There is a scene where Edward haphazardly knocks over water from a jug and Samar is devastated. RI | We really wanted to bring up the issue of water in Palestine as occupation is not just about killing and war. It is also about the daily obstacles we face, including the occupation of water resources by Israel and the way it is being sold back to us. Samar is so careful with the amount of water she uses, it is essential to her survival, whilst Edward is complacent, lacking any care and throwing it everywhere. We have a lot of water in Palestine but it is not accessible as it is all controlled. SA | Peter Brooks [English film theatre director] wrote you a letter highly complimenting the performance. He says “it’s an amazing, magnificent piece of work. In fact, it is all of a piece, as there is no way of separating conception, visualisation, staging, performing – and meaning. If there is any very positive and hopeful message, as some of the audience in the discussion were looking for – it is there in the fact that your work is an affirmation that unity – even for 48 minutes and encompassing the spectators – is real.” RI | Yes, it was an unexpected compliment! The play ended up being included in an anthology of play texts, Theatre in Pieces, which also included a play by Peter Brooks. SA | I felt that the silent drama and the background music contributed to a hypnotic quality of the play. Through the actors’ movement and gestures, the audience is intimately invited into the space, to experience a glimpse of occupation and oppression. RI | I think that the silence is the magic of this play. This is one of my favourite plays that I have ever been in because I do not have to speak to explain things and actions tell you everything. I enjoyed that a lot. It is much more intimate although it is a challenging process as an actor to express emotions to an audience solely with gestures and physical action. But this way of acting was the art of the performance. It speaks to many people in many different ways without the need for words. It is simple and symbolic and I like that that the audience go into this silence with us.

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ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS A KINGDOM IN NORTH AFRICA CALLED NUMIDIA. text & photos: MOHAMED MEGDOUL

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At a certain time, the kingdom stretched from Morocco to Western Libya. Empty landscapes, young people posing, women dressed for an event, a procession – all these photographs are about the passing of time, resistance and permanence. The region where I took these photographs is located in the north of Algeria, about 150 kilometres west of Algiers, in a region called “Kabylie” populated by Berbers. Since antiquity, this region has been constantly colonised: Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Turks, and the French have occupied it.

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CULTURE

KEEPING UP WITH SAMIR BOULAZREG by: ZAHRA ROSA

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he last time I spoke with Samir Boulazreg in Issue 05 (Spring 2012), he was emerging as one of the top one hundred players in the Greater Toronto Area playing American football for his high school team Lorne Park. Today, Samir is going into his second season with the York University Lions after being chosen as the rookie of the year during his first season of play. Samir began pursuing American football in the eighth grade after watching his older brother Adel play for his high school team and for the Mississauga Warriors. Samir traded in his footballcleats for American football and joined the Mississauga Warriors. The five years to come at Lorne Park will award him with two Rick Miller awards, which recognises leadership and a captaincy title in his final year. Samir was later drafted to play for the Greater Toronto All-Star team which chose 50 players out of the 100 who were nominated. Samir later became a member of the Mississauga based International Developmental Fast Football League (IDFFL) . This league’s mission is to take young local talent and transform them into elite athletes. The training opportunity with IDFFL has helped the young star immensely with his transition into university American football. It has brought into scope the importance of visualising plays before they occur and learning the mental strategic aspects of the game. It has helped shape his performance dramatically and has allowed him to channel his weaknesses into new found strengths. “The only reason I got a chance to play for York this year was the knowledge of the game I attained from the IDFFL rather than [for] my athletic ability. IDFFL taught me that the only kryptonite to speed is knowledge,” Samir said. Joining a new team with York University has been both a blessing and challenge. Excited for his new independent life, Samir found himself being held back by the culminating responsibilities of being both an undergraduate student and a varsity athlete. “Coming in was a challenge, as a varsity athlete you lose your social life. The quicker you are at accepting that reality, the easier it is to set into that lifestyle and recognise your priorities. It was a tough transition, I had my downfalls but I am glad I figured it out in time and learned to 84

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managed my time wisely,” he adds. The pres e a s o n training l o o k e d promising for Samir and showcased his p o t e nt i a ls on the field. This earned him a quick spot on the defensive team with the York Lions. He 2 recalls his heart racing and “feeling like I was just thrown into fire, I did not think I could match up to my competition against my first game with Queens University when I was subbed in, after the game the coach pulled me aside and told me to have confidence in my ability.” Taking his coach’s advice, he went into his first starting game against Laurier’s Golden Hawks with a clear mind and calm attitude. This game highlighted his abilities with his two back-to-back interceptions. Samir wrapped up his first season with 26 tackles, three interceptions, five pass deflections and one touchdown against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. The season did not pan out too successfully for the York Lions,, but for Samir a different ending would inspire his confidence and plant more faith for the seasons to come. He became the only York Lion’s football player to be named ‘all-rookie’, recognised by the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) after the list made its debut this year. He is now looking forward to the spring training camp where strength, conditioning, speed, and agility will be tested and further enhanced for the upcoming season. He is mostly excited about the rookie dominant roster whose focus and aim is to recreate the face of the York Lions American football team for the years to come. This brave, young roster is looking to make many new changes and fulfill their goals on their newly turfed field. Samir is grateful for his success, which he owes his former coaches and trainees: “I would like to thank Coach Scott Price, at Lorne Park, who has taught me the discipline of football and all the little things we do in between practices and games that add up to help shape our characters. Maurice Mann, at IDFFL, who has helped elevate my game skills a great deal. Coach Anthony Cannon and Jordan Younger at IDFFL for teaching me that thick skin is required to play football, my current Coach, Warren Craney for believing in me and helping me find confidence in my ability on the field and finally my mum, whose words ‘I’m proud of you’ after my game against Laurier, made my heart melt.” Samir will be back on the field in late August for his second season as a defensive back for the York Lions.

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Photography: Dawn Gennaro

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Photography: Foster Chan


ART & DESIGN

HIS MEMORIES: The Story Behind the Objects text & illustration: NOUR FLAYHAN

THESE OBJECTS WERE FOUND IN AN OLD ABANDONED TRADITIONAL LEBANESE

HOME IN KALAA, UP THE MOUNTAINS OF LEBANON. A FAMILY ONCE LIVED THERE: A MOTHER, FATHER, THEIR FOUR SONS, AN OLD LADY, AND HER HUSBAND.

THE HOUSE HAD TWO ROOMS, A BEDROOM, AND A LIVING ROOM, WITH THE BATHROOM LOCATED TWENTY METRES FROM THE HOUSE. THEY WOULD ALL

SLEEP IN ONE BEDROOM, SIDE BY SIDE ON MATTRESSES ON THE FLOOR, WHICH WOULD BE PACKED UP DURING THE DAY IN ORDER TO MAKE SPACE FOR THEM TO SIT AROUND. THEY WOULD GREET MANY VISITORS AND HAVE THEIR RELATIVES FROM THE UNITED STATES STAY THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER. THE MOTHER WAS

ALWAYS ILL AND SO HER SONS HAD TO TRAVEL ABROAD TO BRAZIL AND THE U.S TO MAKE MONEY AS THEY WERE NOT WELL OFF. HER YOUNGEST SON WAS

SPECIAL, A VERY INTELLIGENT YOUNG BOY WHO WAS ALWAYS TOP OF THE CLASS. WHEN HE TURNED 20, HE DEVELOPED AN INNER SELF-COMPLEX, AND BECAME

MENTALLY UNWELL AND UNSTABLE. HE WOULD LOCK HIMSELF AWAY AND AVOID ANY CONTACT WITH OTHERS. HIS PARENTS LATER DIED, LEAVING HIM ALL ALONE

IN THAT HOUSE, WHICH HE GREW DEEPLY ATTACHED TO. HIS BROTHERS ARE ALL GONE - ONE FELL ILL AND PASSED AWAY, ANOTHER SHOT HIMSELF WITH A HUNTING GUN, AND THE OTHER IS TERMINALLY ILL WITH A RARE CONDITION. NO ONE KNEW HOW HE MANAGED TO SURVIVE ALL THOSE COLD HARSH WINTERS IN

A HOUSE THAT WAS BARELY STANDING, AND HOW HE MANAGED TO STAY ALIVE.

