Archive for the ‘Egypt’ Category

Hassan al-Banna & The Flux Capacitor

March 6, 2013

You know that silly internet meme where people locate “time travelers” in old photographs? Well—somewhat improbably—I think I discovered evidence of Muslim Brotherhood time travelers in an old Lehnert & Landrock photo. Check out the name of the ahwa in the classic photo below. The calligraphy is a bit ornate, but, yes, it reads: **Mohamed Morsi Supporter Club**.


Lehnert & Landrock & Morsi. The (literal) signs of his presidency have been in front of us for 75 years!

From right to left in standard font, it’s:

نادي    محمد مرسي    مؤيد

Muy trippy! Nice fodder for a new conspiracy theory…
(Now it’s only a matter of time until we unearth time-travelling evidence of Mohamed Morrissey…)


January 31, 2013

During the early days of the Egyptian revolution, I returned to the old Doomspirals houseboat to chat with our friend Mohamed, the bowwab (doorman, groundskeeper). I asked Mohamed who was living here now, and in a hushed tone he confided that the Police Chief of Waraq (the agricultural island just to the north) was hiding out on the boat—a guest of our landlord. In response to decades of maltreatment, the residents of Waraq had torched the police station, and the police chief was on the lam.

The Waraq police station has been back in the news lately for—guess what—police torture. From Al-Ahram:

According to Sameh’s brother, Abd El-Mohsen Farrag, Sameh [a 48 year-old clothes merchant from Imbaba] visited Al-Waraq police station on Tuesday to enquire about a friend who had been detained there.

Police later visited Farag’s family home and asked them to receive Sameh’s dead body from the Imbaba public hospital.

Upon their arrival, Farag’s family found Sameh’s body half naked with a swollen face, handcuff marks around his wrists and bloodstains on his feet.

A classic incident. A man—who is not even implicated in a crime—visits a local police station. And for meddling in police business receives the typical police treatment. If this follows the standard script to the end, the police will claim that Sameh was a drug dealer who tried to assault the officers.

Have you been following the latest violent developments in Port Said? The war between the people and the police-state? The trigger was the recent court verdict that sentenced 21 Port Said men to death for their involvement in last year’s Port Said Stadium Tragedy (in which 70+ fans from Cairo died in a horrific rampage). In a good video interview on the NYT our friend David Kirkpatrick explains that the court ruling is seen in Port Said as biased & politically motivated—levied to appease to the Cairo streets. But there is another, larger framework, too. Remember that the police are blamed (rightly or wrongly) in Port Said for the stadium deaths. And now 21 Port Said residents have been sentenced to the noose, whereas no police officers have been charged for any crimes (of negligence or otherwise). This is a toxic situation. In the two days following the verdict, 30 young men died (including a man in a wheelchair) in clashes with the Port Said police. And now—in this city where the courts are viewed as an appendage of the police state—the question is: you still demand 21 more bodies?

Protests in Port Said. Notice the black shirt carrying the ubiquitous slogan: A.C.A.B. (All Cops Are Bastards)

Protests in Port Said. Notice the black shirt carrying the ubiquitous slogan: A.C.A.B. (All Cops Are Bastards)

In response to recent chaos, President Morsi has called (feebly) for a ‘national dialogue’. Reportedly, a component of this dialogue will be a study committee dedicated to security. One wonders if the deep dysfunction of the security state will be meaningfully addressed. The reconciliation between the people & the police is fundamental to the future stability of Egypt. More violence—the Mubarak solution—is not the answer.


p.s. Overlapping the police narrative, is the related issue of Port Said as a flashpoint in the wider federalism debate in Egypt—where all sate power resides in Cairo and the rights of the periphery remain, well, peripheral. For a nice look at the marginalization of the Sinai, check this short documentary produced by our pal Anjali Kamat for Al-Jazeera.

p.p.s. did you see this incredible photo of the protests in downtown Cairo?

Kempinski protest


January 10, 2013

Speaking of Egyptian street art, this classic still rules supreme.


Now with a companion piece:


Mr. Misr

January 10, 2013

For those who dig the ‘Egypt’ tag on this brog, you may be interested to read doomspirals’ article in the new issue of MERIP. (For those without a subscription, a PDF of the article is here.) The article discusses police violence during the revolution in the Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba (beloved locale & former doomspirals HQ). The article tells the story of a young man killed by the police and follows his family’s pursuit of justice within the wider context of security sector reform since the revolution. The unfinished business of ‘Police Reform’ & ‘Transitional Justice’ are not exactly Hot Topix in the media but, I believe, they are the measure by which we may rightly call the Egyptian Revolution a revolution.

Since the article was written there have been two developments that update the story:


In Print: 3 of 3 — “Dinner at The Tuileries”

October 19, 2012

Henri Baron’s “Dinner at The Tuileries” (1867) depicts an extravagant gala thrown by Emperor Napoleon III in honor of the Tsar and King of Prussia. The opulence of Second Empire pageantry made a deep impression on Ismail.

At the 1867 Paris Exposition Internationale, Khedive Ismail became obsessed with Baron Haussmann’s vision for a new Paris. Haussmann sought to clear the labyrinthine streets of medieval Paris to make way for a modernist urban scheme of broad boulevards radiating from roundabouts. Ismail returned home inspired, with plans to transform Old Cairo into a grand modern city to rival the capitals of Europe as part of his larger quest to “turn Egypt away from Africa, and toward Europe”.

Detail of “Dinner at The Tuileries”. Ismail: The lone man in a fez, leering.

