art of resistance, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria

Without Peace, We Can’t Have Women’s Rights.

obey_middle_east_mural_20141202505809/photo: Shepard Fairey, Obey Middle East Mural/

More than a century has passed since the famous strikes of female workers in the American textile industry. For more than a century, all around the world, International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th of March. A century later, inequality isn’t gone. To discuss the issues of inequality and representation in the Middle East, a region often in the spotlight for violation of women’s rights, we talk with female lawyers, poets, aid workers, directors and activists from the region – Jehan Bseiso, Hind Shoufani, Roula Baghdadi, Fatima Idriss and Nagwan El-Ashwal.

In the honor of International Women’s Day, in the name of continuity of the struggle, we’re in discussion with women from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. We tackle the issues for women in general, and in the Middle East particularly. Western media usually doesn’t do justice to this topic and the mainstream discourse on Middle Eastern women is highly problematic. It’s not only about the stories written, it’s equally about the imagery that follows them – in some cases the photographs chosen to accompany the news about Middle Eastern women are less than representational of the story at hand. Let’s change that. The struggle continues, but solidarity continues too!

Jehan Bseiso: Between victims and superheros – too much of a burden

Bseiso is a Palestinian poet, researcher and aid worker. Her poetry has been published in Warscapes, The Funambulist, The Electronic Intifada, and Mada Masr among others. Her book I Remember My Name (2016) is the creative category winner of the Palestine Book Awards. Bseiso is co-editing Making Mirrors a new anthology by, for and about refugees. She is also working on a collection of poems: Conversations Continued, a compilation of real, misheard, and misremembered conversations. Bseiso has been working with Médecins sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders since 2008.

In Jordan and Lebanon, women continue to carve out a space across all spheres at home and at work. There is a lot of incredible progress, but also so much work left to do in confronting unjust laws , like the one that lets a rapist marry his victim, permits a brother to shoot his sister in the name of “honor” and forces women to “declare pregnancy” when applying for a job.

I find that women from the MENA region are portrayed either as victims or superheroes, and that is too much of a burden, it needs to stop.  The ordinary is extraordinary and we forget that. Western media is particularly obsessed with the trope of “the oppressed Arab and Muslim woman” to an extent that first it misrepresents that story, and it overshadows any other narrative.

Concerning change – each step, however small, if it’s in the right direction it counts. The struggle for change and improvement of the situation for women in the MENA is historical and ongoing, it predates the “Arab spring” and it must necessarily continue to be allied to any call for systemic change.

Hind Shoufani: Legal system written against women

Hind Shoufani is a filmmaker and a writer, working and living in many cities in the Middle East. She’s Palestinian by blood, born in Lebanon and at heart a Beirut girl, raised in Damascus, but also lived in Jordan and held a Jordanian citizenship her whole life. Shoufani currently lives in Dubai and considers herself from all of these places. She is the founder of the Poeticians collective, where poets from all backgrounds read multilingual spoken word and poetry in Beirut and Dubai. She performed her poetry in various cities in Europe, the US and the Arab world and currently works as a freelance director/producer/writer in the UAE and the Arab region at large. Shoufani is currently making a video art feature length documentary on the sensuality, politics and religion present in the poetry and life of six female Arab poets. 

Aside from the violence against women, issues such as honor killings, assault and abuse that goes unreported and unpunished, women in the Arab world suffer the most from the legal system that is written against them. Whether based on Sharia law or civil rights law, women are never treated equally in the eyes of the law. We do not inherit assets, money or land the same way men do, we cannot pass on our citizenship to our children if their father is from a different nationality, and Christian women can be robbed of their children/assets/money if they marry a Muslim man who either divorces them, or passes away. Lebanon just removed the law that says if a rapist marries the woman he assaulted he will not be prosecuted under the legal system.

There are attempts in various countries to improve the standing of women in society as a legal citizen with rights, but it has not yet fulfilled any equality with men. This is mostly due to religion being the key reference for most arbitration in court, whether its issues of childbirth, divorce, inheritance or marriage in general. The personal status laws in the Arab world when it comes to women are abysmal and need a complete overhaul. Issues like violence against women are international issues and not specific to the Arab world, but our legal system really needs to be completely rewritten. A separation of “Church” and state is very much needed here. Sadly, there are very strong forces in the region who want to see us go back to a thousand years ago, and a massive clash of ideology is currently playing out, to very bloody and sad results.

