Tuesday, February 28, 2012

wael ghonim's book 'revolution 2.0'

Wael Ghonim's book “Revolution 2.0”: chronicle of a personal and political odyssey in the social media era
Susannah Tarbush

an Arabic version of this article appeared in Al-Hayat 25 February 2012:

وائل غنيم في كتابه «الثورة 2.0»: مسلم ملتزم متفائل بالأكثرية التي ستحكم مصر

One year on from the January 25 2011 revolution in Egypt, Wael Ghonim – the 31-year-old Google executive who became in the eyes of people worldwide the “face of the Egyptian revolution” – has been touring the UK and USA to promote his book “Revolution 2.0”. The book’s subtitle is: “The Power of the People is greater than the People in Power“.

The book is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the USA and by Fourth Estate (an imprint of Harper Collins) in the UK. Ghonim is currently on leave from Google to launch a non-governmental organisation supporting education and technology in Egypt. The proceeds from his book are going to this organisation.

Ghonim’s book and tour have generated much interest and enthusiasm. Ghonim received extensive media coverage, and was warmly received by packed-out audiences at his many public appearances and booksignings in London and in cities across the US. He came across as an engaging, thoughtful personality, humorous and highly intelligent.

Over the past year Ghonim’s role in helping to spark the revolution has brought him international praise and recognition. Time magazine put him in first place on its 2011 list of the world’s 100 most influential people. Arabian Business ranked him 2nd on its list of the world’s 500 most influential Arabs in the world.

The international awards made to Ghonim include the JFK Profile in Courage Award, presented to him last May by Caroline Kennedy daughter of the late president John F Kennedy. He received it in the name of the people of Egypt.

But throughout his tour Ghonim was modest about his role in a “leaderless” revolution. He writes in his book:”I utterly refuse to be labelled as a hero or take credit for igniting the revolution. I was no more than a guy with some marketing experience who started a Facebook page that snowballed into something greater than any of its thousands of contributors.”

Ghonim first leapt to worldwide fame after he was kidnapped by State Security agents in Cairo on the night of 27 Jan 2011 and disappeared for 11 days. In captivity he was kept permanently blindfolded and was interrogated by State Security officers who, he recounts in his book, accused him among other things of being a CIA agent.

Google issued advertisements saying Ghonim, its head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, had gone missing and asking for information on his whereabouts. A cry rang out around the world – Where is Wael Ghonim?

During Ghonim’s detention it was revealed that he was the hitherto anonymous founder and administrator of the highly influential Facebook page “Kullena Khaled Said” [ie “We Are All Khaled Said”]. Ghonim set up the page in June 2010 after seeing a gruesome photograph on the internet of the injured face of Khaled Said who had been beaten to death in Alexandria by two security agents.

Ghonim wept when he saw the photograph. “For me Khalid Said’s image offered a terrible symbol of Egypt’s condition. I could not stand by passively in the face of such grave injustice. I decided to employ all my skills and experience to demand justice for Khaled Said and to help expose his story to vigorous public debate.”

Ghonim had done a Masters in Business Administration at the American University in Cairo. This course was crucial for him: “Learning the science behind marketing was key to my career progress, and later on was vital to my online activism.”

He used his marketing skills to develop the “Kullena Khaled Said” page and to mobilise people to protest. On its first day 36,000 people joined the page, and to help him cope with the volume of activity he asked his trusted friend AbdelRahman Mansour to be the second administrator. Ghonim wrote his postings on the site in the first person “I”, but used only the name “administrator” rather than his own name. The tone of his postings was consistently non-violent. Among the novel ways of demonstrating pioneered by “Kullena Khaled Said” was the series of Silent Stands in which people were asked to dress in black, bring copies of the Quran or Bible, and stand in city streets silence in a human chain.

Ghonim announced on “Kullena Khaled Said” that there should be an event on January 25 2011 to mark National Police Day. On January 14 Ben Ali departed Tunisia and “I started to believe that we could be the second Arab nation to rid itself of its dictator”. For the first time Ghonim used the word “Revolution” on the page, declaring “January 25: Revolution against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment.”

He started rallying people by appealing to organised groups such as the “ultras” soccer fans and by working with other activists such as those from the April 6 Movement. He was living and working for Google in Dubai, but flew back to Egypt on January 24 to take part in the January 25 demonstrations.

On his release from captivity on February 7 2010 Ghonim made a memorable and emotional appearance on the popular satellite channel Dream TV. He insisted to the interviewer Mona al-Shazly that he did not want to be treated as a hero. “I was only one member of the revolutionary masses who had fulfilled his duty toward his country.”

When Ghonim was shown during the TV interview pictures of those who had been killed in the demonstrations while he was in detention he broke down in tears. He said he wanted to tell every father and mother who had lost a child he was sorry. “But this is not our fault: it’s the fault of everyone who clung on to power and would not let go” he said. He said he wanted to leave, and he ran out of the studio.

Mehdi Hasan

In a discussion with senior political editor of the New Statesman magazine Mehdi Hasan in the Mosaic Rooms in London, Ghonim said there were three reasons for writing the book. The first was his wish to inspire people to realise that “they can achieve things bigger than they could imagine through gathering and organising people, talking about matters, and delivering messages and spreading awareness.”