Ismail’s infatuation with Europe is captured in a detail of Henri Baron’s 1867 “Dinner At The Tuileries”. The painting shows Ismail leering at the pearl-dappled nape of the aristocratic woman seated next him.* Perhaps unkind, it captures Ismail’s covetous—and ultimately ruinous—fascination with European splendor.

Continue Reading…

In Print: 2 of 3 — Flaubert’s Business Card

October 15, 2012

Maxime du Camp, companion of Flaubert, was the first to photograph the Sphinx.

I’ve found amusement in the psychedelic business cards of Mohamed Ali Street for several years—it’s always nice to establish credentials as a Libra, Mercenary, Horse Whisperer, etc. But visitors making weird jokes with business cards in Egypt is hardly novel.

When Flaubert travelled to Egypt in 1849 in the guise of an oriental adventurer, the famous novelist accompanied his friend Maxime du Camp to the summit of great pyramid. Precluding any sense of a pioneering accomplishment, Flaubert reached the summit at dawn only to find pinned to the capstone… a business card.

The light increases. There are two things: the dry desert behind us, and before us an immense, delightful expanse of green, furrowed by endless canals, dotted here and there with tufts of palms; then, in the background, a little to the left, the minarets of Cairo and especially the mosque of Mohamed Ali (imitating Santa Sophia), towering above the others. On the side of the Pyramid lit by the raising sun I see a business card: ‘Humbert, Frotteur’ fastened to the stone.

The card gave a Rouen address, Flaubert’s hometown. It had been placed there as a gag by Maxime.

And lest you ever accuse Egyptians of being odd—as Flaubert often did—consider this extra detail. Recounting the Humbert episode in a letter to his mother, Flaubert admitted that the uncanny card was actually his—he had brought the card from France for the purpose of the gag. Double weird?: The morning of his ascent, Flaubert had misplaced the gag prop. But the card was discovered by Maxime, who, surmising Flaubert’s prank, scurried ahead to the top of the pyramid and positioned the card. Thus when Flaubert arrived at the summit, he was surprised to find the business card that he was supposed to be “surprised to find”.


In Print: 1 of 3

October 15, 2012

In keeping with doomspirals’ recent foray into self-promotion, I thought to mention that I have an article in the current issue of Print Magazine­. The article isn’t available online, but the magazine is well worth a tiptoe to the bookstore or your local internet.

The article describes the hectic printing district in Cairo—along Mohamed Ali Street—where for years I’ve gone with friends to order bonkers-looking business cards. If you have to hand out business cards, it’s best to give yourself a worthy title: Helicopter Pilot, Jazz Expert, Shaman, etc.

The editor at Print, Mr. M. Silverberg—whom an overwhelming majority of women polled recently in Toronto found to be “dashing”—had come across some of these psychedelic business cards and asked if I’d write an article explaining their background. Twas very grateful for the happy opportunity.

The article describes the mash-up aesthetics of the cards, but also the fascinating neighborhood where the printing district is situated. Mohamed Ali Street was once a fabulous boulevard, part of Pasha Ismail’s 19th century designs to make Cairo into a grandiose modern city to rival the capitals of Europe. Ismail’s vision for the city has long faded, built over by succeeding generations. The remnants of Ismail’s city are layered against remnants of other Cairos; a wild combination of Fatimid tombs, Mameluke minarets, Nasser’s elevated highways, Mubarak-era improvised housing. Like the business cards, the city today is incongruent, loud, crowded, charming.

But the stamp of Ismail’s modernist scheme is still evident. Indeed, Tahrir Square was created as the anchor of Ismail’s city. (It was originally named Ismail Square, until Nasser changed it in his effort to remake the city.) Thus, Cairo’s downtown is explicitly Modern—it has a symbolic & functional center, from which the major arteries radiate. This is what lent such weight to the January 25 revolutionaries’ original gesture—they had taken the center of the country. (And why the revolution had an emphasis that was spatial as well as ideological.) (One wonders what a revolution would look like in a scattered, un-centered city like, say, L.A.) (And one wonders if the Occupy Movement, modeled after Tahrir, is a bad copy/translation—for what is the significance of Zuccotti Park?)

Anyway! Some choice bits & extraneous details didn’t make it into the final cut, so I thought to share them here in the brogosphere. Forthcoming: (1) Flaubert’s Egyptian business card. (2) Henri Baron’s telling painting of Ismail, “Dinner at The Tuileries” (1867).

old news

September 17, 2012

Drakkar Noir [Dark Arts Now]

August 16, 2012

It is well established that the rulers of Egypt are practiced in the art of Dark Numerology. They take sinister pride in sly calendrical communications. Take, for example, the court case against the American NGOs. When, of all dates, was it scheduled? The Fourth of July. BAM. EAT IT, UNCLE SAM.

This morning I was revisiting Mubarak’s super slick jailbreak from Tora Prison and I stumbled onto a coded message I shouldn’t have missed. Recall: Mubarak was on trial for directing violence against protesters during the January 25 revolution. The uprising is famously remembered as the “18 Days” that toppled his regime.

And the time from his conviction on June 2nd until he broke out of jail? 18 Days. BAM. EAT IT, EGYPTIANS. “You said I wronged you for 18 Days? Well here are your measly 18 days. No more, no less. Peace—I’m out!” &With that he sauntered out the front gate en route to chillax at his plush military hospital in the upscale suburb of Maadi.

Serious Meta-Coup Action

August 14, 2012

Remember how in February 2011 as Mubarak was flailing/faltering it seemed that revolutionary forces in the street might take control? But then the military staged a palace coup in which SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) shoved Mubarak overboard and seized the helm of power? And do you remember how at the hour of Morsi’s electoral victory the SCAF doubled down on their coup by issuing a Constitutional Decree that robbed the office of the presidency of most of its meaningful powers? (And all this upon the judicial coup several days prior that dissolved the unfriendly parliament & affirmed the constitutionality of the candidacy of the SCAF-friendly candidate…) Right, so we were already operating deep in a coup coop. And now, this week: Egypt went full coup crazy.