HE WOULD SLEEP ON AN OLD MATTRESS BETWEEN THE ROCKS, AND EAT AT POOR PEOPLES HOUSES. FIVE YEARS AGO HE WAS REMOVED FROM THAT HOUSE AND

TAKEN TO AN OLD PEOPLE HOME, WHERE HE, TO THIS DAY, CONTINUES TO CLAIM THAT HE IS GOING TO LEAVE AND GO BACK TO THAT OLD ABANDONED HOUSE UP IN THE MOUNTAINS OF LEBANON.

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ART & DESIGN

REFORM by: DINA AMIN

Reform is a new design studio based in Egypt, co-founded by two young aspiring designers, Hend Riad and Mariam Hazem. Although a new studio, Reform already has an international award-winning project under their belt: Plastex. Plastex is a new designed material that reuses discarded plastic bags and revives the traditional handloom craft to produce stunning weaved, textile-like material. I sat down with Hend and Mariam to find out more about Reform and their future plans. DA | Why the name ‘Reform’? And what is the philosophy behind the studio? R | Reform is an umbrella of many ‘Re’s’ you can say – we see design as a recreation of an existing idea, a redevelopment of objects, reusing of materials, reviving of cultures and reforming our world. DA | What is Reform’s mission? R | Reform designs for a cause: we want to explore how design can solve problems – whether economically, environmentally, culturally, etc. For example, our first project Plastex aims to change how people perceive waste in Egypt. DA | You mentioned to me previously that Plastex started out as a project during university. Could you tell me a little about the how it all started? R | We [first] started [by looking at ] a major problem in Egypt: waste. The amount of garbage and waste that you find on the streets is unbelievable. From our research we found out that reusing is much better than recycling, [as] it saves a lot of resources. Which is why we chose plastic bags – the second most used and discarded product in [the country]. Every minute, there are 1 million plastic bags all over the world given [out] for free. We met with an organisation called Almesbah Almodi (the illuminating lamp), (the illuwhich goes door to door and collects recyclable items like cans, plastic bottles, paper, etc. Plastic bags are not one of the items that are heavily collected since it’s very lightweight and very expensive to recycle, there is no benefit or profit from collecting it, so it’s wasted. We also asked robabikya (traders who roam the streets buying old used objects – and we [discovered] the same thing: plastic bags are not profitable, and they consume a lot of space. Recycling plastic bags is no good and burning the material is extremely harmful because it emits cancerous fumes, and it has a huge negative impact on the environment, harming animals if left to degrade in soil or seas. So we focused on reusing plastic bags, prolonging their life cycle before they ends up in trashcans. We wanted to change how Egyptians perceived plastic bags. Rather than seeing it as a form of trash, [we wanted Egyptians] to see the plastic bag as something more positive like a form of profit, a job opportunity, or even charity. DA | How did you connect plastic bags and an almost lost craft like handloom weaving? Where did the connection come from? R | We didn’t want to use an advanced technology that is not available in Egypt, we wanted to make it simple to implement here, and so we researched about crafts and came across the method in which ancient Egyptians used to make their clothes using handlooms. That’s where it started. We did not imagine that the weaving craft in Egypt would have reached such a bad stage, but we discovered that it was far worse than we assumed, and thus we decided to revive an old craft and give it back its value. The automation of the weaving industry affected handmade crafts to an extent that the craftsmen would not be able to live by

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producing handmade products anymore. Its value has really deteriorated, to the point that you can find such handmade products sold on the streets like kilim, only a very limited group of people buy such products and throughout time, these products came to be bought by a certain social class. We saw that the few products produced by this old craft were very basic and as time passed, they didn’t develop much, so we thought why not juxtapose an old technique with a new concept and produce products that can be applied in more areas, prolonging the product’s life cycle – be it the plastic bag or the craft itself. We wanted to add value to these products through design, especially that its value is already great because it’s handmade and crafted, so we decided to revive and update the handloom craft. DA | Could you tell us more about the competition where Plastex was awarded an international prize? R | We first took part in the Design plus Industry competition in Egypt, which is certified by The Egyptian Furniture Export Council and the Chamber of Woodworking and Furniture Industry in Egypt. For the first round, shortlisted winners got a booth at the Furnex exhibition to display their products, and Plastex was one of the chosen designs. For the second round, five winners were chosen and we won first place (the golden award)! We were given an opportunity to travel to Milan to Salone internazionale del mobile to exhibit our products. It was the first time ever that Egypt took part in this exhibition. People passing by our booth were shocked, and kept asking “you are from Egypt?!” They couldn’t imagine that Egypt has a design scene or is even familiar with the word ‘design.’ They kept asking us about the changes happening in the country, how we live, and the unstable political situation. It seemed they thought Egypt was completely destroyed after the revolution, and they couldn’t believe that young designers can emerge amongst what is happening. People were more shocked when they saw our work and that we addressed an issue like sustainability. [It was hard for them to] imagine that Egypt would address issues like sustainability and create ecofriendly products. We found out that there was a competition organised by Salone Satellite searching for the best eco design with the theme “Design and Craftsmanship Together for the Industry.” We took part in the competition with no expectations

of winning (isaloni is one of the biggest exhibitions in the world after all!). Not only was it the first time Egypt took part in this exhibition, but the first time to enter the competition as well! There were over 100 participants, and some amazing design work. There were many completed prototypes, whereas our design was just a concept and wasn’t fully implemented. We ended up winning the Satellite Award (second prize). We definitely didn’t see it coming! We were told that we won because of our feasible approach to such a big problem in Egypt. We believe that the environment in Egypt and the lack of opportunities might not be helping designers. Abroad they have a lot of opportunities for designers such as design competitions, design weeks, and exhibitions. But we believe that Egyptian designers have what it takes to compete on a global level if given the opportunity. DA | What challenges did you face or are still facing in Egypt? R | There are little statistics available in Egypt, and many are quite outdated (the latest statistics we found were from 2009). We want to be able to measure the impact of Plastex on waste, and we think this is something the government can help us with by providing recent statistics. We felt that it was easier to present the concept outside of the country, it was as if it was self marketed, people saw the woven plastic bags and they instantly got it. But in Egypt it’s a different case. We received completely different comments from the Furnex exhibition in Egypt and isaloni in Milan. In Egypt, ironically, people didn’t get the big picture, the disastrous trash problem, and how we desperately need more sustainable solutions, they only perceived it as a nice looking product. Our message was clear in Milan: people saw our product and got our message, they valued the design, and the designer. In Egypt we have to start by explaining our message to be able to communicate it through our design. There is a lack of public awareness when it comes to environmental issues. That’s one of our future projects. DA | Tell us more about your future plans? R | Currently, we are focusing on our first project ‘Plastex’, we want to reduce waste in Egypt by half in 10 years. We plan to experiment more with the material, develop it, and increase its implementations. We have tested the material in the National Research Centre and it has proved to withstand