The second reason was to give an account of the Egyptian revolution from his angle and personal experience. “We are blessed that this revolution is leaderless. A lot of people were involved in different angles of it.” Ghonim thinks it is “important for all of us, not just me, who experienced the 18 days of revolution to write about it, and to tell the story from his angle, so we can put these bits and pieces together for a complete picture of the Egyptian revolution.”

His third reason for writing the book was “to tell the West we are not terrorists”.

As for the title of the book, “Revolution 2.0”, Ghonim explained that during the January 25 revolution it had struck him that the revolution was like the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, in that “people contribute together on doing something amazing and you simply don’t know most of the contributors. Everyone is contributing anonymously. When you go to Wikipedia you don’t see who wrote what but you do trust the content of it and the outcome.”

Unlike revolutions in which there has been a charismatic leader, “there was no Gandhi in the revolution or Martin Luther King that was inspiring the masses and directing them”. There was instead what he refers to as the “Wisdom of the Crowd”. This was to Ghonim a second version of revolution, ie Revolution 2.0.

Ghonim was born in Cairo and grew up in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia. His father went to work Saudi Arabia to escape the horrendous economic conditions in Egypt – but like many other Egyptians he lost his life savings through Islamic private investment companies which promised huge returns and he stayed much longer in Saudi Arabia than originally planned.

In his book Ghonim writes of how when he was at high school the death of a female cousin in a car crash led him to explore his faith. He started to start to pray five times a day, and often at the mosque. “At the university I mixed with people from many religious groups and ideologies including the Muslim Brotherhood, and I joined many of their activities at the school. But I always made my own sense out of things.”

In 1998 Ghonim founded the IslamWay.com [tariq al-Islam.com] website to help Muslims worldwide network with one another. It became one of the most popular Islamic destinations on the Internet.
“Surprisingly, IslamWay led me to my future wife,” he writes. Despite his young age he wanted to get married, but he had been rejected by the Egyptian girls to whom he had proposed. “Stubborn and independent-minded as ever, however, I was determined to solve my problems my own way.”

He decided that he needed to marry a non-Egyptian who would convert to Islam. And because he admired the openness of American culture he wanted an American Muslim convert. “I figured that anyone who changed her faith after a period of contemplation must be someone special.”

He started corresponding online via IslamWay with an American Muslim convert but she refused his suggestion that she travel from California where she lived to visit him in Cairo. Their correspondence faded out. But when he travelled to the USA in June 2001 to donate the IslamWay website to a US-based Muslim charity a friend introduced him to a woman who was looking for a Muslim husband – and it turned out to be Ilka, the girl from California. They married within weeks. He did not tell his parents in advance, and they were at first not happy about the marriage. It took his mother in particular some time to accept her new daughter-in-law.

Ghonim had planned to stay in the US to finish his degree because he was so impressed with American higher education but he changed his mind after the 9/11 terror attacks when life in the US became difficult for him and his headscarf-wearing wife. They moved to Egypt in December 2001, and are now parents of a daughter and son.

Ghonim says he was not one of the typical Egyptian political activists, but his book chronicles his growing anger over the way the Egyptian political system was going. After the rigged parliamentary and presidential elections of 2005 “we all knew it was a sham. The question was, would we put up with it?”

He writes “we all craved an alternative. We needed a saviour.” For a time Ghonim thought that the saviour was Mohammed ElBaradei. When ElBaradei returned to Egypt in February 2010 he helped him with his Facebook page and with circulating ElBaradei’s petition with its “Seven Demands for Change”. But eventually he recognised “ElBaradei had it right all along: we did not need a saviour; we had to do it ourselves.”

During Ghonim’s book tour interviewers and audiences were struck by his optimism, despite the continuing turmoil and bloodshed in Egypt. “I believe pessimism is not an option,” he said. “I personally believe that patience is very critical and being optimistic is very critical because you cannot really change things if you think that we’re doomed”.

He said: “Personally I am very optimistic, I think we have achieved things in the past 12 months that if someone had told me two years ago that this is going to happen I would have said that guy was crazy”. The revolution is a still unfinished process, with many challenges ahead. The most critical issue now is “electing a president as soon as possible”.

Some of those who talked to Ghonim during his appearances on his tour expressed concern that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis had performed so well in the recent parliamentary elections. But Ghonim refused to share their concern. In the elections 27 million Egyptians voted, and 10 million of them thought the Muslim Brotherhood the right people to govern, he said.

When Mehdi Hasan asked him whether being in government would moderate these parties Ghonim replied: “I wouldn’t say moderate because I don’t want to give the impression that they are extremists. In Egypt one out of almost every two people lives on under $2 a day. Those people are not going to sit down and listen to intellectual debates about what should happen and who’s doing this and who’s doing that.”

He added: “One of the best quotes by a spokesperson for the Salafis came when he was asked ‘would you guys ban alcohol in Egypt if you get a majority?’ I love his answer - he said over 50% of Egyptians drink polluted water, and you are asking about alcohol...”

Ghonim added: “I remember one of the Muslim Brotherhood statements is that we are there to help people with economy and so on, not to teach them religion, and I think this will be the spirit. They deserve to have the right to govern the country; democracy brought them to power. They were elected based on their reputation. If in 5 years they are re-elected, this will be based on their performance.”

