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Can Social Media Save Egypt’s Heritage Sites?

August 21, 2014
Scholars like Monica Hanna are trying to save Egypt's heritage through social media.

Scholars like Monica Hanna are trying to save Egypt’s heritage through social media.

The ancient heritage of the Middle East is being seriously damaged by the uprisings, revolutions and foreign occupations (i.e. US in Iraq and its aftermath).

I was interviewed about this as it affects Egypt a year ago by a South Korean radio station, on the occasion of the thefts last summer of artifacts from the Malawi Museum in the city of Minya.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week highlighted efforts by archaeologists and other scholars of antiquity to use web sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media to address the problem.

Since it is protected content–i.e. you can’t read the article without a subscription, I reproduce the passages touching on Egypt here:

In Egypt, Monica Hanna, an archaeologist, began tweeting about threats to her country’s heritage more than three years ago, when the Egyptian Museum was broken into as the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak began. With Egypt continuing to experience political upheaval and violence, Ms. Hanna’s work expanded. She has become a well-known social-media activist with nearly 35,000 followers on Twitter.

Protecting heritage “is not on the agenda, and it’s not getting the attention it deserves, and we’re pushing till that stops,” says Ms. Hanna, an independent scholar who has taught at the American University in Cairo.

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Israel And The Arab Spring

August 9, 2014
Thanks to the Egyptian revolution the Sinai is once again becoming a central security issue between Egypt and Israel as militant activity in the region grows, according to Yeehudit Ronin. Photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg. Creative commons use.

Thanks to the Egyptian revolution the Sinai is once again becoming a central security issue between Egypt and Israel as militant activity in the region grows, according to Yeehudit Ronin. Photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg. Creative commons use.

A new issue of the journal Israel Affairs features a number of articles about the Arab Spring and its implications for the state of Israel. Only two of these are about Egypt.

Yehudit  Ronin’s assessment of the “jihadist” threat in the Sinai is already out of date, since Israel’s recent occupation of Gaza and destruction of the tunnels into the Sinai through which arms, food and medicine flow.

His basic argument seems to be that thanks to the Egyptian revolution, and the decline in security in the Sinai, the peninsula is poised to once again become a central security issue between Egypt and Israel as militant activity in the region grows.

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Pope Tawadros On The Future Of The Church In The New Egypt

July 31, 2014
Pope Tawadros visited Pope Francis in May of this year.

Pope Tawadros visited Pope Francis in May of this year.

The revolution unleashed Coptic youth to speak out against injustices practiced against Christians in Egypt, sometimes with tragic results. Many Copts were thrilled with the ousting of President Morsi by the military last July, but others were more cautious, recalling that the military had struck at Coptic protesters two years ago.

Shortly after the coup, Pope Tawadros made a short televised speech in which he voiced his general approval for the new road map for Egypt’s future, essentially giving his approval for the coup.

“This roadmap has been drafted by honourable people who seek the interests, first and foremost, of the country,” he said.

The Church has always played a significant role in representing the Coptic people to/for the state, although the revolution and the subsequent passing of Pope Shenouda  raised questions as to whether this would remain the case.

 

The Catholic on-line journal Oasis, devoted to “Christians and Muslims in the age of mestizaje of civilizations” published a lengthy interview with Pope Tawadros, leader of the Coptic Christian Church, on the occasion of his visit to Rome and meeting with Pope Francis.

Pope Tawadros shared some of his thoughts on the future of the Coptic church in Egypt during this age of revolution. (you can read the full interview here.)

Your Holiness has made some audacious political declarations in many interviews. Is it your view that the Church has a political role that is of no small account?

When we speak about its political role and national role, both are important, but naturally its national role is fundamental and what the Egyptian Church has done is to relaunch its national role.

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Power, Agency & Resistance In Egypt (And Elsewhere)

July 27, 2014
protest

There’s nothing small or underground about these forms of resistance. But they still raise important questions about power and agency.

Resistance is everywhere these days, and it begs analysis, especially in thinking about issues of power and agency.

Nowhere is this more true than in Egypt, where protesters have exerted considerable agency in forcing changes, yet somehow they are unable to exert strong agency over the ultimate outcomes.

In a now famous article, Lila Abu-Lughod challenged the social scientific community on the concept of resistance.

what one finds now is a concern with unlikely forms of resistance, subversions rather than large-scale collective insurrections, small or local resistances not tied to the overthrow of systems or even to ideologies of emancipation. Scholars seem to be trying to rescue for the record and to restore to our respect such previously devalued or neglected forms of resistance.

