This week, and in the first issue of Detox every month, we’ll be sharing a playlist with the latest music releases in our Listen section, and we’ve called it Tafneeta. (A hint for non-Arabic speakers: What do iPods and poker have in common?)
Over the past couple of months, we couldn’t help but notice the growing activity on artist and former Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny’s Facebook page. It is an archive of sorts for the artist’s career, and to our surprise, it has some valuable content, ranging from images of Hosny’s abstract paintings accompanied with critical praise of his work, to a long series of photographs of him at different stages of his career; from the time he was a young man heading the Anfoushi Cultural Palace in Alexandria — in one photo from 1969, he is pictured with Tharwat Okasha, who was Minister of Culture at the time — to the peak of his career as a minister, which ended in 2011 with the onset of the revolution.
Hosny has been trying to make his way back into the spotlight — as an artist at least — ever since, but it hasn’t been easy. His first post-January 25 exhibition was held in the UAE in November 2013, then another one was organized in Saudi Arabia in 2014. His first exhibition in Egypt post-2011 took place at the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in 2015 — the same museum from which Van Gogh’s famed “Poppy Flowers” was stolen in 2010 while Hosny was culture minister, in a reverberating scandal. From 2017 onwards, he’s held an annual exhibition in the city, even though he was never fully acquitted on charges of making LE9 million in illicit gains until March 2018. According to the Court of Cassation, the source of the money was sales of the artist’s paintings.
Going back to Hosny’s Facebook photos — the most entertaining bit — we see him standing behind Anwar al-Sadat, examining a book with “the last king of Egypt” (King Farouk’s son, Ahmed Fouad), hanging out with legendary composer Mohamed Abdel Wahab and his wife, Nahla al-Qudsi, and chatting to screen legend Faten Hamama as she listens intently, with the late actor Karam Motawea standing between them.
What can we say? The man’s definitely lived an interesting life. Many significant cultural events took place in Egypt during his 23-year tenure as minister, as did several catastrophes, including the tragic Beni Suef theater fire in 2005. He ran for Director-General of UNESCO in 2009 and lost, and the very next year “Poppy Flowers” was stolen — through it all he remained Egypt’s culture minister. So far this year, a biography titled Farouk Hosny Remembers: A Lifetime of Culture by Intisar Dardeer was published by Nahdet Masr; Hosny also founded a cultural foundation in his name in Zamalek, where he plans to open a museum for his own work.
And now we leave you with another gem from the page: a very random picture of prolific composer Hani Shenouda posing with a statue of Hosny in the garden of the artist’s atelier. We told you it’s entertaining.
This week it’s moving-images galore, as wherever you head in Cairo (and a certain venue in Alexandria), you’re likely to find an interesting film playing, with the 9th Cairo Video Festival in full swing (you can find the full schedule here). Zawya reopened last week, warming up with Quentin Tarantino’s 9th feature, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, before kicking off their special programming. Ahmed Fawzi Saleh’s Poisonous Roses is screening again at Cimatheque after its selection as Egypt’s official entry in this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film. Finally, a tribute to late Lebanese filmmaker Jocelyne Saab (who passed away in January this year) is playing at Alexandria’s Wekalet Behna. Take your pick.
Lit Hub republishes the 1980 essay “How to Review a Novel” by the co-founder and longtime editor of the London Review of Books, Mary-Kay Wilmers. In it, Wilmers examines the language of criticism: “What reviews have in common is that they must all in some degree be re-creations: reshapings of what the novelist has already shaped. The writer’s fortunes depend on the reviews he gets but the reviewer depends on the book to see that his account of it—his “story,” to use the language of the newspaper composing room—is interesting.” The essay is excerpted from the recently published “Human Relations and Other Difficulties: Essays by Mary-Kay Wilmers.”
On the occasion of the release of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, the highly anticipated sequel to her 1985 masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale, Time magazine’s Lucy Feldman paints a vivid portrait of the Canadian author at 79: sharp, grounded and witty. Atwood touches on American politics, life with a partner suffering from dementia, and, most importantly, how she managed to write The Testaments, freeing herself of her original protagonist’s voice to create three other characters in different settings. Earlier this week, the book made headlines when Amazon broke a strict embargo, sending it to buyers one week early.