In the background: Since Morsi’s election, the balance of power between the new president and SCAF has been uncertain. However, Morsi’s authority vis-a-vis SCAF had been rising since last week’s deadly attack in Sinai that showcased the military’s incompetence. In the wake of the Sinai attack, Morsi flexed/tested his muscle by firing/demoting several senior officials. In response, there began rumblings within the old establishment that Morsi had gone too far/was growing too powerful—accompanied by predictions that Field Marshal Tantawi & co. would move to re-capture powers from Morsi. Some speculated a new SCAF coup later this month. Then, unexpectedly on Sunday, Morsi reshuffled national power by kicking the old guard of SCAF upstairs, replacing them with younger officers (Gen. al-Sissi & co., who recognize the need to reorient military-civilian relations and worried Tantawi risked heading further in the wrong direction.) And at the same time Morsi announced the nullification of the Constitutional Decree that had muzzled his power.

Thus, within the prevailing coup context, Morsi staged a coup built upon a coup within the military ranks (Sissi usurping Tantawi) that was a preemptive measure against a further military coup (Tantawi overtaking Morsi). As others have described: “a pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup”. Toto wild style.

BTW 1/2. While announcing the nullification of the Constitutional Decree, Morsi also named a high-ranking judge as his VP. Shrewdly this helps Morsi take cover from future expected politicized attacks from the judiciary. And, thus making Paul Ryan the second most significant VP announcement of the weekend.

BTW 2/2. Of the new, incoming military leadership, the arabist asks/answers: “Wouldn’t it be nice if one of these guys had written, say, a 10,000 word essay on his views of the future of US strategy in the Middle East? Well it turns out one of them — no less than Sedky Sobhy, the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, the number two in the hierarchy — did just that while studying in a military school in the US, as many Egyptian officers do.” Makes for an interesting read!


June 22, 2012

Holy Smokes(creen)! Did you see Mubarak escape from prison in plain sight?! Faked his death and snuck right out the front door to a swank suburban hospital. Puts Dillinger & David Blaine to shame. For those who dreamt that the SCAF generals were on the way out I present “The Boys Are Back In Town” off the Thin Lizzy album… Jailbreak.


BTW: Was just making a dumb joke about Al-catraz but now the internet tells me that—like al-cohol & al-gebra—Alcatraz is a word of Arabic extraction, meaning “the pelicans”. (The Arabs conquer Spain and its language, the Spanish romp through California and give name to a rocky island, the island becomes an infamous prison and a set location for the movie Face/Off, Face/Off becomes a huge hit in Arabian lands… is this what T.Westberg was talking about when he was singing about “History’s Hiss”?)

Vauxhall & Islam

June 15, 2012

If you’ll recall, during the parliamentary elections all the thousands of wooden ballot boxes of a voting district were trucked to a huge, centralized counting center. If you’ll also recall, these centers—housed under makeshift tents inside stadiums & schoolyards & social clubs—were scenes of absolute mayhem. Thousands of military personnel, military trucks, judges, polling staff, and political operatives converged on a single gated entrance. It took hours to fight the wild throngs at the gate to gain entrance to observe the wild throngs counting votes.

So this time around the procedures have changed: votes are now counted inside each polling station; these local results are recorded on a few small forms, which are then aggregated on the district and governorate level. So… [why always these long preliminary paragraphs?!] So…

Late into the night we sat in the polling station while the judge emptied the ballot boxes and tallied the votes. In front of the fixed gaze of campaign agents, the judge dealt out a long parade of ballots into separate piles, one for each candidate. Hamdeen… Hamdeen… Moussa… Foutouh… Morsi… Morsi… Morsi… Every time the judge said “Morsi” I grinned, imagining he was saying Morrissey Morrissey… Morrissey. And I pictured the Egyptian voter entering the booth, running his pen up & down the ballot, and ticking the box for Morrissey (over Shafiq and Abel Fotouh (and Depeche Mode and Flock of Seagulls)).

Caption Caption [Courtesy of Black Cherry]


Caption Caption [Courtesy of Hell N. Carey]

We shared these crucial lulz images with a few friends. Farrah [pic’d at bottom] nodded but shook her head: “I always favored Johnny Marr’s guitar chops… over Moz’s crooning and dramatics. Conclusion: my ears hear Marrsi.” The Inimitable Tad (aka Field Marshal Tadtawi) took my Flock of Seagulls Elections Joke and raised me a Flock of Seagulls Elections Joke, sending me this ballot paper from the 2010 Malaysian elections.

The second party listed on the 2010 Mandaluyong ballot: Flock of Seagulls. (Party 69: Hotdogs; Party 77: Itchy Worms.) How u like dat civil disobedience?! Next level pomo stylie: pop culture / literal election ballot mash-up! Who’s Paper Rad now?? Mandaluyong is Paper Rad now.)

So, yes, to improve yr amusement: for the hectic rest of campaigning, re-imagine every newspaper article about the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate to be a trippy article about our favorite grim dandy crooner, Morrissey.

DIY window tint in Damanhour. Nasser… ?… Sadat… Who will be next? Maybe Moz’s mug!

Morsi claims to be the candidate of the revolution, so, appealing to the frustration of activists, perhaps he should change his campaign slogan to “How Soon Is Now?” If elected maybe Morsi will change the popular slogan “The Army & The People One Hand” to “The Army & The People One Hand (In Glove)”.

