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Learning from Cairo

Georg Diez about about our first 60pages writers workshop
17.05.17
4 min
Voyage | Cairo

This was an experiment. We were going to Cairo for a workshop on the art of longform writing, with the generous support of MiCT and at a time of new tensions between the government and the press. The workshop was hosted by Townhouse Gallery, not far from Tahrir Square. Sep 1–3, 2015, morning, afternoon, dinner, tea and talk in between. 25 writers, activists, journalists. We wanted to talk about what stories need to be told and commission five to eight of them and publish them.

We always believed that part of today’s problems, both politically and journalistically, was a limitation of scope and perspective. What Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra called “the West and the rest” turns into a true liability if it comes to describing this world and how it changes. The West looks at Egypt and sees first an uprising, violence, a revolution; then change, the end of the old, the beginning of something; democracy? The election turns out differently. The Muslim Brotherhood is not what the West bargained for. So when the new president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took over, there was a very loud silence from the part of Western governments.

It has been a rollercoaster ride and we came to listen and learn. Probably the most fascinating thing somebody told me in the last two days here in Cairo, the thing with the most far reaching implications, spanning the private and the political, the family and the state, regression and aggression and an overall unease with the way men are, was Egyptian writer, performer and director Nora Amin who said that Egyptian men are so spoiled by their mothers, so doted upon, so smothered with love that they go through life expecting this to never end.

Would the Middle East be a different place without these men? Probably. Is there a chance of that happening? Probably not. Do they care? No. Do they know? I guess not. Nora’s text was the first one that we published, it was a strong, moving, vulnerable text about rape and Tahrir and the everyday sexism of the Egyptian society. It was also about survival.

“Migrating the Feminine”, Nora Amin’s text, was published just after there were attacks by supposedly refugees on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve of 2015/2016. Her text was like a commentary to everything that went wrong in the German debate after the events, the blame, the prejudice, the xenophobia and islamophobia that was growing more and more at the time. We were proud to publish this text, and the German newspaper “taz” picked it up as well.

The next text was Youssef Rhaka’s very daring essay on “Arab Porn”, a provocative and mindful examination of the fundamental changes the Egyptian society is living through as seen through the prism of sexuality and home-made porn — it is also a questioning of the self-understanding of protest and activism about producing change versus the change that is happening anyway, away from the streets, apart from the news.

We will publish two more from the Cairo workshop in the coming weeks. One is by Alia Mossallam who tells the story of loosing friends in the Arab Spring, of torture and fear of oppression and the deeper story of migration across the Mediterranean — all channeled through her very difficult and painful childbirth; only this pain, it seems, allowed her to access the other pain.

The final text by Amr Ezzat will be the most genre-bending, an account of a double-life, to say the least, the life of a member of the Muslim Brotherhood turned activist in the Arab Spring movement — without telling his father about it. It is a story about the basic contradictions that run through every society, but those in particular where religious fanaticism is ruling; the basic contradictions that run through every family, but those in particular where the fear of the open and the other is cultivated to a degree that encourages lying.

What can we take away from all of this? There is so much we don’t know. It is best if we just come to learn and listen.

Anger Management: The Emergence of the Future

with
Otto Scharmer
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
26.04.17
60 min
60hertz

Where does true change come from? Is it the realm of politics where innovation happens? Rarely. Politics is the art of the possible, but what if there is a time for the impossible – or rather: the near possible? This is what Otto Scharmer is working on, the emergence or, as he calls it: the presencing of what is already here but not readily accepted – the new way of doing things in a market economy which is not weighed down by capitalistic dogma. It is a truly original mix of new words and new thoughts coming from the heart of an outwardly very capitalistic institution – the MIT Sloan School of Management, where the German Scharmer is Senior Lecturer. But what if this was the place to look for answers for tomorrow’s questions? Wouldn’t “the Left” go mad?

Anger Management: The Future of Democracy is Local

with
Jennifer Klein
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
19.04.17
60 min
60hertz

This time we went to Yale to talk to Jennifer Klein, Professor for American History with a strong activist background. In this conversation she expands her critique of the present oligarchic regime in the US into new ways of thinking about democracy in general and coming up with concrete proposals for a political renewal from the bottom up, starting on a communal level with steps like community banking. She is an inspiration for anybody thinking creatively about how to break out of the confines of the present situation.

Anger Management: Capitalism Is Like A Tired Animal

with
Wolfgang Streeck
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
11.04.17
60 min
60hertz

Wolfgang Streeck is the first European that we meet in the course of this quest for new ideas about the future of democracy, and the conversation turns dark as he unfolds his scenario of the death throes of democratic capitalism: the lack of growth, the shift of public debt to private debt and the resulting societal inequality. Streeck has a sociologist’s view on the economic dilemma of our time, he is very clear in his analysis and very reticent when it comes to solutions. There is a tension throughout this conversation which has to do with the question of the role of social democracy in this whole scenario: Are these forces able to reform society, as Karin thinks, or is the politics of the old responsible for the lack of ideas about meaningful change, as Georg thinks. Wolfgang Streeck, even if he left the German SPD many years ago, seems to still have a heart for the organized left. And in the end he talks about Selena Gomez.