In “Another Network is Possible,” April Glaser, a technology and business journalist, tracks the rise and fall of Indymedia, the independent media movement that was launched during the 1999 anti-globalization protests in Seattle and grew to become a global phenomenon, one that helped define an early era of networked protest. “They drew from a history of community media and radical self-publishing, which emphasized the need for those who are marginalized and silenced by mainstream media to share stories, cultivate solidarity, and build grassroots power,” Glaser writes. “A revitalization of an Indymedia-like project today would never be a replacement for the platforms that are so intertwined with our lives. But it could provide a welcome retreat … where activists across movements locally and globally can share stories, calendars, and concerns without feeding Facebook and Google’s advertising empire.”
The New Yorker published a 1976 essay by Marguerite Duras, where the French author and filmmaker taps into the pain of giving birth to a stillborn son. Newly available in English, the piece is an extract from the upcoming Me and Other Writing, a collection of Duras’ searing and insightful essays, translated by Olivia Baes and Emma Ramadan and set to be released next month.
In the 1950s, the CIA launched a top-secret project codenamed MK-Ultra that embarked on a series of experiments in mind control that used LSD on subjects considered “expendable.” The Guardian runs an edited extract of Stephen Kinzer’s new book, “Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control” that tells the incredible story of how one of the scientists involved in MK-Ultra leaped to his death after being fed a high dose of LSD by his colleagues without his knowledge.
Ahmed Wael recommends The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald: This is a book you’ll never really be done with. It will linger in your mind long after you’re finished reading it, and you’ll probably go back to it many, many times. You probably have some general information about the rings of Saturn, which set it apart from all other planets, but neither you nor I have ever really known them, never seen them up close. This is precisely what Sebald’s book is about. Sebald writes about something we know, but not quite. The book’s main subject — if we can assume it has one — is a walk along the east coast of England. However, it turns into a myriad of fragments that come together in a massive narrative made up of a variety of musings: about history, human civilization, writers, wars, the anatomy of the human body and more. The Rings of Saturn is definitely not a novel. And even though the original German subtitle of the book is “An English Pilgrimage,” labeling it as a work of travel literature, this isn’t a conventional travelogue either. Sebald’s style is entertaining and magnetic; he immerses readers in a fascinating whirlwind of elements that at times may seem mundane and familiar, but the truth is it’s much deeper than that. The Rings of Saturn was translated from German into English by Michael Hulse, and into Arabic by Ahmed Farouq (Al-Tanweer).
Mariam al-Ashmawy recommends The Red Sea Diving Resort: A recent Netflix production, the film tells the true story of the Israeli Operation Brothers mission which took place from 1979 to 1984 along Sudan’s Red Sea coast. It is one of several titles showing on Netflix that focus on “heroic” tales of Israel’s Mossad agents, among them the series Mossad 101 (2015), the 2017 documentary mini-series Inside the Mossad and The Angel (2018), a biopic about Egyptian double-agent Ashraf Marwan. The Red Sea Diving Resort stars Chris Evans, Michael K. Williams and Haley Bennett, and depicts the Mossad’s secret plan to smuggle Ethiopian Jews from a refugee camp into Israel after the breakout of civil war, which they covered by pretending to renovate a deserted diving resort on the Red Sea. Critics and audiences alike called out the film for being a classic “white savior” story, where the Ethiopians are portrayed as mere victims whose characters remain dramatically undeveloped throughout. The film, however, does shed light on the disappointment suffered by thousands of refugees who have built up hopes of a utopian life in Israel, only for their fantasies to be crushed almost as soon as they make it there.
The movie’s release coincided with a critical moment in the country, when large protests were taking place in response to the murder of an 18-year-old Israeli boy of Ethiopian origins by an off-duty police officer, raising accusations of systemic racism practiced against Ethiopian Jews since the 1980s.
If you’ve been following the news of Brazil’s Amazon fires with concern and dismay, you may want to watch this documentary. It isn’t about the forests per se, but it does paint a larger picture that explains the current state of affairs in South America’s largest country.
