Great, American Ethnologist has a special issue on the Arab Spring! And even better: Free Access!. What they have in common is that the contributions go beyond the easy and very visible dimensions of Egyptian society such as the secular and the religious (that rule much of the media discourse on the Arab spring) and the highly mediatized protests at Tahrir (by for example looking at how people in a particular village or women at home in Cairo experienced the uprising and the collapse of the regime). I’m listing the titles and abstracts here. The links bring you the AE website and there you can access Wiley.com
Living the “Revolution” in an Egyptian Village
Living the “Revolution” in an Egyptian Village
By Lila Abu-Lughod
Media coverage of the uprising in Egypt in 2011 focused almost exclusively on Tahrir Square in Cairo. How was the revolution lived in other parts of Egypt, including the countryside? I offer a glimpse of what happened in one village in Upper Egypt where, as elsewhere, daily lives were deeply shaped by devastating national economic and social policies, the arbitrary power of police and security forces, and a sense of profound marginalization and disadvantage. Youth were galvanized to solve local problems in their own community, feeling themselves to be in a national space despite a history of marginalization. They also used a particular language for their activism: a strong language of social morality, not the media-friendly political language of “rights” and “democracy.”
Beyond Secular and Religious: An intellectual genealogy of Tahrir Square
By Charles Hirschkind
Competing visions of Egypt’s future have long been divided along secular versus religious lines, a split that both the Sadat and Mubarak regimes exploited to weaken political opposition. In this context, one striking feature of the Egyptian uprising that took place last spring is the extent to which it defied characterization in terms of the religious–secular binary. In this commentary, I explore how this movement drew sustenance from a unique political sensibility, one disencumbered of the secular versus religious oppositional logic and its concomitant forms of political rationality. This sensibility has a distinct intellectual genealogy within Egyptian political experience. I focus here on the careers of three Egyptian public intellectuals whose pioneering engagement with the question of the place of Islam within Egyptian political life provided an important part of the scaffolding, in my view, for the practices of solidarity and association that brought down the Mubarak regime.
Reflections on Secularism, Democracy, and Politics in Egypt
By Hussein Ali Agrama
I reassess dominant understandings of the relations between secularism, democracy, and politics by comparing the Egyptian protests that began on January 25, 2011, and lasted until the fall of Mubarak with some of the events that occurred in their aftermath. The events that occurred after these protests demonstrated the obliging power of what I call the “problem-space of secularism,” anchored by the question of where to draw a line between religion and politics and the stakes of tolerance and religious freedom typically attached to it. By contrast, the protests themselves displayed a marked indifference to this question. Thus, they stood outside the problem-space of secularism, representing what I call an “asecular” moment. I suggest that such moments of asecularity merit greater attention.
Sectarian Conflict and Family Law in Contemporary Egypt
By Saba Mahmood
Egypt continues to experience interreligious sectarian conflict between Muslims and Copts since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. The same factors that had contributed to escalating violence between the two communities continue to be at play in postrevolutionary Egypt. One of the key sites of sectarian conflict is interreligious marriage and conversion, an issue that ignites the passion and ire of both communities. While issues of sexuality and gender are at the center of these conflicts, religion-based family law plays a particularly pernicious role. In this essay, I rethink the nexus between family law, gender, and sectarian conflict through an examination of both the history of the emergence of Egyptian family law and the simultaneous relegation of religion and sexuality to the private sphere in the modern period.
Meanings and Feelings: Local interpretations of the use of violence in the Egyptian revolution
By Farha Ghannam
I trace the shifting feelings of some of my close interlocutors in a low-income neighborhood in Cairo and explore some of the cultural meanings that informed their attempts to make sense of the changing situation during the first days of the Egyptian revolution. Specifically, I reflect on how existing concepts that structure uses of violence have been central to the way men and women interpreted the attacks of baltagiyya (thugs) on the protestors in Tahrir Square and how these interpretations ultimately framed my interlocutors’ feelings and views of the revolution, Mubarak’s regime, and its supporters.