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supporting the disabled. They were able to produce some samples which increased their morale by giving them a mission, and that’s something we are considering as well. We are interested in collaborating with organisations or companies who share the same mission, to be able to spread our vision throughout Egypt. DA | Any advice for those interested in becoming designers? R | We are going through difficult times but it’s not as bad as the media portrays it. We have to make our presence clear; we have to put Egypt on the design map. People’s reaction at isaloni really bothered us, but we can move forward and we are willing to change. We dream of all of this, [so] why not imple-

dust, water, sand, and heat. It’s very durable and the colours didn’t even fade. We see a lot of possibilities in this material that we want to explore. We also plan to start green campaigns to increase public awareness regarding environmental issues. When we first started, we formed a network among our family and friends but now we would like to grow our network and target different groups of people. Another thing we wanted to do is to expand horizontally, and open several workshops all over Egypt. We want to see our product produced in villages and be able to provide more job opportunities. We want to start with kids because they are the future; we want to teach them about sustainability and how to protect our earth. We plan on conducting workshops for students in schools. We used to experiment on handmade looms that we made ourselves and we wanted children to go through the same experience, to learn about the craft and actively be part of a solution. At the beginning, we also collaborated with organisations

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ment it? Think, create, and try and try again. We have millions of problems in Egypt, but we can use these problems and create something positive. reformstudio.net


Turbulence


ART & DESIGN

POST-GEOGRAPHIC by: NOUR TABET

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y father lives in Beirut. My mother frequently flies to Dubai for work. My brother calls Philadelphia home and travels monthly to Europe for client meetings. My other brother was living in Vienna and recently moved to Montreal. As for me, I live in Baltimore. I have been experiencing the phenomenon of living across time zones for a few years now and I am sure I am not the only one. I stumbled upon the term “post-geographic� in a review I read on the book Zero History by the author of science-fiction novels William Gibson. This contemporary concept gave me a framework in which I could make sense out of the thoughts and emotions I have been developing since I moved from Lebanon to pursue my studies in the United States. The term helped me answer questions like: Why do I feel like I am simultaneously in Doha and Baltimore when I am continuously exchanging data with a friend living in Qatar? Geography is no longer the frame of reference that defines relationships. The concept of post-geography remains visually abstract yet obvious in my mind. All my family and Lebanese friends are scattered across the continents. Maintaining contact in the face of this dispersed geography has become a conscious effort supported by technology. The collapse of different geographic locations in my smartphone reflects the stateless status of the Lebanese diaspora. Soon after I moved to the continent of North America, my friends and I developed a photograph exchange game that would highlight the opposite activities we would be simultaneously engaged in. Myriam, my friend in Doha, would send me photo of her dinner when I would be having lunch, and I would send her a photograph of my morning coffee when she would be enjoying a happy hour drink with her colleagues. This exchange developed into my MFA research topic, focusing on a new form of maps based on looser connections and identities. Post-geographic Communities is a representation of diasporas in the age of globalisation. My project is a contemporary iterative form of representing a nation that is not location-specific. It is based on collections of data simultaneously sent to me from across time zones. nourtabetplays.com/postgeography/

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The traveller’s adapter has become an icon of my research. It represents access to power, while plugging into different cultures and communities. Some form-making icons on how “postgeography” could look like As soon as I start working on a different computer, my dashboard is populated by different weather channels and clocks

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This camera is currently travelling across the USA to six of my Lebanese friends. I asked each to take a photograph of the street sign on which they live, and to send it to the following person. When this disposable camera comes back to Baltimore, I will be holding a negative strip that aggregated six cities into one space. I asked fifteen of my friends living across the planet to send me a photograph of whatever was on their right. Within five minutes, I was receiving frames from Milan, London, Dubai, Riyadh, Paris, Australia, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Beirut. I overlaid all the photographs to collapse these several geographic into one space.

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ART & DESIGN

SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY THROUGH GRAPHIC DESIGN: An interview with Wajha by: NORA ALY

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ajha is an independent social initiative based in Jordan that uses design and branding knowledge to help the community by offering design services for free. Taking its name from the Arabic word for facade, Wajha’s design work mostly deals with shop fronts. Founded by Hussein Alazaat and Ali Almasri, the project offers support to the community by delivering creative interventions where they are needed. This is particularly important in a culture where design as a concept is not a priority. Further to this, in many communities design is an unaffordable privilege, and therefore almost completely absent. Wajha’s innovative artwork is created on view for everyone as they utilise the city’s facades as a canvas for experiments in typography, illustration, and graphic design. Another goal is to redefine and reshape the city’s identity through signage. Wajha hopes to stimulate the local community to talk more about design and to use social networking to respond to these creative interventions NA | What is Wajha’s story? Tell me about how this idea began, when, and what was the inspiration behind it all? WAJHA | We started in June 2012, when Hussein and I wanted to help Khaled the tailor who has a small shop in the neighbourhood where Hussein’s parents [live]. We wanted to give this man [the] right [to be] appreciated and acknowledged for his work, especially for his efforts in communicating with his clients, despite the fact that he’s deaf and mute. We decided to create a new identity for his small shop, particularly working on the shop signage in order for it to stand out and catch the people walking by. Khaled the tailor was a great

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inspiration for us to establish Wajha and from there, our journey in re-innovating small/local shops in Amman [began]. NA | Do you have a certain criteria in choosing the shops? Such as needs, recommendations, profession, etc. W | Yes we do have a criteria in choosing the shops. First thing is that we make sure that our input will be an added value to the shop and its owner. We always look for local shops in poorer areas that can’t afford to pay for design services and those shops are usually in the poorer neighbourhoods. However, we love to work on shops that are culturally exposed and that have heritage, these shops are in the centre of the city. NA | How do you convince the shop owner that his shop’s identity needs some reviving? Have you ever approached someone who has refused your free service, thinking that it’s unnecessary? W | We start to offer our services to the shop owner and explain what we can do for him. Some of them do not believe us – thinking that nothing is for free but they bare with us until the end, since they [have] nothing to lose. It happened once that we approached a shop owner whose refused our offer. In fact, he didn’t even bother to listen to what we [were saying]. It was a beautiful authentic watches and clocks shop. NA | Tell us about the process and what inspires you throughout the whole journey. What are the challenges/problems that you face during projects? W | Well, it all begins when we choose a certain shop. We begin to research the profession [of the


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El Muhtasab Bookshop, a photo from 1985

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shop owner]. Then [we] go talk to the owner and [pitch] our service. We start chatting with him about the nature of the work, the problems he faces, and about his personal interests. It’s more of a casual conversation. Afterwards, we start to brainstorm and each of us makes his trials and then [we] combine things together. We are not just aiming to make something appealing and that’s it – we care to make something relevant to each owner, that’s why we always try to include some personal elements in the design. For example, we made an illustrator of Khaled the tailor himself, which was the main visual on his shop façade, while in the bookstore project, we made this graffiti of a fisherman [which] was painted on the shop’s wall because the owner’s main hobby was fishing. The whole process takes about two to three months since it’s something we do in our free time and which is a bit challenging for us. We also try as much as we can to use different mediums in each project and make it special on its own. At the same time, we always focus on the signage since it’s the main element that helps anyone make a decision on whether to enter the shop or not. Moreover, we believe that the shops signs help in building a city’s identity and we want to take a part in improving this as well. After the design stage, we start with the production, which is one of our problems because people are not good enough to get the stuff exactly as we wish. After printing all the materials, we go the shop owner and surprise him. The feedback was always good from the owners, especially when they find these personal elements integrated in their new design. NA | Tell us about you some of the projects you’ve worked on, what projects you’re working on now and what you plan on working on. W | Since we started, we [have] worked on four projects. The first one, as we previously mentioned, is a tailor shop. The second project was a small authentic bookstore called “El Muhtaseb”. We created an information system inside the bookstore along with a whole new identity. The third one was a barbershop called “Wissam”. For this project, we created a series of posters using slang, in addition to a custom bilingual typeface. The fourth project was another barbershop called “Abu Ahmed”. In this project, we created directional graffiti in different languages and signage in collaboration with a traditional calligrapher/ signage painter. As we mentioned before, one of our main objectives is to make each project different and special. Concerning our future plans we have already chosen four shops in Amman on which we will start with working soon. We are [also] considering offering workshops either here in Amman or internationally as well as collaborating with designers to extend Wajha’s projects. NA | How do social media network help Wajha grow and continue to help the community? W | It helps a lot in making people aware of Wajha’s projects – whether locally or internationally. We [have] also [received] some suggestions from people on shops that need some help, not only in Amman but in other Arab countries. NA | What kind of advice would you give someone who would like to start a pro-bono graphic design project? W | We would tell him/her that he/she should use his/her skills in a smart way that shows people how graphic design could be effective, how it can bring hope, and make a difference in the lives of some individuals. Moreover, people interested in launching pro-bono design projects should be 100 per cent aware of the environment [and the] culture of the project’s location, and integrate [this] in the design because graphic design is not just about making things prettier, it’s about context. behance.net/wajha