Sunday, February 19, 2012

'hajj: journey to the heart of islam' exhibition wows at british museum

Magnetism 2011 by Saudi artist Ahmed Mater

World's First Major Exhibition on the Hajj
Documenting a Supreme Theological and Religious Experience

Over the past 18 months, the British Museum has organized three exhibitions on the subject of faith. The final exhibition in this series takes a closer look at both the personal and practical aspects of the Hajj and seeks to give visitors a sense of the experience of the Hajj and what the pilgrimage means. By Susannah Tarbush

The exhibition entitled "Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam", which runs at the British Museum in London until 15 April, is the first-ever major exhibition to focus on the annual Muslim pilgrimage. Mounted in the museum's iconic Round Reading Room, the exhibition brings together an extraordinary array of 209 items from the British Museum and 39 institutions in the Arab world, Europe, Mali, Malaysia, the USA and Australia.

the book of the exhibition

This ground-breaking exhibition is accompanied by a magnificent 288-page book edited by Venetia Porter, the British Museum's curator of Islamic and Modern Middle Eastern art and co-curator of the exhibition, and her colleague Qaisra Khan.

"Our key purpose in this exhibition is to try to allow everybody – Muslims and especially non-Muslims – to get some sense of what the experience of Hajj is and above all what it means," says the museum's director Neil MacGregor...continued at Qantara

Saturday, February 18, 2012

report on 'rebuilding libya' event at frontline club

Ian Black (L) and Carsten Jurgensen

The five panellists at the ‘Rebuilding Libya’ evening held at the Frontline Club in London on February 15 gave markedly different perspectives on the situation in Libya. The date of the event, chaired by the Guardian newspaper’s Middle East editor Ian Black, coincided with the first anniversary of the start of the uprising in Benghazi two days before the February 17 2011 “day of rage”.

The Frontline Club was packed out for the event in which presentations by the panellists were followed by a lively question and answer session. A large screen displayed real time tweets on the event, hashtag #FCLibya . Those tweeting included the Libyan writer, doctor, blogger and podcaster Ghazi Gheblawi, @Gheblawi

Ahmed Gebreel and Rana Jawad

Ahmed Gebreel, deputy head of the Libyan embassy in London, has been a political advisor to the National Transitional Council (NTC) chairman and was spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the revolution. He said that he preferred a “comparative approach” in international relations: if we compare Libya today with other countries that have experienced civil war such as Iraq or Somalia the situation is “remarkably stable... You can walk in the streets in any city and there is no threat, no harm. We hear about some clashes here and there, I think they are normal, they are expected, but still the situation is very very stable.” Those clashes that do occur are “always dealt with in a very responsible manner by the people and by the authority.

Gebreel also prefers a “comparative approach” on human rights. “People in Libya are not really knowledgeable about human rights concepts. We had some complaints, the authority in Libya is not denying that there have been some violations of human rights. In fact these have been condemned by the NTC and I think the NTC are doing their best to deal with this issue. They have been very responsible and if we compare human rights in Libya to some other countries, for example Iraq or Afghanistan, human rights organisations - Amnesty International for example, Human Rights Watch - have been given full access to detention centres in Libya. This didn’t happen In Iraq, it did not happen in Abu Ghraib, it didn’t happen in Bagram in Afghanistan. Also they have met with the highest authority in Libya which means the authority is realising how important, how crucial, this issue is and they are willing and ready to deal with the international community to solve this problems.”

On the challenges ahead, Gebreel said: “Some people say it is security, some people think it is the economy, but I think the main challenges for the NTC and for the government are the high expectation of the Libyan people and how they can practice democracy in the future since they have not practised democracy for the last four decades.

Dr Faraj Najem

The Libyan writer and historian Dr Faraj Najem said that as a Libyan he is optimistic: “We have no choice but to be optimistic and to look forward to the future. I’ve been going back and forth to Libya since the mid-1990s so I’m well placed to offer judgement. Libya in the last year or so has changed dramatically for the better and Libyans are very delighted, as Ahmed said, to see an end to a vile regime that has no respect for human rights and human dignity.”

Dr Najem added that there are however “lots of teething problems, and challenges ahead that we need to deal with. Libyans with the help of the international community are countering some of these problems.” The concrete steps taken include the Constitutional Declaration, and the recent passing of the election law, “so we are sticking by the agenda that the Libyans have drawn up for themselves.”

But one must not be complacent: there are challenges and serious problems. The first is the need to deal with Gaddafi loyalists “especially those who are outside the country, mainly the family – the one to watch out for particularly is the daughter [Aisha Gaddafi] who is going to cause lots of problem. These people have the connections, they have the money, and they are angry about what happened to them because they’ve been deprived of their little empire, for ever I think.”

Dr Najem identified the second category of people who need to be dealt as “those who served with Gaddafi and propped up his regime but who joined in on the side of the revolution. And these people need to be extricated, but this needs to be done gently. So we don’t want the infamous de-Baathification of Iraq but at the same time these people must understand that they did not serve Gaddafi well, and I don’t think they’re going to serve us well either, and therefore they have to make way.

