Monday, February 21, 2011

what the egyptian revolt means

Herbert Bix (Binghamton): The Middle East Revolutions in Historical Perspective: Egypt, Occupied Palestine, and the United States. Gimme Fuel, Gimme Fire: What the Egyptian revolt means for nuclear proliferation. How does protest topple a government? (and more at The Monkey Cage) Tina Rosenberg on what Egypt learned from the students who overthrew Milosevic. A look at how shy U.S. intellectual Gene Sharp created the playbook used revolutions (and more). This is not an Islamic revolution: Olivier Roy on how the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia show that Islam is now less potent politically, even as its social dominance grows. Immanuel Wallerstein on the World Social Forum, Egypt, and transformation. New World Order: Joseph Nye on Egypt, the information revolution, and the struggle for power in the twenty-first century. The Al Jazeera Effect: The inside story of Egypt's TV wars and how Saudi Arabia could be next. Why Mideast tumult caught scholars by surprise: Revolutions are easy to predict, but their timing sure isn't. Can the mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt succeed even though they have failed to produce real political leaders? "We all know our way back to Tahrir Square": Jon Bailes on Egypt, democracy and neoliberalism. The importance of these 21st century democratic revolutions for the rest of Africa cannot be overlooked. Robert Zaretsky on Egypt and the Longue Duree: What Braudel has to teach about the crisis. What's next after a revolution? Mohammadbagher Forough on promises of countries yet to come.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Issa's Sunday Service, #91

Today's song, "40" by U2, is based on the Psalm 40, lifting a great deal of the lyric directly from the Bible.   Here's U2's rendering:

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long...
How sing this song

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and fear

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long..

"40" comes from the album War, the most famous song from which is "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a song which dealt with the Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland.  The reason I mention it is that, injected into the lines from Psalm 40 in U2's rendition, you'll find the refrain "How long, how long to sing this song," which it shares with "Sunday Bloody Sunday."  "Sunday" opens the album, "40" closes it; the refrain they share book ends the theme of how long, how long must this go on (and on and on).

Something we continue to ask

Read the rest of the Sunday Service at

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Perspectives on Egypt


An Egyptian protestor decries the government’s theft of billions from
the pension fund. Photo by Jessica Winegar.

“I rushed to Tahrir as did thousands of Cairenes. My subway car was filled with young people who had spontaneously invented chants that expressed their joy. One of these was, ‘They said we were the youth of Kentucky (Fried Chicken), but we were the ones who protected you (Egypt).’ (It rhymes in Arabic.) Another: ‘We are the youth of the internet, not those only concerned with dating.’ I sat across from one man in his late 70s who sat with a smile on his face, staring at the teen and twenty-something men in amazement and admiration, with tears of joy in his eyes.  He kept saying to me in English, ‘Revolution. Revolution.’

“He was going to Tahrir too, and when I got there, amidst the massive celebrating crowds, I saw countless older men and women, some quite old and in wheelchairs or with canes. They walked with their spouses, and/or children and in many cases grandchildren. Some of the mothers and grandmothers ululated. Fathers and grandfathers participated in the moving cheer, ‘Lift your head up, you are Egyptian!’ It seemed that they had once been able to lift their heads up in pride as Egyptians, and although now many were stooped from the effects of living under an oppressive dictatorship, they were clearly so thrilled that their offspring could now lift their heads proudly and that they were among the fortunate ones to live to see this day.”

So observed Jessica Winegar F’09, assistant professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, amidst the jubilant atmosphere in Tahrir Square when word came that President Mubarak had stepped down. She and other ACLS Fellows—from California to the Middle East, from computer labs to the streets of Cairo—understand the revolution as a moment both reshapes and is shaped by history.

Watching the revolution unfold in Egypt, Iza Hussin F’07, assistant professor of legal studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has been “struck by the uncertainty there has been about what these events ‘mean’ for the states, participants, and region.” Omnia El Shakry F’07, associate professor of history at the University of California, Davis, adds that media coverage of these events has lacked “any real sense of history.”

