Monday, December 21, 2009

Copenhagen: Where is the Arab World heading?

(This was intended as an op-ed piece for a Cairo-based newspaper. We couldn't get it published in a timely manner, so it ended up here...)

So much momentum was built for this year’s UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen (COP15) – and so much is at stake – and by the Summit’s end so little was offered. The agreed upon ‘Copenhagen Accord’ has been a resounding failure, with no legally binding commitments to carbon emissions reductions and insufficient funding for developing nations to cut their rates of emissions.

The scientific and civil society communities are largely behind the target of restoring carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm), in order to save life from the worst of climate change effects. This means keeping climate change to 1.5˚ Celsius above pre-industrial levels. And this roughly translates into 30% reductions in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

According to the Guardian, the Copenhagen Accord drops these targets – 1.5˚C increase and 80% reductions by 2050 – and instead vaguely promises reductions to a temperature increase of 2˚ Celsius, but with no clear measures of how we would reach that goal.

The Group of 77, the largest representative of countries present at the Summit, representing more than 134 nations or roughly 80% of humanity, was loud in its opposition to a 2˚C increase agreement. G77’s Chief Negotiator, Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, called this a “suicide pact” for the G77. According to a leaked document from the UN’s own Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCC) Secretariat, during the last week of the Summit, what was on the table at Copenhagen would lead to at least a 2˚C increase, which amounts to at least a 3.5˚C increase for all regions of the African continent. And such a huge temperature increase will mean almost certain devastation for the continent.

And of course it is not just the African continent that will face certain devastation. Add the many small island nations in the mix, plus the many low-lying nations and cities throughout the world. But really, we are just talking about the more immediate catastrophe brought by climate change. If we go beyond the next two or three decades, the truly global devastation of global warming becomes much more apparent. This is why civil society groups have been present throughout COP15 from in and outside the UN Summit, calling for a “real deal” – 350 ppm, 1.5˚ Celsius.

And this is precisely why they were wire-tapped, arrested, stripped of their UN Summit badges. Groups from Greenpeace to Friends of the Earth were refused entry into the Summit during the last days, as the global elite and their sham of a deal was being hashed out.

US President Obama came to the Summit briefly to try to fool the world that the US has come to be a leader and is ready to tackle climate change. With a play on words (17% reduction in emissions by 2020) one may think that with Obama on the throne the US is quite serious, but those targets are from 2005 levels and come out to actually a mere 4% from 1990 levels. Further, the US has pledged to support a $100bn global fund to help developing nations adapt to climate change, but made no specific commitments to meet its climate debt. In fact, US political leaders refuse to acknowledge that industrialized countries, particularly the US, owe a debt to the rest of the non-industrialized world for historically contributing most to this climate disaster, while developing countries must face it.

The United States was indeed leading the way at the Summit – to utterly preposterous targets that will lead millions and millions displaced, hungry, dead. This is not exactly surprising. In fact, it is quite utterly expected. But what is noteworthy at least from here, in Cairo, is the Arab World’s seeming agreement with such untenable leadership.

Where in fact have countries of the Arab Union “been” in all of this? According to one of the main civil society groups on climate action, 350.org, more than half of the world’s countries support the 350 ppm target. And of those majority countries only two Arab Union countries are among them – Yemen and Sudan. All other North Africa and Middle East countries officially support weaker climate change policies.

Even more, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project 2008, of the Pew Research Center based in Washington, D.C., a survey of climate change concerns in 24 countries ranked the three Arab countries included in the survey – Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt – 18th, 20th and 21st, respectively. This survey was conducted in select countries in all five continents and reflects relatively little concern about climate change among people of the Arab region.

This is startling considering what is known about inevitable climate change impacts in the region. The 2009 Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) warns that global warming will have drastic impacts on a number of Arab countries.

According to Denmark’s lead climate change negotiator, Niels Pultz, studies on the sea level rise have shown that the Middle East and Africa are the most likely to be affected, second only to small island states in oceans.

The 2009 AFED forecasts that the sea level rise will mostly threaten Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Tunisia, devastating "one to three percent of land in these countries." In Egypt, more than 12 percent of the country's best agricultural land in the Nile Delta is at risk from the sea level rise.

Even Egypt’s own Agricultural Research Center recently issued an official report forecasting major losses in agriculture and rural life in the Delta region due to climate change, with millions of people being displaced in the coming decades.

Also, with global warming encroaching fresh water supplies in the region will continue to be under severe limitations. "Environmental deterioration forms serious threats to peace in our Arab region and the world as a result of the increase in the conflict around water resource," Lebanon's Environment Minister Mohammed Rahhal has cautioned.

The message: It is alarming that people of the Arab World are not taking climate change seriously enough. Listen and follow the lead of the G77 – the voice and reason of the vulnerable, developing nations – and demand climate justice. There is still much negotiating to do in the years to come and the G77 coalition will be much strengthened by a strong commitment from Arab countries.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Time to Block Out the Noise

Faced with a global financial meltdown and a food crisis growing out of control, last year the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) held a World Summit on Food Security. And now, more than a year into the crises and many unmet pledges later, rates of hunger continue to rise.

It is in the backdrop of such resounding failure that the World Summit on Food Security in Rome was held for a second year from November 16th-18th. And again there was a renewed commitment of spending $44 billion a year to end hunger by 2025, but no concrete actions or policies taken from attending rich countries.

According to the FAO’s own numbers, the number of hungry people rose to 1.02 billion people in 2009. And the vast majority of the hungry are those who produce food.

A reason for the continued failure to respond to the crisis is that the World Summit continues to push liberalization policies in the Global South that have consistently impoverished small farmers – and of course does so by shutting out farmers themselves from the official delegations.

Declaring their presence, farmers and others not represented at the Summit came to Rome and held the Peoples’ Food Sovereignty Forum, a parallel Forum to the UN’s Summit. 642 people came to the Forum from 93 countries, representing 450 organisations of peasant and family farmers, small scale fisher folk, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, youth, women, urban dwellers, agricultural workers, local and international NGOs, and other advocates. They met

* to reassert the Right to Food

* to take a firm stance against international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF that privilege commercial interests

* to promote an ecological model of food provision

* to assert farmers’ rights to land in the midst of a huge land grab by transnational companies and regional agribusinesses

* to commit to a strong alliance of organizations, groups, advocates that promote food sovereignty

(Their declaration can be read here: http://farmlandgrab.org/9034.)

