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Inconvenient History: tales of lesser discussed history of Egypt & Israel

As Egypt's relationship with Israel takes central stage for both countries, a look at some interesting little known historical facts ...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tremendous Insight into Egypt Bedouins -- Book Review of Veiled Sentiments by Leila Abu Lughod

Lila Abu Lughod, an Arab American woman, lived among the Awlad Ali tribes of the North West of Egypt for two years. Veiled Sentiments is the book she wrote on the lives and poetry of Awlad Ali. Abu Lughod field work was clearly not carried out from a "superior" stance; she sympathized with her subjects and dealt with them as equal human beings rather than inferior specimen or cultures. Abu Lughod attitude, intelligence, training and tremendous analystical ability helped her in developing great insight and understanding of this fascinating culture.

Abu Lughod analysis of concepts such as "hishma" was truly incisive and shed a great deal of light on the nature of modesty between women and men and amongst men and women. The analysis seems to explain behaviors and norms witnessed elsewhere in Egypt and indeed other parts of the Middle East.

An important thesis of Abu Lughod is that the Awlad Ali people often communicated in very conservative and modest way directly through words; they only said what was proper and fitted the norms. Yet a second mode of communication far more true and expressive was found in their little songs or poems.

Abu Lughod discussed gender relation amongst Awlad Ali at length and the relationship between women and the families of their husbands and the society at large. I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it. For an excellent work on veiling and gender issues, I would recommend Leila Ahmed's Women & Gender in Islam.

Egyptians Speak A Language They Don't Respect and Respect Another They Don't Speak --- A Book Review of Sacred Language, Ordinary People by Niloofar Haeri

Niloofar Haeri is an Iranian American; she studied Arabic Language in the USA and went to Egypt to further her studies. On arrival she realized that the language she learnt "modern Arabic" is very different from the language spoken by the Egyptians. The difference was more than just accent or dialect; it was far more fundamental than that. Haeri set out studying the Egyptian "Arabic" language in great detail and studying its role in the society.

Haeri describes contradictions galore in the way the society deals with the language issue and the way the whole language question is suppressed virtually by the entire nation. Egyptians are trapped unable to develop their language because any such development would be a departure from the sacred language of the Quran; a language the Egyptians never spoke and need to learn. Even the Copts, Egypt's Christians see Egyptian Arabic as an inferior language. Some of the amazing findings of Haeri include her analysis of the language of the newspapers which follows the sentence structure of Egyptian Arabic, political speeches and language on the TV. It was interesting to see how presidential speeches in Egyptian Arabic are often "translated" into proper Arabic for official news purposes.

I first heard of this book from a very negative review of the Al Ahram Weekly that was written by an American woman living in Egypt. The negative review was front page of the book review supplement of the Ahram. I was fascinated by it, so on my return to the US I ordered and truly loved it. Outstanding work, very highly recommended!