That being said, a lot of mainstream discourse is offensive to Arab women. No one outside the region quite understands how amazingly strong Arab women are. We defy the odds and persevere every single day, we rise from swamps of hatred, prejudice, narrow minded beliefs, obstacles, violence, a legal system that treats us as inferior citizens, and we make life happen. We are doctors and poets and mothers and cleaners and dancers and teachers and warriors. This holds especially true for the Palestinian women who have resisted such a cruel occupation for over seventy years, and more recently Syrian women who are doing best to hold the sky together for themselves and their families dispersed in camps, prisons, street corners, homeless and refugeed and hated and besieged and starving.

The mainstream media is also missing a massive point. While there are hundreds of thousands of women who are struggling for a better life in the region, there are very large numbers of women who were born free, into educated and progressive and open minded families, who are leading brave and exhilarating lives. Not all of us are fighting oppression. Not all of us are in a camp, attempting to escape terrorists such as ISIS and so on. Not all of us have a brother or father who beats us. I personally know hundreds of women who have university degrees, live on their own, make their own money and are economically independent of their parents, choose their lovers, are lesbians, are artists, are outspoken activists and lawyers and nurses and teachers and poets. Many are atheists, some are spiritual, some Muslim or Christian. Free. The mainstream view of Arab women rarely showcases these stories because they are not considered sexy.

Roula Baghdadi: Without peace, we can’t have human and women’s rights

Roula Baghdadi is a Syrian lawyer. She is a part of supervisor’s legal team In Equal Citizenship Center inside Syria, and works with a legal team which defends abused women. Baghdadi is also currently doing her Master in Public law.

On the International Women’s Day, I am hoping for peace, in all of the world, for all of the people. Without peace we can’t achieve respect and fulfillment of all human and women’s rights.

Women in the region are in the worst situation, by the effects of religion and the Islamic extremism, but also totalitarian regimes. Our women today have to fight the long and strong history of thoughts and ideologies, wars, poverty… They have to deal with all of these problems to reach their rights. I believe women’s rights can’t exist without democracy, social justice, and full respect of human rights in general – in constitutions and laws and society. As a lawyer, I believe laws help societies evolve, but that still needs real development in the region.

In Middle East, women do their best. These issues will still need decades to be resolved, but we are on our path, we reject the old systems of the world – in which there’s discrimination between women and men, between black and white, between poor and rich. We reject the regime of profiling, we reject tyranny. And that is not easy.

Syrian women are sold in the markets and are whipped and are still being arrested and abducted. They are being targeted and used as a weapon of war, raped and sold, forced into marriage – particularly minors. All of the parties in Syrian war agreed to one thing, which is targeting of women. That’s why I’d like to say, once again, on the International Women’s Day – let’s work for peace, peace and peace. For all of humanity.

Fatima Idriss: It starts with people addressing immediate issues of daily life

Fatima Idriss is a general manager of Tadamon Council (Egyptian Multicultural Council for Refugees) since 2009, and one of its founders. In 2013, Idriss published a research booklet on education for refugees, which was mainly written by children and young people. She has participated in many international conferences in Europe and in the Arab world. Idriss has been working in the human rights field since 2001, with different international organizations based in Egypt, including: Save the Children – Regional office Middle East and North Africa as Child Participation officer (2004); or CARE Egypt on an awareness-raising project on SIDA (2006).

It has been proved that women still struggle globally – to be considered an equal human and citizen, and those struggles are not ending, due to multi-dimensional factors preventing women to achieve a decent amount of their basic rights.

In Middle East and Egypt particularly, being a woman is a trouble for the community on a daily basis. Women in Middle East have been heavily torn under the concept of “women rights defenders” by those who declare themselves as protectors of the rights of women, but are full of hostility and hatred for women – they are not happy as long as women don’t complete the form that they want and not what women really want. Every violence against women and sexual harassment is still seen as women’s liability, they are the ones blamed by the whole community.

Freedom is not always about grand political debates. It often starts with people addressing the immediate issues of daily life. When it comes to women controlling their lives, the current mainstream discourse on women is different  – the example of Tunisia is completely different from Egypt, and then there’s Gulf area, which is totally different from the rest. When questioning the current mainstream discourse on women as an act of justice to the reality, the answer is “NO”.