Unfortunately their Forum was relegated to a distant cry in the face of dizzying World Cup qualification matches. Here in Egypt the World Cup qualification led to violence upon violence, nationalist cries upon nationalist cries, and now a full-on diplomatic war between Egypt and Algeria. The drama has consumed all national concerns, despite the fact that just a couple weeks ago the Agricultural Research Center issued an official report forecasting major losses in agriculture and rural life in the Delta region due to climate change. And in the same speech President Mubarak gave to the People’s Assembly fueling the fire of a diplomatic war with Algeria, little attention was given to the farmer who confronted the President during this speech with the plea, “Mr. President, farmers are suffering.” Again, platitudes were given but no concrete policies.

And will the voices of farmers and the vulnerable be drown out again at the next United Nations Conference, this time, on climate change? What will consume us and block our vision? More football matches? Another celebrity’s death?

The Copenhagen conference will be held from December 7-18, and the TckTckTck coalition and the Global Climate Campaign are organizing a weekend of actions held during the conference to keep the pressure on. 350.org and many other organizations (and individuals) will take part in vigils, protests, actions, educational events, and the like in countries all around the world.

Demonstrations that will be held on December 12th are called forth with the following message:
“We demand that world leaders take the urgent and resolute action that is needed to prevent the catastrophic destabilisation of global climate, so that the entire world can move as rapidly as possible to a stronger emissions reductions treaty which is both equitable and effective in minimising dangerous climate change.

We demand that the long-industrialised countries that have emitted most greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere take responsibility for climate change mitigation by immediately reducing their own emissions as well as investing in a clean energy revolution in the developing world. Developed countries must take their fair share of the responsibility to pay for the adaptive measures that have to be taken, especially by low-emitting countries with limited economic resources.

Climate change will hit the poorest first and hardest. All who have the economic means to act, must therefore urgently and decisively do so.”

(Check out at http://www.globalclimatecampaign.org/index.php?lang=en.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

From a Car Window

In some significant ways my current Cairo routine takes me back to a routine I had maintained years ago while staying in Calcutta. Or at least I am taken back to certain memories from my past.

It was during my post-graduation period. I had graduated from university and spent a half year in India, the Northern Half, being a backpacker, a student of meditation, a volunteer. I ended my travels in Calcutta, having received a generous invitation to stay with a Bengali family for free. I found Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity in a back alley of downtown, and signed up to volunteer with the Sisters’ two missions – one an orphanage for severely disabled children, the other a makeshift school for Bihari street children. The family I stayed with became my family.

I happened to be in West Bengal during the hottest months of the year, the pre-Monsoon season. Just being would cause profuse sweating. The weather was so damp the air felt as a suspended cloud.

And I had a long daily commute. I lived in Jadavpur, a suburb of Calcutta, and volunteered in two locations quite far, more toward the center of the city, depending on one’s vantage point I suppose. I would wake early in the morning. Walk to a corner to catch a rickshaw – a motor-powered, not human-powered one. There would be a long line of early morning commuters waiting. When it would be my turn to catch a rickshaw, we would pile in. What appeared to be a two-passenger rickshaw easily turned into a six-passenger one, with me more often than not hanging out the rickshaw as it meandered its way through the dirt roads lining the many shacks. The rickshaw driver would drive so quickly, make turns so suddenly, that I often felt my life would end or a limb would surely be lost.

Hanging out of the rickshaw I would look upon the thousands and thousands of shack dwellers, brushing their teeth in waterways adjacent to the roads, children defecating along the roadside.

We would get dropped off at the underground metro, and I would take the metro to a stop not far from the orphanage. It was exhilarating work, as we volunteers and the Sisters took the children to the bathroom and bathed them and dressed them. It was so hot – and I was so drenched in sweat – that I would have a difficult time keeping hold of the children. I would lift them, but they would slip between my hands from the sweat. I would bathe them but would have to adjust my glasses as they fell from my sweating face.

When I would get home after another hour-long commute, my sweaty body would be layered in coating upon coating of dust and soot. The very first thing I would do when I got home would be to take a cold shower. It restored me. I would feel renewed and able to start the same routine over again in the morning.

I will never forget a comment made by a Calcutta family member during my stay. She was a doctor and her husband a well-known doctor. They were solidly part of a upper-middle class household. Like is standard for upper-middle class families here, the upper-middle classes in India have not only their own fully-equipped cars but they have their own drivers to drive them around. And this family member had a driver take her around the city.

She had just returned from a conference in San Francisco and said to me:
“It was my first trip to America. I thought it would be so different from here. But really I didn’t see many differences. It seemed just like Calcutta.”

I was stunned to silence. Then I quickly realized how differently one’s perceptions of a place are depending on one’s mode of transport. From the window of a car, I guess one could come to think of San Francisco and Calcutta as nearly indistinguishable. I mean, they both have highways, big buildings, water bodies, homeless people. In fact, from the “secure” place of inside a car, I imagine one could think of typologically-like places (e.g. “urban,” “rural”) as nearly identical.

Surely the uniformity of the experience in a car can not be divorced from the developmentalist narrative – of massive highway networks, private enterprises and big buildings and business complexes, cookie-cutter style housing complexes, huge shopping malls, and other urban delights.

And of course the flipside of the standardization of experiences and impressions from inside a car is the standardizing effect of decades of development policies on the experiences and quality of life of the millions upon millions of those reliant on transportation ‘for the public’ (whether publically or privately operated) to get around in huge metropolises.

In a de-industrialized era industrial goods like transportation come with foreign reserves or they come cheap locally or worn as donations. That makes good transportation very expensive for countries like India and Egypt. And during years of structural adjustments, that continue, even less money is available for essentials like buses and their spare parts. The combination of expensive essentials and less money for essentials is indeed quite disastrous. And policies that were supposed to fuel industrialization (such as high subsidies for leaded fuel) have instead led to extremely high levels of toxic pollution and resulting health problems like birth defects, cancer and asthma. American-style urban development –with capital and employment concentration in only a handful of urban centers (where privatization of real estate has made housing outrageously expensive) has led to very long commutes for commuters. Many here as elsewhere spend hours in commute daily.