ART & DESIGN

HORS SIGNAL text: SAHAR KUBBA • photography: NAQUIB HOSSAIN

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he development of the prison institution is the development of the link between geometry and moral reform. England, between the years of 1750 and 1840, became the site for numerous experiments dealing with this connection reaching its apex in 1842 with the completion of Pentonville prison in northern London. It was a manifestation of the understanding that without architecture’s authority without its power to organise the necessary order and control of the few over the many would be impossible. With the belief that vice spreads like disease by contact and communication, Pentonville’s internal structures and technologies controlled the existence and flow of information within its confines. It was an architectural and technological realisation of the idea that segregation, solitary confinement, and silence amend the mind and reform the soul. The aim was to create a perfect and complete ordered silence in which every break is a signal. The silence referred to here is not the complete absence of sound but more the complete absence of communication between those over whom authority was exercised: the inmates.

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Within this suppressive silence between the inmates information was strictly directional it flowed from the authority to the inmates. Walls between the inmates’ cells were constructed in a manner that rendered any meaningful communication into incoherent sounds, it was “a scientific destruction of information” 1. It was at Pentonville that the prison building became a perfect manifestation of a state’s control over a citizen through architecture’s authority over the body. Hors Signal explores the creation of a suppressive authoritative space through the production of silence. It explores order through architecture and suppressive silence through technology. Upon entering the gallery participants will be met by two chambers suspended above the ground. Within the chamber walls directionality of information flow is strictly enforced attempts to speak are met with imposed listening as the participant must submit to the voice of the chamber’s authority. 1  Robin Evan, The fabrication of virtue: English prison architecture, 1750-1840 (Cambridge University Press, 1982) p. 337.


ART & DESIGN

DESERT ECOLOGIES by: RIYAD JOUCKA

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he AA Visiting School Jordan 2013 was an intensive research programme dedicated to the mimicry of natural formations evident in desert ecologies. The workshop proposed rethinking the process of developing architectural interventions within the Jordanian desert. Set within the dynamic city
of Amman, the rose-rock carved city of Petra, and the echoing desert of Wadi Rum. The context of the southern Jordanian desert ecology was used as a precedent in order to experiment with material processes in architectural design. Geological formations of Jordanian landscapes had a major impact on the outcomes of this research. The group started their exploration with a trip to Wadi Rum and Petra to document the natural and man-made materialisations within the Jordanian desert. Computational design tools were used to script logic systems that generated formal iterations, following certain programmatic functions of interventions planned by the students within fore-mentioned sites. Improvising on additive processes such as Analogue 3D printing with sand, the Co-de-it unit simulated shelters that are nestled within the natural environment of the Jordanian desert with minimal interference. Scaled models of these were prototyped using ad-hoc technologies and innovative materials. The consistency of sand as an efficient and available building material, as well as the coherence and fluidity of the geometries used, was part of the group’s strategy to introduce minimal-impact interventions with the serene environments of the desert. The [uto] unit planned at the larger scale of urban settlements. These were to be robotically excavated directly onto the topography of the desert and would have forms that regulate their interiors

in a passive manner. CNC Milling on natural Jordanian limestone was attempted to represent scaled models of these ideas. Carving directly onto the face of the desert topography, the group simulated settlement patterns that emerge with no pre-conceived notions of top-down urban planning. We present this work as an insight to the value of innovation in computational design and material experimentation. It is an emergent exertion of international and Jordanian professionals, students, and academics that collaborated within ten days to produce these outcomes.

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_design_politics_discussion_enquiry_ archive_research_art_criticism_

design_atelier_

_design_ _consulting _exhibitions _publications _branding _education_ _workshops _research

kalimatmagazine.com/atelier


ART & DESIGN

HANDMADE: An Interview with Gina Nagi by: NORA ALY

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ina Nagi is a young Egyptian designer who specialises in bookbinding and book design. She is considered one of the first people to start this type of business in Egypt. Gina uses her skills and talent to produce the highest quality of handmade products. Currently, she teaches bookbinding at the German University in Cairo. NA | Tell us about your inspiration behind this project and how it all started. GN | I studied at the German university in Cairo, majoring in Graphic Design. I took this bookbinding course [and] that was my first introduction to this industry. [For] my bachelor project, I decided that I want[ed] to combine graphic design and bookbinding together. I decided that I would [create]a guide to the Coptic binding technique explaining, through illustrations, since there is a lack of this type of education/information [in the Coptic community]. My final outcome was a big book that was binded in [using the] Coptic technique, which is one of the most complicated types of binding. After completing my bachelor thesis, people started to ask me to do make them handmade wedding invitations and sketchbooks. At the beginning of 2013 was the time I consider officially [having] started my business. Since I don’t have my own [shop] yet, I started to go to bazars and flea markets to promote myself. NA | What else do you produce other than the sketchbooks? GN | I offer all kinds of customised sketchbooks, wedding invitations, wedding guestbooks and packing boxes such as accessories boxes .

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NA | How has this type of business been received in Egypt? GN | Egyptians have certainly appreciates the quality and the [use of] untraditional materials. That’s why I am keen to keep the high quality of the products, whether in binding or the materials I use as well as the practicality and durability of the products. I always find it annoying when I used to buy sketchbooks and the paper got detached from the cover and I had to stick everything together. NA | What are the different types of binding? What are the most in demand? And what is your favourite? GN | Coptic binding, French sewing, thread stitch, adhesive binding, Japanese binding, long stitch, and one sewing. Coptic binding is the most costly because it’s very detailed and it takes a lot of time a effort. The on sewing and the adhesive is the least costly. There is nothing in particular that is most in demand – people mostly care about what are the most untraditional materials and the overall quality of the final product. My favourite technique [has to be] the Coptic and the French sewing. NA | Book binding is a very old practice. Are there any new binding techniques that have recently appeared? GN | Not really, but I sometimes combine different types of binding together when I have the chance. NA | What are the problems/challenges that you face in your business? GN | The market is very limited since not everyone appreciates handmade items and they prefer the stuff made by machines. [One of the challenges] is the availability of some materials, such as the thread that I use in stitching, which I get from Germany as well as some [types of] papers. NA | Have you ever used different materials other than paper? GN | I’ve used leather and lace as well – especially in wedding invitations. I once tried kelim but it was not very practical. NA | Do you receive orders from places other than Egypt? GN | Not yet, but there is a British author who is making a book about handmade items from all over the world and asked me to feature my work. The book is still in [production]. I do receive some requests to give workshops. NA | Next up for you? GN | I want to take my business to the next level and open a store which is divided into two sections: one section features all the products I offer from ready made sketchbooks to all the customised items I offer, while the other will be workshops classes. behance.net/inana

