Thursday, October 23, 2008

John sent me this message:
"Hi As'ad: please print in full exactly as is without changes, or not at all -- many thanks, JB
STARTSAs'ad: Kindly allow me to respond to your critique of my book Inside Egypt: The Land fo the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution. I don't want to get into a slanging match (as you know, I admire your blog), so I will stick to respectfully pointing out your factual errors, and then leave your readers to decide how much they should therefore trust your general assessment of the book: 1. You wrote: "You say that King Faruk was rehatbilitated when you should have said Saudi media have tried to rehabilitate him." But As'ad: I make it VERY clear that this was all done and exploited by the Saudis (pp. 18-19): "The serial was produced by the Saudi-owned satellite channel MBC, and also aired on the equally popular Saudi-funded Orbit channel... It is difficult not to speculate that MBC's decision to produce it, despite Egyptian officials' efforts at hindrance by refusing to give the crew permission to film on location in the royal palaces and other real-life locations, might also have been at least partly political. Columnists at Saudi-funded newspapers wasted no time in holding up the supposed virtues of the monarch while praising their own Gulf dynasties, which survived Nasser's attempts to undermine them." 2. You wrote: "You express shock that some Egyptians you met wanted to emigrate to the West when they are politically opposed to Western governments (p. 171). No, it is only surprising because you miss to learn that the underlying causes of their hositlity to West are political and not cultural or religious." In fact, I argue AT LENGTH and VERY CLEARLY the EXACT point you claim I ignore on pp. 171-2, and AGAINST what you claim I write (in other words I'm in full agreement with you): "Many in the West have also drawn attention to a mass obsession with emigration among so many different sections of Egypt's imploding society, to the millions who long to leave not only for France, Germany, and other European countries but also, indeed perhaps especially, for... America. This is proof, some have further argued, that Egyptians are not as anti-Western as often perceived by outsiders, which is to say not so angered by American policies in the region as is typically thought to be the case. But this kind of political point scoring largely misses the point. The real question is: Why do so many young Egyptians, despite [emphasis in original) their abstract hatred of the effects of U.S. regional hegemony and their personal anger at Washington for propping up their own dictator (all obvious to anyone who has spent any time in the country), still prefer to take their chances in the West? The obvious answer is that the hatred they hold for their own country is deeper than that which they hold for the foreign policies of the country they will be moving to: Culture and politics, personal ambition and political conviction, are not entwined as one in their minds." 3. "You quote some Kuwaiti racist who claims that "torture is a way of life" in the Middle East? (p. 144)." This is in fact an Egyptian writer, not a Kuwaiti writer, as is made clear in the second half of the sentence you quoted from: "'In the Middle East today, torture is a way of life,' Kuwait Times staff writer Rania El-Gamal, herself an Egyptian, wrote in a powerful response to the allegations." If you are going to call someone a racist, at least get his or her nationality right. 4. You wrote: "You were so offended that an Egyptian spoke to you in classical Arabic (p. 57) that you claimed (falsely) that Egyptians are not able to speak it, and that they don't like it, when fusha is still highly appreciated." This is just plain silly. Most Egyptians do NOT speak (as opposed to understand) fusha fluently, and the vast majority much prefer to be spoken to in their own Egyptian Arabic. On this point, I just can't believe that you of all people could be so out of touch. 5. You wrote: "You say, actually say, that all what was done under the Nasser regime was bad." I don't. I say the long-term consequences were bad. I in fact write (on pp. 10-11): "There were considerable short-term benefits of Nasser's rule: the final liberation of Egypt from foreign dominance; the expansion of the education system; guaranteed civil service jobs for university graduates; the nationalization of the Suez Canal and building of the High Dam; fairer land redistribution." 6. You wrote: "You are so obsessed with Nasser that you forgot that he died back in 1970." It doesn't at all matter when Nasser died. What matters is that the system he created is still in place, which is basically a military dictatorship, which is the root causes of Egypt's problems. Meanwhile, you imply that I have an unqualified love for the colonial period. If so, then why on earth did I write this in Inside Egypt? "Similarly, Ismail's decision to refashion Cairo on the Parisian model in preparation for the celebrations surrounding the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 may have impressed his European guests and his own pampered circle; but the downside was that it bankrupted the Egyptian treasury, leading to his being deposed and the British occupying Egypt in all but name. When the British and French consuls ordered Ismail to abdicate, Mostyn writes, he "could not call on his people because his taxes and tyranny had made him hated by them." Stories of Ismail's sexual promiscuity abounded, not to mention the possible murder of various unfaithful mistresses; even liberal-minded Egyptians who were unconcerned with their ruler's private life, but who considered themselves equal to the British and French, bristled at the latter's special treatment as guests of the khedive. Their own exclusion from the upper-class lifestyle of the new European quarters of Cairo, from which all but the best-connected and most Westernized Egyptians were banned, was a continuous source of humiliation."ENDS"