I may not know how one experiences the world if largely from the window of a car, but I do know how much my experiences here have been affected by my to and fro. I have lived here long enough now and have gone through enough different phases to know how differently I experience this place if I am depending largely on a short walking commute, on taxis or on privatizing public transportation.

And so much of how I currently feel about this place is shaped by my many rides on the micro-buses and buses and the metro. I have long ways to and from. Any exposed hair and skin is covered in soot. I struggle to fight off allergy-induced illness and general constant congestion. I am surrounded by terribly obese women who can barely make it a step up into the micro-bus or metro. And the one thing I desperately look forward to – at least during the long, hot summer months – is a cold shower.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Testimonial of US Immigration Policy Failure

Here is a letter written and mailed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS), and cc'd to NY Congressman Maurice Hinchey. "Policy" being a misnomer here.


I am filing a complaint for the abuse and impoverishment my husband and I have endured for four years under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security and its U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services unit. I may write in hyperbole but not in jest. This certainly is more than a mere complaint; I am reporting concrete examples of incompetence, non-transparency and discrimination.

I am an American citizen and have been reduced to a second-class citizen after marrying a third-class citizen of the globe from the ‘developing world’. I am a Ph.D. student and my program required me to complete my coursework and examinations at my university. My then fiancé came to join me in the United States because of this obligation. I then took up a research project abroad and wanting to live together, my husband joined me. Being a student and my husband being a new resident of the US, we lived on a limited income and now living abroad I live on an even more meager budget. Throughout these four years – from filing the fiancé petition to the current reentry permit application – we have spent thousands of dollars just to be together as a married couple and for me to be able to stay in my Ph.D. program. We have faced many unknowns as to his residency and work status in the country, in addition to continued indebtedness, sizable periods of unemployment and months (and months) of separation.

When we were living abroad this year, my husband had to apply for the removal of conditions on his residence (I-751 Petition). On the I-751 Petition is written under “What Is the Filing Fee?” that:
“If you live outside the United States, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, contact the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy for instructions on the method of payment.”

I tried contacting the U.S. Embassy in Egypt (where we reside) for instructions on payment, but because of the limited staff at the Embassy, I did not get a definitive response to my inquiry until months later. (I called them, they told me to email them. I emailed them and never got a response. I called them again and couldn’t get through. This continued after numerous attempts to get through. Finally I got through and was told the same thing: email them. Why? Because they do not have any personnel on staff who can answer the question. When I finally received a response, it was that the Embassy in Egypt cannot handle this request.) I called USCIS to find out what in fact our options were. There were none. So how were we to pay the very large $545.00 fee when we were making money in Egyptian Pounds -- $545 being nearly equivalent to a month’s pay here? We had to borrow the money. And we had wasted much time finding out about an nonexistent service that the US Department of Homeland Security claims to provide.

Before my husband returned to the US this summer for removing the conditions on his residency, we checked and double checked what the requirements would be before he returned to Egypt. We did our research, sought free legal advice and decided that the best option would be for him to petition for a reentry permit. We knew that we needed $305 for the reentry permit and that it needed to be filed before he left the country. This must have been in May-June. Then, a few weeks ago we got ready to file the I-131 Form (for reentry) and noticed to our dismay that another requirement was added to the form. According to USCIS's Office of Communications memo (dated June 30, 2009), effective immediately is a biometrics requirement for all reentry permit applicants (see http://www.uscis.gov/files/article/I-131_QA.pdf).

This means that not only do we have to pay another $80, but my husband, without a car, needs to take nearly a whole day off work and to pay the roundtrip bus fare in order to get to the immigration office for the appointment. Further, he has to pay the airline to delay his departure from the country because of the setting of the biometrics appointment. The USCIS memo warns applicants to apply for the permit well in advance of their travelling date…that’s fine and well, but excuse me, I did not realize that we were required to check and recheck the USCIS website for any random ruling on their part that directly affects our life, our marriage and our well-being! After all, no one sent us an email memo telling us of this change that went into effect immediately.

This is one telltale sign of the Department’s total lack of transparency. Public administrations are built to serve the public, not to reign arbitrarily over them. When a new ruling is made it would be prudent of the Department at minimum to announce this and make it effective the following year, not immediately. It is a further nonsensical requirement. When my husband has called USCIS to request permission to not take the biometrics since he just did a month ago, he is met with rigidity. What sense is it to take two biometrics exams within a two-month period?

And are there any options for low-income people like us? There are no options for the applications, although a fee waiver is made available for the biometrics appointment. The waiver is made so unappealing, however, as to make it practically unavailable. If one applies and the waiver is rejected, the applicant must start from the beginning. Having to start over again with the application would cost us more financially and emotionally than the waiver could possibly offer.

At the very least, free bus rides to and from the immigration offices should be made available. At the very least, we should expect our government agencies to take a stand against the widespread societal discrimination against and marginalization of those reliant on public transportation.

But this complaint is a testimonial to the failures of a privatization agenda that has stripped public agencies of staff, adequate services and deliberate decision-making. The enormous fees of these services has left me feeling I am dealing with a private enterprise, but I know that in the context of a flattened public sector the costs are born more and more by private citizens like myself. Paying an arm and a leg just to be in a marriage to a non-US citizen and to have continued access as a married couple to my country of birth causes me much frustration, anger and sadness.

I wish that all citizens demand that our public agencies serve the public and all therein fairly – not just those who fall within chosen categories. The recent immigration policies that fall under the Department of Homeland Security have surely and steadily damaged US citizens and their families, and it is with my personal complaint that I provide a corroborative account of immigration policy failures.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Eyes Wide Shut



Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut offers one of the most radical critiques of society that I have seen in film in a number of years, and like Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1970 Burn!, the film was mainstreamed. Marlon Brando played the main actor in Pontecorvo’s film, and the best known Hollywood couple at the time, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, play the couple of Eyes Wide Shut. And how often do such radical perspectives get mainstreamed?

As Kubrick was expecting, most watched with their Eyes Wide Shut, looking for the thrilling sex scenes, displays of nudity, cultured exchanges. The name of the film was given not just to reflect its characters, who go through life with their eyes wide shut, but the audience as well. The movie and its characters are nothing short of a reflection on us, the audience.