We are witnessing massive deterioration of women’s rights. We’ve gone from taking on the roles as active citizens after the Arab spring to passivity – due to limits of change in the social, economic, and political atmosphere in general. At one level, community members kept back to undercurrent burden of economic situation (Egypt as example), it keeps them so busy with the daily needs. The economic situation got the priority and that created limited space for all citizens to engage in public life – so women have less opportunity to be active.

Nagwan El-Ashwal: The issue of democracy

Nagwan El-Ashwal is from Egypt. She is PhD researcher at the European University Institute – EUI- Florence, Italy and she works on Jihadi movements in the Arab region. Also, she was a visiting PhD scholar at the Institute of International Studies at University of California at Berkeley and the chairperson of Regional Center for Mediation and Dialogue. El-Ashwal was involved with a lot of different organizations related to justice, equality and democracy in Europe and in the Middle East.

The main issue for women in the Middle East today is the issue of democracy and freedom from repressive regimes. Those regimes close the public sphere when confronted with any kind of activism.

I think that women activists in the first years of the Arab spring have enjoyed a lot with the free space where they could take part in all political activities and push society forward to get more rights – in terms of political and economical struggle. However, after what occurred – either in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen or Libya, women involved in activism are getting back to the first step. The situation is better in Tunisia but it is still dramatically bad in other cases.

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This article was also published in Croatian, on H-Alter.

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art of resistance, Egypt

Scarlett Coten | Still Alive.

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Scarlett Coten is an independent French photographer who dedicates herself essentially to personal, long term projects. The Arab countries are at the heart of her photographic practice, which explores the themes of identity and intimacy.

One of her wonderful projects is Still Alive, a plunge into the little known Egypt of the Bedouins. From spring 2000 to the summer of 2002, Coten shared the day-to-day life of the men and women who live in the Sinai desert, between the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez, from Rafah to the shores of the Red Sea.

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Coten describes her experience: “I photograph my hosts, those that ask me to, those that pose. These are my guiding line. Gestures and laughter replace the spoken word. Time seems different, the people too.

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It’s a hot summer. From one area of shade to another, we reach for each breath of air, each lift of the breeze. I no longer know which day it is; we live in the present.

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In an interview with Culturist, Coten says how she fell in love with “the cheerful and curious people, who consent to pose for me, and do so with delight.” She explains how she’s greeted with still alive! at every meeting.

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These photographs are the illustration of the humour, enthusiasm, vibrance, diversity and modernity of a people little-known to the world beyond their desert. They are forgotten, destitute but – still alive! And they find so much pleasure in that – in being alive.

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To find out more about this lovely project and see more of Coten’s wonderful photography, visit her official website.

//all photos © Scarlett Coten//

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art of resistance, Egypt

Alaa Al Aswany: The Automobile Club Of Egypt (excerpt).

automobileclub

The following is an excerpt from Alaa Al Aswany’s lovely book The Automobile Club Of Egypt.

“The story started when a man called Karl Benz met a woman called Bertha.

In the only extant photograph of him, Karl Benz appears distracted, his mind so preoccupied by something other than the details of daily life that he has forgotten to do up the buttons of his jacket as he stands for the camera. His face appears to show a deep-­grained sadness, a look of despondency left by a hard childhood. His father, a railroad engineer, had died in a terrible accident when Karl was just two, and his mother fought hard to provide him a good education.

Still, he had had to start working at a young age in order to help support his siblings. The photograph shows his intelligence and determination, but it also portrays him as somewhat distant, as if he is looking at something on the far horizon that only he can see. Bertha’s photograph, on the other hand, reflects a special type of beauty, one not sensual but brimming with maternal tenderness.

Still, the captivating graciousness and angelic modesty of her features cannot hide a steely determination of her own and a readiness to sacrifice herself for duty.

It was July 20, 1872. In the German city of Mannheim, the church was full to the rafters with men and women in their Sunday best, so many people having been invited that some had to stand during the ceremony. Despite rebukes and reprimands, the children kept babbling and fidgeting. The smell of the freshly painted church walls permeating the hot air did nothing to relieve the stifling heat as the women muttered and rapidly fanned themselves with their patterned silk fans.

Suddenly, cries of joy went up, along with scattered clapping, as Karl Benz appeared in his elegant white suit, arm in arm with his bride, Bertha, who glittered in a beautiful gown of green French lace encrusted with small clusters of diamanté, the gown glistening and the deep round neckline showing off her exquisite skin. It was pulled in tightly to highlight her fabulous waist and below that puffed out in a bell shape like a ballet dancer’s costume.