“We need to gently convince them that they have to make room for aspiring Libyans who want to serve their country. After all, this revolution was unthinkable, it was a dream, it was delivered by young men who almost had nothing to do with the regime and were seen as powerless – however, they managed to give a big blow to the regime. “

The third category who need to be kept an eye on “are much less dangerous than the first two –these are the zealots, the extremists, whether they are tribalists, or regionalists, or the Islamists, or the liberalists. We don’t want them to cause us problems especially now when we are coming together as Libyans to heal our wounds, to rebuild Libya... even though we welcome debates and there are serious debates in Libya, there are serious disagreements. Libyans now breathe freedom, they speak democracy - there are petitions, there are demonstrations in the streets, there are major disagreements with the government, with the NTC, but luckily this is all done peacefully and hopefully we are going to keep it this way.”

The British-Lebanese journalist Rana Jawad, who is married to a Libyan, has been a resident of Tripoli for the past eight years working for the BBC. She operated under conditions of extreme danger reporting undercover for the BBC throughout the revolution. Her book on Libya and on her experiences during the revolution, Tripoli Witness: The remarkable first-hand account of life through the insurgency is newly published in the UK by Gilgamesh Publishing. She signed copies of her book at the end of the event.

Jawad said: “It was almost impossible to do my job for the BBC the first seven years I was there and there are stark differences now – people are open to talking, people want to be interviewed. It is very refreshing to have that.” But “there are a lot of problems the authorities need to start addressing. And I’m here more to reflect I think on what people feel on the ground – it’s partly my job – actually is my job.” Certain issues, like security, need to be addressed immediately. “We can talk about democracy and I think it’s a very vague term to a lot of Libyans at the moment – there are some who will argue that people are ready for it and they are politically mature.” But “a lot of people don’t understand what democratic values are in the country. It’s partly I think why we are seeing what Amnesty International and other human rights groups, Human Rights Watch, are talking about - which is the rampant violations of human rights and detainees.”

Jawad continued: “I think in the medium term – we can’t say short term because it will take time for that to happen - power needs to be centralised. Yes we do have the NTC and there is an interim government but overall a lot of people don’t feel they’re actually in charge – it is the militias that are running things.” People are complaining of a lack of transparency in the country and a lack of money. “A lot of fighters who took part in the uprising feel that they’ve been marginalised since the end of the war ... they feel they haven’t been paid for example.”

She said: “Overall I am optimistic of the journey Libyans will take but I don’t doubt for a second that it will be extremely difficult – and I think anyone who thinks it will happen in the next year or two is quite delusional. I am sorry to say that if it offends anyone but I think it’s a very long process and it is going to take a long time, but ultimately it seems like Libyans are striving for it, so a lot of people are hoping that it will work out.”

Khaeri Aboushagor

The Libyan media researcher, political activist and human rights defender Khaeri Aboushagor, who has called for a secular state in Libya, was critical of the NTC and of the way things are going. He said Libyans had essentially carried out the revolution “to recover their dignity, to recover their worth as human beings. And that’s why the whole country united in getting rid of Gaddafi ...they had a focus, they had a target to achieve and they managed to achieve it with the help of the international community.” Last March he was one of those who campaigned in the Houses of Parliament, at the European Union, and in many other places for intervention. “Without the international community the Libyans would not have been able to achieve what they have achieved. So I think the international community have an obligation to see this through – that the Libyans actually do establish a proper state that respects human rights and that works for the well being of all Libyans.”

Aboushagor cited Mahmoud Jibril, the ex prime minster, who said recently that Libya is not a functioning state. It “has no functioning army... no proper police, and the militias run the show. And human rights abuses are rampant all over the country, and that is the reality”. Yes, Libyans are free to talk and free to express themselves, to a certain extent. But for 42 years Gaddafi denied Libyans the basic elements of social and cultural development. “And this means that Libyans have a problem in recognising difference, have a problems seeing the other way, it is a closed conservative society and people had no option but to be like this because Gaddafi prevented them from opening up to the world, the country was closed. ... for a very long time.

“So the Libyans are happy now that Gaddafi’s gone but there is as Rana rightly said there is a hell of a lot of work that needs to be done to straighten everything. There are a lot of Libyans who are very optimistic and who work extremely hard to make this right – but I think we need the educated, especially those who lived in the West so democracy is functioning. Democracy is not just elections, you can’t just create democracy out of the blue by holding elections and say you have a democratic state. It much broader, much deeper than that. If we recognise that we know that the obstacles we have to solve, we can solve them. But if we deny, if we are in a state of denial, I think that would be wrong...”

The fifth panellist was Amnesty International’s Libya researcher Carsten Jurgensen. The event came on the eve of the publication of Amnesty’s highly critical report on the state of human rights Militias Threaten Hopes for New Libya . Jurgensen recalled that he was previously Libya researcher in the late 90s “when initially we couldn’t go to the country ..and research was practically not possible because there was so much monitoring it was impossible to talk to people freely.”

Jurgensen said: "I was very delighted when last year I was able to come to Libya and also to experience the new spirit of civil society and all of a sudden you had various NGOs who formed themselves including in the area of human rights.” He admires those people who are now working on these sensitive issues “because in my first visit in September ..people look at not so happy side when we went to detention centres and saw what happened and abuses. What struck us was that those who committed the abuses were quite open about what they did and told us, ‘yes, of course I beat him because he has to tell me where his weapons are’. ‘So how do you know he has got weapons?’ ‘Oh we know.’