And really, what better way to show not only the ills of society but the interpersonal workings of Empire, then through the backdrop of sex – or rather, tantalizing sexual encounters, uncomfortable sexual spaces, and dehumanizing displays of sexuality?

This film is brilliant and requires hours of review to understand its multiple, overlapping messages. Hence, in offering this review I have relied heavily on the analyses of those who did spend hours upon hours discovering Kubrick’s last work of genius. Specifically, I rely on Rob Ager’s 2007 psychological analysis (which can be found on his website http://www.collativelearning.com) and even more so on Tim Kreider’s excellent sociological review in the Film Quarterly Vol 53, no 3 (found online at http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0096.html).

As both Ager and Kreider point out, the beginning of this film hints to the viewer what to look out for. We see a well-off, good-looking New York couple on their way to a Christmas party. And their character roles are spelled out in their first lines: Bill’s “Have you seen my wallet?” and Alice’s “How do I look?” The first scene is actually of Nicole Kidman’s character stripping naked with her backside to the camera, dropping her black gown to the floor with her black high heels on, to the sound of Shastakovich. Quickly the camera blacks out and the title of the film appears, Eyes Wide Shut. As Kreider argues, this is a clear message to the audience that if you are looking for nudity and sex in this you are not seeing what this is about.

This first scene is one of several messages throughout the film that clearly link Alice to the other female characters in the film. A woman stripping off her black gown, standing naked with her black heels on – this is of course exactly the first shot in the orgy scene at the Somerton mansion: women dropping their black gowns to stand naked with their high heels on. In fact, most of the women in the film are shown naked and all have remarkably similar bodies – light-skinned, thin and tall. Their bodies look like mannequins, rubbery and unreal. And like the prostitute Mandy and the dead prostitute at the morgue, Alice was clearly into self-medicating – getting drunk from champagne at Victor’s party, getting high with her husband from marijuana, smoking alone at home.

And the men? As reviewers have commented, throughout Bill is seen in one money transaction after another. In a span of forty-eight hours he spends hundreds of dollars. And throughout Bill is seen lying to his wife. And it is not just Bill lying, but we have reason to believe of course that Victor is lying at the end. What reviewers failed to catch is the equally ubiquitous scenes of Bill showing his New York State Medical Board Card. He shows his ID to gain access and information, and if anyone knows anything about American society, this is particularly odd in informal settings. The oddness of this gesture is of course revealed in the reactions of the people to whom he shows his ID, and the point Kubrick is trying to make is that Bill is ‘seeking access’ through his social status as materialized in the ID.

The oddness or absurdity of it is that, for all of their wealth and sophistication, Bill and Alice are still members of the vast serving class. Bill is the tragic hero. His perceived status crumbles before our eyes as the thin veil of respectability and glamour of Victor and the elite gang vanishes and reveals itself quickly as a lifestyle of deception, excess and murder.

Kubrick accomplishes this tragedy in part by going to great lengths to make the visual connection between Victor (i.e. the high society of New York) and the secret society at Somerton. The long hallway with the checkered floor, the encounter/greeting at the end of the hallway and the stairs in the background, the Renaissance Bronzes, “to where the rainbow ends,” and on and on.

The distinctions between the serving class and the elite also grow starker as the plot unfolds. In the beginning we know that Bill and Alice are invited to Victor’s grand ball because Bill makes house calls. Then by the end Victor spells out in plain language that Bill is not one of them: He came to the mansion in a taxi and rented a tuxedo from some backdoor alley.

Bill is clearly placed with others in the serving class throughout the film. Not just in the scene in which both he and his college buddy, Nick Nightingale, are “escorted out” of the Somerton Mansion, but also, as Kreider shows in his review, in the house call visit to his patient who just died, Bill enters the luxurious apartment and he and the maid stand in symmetry – both in black and white.

As the plot unfolds we see the limitations of Bill’s access. We see him behind bars at the Rainbow Costume store, but he is able to buy his way in. He is able to get access to the orgy ceremony because his friend gives him the password. But in the end he is thrown out of Somerton and not allowed back in (he stands behind bars again) because he doesn’t know the “other password.” As Victor admits, there isn’t a second password – and that is exactly the point. No matter if you have extra cash or have some friends ‘in the know’ or have professional credentials, there is no password you have to learn or gain access to to become a part of the ruling elite.

As the tragedy unfolds the likes of Victor become more closely aligned with not just a ruling elite, but an imperial elite, as Kreider eloquently points out. The first sign is at the Rainbow store when the store owner’s prostitute daughter whispers into Bill’s ear, “You should have a cloak lined with ermine.” Historically ermine fur was prized and worn by European royalty.



And of course the scene at the Rainbow store segues into the orgy scene at the Somerton Mansion, which is full of old European Imperial imagery – the Moorish palace of Somerton, the masks of the participants, the portraits of royalty flanking the walls. The film after all is an adaptation of Austrian novelist Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story of turn-of-the-century Viennese decadence. However, Kubrick also intended to make the imperial dimensions of wealth and power in our contemporary times more obvious, and perhaps he also wanted to show the continuity of empires.

As the plot progresses and Bill finds himself not only denied entry but faced with threats of violence against himself and his family, Bill’s relationship with others in the serving class is noteworthy as his personal safety and well-being deteriorate. The reviewers didn’t comment on Bill’s relationship with Nick Nightingale. The Nightingale who flies away: the only two conversations between them end abruptly short with Nick’s “gotta go.” We in the serving class indeed have so little time for one another. And in the end we get screwed: Domino the prostitute contracts HIV, not from Bill but from someone like him. Nick disappears when Bill gets caught. Those serving at the orgy escort Bill to “his capture.”

In other words, we are not just screwed but we are complicit. At what appears to be a stab at New York high society is more generally a critique of the professional classes who think of themselves as cultured and ‘above’ the insecurity and moral depravity of the lower classes. Again, Kubrick made pains to show Bill as part of a larger serving class, living in the end just as precariously as the rest.

And of course in the backdrop of Christmas trees and lights, Kubrick offers a harsh criticism of the consumer society. As Agar and Kreider point out, displays on the wall are intended to reflect the reality within. The wall in Victor’s bathroom: the huge portrait of the woman lying naked, and the prostitute lying naked on the couch. The walls of Alice and Bill’s apartment are full of flowers and other objects: to consume. The walls at Somerton are covered in portraits of aristocracy.