&If SCAF steals the election: “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby”


OUROBOROS OMNIBUS! Holy shint, there’re a lots of wordz to say about the ongoing hidden-in-plain-sight military-judicial coup—as Neil says “Counter-Revolution in tha buildingzz!”—but jah gotta do some work right now for the insane elections tomorrow. Pls consider the above/below an ruff draft! Much to set the quill to, including:

*Mubarak’s whack verdict! What up with that! Plus: The Mubarak verdict foreshadowed by the romance novel found in my hotel lobby.

I found this steamy tome about the sexy & the undead in my hotel foyer. We were sitting around waiting for the Mubarak verdict to be issued so I cracked the spine. Chapter One: “The Last Council”. Go on… The first line—I swear on baby jesus’ teal bonnet: “‘How much longer will the verdict take, do you think?’ Clary asked.”

Plus, the more/most serious issue: How the Mubarak verdict gave the green light to all the smaller, provincial police violence cases—the message: it’s cool to let the killers go now. [Winning quote from Morrissey: “We want the love between the people and the army and the police to return, because unity between the people would protect the people from the beasts that want to eat the flesh of the people [referring to thefts and killing of the ousted regime],” Morsy added.] [My emphasis??!?] Spoiler alert: for friends who remember that never-ending research project I did for that Harper’s article… well… the villain is now as free as cotton candy aloft in a fragrant zephyr. [So have we all agreed to forget how monstrous the Egyptian police were before & during the revolution?]

*Shafiq proceeding in the election + parliament being dissolved! KaBoom!

*Freudian Typos on Al Jazeera!

*Visiting Shafiq’s summer villa compound! AKA All Wealth Is Stolen AKA Scream Until You… Actually Just Keep Screaming!

* The military announcing the reinstatement of the Emergency Law. Almost forgot about that one!

*New nonsense t-shirts, including:

Not just fine art, “fine ass art”. In smaller print “Unway Lagoon Resort”

…and this afternoon’s acquisition:

“Why I got kucked out of The Beatles”. Great topic. And the four lads (crossing Abbey Road??–slant allusion??) are having the most _____ conversation. Gazing off toward the mushroom cloud two ask “Nice one boy?” one asks “one boy?” and the fourth remarks “Lao Scene in the northern mountains of Laos, near here we saw men walk”. At the bottom it mentions The Beatles again: “The Beatles Again”.

* An amazing new arts space in Alex leading to more reflections on the nature of political art! Y’know, fine ass art!

[Wait, an friend just sent an picture from last night—sorta sorry I’m not on Facepage to see these things!]

The fierce & charming Dina Wadidi last night at Teatro. (And also a shoegazing foreign dude on the floor with his friend Sabrine. What up, Sabrine!)

p.s. Dina sang a romping rousing rendition of Kifeya Aish [“Stop Cheating”] dedicated to Shafiq & all the judicial nonsense of yesterday.

* Some comments related to Maria Bustillos recent essay on Oscar Wilde +++ Ricks on A.E. Houseman’s “Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?”. [Bustillos is the best—why are her books so terribly titled?]

*All I’m saying is that we’ve got some stuff to catch up on here! Egypt is getting weird! And I’m not just talking about the recently ubiquitous SpongeBob SquarePants paraphernalia or the tiny plastic lawn chairs.

Perhaps this is the wrong question, but what are we supposed to *do* with tiny plastic lawn chairs?

“Checks & Balances” A Riveting One-Man Conceptual Theater Piece Now Playing in Downtown Cairo!

June 5, 2012

The Kind of Nonsense We’ve Got in Egypt, Episode 999:

The presidential election is to take place in less than two weeks and the Supreme Constitutional Court hasn’t decided whether the leading candidate is eligible. AND the Court hasn’t even decided if/when it will decide. Yeah, we’ll get back to you on that essential question… or maybe not!

The conspiracy theory had been that SCAF pressured the Presidential Electoral Committee (PEC) to overturn the post-revolution parliamentary law that prevented old Mubarak cronies from running for office—because their man (Ahmed Shafiq) would be excluded from the race. The NEW conspiracy theory is that Shafiq might lose (following widespread anger at the Mubarak verdict) so now the SCAF will pressure the Supreme Constitutional Court to reverse the PEC decision, and thus invalidate Shafiq’s candidacy, and thus cancel the elections. (Because the SCAF can’t tolerate the idea of a Muslim Brotherhood presidency.)

Of course, the High Constitutional Court and the Presidential Election Commission are both chaired by the same bogus dude! Shit, I feel like I’m living in the basement of the Denver International Airport!

Transfor Blaget

June 2, 2012

Mubarak got 25 years. His swindling sons got pardoned. Protesters have taken to the streets here in Alexandria. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice Party has closed its offices to join the protests because… all-of-a-sudden they are the party of the revolution! Not during the Mohamed Mahmoud street battles, not after the Port Said Stadium Tragedy, not during Abassiya… but now that they are desperately trying to scrape together votes for the election in two weeks… How convenient! So, there is Much Topix to discuss, but instead let’s talk about this brinsane shirt bought today.

Bevrly Hills 501.





                                                           TRANSFOR BLAGET


Sentiment Exactly.


After the verdict was delivered in Cairo, Alexandrians streamed into the streets and marched up the corniche, tearing down Shafiq campaign posters as they went.

Not all along the corniche demonstrated.

And some flew kites.

Colleague, Islam, at sunset on the balcony at Doomspirals HQ.