The couple walked slowly up the aisle to the altar and then repeated the marriage vows uttered first by the corpulent priest, who, due to the heat, took a sip after every sentence from a glass of cold water placed near him and wiped the sweat from his brow with a large white handkerchief.

Karl held Bertha’s hand and spoke his vow in a staccato and rasping voice, as if he was reticent about the words. When it was Bertha’s turn, her face reddened slightly, her breath becoming irregular, and the words came out in the disjointed fashion of a schoolgirl reading out a difficult text for a demanding teacher:

‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I take thee, Karl Benz, to be my lawfully wedded husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.’

A dinner for the family and some close friends followed the ceremony. Just before midnight, Karl opened the door to their new house, and Bertha paused before walking across the threshold. She thought about how one part of her life was coming to an end and a new one was beginning, and she whispered a prayer to God to bless their life together.

(…)

She knew that he was an engineer at a workshop and that he had set something up with a partner in order to earn a living. One day he came asking her to lend him a sum of money to buy out the partner. She did not hesitate for a moment but handed over the amount from her own savings, with Karl kissing her hands in gratitude.

He said excitedly that he would never forget her kindness, but within a few days he had gone back to his odd ways. He told her that he had rented the cellar of the Millers’ house in the next street as a workshop. There, he said rather brusquely, he would be able to finish what he had started in the workshop. Then he avoided answering any of her questions, smiled cryptically and left the house.

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Karl started spending long hours at the cellar, refusing to allow Bertha to see it, and when she asked him who was cleaning the place for him, he pretended not to hear. As the days passed, his behavior became more erratic.

He would settle himself down in the far corner of the sitting room, smoking a cigar and saying nothing, completely aloof from everything around him, when suddenly he’d jump to his feet and rush out of the house as if he had just remembered some urgent chore. He would be gone for hours on end and, when he returned, would carry on as if nothing was awry.

(…)

Deep down, she was afraid of confronting the truth. Anxiety over her adulterous husband had been gnawing away mercilessly at her soul, and there was only the most remote possibility of his innocence. What if she were to confront him and he confessed to adultery? What would she do then?

Should she tell her family, walk out on him? She had to think it through properly first. She decided to play for time while preparing to have it out with him, remembering that once you start out on the road downhill, there is no stopping.

One morning after breakfast, as he was about to leave for work, she was standing by the door to see him off and was surprised to hear him say, avoiding her gaze, ‘I won’t be home tonight.’

‘For what reason?’

‘I’ve got some work that I can’t put off, so I am going to work through the night in the cellar.’

Now, for the first time, Bertha could not control herself. She exploded, and her voice could be heard throughout the house, ‘Just stop it, Karl. I can’t continue putting up with your lies. What work would make you spend the night out of the house? What do you take me for? I am neither a child nor a fool. I know what has been going on. You’re cheating on me, Karl. But why live a life of lies with me? Leave me and go to her, if you’re in love.’

She said all of this, standing with her hands on her hips, her hair disheveled, a look of fury on her face and her greenish eyes exuding bitterness and anger. She was raging, ready to fight it out, but then she burst into tears. Karl looked at her calmly, in a state of incomprehension. He knitted his brows and said nothing but tried to embrace her. She pushed him away forcefully, sobbing, and she shouted, ‘Get away from me!’

Then, suddenly, he grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the door as she cried out, ‘What are you doing?’

‘Come with me.’

He grasped her hand more tightly and pulled her outside.

The autumn sky was dull, overcast and threatening rain. Karl strode forth while Bertha tried to wriggle out of his grasp, almost falling a few times; they were such an odd sight that some passersby started giving them sidelong glances.

When they reached the Millers’ house, he led her down to the cellar and unlocked the door with his right hand while keeping hold of her with his left. The door screeched open in response to his kick. He pulled her inside, finally letting go of her hand to turn on the lamp.

Rubbing her now freed wrist, she looked around. The space was full of strange objects, machines great and small, bicycles of various sizes lying on the floor, a large blackboard covered with scores of equations, technical drawings hanging on the walls, a wooden workbench with engine parts on it with countless nails and screws in containers nearby.

