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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula LindseyUrsula Lindsey is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent.

From The Blog
26 May 2017

The Egyptian writer Waguih Ghali is described by his editor, May Hawas, as ‘a libertine, a hanger-on, a sponger, a political dissenter, a depressive, an alcoholic, a gambler, and probably a menace to everyone who let him into their lives.’ The American University in Cairo Press is bringing out his diaries in two volumes, 1964-66 and 1966-68. Ghali’s wonderful (and only) novel, Beer in the Snooker Club, was published by André Deutsch in 1964. He had a job of some kind with the British Army Corps, which he loathed, just as he loathed the town of Rheydt in West Germany where he lived a ‘colourless and middle class and unadventurous’ life. He had reached this relatively safe harbour after years of hardship: the details are fuzzy, but he seems to have run into trouble with the Nasser regime (which he disliked) and from 1954 travelled through Europe, working in factories and docks, and living, as he writes, ‘in the gutter’.

From The Blog
16 June 2016

They were playing the soundtrack of the The Godfather in the lobby of the Aurassi hotel, a huge modernist statement built in the 1970s on a hill above the centre of Algiers. Today its cavernous spaces feel understaffed, and guests complain of water shortages in the morning. But the wide open view of tanker ships slowly coming and going in the bay of Algiers is spectacular. I was there for a conference on higher education and unemployment. Algeria has dozens of new, subsidised, overcrowded universities. In the last fifteen years, the number of students has tripled, to 1.5 million. But there are few jobs.

From The Blog
1 June 2015

In his film Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako shows a traditional Muslim society overrun by outsiders claiming they have the God-given authority to tell everyone what to do. The film is inspired by the 2012 takeover of much of Northern Mali by jihadist and other rebel groups. It is both specific to its setting and raises questions about struggles playing out across the Muslim world. I can't think of another creative work that takes such an imaginative, subtle, assured look at Islamist militancy and its effects.

From The Blog
12 March 2015

Riad Sattouf’s father travelled from a small Syrian village to Paris in the 1970s. He met Sattouf’s French mother at university there. After they graduated and their son was born, the family went first to Libya under Gaddafi and then to Syria under Assad. L’Arabe du futur, Sattouf’s autobiographical graphic novel, tells of his strange childhood spent in the shadow of Arab dictators and his father’s delusions. Two more volumes are forthcoming, and an English translation is under way.

From The Blog
3 January 2015

There was a bride in full wedding regalia on my plane from Cairo to Doha last month. She was wearing a sequinned, lacy hijab and a long, tight mermaid skirt that flared at the bottom, over a wire hoop. It wasn’t easy to manoeuvre the hoop down the aisle of the plane. She was travelling alone, and in the long empty hallways of Doha's new airport made laborious progress. I didn't see who came to meet her.

From The Blog
2 October 2014

Hassan Blasim's short story collection The Iraqi Christ, translated by Jonathan Wright, opens with a crowd gathered at the headquarters of Memory Radio in Baghdad, 'set up after the fall of the dictator', to take part in a storytelling competition. Everyone believes their own stories are 'stranger, crueller and more crazy' than everyone else's. But they are also all afraid that they will not have the chance to tell them, that a suicide bomber may 'turn all these stories into a pulp of flesh and fire'.

From The Blog
29 August 2014

A few days before Isis fighters captured the Iraqi city of Mosul, Saqi Books released an anthology called Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, a thoughtful collection of work by Syrian writers, activists, visual artists and anonymous collectives who were at the vanguard of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.

From The Blog
18 June 2014

On Wednesday 11 June, the Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah was one of 25 people sentenced to 15 years in prison for organising an illegal protest last November. Abdel Fattah is a 32-year-old software developer and blogger, and an habitué of Egypt’s street protests, court rooms and jails. He was first detained in 2006, under Mubarak, for protesting in favour of an independent judiciary. Supporters organised a 'Free Alaa' campaign. After being held for six weeks without charge, he was released.

From The Blog
10 June 2014

On Avenue Bourguiba, a young man with a swollen mouth and a bandaged arm had been lying all morning almost unconscious on the ground, a dirty Tunisian flag across his chest. A few men in the circle of onlookers finally decided to pick him up and walk him away. 'He’s been there ten days,' a middle-aged waiter from a nearby cafe explained. He was on a hunger strike. I asked why. The waiter shrugged. 'He’s from outside the capital. He hasn’t got his rights yet.' The waiter segued into his own grievances: he works 15 hours a day, has four children, makes 400 dinars a month. They never eat meat.