Plein Air Gallery

May 15, 2012

Street art in Cairo, updated. Apologies in advance for the annoying yellow date stamps on all the pictures: jah bought a no-name digital camera in Bab al-Louq & there isn’t an option to turn off the date stamp–or even change the date!

The words dribbling from Mubarak/Tantawi’s chin read: He Who Delegates, Doesn’t Die. (When Mubarak abdicated power Suleiman announced that Mubarak was exiting the scene but “delegating” power to SCAF, thus personally appointing the legacy leadership.) BTW, Face/Off is somehow a very popular movie & meme here. Last Ramadan, Ahmed Micki starred in a popular comedy series that spoofed the Travolta/Cage art house masterpiece.

Along Mohamed Mahmoud, the street where revolutionaries battled security forces last December, artists have created memorial murals of the martyred youth.

The neon paint is somehow very affecting. Here, and the wings of the young men.

Many of the youth on the frontlines of this battle were Ultras, or soccer fan collectives. After a fan of Ahly was killed in a notorious shootout with the military, the head coach of the team—a Portuguese expat—instructed his coaching staff all to wear t-shirts featuring the boy’s face onto the pitch. Some in the press complained that the foreign coach was meddling in Egyptian affairs, but most applauded the rare prominent individual to rebuke military violence. Yes, his foreign passport shielded him from punishment, and yes he risked career not incarceration, but it was a bold and poignant gesture.

Martyrs Gallery along Mohamed Mahmoud. (These young faces died in the Port Said Stadium tragedy.)

The mixture of Pharaonic & contemporary motifs is stunning. I hope to learn more about the particular allusions. (In Alex there is a gorgeous, heavily stylized mural of a ghoul lassoing a crocodile, overseen by a peacock. I asked an Egyptian friend about the meaning. “It comes from mythology… the crocodile is Mubarak being punished for declaring himself a god… but the story is more complicated.”)

Pharaonic funerary procession along Mohamed Mahmoud St. (Right half of image)


Pharaonic funerary procession along Mohamed Mahmoud St. (Right half of image)




Hyenas, masks, gods. On the Nile side of the old AUC library.


Eldritch beasts, mythical turmoil.


Struggle as dance.


Three-headed Hydra of SCAF running the length of the block.


Hosni & Suzanne, two heads of the same serpent.

A few Fridays ago I was at the terrible scene of Abbasiya with several journalist friends and I was introduced to a young woman named Samira. We exchanged pleasantries, but didn’t say much in the hectic scene. When the violence got out of hand our group headed back to the car and someone mentioned, “You know Samira, right? She’s the only one who stood up to the military’s ‘virginity tests’ in court.” Oh my, that Samira. [The black inverse-logic of military authoritarianism: to ensure the ‘purity’ of Egyptian women, we will be the ones to violate them.] On the drive to Tahrir my journalist friend commented to Samira, “I love seeing your stencil around the city. Makes me smile every time.” Looking out the window, I began to notice on city walls the dignified face seated next to me.

Samira Ibrahim above the military. Heroine of personal rights, dignity.

Of course, the Egyptian judicial system cleared the perverted perpetrators of any wrongdoing.

Samira Ibrahim above the military, with anguished hieroglyph captions.

(I posted the picture below a few days ago, but just now noticed Selima’s face in the upper left-hand corner, above the Banksy dude’s projectile.)

Banksy + Ballerina + Farrah.

Quite like the impressionistic fluid urban stage the two dance in. And, yes, the Bart Simpson middle finger poking the Etoile David. And, speaking of impressionism, consider this small tangent: Cloisonnism.


In advance of the elections, someone tried to take Mubarak’s Face/Off face off.

But guess who had the last laugh?

BAM! Now we can see the full ancien régime entourage! Amr Moussa & Ahmed Shafiq.

(Again, the caption reads: He Who Delegates, Didn’t Die. When Mubarak fled to his resort on the Red Sea, he appointed Shafiq as Prime Minister. In Tahrir Square that February many people distributed bright yellow stickers that read simply “No To Shafiq”. I kept several as souvenirs. And now. Now, a year and a half later, Shafiq is in the run-off election for the presidency. SO DISPIRITING. What was this whole grinding struggle for? To get back to Zero? A joke you hear these days:: People used to say Mubarak was a good man; it was the people around him who were bad. Now that Mubarak is gone… they are voting for the people around him!)


P.P.S./ 2nd Update: Many of the murals photographed above are captured better by a blogger called suzeeinthecity. Suzee identifies many of the artists and provides background on the inspiration for many works. A wonderful archive.

Ke$ha Cole

May 15, 2012

When we last left Juan Cole scribblin’ ‘bout Napoleon in Egypt, he was in Tarantino-mode, incessantly describing “brains” being “blown out”. Now, several pages later, he’s gone beyond pulp/Pulp into blood-spray! Describing Lord Nelson’s attack on Napoleon’s flagship, The Orient:

The two ships lined up against one another by the light of their own canon flashes, and kept up the barrage…. Some time before midnight the conflagration penetrated into the ammunition magazine, blowing the proud flagship to smithereens…. Most of the Orient’s crew was rendered red mist.

Dude, you are really sexing up your mediocre academic book with speculative blood confetti! But I guess the incongruent gore-fanboy imagery makes sense, given the literary background mentioned in yr muy embarazoso online bio:

In 1973, Juan gifted his extensive comic book collection to the university library and it became the core of an important popular culture collection. At several points in his life, Juan has felt the need to abandon some attachment and reinvent himself, to undergo what his friends at college jokingly called ego death and rebirth.

LuLz. For someone whose friends are always ribbing him about ego death, Juan sure has the ego-trippinest blog bio I’ve ever seen, currently at 10,000+ words!!!