Director Petra Costa weaves her personal story with that of her homeland: while her parents were staunch communists, hunted by the military dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s, her grandfather owned a large construction company that benefited from direct contracts granted by the government. Such companies accumulated their wealth through shady deals, and in the process created and strengthened the political elite that protected them.
Costa recounts the rise of Brazil’s Workers’ Party under the leadership of Lula da Silva, filming several scenes with Lula and his successor Dilma Rousseff in the presidential palace, as well as right-wing presidents Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro. The director masterfully conveys how the large, convoluted networks of interests between politicians and major corporations managed to swallow the party’s leading political figures, and how the alt-right hijacked the wave of anger that rose against political corruption and declining economic conditions, eventually emerging to the forefront of the scene. Yet all along, Costa shows us, the corporates and wealthy businessmen were always in the background; invisible actors with an indisputable role.
Costa never claims to be neutral, she is unabashedly biased in her treatment. But it seems that, in all cases, there’s no longer space for objectivity in Brazil. Everything is on the edge.
At the beginning of every month, Ahmed El Sabbagh curates Tafneeta, a Spotify playlist with the latest music releases from the region and beyond. We hope you enjoy the time you spend with it. And remember: You can listen to Tafneeta in any order you prefer — in other words, shuffle away.
Our guest for this week’s Chit-chat segment is novelist Mohamed Rabie. What do you write? And who do you write for? For myself, initially, and if someone likes what I write that’s a bonus.
How do you see the future?
The future, the past, time — all of these are false constructs. What’s funny is that our understanding of time changes every couple of hundred years, and it will change even more in “the future.” The beautiful thing is that the human race is going extinct in two thousand years anyway.
What do you love the most?
That’s the hardest question. I can’t think of anything.
What are you scared of the most? That’s the second hardest question. I also can’t think of anything.
Is it true that the world never changes but we are the ones who do? People change each other. The world is a false construct as well; even worse than time, because it’s so ambiguous.
What is a “homeland”? Homeland is a false construct as well, created by a small group of people (in our case: the Free Officers) in order to control a larger group of people (in our case the people who live within the geographical domain known as Egypt) so that the larger group can coexist without any big conflicts.
The past was over when…
The past doesn’t end or begin. According to our current understanding of “the past,” it is something that stays in our memory and impacts us negatively. Generally, if someone has no “past” they would live a very comfortable life.
Let’s talk about time.
What I’m certain of is that we invented time to be able to work and live together without serious conflict (just like the concept of the “homeland,” but “time” is older). But just like any other banal, useless human invention (and they all are, without exception), we ended up using it to fight on an even larger scale, inflicting more harm on ourselves as humans. It’s as simple as that: imagine that you’re living alone on an island and that you are positive there’s absolutely no way off the island, then you will know that time doesn’t even exist.
More birds are coming our way as quails start their migratory journey from Europe to Africa, according to Nature Conservation Egypt. You can follow their flyway here.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Virgo star sign, may you live a long and happy life. On your birth month, our gift to you is a carefully picked selection for your horoscope from different newspapers: We can’t really decipher what Al-Akhbar meant here, but we’ll give you the message as it is: “Give them a shot and you will succeed for sure.” This is clearly a pattern for the editor in charge of the horoscope page because the next day they gave similar instructions: “Try, and you will find something to say.” Meanwhile, Al-Masry Al-Youm’s Dr. Hala Omar offers somewhat clearer predictions: “You may be getting good news from several sources, and some of them might be surprising. It’s important that you take things seriously.” On another day, she is more specific: “You are surrounded by relationships and power that support you. You are capable of execution and leadership, which strengthens your self-confidence.” We now move on to pure certainty from Youm7: “Social successes, optimism, new friends and good news.” The positivity continued the next day: “Luck is on your side so do not hesitate: special relationships, important financial wins, and a lot of peace of mind.”
Al-Ahram follows the same path: “Great opportunities are on the horizon,” and “The stars promise magic.”
Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll launch our own horoscope page. We’ll see.