Anger Management: The Eternal Experiment

with
Roberto Mangabeira Unger
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
04.04.17
60 min
60hertz

Roberto Mangabeira Unger is probably the most inspiring person you could think of, his mind is like a beautifully shaped stone which shines in all directions. He is clear about what he wants: A world where people see and live their full potential, not burdened or inhibited by the weight of the old or the ordinary. He is an inspiring political thinker in Harvard and a very hands on politician in his native Brazil. He masterfully spans both areas and lets his thinking be informed by the experiences he made in office. We met him at his house in Cambridge, MA, where he lives among books and music and serves a very nice Cognac in the late afternoon.

Anger Management: The Filter Democracy

with
Cass Sunstein
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
27.03.17
60 min
60hertz

Cass Sunstein is much much more than the bestselling author of the seminal book “Nudge” which changed the way that policy makers thought about policy – and one could argue if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Because, and this goes back to this conversation about the question of filter bubbles and echo chambers and the “#republic”, Sunstein’s new book: Who is the agent for change, politically, socially, economically? The election of Donald Trump upended a lot of things that were taken for granted about the way politics is done, about the way the public discourse is constructed. We have to rethink what this really means, says Sunstein. It is a democratic call to action.

Anger Management: The Ruins of Democracy

with
Peter Galison
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
13.03.17
60 min
60hertz

What is your place in society – this is the central question of politics today, it is at the heart of so many fights and struggles, about identity, about equality, about representation, symbolic and real. Dislocation, in other words, is the fundamental experience of our time, both dislocation in physical and spiritual terms. Do you belong? And what is your stake in society, very concretely, materially? This is the theme that drove the conversation with Peter Galison forward, historian of science at Harvard University.

Anger Management: What Is Wrong With Human Rights?

with
Sam Moyn
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
07.03.17
60 min
60hertz

Sam Moyn is one of the most original thinkers when it comes to some of the most profound contradictions about common perceptions about politics: Human rights, for example, is a good thing, right? Or, isn’t it rather a proxy, something invented to fill the void that concrete policy left open? A weak claim without any real substance? And thus more harmful than helpful when it comes to rethinking and reshaping tomorrow’s world?

Anger Management: The Trump Challenge

with
Theda Skocpol
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
06.02.17
60 min
60hertz

Theda Skocpol is one of the great political scientists of the USA, and if she is torn about where this country is heading, this means there is real confusion. She talked to us, Karin Pettersson and me, about how the country got to this point, the massive failure on parts of the media, but also on the parts of the people refusing to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton was a viable candidate. She believes it is time for the American civil society to rise up to the challenge. She is a patriot, after all, she said. Which means today to withstand nationalism. Just one of the contradictions of our times.

Anger Management: Democracy For the 21st Century

with
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
02.02.17
60 min
60hertz

This is exciting, we will start a new podcast, and this podcast will be shaped around the discussion which will be going on on 60pages and via the initiative Disrupt Democracy on Medium: Karin and I will be talking to thinkers and scientist from Harvard and MIT for the next few months to come up with clues and ideas about how we got here and what we might do to get out of this dilemma. Karin and I are in the USA at the moment, she is from Sweden where she used to work for Aftonbladet as the editor of the opinion page, I am on a leave of absence from my job as a columnist for Der Spiegel, we are both fellows of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. This conversation here is the beginning, we set out what we want to do, cover questions of populism, the relationship between capital and labor, the progressive dilemma, the progressive alternative. She says she is the pragmatist and I am the utopian. I am not sure about that. And I would not even see this two opposing sides. I think both are relevant and necessary. But, please, judge for yourself.

Learning from Cairo

Georg Diez about about our first 60pages writers workshop
17.05.17
4 min

Anger Management: The Emergence of the Future

with
Otto Scharmer
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
26.04.17
60 min

Anger Management: The Future of Democracy is Local

with
Jennifer Klein
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
19.04.17
60 min

Anger Management: Capitalism Is Like A Tired Animal

with
Wolfgang Streeck
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
11.04.17
60 min

Anger Management: The Eternal Experiment

with
Roberto Mangabeira Unger
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
04.04.17
60 min

Anger Management: The Filter Democracy

with
Cass Sunstein
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
27.03.17
60 min

Anger Management: The Ruins of Democracy

with
Peter Galison
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
13.03.17
60 min

Anger Management: What Is Wrong With Human Rights?

with
Sam Moyn
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
07.03.17
60 min

Anger Management: The Trump Challenge

with
Theda Skocpol
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
06.02.17
60 min

Anger Management: Democracy For the 21st Century

with
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
02.02.17
60 min