The alternative explanation for Juan’s imagery is, of course, found in the video for Ke$ha’s “Take It Off”, in which rag-tag party animaux invading a desert motel are rendered into mist [beginning at 1:55], set to a faux-Oriental melody. Obviously a heavy-handed allusion to Napoleon’s troops pillaging desert villages. Of course, we should not be surprised by Ke$ha dipping her fondue skewer into the academic chocolate fountain. According to this recent record review, Ke$ha apparently rolls deep to tween celebrity jamborees in the Hamptons with Frederic Jameson as arm candy(?!?!?!). Asked about her date, Ke$ha replied: “F is amazing. I’ll be, like, complaining about my music video director, and he’ll just put everything in perspective by being like, ‘The end of the bourgeois ego, or monad, no doubt brings with it the end of the psychopathologies of that ego– what I have been calling the waning of affect. But it means the end of much more– the end, for example, of style, in the sense of the unique and the personal, the end of the distinctive individual brush stroke (as symbolized by the emergent primacy of mechanical reproduction),’ or something, and he’s right.” Nice extemporaneous riffing, Ke$h!

After a night with Jameson surely she “brushes her teeth with a bottle of Jack”. See my forthcoming essay “Whiskey Allusions As Flirtation in the Oeuvre of Ke$ha: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”.

Delta Blooz

May 3, 2012

Oh snap, the New York Times is reporting from Baheira! Baheira, a mostly rural mostly poor governorate in the Nile Delta, is one of the obscure locales where Doom Spirals was stationed during the parliamentary elections. Verdant agricultural expanses spangled with charmless urban clusters. The capital, Damanhour, a city of several million, though claiming a fond place in my heart, is not exactly bursting with culture: Doom Spirals once asked the governor to recommend the best restaurant in town; the governor asked his deputy to draw up a map; the map led us straight to KFC.

As part of coverage of the Egyptian presidential campaign, the NYT article follows the candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fatouh at a rally in Abo Hummos, Baheira. Fatouh defected from the Muslim Brotherhood last year to run as an independent and has emerged in recent weeks as the front-runner (along with the revered ageing diplomat, Amr Moussa). Fatouh is running as a liberal Islamist, and the NYT article reports on a surprising development in the race: Fatouh has received the endorsement of Al Nour, the primary party of the salafis (the dudes with the Amish beards).

On one level this should surprise us because the salafis are seen as the most conservative wing of the Egyptian political spectrum and there are several candidates further to the right of Fatouh. But the endorsement brings to light an important point about the salafi movement that I’m just starting to grasp: the allure of the movement is diverse, and many are drawn to it as a political option that is independent of the various entrenched political machines (be they liberal, secular, Islamist, whatever).

As recorded here during the parliamentary election, we used to have a more simplistic view of salafis; they were of two kinds: (1) scary dudes with tinted beards with esoteric/totalitarian/shitty religious views, and (2) innocent normal people duped into following the tinted beardos because of the new parties’ heavy street-level campaigning. Our main complaint was that the freaky beardos were not Egyptian—in their manner, dress, humor, countenance, etc.

[So condescending of outsiders to think of voters as being duped—as if cosmopolitans (who also tend to be scared of their vote!) understand their local interests better than they! This attitude should have raised a red flag!]

First of all [and, as usual, we are still a few paragraphs away from our main point—apologies!], in the rush to understand the movement as it swiftly emerged from Mubarak-era suppression into the public square* our attention latched onto the loudest, zaniest persons/opinions. Thus, spiral-eyed freaks (sometimes quite prominent freaks!) ranting on youtube were taken to be representative of the movement in toto. It’s true that some salafis probably do want to throw your mom in a trashcan for listening to Celine Dion on her discman, but the more of the political leadership I met the more I encountered mild-mannered, thoughtful gents who mostly wanted culture to quit wilin’ out and a society that could take care of its own.

But key here is the perceived (un)importance of this political leadership. More & more people I meet view the salafi movement as representing independence & a certain stripe of individual freedom. I was in a taxi two days ago and the young driver voiced a sentiment you hear more & more: “Well, we are all salafis”. Opposite from the outsider conception of salafism as ultraconservative/doctrinaire, many see salafism as the identity of any “real” muslim (i.e. everybody). And, crucially, the salafi movement hasn’t a hierarchy that can impose behaviors/opinions on everyday people. This clean-shaven, chain-smoking, Ray Ban wearing driver is not how you might imagine someone who self-identifies as salafi: glued to his dashboard was a mongo ashtray showpiece: a 7inch plastic Rastafarian figurine with long, drooping arms cupping a hollowed half of a coconut shell. [Also led me to the realization: because Egyptians smoke joints, headshops here are stocked with wacky ashtrays, whereas Americans invest their paraphernalia energies into kooky pipes. SOMEONE GIVE ME AN HONORARY SOCIOLOGY PhD FROM JAH STATE UNIVERSITY ASAP.] The point being: homeboy stoner does not perceive a conflict between his Jordan Perry lifestyle and salafism.

Of course, political choices do not occur in a vacuum and salafism in contemporary Egypt has been adopted (and shaped) in response to the Muslim Brotherhood. The NYT article briefly alludes to this point: “Although the Salafis are more conservative on many cultural issues, they also typically disapprove of the Muslim Brotherhood’s emphasis on internal obedience and orthodoxy.”

This important aspect is elaborated in an excellent/original article published last month by Yasmine Moataz Ahmed, “Who do Egypt’s villagers vote for? And why?” The article is culled from field research in rural Egypt during parliamentary elections as part of her PhD dissertation.

