Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the countries most affected by the Arab Spring, shows Turkey is closely involving itself in the changing power balance in North Africa and the Middle East. The model the Turkish leader is presenting to states in transition is that of a secular government in a country with an overwhelming Muslim majority, where Islam and democracy are not mutually exclusive. The goal is to show that Turkey is a credible example to emulate, even if the price is the realignment of the “good neighbour” foreign policy, which has already deteriorated with the Syrian crisis.
Freedom and Democracy
Almost nine months after the fall of Mohamed Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the Egyptian political situation is still hostage to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and therefore to the military leaders who have been the real holders and guarantors of political power in Egypt since the 1952 coup d’état by the Free Officers Movement. Under pressure from protesters, the SCAF decided to depose President Mubarak, appoint a new government, and is preparing to call parliamentary and presidential elections on the basis of rules it is drafting, announcing that it will soon promulgate the criteria for drafting a new constitution.
Now that the dictators’ trials are under way, at least in Egypt, it is important that national reconciliation projects be implemented in order to reconstruct the national collective memory. An important step for Arab people to liberate themselves from the shackles of their painful past. Trying the ousted dictators should be a priority without revenge or gloating. It should be seen as a supreme national duty to preserve the collective memory and commemorate those who gave their lives on the altar of freedom in their fight against dictatorship. Revenge cannot build a modern state, only through a national global dialogue, can a nation come to terms with its own history.
For a few years, for far too long, ideas became radicalized, language was militarized, reasoning impoverished, reduced to simplistic and misleading pairs, such as black/white, good/bad, with God pitted against God (with God of course privatized by all parties involved). In this sense al Qaeda’s school of thought won the day and was reflected in the arrogant Bushism of the Iraqi adventure (based on lies and producing more terrorism than it defeated, not to mention the thousands of innocent victims, including the western soldiers sent to die there pointlessly), until recently all dominant and winning paradigms. But, today, something has changed.
Al-Ain publishing was born in 2000 with a focus on scientific literature. They started developing themselves on various fronts – literature, novels, short stories, research and translations – in 2005, when famous Sudanese writer Al-Tayeb Saleh decided to publish with them, in Egypt, his famous book Season of Migration to the North. This book changed the future of this publishing house. Over the past few years, Al-Ain has published many remarkable books, and many of its authors have been nominated for or won prizes. Additionally, Al-Ain was chosen for the Frankfurt book fair and to represent Egypt in the Union of Independent Publishers in Paris. Its owner is an Egyptian woman, Fatma El-Boudy, whose family has been in the printing business for years. Elisa Pierandrei talks to El-Boudy about her experience as a female publisher and her expectations for the future.
The online quarterly Albawtaka Review (albawtaka.com) is the only print/online periodical in Egypt that translates English short stories methodically and systematically into Arabic. It was launched in April 2006 as a monthly review then turned into an online quarterly review in July 2007. Hala Salah El-din Hussein, 33, a graduate of Tanta University (Nile Delta) and a professional translator, is the publisher of Albawtaka Review. In an online interview with Elisa Pierandrei, she tells us about the work of publishing and translating in these tumultuous times. While she has been recently contemplating the value of translating literature in post-revolution Egypt, she also wonders if translating fiction should now take a back seat to political activism.
In January this year in Tahrir Square, there were obviously not only publishers, authors and bookshop owners, just a few hundred people in a city with almost twenty million inhabitants. In Tahrir Square, however, there were hundreds of thousands of people and, over the years, publishers, authors and bookshops had perceived and passed on their hidden thoughts, secret aspirations, concealed worries and their pressing demands. Thousands of people, who now, as individuals or as a community, are taking charge of their present to create a shared future.
“Al-Shorouk newspaper was first issued in February 2009 as an independent newspaper aimed to promote the values of liberalism and modernism…During the paper’s preparation period, which lasted about a year, the idea that objectivity, accuracy and truth in everything would be published in the newspaper was the dominant idea of each meeting.” These are the words of Ashraf Al-Barbary, News Desk Chief of Al-Shorouk newspaper. In a conversation with Elisa Pierandrei Al-Barbary, he says he is convinced that the adherence to these principles makes everyone, whether at the local, regional or even international level, deal seriously with what is published in Al-Shorouk. This newspaper is part of a company linked to Dar Al Shorouk, the largest independent publishing house in Egypt, which was established in 1968 by Mohamed El Moallem, one of the founding fathers of modern publishing in Egypt and the Arab World, who started his publishing career in 1942.
The generational renewal is at the same time the “Egyptian Spring’s” tragedy, because the groups of young people that achieved the overturning of the Mubarak presidency, (then carrying along with them workers and the Muslim Brotherhood) are currently not the majority in the country and are experiencing problems in creating a well-structured political movement and it is unlikely they will inherit power when elections are held. However, the Europeans of 1848 did not immediately achieve victory for the ideas they believed in, which did gain momentum a generation later!
This interview is discussed by Francesco Aloisi de Larderel, former Italian ambassador to Egypt, in the article "The Muslim Brotherhood's New Challenges".“Egypt has entered a new phase, one that cannot be managed without us women. All Egyptian women are now asked to work for the good of the country” said Dina Zakaria, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a representative of the Freedom and Justice Party, the newly-created party linked to the conservative Islamic Party. “In my family of origin there were no members of the Muslim Brotherhood. I decided on my own to join this movement while I was at university. I wanted to approach Islam with sincerity. At the time I would never have dreamt that I would become the Freedom and Justice representative in Brussels,” explained Dina in her perfect English. Twenty-seven years old with a degree in Political Science and two children, in July Dina was the spokesperson for the Freedom and Justice conference organised by the European parliament for all Egypt’s new political representatives.
Muslim communities all over Europe sighed with relief when they heard that the Norwegian massacre had not been carried out by one of their own. If that had been the case, the price to pay would have been a terrible one. Many non-Muslims also breathed their own sigh at not having to confirm their prejudice against Muslims. This reaction is disquieting in its triviality and automatism. The press in Muslim-majority countries is pointing out these inconsistancies, asking “Why is this not called Christian terrorism?” "Why are we not creating a plot theory?"
Reforming school curricula in the new Arab world should be undertaken as soon as possible. It is also important to rewrite the Arab people’s history and expurgate all the lies that were elevated to the level of infallible truths bydefunct authoritarian regimes. It goes without saying that students should be taught, at all levels, that free and universal elections should be the only criterion that governs the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. Students should also be taught that the right to withdraw popular legitimacy from the rulers through elections is the best safeguard against the culture of subservience.