The Wings of Beirut


Beirut has one of the most open, rich, and cutting edge arts scene in the Middle East. Cosmopolitan and relatively liberated for the region–many look to them for inspiration in their mediums. Here’s a fabulous site by Lebanese musician Zeid Hamdan. Killer stuff.

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Strikes have erupted at the Egyptian Iron & Steel Company (EISCO). Beginning on Saturday with a few protestors the number has allegedly grown to 11,000 employees of the state-owned plant in Helwan, near Cairo. EISCO is a publicly listed company that fabricates iron and steel products as well as operating mines that employs over 13,000 workers. The employees are angry at what they see as a denial of their portion of the company’s profit-sharing. According to labor leader Ibrahim Selim, workers are usually blamed for monetary losses, and during this year’s budgetary meeting were angered over the restatement of their CEO, and only the release of losses reportage -a move to excuse budgetary cuts. This is not the first time workers have attempted to draw attention to their treatment. Protests in April of this year spanned the Suez to Cairo and included textile, postal, and public hospitals. Public discontent with the regime has been slowly burning as the Sisi’s administration has been undertaking large-scale, national projects like the enlargement of the Suez Canal. While cutting food and fuel subsidies-the public have seen no concessions from the elites, or a reshuffle of financial policy. It remains to be seen if this strike will dissipate or be broken up as they have been before (with the most rebellious workers sent to mines or other more dangerous jobs as punishment).

Modern(ist) Iran


Iran is known as a conservative country. What is not always evident, however, is the ingenuity, modernity, and beauty of their artistic community. Helped by the power of social media, Iranian artists have literally gone underground to hone, refine, and simply practice their art. Strangely, the same can be said about perceptions of Iranian society in the West. Any acknowledgement, debate, or fluency regarding modern Iranian culture finds itself “culturally underground” in the States. With most discussion about Iran devoted to the changing dynamics between Washington and Tehran, and their state-implemented religiosity. What is lost is the acknowledgment of a rich, complex, and sophisticated culture. Encouragingly, things are afoot. Iran has been visible in everything from Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel and film, Persepolis; to Ben Affleck’s “Argo”; to Jon Stewart’s new film, “Rosewater”.  NYU’s Grey Art Gallery held a highly-lauded exhibit last year that explored Iranian Modernism, this follows NYU’s successful run of ‘Between Word and Image: Modern Iranian Visual Culture’. Perhaps expression can do what governments have not been able to: unite through the seeking of expression and communication.

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The “Treason” of Khaled Abol Naga

Khaled Abol Naga

I was in Egypt researching artists this summer. One day I went to a small eatery near my apartment and almost walked into a wall. There, sitting by a window, having lunch alone, was Egyptian actor Khaled Abol Naga. I sat near him (the place was puny) and mulled going over and introducing myself. I completely chickened out, and he left. And yes, I got a nice ribbing from friends over my cowardice. Abol Naga is part of a new-wave of young Egyptian actors, directors, and producers. He, along with Amr Waked, were visible and supportive parts go the January 2011 uprising. Recently however the actor has become embroiled with charges of treason. The accusation, by a lawyer, stems from a comment Abol Naga made during an interview with reporters at the Cairo International Film Festival. Speaking about the performance of Egyptian President Sisi, in a video, Abol Naga states, “You are not even facing an intelligent enemy. You are facing those pseudo-Islamists; they are the stupidest we have ever seen in our lives. It is bizarre, there is nothing they do that does not make people hate them. And you cannot do your job?” After suffering an onslaught of vitriol in the press, he has hired a lawyer to fight the charges. Criticizing the Egyptian government is quite literally, an act that invites mayhem and danger. Especially in the outright manner that Abol Naga has expressed. The court case is sure to be an incredibly tense situation. I thought back to the day at the cafe, and hope there will be another opportunity to shake Khaled Abol Naga’s hand.

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This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Drum Circle


“World Music” was a term that used to call to mind CD covers with lions on the sehrengetti, exotic-isized kohl-rimmed eyes, or worse, Yanni. Listeners who espoused the genre were middle-aged, upper-class white people who took belly-dancing lessons to rekindle that middle-of-the-road-marital-spark; wore unholy amounts of patchouli; used saris and kiffayehs as accessories they bought from this amazing little stoooooorrrreee along with the designer clothes probably made at a sweat shop in the same country. That’s been changing, and with the proliferation of globalization comes the facilitation of collaboration. Here’s a really neat diddy by an Indian singer, British Beat Boxer, and DJ.