Though religiosity is the most prominent marker of Islamist parties, Ahmed argues that voters’ choice is based on a “complex web of relations with power, authority and indeed, religiosity”. In the countryside, there are essentially only two choices, both Islamist: the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Nour, the salafist party. [Why provincials don’t vote for liberal/secular parties is a moot question—to date, these parties have next to zero operational presence outside of Cairo.] Ahmed’s article shines light on why citizens support the salafis over the Ikhwan (Brotherhood). Her main argument is that the Ikhwan comprise the rural elite, and have engendered resentment for misusing this privileged position and enforcing their will.

Freedom of thought. Salafis are perceived as more religiously flexible, laid-back, open to local circumstance.

Despite the common perception that Salafis are strict followers of Sharia compared to the Muslim Brotherhood, many of my research participants often talked about Salafis as religiously less strict than the Ikhwan. From the work of Ikwani leaders in the village, the villagers have noticed the strict hierarchy that informs the work of the Brotherhood members on the ground. In other words, the villagers understood the Brotherhood’s adherence to the dictates of the Guidance Bureau, or the Murshid, as an orthodoxy that made the Brotherhood stricter than the Salafis. They often said to me: “How come Ikhwan grassroot leaders all agree on the same things?” An incident that they often referred to is the insistence of Muslim Brotherhood members to force people to pray outside of a mosque, not build by the Brotherhood, during the Eid al-Fitr prayer last September.

Class. On the local level, the Ikhwan represent the elite. “Due to being the most educated cluster, Ikhwani leaders are strongly present in professional occupations in village-level bureaucracies; they are the teachers, the lawyers, [and] the engineers.”

Charity and dependence. In the area where Ahmad conducted her research, the Ikhwan also make up the personnel of the most funded NGO, Al-Jam’eya al-Shar’eya.

Ikhwan leaders often use their positions, particularly in the NGO, to promote the Freedom and Justice party through coercing the poorest of the village into long-term charity and debt relations; they fund kidney dialysis operations, pay monthly stipends for orphan children, and distribute money and goods for ad-hoc lists that they prepare once they get orders from their leaders in Cairo. Although these services seem necessary in the absence of a state-service provider, many rural dwellers (even ones who receive support from the NGO) see this relationship of indebtedness to the NGO as unhealthy. This informs why many villagers are weary of voting for the Ikhwan’s party. “We need a government that recognizes our rights as citizens, not as recipients of aid! We need people that would help us get our stolen rights. If the Muslim Brotherhood come to power, they will be both the mediators and the government.”

Beside the NGO work, Ikhwani leaders in the village often come up with magical solutions to solve problems that the state fails to address through utilizing the resources available through the intricate web of Ikhwani followers in the village and elsewhere, besides using their official positions in the state to process paperwork. For example, they have introduced tap water to the village’s preparatory school, and have provided after school lessons to students who fail to read and write, even after several years of formal schooling. Coming up with solutions is a plus for party leaders, yet puts them under suspicion. Many of my research participants became quite aware that the country is resourceful, so what they actually want is a fair distribution of resources, rather than unsustainable solutions offered by the Ikhwan leaders, in this case the elites of the village, when and if they want.

Very interesting material! Because the salafi political movement entered the public stage so recently it is still open to definition–from within & without. What will be very interesting in the coming elections is if the salafi leadership recognizes their broader appeal as deriving from a desire for new, independent, popular solutions to old problems, and not as simply a vote for more religion. Aboul Fatouh seems to understands this; and his current popularity reflects it.


*Literally & figuratively. People bop Habermas on the noggin saying there is no public square/sphere, but in Egypt the physical city squares are still a place of exchange.


On the original topic of Baheira and its capital city, Damanhour, let’s take a plez stroll thru some photos!

I don’t endorse the expression “BFE”, but if there were to be a place that fits the description, Damanhour is probably it. Thus, twas a tad humorous to see this ad for “B.F.E. Filters” in Damanhour

Dudes in leather jackets working on engines. The world is still as it should be… or becoming a Kenneth Anger film.

Auto parts.

Colleague Ong on a whirl in a Damanhour carnival ride. (Funky cryptic background graffiti reads: “I’m not into”.) Egyptians flocked to Ong, perhaps mistaking him for the Malaysian brother of the infamous ubiquitous Colonel, that fryer (friar?) of Kentucky chicken.

Counting Center in Damanhour, after an all-night tally. Gotta admire these election workers’ dedication protecting the secrecy of the ballot! Spooning for democracy.

Napping on the road to Kafr Dawar.

And, since this post is already overlong, let’s add an aside about mu’fucking Napoleon! I’m reading an account of Napoleon’s invasion/(mis)adventure in Egypt and was tickled to find mention of the little brute stomping through Baheira! After coming ashore in and subduing Alexandria, Napoleon marched his troops through Baheira to Cairo to fulfill his imperial ambitions (and “liberate” the Egyptian people). The excruciating march crossed desert expanses in the July heat. And, because Napoleon had wished to keep the mission’s objective a secret before he set sail, he did not bring canteens for the soldiers, fearing it would be a tell-tale sign they were headed toward desert climes. Either that, or he simply forgot (like when you forget your phone charger at Gary’s house). Either way, thousands of French troops under heavy packs & stuffy uniforms had to march full days for days with no shade, completely parched. Cole, da author, records that many soldiers committed suicide out of thirst (mon dieu!), and when the troops finally reached the fresh water of the Nile they desperately rushed in… only to be eaten by crocodiles! Probably should have stayed home, u imperial buttheads! While it’s totally trippy to peep Napoleon’s diary entries about Damanhour (no KFC yet), the author’s writing style (as Tristan warned) is not the most winning, and his tone can be a bit off. When talking about the soldiers driven to suicide out of thirst and other such terrible ends, the author uses the same same slangy/lurid/unnecessary/graphic expression three times in a dozen pages.