From The Blog
22 February 2014

I stumbled into journalism twelve years ago, at the dingy and convivial offices of the Cairo Times, a now defunct independent English language weekly whose Egyptian and foreign interns and journalists have gone on to report across the Middle East. I’ve worked as a reporter in Cairo ever since – as an editor at other local independent publications and as a correspondent for foreign media – and I’ve never known a worse time for journalists in Egypt than the present.

From The Blog
17 December 2013

Jehane Noujaim’s Oscar-nominated documentary The Square still hasn’t been screened in Cairo. It was scheduled to play at a local film festival but pulled at the last minute; the Censor’s Office has still not approved the movie’s general release. It’s not hard to see why. The scenes of revolutionary fervour and army and police brutality are at odds with the prevailing version of events here, in which generals are saviours and all protesters suspects.

From The Blog
20 November 2013

Mohamed Mahmoud is a small street that branches from Tahrir Square; the American University in Cairo stands on the corner. Two years ago, the police violently dispersed a dwindling sit-in there by a few dozen relatives of people killed during the uprising against Mubarak. The policemen were caught on cell phones dragging dead bodies to the curb like bags of garbage. Young people poured back into Tahrir Square and spent four days fighting the police, who fell back along Mohamed Mahmoud, protecting one of the avenues to the Ministry of Interior. (The Muslim Brotherhood, concerned that the violence would derail the upcoming parliamentary elections, prohibited its members from taking part.) For perhaps the last time, street protests by groups that identified as revolutionary had an impact on the political process. They demanded that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces set a date for presidential elections and for stepping down from power. The SCAF agreed.

From The Blog
4 November 2013

This morning Mohammad Morsi went on trial in the police academy on the outskirts of Cairo where Hosni Mubarak was tried two years ago. The charges against Morsi seem even more difficult to prove than those brought against his predecessor. Morsi and 14 other Muslim Brotherhood leaders are accused of inciting and abetting violence by his supporters against protesters outside the presidential palace last December, which left seven dead. (He also faces other charges, such as conspiring with Hamas.)

From The Blog
20 August 2013

I prefer to see what happened as a great fire, which many shared in starting, some out of negligence and stupidity, some out of revenge, some of out greed and some out of inattention. Everyone thought his own actions explained the fire's outbreak, but the truth, God knows, is they all joined in starting it... And what matters is that they started it, and the army came to power claiming to put it out. I underlined this passage, earlier this summer, in Ezzedine Choukri Fishere’s novel Bab El Khoroug, ('The Way Out'). Choukri Fishere is a former Egyptian diplomat, a professor of political science and the author of several previous novels. He published Bab El Khoroug in instalments in the Egyptian newspaper El Tahrir last year. The novel, set in the year 2020, looks back on a military takeover, a complete breakdown of government and security, the rise of an unlikely dictator and the massacres he oversees, the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president, and yet another military coup.

From The Blog
21 March 2013

One of the winners of the Abraaj Group Art Prize unveiled at the Art Dubai fair this week is Vartan Avakian. A Very Short History of Tall Men is a collection of portraits of would-be dictators, not-so-strong men who lasted only a few days or weeks and were quickly forgotten. He has cast detailed miniature gold statues of the men and suspended them in globes of synthetic glass, like insects in amber.

From The Blog
15 February 2013

The street lamps on the Kasr El Nil bridge are out. The Semiramis hotel is battered and shuttered: during the latest round of clashes the hotel was looted by a well-armed mob that showed up one night at 2 a.m. The staff called the army and the police, in vain. As our taxi turns the corner by the Semiramis – on the edge of Tahrir Square, a few minutes from the American Embassy – there’s a crowd of young men in the street in front of us. A boy with a keffiyeh wrapped around his mouth winds up his arm and lets loose, aiming squarely at our windscreen – but his hand is empty, he’s just joking. Another boy waves us through. The first boy comes running over and, hanging on the open window, yells at the driver. I’m too flustered to catch what he says, but it’s clear we won’t be let through. We head back to the bridge, back across the Nile, up the other side and home by a different bridge.

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