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Insight into the Middle East Uprisings

AAA member, Dr. William Beeman provides background and insight into the current uprisings in the Middle East during two-part interview with Access Minnesota. The interview was taped prior to the Libyan uprising.

Part I:

Part II:

“I Saw God in Tahrir”

We welcome a third post by guest blogger Yasmin Moll. Yasmin shares additional insight from Cairo, Egypt. Thank you Yasmin!

Many commentators both inside and outside Egypt have focused on the anticipated role of the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-Mubarak Egypt. In many of these analyses, the Brotherhood is used as a metonym for the projected role of Islam in the public sphere. However, while the Brotherhood will certainly play a formative role in post-revolutionary politics and governance in Egypt, it does not have a monopoly on Islamic discourse in the country. 

Other important Islamic actors are Islamic televangelists, the most famous being Amr Khaled. Banned from preaching in Egypt in 2002, Amr Khaled has over the past decade utilized private Islamic satellite channels and cyberspace as platforms to connect with millions of Muslim youth in Egypt and beyond. According to the BBC  “his television shows get more viewers than Oprah Winfrey, his videos have racked up 26m hits on YouTube, and he boasts two million fans on Facebook.”

Indeed, self-described moderate Islamic televangelists (al-duaa al-mutawasitoon) like Amr Khaled, Mustafa Hosni and Moez Masoud enjoy a popularity and credibility with ordinary Muslim youth in Egypt that is hard to match.  While the official religious establishment of Al-Azhar shied away from supporting protesters in Tahrir and elsewhere on the eve of the January 25th Revolution, many of Egypt’s most prominent televangelists were vocal in their support of thawrat al-shabab (the youth revolution). And throughout the uprising and after, their catchwords have been tolerance (tasamuh) and co-existence (ta’ayush).

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Sacrifice and the Ripple Effect of Tunisian Self-immolation

We welcome a guest column by AAA member Sami Hermez (PhD, Princeton University). Sami is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Lebanese Studies at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford.

I was in Lebanon when the Tunisian revolt began.  I attended an event with activists that made me feel hopeful because it was the first time that a large group of people came to rally behind a cause that was not Palestinian or Lebanese.  Soon after, I was in Oxford when Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was deposed, and when the Egyptian revolts broke out days later on January 25, 2011.  Tens of thousands of people took to the streets that day, in what was seen as an unprecedented act in Egypt.  Since then, people in Egypt have inspired me, and I have been left in awe and disbelief that President Hosni Mubarak has been toppled and his regime left in decay.  The revolts in Egypt and Tunisia left over 500 dead and thousands injured.  It is these people’s sacrifices that I want to reflect on, and on their ability to sacrifice themselves for change, a powerful phenomenon that no regime could ever take away from its people.

Few deny the inspiration of the Tunisian revolts on the Egyptian scene.  By most accounts, the Tunisian revolution was triggered on December 17, 2010 when Muhammad Bouazizi, a fruit seller from the town of Sidi Salah, set fire to himself after being banned by police from selling his vegetables and then being humiliated.  Reports of his humiliation claim that a female police officer cursed and slapped him, and that after his complaints to the local Governor were dismissed, and within an hour of his humiliation, he lit himself on fire.  These details may prove to be a lie, but they have already taken on the value of myth, and become the subject of songs, as this self-immolation is said to have sparked protests in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid that grew, day-by-day, and culminated in the eventual overthrow of the Tunisian president on January 14, 2011

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Egypt Rises…and Triumphs

Banner in Tahrir Square saying "The People's Revolution: We won't let go of our rights after today." Photo courtesy Yasmin Moll

This post is written by guest blogger Yasmin Moll. Yasmin shares an update from Cairo, Egypt. Her first blog post appeared on February 8, 2011. Thank you Yasmin!

After 30 years of autocratic rule, Mubarak stepped down today. The announcement came around 6 pm Cairo time. I had just finished giving an interview to a documentary filmmaker where I expressed great fear that Mubarak will continue to defy the demands of millions of Egyptians and cling to power. I have never been so happy to be so wrong.

Today is not just Egypt’s day—today is for all people living under despotic regimes and yearning to be free, especially in the Middle East. First the Tunisians and now the Egyptians have shown them that what just a little over a month ago seemed impossible is possible.

Indeed, February 11, 2011 will go down in history not so much as the day Mubarak’s rule crumbled, but as the day the will of ordinary citizens triumphed. And contrary to the expectations of many, they triumphed not through violent upheaval, but through peaceful protest.

Tomorrow Egyptians will face some tough question marks about the future. But tonight we celebrate.

We Are All Egyptian

Today’s post is written by guest blogger Yasmin Moll. Yasmin, an AAA member, is the Anthropology News Contributing Editor for the Middle East Section (MES). Currently, she is conducting dissertation fieldwork in Cairo, Egypt. More of her images can be found on AN’s Flickr Photostream. Thank you Yasmin!

Tahrir Square, Feb 1, 2011. Image courtesy Yasmin Moll

There are tens of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir today. And there are millions of Egyptians who are not.

If we believe some international media outlets and domestic opposition papers, these two groups make up two distinct camps: those for democracy and those for Mubarak. And if we believe the Egyptian government media, the dividing line is between trouble-making youths allied with “foreign agents” and law-abiding citizens.

From the vantage point of those of us in Cairo, however, the picture is much more complex, fluid and messy.  And simplifying it for the sake of a sexy story or a catchy headline risks marginalizing the many Egyptians from all classes and backgrounds whose political stances don’t fit neatly into one or the other of these categories.

Tahrir Square, Feb 5, 2011. Image courtesy Yasmin Moll

Take my friend Mansour. On January 28 I attended with him the protest downtown after Friday prayer. Marching peacefully along with hundreds of others up Kasr Al-Aini street, we were met with a volley of tear-gas fired by the central security police blocking access to Tahrir Square. Summoning up all the courage we could muster, we surged forward with the crowd chanting “the people want the demise of the regime” (al-shaab yureed isqaat al-nizaam). Eventually both the police tear-gas and our own fear got so bad that we took cover in a building along the street, hiding with dozens of others until the police had passed on so we could go home.

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Special Edition Post – AAA Signs Statement of Support of Egypt

In conjunction with the Archaeological Institute of America, AAA signs Statement of Support for Egypt. This statement shares its concern for the Egyptian people and the loss of cultural heritage that Egypt has sustained and the threat of further losses. AAA pleads for Egyptian authorities to utilize their authority to protect their country’s irreplaceable cultural heritage and calls US and EU law enforcement to take action on the appearance of looted Egyptian antiquities at their borders. Read statement.

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