Karl sat her down on the only chair, and he leaned against the old wall covered in flakes of paint as he started to explain. As she listened to him, she started to put the whole picture together, and her sullenness turned into astonishment. When he’d finished explaining, she asked him a few questions, to which he gave straightforward and complete answers.

Finally, there was nothing left to say, and a pregnant silence fell over them. Karl knelt down beside her, kissed her hands and knees and said, ‘Bertha, I love you. I will never love another woman. I am so sorry that my work has kept me away from you, but I have been working for years to achieve the dream I have been living for. I am trying, one day, to invent a horseless carriage. A carriage driven by a motor.'”

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art of resistance, Egypt

Ahmed Naji: The Guide For Using Life.

ahmed-nagy-1-768x430/Ahmed Naji, photo via Daily News Egpyt/

The Egyptian novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji has been given a two-year prison sentence two months ago for “violating public modesty” after publishing a book with references to sex and drugs. An Egyptian citizen brought charges against the author after an excerpt of his novel The Guide for Using Life was published in the magazine Akhbar al-Adab.

The prosecution argued that the published work “violates the sanctity of public morals and general ethics”. The United Group, an organisation comprised of lawyers, legal researchers, and human rights advocates, submitted the appeal to the prosecution with the cooperation of Nagi’s family.

The sentences handed to Naji and Al-Taher have received widespread condemnation and have been criticised for being unconstitutional by many politicians, writers, media figures, associations, and parties.

Naji wrote the experimental novel collaborating with the illustrator Ayman al-Zorqani, who drew for the book. The following English translation was done by Ben Koerber (it was first published on Arabic Literature). Read the excerpt, share your support for Naji’s case!

That’s not to say life in Cairo was completely miserable. There were good times to be had year-round: some during our long summer, and quite a few during our short winter. Such times were, invariably, either days off work or days without it. They say the city never sleeps, they say it bursts at the seams. The city rotates and revolves. The city branches out. The city beats, the city bleeds.

In their places of work and worship, the people of this city swarm. They shop and scurry and go for a piss, so the Wheel of Production might go on spinning despite the traffic. That’s how it all looks, if you’re an eagle soaring up above. But if you’re just a little mouse of a man spinning inside that great Wheel, you never get to see the big picture. You go to work and do your job, and might even earn a reasonable salary. If, by some great fortune, you manage to see the fruit of your labors, it still won’t move you an inch. Whether you work or not, the Wheel of Production keeps on spinning, and the current carries you along.

Which brings me to the time Mona May and I went over with a group of friends to Moud’s apartment in Garden City. This was after a party at Youssef Bazzi’s place. We stayed up until the morning smoking hash and competing to finish a whole bottle of vodka. I remember seeing the music dissolve into monkeys that clung to the ceiling. There was a blonde German tapping her leg to the beat. Erections popping around the room. A young Palestinian-American, with poor Arabic, talking a lot about racism. Smoke, cigarettes, hashish. And more smoke.

“Bassam,” says Kiko, turning to me with a totally bloodshot look. “I’ve got smoke in my eyes.”

“Go easy on ’em, baby.”

I pull a tissue over her eyes and blow gently.  The German girl watches with a confused look.  As I pull the tissue away, my palm drips with the dark freshness of Kiko’s face.  I plant a light kiss on her lips.

“Did you know there’s a kind of sexual fetish called ‘licking the pupil’?” says the German girl in English.

“How exactly do you mean?”

“Yeah, I read about that once,” interjects Moud.

“That’s disgusting,” objects Kiko, wrapping her arms around me.

What are your typical twenty-somethings to do in Cairo? Might they go for pupil licking? Are they into eating pussy? Do they like to suck cock, or lick dirt, or snort hash mixed with sleeping pills?  Or one might ask how long it would take for any of these fetishes to lose its thrill.  Are they good for life?

Everyone here has done lots of drugs, both during and after college. Yet here we all are, little islands unto ourselves, with no greater aspiration than to hang out together. We manage to stay alive by sucking our joy out of one another.

Mona May is standing next to the speakers. Her eyes are glazed over as though her soul’s been sucked up by the music monkeys on the ceiling, and her body sways to the beat.

After a while, taking drugs clearly got old. Or they were just not enough. And if one of us ever gave in to total addiction, his life would be over in a few months: this we know by trial and experience. Those of us left in this room are too chicken to end our lives in this or any other way, maybe because we still cling to some sort of hope, some sort of love or friendship.