The spectacular consumerism of Christmas is the perfect visual backdrop of a film depicting a twisted society. We indeed do not consume without consequence.

At the end of the film, in which Bill and Victor have a ‘heart-to-heart’ in Victor’s billiard, Bill says to Victor sarcastically, “What kind of fuckin’ charade ends with someone turning up dead?!” The pause and the message: In Empire of a capitalist variety “the charade” that is the very foundations of wealth and power does end up with people dead. Literally and figuratively.

Kubrick leaves the plot unsolved and for a reason. Did Nick return home or was he "disappeared" for good? Did Mandy the prostitute die from a drug overdose or was she "sacrificed"? It is like Kubrick is saying, “Really, how much of a difference does it make if someone killed Mandy for political expediency or if she died from a social plague – drug use and abuse?” She is still dead and no one is held responsible.

The charade becomes partially revealed for Bill and Alice. When Bill comes home he turns off the Christmas tree lights and finds his mask on the bed. As Agar argues, this scene shows us that the gloss and glitter of the high life have worn off for Bill, and that the mask he wears in his life has become known to him – and he breaks down.

The charade of harmlessness becomes only partially revealed to them though. In the very last scene at the shopping mall Alice says that essentially they should be grateful to survive. The assumption is that she is referring to their relationship (they are still caught up in their interpersonal drama), but the broader implication is of course they have survived as members of the high society in the peace and security of their personal fiefdoms, exactly because they allow the crimes to be committed and go unpunished. They in the end won’t publicly disclaim the story told.

And when Alice says that what they need to do right away is FUCK, this is not just about them and society drowning away their problems in the pleasure and ecstasy of sex. That is of course part of it. Much more, though, to fuck is to be fucked.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Generosity and Beggary in the Month of Ramadan

Now that Ramadan is over, I briefly reflect on what I experienced. The most vivid impression I have this year is of the juxtaposition of generosity and beggary during the month of Ramadan.

People were even more willing to assist me as a foreigner, even when I did not ask for it. Most of the time I found this charming, occasionally I found it aggravating. “Ya 3m, ana ma talubtsh min’ak ei haga!” (“Yeah Uncle, I did not ask anything from you!”) I found myself wanting to say. “Ana 3arafa. Ana sakana hena.” (“I know. I live here.”) I would say at times in exacerbation.

Most of the time, though, peoples’ extended generosity was welcomed and warmly appreciated. And at times it was sorely needed. The public transit system seemed to change overnight with the start of Ramadan. One night I left downtown late, thinking it would be no problem getting home, only to discover that I was relying on local residents to get home because the way back was surprisingly unclear!

The month of Ramadan is a month of giving. And buying. On the day of Eid the children and teenagers take over the streets and the metro. They play outside in their new clothes, with their new toys. As a sister of a colleague of mine told me on Eid, when I asked her how people felt on Eid as we were heading to her brother’s place, children are happy because they are given new clothes and new toys, and adults are unhappy because they have to buy them. Indeed, Eid is for the young.

Of course as someone who comes from a tradition of commercialized Christmas, I understand well the stress of gift-giving during holiday times.

More than that, with commercialized Eid comes the Wretched of the Earth seeking out a meagre existence. Particularly during the last week of Ramadan, when scores of people went out shopping for Eid gifts, scores of beggars came out onto the streets. Or at least that is how it felt. I don’t think I saw as many beggars during Ramadan as I had seen the entire past year. And so many children.

In my daily routine I rarely see street children or children begging, so when I went to Doqqi, a fairly well-off neighborhood of downtown Cairo, during Ramadan and saw so many street children I was reminded that, yes, according to statistics there are over 1 million street children in Cairo alone. And just the week before, I had found myself trying to convince an Egyptian friend of mine that actually there aren’t that many street children in Egypt. I mean, compared to India or Brazil or war-torn countries. Really, everything is relative. Huh? Say that again, Marion?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Imperial Haze, Part II

In his famous poem Ozymandias, Percy Shelley only got it partly right:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


Shelley shows us the foolishness of man, so limited and so impotent compared to the boundlessness of the sands. So foolishly proud is the emperor. Indeed, just as surely as our own selves will slip away with time will even the mightiest of empires decay.

And what remains is the beauty of the sculptor; the hands that create. The creation outlives the man. The life that remains is in the art.

And oh how commanding is that which remains! Empires may surely fall but not without effect. Their restored remains (and all that is left behind ‘for posterity’s sake’) tell powerful narratives, woo audiences with their beauty and become the centerpieces of made-up histories. The victors may be in a colossal wreck but do not be deceived, dear Shelley, as they continue to write history and wield marked power in our contemporary times.

Of course it is the reconstruction of these remains in roughly the past century and a half, coupled with the written texts left behind by the victors, that has had such an influence on our contemporary reading of the past. The reconstruction and the interpretation have been deeply embedded in processes of memory creation, as the British empire and then new nation states actively tried to create their histories.

I am often reminded of this living in the ‘Land of the Pharaohs’. That is Pharaohs with a capital “P” no less. The imperial time of the Pharaohs has perhaps received unprecedented reconstruction efforts. Even an entire discipline and many sub-disciplines have been created to study this time. An entire nation was granted partial independence (Egypt in the 1920s) in part because of its remains. Millions of people make a living off of its display. An entire national economy is based on the selling of the Pharaonic past.

More than that, people take the ancient past of this place to be the past of the Pharaohs. How often the Pharaohs are conflated with “the ancient Egyptians” is mind boggling. We are bedazzled by the remains: gold, jewelry by the dozen, aesthetic catacombs, hidden chambers. They capture the modern imagination: How could they? How did they? What beauty!

As if all the peoples of this region during this vast time frame had such an elaborate burial, their catacombs stuffed with gold and jewelry and animal protectors!

How frequently I have heard the human past equated with the constructed Pharaonic one is even more disturbing. Such fetishization of the remains leaves the bedazzled in a stupor. The mark of the slave and serving classes is masked by the beauty of the art that remains.

