Zar is both a possessing spirit and a set of reconciliation rites between the spirits and their human hosts: living in a parallel yet invisible world, the capricious spirits manifest their anger by causing ailments for their hosts, which require ritual reconciliation, a private sacrificial rite practiced routinely by the afflicted devotees. Originally spread from Ethiopia to the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf through the nineteenth-century slave trade, in Egypt zar has incorporated elements from popular Islamic Sufi practices, including devotion to Christian and Muslim saints. The ceremonies initiate devotees—the majority of whom are Muslim women—into a community centered on a cult leader, a membership that provides them with moral orientation, social support, and a sense of belonging. Practicing zar rituals, dancing to zar songs, and experiencing trance restore their well-being, which had been compromised by gender asymmetry and globalization. This new ethnographic study of zar in Egypt is based on the author’s two years of multi-sited fieldwork and firsthand knowledge as a participant, and her collection and analysis of more than three hundred zar songs, allowing her to access levels of meaning that had previously been overlooked. The result is a comprehensive and accessible exposition of the history, culture, and waning practice of zar in a modernizing world.
The 25 January 2011 uprising and the unprecedented dissent and discord to which it gave rise shattered the notion of homogeneity that had characterized state representations of Egypt and Egyptians since 1952. It allowed for the eruption of identities along multiple lines, including class, ideology, culture, and religion, long suppressed by state control. Concomitantly a profusion of women’s voices arose to further challenge the state-managed feminism that had sought to define and carefully circumscribe women’s social and civic roles in Egypt. Women in Revolutionary Egypt takes the uprising as the point of departure for an exploration of how gender in post-Mubarak Egypt came to be rethought, reimagined, and contested. It examines key areas of tension between national and gender identities, including gender empowerment through art and literature, particularly graffiti and poetry, the disciplining of the body, and the politics of history and memory. Shereen Abouelnaga argues that this new cartography of women’s struggle has to be read in a context that takes into consideration the micropolitics of everyday life as well as the larger processes that work to separate the personal from the political. She shows how a new generation of women is resisting, both discursively and visually, the notion of a fixed or ‘authentic’ notion of Egyptian womanhood in spite of prevailing social structures and in face of all gendered politics of imagined nation.
Egypt has placed its hopes on developing its vast and empty deserts as the ultimate solution to the country’s problems. New cities, new farms, new industrial zones, new tourism resorts, and new development corridors, all have been promoted for over half a century to create a modern Egypt and to pull tens of millions of people away from the increasingly crowded Nile Valley into the desert hinterland. The results, in spite of colossal expenditures and ever-grander government pronouncements, have been meager at best, and today Egypt’s desert is littered with stalled schemes, abandoned projects, and forlorn dreams. It also remains stubbornly uninhabited.
Egypt’s Desert Dreams is the first attempt of its kind to look at Egypt’s desert development in its entirety. It recounts the failures of governmental schemes, analyzes why they have failed, and exposes the main winners of Egypt’s desert projects, as well as the underlying narratives and political necessities behind it, even in the post-revolutionary era.
This fully updated paperback edition addresses the latest projects as well as the discourses relating to Egypt’s desert development since the publication of the hardcover edition nearly four years ago, particularly the scheme to built a gigantic new capital east of Cairo.
The son of a fighter pilot, raised in an air force barracks, Ahmed Aboul Gheit was privy to the confidential meetings, undisclosed memoranda, and battle secrets of Egyptian diplomacy for many decades. After a stint at military college, he began his career at the Egyptian embassy in Cyprus before later going on to become permanent representative to the United Nations and eventually, Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs under Hosni Mubarak. In this fascinating memoir, Aboul Gheit looks back on the 1973 October War and the diplomatic efforts that followed it, revealing the secrets of his long career for the first time.
In vivid detail he describes the deliberations of Egypt’s political leadership in the run-up to the war, including the process of articulating Egypt’s war aims, the secret communications between President Sadat and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the role of the Soviet Union during the war, and the unfolding of events on the battlefront in Sinai. He then gives a detailed and deeply personal account of the arduous process of peacemaking that followed, covering the 1973 Geneva Conference, the 1977 Mena House Conference, Sadat’s visit to Israel, the 1978 Camp David Accords, and the subsequent 1979 Egyptian–Israeli Peace Treaty.