This is the new sound.

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Meet the New Egypt/Same As The Old Egypt


Times Square looked a little different on September 24th. Next to billboards brandishing French It-model Cara Delevinge’s brooding gaze were blaring, digitized images of the Giza Pyramids and the Suez Canal. Financed by young Steel Magnate Ahmad Abou Hashima, and created by the Ministry of Tourism, the new PR thrust is meant to help a lagging tourism sector that has been in an almost perpetual disarray since the 2011 Uprisings. This also coincided with President Sisi’s visit to the UN, and meeting with US President Barak Obama. During his UN address, Sisi stated that  “our aim is to to build a new Egypt”; one that enshrines “rights and freedoms”; and “ensures the coexistence of its citizens without exclusion or discrimination”.

This does not square with the events of the Rabaa Masssacre, where over 1000 people were killed by police and security personnel, as well as the over 41,000 people, mostly social, labour, or political activists, have been jailed since the June 30th ouster of Mohammed Morsi. Moreover, this past Saturday, saw news that social activist, and sister of political activist and blogger Abdel And El Fattah, Sanna Seif was sentenced to three years in prison along with 22 other political and social activists. To say the that what is left of the revolutionary youth and activist circles is devastating is an understatement. Sanna had been arrested for violating Egypt’s Protest Law, in order to highlight the imprisonment of her brother (who was subsequently freed having been repeatedly jailed for his political actions). The family has also suffered another grave loss with the death of their father, renowned human rights’ lawyer and former state prisoner and torture victim Ahmed Seif. As the new Cabinet can attest that while the median age of an Egyptian is 25, the state continues to be run by the generation of their parents and grandparents. Replete with their ideas of law enforcement, censorship, and economics.The Youth are being squeezed as never before, without any meaningful representation and lacking the political and creative outlets to air their grievances and express their will-this is truly a dark time in Egypt’s long history. May Allah be with them.

Iran… So Far Away?


Few countries boast the size, history, culture, and mystery of Iran. Most Americans have relatively little knowledge of Persian or Iranian history, which is compounded by the diplomatic rift that has existed between Tehran and Washington since Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution. This is truly unfortunate, as the western media tends to (and not without truth) report on the human rights atrocities committed by the Iranian justice system. What is missing however, is also a nuanced understanding of the country as a whole and how it participates in the world today. Two stories this week seem to highlight this duality. The first is one of tragedy and brutality. The execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari by hanging occurred at dawn on Saturday morning. After a final visit with her mother, Ms. Jabbari was executed in the confines of the infamous Evin Prison; for the alleged murder of a man who had attempted to rape her. A man who was also linked to the state security apparatus. Iran’s record on human rights’ violations are extensive. Whether the jailing and maltreatment of political and social activists; the harsh punishments for drug-related offenses, or those unlawfully held-or disappeared; Iran is regularly cited as one of the most extreme Islamic states. However, most Americans don’t know that the United States would technically be barred from EU membership, if it sought it, because it still possesses the death penalty in many states. And that during the governorship of George W. Bush, Texas’ executions of the mentally-ill was only second to Kazakhstan. Further, Iran’s bellicose stance toward the United States is routinely cited as part of their portrait as extremists, yet the country is surrounded by (literally) multitudes of American intelligence and forward operating bases (to say nothing of black sites). To illustrate this, I found this handy map:

Boy…wonder how those “homeland-security-build-the-fence-send-them-illeagals-back” peeps would feel about Canada and Mexico being awash with Iranian military installations. If the US’ response to 9/11 is any testament, I think it’s safe to say the only thing that would be left on planet Earth are cockroaches, cheez whiz, and Cher.

Despite the atrocities committed by the Iranian government against its own people, other forces are at work. Iran is and has legislation that implements everything from organ donations, family planning, transgender surgery, drug rehabs, and stem-cell research. While many of these debates remain hot-button issues in the United States, Iran has been implementing at the behest of their Supreme Religious Council.

As the march of IS further brings the Us and Iran closer over a common enemy, it will be interesting to see if the States will reconsider their official stance. Perhaps there may be a way to further encourage certain tracks by lifting the sanctions. Tragically, for people like Reyhaneh that day is already rendered meaningless.

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