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.
“An extraordinary work of meticulous scholarship.”―Midwest Book Review
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.
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)
In this AUC Press podcast, Close explains how he initially became interested in Cairo’s Ultras, who these football fans are, the role they played in Egypt’s 2011 revolution, and the aesthetic practices and common identity instilled in their fan base. Click here to listen.
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.
In 1957 the public sector in Egyptian cinema was established, followed shortly by the emergence of public-sector film production in 1960, only to end eleven years later, in 1971. Assailed with negativity since its demise, if not earlier, this state adventure in film production was dismissed as a complete failure, financially, administratively and, most importantly, artistically. Although some scholars have sporadically commented on the role played by this state institution, it has not been the object of serious academic research aimed at providing a balanced, nuanced general assessment of its overall impact. This issue of Cairo Papers hopes to address this gap in the literature on Egyptian cinema. After discussing the part played by the public sector in attempts to alleviate the financial crisis that threatened the film industry, this study investigates whether there was a real change in the general perception of the cinema, and the government’s attitude toward it, following the June 1967 Arab–Israeli war.
Along with football and religion, housing is a fundamental cornerstone of Egyptian life: it can make or break marriage proposals, invigorate or slow down the economy, and popularize or embarrass a ruler. Housing is political. Almost every Egyptian ruler over the last eighty years has directly associated himself with at least one large-scale housing project. It is also big business, with Egypt currently the world leader in per capita housing production, building at almost double China’s rate, and creating a housing surplus that counts in the millions of units.
Despite this, Egypt has been in the grip of a housing crisis for almost eight decades. From the 1940s onward, officials deployed a number of policies to create adequate housing for the country’s growing population. By the 1970s, housing production had outstripped population growth, but today half of Egypt’s one hundred million people cannot afford a decent home. Egypt’s Housing Crisis takes presidential speeches, parliamentary reports, legislation, and official statistics as the basis with which to investigate the tools that officials have used to ‘solve’ the housing crisis—rent control, social housing, and amnesties for informal self-building—as well as the inescapable reality of these policies’ outcomes. Yahia Shawkat argues that wars, mass displacement, and rural–urban migration played a part in creating the problem early on, but that neoliberal deregulation, crony capitalism and corruption, and neglectful planning have made things steadily worse ever since. In the final analysis he asks, is affordable housing for all really that hard to achieve?
None of the momentous challenges Arab universities face is unique either in kind or degree. Other societies exhibit some of the same pathologies—insufficient resources, high drop-out rates, feeble contributions to research and development, inappropriate skill formation for existing job markets, weak research incentive structures, weak institutional autonomy, and co-optation into the political order. But, it may be that the concentration of these pathologies and their depth is what sets the Arab world apart.
Missions Impossible seeks to explain the process of policymaking in higher education in the Arab world, a process that is shaped by the region’s politics of autocratic rule. Higher education in the Arab world is directly linked to crises in economic growth, social inequality and, as a result, regime survival. If unsuccessful, higher education could be the catalyst to regime collapse. If successful, it could be the catalyst to sustained growth and innovation—but that, too, could unleash forces that the region’s autocrats are unable to control. Leaders are risk-averse and therefore implement policies that tame the universities politically but in the process sap their capabilities for innovation and knowledge creation. The result is suboptimal and, argues John Waterbury in this thought-provoking study, unsustainable.
Skillfully integrating international debates on higher education with rich and empirically informed analysis of the governance and finance of higher education in the Arab world today, Missions Impossible explores and dissects the manifold dilemmas that lie at the heart of educational reform and examines possible paths forward.
El-Said Badawi’s seminal Mustawayāt al-ʕarabiyya al-muʕāṣira fī Miṣr (Levels of Contemporary Arabic in Egypt) was first published in Arabic in 1973. Its theory of interrelated language levels that are ever-changing along a sociolinguistic continuum inspired a generation of Arabists and Arabic-language educators to re-examine Arabic varieties from a wide range of perspectives, transforming the way scholars carried out research on language variation, lexicography, and teaching Arabic as a foreign language. Since that time, Arabic has witnessed major changes in the way its spoken and written forms are practiced, but informed, scholarly publications on the current reality of the linguistic landscape have been few and far between. This collective study, with contributions from renowned scholars of Arabic linguistics, draws on empirical data to bring together original new research on spoken and written language varieties in Egypt today.