In preparing the new report “access to people, detention centres, militias was not difficult – perhaps it was difficult to find certain detention centres which are kept secret, so we wouldn’t have seen if we hadn’t made an effort to find also places which are not so easily accessible.” Amnesty issued at the end of January preliminary findings on detention centres in and around Tripoli and in and around Misrata. “We came across horrific injuries of detainees who had been battered by all sorts of instruments, people given electric shocks, they told us, and of course we raised it with those who were holding them, all centres under the control of militias so not prisons or other facilities under the control of the ... authorities.” Those in charge of the detention centres “would probably admit to some incidents but would not admit that it happened on such a large scale many other ... report just about to release tomorrow where we document many cases including cases where people have died under torture. And we have spoken to relatives ... people who died ..of course they are upset that nothing happens maybe with the exception of a few high profile cases – no investigations are conducted – the judiciary totally weak they say they can’t, I can’t go and interrogate the chief of militia ..not able to protect citizens, not able to provide justice.”

During the question and answer session a young Libyan man who has lived in the UK for around 10 years said that Libyans have paid a high price for their freedom, and shouldn’t be told “your expectations are way too high for us to meet them”. The Libyans’ main observation so far is that "the performance of the government and the performance of the NTC is sub-standard in comparison to the expectations and aspirations of the Libyans. You look at the Libyan streets: they went out demonstrating, they understand what rights are, they understand what democracy is, they shouldn’t be told 'oh you shouldn’t be expecting this, this is way too far or you shouldn’t be centralising government'. Because people are the ones who made the revolution – it is not the NTC, it’s not the government, it’s the people and they need to be respected and understood and what they say should go on the ground now."

He added that the government is not addressing the judiciary situation and that this is the fault of the government and the NTC. "Libyans deserve all the expectations they have and I think the NTC should really understand what they are doing before criticising the Libyans for their expectations."

Ahmed Gebreel said that his comments on high expectations had related to timing. "Some Libyans think that what prevented them from achieving what they had dreamed of is Gaddafi, and since Gaddafi’s gone then they can achieve all they have dreamed of within days or weeks or months. I agree with you that the Libyans are the ones who carried the revolution, NTC was a part of it. We can’t also ignore that the NTC was the people, the NTC have made the sacrifice, they’ve paid, they are Libyans they deserve some respect and acknowledgement of what they have done to the country. The NTC has been established less than a year ago with limited resources and .. doing their best."

Dr Faraj Najem said that "the revolutionaries are often referred to negatively as militias". These young men "are the ones who gave hope to the country ... yes there are problems, there are fringes on the side who do commit human rights abuses – me and my colleague on Al-Jazeera spoke out against this... But we must not forget that these men do wonders for the country – they are the ones who are maintaining security, they are the ones who helping Libya as a state but also as a people to realise their dream. This is largely unpaid voluntary work but they need politicians to guide them, to lay down their arms and to go back to their jobs. So it isn’t all bad."

Ian Black noted that there is "supposed to be a plan to disarm and to integrate 75,000 thuwwar, fighters, revolutionaries, whatever you want to call them, into the army, integrate them into jobs - and that is not happening."

Faraj said "It is happening, recently there has been a commission .. these kind of things need money – unless they have the liquidity, unless they have the money, they won’t be able to do it. So there are plans. The other thing the government needs to do is to activate its court system, there are lawyers and judges who are sleeping in their homes – they need to rise up to the occasion and they need to come back to the courts and they need to challenge these human rights abuses and get the help of the Libyans in order to put this country straight.

“And the other thing is expectations. Libyans did the undoable, Libyans overthrew Gaddafi, no one would dream of doing this and Libyans now have vast imaginations.” He added jokingly that “Libyans have become a bit like the American military bless them, they don’t know where they are going but they get there before everyone else. This has become a guiding philosophy.” He told of how he was in Benghazi last month "and the newly elected Tunisian president came and he was begging them, he said please stop using the word 'now', because Libyans they want everything now, they want democracy now, freedom now, and he said you cannot just plant a palm tree and say can I have dates now, it is impossible, you need to be patient... But Libyans ask for this be done now, because they have suffered for four decades. And they have the money, they have the brainpower, they have a small population, they’ve got the world on their side and they have a right cause. I think the government and the NTC as my friend here said, they need to rise up to the occasion but again I don’t blame them, the government and the NTC, because their capacity is limited, they don’t have the means, they need the money which is still by and large frozen.

Khaeri Aboushagor said: " I think it’s common knowledge these days that anybody who follows Libyan affairs would come up with the conclusion that the NTC performance leaves a lot to be desired, and the NTC is not really living up to .. the trust that the Libyan people have entrusted in them. The NTC has a lack of transparency, of not properly communicating with the people, of not properly getting in touch with Libyans and feeling what exactly their needs are and addressing them. Of course the NTC has done a great job at the time when there was a war – they did a lot – but for the NTC to actually enforce itself or get the trust of the Libyan people and get the belief that the Libyan people will actually go with them in whatever they are doing they have do a lot and they are not actually doing that. When you see people flying on private planes from Tripoli or Benghazi to Washington to just pass on a message of thanks – people say what’s that – and then someone in the NTC complains about lack of funds or lack of money – there is a lot of money now, today, being squandered and being taken out of the country and nobody is watching, .. forget the billions that disappeared in the past – actually there is a lot of corruption – people live in Tripoli, live in Benghazi, they are very angry – they don’t think that the revolution they sacrificed their blood for has given them much. Of course they will have to have patience and will have to wait but they have to see signs that give them promise that things will actually get better – I don’t think they are seeing that.