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ART & DESIGN

WHERE ARE WE NOW? IN CONVERSATION with: HICHAM KHALIDI & ALYA SEBTI

“Where Are We Now?” is the title of the fifth Marrakech Biennale 5. Which issues do you wish to address with this visual arts exhibition and why? AS | Because we believe that the purpose of art is to encourage people to visualise their context through a different perspective, “Where are we now?“ is an open and participatory question. It questions the location: the Biennale is embed in the context of Marrakech, what is our understanding and our interpretation of this multi layered context? It also questions the collectivity: who is the “we” that the Marrakech Biennale is addressing? We try to open up the access to the local immediate environment, especially the people who wouldn’t spontaneously think about going to an exhibition. It also adresses the notion of the present in Morocco today. HK | Where are we now? is an examination into the status of Morocco and the contemporary. It tries to understand what the Morocco of today is and how it is related to other countries and the region. Next to that, [the biennale] examines the idea of the contemporary as something that is fluid and unfixed – an exploration of time and place. Of time it is an examination of the past, present, and future, in particular what does the “Now” consist of? Of place it is an examination of location, the context in which the Biennale takes place. The title also refers to a status, where are we now, how are we doing? What is the status of Morocco? And it investigates another concern: what is the contemporary and how is it related to artist strategies and (national and international) identity?  In the main exhibition of the Biennale artists explore this relationship between the contemporary, contemporary art practice, and contemporary Morocco.

The Gradual Shift HK | After several discussions I had with artistic director Alya Sebti, it became apparent to us that there was a gradual shift taking place from the North (Europe) to the South (Africa) and from the West (Europe, USA) to the East (Middle-East, Asia). I had a feeling that more and more second and third generation migrants from North Africa in Europe were turning their outlook from Europe to their home country. Perpetuated by a crisis and massive loss of growth, countries such as the Netherlands and France – countries that we [Hicham and I] grew up in, are becoming increasingly nationalistic. In contrast

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to countries such as Morocco, which are showing [signs of] growth and opening up to the [rest of the] world. Countries that were natural allies to the West are now working more and more with the East. A connection that becomes visible in the Marrakech Biennale is the parallel projects by partners from the Middle East and with various Saudi-Arabian artists such as Ayman Yossri Daydban, Nahar Marzouk, Hassaan Kahn and Saud Mahjoub.

an Arab or Eastern background, or a relationship with it, [however] most of these artists live in Europe, the USA or elsewhere. [There is] a growing number of Moroccan artists [that] work and live in Morocco. So when [we are] speaking of the local versus the global, it is very difficult to pinpoint an artist to a [geographical] base.

Morocco as a country of contemporary art

HK | On an international level, more and more artists are [becoming] strategists that know how to navigate within the complexities of a new given world. I feel that there is a relationship between the geo-political and the aesthetic. I am interested [in] understand[ing] the positions that artists and curators take and how they utilise their knowledge.  

HK | First, selecting Moroccan contemporary artists proved to be very difficult, [but] nevertheless, we succeeded. Morocco simply lacks the infrastructure to have a good enough and large enough artist base to incorporate artists that could make it on an international platform, although this is [quickly] changing. AS | I would specify that what is missing is the visibility of contemporary Moroccan artists. I have no doubt about the quality of the practice of some artists which are good enough to be on any international platform but the lack of infrastructures to showcase their work outside of the realm of commercial galleries leaves very little margin for experimentation and encounter. HK | If you look at the artists [taking part in] the Biennale you will [notice] that [many] of them have

Artist strategies

How is the Marrakech Biennale particularly grounded in Marrakech / Morocco / Maghreb culture? AS | What is distinct in the Marrakech Biennale model is that we tend to be in three languages: French, Arabic, and English, and we are defining articulation amongst four disciplines: the visual arts curated by Hicham Khalidi, the performing arts curated by Khalid Tamer, literature curated by Driss Ksikes, and the cinema and video curated by Jamal Abdennassar. The priority of this edition was to

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ground it in the context of Marrakech. The curators were selected by an artistic steering committee made out of the main cultural players in Morocco and internationally. Amongst the criterias of selection, we were asking for curators who would have a good understanding of the cultural challenges in Maghreb and to speak either Arabic or French. More than 90 per cent of the artworks are site specific. To that extent, the participants of the visual arts exhibition were invited to [pursue] a research trip before sending out a proposal [for a] commissioned piece. In order to prepare their research trip, we have gathered documentation to help them navigate through our understanding of the context of Marrakech. HK | [The Biennale] is based in Marrakech, it can not be otherwise than particular, although I understand international curators have the tendency to not take into consideration the local context, but I think there 3 is no other way. In order to understand a little of what the country is about, you have to live in it, you have to experience it, this is not something you can do from a drawing board. I spent two years researching the local and international context, which resulted in a choice of very distinct locations and a selection of artists that can relate to the specific context. One of the premises of the Biennale is to connect artists with local artisans. For me that was very instrumental at first, but when I met Belgian artist, Eric van Hove who was already engaged with a network of local artisans, it became apparent to me that a collaboration between an artist and a craftsman is possible. Van Hove and I decided to publish, as part of the Biennale, a book about the work that he will present at the Biennale and the process of making this work in Morocco. I am Moroccan myself [and] so is a large part of the team. The selection of artists is very mixed, they come from various countries [across] the Arab world, Africa, Europe, and the USA, but we tried to incorporate as many as Moroccan contemporary artists living in Morocco as possible.

The city is perhaps better known for its historic art and architecture, how is Marrakech as a centre for art and culture? And what is the Biennale doing to bring elements of contemporary culture to the city and the country? AS | The Marrakech Biennale started 10 years ago and it was considered the first contemporary art festival in the region. In the following years, other festivals started, an art fair [took place] twice (Marrakech Art Fair in 2010 and 2011), and several galleries opened, amongst them Morocco’s first photography gallery (Gallery 127), which participated in the 2009 edition of Paris Photo. In the realm of cinema, there is a succesful Festival International du Film, which will be [going into its] 14th edition. There is a contemporary dance festival “On Marche” with whom we partnered up for this edition, as well as a festival of art in the public space “Awaln’Art”, [another] one of our partners in this year. Hicham is right when he says that we lack proper infrastructures in Marrakech and in the rest of the country but it is changing, and the Marrakech Biennale tends to work on creating partnerships with cultural intiatives in order to help establish permanent cultural structures. By being a space of encounter, the Marrakech Biennale is indeed bringing a strong element of contemporary culture in the city and hopefully, [across] the country. HK | Well, Marrakech lacks a proper infrastructure for art and culture, as does the rest of the country. There is a huge gap between the public realm and the private. Whereas the public realm is mostly [funded] by foreign institutions such as Cervantes, l’Institut Française, the private initiatives are much stronger and present. Almost every big corporation or bank has a foundation that invests in art. What they lack are good people with the right ideas and taste of contemporary art. What is also missing is a base for art institutions of all levels to grow. The Biennale indeed has a positive effect. I have witnessed the opening of the first highquality artist run space in Marrakech called 18. There may have been more, but this one [is an example].

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I think the way it is going now, no doubt that more and more artists will come and do things in Marrakech and artist spaces will open. [Marrakech] already hosts most of the galleries of Morocco. A Biennale is definitely a political tool that could be utilised in the positive sense by policy makers. Slowly, this [type] of thinking is finding its way through.

