Arab Hip Hop – from Local Inspiration to Global Revolution

Hip hop ain’t dead, it never died, it just moved to the Middle East, where the struggle’s still alive.

(Arabian Knightz – Uknighted State of Arabia)

Arabian-Knightz-in-the-Arab-hip-hop-festival-in-QatarThe message from the song “Uknighted State of Arabia” by Egyptian rap crew Arabian Knightz, featuring 29 musicians from all over the Arab world is clear: hip hop artists from the Middle East and all over the world need to unite to bring back the spirit of hip hop music and talk about the different struggles against totalitarianism, occupation, poverty and oppression. Arab hip hop can be a great inspiration to the global movement, considering its important role in voicing the different revolutions that took place across the Middle East in recent years. As rapper Karim from Arabian Knightz—known by his stage name Rush—explains:

Guess what, they’re all pointing at us right now. They’re like, ‘Listen, when they had a revolution, these guys were talking about it, and when we have riots you guys are talking about ass and tits? Where is us, where is our problems?’ Hip hop is about the struggle, so we’re actually putting a bunch of them on blast without even doing it purposefully.

But how does hip hop fit into Arab culture? Is it an American invention or something authentically Arab? Does hip hop have the potential to unite different struggles in different national and social contexts? And is that aforementioned struggle a crucial part of hip hop culture or just one of many possible approaches? These are some of the topics that I talked about with Karim. Arabian Knightz is an Egyptian rap trio – composed of artists Rush, Sphinx, and E-Money – that formed in 2005 and employs a mixture of English, Egyptian Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic in their songs. All following quotes are by Karim, unless labeled otherwise. Continue reading

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Sisyphus in the Arab Prison

Night was no longer night, since there were no more days, no more stars, no more moon, no more sky. We were the night. We had become nocturnal: our bodies, breathing, heartbeats, the fumbling of our hands moving effortlessly from one wall to another in a space shrunk to the dimensions of a tomb for the living, although whenever I say that word, I should use “surviving” instead, yet I really was a living being, enduring life in extreme deprivation, an ordeal that could end only in death but that seemed strangely like life.“

(The Blinding Absence of Light)

Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel „The Blinding Absence of Light“ is an attempt to describe the agonizing experience of former Moroccon prisoner Azīz Binbīn… an attempt that can only fail, because how can one describe 18 years without ever leaving a 4 ½ square meter cell, without ever standing up straight, without a glimpse of light, without medical care, and without a single word to and from the outside world? How can one imagine to sleep standing in order not to freeze to death, to live in a tiny room with a hole for a toilet not eating anything but beans for six thousand six hundred and sixty-three days, to pull out one’s own decaying molar with a piece of wood, and, finally, to not only survive such a horrific ordeal, but to stay human all the while?

When reading some of the numerous accounts by and about prisoners in secret desert prisons of Morocco, underground torture facilities in Syria, or other unfathomably cruel prisons throughout the Middle East, my mind often reached the limits of what it could – and wanted – to imagine. Continue reading

The power of space: How Gezi Park became the symbol of an uprising

Gezi Park was not exactly the place where I could take my girlfriend“,

says Cenk, a leftist activist, as we are sitting in a small cafe in one of the many side streets of Istiklal Caddesi. Earlier, Feride, a German-Turkish girl had mentioned the same feelings towards a park that had been used mainly by prostitutes, drug dealers and homeless people:

I had never really been to the park before… because it wasn’t exactly a safe place.“

During my research project on the Gezi Park movement I spent three months in Istanbul in fall 2013 and conducted interviews with people who had been in some way involved in the protests. Almost all of them told me that they had participated for two reasons: the park and its trees as the last green spot in the city; and later the police violence.

But if it is true that noone had actually used that allegedly last natural area of Istanbul, then why would anybody have bothered to protect it?

Gezi Park; Picture taken from http://galeri7.uludagsozluk.com

Gezi Park; Picture taken from http://galeri7.uludagsozluk.com

If the park was not visited by the public anyway, why did young people of all ideological backgrounds feel the need to settle down and build a tent city there?

With these questions in mind I started studying the meaning of space and power and discovered how the mere symbol of a public square can unite a whole generation. Continue reading

I still remember… the revolution – أنا لسه فاكر… الثورة

A few months ago I went to an Arabic film festival in my hometown in Germany. I saw a movie called „Tahrir 2011 – The Good, the Bad and the Politician“, which pictured the different sides involved in the revolution. Most of the film consisted of images from the protests, powerful videos that showed people praying while being attacked with water canons, the make-shift hospitals where volunteers of all types treated the injured and the mentally exhausted, and, especially, it showed those thousands and millions of voices chanting, chanting, chanting for freedom and peace. When I saw those images I was thrown back into the time of the revolutionary climax and I had such a strong urge to go back to that time of hope, solidarity and excited astonishment at what people were capable of. I thought to myself, that if every Egyptian watched these videos once a week nobody would give in to the resignation in the light of unsatisfying politics and the frustration that befalls a country when the revolution ends and bureaucracy starts.

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So, with this in mind, I decided that I should try to contribute something to reminding people of what they have so incredibly  achieved and what they should not let fade away so quickly. The following series of photos and interviews are the result. Each picture shows one person and their most important memory from the days of the revolution. The title of the series and the beginning of each sentence is: „I still remember…“ Please scroll down to see the larger images (English translation below the picture). Continue reading

Why I am going to boycott the Egyptian presidential run-off elections

This sign from the revolution days just got a whole different meaning…

After the Egyptian parliamentary elections last November, where the Muslim Brotherhood won the majority of votes, I asked my grandmother whether she was going to vote at the Shoura Council elections aswell. She told me that she would not. Why?

„Last time we all went to vote. And now see what happened: the Muslim Brotherhood won anyway.“

At that time I told her: that’s democracy. It happens that the party you support does not win in the end. But resigning and not voting again because of that will make it even worse. Like in the Shoura Council elections, where the Brotherhood was even more successful than before – with a very low turnout of less than 20%.

So, with this in mind, why have I decided not to vote in the run-off for the presidential elections? Continue reading

Freedom through the martyrs – الحرية من الشهداء

ياللى بترمي علينا نار

مهما ضربت و مهما قتلت

العصافير في الهواء أحرار

دم الشهداء على الأسفلت

 Those attacking us with fire,

no matter how much you shoot and kill

in the sky the birds are free

and the martyrs’ blood is on the pavement

From what I learned in history class or books of historical battles, I always understood that he who kills most of his enemy’s men is the one who will be victorious in the end. It seemed to me that victory depended on the ability to diminish the opponent’s army or people, therefore making them too weak to continue fighting.

However, what we have been seeing in the Arab spring’s revolutions suggests quite the opposite. Here we have the aspect of martyrdom, that turns every death from a weakening of the „troops“ into a reason to fight even harder. Continue reading

Islamists are taking over the Arab world

Just kidding. They aren’t. But I am pretty sure that this header will get my blog a lot of views. That’s just about the same technique the Western media have been using in the last few days. Most of the times, when I write something, it’s because I’m angry. And reading the news or listening to people commenting on them has in fact made me very angry. Words like „Sharia“ and „Islamistic party“ are used to cause panic and fear of what comes Large groups of people praying at Tahrir Squareafter the uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. These in no way objective pieces of news are causing an „I told you so!“ mentality in the heads of Western so-called democrats, who believe that they have a monopoly on democracy. I hear them talking of the Arab revolution attempts as a ridiculous effort that has hardly any chance of succeeding. Continue reading