Carsten Jurgensen commented that the functioning or non-functioning of the judicial system, and the role of the militias, are very much connected. "Militias are taking on roles they shouldn’t have – we see in detention centres whether we call them militias or thuwwar or whatever we are going to use as labels .. and people who are affiliated with armed groups – who are conducting confessions, conducting interrogations. They use all kinds of means I described earlier to force people to confess and this is written down in testimonies which are then fingerprinted and signed I imagine with the idea that these kind of documents could be used in a future trial. And of course such a thing could never be used in a trial – so the first step to make clear would be that no interrogations should take place in any detention centre which is not under the control of the authorities. And the second step would be to make sure that these detention centres are closed. I mean I know that it’s in the process but it’s a slow process – I know that the authorities are now in control of a number of detention centres but there are also many militia who are not willing to let go of those who they are holding so it is a slow process. I think the authorities need to be very strong and decisive – this situation can’t go on."

Several members of the audience raised questions on issues relating to women - for example women's empowerment, women's rights, and polygamy. On the question of polygamy Rana Jawad not that sharia law had been "part of the Libyan constitution under the monarchy as well as under the subsequent Green Book ad hoc laws of Colonel Gaddafi when he was in power It’s not new. I think part of the issue was when Mr Mustafa Abdel Jalil mentioned in that now infamous speech he made at the commemoration of the liberation of Libya when he said polygamy is allowed or something to that effect, and many people pounced on it. Polygamy was not widespread under the Gaddafi regime, but it was practised even though by law he had officially announced that it was illegal. A lot of people did practice it – but it wasn’t rampant, I’m not saying it was rampant. To a young Libyan man in the front row she said, "I know you’re shaking your head – I know a lot of Libyan women who are second and third wives."

The young man sid that they were meant to have the authorisation of the existing wife before remarrying polygamously, while under the new dispensation this would not be necessary.

Jawad interjected: "I’m not advocating polygamy! On the contrary, if my husband wanted to remarry I’d happily divorce him! I don’t think he’s going to do that. That’s not the point. But it was practised."

The persistent young man said "it was, but under a different madhab - it was a maliki madhab ... Gaddafi, this was the only law of his that I agree with, if you want to get married again you have to get the official approval of the previous wife before you go ahead. Now Mr Abdel-Jalil decided..."

Jawad said "a lot of women would actually argue they don’t want them to be able to marry again." To which the young man replised "yes but you have to address this."

Khaeiri Aboushagor said he had lived in Libya until 1982. "In the 60s and 70s polygamy was practised, it was part of the culture, but it was on a very small and limited scale. It was never available to everyone ... especially in the cities – I think in the countryside, the far away places, it’s a lot easier for men to marry more than one. It was never a big problem, it existed." As for Abdel Jalil's speech, "his advisers wrote a speech for him and trained him to deliver it and when he got up to the podium, he kept the speech in his pocket and he gave the speech he wanted to give."

He added: "I think women in Libya in the 60s 70s had lots of rights .. especially in the city I grew up in, Tripoli, Libyan women were just like ordinary women in Egypt and Tunisia and North Africa. What changed is ..North Africa in the 1980s and 1990s Islamisation bringing in a new culture which is actually alien to this society – this is now what exists today. Now women in Libya today are trying and working extremely hard to gain their rights, to preserve their rights, and I think their campaign for quotas in the law of election, parliament and all that was a sign of success. But there is a lot to be desired and I think the idea now that only Libya will be a functioning and prosperous state has elections is wrong.. Libyans need to understand that to have a proper country and a state to live in peace and dignity and opportunity they need more than just elections, they need to understand what it means to respect human being. Respect human rights. And to understand that people can be different but they can be from the same country, from the same nationality."

He recalled that when the NTC first drafted the Constitution Declaration a German journalist asked them why they didn't t include a clause on the freedom of thought and religion. "They said we don’t need that because we are 100% Muslims. .. not true, but the society is geared, is pushed, towards thinking that it is homogenous, it’s single faith, people don’t have to look somewhere else, we have everything in Islam, ... .a single school of Islam exists – but that’s not true. ... Libyans are the ones who suffered for 42 years because of one man .. thinking in a particular way. We should realise that with plurality, with multiculturalism, with the ability to think for yourself and choose your path you want to do, that’s how you become a proper human being and you’ll have the opportunities to choose to go down the road you want to. Everybody hopes the elections will bring an end to the dysfunctioning NTC... they will elect the body that will have the responsibility of drafting the constitution. The big problem with this constitution is if it’s written and drafted to be a lasting constitution ... very difficult to change, I think it is going be a big problem because the country is not ready yet for a proper constitution that cannot be changed."
Susannah Tarbush

Friday, February 10, 2012

launch of khalid kishtainy's collection 'arabian tales'

message from ARK Gallery:

"Kishtainy in a new work"
6.30 PM Friday 10 February
West London Trades Union Club,
33/35 High Street. Acton, London W3 6ND

Khalid Kishtainy is a writer known for his variety, a
variety of talents, interests and styles. All this is
reflected in his new collection of short stories, Arabian Tales: Baghdad on Thames
dealing with various subjects in a variety of styles.
‘Baghdad on Thames’ reflects the moods and
thoughts of an Iraqi humorist as he moves
between Baghdad and London. In this evening, he
will talk about all that and listen to what you,
readers, will have to say.