The Egyptian Revolution: A Triumph of Poetry
By Reem Saad
The 11-day interval between the fall of Tunisia’s Ben Ali and the onset of the Egyptian revolution is now almost forgotten. These days were important mainly as the time when inspiration was nurtured and the big question on people’s minds was, could a revolution happen in Egypt? Never before had this question been debated so intensely. I look at two contrasting ways of addressing it. On the one hand, seasoned political analysts (mostly political scientists) were predominantly saying no, Egypt is not Tunisia. On the other hand, activists were talking dreams and poetry, especially invoking lines from two famous Arab poets on the power of popular will and the inevitability of revolution. In this case, poetry prevailed. It was not only a source of inspiration but also carried more explanatory power than much social science. Here I document this moment and pay tribute to poetry and dreams.
No Longer a Bargain: Women, masculinity, and the Egyptian uprising
By Sherine Hafez
Although, according to eyewitness accounts, women made up 20 to 50 percent of the protestors in Tahrir Square, the events immediately following the Egyptian uprising revealed that women would not be part of the political deliberations between various contending parties and the Supreme Military Council in charge of the country. In this essay, I take a close look at the sociocultural dynamics behind the inclusion–dis-inclusion of women in the political sphere to question how this contradiction has, in recent years, characterized the nature of gender relations in Arab countries like Egypt. Multilayered, rapidly changing, and challenged patriarchal power lies at the very core of the uprising in Egypt. What the events of this uprising have revealed is that notions of masculinity undermined by a repressive regime have observably shifted the terms of the patriarchal bargain.
The Privilege of Revolution: Gender, class, space, and affect in Egypt
By Jessica Winegar
In this commentary, I challenge assumptions about political transformation by contrasting women’s experiences at home during the Egyptian revolution with the image of the iconic male revolutionary in Tahrir Square. I call attention to the way that revolution is experienced and undertaken in domestic spaces, through different forms of affect, in ways deeply inflected by gender and class.
Strength and Vulnerability after Egypt’s Arab Spring Uprisings
By Sherine F. Hamdy
Following the revolts that unseated Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, a contradictory discourse has emerged in which Egyptians imagine themselves to be resilient in body and spirit but also enfeebled by years of political corruption and state negligence. During the mass protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the regime’s orchestrated violence neither crushed the movement nor provoked activists to abandon their vow of peaceful protest. However, Egyptians’ pride in the physical and moral resilience that enabled this feat is infused with an understanding of its fragility; many face vulnerabilities to disease within the context of environmental toxins, malnutrition, and a broken, overtaxed health care system. And they mourn the deterioration of moral principles and values after years of brutal oppression and social injustice. These conflicting views—of vitality and vulnerability—have led to a dizzying oscillation between optimism and despair; even as people celebrate the accomplishments of the uprisings, they are also keenly aware of the formidable challenges that lie ahead.
The issue has more than only the Arab Spring. Two interesting articles, for my readers, are:
Angels in Swindon: Public religion and ambient faith in England
Angels in Swindon: Public religion and ambient faith in England
By Matthew Engelke
In this article, I introduce the idea of “ambient faith” in an effort to clarify the stakes in long-standing debates about public and private religion. I take as my starting point the increasingly common recognition that conceptual distinctions between publicity and privacy are difficult to maintain in the first place and that they are, in any case, always relative. The idea of “ambient faith,” which I connect to work on the turn to a materialist semiotics, can serve as both a critique of and supplement to the ideas of “public” and “private” religion. Introducing ambience—the sense of ambience—allows one to raise important questions about the processes through which faith comes to the foreground or stays in the background—the extent to which faith, in other words, goes public or stays private. I use my research on a Christian organization in England, the Bible Society of England and Wales, to illuminate these points, discussing the society’s campaign in 2006 to bring angels to Swindon and its promotion of Bible reading in coffee shops. I also consider Brian Eno’s music and recent advertising trends for additional insights into the notion of “ambience.”
The Judge as Tragic Tero: Judicial ethics in Lebanon’s shari‘a courts
By Morgan Clarke
In this article, I present ethnography of judicial practice in Lebanon’s shari‘a courts and find a tension between the identity of the judges presiding as Islamic religious specialists and their identity as legal professionals. Just applying the rules of the law is incompatible with true religious vocation, which demands personal engagement with the morally needy. But to ignore legal strictures is to be dismissed as a mere sermonizer. I find this case illustrative of a deeper tension between the use of rules and the disciplining of virtuous selves and argue for a new anthropology of rules to set alongside the new anthropology of ethics.