For all that Cairo takes from its residents, it gives nothing in return – except, perhaps, a number of life-long friendships that are determined more by fate than any real choice. As the saying goes, “He who goes to Cairo will there find his equal.” There’s no such thing as smoking by yourself. And the food’s only got taste if you have someone to chow it down with, happily, carcinogens and all.

In this city, you’ll be lucky if you can get over your sexual tension, and appreciate sex as just one of the many facets of a friendship. Otherwise, your horniness will make you a testy bitch. Kiko rubs my back, and I feel a heat between my legs.

useoflife/The Use of Life/

As dawn came up, Moud went to his room, and everyone else went home. Too lazy to head back to 6th of October City, I lay down and fell asleep on the couch. I woke up early with a slight headache, an army of ants marching in the space between my brain and my skull. I went to the bathroom and took one of the pills Moud had brought from overseas to fight hangovers. After taking a warm shower, I called Lady Spoon and agreed to breakfast at Maison Thomas in Zamalek.

On the way, the streets were washed over and empty of traffic.  It’s a holiday: perhaps the Islamic New Year, or Victory Day, or Revolution Day, or Saltwater Catfish Day.  Whatever it was, the city looked drowsy and everyone was checked out.  At moments like this, I barely recognize the place.

When I’m able to get from Qasr al-Aini to Zamalek in under 20 minutes, I almost feel like she’s decided to warm up to me.  But I know that wicked smile on her face: She’s telling me, “At any moment, I can have you stuck in traffic for over an hour, with nothing to do but sit back and feel sorry for yourself as the noise of the streets slowly sucks the life out of you.”  Open veins spewing blood all over the bathroom.

I met Lady Spoon outside the restaurant.  She had on a long white dress showing her arms and a bit of cleavage.

“You smell really nice,” she said, kissing me on both cheeks.

“It’s Moud’s cologne.”

It was her neck that made me fall for her. She’s nine years older than me, but she knows how to stay youthful, exercising regularly and always eating healthy. She’s pretty, cheerful, and has a successful career in advertising. Unfortunately for her, she’s a Protestant and happens to love Egypt, and her chances of meeting someone with both these qualities in Cairo are slim at best.

She studied overseas before spending quite a long time being terrified of getting married or settling down. Sometimes, she’d like to have children. She had been used to dating men who were older than her, but suddenly, they had stopped showing an interest. Those that did show interest didn’t interest her. This was the first time that she would be dating someone younger than her, which made her embarrassed to tell her friends.

The name “Lady Spoon” was given to her by Mona May.  She saw her once at a concert wearing a pair of spoon-shaped earrings.

These were the same earrings she had on now. They swayed with the movement of her hand as she chopped a loaf of bread. In spite of the dryness in my throat, I’d been smoking since I woke up this morning. Cigarettes have a different sort of taste with the morning breeze in Zamalek: something resembling bliss, desire, a softness in violet and orange.

Our breakfast was eggs, along with slices of the finest quality pork, imported from abroad. After honey, jam, and a glass of orange juice, I’m back to life.  As the poet says, “You ain’t you when you’re hungry.” At Maison Thomas, her smile nudges me awake under a white bed.

We walked around the streets of Zamalek in the direction of her apartment.  She had a thin silver bracelet around her ankle and toenails painted red.  Sometimes we would walk hand in hand, and sometimes with my arm around her waist.  Under the shade of the trees, we laughed. We shot smiles at the officers standing guard outside different embassies, but their solemn demeanor didn’t change.

I thought … Do I love her?

Of course I love her.  I can’t touch a woman I don’t love. But then, what is love exactly?  It’s a relaxing of the heart, a tranquility in your soul, a warmth in your stomach.  It’s like any love in Cairo, always ready to disappear.  A lover of companionship.

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art of resistance, Egypt

eL Seed & Perception In Cairo’s Garbage City.

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/photo © Perception, eL Seed/

In a new scope of work, French-Tunisian street artist eL Seed explores the topic of perception by exploring how outsider judgment and misconception can unconsciously impact a community. This is a beautiful, important and powerful piece of art.

Here’s the story – in the neighborhood of Mokkatam Mountain in Cairo, the Coptic community of Zaraeeb has collected the city’s trash for decades, developing one of the world’s most efficient and highly profitable recycling systems. Yet the place is perceived as dirty, marginalized and segregated.