ت قُيع كتاب:
القشطيني في عمل جديد
خالذ القشطيىي كاتة معش فَ
تالتعذدية، تعذد الم اُ ةٌ تعذد
الا تٌمامات تعذد لأسالية. اٌ
يخشج إلى قشائ تى عُ جذيذ،
مجم عُة قصص قصيشة
تالإوجليزية تحمل س حَ زٌا التعذد
في م اُضيع اٍ مياديى اٍ
سَ حَيت اٍ. "تغذاد على التايمس "
تكشف عه وفسية كاتة عشاقي
ساخش يىتقل تحيات أفكاسي تيه
تغذاد لىذن. سيتحذث عه كل
رلك في زٌي الأمسية يستمع لما
سيق لُ وُ قشاؤي

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

adonis and omar qattan discuss islam, sufism & arabic literature

A snatch of video from last night's delightful conversation between Adonis and Omar Qattan on 'Islam, Sufism & Arabic Literature', part of the 'A Tribute to Adonis' programme running at the Mosaic Rooms in London from 3 February to 30 March. The programme includes an exhibition of Adonis's art works in the venue's ground floor and basement spaces. The conversation started with discussion of Adonis's controversial PhD thesis of 40 years ago, Athabet wal Mutahawwil - The Permanent and the Evolving - which includes a historical anthology of Arabic poetry. Another key work to feature during the event was of course Adonis's Sufism and Surrealism .


Omar Qattan

Monday, February 06, 2012

khaled mattawa receives saif ghobash-banipal prize for translation of 'adonis: selected poems'

Khaled Mattawa signs a copy of Adonis: Selected Poems after being awarded the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize

The editor of the Times Literary Supplement Sir Peter Stothard this evening awarded the £3,000 Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation to the Libyan poet, translator and scholar Khaled Mattawa for his translation of Adonis: Selected Poems (Yale University Press). The award was made at the annual presentation of translation prizes administered by the Society of Authors held at Kings Place in central London. The ceremony was hosted by the British Centre for Literary Translation, the Arts Council England and the Society of Authors. During the ceremony, which included readings from the winning translations, Sir Peter Stothard was joined on stage by prize administrator Paula Johnson of the Society of Authors.

Mattawa was the first winner to be announced during the awards ceremony, which saw prizes awarded for translation from five langauges. Sir Peter said Mattawa had travelled from Michigan, where he teaches at the University of Michigan, to be at the ceremony but Mattawa said he had in fact travelled from Tripoli where it was snowing like it was in London, and where there were similar problems in coping with the snowfall. Mattawa paid tribute to the Banipal Trust and Banipal magazine "for support over the years, for friendship and for their spiritual companionship". He said he was grateful to Adonis "who was a great source of inspiration." He read from the poem Body, from Adonis's book, Singular in a Plural Form (1975) which is included in Adonis: Selected Poems.

Sir Peter awarded the runner-up prize to Barbara Romaine for her translation of Spectres (Arabic Books) by Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour. Before translating Spectres, Romaine - who teaches Arabic at the University of Villanova in Pennsylvania - had translated Bahaa Taher’s novel Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery, and Radwa Ashour’s Siraaj. She is currently working on another of Ashour’s novels, Farag (first published in Arabic by Dar El Shorouk in 2008), forthcoming from Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP)
.Maia Tabet of Lebanon was commended for her translation of Lebanese writer Elias Khoury's novel White Masks (Archipelago Books).

The Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize is sponsored by Omar Saif Ghobash and the Ghobash family, and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature. The judges, who met last December under the chairmanship of Paula Johnson, were novelist, columnist and critic Joan Smith, writer, translator and Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of East Anglia Sarah Churchwell, translator and lecturer in Arabic Literature and Media at the University of Exeter Christina Phillips, and author and editor of Banipal magazine Samuel Shimon who is also a trustee of the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature.

Screen showing sponsors of the translation prizes

The other four prizes awarded during the ceremony were the Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from the French, the Schlegel-Tieck prize for translation from the German, the Premio Valle Inclán for translation from the Spanish and the Vondel Prize for translation from the Dutch or Flemish. One of the two runners-up for the Scott Moncrieff Prize was Frank Wynne for his translation of An Unfinished Business (Bloomsbury) by Algerian Boualam Sansal which won several prizes when first published in French in 2008 under the title Le village de l'Allemand ou le journal des frères Schiller. As well as being joint runner-up for the Scott Moncrieff Prize, Wynne won the Premio Valle Inclán for his translation from Spanish of Kamchatka by Argentinian novelist Marcelo Figueras.

