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Week of November 23

 

 

 

November 23

 

Fulbright Selection Committee and “The Thief”

 

This morning, I took the train to Dokki to the Fulbright office to participate in a panel to choose Fulbright candidates who would represent Egypt at US institutions. A packet of 3 candidate files had been delivered to my apartment last week, and I finished reading them this morning. One candidate’s proposal was in library science, one in sociology, and one in media and the use of the internet in political movements. The three candidates came in one by one and me, along with 1 Egyptian scholar and one representative from the US Embassy, asked questions about their project for 15 minutes. Afterward, we discussed them and ranked them on the spot, based not only on their academic proposal, but also the impression they gave in the interview on how they would adapt to a new culture, fit in, be flexible, etc. I took the train back to Tahrir, and then an AUC bus to campus.

 

That evening I went to a faculty dinner theatre that started with dinner in the Faculty Lounge, and then we walked to the performing arts theatre on campus to see the Arabic-language play “The Thief”. I had gotten an English-language version of the script, but hadn’t time to read it before the play. I was able to catch a lot of it, and pretty much had the plot right as I watched the students perform. That made me feel good that I at least could catch the “drift” before an Egyptian student explained some of the details to me at intermission. After the play, I went to my office to Skype home with Katie and the girls using my office computer/built-in camera.

 

November 24

 

After working on campus all day, I took the bus to the Tahrir AUC campus to listen to a talk given by professor of sociology and Middle Eastern studies, Dr. Asef Bayat, a Persian scholar who used to be at AUC but is now at the Leiden University in the Netherlands. He gave a talk from his most recent book, about so-called non-movement social movements. His basic idea was, based on Egypt and Iranian cases, was that what is going to create change in the Middle East in the next decade is not protest movements, but what he calls “non-movements” such as the urban poor, women, and youth/students. Non-movements are disorganized, fragmented, but are made up of demographic groups that are similar in outlook, oppression, and “passive networks.” 1) The urban poor non-movement evokes the same response from a regime: namely, panic and fear. Urban poor are squatters, who take over areas and put pressure for change on the regime without direct protest. 2) Women are slowly becoming more educated and taking professional jobs, and are changing the society from the bottom up, again without direct agitation in many cases. (He cited the movie “Divorce Iranian Style”). 3) Youth activism is an extension of “youth habitus” through sports clubs, Western dress and music, and because of their enormous demographic size will compel change without necessarily using protest.

Thus, social non-movements use the politics of presence/practice, not protest, and through quite, incremental encroachment on state authority, will compel change. Non-movements are:

  • against authoritarian rule
  • the state doesn’t meet social service needs
  • states don’t have full control of space and civil society, allowing new non-movements to encroach
  • these groups use their agency in a time of control and constraint.
  • Action is disperse and non organized
  • They use practices that are ordinary (getting education, jobs, listening to Western music), whereas protest is an extraordinary action
  • It is difficult to suppress the ordinary
  • Traditional social movements are organized and unified and a threat to the status quo
  • Non-movements use unorganized individuals who have simultaneous similar practices that encroach

 

 

November 26

 

Today was Thanksgiving—it was strange to think that back in the States, this was a big day, but was very ordinary here in Egypt. Around 4pm I went to Sussan Babaie and Richard’s for Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings along with some of the expat Iranian community. When I got home that night, I Skyped with all the Lincoln cousins, Aunt Maggie, Janet, and Mom and Dad on Janet’s computer she had taken to Debbie’s. It was good to see everyone, but also felt lonely since I wasn’t even in Houston. Katie and the girls went to spend Thanksgiving with Janice and her family who are now in Houston—so I missed that too. Hard day after getting home from Sussan’s—but at least I had that to go to.

 

November 28

 

Scott, Glen and I went out to an Indian restaurant on the Maadi Cornish called Bandara. We met some other Fulbrighters from up in Zamelek and had Indian Chi afterward.

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