I am perhaps more reminded of the decadence of the ruling classes and the their history in the making when I leave or come back to my home in Cairo. Most ways pass by the Citadel with the Mohamed Ali Mosque jutting out into the skyline. When I am making my long way home, I get dropped off in a dust and smoke filled field of cement. Its night and its dark. I walk along beside an overpass and next to a wall (probably from the same period as the mosque), making my way to the transportation hub in Sayeda Aisha to catch my next micro-bus. And there above me, on top of the hill, shining above like a full moon, is the lit Mohamed Ali Mosque. It takes my breath away almost every time. Amidst such grime, such coldness, there is this stunning beauty lighting up the sky.

Cough.

Well, that is precisely what Mohamed Ali was aiming for. He didn’t create the Mosque for God and then name it after himself. He was the man who ripped thousands of farmers from their land, enslaved them in his army and then denied them a proper burial; forced thousands of other farmers to cultivate cotton; gave land and favors to his political allies; and the list of atrocities under his reign goes on. He was the man who reaped injustice in this land – and as the historian Khaled Fahmy argues, for the sake of him and his family.

But in that haze of nation building and national history creation, Mohamed Ali became the founder of modern Egypt (which had something to do with the mosque and other remains left behind). And now the grand Mosque is a major destination in Cairo, not just for tourists but for school children. It is with awe that they look upon “his creation” and in that awe the history is told as if he himself was telling it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Imperial Gaze

“As for the rest of the category which cultivated
no sciences, they are more like animals than human beings.
Those of them who live deep in the north – between the
end of the seven climates and the confines of the habitable
world – have been so affected by the extreme distance
from the sun from the Zenith above their hands, resulting
in cold climate and thick atmosphere, that their temperaments
have become chilly and their humors rude. Consequently their
bodies are huge, their color is pale and their hair long.
For the same reason they lack keenness in intelligence and
perspicacity, are characterized by ignorance and stupidity.
Folly and blindness prevail among them as among Slavs, Bulgars,
and other neighboring peoples.”

From an 11th century Arab writer, writing at the height of the Muslim Empire, gazing down upon those other peoples in the North. That is, in present-day Northern Europe.
(Said al-Andalusi, Kitab Tabaqat al-Uman, taken from Szyliowicz’s 1973 Education and modernization in the Middle East)

A thousand years earlier, in present-day Britain, the Roman Pro-Council Agricola looks upon a map of the Empire’s newly conquered (and yet to be conquered) northern territories with one of his advisors. Agricola points to the map in the direction of the island of Ireland.

Agricola: Do we occupy it?

His advisor: No, we don’t. It is not worth occupying. The people are primitive. There are marshlands. We sent people to scout it out. Really, it is not worth occupying.

Agricola: I think this is where you are wrong, because an unoccupied land gives ideas to people who live in occupied lands.

(Tacitus’s account from his biography of Agricola, taken from Tariq Ali’s 2003 “War, Empire and Resistance” lecture at UC Berkeley, available in full at google video)

As Tariq Ali reminds us, up until the 18th century most wars were fought by empires or between empires. Empires self-sustain and self-destruct themselves, conquering newer lands to, as Agricola would put it, avoid giving ideas to those already occupied.

From the seat of Empire one gazes upon the others with feelings of superiority, and from the periphery intense rivalries wage between newly demarcated groups of conquered peoples.

Empires make wars, conquer lands and are governed by intense processes of othering. The others, even the most ‘backward’ of the lot, are forced within to play a role in a hierarchical system from center to periphery.

The intense hierarchies of our time are indeed not timeless, even though they may feel so. They are certainly not part of some amorphous “human nature.” Even if, as I heard argued recently, the Pharaoh’s show us a preferential system for lighter-skinned females! More than anything, the racism and marked inequalities of our times reflect the sickness and self-destructiveness of empire building.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Al Khouf

video

This is a Moroccan hip hop song about fear. Released in 2006. Brilliant. Bigg, the singer, has since been playing songs about gang rivalries and showing videos of him driving around in fancy cars. But this song still shows what hip hop can offer. Thanks to my husband for the translation :)

FEAR Refrain: Noooo more FEAR Your heads up free Moroccans and say no more fear!
Throw your hands up those who have no fear in their hearts!
I’m afraid of the cop, I’m afraid of the municipality and I’m afraid of those who have money.
You are afraid of everything but you have no fear from Allah.

Bigg:
There is someone who fears a cop.
There is someone who is afraid of the municipality.
There is someone who fears “lamqdam” (assistant of the local governor).
And there is someone who has immunity.
There are those among you who are afraid of me.
There are those among you who are afraid about me.
There are those who were arrested unjustly.
There are those who bombed themselves.
There are those who represent a party.
There are those represent themselves.
There are those who just act in front of the people.
There are those who clean their molars (refers to rich people who clean their teeth after having a big a meal).
There are those who have stolen the money of remote towns.
There are those who denied that they have robbed public money.
There are those who curse girls in their CDs, and forgot that they themselves insult God.
There are those who follow my words.
There are those who are worried about me because of what I say.
There are those who died in front of my eyes.
There are those who killed and got away with it.
There are those who govern unjustly because they belong to the elite.
There are those who govern unjustly and their friends have been oppressed in the media.
There are those who gain a billion and can’t give away one Dirham.
There are those who make one Dirham that gives them a headache.
There are those steal public funds and they sound like beggars.
There is the journalist who writes in ' Telquel' and was arrested. (Telquel is a progressive Moroccan magazine that has been struggling against censorship laws in Morocco)
Brother journalist, we are with you.

Refrain: Fearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
There are those who are afraid of a cop.
There are those who are afraid of the municipality.
There are those who shake in front of them.
There are those who curse God.
There are those who understand their circumstances.
There are those who feel their concerns.
There is the taxi driver who smokes cigar in front of them.
There are those who were arrested.
There are those whose minds are clean and those whose minds are dirty.
There are those like me, holding on to a microphone.

All young men don’t vote on the day of elections.
Everyone steals their money. Everyone steals our money.
And gossip is circulating around.
Someone has slaughtered a bull. (During elections season, rich candidates throw lavish parties and invite those are eligible to vote).
Someone has slaughtered a cow.
What about those who have slaughtered us???????? Ohhhhh ohhhhh this year there is no money to create more jobs.
Ohhhhh ohhhhh you have stolen the money of this country.