From Sadat’s impassioned address to his cabinet on the eve of the war to delegations ripping out the wiring at their respective hotels, from Jimmy Carter cycling through the bungalows at Camp David to Yitzhak Shamir’s blunt admissions to his Arab counterparts in the 1991 Madrid conference, Aboul Gheit offers an information-packed, first-person account of a turbulent time in Middle Eastern history.
Oral history archives have always been at the forefront of liberatory social movements in general, and of feminist movement in particular. Until the end of the twentieth century in the Arab world, archives of women’s oral narratives were almost non-existent with the exception of small documentation efforts tied to individual research. However, since 2011, there has been a marked increase in the documentation of projects.
In this context, the Women and Memory Forum organized a conference in 2015 about the challenges of creating gender sensitive oral history archives in times of change. The papers in this collection shed light on documentation initiatives in Arab countries in transitional and conflict situations, in addition to international experiences. They engage with questions around archives and power, the challenges and opportunities presented by new technologies to the making and preserving of archives, ethical concerns in the construction of archives, women’s archives and the production of alternative knowledge, as well as conceptual and methodological issues in oral history.
Egyptian Masculinities through the Life of Musician Sayyid Henkish
Karin van Nieuwkerk
In this in-depth ethnography, Karin van Nieuwkerk takes the autobiographical narrative of Sayyid Henkish, a musician from a long family tradition of wedding performers in Cairo, as a lens through which to explore changing notions of masculinity in an Egyptian community over the course of a single lifetime.
Central to Henkish’s story is his own conception of manhood, which is closely tied to the notion of ibn al-balad, the ‘authentically Egyptian’ lower-middle class male, with all its associated values of nobility, integrity, and toughness. How to embody these communal ideals while providing for his family in the face of economic hardship and the perceived moral ambiguities associated with his work in the entertainment trade are key themes in his narrative.
Van Nieuwkerk situates his account within a growing body of literature on gender that sees masculinity as a lived experience that is constructed and embodied in specific social and historical contexts. In doing so, she shows that the challenges faced by Henkish are not limited to the world of entertainment and that his story offers profound insights into socioeconomic and political changes taking place in Egypt at large and the ways in which these transformations impact and unsettle received notions of masculinity.
January 25, 2011 was a watershed moment for Egypt and a transformative experience for the young men and women who changed the course of their nation’s history. Tahrir’s Youth tells the story of the organized youth behind the mass uprising that brought about the spectacular collapse of the Mubarak regime. Who were these activists? What did they want? How did the movement they unleashed shape them as it unfolded, and why did it fall short of its goals? Drawing on first-hand testimonies, this study offers rich insight into the hopes, successes, failures, and disillusionments of the movement’s leaders.
Rusha Latif follows the trajectory of the movement from the perspective of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition (RYC), the first revolutionary body to announce itself from Tahrir Square. She argues that the existence of the RYC and the political organizing undertaken by its members before January 25 demonstrates that the uprising was not entirely spontaneous, leaderless, or rooted in social media, but led by young activists with a history of engagement before the revolution. Her account details the challenges these activists faced on the ground as they attempted to steer the movement they had set in motion, highlighting the factors leading to their struggle’s retreat despite its initial promise.
Resistance and Revolution in Egypt’s Football Culture
The history of Cairo’s football fans is one of the most poignant narratives of the 25 January 2011 Egyptian uprising. The Ultras Al-Ahly and the Ultras White Knights fans, belonging to the two main teams, Al-Ahly F.C. and Zamalek F.C respectively, became embroiled in the street protests that brought down the Mubarak regime. In the violent turmoil since, the Ultras have been locked in a bitter conflict with the Egyptian security state. Tracing these social movements to explore their role in the uprising and the political dimension of soccer in Egypt, Ronnie Close provides a vivid, intimate sense of the Ultras’ unique subculture.
Cairo’s Ultras: Resistance and Revolution in Egypt’s Football Culture explores how football communities offer ways of belonging and instill meaning in everyday life. Close asks us to rethink the labels ‘fans’ or ‘hooligans’ and what such terms might really mean. He argues that the role of the body is essential to understanding the cultural practices of the Cairo Ultras, and that the physicality of the stadium rituals and acerbic chants were key expressions that resonated with many Egyptians. Along the way, the book skewers media clichés and retraces revolutionary politics and social networks to consider the capacity of sport to emancipate through performances on the football terraces.
Ronnie Close in an interview with sports journalist Ken Early in Dublin, on his book Cairo’s Ultras: Resistance and Revolution in Egypt’s Football Culture (AUC Press, 2019). https://vimeo.com/385490688 (January 2020)