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Our Friends at Mada Masr

Georg Diez about the Egyptian crackdown against free media
08.06.17
3 min
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Sometimes I wonder: Does anybody care? And: Was it always like this? Only now I realize it?
Or, on the other hand, is the world just okay with authoritarian regimes all over taking away the basic freedoms that make humans human?
Like: Freedom of speech and opinion, freedom of press, freedom to assemble. It seems total control all over, and it does not help that there is an authoritarian crack-pot in the White House.
Still, among all the bad bad news we heard in the last year or two, the news from Cairo about our friends at Mada Masr was as unsurprising as it was shocking.
We, Murat and I for 60pages, had been in Cairo in 2015 for an extraordinary workshop about longform non-fiction writing with some of the brightest and bravest of the journalistic profession that I have ever met.
I am grateful for everything they talked about and shared, among them Alia Mossallam and her friend Lina Attalah, the editor-in-chief of Mada Masr, the independent online-medium which was one of our partners at the time.
The closing and finally the tearing down of the gallery space where we met was the first step that we witnessed; our friends in Cairo of course had lived through far worse, Alia Mossallam talks in her soon-to-be published text about some of the despair.
There were constant reports of threats and harassments by the military regime which is tolerated or openly supported by to my knowledge all of the Western governments; it is better to have stability than human rights, that’s the rationale.
But now, it seems there is another level of systematic purging of dissenting opinions: On May 24, Mada Masr – together with Al Jazeera and HuffPost’s Arabic website and others – was blocked by Egyptian authorities.
Then the government of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi effectively banned foreign NGOs – a move described as a “catastrophic blow” by Amnesty International, a “death sentence” for human rights groups in the country.
Nancy Okail recently detailed what it is like to have to leave your country because you believe in and work for democracy: “We have no choice but to work for a better Egypt. We did not give up under Mubarak when the entire world was backing his oppressive regime, and we will not give up to the current one. We hope that the world won’t give up on us either.”
These are hard times, in a lot of places, for our friends in Egypt and in Turkey where we went for another workshop in March of 2017. Our friend, the German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel is still in prison there.
Again, really, how did we get here? In a way, I feel, all we can do is publish texts that matter.

Alia Mossallam
People

Alia Mosallam is a thinker, often weaving her thoughts in writings that range from letters to graduates theses, but also in different other acts of organizing, advocacy and mobilization. Her main academic inquiry has been centered on how history, especially of resistance, can be re-imagined and re-written through the ranks of the verbal, the sung and more broadly, the popular, the vernacular. Her PhD thesis covered the period between 1956 and 1974, which marked formative post-colonial struggles and their most contemporary embodiment in the Arab-Israeli wars. But her PhD thesis was only one form of mediation for her key epistemological inquiry, which she took to different spaces of production: artistic, pedagogical and more. She conceptualized and led workshops with young writers and historians on unearthing untold histories of an anarchist and socialist Alexandria in the north of Egypt and a resistant Nubia and Port Said, south and east of the mainland. She provided the research backbone for theatrical productions on key moments of dissent in Egypt, namely 1919 and 2011. She wrote for influential local and international publications on revolution, imprisonment and resistance, where argumentative rigor met poetics to create powerful and engaging texts. She brought all these processes, of thinking and producing, to classrooms, both in formal institutions she taught at like the American University in Cairo and alternative ones like the Cairo Institute for Liberal Arts. While unearthing alternative histories and understanding resistance and dissent have been her main intellectual preoccupations, Alia has been invested in different educational back ends that can make these inquiries possible. She was a curriculum developer for an annual creative Arab youth camp organized by the Arab Digital Expression Foundation and was a child protection officer with UNICEF. Her thinking, writing, conceptualizing, teaching, mentoring and facilitating have been paralleled with other acts of engagement with the surrounding socio-political environment, particularly in times of revolution: from marching in squares of dissent, to participating in campaigns around the popular writing of the Constitution, to contributing to advocacies for minors in military prisons. She is a wife and mother of two: Taya (the rock?) and Rawi (the storyteller). To her family, she brings all of the above, and through motherhood, she is learning new things about presence, resistance and telling stories about them.

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?

Our Friends at Mada Masr

Georg Diez about the Egyptian crackdown against free media
08.06.17
3 min

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