On the locations for the visual arts exhibition – how were they chosen and why? AS | We wanted to think of the Biennale as an articulation between two areas – the Medina (old traditional area), and the modern area of Gueliz, which was builded up in 1913. The locations of the main programme and therefore of the main exhibition are all in between these two areas. HK | Each of these venues have certain specificities that I chose after a period of research through many sites in and out of Marrakech. This research led me to the Yagour plateau in the

mountains, Aghmat (the old city prior to Marrakech that is being excavated as we speak), Jardin Agdal (the King’s fruit and olive orchard), many riads (villas) and palaces in the Medina (the old city of Marrakech) and French modernistic buildings in Gueliz, the new city of Marrakech. In the beginning it was the idea of making a parcours that would start in the mountains and end in the new city, marking a geographical timeline from the past to the present to the future, but because of lack of capacity we decided to narrow the numbers of venues down to about [a total of] eight for the Biennale,and five for the main exhibition. These are: Palais Badii, the old palace of Ahmed Al-Mansur who reigned over the Saadi Dynasty in the 16th Century. The Palais Badii consists of a courtyard, a pavilion that houses the MMP+, the new photography museum of Marrakech, and a prison site behind the pavilion. The enormous open-air courtyard called for outdoor sculptures. Artists such as Can and Asli

Altay, Katinka Bock, Jelili Atiku, Mohamed Arjedal, Mustapha Akrim, and Max Boufathal will present new sculptures for the courtyard. The pavilion consists of three main parts that will house a photography group exhibition with artists such as Hicham Benohoud, Randa Maroufi, Hamza Halloubi, Charif Benhelima, and Patrick Wokmeni. In the two other parts we will present new work by Tala Madani and Kader Attia. The prison will be turned in to a site for sound sculptures by Asim Waqif and Cevdet Erek, and Moroccan artist Yassine Balbzioui will perform on site. It is important for me to reach some sort of interplay between different sections. It would be great if the sculpture section, and the photography section will work with the sound section in the back. The idea is to have as much diversity as possible without losing consistency. Basically what I am doing for the overall exhibition is making five different exhibitions with different themes or feelings. This way I am trying to create an interplay between the

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context of the location, the oeuvre of the artist, the different exhibitions with each other and the different clusters per exhibition. Also there is an interplay between the background and oeuvre of the artists and the topics. There is a hinge towards a combination of issues concerning migration (Can and Asli Altay, the photography group show) and the flux between art and war (Kader Attia, Jelili Atiku), things that these artists naturally examine.   Dar Si Said, a former luxurious riad (villa) housing an old Berber collection of carpets, weapons, jewellery and cabinets. In this exhibition, the artist Walid Raad leads the group with work that intervenes and plays with the idiosyncratic character of the Berber Museum. With new work in his series Scratching on Things I Could Disavow he 6 touches strategic places in the museum by replacing or placing work with an attempt to create a link between the issues that concern the series, the recent emergence of large new infrastructures for the visual arts in the Arab world and the Berber Museum. Other artists that intervene are Mounira Al Solh, Adriana Lara, Gabriel Lester, Saadane Afif (who will conduct geometry lessons at the Jamaa Al Fna square of Marrakech), Iman Issa, and Pamela Rosenkranz. The work of Eric van Hove completes the fantastic atmosphere of the museum with objects of a V12 motor engine remade by Moroccan craftsmen. The Wwork of anthropologist Sandra Niessen will be placed alongside Eric’s work. Dar Si Said radiates a completely different atmosphere. It works more on the level of interventions and refers even more directly to the museum itself. Bank du Maghreb is the old central bank of Marrakech and is one of the more difficult buildings. The bank will host the Pièce de résistance: a V12 engine of which each part is fully remade by local craftsman marking the interplay between Western engineering and Moroccan crafts. This work by Eric van Hove has been the spine of thinking for me considering craft and engineering, the West as opposed to the East and South, craft and art etc etc. The work is so complex that it opened up a Pandora’s box with more questions than answers. It called for a more thorough thinking about the context and locations we found ourselves in. Other works showing in the bank are Towards a Possible Film, a science-fiction film by Shezad Dawood,

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new work by Agnes Meyer-Brandis about atracting and catching meteorites in Marrakech, Lili Reynaud Dewar in hotel room conversations about the legacy of writers Jean Genet, Tenessee Williams, and Paul Bowles who all lived at a certain time in Morocco, Katarina Zdjelar’s film about the grande museum of Congo in Tervuren Brussels (Royale museum of Central Africa). Other artists showing here are Keren Cytter, Burak Arikan, Hicham Benohoud, Wafae Ahalouch El Keriasti, Hamid El Kanbouhi, and Anne Verhoijssen.This location will have a speculative, fictional feel to it and consists mostly of video work and installations. It will host most of the video works of the exhibition. The Theatre Royale is an almost completed but never used opera house in the middle of the nouvelle ville Gueliz. The opera house feels like an opera singer that is not able to sing. I chose to have a 2x10 speaker sound installation titled freq_out at the Theatre, which will enhance the structure of the building and make the opera house finally sing. Alongside an ongoing installation, sound artists featured will include Carl Michael Hauswolff, Jacob Kirkegaard, Maia Urstad and Brandon Labelle. Rue de la Liberté is a modernistic building with no name at the Rue de la Liberté in Gueliz. New work by Australian-Lebanese artist Khaled Sabsabi will be shown here. This work needs complete darkness and since this is also the place where we will host the cinema programme, it is the perfect location for the work. The work is a 3D video multi-channel video work that one can view with 3D glasses. It deals with the topic of the 70,000 veils, the amount of levels of reality one can cross before reaching enlightenment according to Sufi beliefs. Next to the venues we have a curated programme in the public sphere by Clara Meister and S.T.I.F.F., and a hotel performance by Lili Reynaud Dewar with her students. 
Saout Radio will present sound pieces in taxis around the city.

Tell us something about artists who you are particularly excited to work with this year, and what can we expect from all these site-specific works. AS | We have been lucky that all the artists were excited about our invitation and inspired by the context of Marrakech, they all responded with a very context sensitive proposal and understood the request to ground the Biennale in Marrakech while opening up to the dialogue as it is a constant laboratory for new experimentation. Hicham managed to bring together harmoniously emerging and established artists, who will show their work for the first time together in Morocco. I am looking forward to see the reaction of the audience since the pieces are constantly questionning the spectator and inviting them to be part of the Biennale experience. HK | I am very excited about the list in general. I am very happy with the mix of the list, it is a melange from Moroccans living in Morocco to artist with mixed backgrounds. I am very excited to see how these works will work together. You have to understand, everything remains on a drawing board until the whole thing is finished. Only the first day of the opening you can see whether what you have been working on for two years has worked out or not. That is very exciting. 7

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Hicham Benohoud • La Salle de Classe

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Gabriel Lester • Murmurmure

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Wafae Ahalouch el Keriasti • Freakshow

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Yassine Balbzioui

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Hamid El Kenbouhi

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Asim Waqif • Pavilion of Debris

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Palais Badii

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THE SHOCK FACTOR: Public Art in Qatar Makes a Statement text: JAIMEE HADDAD • photography: PENNY YI WANG