See also a recent issue of Current Anthropology:
HOT SPOTS: REVOLUTION AND COUNTER-REVOLUTION IN EGYPT | Cultural Anthropology
On this first anniversary of the “official” beginning of the Egyptian revolution, we find an ever more complex, and constantly shifting, social and political landscape. The military regime and gerontocracy remains entrenched, cutting deals with the older leadership Muslim Brotherhood, which recently took the lion’s share of seats in Parliament. For many Egyptians, the revolution is not over. As the one-year anniversary demonstrations showed, they have not given up on their clear set of demands to overthrow the broader regime and to regain dignity in their lives. For others, notably Islamists, the revolution brought tangible victories and the ability to speak and congregate freely for the first time in thirty years. In the eyes of some, especially those on the precarious edge of the wage economy, the revolution brought instability and “social chaos” and may not have been worth it. Anthropologists trying to make sense of these complex shifts in society, and to support Egyptians in their struggle, find themselves having to rework the tools of their discipline and what it means to be an anthropologist. These issues, and more, are discussed by the authors of the pieces in this Hot Spot.
This Hot Spot was originally conceived by the editors of Cultural Anthropology during the events of January-February 2011, when most observers and participants were far more optimistic than today about a speedy transformation of power in Egypt. Through no fault of the editors, it took much longer to put these pieces together, for reasons we discuss in some of the articles that follow, especially in Elyachar and Sabea. As it turns out, we believe that the outcome is much stronger than it would have been a year ago. Just this week, as we finally began to post these pieces, events again took a tragic turn. 74 Egyptians were recently killed in a soccer stadium, in what most Egyptians call a massacre (magzara), due to the widespread perception that they were planned or at least facilitated by the army and police, in part to take revenge on the role of soccer fan clubs in the ongoing revolution. These most recent events are not discussed in the Hot Spot. But by reading what follows, we hope that you will gain a much better sense of what is underway in Egypt and the region, learn more about the challenges posed by the massive revolts of the past year around the world for the writing of ethnography, and know more about where to turn for information and analysis of Egypt and the region. As editors of the Hot Spot, we thank everyone who took the time to dare to write about so much that is so uncertain, and for the help and cooperation of our colleagues at Jadaliyya and American Ethnologist as well as to the editors of Cultural Anthropology, Charles Piot and Anne Allison, and its managing editor, Alison Kenner, for their endless patience and immense help.
For interesting related posts see also:
Believing in religious freedom « The Immanent Frame
Like a good movie, the story of international religious freedom offers something for everyone. It pits cowardly oppressors against heroic saviors. It is a story of the triumph of international law over those who fail to adhere to global norms and standards. It is a story of secular tolerance versus violent religion. And today especially, it is a story of the need for the U.S. government and its friends to “convince” others—particularly Muslims—that they should endorse a particular model of religious liberty as a template for organizing and democratizing their politics and societies. It is a story of human progress and emancipation, of transforming conditions of religious oppression to liberate individuals—particularly women—from their primitive, pre-modern, discriminatory ways. Working alone and in tandem, these narratives justify intervention to save, define, shape, and sanctify parts of people’s (religious and non-religious) individual and collective lives. The projects with which they are associated are diverse yet intertwined, at times supporting and at times vying with one another. It is a mixed bag.
One common feature of these accounts is the notion that belief is the defining feature of religion. Although occasionally paying respect to other aspects of religious life and belonging, belief as the core of religiosity is a powerful unifying trope to which religious freedom advocates return again and again. Rallying around religion as belief, and the assumption that there can be no religion without belief, plays a central role in international religious freedom campaigns. This post asks whether it would be possible to continue promoting religious freedom as a universalizable construct if this modern construct of belief were seen as a political discourse situated in history, rather than as the mark of the sacred. And if it isn’t possible, then what is religious freedom advocacy actually promoting?
In his contribution to the new Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies, Talal Asad questions the universality of the liberal democratic requirement that belief or conscience is what properly defines the individual and, for many liberals in particular, represents the essence of religiosity. His argument helps cast in a new light the position that belief is the defining moment of religion, underwriting protection of religious freedom as the right to believe by states as well as by various transnational actors and authorities.
And to conclude, interesting work is also done on CLOUD anthropologist » Arab Spring