Jesse Ferris F’08, F’07, vice president for strategy for the Israel Democracy Institute, sees the roots of today’s revolution in Nasserism, and particularly the advent of the Egyptian military complex:

“Mubarak is only the fourth in a chain of military officers who have assumed the Presidency since the Free Officers overthrew the monarchy in the revolution of 1952. The structure of the regime has remained largely unchanged since the days of Nasser. A small cast of ex-officers stands atop an enormous bureaucracy intertwined with a bloated national party apparatus, all three of which are sustained in power by two parallel security structures: the military and an assortment of internal security forces. Although it has not seen action in decades, the military remains the most significant power broker in Egypt, and its power has been magnified over the years by the construction of a vast military-industrial complex that is thoroughly entangled with the civilian economy.”

El Shakry, however, argues that Egyptian society under Nasser was “equally characterized by an ideology and practice of social welfare,” a social contract between the state and the people in which “democratic political change was exchanged for piecemeal social reform” and the reinforcement of existing social relationships.

El Shakry reminds us that Egypt experienced three revolutions in the twentieth century: the 1919 revolution that ended British colonial rule; the 1952 military coup that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power; and the 1974 neo-liberal Intifah, or opening, that led to a free-market economy and strengthened the private sector at the expense of Nasser’s social safety net. This led to an “immense polarization of wealth, drastically exacerbated since the 1990s, [which] has left many Egyptians consumed by the search for food, shelter, and human dignity, with an estimated 40 percent living below the poverty line.” The ongoing decline in the quality of life set the stage for the 2011 revolution. For many of today’s older protesters, demonstrations are not new, Winegar notes; many of them have a history activism, fighting “against the privatization of health insurance and the theft of billions of pension funds.”


Demonstrators in Cairo. Photo by Jessica Winegar.

Winegar is currently in Egypt at work on her ACLS fellowship project on state secularism and the Islamic revival.  She describes this as a multi-generational revolution, and watches as Egyptians who grew up during the different regimes bring the past to life in their activism. Under Mubarak, many “upper middle class Egyptians in their fifties and sixties who had been leftist student activists in the 1970s . . . watched their youthful dreams of creating a just society crumble before their eyes, as neoliberal capitalism, authoritarianism, and corruption, took vicious root in Egypt.  They themselves sought greater stability in their lives and so, with marriage and children, they hunkered down in decent apartments and built comfortable lives for themselves and their families . . .  Their 1970s street activism had, in the Mubarak era, been limited to signing intellectuals’ petitions, writing the occasional article, or going to the occasional demonstration and being cordoned off by the security police.” In 2011, they assembled in Tahrir Square, joined neighborhood watches, and argued with pro-Mubarak neighbors.

“I also saw many pro-democracy demonstrators in their late sixties and seventies,” she continues. “These men and women had been raised on Nasser’s revolutionary language; their childhood, teens, or twenties had been filled with the promise of a just and prosperous society.  But their potential was curtailed by the steep decline in quality of life from the later Nasser years through Sadat and Mubarak.” Like their younger counterparts, “their struggle, and their disappointment, was marked on their bodies.” Many, including the relatively privileged, suffer from the ailments of a stressful life and poor health care: high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, mental stress, and cigarette addiction.”

The revolution transformed perceptions. After Muburak stepped down, “We never thought this would happen” became a common refrain, but Winegar concludes, “It was as clear as day.” Ferris agrees that the revolution could have been predicted, though “knowing that an event will happen is not the same as predicting when it will happen.” In this case, the overthrow of the Tunisian government and the Egyptian military’s restraint allowed the inevitable to finally unfold.

While Winegar was in Tahrir Square, Todd Presner F’06, professor of Germanic languages and literatures at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues at the UCLA Center for Digital Humanities were creating “HyperCities Egypt,” a digital map of Cairo that locates and archives tweets from the uprising, bringing Egyptian voices to the rest of the world while also preserving them for the future. This program is based on “HyperCities Berlin,” an interactive, web-based research platform for analyzing the cultural, architectural, and urban history of a city space built with funding from the ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship program.

