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The Saturday Salon: April 15 edition
Welcome back, friends. With the continued collapse of Twitter and the online town hall, we need spaces like this more than ever.
I remember the Arab Spring like it was yesterday.
It was January 25, 2011, and thousands of Egyptians were swarming the country’s streets to voice their discontent with President Hosni Mubarak’s tyrannical regime. They serenaded Cairo’s neighbourhoods with songs of freedom, filled the polluted air with rhythmic reminders of past joys and spoke of a brighter future for their children.
Disjointed crowds funnelled their way through the narrow downtown passageways, fusing into a single 15,000 strong collective to occupy Tahrir Square — a central landmark that translates to “Centre of Victory.” And despite the growing risks, rising death toll and gradual dissension to anarchy, their numbers continued to swell, while their demands grew louder with each passing day. By Friday, February 11 — a day known to Egyptians as the ‘Friday of Departure’ — demonstrators gathered in inconceivable numbers to witness the final moments of Mubarak’s 30-year reign.
We had done it. We had achieved the unimaginable.
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While the Arab Spring slowly morphed into an Authoritarian Winter, it was once viewed as a transformative moment in time—one where the appetite for revolution and democratic change in the Arab world coincided with the rise of social media.
The Arab Spring revealed the fragility of certain Middle Eastern dictatorships and highlighted how quickly online discontent can transform into national resistance. Facebook, and subsequently Twitter, proved to be powerful tools for promoting political change.
However, the past decade has seen these networks degenerate into tools for disinformation, authoritarian surveillance, and a billionaire’s narcissistic tendencies.
In fact, it was my growing disillusionment with Twitter that prompted me to start my own Substack. Despite spending the last 13 years building an audience on Twitter, I reached a point where I was no longer able to share my articles or communicate with followers without being bombarded with a deluge of bots, trolls and bad faith actors looking to superimpose their unsolicited opinions or to pass on insults and violent threats.
Meanwhile, Substack had allowed me to build a unique following, hold Q&A sessions with subscribers, and create spaces such as the Saturday Salon where we can share our favorite snippets from the wide world of news, arts, and culture.
I believe I made the right decision.
Welcome back to the Saturday Salon, friends.
This week’s soundtrack is Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. I selected this song after recently reading an article in the LA Review of Books called Can Art Save Your Life?: On Revolution, Political Prisoners, Climate Activism, and Pink Floyd.
The article was about Alaa Abd el-Fattah, the Egyptian activist who was re-arrested in 2019 on trumped up charges and has remained in prison ever since. On April 2, 2022, El-Fattah began a hunger strike where he consumed no more than 100 calories a day. he escalated his protest ahead of COP27, the climate summit held in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh. He stopped eating entirely and was hospitalized shortly thereafter. As he was recovering, Egyptian authorities finally granted his longtime wish of a music player. The first song he listened to after years of silence was Comfortably Numb.
From the article:
El-Fattah’s aunt, the novelist Ahdaf Soueif, recounted in an interview “a moment of almost sufi exultation” that el-Fattah told her he’d experienced upon hearing the song, particularly one part: what he described to her as “that amazing, great solo ringing in my ears while the blood came back to my limbs.” Despite having been on hunger strike for almost six months, food was not the sustenance that el-Fattah most craved. It was music.
Listen to the song that kept Alaa going below. May he one day be free.
Shameless Self Promotion
Abdul-Kerim Edilov was a UFC veteran and one of the most influential men in his homeland. Then he disappeared. This investigation—a journey that involves sex workers, drugs, extortion, and a blood feud—is the wildest story I’ve worked on this year.
“Chess has long played a role in Russian politics. The Soviet Union weaponized chess as an instrument for propaganda during the Cold War years. Their dominance over the chess board allowed them to espouse the greatness of Soviet culture and the superiority of their political system.”
From world wars and geo-political standoffs to protesting racial discrimination and other human rights abuses, there have been no shortage of Olympic boycotts over the past century.
“MMA and combat sports’ idolization of hyper-masculinity, its penchant for violence, and its emphasis on wellness based lifestyles is well suited to far-right groups whose members object to progressive society’s supposed decadence and degeneration. MMA’s training regimen is also appealing to members of far-right groups because it offers them structured tutelage that they believe is necessary to defend their homeland.”
“Apart from converting to Islam, Tate has also relied on the help of mixed martial arts fighters to help rebrand his persona. He began appearing alongside Tam Khan, a British-Afghan former MMA fighter-turned-entrepreneur who founded one of Dubai’s leading combat sports facilities, TK MMA. He smoked cigars with Aikido master Steven Seagal, and met with several UFC champions.”