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n the beginning, there was an orb, and as the days passed, that white orb seemed to fissure to fourteen. These orbs ultimately were arranged into a straight line in ascending heights. For weeks, these curious orbs of gigantic proportion sat still. Traffic from the nearby Slope Roundabout flowed through regularly, yet the white spheres stood unmoved. Many passersby anticipated the arrival of the matter contained in the white orbs, like a pregnant mother anticipating the birth of her child. Then, the day arrived. Hundreds of Doha socialites filled three sets of risers, dressed in their finest frocks of flowered prints and artsy hairdos. A dazzling lightshow launched the ceremony, followed by a melodious recitation of Quranic verses. But the event wasn’t just a ceremony. It was a statement. As the white sheet floated away from each structure, the chattering audience was reduced to silence. The snapping of camera shutters began, along with hushed comments and whispers of awe and amazement. The sizeable crowd, in their clickity heels and chic couture, swarmed down to the walkway to see the bronze sculptures, once shrouded into orbs, representing quite graphically the various stages of human embryonic development. It’s what high-profile British artist Damien Hirst calls The Miraculous Journey. At the ceremony, the president of the Qatar Foundation Saad Al-Muhannadi explicitly stated that the miraculous journey of birth is a celebrated phenomenon in the Quran. Coupled with the Quranic recitation at the beginning of the ceremony, both gestures seem to unite religion, science, and art. In this case, it’s unlike any public display in Qatar, if not the entire Arab region. Flashy, provocative, and in your face, it’s not easy to avoid the sight of public art, especially an image as jarring as a gigantic bronze baby. Al-Muhannadi discussed how the statues would be “talking points” within the Doha community, a source of conversation for water coolers and majlises (Arab household forums for discussion) alike. For the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), an initiative spearheaded by Shaikha Mayassa Bint Hamad Al-Thani, that may be the point. Jean Paul Engelen, the director of public art at QMA, stated that the purpose of public art is straightforward. It is to “educate and to instigate a cultural debate,” he said in a recent press conference. In Doha, a country still very observant of cultural propriety and religious morality, QMA’s art installations leave a large space for controversy. Even Hirst himself acknowledged the potential for tension in a brief interview at the unveiling ceremony. “The cultural differences are a bit difficult. You know in England, there wouldn’t be a problem with a naked baby, you see the embryo and the egg and sperm… and I think I’ve taken on all those things, which is very good…”

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In order to fuel such a debate and create a space for discussion, QMA has set up several spaces both online and offline for members of the Doha community to share their reactions. Twitter responses, hashtags and video blogs are just a few of the ways QMA collects responses. They’ve even gone as far to install comment booths at malls around the city. Whether Doha needs such discussions remains a muddle. The Damien Hirst exhibit isn’t the art-related controversy in Doha in the past few months. Algerian-French artist Adel Abdessemed’s sculpture Coup de Tête – a representation of football player Zinedine Zidane, was unveiled on Doha’s Corniche on the 3rd of October 2013. Within several weeks, following public outcry, the statue was removed and relocated to Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art. The statue occupied prime Doha real estate, attracting the attention of cars and pedestrians alike. But even on more private grounds –university campuses to be exact – art troubles ensue. Last year, in 2013,Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCU-Q) had a riff within its own student body for showcasing an abstract painting of a woman’s breasts. “They had to remove the painting in the end, even though we are a university that teaches art,” said VCU-Q graduate Leila Natsheh. Its presence and subsequent removal generated a media firestorm in Qatar over what is and isn’t appropriate for viewing, even within a university setting. QMA seems a tad less apologetic. Francesco Bonami, curator of Hirst’s four month long exhibit, Relics which was on display at Al Riwaq Doha Exhibition Space, says he kept the public in mind while creating a public exhibition. “As a curator, I am the connection between the artist and the public. I make sure the ideas of the artist are translated and presented to the public in an open manner.” Bonami and QMA aren’t censoring or shrouding Hirst’s 93 works on display, a collection built up over a span of 25 years. Some of the works featured in the exhibit include dissected carcasses of cows and breathtaking sharks preserved in formaldehyde. Walls spanning 40 paces are filled with medicine cabinets, pills, and cigarette butts, all of which explore Hirst’s recurring theme of death. But Bonami argues that all of this is done with the goal of awareness. “We have no intention to shock anyone. We often confuse awareness with shock.” But some attendees are feeling the shock. Fatimah Khan and her husband Ashraf attended the exhibit with their children. “I came into the exhibit with zero expectations,” Khan says. Although Khan was shocked by the sights, particularly the dissected pregnant cow carcass which is split in half to allow the attendee to walk between the two parts, her children were more interested in the experience itself. “The dissections were surprising to me but I think my reaction is more generational. My kids are exposed to so much more than I was at their age.” Natsheh also attended the Relics exhibit, which she describes as “very dramatic, very emotional, very violent, very intense; not easy to look at.” As a university graduate, her perspective on the exhibit isn’t one of shock for herself. “To me, I’ve seen this stuff around. It’s not very shocking that it is displayed; it happens at university. But to the general public, it will be a general point of controversy.” K A L I M AT

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THE MUSEUMIFICATION OF TRAUMA: The Amna Suraka & the Kurdish People opinion piece by: TAIBA AL BISHER

The silence, upon entering the Museum of War Crimes, is an eerie welcome. With the hustle and bustle of the populated city, the emptiness, space and silence within the Museum of War Crimes, is somewhat overpowering. Left in an unaltered condition, the building is littered with bullet holes and grenades, the residue of what was once a prison and torture chamber during Saddam Hussein’s regime. The Museum of War crimes – established by the First Lady Hero1 – was once a dreaded political prison and a miasma of despair for the Kurdish people during Saddam Hussein’s regime. It was called ‘Amna Suraka2’. A symbolically loaded and emotionally invoking museum, the Kurdish First Lady Hero transformed it in the year 2000, namely in favour of the Kurds and their perpetuating culture. A national museum to both the Kurdish and Iraqi communities, it was a big step in the acknowledgement of years of ethnic and cultural conflict within the country. The unrestored building memorialises the cruelty of the regime with the endless chambers wherein women, men, and children were raped and brutally tortured. The sketches, verses, and writings carved into the wall still remain, transmitting potent messages to the spectator, while signs of violence and horror and subversive texts pepper every corner and space. The Hall of Mirrors, a once inner passage for soldiers to enter into the building without having to struggle with the intense heat outside, has been transformed into a beautiful commemoration. A hundred and fifty thousand broken mirrors are scattered all throughout the walls, each representing a victim murdered by Saddam’s atrocities against the Kurds, as well as four thousand and fifty light bulbs 1  First Lady Hero Ibrahim Ahmad of Iraq the spouse of President Jalal Talabani 2  The Amna Suraka is Kurdish for Red Security Building. The museum is referred to as the ‘Amna Suraka’ or the Museum of War Crimes in English. 

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for each village massacred. A labyrinth, the Hall of Mirrors elicits a brooding sense of disorientation and discomfort. How can one aestheticise and enamour something that was once a source of great suffering and pain? Indeed it is a poetic space, a space with a strong emotional and political message, a message directed not just to the Kurdish people but to all peoples - it provides a sense of commemoration and remembrance by finally representing the other: the neglected. One finally sees the Kurdish side of the story. It represents the victims and provides an identifiable history, invoking a strong sense of catharsis to the repressed and undermined. However, with that comes controversy – the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ – from those partisan to the other stories.