Presner explains:

“We wanted the world to be able to hear these voices coming out Egypt since they add a very different perspective and dimension when compared to traditional broadcast media. To date, we have archived and mapped more than 300,000 tweets coming out of Egypt since the project began.  These are searchable and can be studied by scholars interested in understanding the roles that social media played in documenting and fomenting the revolution in Egypt.  At the project’s core are values central to the next wave of digital humanities: harnessing new technologies to expand the global public sphere, animating the archive in new ways, and using technologies to increase the purview, relevance, and importance of the humanities in the world."

Can humanities scholars tell us what is next for Egypt? Ferris argues that the emergence of a “genuine multi-party system” is unlikely, and that the “rapid population growth, scarce natural resources, a chronic shortage of wheat, and insufficient exports”—challenges that have persisted since Nasser’s time—will prove challenging to any future government. Instead, he sees a two-party system backed by the army, as emerged in Turkey in 1950, as one possibility, and a new secularist or Islamic dictatorship as another possibility. Hussin adds that “Islam never did, nor does it now, promise a monolithic shari’ah state, but presents a plethora of resources for mobilization, locally defined institutions, and the construction and contestation of new identities.”

She further describes the 2011 revolution as a “moment of making,” one that humanities research can illuminate in all its richness. We can look to engaged researchers to answer questions such as those posed by Hussin: “What structural elements of the moribund regime will become underpinnings of a new order? What symbols, logics, and languages of power will the new civic culture adopt, and what will it make anew?” As scholarship on Egyptian politics and society shows us, history is a process, and each day is informed by the day before. 

Read more: 
"Egypt's Three Revolutions: The Force of History behind this Popular Uprising" by Omnia El Shakry F'07
New UCLA project streams Twitter updates from Egypt unrest on digital map of Cairo 

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The apocalypse, brought to you by the letters Y, A, L and E

The Yale Daily News is republishing a dozen visions of the apocalypse commissioned from well known writers at a dollar a word (but because the editors were cash-strapped college kids in 1974, each writer was limited to 20 words). “As the editors noted in that 12th issue of the Magazine, ‘The writers that exceeded twenty words did so out of a love for their craft.’” Why the apocalypse? Perhaps they were just stunned to see their magazine reach its second anniversary.

Part one features John Cheever, Tom Wolfe and William Styron; part two includes Bernard Malamud, Eric Fromm and Anthony Burgess (who forgoes his fee so that editors John Tierney, Christopher Buckley, and Eric Goodman can buy themselves “a nice drink”); part three contributors range from Ayn Rand (who is still doing her part to bring about the apocalypse from beyond the grave) to John Barth, with visits from William Saroyan and Vladimir Nabokav’s wife:

VN thanks you for your charming letter. He says he is ‘trying to finish writing a novel before the end of the world.’ He regrets he must decline your kind offer.”

– Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov

But the hands down winner in the apocalyptic race is Ray Bradbury who has faith that humankind can outrun the four horsemen when the time comes. In part four, alongside Joyce Carol Oates and Art Buchwald, Bradbury writes:

Gloryosky, guys, there ain’t gonna be no end to no world! Sorry to disappoint you and depress you with my exuberant good spirits and optimism, but we will build starships and move on out to Alpha Centauri and beyond and then we won’t give a damn about what happens to Earth, for we will, in sum, live forever, give or take a billion years. End of quote. Send me my twenty bucks!

– Ray Bradbury

Some days I have time and inclination to write more, some not. My thanks to Poetry News on Harriet the Blog from The Poetry Foundation for bringing this apocalypse to you

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

about About pages

... which is an "about blogging" or meta-blogging post. Aside from the non-so-minor detail that the following article refers to blogs operated; whereas, none of mine ~ minimal Ad-Sense ads excepted ~ sell anything, not for $. I hawk my wares in the market place of ideas and information.

Most if not all advocate, stand on soap boxes and otherwise exhort ~ along with reviewing, critiquing, disseminating information ~ all in the public weal. They don't even surreptitiously hawk products or services for commission or other personal gain.

So why read let alone republish this piece? In the the interest of better blogging, I subscribe to a number of "about blogging" blogs. Most are about marketing and monetization. They are also about effective, blogging. Keeping readers interested, engaging an audience.

That's where the about page comes in. I've been thinking about adding one for ages. Or rather, adding them (plural) Despite overlaps and copy cannibalizing, no one version suits all. My 2011 blogging resolution.

