Friday Links: A Driver on Alef’s ‘Knowledge Taxis’; Writers Say No to Normalization with Israel; Reviews & More

A Cairo driver comments on Alef’s ‘knowledge taxi’ project:

Gulf News has a brief report on the Alef bookstore chain’s “knowledge taxi” project: “Cairo taxi libraries a boon for clients in traffic jams.” I understand there have been glitches: people making off with the books, and, of course, it must be a bummer to start a book in a taxi and then leave it behind.

I thought the driver interviewed, Sa3eed Mansour, had a great suggestion:

Saeed Mansour, one of the taxi drivers, enthused about the interest this move has generated and said that it has received a positive response from the public. “Most of my clients have welcomed the idea, though some have made sarcastic comments. Women are mostly enthusiastic than men about having books to read inside taxis,” he said.

“I think, children’s books should also be added to the collection so that mothers can read to their children too.” Mansour thinks that the project has another merit for the cabbie community. “It proves that taxi drivers are not as talkative or cheaters as portrayed in films.”

I would also like to see more children’s books in doctors’ offices, and boy, if we could get them onto the metro….

Egyptian authors reject normalization with Israel

In an exceptionally short article, Al Masry Al Youm reports that Egyptian literary figures have reiterated their rejection of normalized relations with Israel: “Egyptian literati reiterate refusal to normalize relations with Israel.”

For readers looking to understand the arguments for and against cultural normalization:

*A study on cultural boycott in the Palestine-Israel Journal.

*Michael Warschawksy examines cultural normalization in Alternatives: “Normalization or Sanctions?

*Renowned post-colonial lit scholar Barbara Harlow writes on “Egyptian Intellectuals and the Debate on the ‘Normalization of Cultural Relations.'” Thanks so much to Omar for downloading and sending it along. (There is not, to my knowledge, a free online version.)

Although the article, published in 1986, may not be the most up-to-date, it has valuable information about the roots of “normalization.” Harlow writes: “The [1981] agreement [between Egypt and Israel, outlining parameters for cultural cooperation] further included a proviso which made it a criminal offense in Egypt to oppose the peace process and ‘normalization.'”

While Western journalists now characterize support for Israel as something into which Egyptian artists are pressured, Harlow notes: “In Egypt in particular, since the implementation of the Camp David Agreement, opposition to ‘normalization’ has resulted in arrest, interrogation, official isolation, and loss of jobs and positions for the persons involved.”

She cites the great Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani as insisting that: “the boycott of Israel, cultural as well as diplomatic…was not a ‘romantic’ or idealistic stratagem but a very real and effective part of the confrontation.”

Please, if you intend to write about cultural “normalization” in Egypt, do download and read the whole article.

Continuing our Ibrahim al-Koni-a-thon:

Ursula reviews al-Koni’s The Puppet in The National, and she’s disappointed: “perhaps one of the reasons The Puppet disappoints is that, for the most part, it doesn’t take place in the desert.” Although, more to the point, she notes that it doesn’t have the same powerful animal-human relationships as in (for instance) Gold Dust or Bleeding of the Stone.

I don’t think it’s al-Koni’s strongest work, but I do think it’s nonetheless very much worth reading.

Egyptian Writers’ Union (EWU) announces new ‘Youth Salon’

Ahram Online reports that EWU has plans for a monthly salon for young lit lovers on the first Saturday of each month. The first lecture has been set for Jan. 1, 2011, and promises to discuss work by the award-winning poet Magdy Abdel-Rahim, specifically from his collection Crossing the Street with an Old Lady.


  1. Emirates Airline did run a similar book scheme from March 2010, yet I have never seen how far-flung the books became!

    1. I thought they were going to do a follow up “book discussion” site/page, where people could log in with reviews/thoughts on the books? Or was that my imagination?

      1. we had this on buses, but it was conceived as a “library”; it worked well, but as books were all donations (mostly by individuals or libraries clearing out their shelves) it didn’t matter if people decided to keep them.
        cairo metro stations could totally have shelves where people could bring their unwanted books for others to read.

  2. Bibi… Yes, shelves in the stations. I like it. Um, now, who’s in charge of implementing something like that?

    1. uf. the people who ran the iqra campaign? you? the censor’s office? (ha!)

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