The Zaraeeb community is not – as public conception has suggested – poor, but rather isolated; not marginalized, but rather pushed away. They are a reflection of the society: they don’t live in the garbage but from the garbage; and not their garbage, but the garbage of the whole city.

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To bring light on this community, in his new project called Perception, eL Seed created a massive, anamorphic piece covering almost fifty buildings – visible in its entirety only from the mountains above.

The piece of art uses the words of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, that said: “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first”.

The project uses the context of Zaraeeb to question our perception of the people who were once part of the general community, and despite thriving beyond comprehension, are still looked down upon.

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eL Seed stated that the project in Zaraeeb neighborhood was one of the most amazing human experiences he ever had.

“They have been given the name of Zabaleen (the garbage people), but this is not how they call themselves. They don’t live in the garbage but from the garbage; and not their garbage, but the garbage of the whole city. They are the ones who clean the city of Cairo”, eL Seed wrote.

//all photos © eL Seed//

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For more on eL Seed and his work, visit his facebook page.

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art of resistance

Five For Friday: A(nother) Year Of Writing.

Umm-Kulthum-3/The Best Lady Of Them All,  © Chant Avedissian: Cairo Stencils. Issa, Rose (Ed.) London: SAQI/

Two days ago was Umm Kulthum’s death anniversary (the best lady of them all). Tomorrow is Middle East Revised’s second birthday.

That is the reason why this edition of Five for Friday will be a little bit different. It’s five categories and each one of them includes something I really liked (writing about) throughout the year. Hope you’ll enjoy it and find something interesting.

1. Book Palestinian Walks, Notes On A Vanishing Landscape

DSC08257/Wadi Rum, photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

It’s hard to choose one book, and many more wonderful writings wait for you if you scroll though The Book To Read section. However, there was something special about Raja Shehadeh’s experience presented in this lovely book.

Seven walks captured in the book span a period of twenty-seven years, in the hills around Ramallah, in the Jerusalem wilderness and through ravines by the Dead Sea. Each walk takes place at a different stage of Palestinian history.

The loss of such a simple pleasure as walking around freely is much more important than it might seem, for it exists within a much greater loss – deprivations of an entire people estranged from their land. Read the full review of the book for more.

2. Interview – Samar Hazboun On Living And Working Under Occupation & All That’s Left Is Women Wearing Black

hush/photo © Samar Hazboun/

These two interviews were and are so important to me. I am so happy I managed to speak to Samar Hazboun and Aida Baghdadi, both brave, creative, inspiring souls. Hazboun is a great Palestinian photographer, Aida is a great Syrian lawyer and human rights activist.

Samar’s work is always filled with depth and empathy. She makes projects and not products, her work is a constant learning experience, and not a calculated pose. Read the full interview.

Aida Baghdadi managed to break my heart and put it back together at the same time. We were both crying at the end of the interview, and it’s the first time that ever happened to me. Read the interview here.

While you’re reading it, remember Syria is more than numbers, more than a word you hear all the time – Syria is Aida, her family, her friends, her dreams, her love. And she is just one person.

3. Film – The Dupes 

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The Dupes is a film by Tewfik Saleh, based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Men in the Sun. It’s one of the many films I wrote about throughout the year, but it stands out because it reminds me of so many other things that happened this year. It’s more than just one film, it means more…

It is the story of three men who try to leave their impoverished and hopeless lives to get work in Kuwait. They hire a water-truck driver to transport them illegally across the border in the tank of his truck.

The journey is not an easy one. It’s a journey that millions of people embark on nowadays. They are the dupes of our time. Read all about it here.

For more films, I recommend two other Five For Friday posts: Ten Years In Turkish Cinema & 90’s Iranian Cinema (just to name a few).

4. Remembering Sessions Leila Alaoui: The Moroccans

moroccans/photo © Leila Alaoui/

I already wrote it – it seems way to early to pay respect to Leila Alaoui, talented French-Moroccan photographer, in MER’s Remembering sessions. Unfortunately, Alaoui succumbed to her injuries sustained in the Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) terrorist attacks.

One of her most beautiful projects was The Moroccans. It is visible how she was interested in dignity, in humanity. She gave herself to that struggle. I hope she will remembered for that – it’s the greatest legacy one can leave. Read more about Alaoui and her work here.