Refrain:
Take my first finger, the second too, the third is up and you know where the fourth is.
If we follow what they say, they are going to close our mouths.
They are going to close your mouths.
Development, development, human development...half of the wealth is for you and the other half is for me.
Underground hip-hop until death.
I love my country.
Are you ashamed of sharing wealth and power?
I don’t want you to be afraid since you have done nothing wrong.
Fear has been planted within us by our grandfathers and it grows up within us.
We must stop being afraid.
We have to stop being slaves of money.
I’m a Moroccan with hot blood in my veins.
I’m ready to kill all those who steal our money.

Refrain:
2006 my brother, the sun goes down...goes down in death. We don’t need those who don’t wish good for us.
Hey! brother, a real Moroccan is with you.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Press TV

I wonder if one can disown the Left of one’s own country?…uh, but wait a second, I am an American and there is no Left from which to disown myself. Ouch.

You may be wondering if decades ago they were killed off and imprisoned and tortured as they were in Morocco, Argentina, Indonesia…hmm…not exactly. Months ago, at around the time of the US presidential elections, I tried to explain to a Moroccan friend why the elections were an extravaganza, a spectacular show, with Obama a mere character of the showmasters. And he asked me, “But where is the Left?” I stumbled, in Arabic and in dismay. Ah, well, you see, uh, there really isn’t a democratic system and people have two options and not really and the corporate media is dominant and people want to believe their nation isn’t racist and there is trauma and demonization of Bush and, well, uh…

And for a moment I felt so alone.


When we found Press TV on our tely, I was intrigued. Another picking from the measly English news channels BBC, Aljazeera, CNN. When my mind is strained from trying to comprehend OTV and Mehwar and other 3mmeya-based channels, I turn to see what is being fed that day in the mainstream. Moving on quickly enough I then stop on Press TV.

One of the first programs I watched on Press TV was a brilliant documentary on peasants struggling against landlords and for land reform in the Philippines. I later found there are programs run by George Galloway, Yvonne Ridley and Tariq Ramadan, all personalities with whom I am familiar.

I was even more intrigued when we discovered that the channel was Iranian and funded by the Iranian government. And even more intriguing that it is mired in controversy! Press TV has been criticized for being anti-semitic, biased, a handler for the Iranian government. The list goes on.

And quickly enough I have grown bored. Maybe that is because when I turn to watch it more often than not I happen to turn to the program “The American Dream” (by timing not interest, of course). And the Americans on this program and most of the other news/social commentary programs I have seen seem to be, well, if not straight from the mainstream, then the non-left Left.

To illustrate this point, a week or so ago the show was devoted to the current US imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The discussion being devoted mostly to the military logistics of the war. One of the guest call-ins, a publisher, presented herself as a peace activist, against both wars, and said with exacerbation something like, “The Afghanistan War is going to be Obama’s Vietnam. And that is really sad for Obama.”

Huh, say it again? You are sad about the war for Obama’s sake? How about being outraged about a war that has killed thousands, has disrupted the lives of thousands, disturbed thousands of villages, violently carved out an eco-landscape, destabilized a region – and will continue to do so?

About a week ago on another program based in Beirut (perhaps “Middle East Today”), the program was devoted to Palestine-Israel under the Obama administration and the guest speaker was an American journalist based in Beirut. The guest speaker acknowledged that any improvement in relations, any steps toward a two-state solution, look bleak. The Israeli government under Netanyahu is not going to make the concessions it needs to. The Press TV correspondent asks him about the Obama Administration. The American journalist responds that the administration perhaps made a mistake by focusing on Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as this issue is not that important to Israelis. (And on and on.) But really given how much Obama has on his hands, he is doing what he can. You know, he really has his hands full –

yeah, and we know of what.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hope, denial and collective amnesia

Perhaps this is an outdated scandal by now. It has been a month since the heart of the FIFA Confederations Cup and in the midst of that drama brewed a scandal: Egypt’s football team players, a group of lady prostitutes and thousands of stolen dollars. At a press conference the morning after the thunderous victory of Egypt over Italy Egyptian team players were questioned about a South African police report that was purportedly filed by the Egyptian players themselves, claiming that a group of prostitutes stole thousands of dollars from their rooms the night before. No comments were made.

The next day, following a sorry loss to the US, the Egyptian press got hold of the story and were fuming. Soon enough the news spread throughout Egypt. The Egyptian coach and team players of course denied the accusations that they were partying all night in the midst of the tournament. They are good Muslims after all.

Too bad for the Egyptian team that that same night the Brazilian players had also been robbed by a group of prostitutes and had filed a complaint with the South African police. For a second I delighted in the fact that women had stolen the spotlight, if only briefly, in the midst of this football mania, this spectacular show of manly manliness. But then again, I quickly realized, the women had entered the stage through the “back door”, ei ah la.

When I talked to a group of Egyptian friends about this, they were a bit frustrated with the journalists who were making very loud noise about it. Plus, it couldn’t be true. Not likely the Egyptian team would be so stupid as to be partying right before an important match in the semi-finals. If only it were unbelievable for those with some public authority, bestowed with public trust – and funded (at least partly) by the public, – to be acting irresponsibly!

This scandal of decadence (did anyone ask why they would be holding thousands of dollars in their hotel rooms, anyway?!) and disregard for the public (it is difficult to claim national football teams as ‘national’, anyway) seemed so fitting in this age of massive private wealth accumulation and an elite global class gone mad. At least for me as an American this scandal – and the simultaneous societal outrage and denial it provoked – reminds me of the hope of Obama mania. And the overwhelming collective amnesia built around it.

Obama did not have much of a background at the federal level to substantiate his proclamations during the presidential election campaign, but surely he had an enduring presence and eloquent speech to back them up (cough...). Well, in fact, more than that: Obama’s minimal record in the US Senate actually sufficiently refuted his campaign promises. I will give two simple examples.

There was hope that Obama and his administration really would take an anti-war stance. Obama boldly declared he was against the war in Iraq, and there was a collective will to believe this declaration, even though he was not even in the Senate when the initial US attack on Iraq was launched. Further, one would not have to look very far to confirm that during his short term in the Senate he actually did vote for the continuation of the occupation as he consistently approved the budget for military appropriations. And now there is still hope that the Obama administration’s escalation of war in Afghanistan will lead to a quick resolution (on US terms, of course) and that the US military really will leave Iraq soon. Really, the Obama administration must be outmaneuvered by the Pentagon guys!

