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Ouch! Did I Say That?

July 28, 2012

The other day I stumbled across a pessimistic Arabic blog post about the revolution that mentioned my book.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was being cited as an expert on “the prevalence of addiction to alcohol and drugs, sexual decadence in all its forms” among upper class Egyptian youth.

Because my written Arabic is not as fluent as it could be, I ran the passage by a friend, Dan Varisco at Hofstra (who has really good Arabic) to confirm my gloss of the passage (I’d have been really embarrassed if I’d missed a crucial phrase like “does not” which would change the whole meaning). Alas, he confirmed that it said what I thought it said.

I don’t think I mention anyone addicted to drugs in the narrative, and the only person I mention with anything that might be construed an alcohol addiction was explaining to me how she had cured herself through a commitment to greater Islamic piety.

What I do write about, especially in the latter half of the book, is (some) people who are alienated both from the global culture to which they aspire–by their origins in an Arab country–and from their own society by their educations, affluence and participation in transnational popular culture. Many of these seek to ground their identities in a greater Islamic piety or in patriotic nationalism–two trends we’ve seen play out publicly in the revolution.

The author of the blog, Dr. Khalil Fadel, looks to be an interesting and smart guy. He runs a psychiatric institute, blogs in Arabic and English on subjects from depression to revolution to bullying. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I’m going to bet that he hasn’t actually read the book but read a review of it, in Arabic, somewhere (which, if anybody finds such a review, please send it to me).

This is a really interesting example of how ethnographic writing about a particular discourse can be appropriated and become part of that discourse. I write about the ways Egyptian elites are framed in popular culture as alienated, effeminate (if men), promiscuous (if women), and generally decadent, and how people of this class attempt to manage their identities in the face of these cultural stereotypes.

This post demonstrates that my book can also be cited to authorize and reinforce those very stereotypes.

Here’s the passage for those whose browsers can handle it:

والبلطجي جدّ متصل بنوعية الحياة في مصر، وهنا نرى أن ازدياد نشأة العشوائيات في مصر مرتبطاً بالنظام السياسي والحكم المحلي وطبيعة العلاقات بين الشعب والنظام وانتشار الأمراض الاجتماعية والعضوية والانسانية وتفشي سلوكيات وأخلاقيات وجد بعضها متماثلاً في الطبقة “الواصلة ” على حد تعبير يسرا زهران في عرضها لكتاب لمؤلفه مارك باترسون CONNECTED in Cairo مثل تفشي إدمان الكحوليات والمخدرات، الانحلال الجنسي بكافة أشكاله، التداعي الأخلاقي العام، العبثية، استعراض الذكورة واستخدام الأنوثة بشكل مَرَضي مُبالغ فيه.

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