The trend to which Abu-Lughod was responding was inspired by James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (1985). Scott argued that peasants oppressed didn’t buy into the hegemonic cultural systems that justified their oppression–they just didn’t want to get themselves killed going up against heavily armed security forces of the state. Rather, he said, they engaged in everyday forms of resistance: refusing to marry their daughters to the sons of collaborators, work slowdowns, etc. Rather than directly critiquing this trend, Abu-Lughod asks three questions:

  1. What is the relationship between scholarship and theorizing and the world-historical moment in which it occurs?
  2. What is the ideological underpinning of scholarship that claims to bring to light such hidden acts of resistance and make them visible?
  3. What are the implications of studies of resistance for theories of power?

All of the questions are addressed–if not answered–by the articles in a recent special issue of the journal History & Anthropology entitled “Rethinking Resistance in the 21st Century.”

Today, of course, we are once again in an era of large-scale resistance. The revolts and protests in the Arab world, the protests in Spain, Greece, and Ireland, the Occupy Movement are all acts of resistance quite different from both the peasant wars of the 1960s and 1970s, and the subaltern resistances tracked by scholars in the 1990s and 2000s.

But this makes Abu-Lughod’s questions more relevant rather than less.

One of the articles, “Upending Infrastructure: Tamarod, Resistance, and Agency after the January 25th Revolution in Egypt” by Julia Elyachar, focuses on the efforts of the Tamarod movement to organize protests against President Morsi, which led to the military’s removal of Morsi and the eventual election of General as-Sisi.

She begins with the classic structure/agency problem in social theory and asks: “What about infrastructure/agency?”

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Explaining Why The Journalists Were Put Down in Egypt

July 9, 2014
Did Secretary Kerry fail to use US capital with Egypt in trying to free the Al-Jazeera journalists? Or is there very little capital to spend?

Did Secretary Kerry fail to use US capital with Egypt in trying to free the Al-Jazeera journalists? Or, as Andrea Teti argues, was there no capital to spend?

I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about the sentences handed down the other day against the Al-Jazeera journalists.

Most people seem to think that the absurdity of the sentences is a travesty of justice, and that Egypt should be responding to international outrage.

Others think that the US is squandering its influence, that the fact that Kerry walked hopefully out of a meeting with al-Sisi only to have the sentences handed down the next day, shows that the US has failed to take advantage of its opportunities.

Now, I can just send people to read an essay by my friend Andrea Teti, director of the University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Global Security and Governance and senior fellow at the European Centre for International Affairs, whom I met in Oxford (UK) a couple years back.

Andrea points out

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Japanese Popular Culture In Egypt

July 6, 2014

BannerOne of the main things that led to the research that became Connected in Cairo was an interest in the different ways Japanese popular culture–especially, but not limited to Pokémon–was localized differently in Egypt and the US.

There’s a chapter on Pokémon in Connected in Cairo, and Pokémon appears as an analytical problem in the first and last chapters of my first book. I’ve written about Pokemon in Egypt as part of children’s worlds of consumption, and as a case study for understanding indexicality in media practices.

So, inevitably, there had to be a course. I taught  an anthropology class here at Miami University entitled “Pokémon: Global and Local Cultures” this summer. Here’s the course description:

This course is about global cultural flows. Using as our chief case study the movement of Japanese cultural materials—from Godzilla to Pokémon to sushi—across cultural borders, we will look at the movement of cultural forms through global contexts shaped by transportation systems, new information technologies, and the global capitalist economy. Students will learn to draw on concepts and methods from ethnography, practice theory and semiotics to explore how texts, games, toys, styles and other cultural forms are produced, circulated, appropriated, transformed and localized.

Please note: this was not a course on Japanese popular culture per se, about which I cannot teach authoritatively, but a course on global cultural flows, world systems and localization, with most of the case studies being drawn from Japanese popular culture.

Several of the lessons either focus on, or at least touch on, Japanese popular culture in the Middle East, especially Egypt, so I thought I’d share those lessons here:

Lesson One:

Cultural FlowsCulture is not static; it moves rapidly through the world, carried by human agents, communications and information media, and systems of exchange. As people encounter new cultural representations, practices and artifacts, they appropriate many of them, transform them, and adapt them for local use, integrating them into their local cultural repertoire.

http://prezi.com/nis9p0nziq5x/culture-flows/?html5=0

Lesson Three: Globalization

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“Happy” in Iraq

July 4, 2014

Here’s a brief addendum to my blog post on the “Pharrel Williams index” in the Middle East. I just learned about this new Happy video by Syrian refugees at Darasakran refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq.

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