Thematically, Revisiting Levels of Contemporary Arabic in Egypt explores three broad but interconnected areas: Arabic varieties in context, challenges to Badawi’s Levels model, and the pedagogical implications of varying levels in teaching Arabic as a foreign language. It not only discusses the current applicability of Badawi’s model to contexts such as contemporary Egyptian newspapers and Facebook, but looks at empirical data related to colloquial varieties in Egypt and elsewhere, the role of context in their current use, and the approaches to documenting and deriving colloquial lexicons. It also examines linguistic styles in different genres and contexts and for different audiences.
Between 1948 and 1957, a period that witnessed two wars between Egypt and Israel, 60,000 members of Egypt’s 75,000-strong Jewish population left the country, compelled by growing hostility to them because of their presumed links to Zionism, economic insecurity, and after 1956, overt expulsion. Decades later, during the 1980s and 1990s, the personal reminiscences of eight Egyptian Jewish women, presently residents of New York who had left Egypt, were meticulously collected by Nayra Atiya.
While Atiya’s sample of eight narrators represents only a tiny percentage of the Jews who left Egypt, their accounts tell us much about the middle- and upper-class Jews who migrated to the Americas and Europe, giving us a vivid sense of their lives in Egypt before their departure and the dynamic role they played in Egyptian society. They were the children or grandchildren of generations of Jews who migrated to Egypt from around or near the Mediterranean to escape economic hardship and persecution or, in one case, a family conflict.
With one exception, Atiya’s interlocutors resided in relatively upscale neighborhoods in Egypt near other Jewish families. They lived in elegant apartments, with servants, fine foods, memberships in elite clubs, and summers spent near Alexandria or in Europe. In Zikrayat, Atiya movingly captures the essence of these women’s characters and experiences, the fabric of their day-to-day lives, and the complex, many-layered mood of those times in Egypt. In doing so she brings to life the ties that bind all Egyptians, offering a glimpse into a now vanished world—and the heartbreak of exile and migration.
A vivid ethnography of Egyptian migrants to the Arab Gulf states, Migrant Dreams is about the imagination which migration thrives on, and the hopes and ambitions generated by the repeated experience of leaving and returning home.
What kind of dreams for a good or better life drives labor migrants? What does being a migrant worker do to one’s hopes and ambitions? How does the experience of migration to the Gulf, with its attendant economic and legal precarities, shape migrants’ particular dreams of a better life? What do those dreams—be they realistic and productive, or fantastic and unlikely—do to the social worlds of the people who pursue them, and to their families and communities back home upon their return?
Based on ten years of ethnographic fieldwork and conversations with Egyptian men from mostly low-income rural backgrounds who migrated as workers to the Gulf, returned home, and migrated again over a period of about a decade, this fine-grained study explores and engages with these questions and more, as the men reflect on their strivings and the dreams they hope to fulfill. Throughout the book, Samuli Schielke highlights the story of one man, Tawfiq, who is particularly gifted at analyzing his own situation and struggles, resulting in a richly nuanced account that will appeal not only to Middle East scholars, but to anyone interested in the lived lives of labor migrants and what their experiences ultimately mean to them.
Creating Spaces of Hope explores some of the newest, most dynamic creativity emerging from young artists in Egypt and the way in which these artists engage, contest, and struggle with the social and political landscape of post-revolutionary Egypt.
How have different types of artists—studio artists, graffiti artists, musicians and writers—responded personally and artistically to the various stages of political transformation in Egypt since the January 25 revolution? What has the political or social role of art been in these periods of transition and uncertainty? What are the aesthetic shifts and stylistic transformations present in the contemporary Egyptian art world?