So now onto Lea Woodward's Problogger guest post,

Did you know that the second place many new readers go after hitting the home page of your blog is your About page? Go and check your stats and you’ll probably see that if it’s not up there at #2, it’s probably still pretty high up on the list of “most viewed” links. Chris Brogan noticed this, so it must be true!

This isn’t really a surprise—most people are curious to find out more about who writes the blog they’ve just landed on. While they’re looking for this information, they’re probably thinking three things:

  • Who is this guy or girl telling me all about how to make money blogging?
  • Should I stick around and read more?
  • Is it worth me bookmarking or subscribing to this site and coming back again?

If you don’t lose readers at the home page (which you can avoid by compelling headlines and killer content to browse around), the second most common place to lose them is at your About page.

Here’s how to avoid that—and how to ensure your About page makes your blog, rather than breaks it.

Introduce yourself

Tell us what your name is, and include a photo. This sounds simple but I can’t tell you how many About pages I’ve read where the blogger frequently mentions “I” and “me”, or “we” and “us”, where the username is “admin” and there’s no mention of a name (or names) anywhere on the site—not even the About page.

The exception of course is if you’re blogging anonymously, but even so, it’s nice to give yourself (or your alter ego) a pen name. People like names and they like to put a face to a name, even if it’s cartoon one.

Remember the mantra: WIIFM?

Somewhere up near the top of your About page, it’s a good idea to tell readers what’s in it for them if they stick around on your site and even subscribe. They’ll be scanning your page thinking, “What’s in it for me? Should I stick around?” If you can answer that succinctly early on, you’ll save them time and attract the kind of audience you’re actually looking for.

About them

If your blog covers a wide range of topics and it’s not super-targeted, it can be useful to actually state who your blog is for. You can even be as obvious as to include a “Who this blog is for” section listing a few items describing your ideal readers. It’s a fast, simple way to help readers figure out whether they want to stick around or not.

Be personal, but not too personal

It depends upon the topic of your blog, but it’s usually a good idea to share your credentials or expertise in the topic you’re blogging about. If you don’t have any, and you’re writing more of a “share your journey” blog, then say this. It helps people figure out where you are on the path in relation to them, and whether they’ll get something from sticking around.

The depth and level of personal information you share will depend upon the type of blog you’re writing—whether it’s a topic-focused blog or more of a personality-based blog.

Determine the goal of your About page

As you’ve probably gathered by now, your About page isn’t just a place to tell people more about you: it can be so much more. You need to determine the goal(s) of your About page, and then make sure that your page achieves those goals. For example, your About page can:

  • be an ideal place to highlight your best content, allowing you to share links to deeper content within your site
  • encourage people to sign up to your newsletter—which works especially well for “behind the scenes” newsletters and those which are used to share more personal information from the blogger
  • give readers other ways to connect with you, by sharing links to your social media profiles and encouraging readers to connect with you there, too
  • provide readers with social proof and testimonials, helping to establish your credibility and authority from the start.

Always end with a call to action

Your About page is a great place to encourage those who’ve stuck with you until the end of the page, to keep going … but you do need to give them some direction. This goes hand in hand with the point above: once you’ve determined what you’d like your About page to do for your site and your readers, make sure you end strongly by giving readers pointers about the next steps to take, should they be interested.

The above advice can be summarized in the following three points. Your About page should, at the very least, achieve the following:

  • Introduce the person and personality behind the blog.
  • Help new readers easily identify whether your blog is for them.
  • Direct them to do something specific once they’ve read it (whatever it is you’d ideally like them to do next).

Take advantage of this golden opportunity to make another great impression on new readers and create an About page that helps your blog stand out from the others.

What does your About page say about you?

A sensible list. Just strike out "all about how to make money blogging" and revise passage, which means coming up with something concise and coherent about what Blog X is telling you and why you should stick around, even bookmark or subscribe. A personal mission statement, or in terms of reader theory, identifying audience (ideal or imagined readers) and address them. Overall, the list is good. Heeding it should help me sharpen focus and blog better by writing for a more clearly envisioned but not too niche audience. The About page is also a cover letter to readers (with the blog itself being an application, albeit to read rather than hire or buy )

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