The Schlegel-Tieck prize was won by Damion Searls for his translation of Comedy in a Minor Key, a story of concealment and courage during the Nazi era written by a German Jewish psychiatrist Hans Keilson whose parents died in Auschwitz. Keilson, who died last June at the age of 101, took refuge with a family in the Netherlands. His novel is based on that experience. Comedy in a Minor Key is published by Hesperus whose managing director Karl Sabbagh, the well-known Palestinian-British author, journalist and TV producer, attended the awards ceremony.

After the awarding of the prizes the renowned multiple prizewinning poet, playwright and critic Sean O'Brien delivered the Sebald lecture given annually on an aspect of literature in translation. Originally known as the St Jerome lecture the lecture was renamed in honour of the founder of British Centre for Literary Translation, the late writer W G Sebald who was killed in a car crash in Norfolk in December 2001. The recent 10th anniversary of Sebald's death lent a special poignancy to this year's lecture. O'Brien had originally entitled his lecture Making the Crossing: The Poet as Translator, but he decided to change it to Making the Crossing: A poet as Translator. His wide-ranging lecture, at one profound and amusing, was based on his experiences of translating poetry and plays and took in references from Baudelaire to Bo Diddley by way of Dante and Aristophanes. He has also jointly with Daniel Hahn of the British Centre for Literary Translation translated the poetry of Cape Verdian writer Corsino Fortes who writes in Portuguese. These translations came about as an initiative of the London-based Poetry Translation Centre.
Susannah Tarbush

Saturday, February 04, 2012

bbc apologises for quiz answer saying ariel is a 'city in israel'

UPDATE: Abe Hayeem has now recomplained to the BBC, as he explains in this message of this afternoon, 4 Feb 2012:

Some of you felt that the BBC was not doing enough to remedy the error. Here
is the text of my re-complaint!

I would like to thank the Complaints staff and Exec Producer Gilly Hall for their prompt response and for their apology and other moves not to broadcast this programme on iPlayer, and registering it on the audience log etc.. I don't wish to sound carping, but since this was a factual error that has gone out to a wide audience, they will be left with the assumption that Ariel is a city in Israel which snugly fits in with the Israeli agenda. I do feel that more should be done in the public realm to correct this bloomer, since Only Connect is very strict on accuracy, as Victoria Coren always emphasises. This can surely be done, as is usual with her witty and off-beat manner and banter in the next programme whether recorded or not. It is the least and not too earth- shattering thing that the BBC can do do maintain its international reputation for fairness and balance. Saying such a thing publicly will only be stating the truth -and surely the BBC can withstand the possibility of a stream of phone calls from the Israeli Embassy and its supporters! To quote an example of decisive action taken, on, yes Ariel again, was when Ariel College architecture students were short-listed in a world competition, as representatives of Israel. Letters written to the Spanish Housing Ministry, pointing out that Ariel was an illegal settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories, prompted it to remove the Ariel students from the short list. It would be great to see the BBC take decisive action!

This was the message issued last night by Abe Hayeem, the architect and tireless activist for Palestine who founded Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine

I received this reply today from the BBC over the complaint that Ariel was said to be an Israeli city in a quiz line on the Connecting Wall programme.
Complaint Response CAS-1275414-F5VG12

Dear Mr Hayeem

Thank you for contacting us regarding ‘Only Connect', broadcast on 30 January on BBC Four. We understand you had concerns in relation to the accuracy of a question asked during the programme.We forwarded your correspondence to the Executive Producer, Gilly Hall, who responded as follows:“On a recent edition of 'Only Connect' on BBC Four, broadcast 30th January 2012 a question about cities in Israel displayed an incorrect answer. The BBC would like to apologise for this oversight. Once we became aware the online wall was taken down and the programme was removed from BBC iPlayer. We have also taken steps to ensure this version will not be repeated.”Finally, we're guided by our audience feedback, so we’d like to assure you that your complaint has been registered on our audience log. This is an internal report of audience feedback that we compile on a daily basis and it’s made available to programme commissioners, channel executives and senior management. The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content. Thanks once again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints



Anyone watching last night's popular BBC4 quiz programme, ONLY CONNECT with Victoria Coren may have noticed this. This was my complaint to the BBC.

In the first round of the Connecting Wall, which was solved by the team, there were four names in the last line: Acre, Ariel, Holon and Eilat. The answer given was that they were all in Israel. Yes, said Victoria Coren emphatically,"These are cities in Israel"!

This is a shocking display of ignorance and misrepresentation to the viewer by the usually erudite Coren (and the BBC quizmasters) - especially controversial, since the BBC is usually flooded with complaints about its sometimes biased and inaccurate reporting on the Israel/Palestine issue. Ariel is actually, not a city, but an illegal settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the BBC should have known better. It's surprising that the highly knowledgeable participants did not comment on or spot this mistake.

It may sound trivial to raise this complaint about a quiz programme, but a popular one like Only Connect that prides itself on its accuracy, will be presenting misleading information to its viewers at a time when the whole sensitive issue of illegal settlement expansion is in the news.

When the 4 names were lined up, my wife and I watched aghast, knowing what was coming next, and it surely did! We think that a correction and apology should be made at the next Only Connect programme, which Victoria Coren can easily include in her witty banter before the quizzing starts.