5. Photo EssayShatila, Still An Open Wound & Afghan Women

shatila 2 ivana/photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

Shatila stayed on my mind ever since I visited Beirut. It was one of the moments of the year that will stay with me forever. But that “burden” is nothing when you compare it those people in Shatila have to carry. Most of the things we know about Shatila are connected to the massacre of Sabra and Shatila (1982) and the War of the camps (1984 – 1989).

Since all of those events took part during the Lebanese civil war I think our brain tends to put them in the “past” department. But there is no “past” departments in Shatila, everything spills into present. Read about it and see the photos here.

Afghan Women is a beautiful photo series by Farzana Wahidy. She’s an amazing Afghan woman herself – she was the first female Afghan photojournalist to work for an international wire service.

The post is decidated to Wahidy and the women she captured in her photos, but I also wrote about Nadia Anjuman and her poetry and Setara from the Afghan Star. Read it!

Two other photo essays/series I would like to add to this great category – Yemen: In Beauty And Sorrow (all captured by lovely Jonathon Collins) & Libya, Where Art Thou? (about Naziha Arebi and her photos of everyday life in Libya).

Bonus songYalalela by Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud

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What’s birthday without music?

Thank you all for reading and let’s keep growing together! ♡

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Ten Years In Turkish Cinema

90’s Iranian Cinema

Postcards From Syrian Refugees

Costs of War

Conversations With History

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art of resistance, Egypt

Egypt: The Women Of The Village.

Hidden Hope/photo © Heba Khamis/

I was raised in a small village, in a humble, hardworking environment. Stories with such background always find a special place in my heart, I can relate to them and I can understand their depth, the struggle they are telling.

When it comes to harsh village life, in many places of the world, women are still those who get the worst of it. The Women of the village by Egyptian photographer Heba Khamis gives insight into such story.

It is a story about village women in Egpyt and their everyday journey, a journey they take because they need to do it in order to survive. They face hunger as they search for a better life – job, money, being able to provide for themselves.

In a country like Egypt, where a major part of society cannot imagine a place for a woman except in her home, with her family and under her husband’s control – this journey in search for work is particularly significant and risky for women.

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“Um Alaa comes from Ezbet Sakhawy in Kafr al-Sheikh. The village is named after her family. Traders come to her house so that she can buy whatever she needs, while the rest of the women have to go to the markets. Each village market is held on only one day of the week. This means that if any of them wants something during the week, she has to go to a different village.”

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“Seda, known as ‘Um Dalia’, works in Khurshid market in Sayah Kafr al-Sheikh. She is judged for sometimes showing her bare arms as she works. Though she has daily contact with the city, she still lives in a conservative society. Um Dalia is the mother of five girls, all of whom have completed higher education. She has managed to marry off three of them. Her next goal is to find husbands for the remaining two.”

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“Her struggle begins as the sun rises, hurrying to catch the morning train to Alexandria. If she fails, the day is lost because there are no other cheap trains. The only remaining option then is to hire a car with other women for LE50 per person.”

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“Hope for a better life is Salma’s companion. She is a 22-year-old a university student in her third year of study. Her subject is the origin of religion. Salma must organize her week carefully, rationing time for study and travel, covering her university costs and taking care of her family. As the eldest daughter, she is the one who looks after her sick father. Because of all these demands on her time, she attends university only one day a week, on Sunday. She has to work all the other days of the week. In the foreground, Hamida, 44 years old, is married and works to ensure that the children of her late brother have a decent life.”

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“Soad takes cover under her scarf. The village beauties are on a constant journey that will not end until their lives come to a close. They have nothing but patience to ease their aches and pains. As she said, ‘I want to rest before I die.’ But then she remembered that she still has a daughter to be married and to furnish her house.”

This beautiful and important photo essay was published on Panorama, a platform for showcasing the best photojournalistic coverage of under-reported corners of Egypt and issues of interest to the greater Arab world.

The photograher, talented Heba Khamis, is now at a great crossroad in her life – and she needs a little help. She got a half scholarship from The Danish School for Media and Journalism in Denmark to study photojournalism where they will offer her a fee waiver but without any stipend.

She now started an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money  which would help her accept the photojournalism grant, develop her skills and – give us many more great stories like The Women of the Village. If you can, please help her and share her story – even if you donate only a couple of dolars – it’s important!

I hope to hear and see much more of her work in the future.

//all photos © Heba Khamis//

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