“Russia’s victory did not halt the Chechen struggle for freedom. Chechens have continued to fight against Russia, first in Chechnya itself, then in both Syria and Ukraine. It is in Ukraine that Chechens seeking freedom have squared off against the Kadyrov family’s Chechen troops.”
"The detailed accounts of abuse are shocking and soul searing," Lori said. "It is difficult for most to imagine that such evil acts could have actually occurred. For victim-survivors everywhere, they know the hard truth: These evil acts did occur."
“The MUA resembles a mobile stand with colourless pursed lips protruding from the front. To use it, lovers must download an app on to their smartphones and pair their kissing machines. When they kiss the device, it kisses back.”
“White shorts have been a persistent concern for athletes who are anxious about period leaks, prompting teams and competitions to review their uniform policies in recent years.”
“UK government officials have privately flagged concerns about Manchester United Plc bidder Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, according to people familiar with the matter.”
“The joint statement said: “While NUFC play MUFC on Sunday, groups of fans from both clubs will be united in a common cause, regardless of the result on the pitch. We are Newcastle United and Manchester United fans standing together to call for an end to the sale of our historic clubs to states which use them to sportswash their human rights abuses.”
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Arguments & Essays
“There is a need for sustained financial, cultural and emotional investment in the early years. If you invest in families and the socialization of children through fun, play and emotionally regulating environments, there is a direct benefit for them and their community.”
“New York City is brutal to renters. As of 2017, half of us spent a third of our income on rent; a third of us spent more than half. The competition for an affordable place is harrowing, with the vacancy rate for apartments that rent for under $1,500 a month hovering at less than 1 percent.“
“The weaponization of the past and its effective deployment via textbooks to feed young minds over generations to build a society that is ideologically compliant with ethnic nationalism has been the story of modern South Asia.”
“But beyond the gradual trend of eroding religious belief, there is also a more critical attitude towards the church and clergy, and it’s easy to see what puts people off: intolerance, arrogance, outdated views, financial machinations and scandal. Only recently, allegations about John Paul II proactively covering up sexual predators rocked the country. The hardline views of the church, its hypocrisy and its undisguised, ongoing involvement in Polish politics have been the final straws for many.”
“The depth and duration of this crisis will have profound economic and political consequences, some of which will extend far beyond the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The most obvious, and arguably the most costly, will be the rapid increase in poverty, with millions more people expected to drop below the poverty line.”
“Archaeology in the Gulf is a recent activity compared to other parts of the world, such as Egypt and Iraq, which have received vast amounts of attention for centuries. There were initial explorations in the 1950s and ’60s, but excavations never really got going until the 1990s, making the whole of Arabia an exciting place for an archaeologist today.”
"There is a way to appreciate champions without policing their behaviour when it is part of basketball culture. There is also a way to recognize when Black women are not being treated with the grace that their white opponents are."
“With electronic music, it’s so hard and it takes so much time to infuse emotion in the machines,” the soft-spoken and thoughtful Bangalter said from his home in Paris. “So to write a chord or a melody and have the performers — human beings — play it and have this instant emotional quality to it, is really quite exhilarating. It’s not the fight you have against machines.”
Ping-Pong Against Parkinson’s
Middle East Art is Not Calligraphy
THE LITERARY HUB
Last night, I finished reading Emissaries and other short stories — a lovely collection of works by one of Egypt's finest novelists and short story writers,.
The collection features 10 fascinating stories written at the height of the 2011 Arab Spring or in its disillusioning aftermath. The range of styles and genres presented is a testament to Youssef’s versatility while his ability to blend the humorous with the melancholy speaks to his exceptional talent and skill.
I have had the pleasure of studying under Youssef in the past and consider him a role model and a mentor. It gives me great pleasure to see his acclaimed work being published in English and being read by a wider audience. His first novel written in English, The Dissenters, is set to be published by Graywolf Press.
Last week, Sports Politika subscriberrecommended Putin (2022) by Philip Short—a biography of Russia's longstanding president that encompasses the vast majority of his life and his subsequent rise to power before stopping at the invasion of Ukraine.
More from the NYTimes’ review:
Short’s account is both perfectly and unfortunately timed, arriving just when we most need to understand Putin, yet missing the chapter that may yet define his place in history. The invasion of Ukraine does not take place until Page 656 of a 672-page text, having erupted just as Short was completing eight years of research and composition. Such is the peril of writing biographies of figures who are still alive and not finished writing their own stories.
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