On the campaign trail Obama took a hard stance against the public-private revolving door: There will be no lobbyists in my administration, he declared! This was a particularly outrageous promise in that at that very moment he was receiving millions of dollars worth of contributions from Wall Street firms. And again, just a couple years before, in 2005 while in the Senate, in one of the few votes against his fellow Democrats (Clinton, Kerry and the gang) Obama voted in favor of the passage of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, under which “citizens are denied the right to use their own state courts to bring class actions against corporations that violate these state wage and hour and state civil rights laws, even where that corporation has hundreds of employees in that state..” (from Pam Martens’s 2008 ZNet article on “Obama’s Money Cartel”).

And of course months into the Obama administration and after the appointment of cabinet and department heads, the public-private revolving door keeps revolving. As Matt Taibbi points out in his new Rolling Stone article “The Great American Bubble Machine,” about the entrenchment of Goldman Sachs in the US political and economic infrastructure, a month into office Obama appointed Mark Paterson as number two in the Treasury, who had been a year earlier one of the head Goldman Sachs lobbyists. The list of financial heads in key government posts is long, as is the history of the ‘revolving door’. (Full access to Taibbi's article is available on Rolling Stone's website. You can also check out a series of interviews of Taibbi on the BreakRoom through youtube. And of course Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine documents this history that dates back long before the Bush administration.)

And the hope in the Obama administration seems to continue with all the declarations of the “hard road” ahead for Obama, his need to rethink, he needing to be pushed, his smarts.

Grasping for reasons to hope. And denial, plain and simple. Just about any kind of change would have passed through the collective amnesia in the US that Bush did not act alone. Not even did his administration act alone. And surely the blatant imperial stances and policies of the fear-ridden Bush years were not such a departure from the history of US imperialism.

Continued denial will only perpetuate elite excesses, gross injustices and bad policies. Nor will growing cynicism help. But surely what can help is a hard look and open/public confrontation like the journalists and commentators gave here by not letting the football team just get away with it. And like all of us who try to remain vigilant and speak truth to power.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Footballing the Gods

These past couple weeks have been at face a religious firestorm. This past week riots and ongoing violence has erupted in China between the minority Muslim Uighur community and the state security forces, leaving more than 150 dead (according to latest reports). A week before last a Muslim woman was stabbed to death in a hate-inspired attack in Germany.

This violence and the slew of similar violent incidents against religious-ethnic minorities and between religious-ethnic groups have marked this era with a steady stream of blood and tears. And oddly what compels me to write this entry is that this particular outburst in violence has occurred at an apex in the season of football (aka "soccer" for the American reader) – and a quite "religious" season at that. The FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 in South Africa just ended and the world of football is in the throes of trials for the cups of nations – the continents cups, the World Cup 2010.

Throughout the Confederations Cup players were seen entering and leaving the field while signing the cross in prayer. After scoring a goal the Egyptian members bowed down with their foreheads to the field, as if in prayer. When Brazil won the Final, the 'most expensive' of all footballers in the world – Kaka – threw off his jersey to reveal a "I belong to Jesus" undershirt. Several of his teammates displayed their "I love Jesus" undershirts. And when the Brazilian team members huddled together to take the cup, the player positioned to take it and raise it above, strapped his "I love Jesus" shirt to his waist for the final picture of victory – and for the entire world to see.

But surely I can not be suggesting that the religious paraphernalia and general goodwill on the football field has anything to do with the killing and persecution of a religious-ethnic minority group in China?! The fact that such violence immediately followed the Confederations Cup must be coincidental!

Well, what happened during the Confederations Cup has drawn some attention. Some. And the debate generated generally concerns whether team members should make evident their religions. Denmark Football Federation Secretary-General Jim Stjerne Hansen has apparently pointed out that such religious displays violate FIFA's rules of engagement.

It would be a good course of action to enforce the rules and bar such religious ceremonies and paraphernalia, but by limiting the debate to an issue of religious expression (and its limits in public spaces) we fail to see that such open religiosity on the football field is not merely a matter of displaying one's identity or even taking an opportunity to propagate one's beliefs. Rather, it is testament to the predominance of a particular type of religiosity. Religions as organizations of membership and reward. If you belong to Jesus too, you could be like Kaka. And if you cant be like Kaka, you are at least still a winner because Kaka, like you, is on the side of God. Those who love Jesus turn out on top.

The intimacy between religion and sport reflects the tide of us-versus-them religiosity. Of course during the Confederations Cup it was not just footballers sporting their religion, but fans were shown praying, pleading, with their gods to be on the side of their team. Here in Egypt talk of football is very wrapped up in the will of Allah. When Egypt won a match against Italy, the streets of Cairo were lit with excitement and supporters were interviewed by television reporters praising Allah for the victory. The victory against the football giant Italy was sure evidence that God is on their side.

And what if your team loses? Is God no longer on your side? One of the great Egyptian intellectuals of the 20th century, Farag Foda, bemoaned the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt in the 1980s and once lamented the raising of the Quran (instead of the trophy) by a basketball captain and argued that the Quran is not a flag or banner to be waved. Foda was later assassinated for his harsh criticism of rising fundamentalism.

Since Farag Foda's death there has not been a public intellectual as critical of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt. A reason is that not only has the rise of fundamentalism been on a steady upward trajectory since his time, but in many ways it has become mainstreamed into religious discourse. In a recent article on "The rotten-state of Egypt," Robert Fisk sharply criticizes the new religious façade (of appearances determining one's religious devotion) and its implications in deep societal corruption. What was once a rising trend Farag Foda commented on has now become the main face of religiosity in Egypt.

Religiosities of personal commitment, devotion, contemplation, love and compassion, commitment to justice are being sufficiently overwhelmed by a type of religiosity that is exclusionary, self-congratulatory and competitive. And indeed what other religious trends might we expect in such a competitive world – and one between very unequal players? Perhaps the world of football is one of the few competitive realms in which Egypt can beat Italy, Brazil can be the champion of the world and the little ones have a shot to go to the World Cup. Yet again, commercialization of football as of life has led to very definite and often predictable winners and losers. If God is on your side, it doesn’t matter how much you lose.