Trauma in itself is not official, however when displayed in a museum it becomes a truth. It is something very personal and enclosed, until when on exhibition – then it becomes collective. Museums have the power to officialise and record something that is based on personal experience and memory. Museums of this sort join all the victims and all those connected and make the trauma current . The exhibition tells the story of their ancestors’ history and eternalises the connection with the succeeding generations. Herein rises the question – what is the role of the museum when dealing with such tragedies? When looking at the notion of aesthetics and beauty in museums, an economic understanding is generally taken - pleasing to the eye and attractive enough to lure both visitors and investors. But for those museums that work within a greater context, playing with nation building and self-understanding of the people they represent, how should they deal with such sensitive happenings? As Walter Benjamin once said, “For every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.” So emerges the conundrum as to how one may

memorialise traumatic experiences that a nation ultimately wants to forget. In this case, Saddam’s Arabisation campaign meant to ethnically cleanse all the supposed non-Arab peoples within Iraq, particularly the Kurds. Therefore, the prison gradually became the place wherein the Bath regime interrogated, tortured, raped, and killed both male and female prisoners, particularly those who posed a threat to the regime. Museums display all sorts of histories: victorious and tragic, momentous and trivial, pleasant and miserable. It is a ceremony that evolves a memory into something more substantial. Museums have the power to officialise and display events that are based on collective and personal experiences and memories. It tells a narrative that wants or needs to be told and memorialised for the generations to come. As an embodiment of art in the public realm, a place of recollection, its significance is not simply derived from the artwork, but as a facility to direct attention to pressing issues. The Museum of War Crimes is strangely and uncannily beautiful, looking at what was once torture chambers and prison cells, therein rises that discomfort at aestheticising the tragedies of a human race. The museum is thus symbolically laden and emotionally invoking. However, that is not to say that art can offer solutions and remedies to life’s plights. Despite

what it cannot compensate for, it does prompt a dialogical relation with the trauma at stake and allows for a nation to confront and deal with what cannot be dealt with. These exhibitions, in short, do not answer the questions but they are the questions and put us in question. These evocative and provocative exhibitions unveil a more arresting narrative of history. Brian Eno averred, “An artist is a trigger, making something happen between you and the work. Art is not a property of things, it is the site of a relationship with things.” The museum engages and strikes us; it compels us to deal with what is at hand. It is an apothecary for the Kurdish families and individuals, and all those directly and indirectly involved; it offers them the acknowledgement and recognition of their peoples’ suffering. It paves the way to closure and emancipation. These exhibitions bring back my faith in art and its purpose. The Amna Suraka propels us to consciousness. At first, one finds oneself disoriented with the grim darkness, uncanny silence and uninhibited vulnerability. Passing through the hallways and prison cells, one feels a shattering consciousness of the consequences of a powerfully wicked madman with a heinous agenda. Though one can see a glimpse of shimmering light towards the end of the Hall of Mirrors, turn after turn, with the mounting fragments of victims and bulbs of villages, one loses sight of that light and is left with the debris of a ruthless totalitarian regime.

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PNGINE: The hybrid forum & blog by: DINA AMIN

Pngine is a new online platform founded in 2013, in Cairo, Egypt. Pngine aims to connect people to valuable content. Mohamed Al-Balkini and Bassem Wahid, the co-founders of Pngine, saw a need for a more organised space over the Internet where people can easily share and reach content, and thus Pngine was born, a hybrid between a forum and a blog. “We were searching for updates on a well known tennis player and whether he is going to play in the Roland Garros competition or not. By coincidence we stumbled upon a full Facebook conversation thread with an incredible amount of information and interesting updates from his fans. Between thinking about how it was mere chance to find this thread and how it was very hard to search for similar conversations, the idea of Pngine was born,” Moahmed Al-Balkini said. The founders identified forums as the best online space to easily access information you are searching for, and build powerful communities. However, the way that the information is shown on forums had to be redesigned and updated to match the level of the post web 2.0 world. This is partly why forums are considered dead today. The founders also pinned blogs as the best way to create various types of content, but also noticed major problems with blogging that surfaced with the emergence of social media. Our constant need for social proof and social validation is what makes or breaks a blog nowadays. “Besides being a blogger you now have to become a marketer,” says Mohamed Al-Balkini. The way we consume content [today] has radically changed because of social networks and the rapid advancement of technology. You tweet, you create content. You pin you curate content. It’s that easy. Many people use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to create and share content, but there is a major flaw in such platforms: search-ability, and accessing all this data to reach valuable information is really difficult. With the huge amount of content created or curated over the internet, we now need to reach information much faster, we need to filter our way to quality content much easier, and we still need to see social power that backs up different ideas and thoughts. Pngine solved this by designing a collaborative system to create, curate, and share content. Just like in a forum, users can start topics about anything that interests them, whether it’s a budding question they have in mind, or they just want to explore what the community thinks about their DIY tutorial. Other users can then contribute with posts under this topic, ‘penning’ their thoughts, ideas or opinions that would have died on timelines. However, these posts are not threaded like in a forum, but take the shape of individual blog posts, that exist both separately on the user’s profile and collectively under the opened topic. This categorisation done by the users themselves helps in organising the data on the platform and makes it easily accessible. Not ignoring the social aspect, users can spread topics or posts easily on most social networks and retrieve all their social interactions and have them displayed all in one place, on Pngine. For example, after sharing a Pngine post on Facebook and it received likes, comments or even was reshared, all these interactions will be displayed underneath a user’s post on Pngine, increasing reach and visibility on the platform itself. “To keep up with our fast-paced world, we are aiming to launch a mobile application for Pngine but only after developing a more powerful user community,” says Mohamed Al-Balkini. pngine.com

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HERE, IN DAMASCUS photography & text: HANNAH KHALIFEH

The Umayyad Square in the centre of Damascus. Damascus, a regime stronghold, has become difficult to enter – the safest route is through Beirut – and much has changed since the revolution-turned-into-war began.

Morning view of the Qasyoon Mountains that surround Damascus.

The Great Al-Adliyaa Madrasa in Old Damascus is still open to visitors. Many other tourist sites have closed down for “renovations”, though it is more likely that there are no longer any resources from the government to maintain the sites.

The main boulevard in Abu Rummaneh, an upscale neighbourhood in Damascus where many Assad supporters as well as Assad’s family live. Residents have been mostly shielded from the violence that has affected the rest of the country.

A fruit market in Shaalan. Unlike the suburbs that are under siege, food is available in Damascus. However, it is expensive: the currency rate has tripled, and prices have skyrocketed.

Souq al Hamidiyya, in the old walled city of Damascus. At first glance nothing seems out of ordinary in the famous market. Shops are open and business seems to be running. However, there is a noticeable influx of Syrians from outside Damascus that reminds Damascenes that the rest of Syria is no longer stable.

A checkpoint in Abu Rummaneh, with “Assad’s Syria” graffitied on the wall. Checkpoints like this are all over the city, making it cumbersome to drive from place to place. Many Damascenes choose to walk to avoid being stuck in long lines of traffic at checkpoints.

The magnificent Umayyad Mosque and detailing


NEW MEDIA

ASHYAA2/THINGS A SONG TO THE CITY Singer and songwriter Nadine Houri’s got this powerful voice that makes you shake your head in ‘tarab’ like moves. With a new album on the way, you best catch up. nadinekhouri.com

THE STORYTELLER OF JERUSALEM A look into the life, culture, music, and history of Jerusalem during a turbulent period, The Storyteller of Jerusalem – based on the memoirs of Wasif Jawhariyyeh – is a must have for any history buff. mosaicrooms.org

SUCK-CESS RING Sevag Dilsizian, designer of Das Jewelry, makes some wonderful (and unisex!), contempory, and we’d say conversation starting jewellery pieces facebook.com/dasjewelry

WADHA We are huge fans of Qatari womenswear designer Wadha Al Hajri’s label ‘Wadha’. The young designer is already making a name for herself by showing her collection at Justine and Jeff Koons’ gallery at New York Fashion Week this past February. The collection is inspired by pearls and local surroundings. wadha.co

LARA ZANKOUL PRINTS Beirut based photographer Lara Zankoul produces photographs that add an almost surreal and dream like atmosphere to a space. Editions of five on cotton paper, 80 x 80cm. ayyamgallery.com/contact/galleries

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GANGSTERS PARADISE Can you go wrong by superimposing the Knockout typeface on top of an image featuring a bunch of politicians looking like a cross between N.W.A. and Lil’Wayne? youngbloodapparel.com


THE ISMA3OO NO. 9 PODCAST IS NOW ONLINE AT MIXCLOUD. COM/KALIMAT Photo: Mohamed Megdoul

Kalimat | Issue 09 - Vol. IV  

Kalimat is an open outlet for political, social, and cultural expression for Arabs across the region and the diaspora to share their ideas a...

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