Based on personal interviews with artists over many years of research in Cairo, Caroline Seymour-Jorn moves beyond current understandings of creative work primarily as a form of resistance or political commentary, providing a more nuanced analysis of creative production in the Arab world. She argues that in more recent years these young artists have turned their creative focus increasingly inward, to examine issues having to do with personal relationships, belonging and inclusion, and maintaining hope in harsh social, political and economic circumstances. She shows how Egyptian artists are constructing “spaces of hope” that emerge as their art or writing becomes a conduit for broader discussion of social, political, personal, and existential ideas, thereby forging alternative perspectives on Egyptian society, its place in the region and in the larger global context.
Constructions of masculinity are constantly evolving and being resisted in the Middle East and North Africa. There is no “before” that was a stable gendered environment. This edited collection examines constructions of both hegemonic and marginalized masculinities in the MENA region, through literary criticism, film studies, discourse analysis, anthropological accounts, and studies of military culture. Bringing together contributors from the disciplines of linguistics, comparative literature, sociology, cultural studies, queer and gender studies, film studies, and history, Constructions of Masculinity in the Middle East and North Africa spans the colonial to the postcolonial eras with emphasis on the late twentieth century to the present day. This collective study is a diverse and exciting addition to the literature on gender and societal organization at a time when masculinities in the Middle East and North Africa are often essentialized and misunderstood.
Much scholarship has been devoted to debates around how global inequalities of knowledge production arise from asymmetric power relations and disparities in access to material resources, as well as values and practices that prioritize certain academic disciplines and research outputs over others. The central role played by universities in producing both knowledge and researchers is similarly acknowledged, with the doctorate increasingly recognized as a crucial phase in establishing both. Bounded Knowledge: Doctoral Studies in Egypt explores these debates from a uniquely Egyptian perspective. It provides a fresh, historical analysis of how doctoral studies evolved in Egypt and an ethnographic inquiry into the actual conditions of knowledge production in the country’s public universities, with focus on the humanities and social sciences. Although it is commonplace to speak of international collaborations in knowledge production, institutional settings and material conditions are so uneven as to make the fiction of equality impossible to sustain. The chapters in this book, by social scientists within and outside Egypt, look closely at how such academic hierarchies are reinforced in the context of the internationalization of research. They also look at the ways in which notions of socially responsible research, common the world over, are translated in the particularly Egyptian context: how research topics are discussed, how doctoral studies are organized, and ultimately, how society thinks about research.
The enormous influence of the Egyptian film industry on popular culture and collective imagination across the Arab world is widely acknowledged, but little is known about its concrete workings behind the scenes. Making Film in Egypt provides a fascinating glimpse into the lived reality of commercial film production in today’s Cairo, with an emphasis on labor hierarchies, production practices, and the recent transition to digital technologies. Drawing on in-depth interviews and participant observation among production workers, on-set technicians, and artistic crew members, Chihab El Khachab sets out to answer a simple question: how do filmmakers deal with the unpredictable future of their films? The answer unfolds through a journey across the industry’s political economy, its labor processes, its technological infrastructure, its logistical and artistic work, and its imagined audiences. The result is a complex and nuanced portrait of the Arab world’s largest film industry, rich in ethnographic detail and theoretical innovations in media anthropology, media studies, and Middle East anthropology.
There is a great deal to be said about ideas and imaginations of the “future” when one does not have the luxury of maintaining a slot in the present. In the midst of acute conditions of precarity and structural violences and vulnerabilities of different forms (political, economic, social, infrastructural) and magnitudes, Egyptians find ways to adapt and adjust, even experiment, with different arrangements and forms of connectedness.
By following, tracing, and accompanying friends and networks of friendship in and across Egypt’s two biggest cities, Cairo and Alexandria, this ethnographic account aims to highlight some of the contemporary meanings, forms, and purposes of friendship among young Egyptians with the aim of renewing and reviving the question, “What can friendships do?”
Against a backdrop of conditions of precarity and the ruins of finance capitalism, this study examines the manifestations of how the relationship of friendship manages to re-invent and re-define itself. Moreover, it asks whether new modes of relationality, companionship, and intimacy can be cultivated and practiced given the current neoliberal conditions of living. The questions that this study attempts to open up are focused on the re-workings, reconfigurations, and re-makings of practices of sociality and intimacy between friends.