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 Nora 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. They have wives whom they expect to behave like their mothers, they think of themselves as strong men but are still the little sons they were thirty, fourty years ago. I don`t know if this explains everything, I don`t even know if it is true. But it totally makes sense, in the way that Freud without Freud always makes sense. 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. But I trust Nora somehow on this as she is as smart and sharp as an Amazon Warrior has to be. This is what someone at the workshop called her. At least this is what I thought. It turned out that I did not hear correctly. But there still is some truth to this name, Nora said, and laughed.
Freud without Freud
The Strange Curve of History
We were walking along July 26th Street, Murat and me, carefully avoiding the sun, trying to stay in the shade, when it dawned upon me that yes, today was the second birthday of this very site, 60pages. We were on our way to the Townhouse Gallery which Murat had a little trouble finding. We had both arrived in Cairo the evening before, and Murat had been at the Townhouse for a few hours, preparing everything for the workshop, but somehow the impression of this city which so much reminded him of the Istanbul he remembered from the months he spent there as a child confused him a little bit and he was taken back all those years while forgetting on the way the path, the indeed tricky path to Townhouse. You turn right a little past the very good pastry bakery, it is a street full of little stores selling car parts, something, Murat said, the Armenians used to do in his childhood memory of Istanbul. Then you turn left, try not to fall over the plastic chairs that substitute for a cafe, turn left again, and there you are. Sarah was already there, it turns out it was also her birthday, the 25th. Happy birthday, Sarah! And thank you for putting together this fabulous group of people, writers, journalists, activists, all there to discuss the beauty and necessity of longform writing. It was hot, it was long, but what a great conversation we had. Among the many beautiful and memorable things being said was Wael`s statement, the big bearded Wael, the poet who said that journalism should be considered as a form of art and not as the 4th estate of a democracy that is bound to a nationstate that Wael believes is about to fall. Not today, not tomorrow, not in Egypt specifically, but more generally, a brief and bloody episode in human history which is going to end soon. Wael looked not mad as he said this, rather benign. So what could this journalism be that is more than another accessory of the nationstate? Maybe just the same, only better? Lina of Mada Masr made her argument for longer and better writing, something we here want too, and she mentioned Walter Benjamin as a storyteller, going back from the early 21st to the early 20th century while still going forward. A very inspiring exercise in time travel. Alia also of Mada Masr was also for time travel, she proposed to talk about migration at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, among the migrants Italians coming to Egypt to build the Suez canal. History is strangely curved, it turns out. And that time is not linear is something we had always suspected, no? July 26th, by the way, was the day that Farouq, the son of Kind Fuad, was forced to abdicate in 1952. In 2013, General Sisi called on the population to demonstrate against the Muslim Brotherhood. This is what our new friends at Mada Masr wrote back in 2013. They are lovely people. As are most of the Egyptians we talked to today. What a very nice birthday. Happy 60pages.
The West and the Rest
This is an experiment. We are 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 will be hosted by Townhouse Gallery, not far from Tahrir Square. Sep 1 till 3, morning, afternoon, dinner, tea and talk in between. We expect 20 to 25 people, writers, activists, journalists. We want to talk about what stories need to be told and commission five to eight of them and publish them here, at 60pages. We also want to expand our network of people trying to figure out the present.
We always believed that part of today’s problems, both politically and journalistically, was a limitation of scope and perspective. What 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 – what: 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 Sisi took over, there was a very loud silence from the part of Western governments.
It has been a rollercoaster ride. We don’t pretend to understand it. This is why we come. To listen and learn. We plan more of these – what should we call them: workshops, pop-up editorial sessions, voyages? Let`s call them voyages, because the goal in a voyage is exactly that, learn, listen, change. This we want to share with you, here and now. So join us.