“Mireur, recognizing that his career was over, rode out into the desert and blew his brains out”; “Upon receiving the answer, the Bedoin, not wishing to feed and take care of their captive, blew out his brains in full view of the French”; “’One saw many soldiers’, Moiret says, ‘fall dead of hunger and fatigue, and many others blew out their brains from despair’.”

Dang man, it’s bad enough with your own sentences, but I doubt Captain Joseph-Marie Moiret of Toulon, writing in 1790s French, actually used that expression—why you gotta bring his memoirs into English w/ dat Tarantino imagery??

Wall, What is it Good For

March 22, 2012

I’m not on The Facebook, so I’m not sure if Everyone has already seen this amazing photograph, amazing mural.

An while ago we posted a picture of the massive sea walls erected by the police in downtown Cairo to contain the energy of Tahrir / prevent protests from approaching key government buildings. This particular wall, abutting the old campus of the American University (i.e. the building where I took language classes with the chestnut-lock’d Mrs. Heba, sha-wing!), blocks the entrance to Sheikh Rehan Street*. Thus it protects/severs the route to the Ministry of Interior, the rotten & unreformed institution that is the tru enemy of the revolution.

When I was last in Egypt in January there was already poetic/political graffiti on these barricades, but nothing this ambitious. As boingboing notes on the implicit politics of the mural, it “vanishes the military barrier”.

It certainly trompes my l’oeil! And, LoL, reminds me of that scene in Labyrinth where an exasperated Sarah learns from the kooky worm (with blue Troll doll hair, sporting a smart red scarf(!)) that she can step through walls—that many walls are only apparent. In this sense, the mural is a synecdoche of the revolution, of the revolutionary imagination that “vanishes the barrier”.

What was so surreal about January & February 2011 was that when the regime toppled it felt suddenly that their powers had been a spell; that the oppressive strictures, which until so recently had seemed so real, had been a collective illusion. This not to say that the many vile & violent devices employed to perpetuate state order were not very very real, but rather that the regime’s powers stemmed in part from the idea that they were invincible, that the regime’s rule was inevitable, the only conceivable reality. That is why the period of the revolution was so “unreal”; it un-real’d the entrenched ideology. And it was surreal to feel ten million minds change at once.

The weekend after Mubarak fell, when his henchmen had retreated from the streets, the city was remade free. Teens danced in the downtown streets, trampling posters of Mubarak underfoot, celebrating a new reality, doing the recently impossible.

[Do you know that feeling of walking down the middle of a city street that has been silenced by a huge snow storm? And how it is strange to stroll a place that is usually ruled by rushing cars? But now the street has a new meaning.] [Do you know that feeling of being in your middle school at night for the first time? And running down the halls past the darkened classrooms and maybe ripping down a poster for no reason and maybe you visit your locker and the stuff inside seems weirdly inert? And the rules that exist as a given during the daytime are strangely absent and what has so obviously always been your school now seems like a plain building.] I remember two weeks after Mubarak fell, romping through the courtyard of State Security Headquarters with a mob of protesters. Activists came streaming from the compound’s administrative building, jubilant, waving about the plush pink monogrammed bathrobe of the director, Habi al-Adli, the most feared man in Egypt up until January 24th. Hanging around, joking, smoking cigarettes in the former nerve center of the police state, the oubliette where political dissidents were tossed & the ensnared of the CIA’s Extraordinary Rendition program were taken to talk—the most forbidden place—it was almost impossible to imagine. But the visionaries of the 25th had painted the walls of the regime, and showed the rest the view beyond.

[Doom Spirals A.K.A. Black Babes Crave Deth, “Look Beyond the Wall“]

*I always remember the name of this street because it means “Sheikh Basil” …which seems somehow cute. And, y’know, Basil.


Update?! Speaking of “Look Beyond the Wall”, check this jam by Echo & the Bunnymen, “Over The Wall” from BBC Radio Tapes ’79-’80. Every pretty baby is familiar with the sweet smash hits later in their career, but je didn’t realize until recently that they began as post-punk bleak-rockers—“Over The Wall” sounds like it belongs on Suicide’s first album. (It be cool when the song re-purposes Del Shannon’s undying national treasure, “I’m walking in the rain / to end this misery / I’m walking in the rain! / to end this misery!” Been there, pal—good luck with that!)

Boy George

March 16, 2012

A small soundtrack to leaven our reading of the news from Syria.

George Wassouf, “El Hawa Sultan“, from his 1984 album of the same name. This track was cut when George was a young teenager performing in Al-Kafroun. The boy is feeling it! (I’m going to guess that his maximum tite band is, however, composed of adults—unless there’s some mystic tween arab orchestra we don’t know about.) I’m not entirely sure what wee George is crooning about, but I believe he’s explaining that love is the sultan of the heart. Tru Dat! Romance in Ottoman Lands!

[For all the tanzimat kidz who prefer something a touch more modern, check this bonKers spaz-pop from Hoda, “Zakya Ya Zakya“. Babies gurgling, robots burping, twelve dozen drummers & synth players on Libyan trucker speed, and when the band starts chanting “Basha / Basha / Basha” we come full circle to our shared Ottoman heritage!


Apologies, just noticed that we had typed “check this boners spaz-pop”. Should have read bonkers. We regret this error?! Freud is in tha buildingz!

Later Alligator

February 2, 2012

Sunset in Shoubra, Jan 25. See you later, Nile/Neil.


Until next time...