I recently came across an Arabic rendition of “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” from Disney’s 1994 blockbuster, The Lion King. It’s a fantastic translation, drawing on a variety of registers of Egyptian colloquial and modern standard Arabic to express much of the humor and dynamism of the English original. Consider Zazu, the king’s red-beaked advisor pictured above. The translation draws from a wide array of Arabic registers to convey his quickly changing disposition, at turns imperious, imploring, and impotent. For instance, as he is chasing after the troublesome cubs (at 0:56), he switches from his shrill vernacular to a more formal register, announcing, “I reckon the time has come, and I’ll tell you frankly…” But before he can finish the sentence, he smacks into the ample rump of an unsuspecting rhino (one of many times in which the poor bird–and the kingly authority he represents–is sat upon or trampled underfoot). As a flattened Zazu slides off the rhino’s backside, Simba picks up with the word “frankly,” which is used in both formal and colloquial Arabic, to label Zazu a muristan – a nutjob, as one translation has it.
As I watched, I realized I was being (re)introduced me to a cast of familiar characters. They were singing a tune I know, rehashing a narrative I remember enjoying, and rehearsing a set of classic Disney conflicts about loyalty, authority, and adulthood. Yet they were doing it all in Arabic, a language I’ve learned, however imperfectly, as an adult. As with any successful translation, it is neither an exact copy nor a wholly new work, but an intermediary text which contains recognizable elements of the original while standing on its own aesthetic merit. As a student of early modern Arabic literature, however, I rarely have a chance to engage with English texts translated into Arabic, especially those from my own childhood in the United States. Watching a clip from The Lion King in Arabic not only raised questions about what constitutes a successful translation, but left me with an uncanny feeling of having encountered an element of my self through the eyes — or in the voice — of the Other. Continue reading “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”→
I’ve spent the past few years organizing materials that were left behind by my late grandfather, Ahmed Zaky Abushâdy (1892-1955), the well-known Egyptian Romantic poet—and physician, inventor, and bee scientist. Early on in my research, I became aware of two distinct narratives in the biographical literature: Abushâdy the Romantic Poet and Abushâdy the Bee Scientist. The former narrative is enshrined in the field of Modern Arabic Literature, while the latter weaves between the history and science of beekeeping in 20th century England and Egypt. Each tells a story that portrays important aspects of Abushâdy’s life and work. But as I continue to examine the materials in the archive, it strikes me that the logic that gives rise to separate, non-intersecting narratives runs counter to the spirit of my grandfather, who dedicated his life to working across disciplines and bringing together a wide array of traditions and cultures.
One remedy may be to develop a new narrative that emphasizes the hybridization that shot through all of Abushâdy’s activities. As a scientist, he understood the concept of hybrid vigor in both theoretical and practical terms, bringing it to fruition by breeding honeybees on a grand scale. He also applied the concept as a poet, for instance, by welcoming the influences of European Modernism, particularly English poets such as Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, and Keats. Likewise, he developed his own brand of proto-multiculturalism in his academic writing on politics and social issues.
Ibrahim El-Husseiny wrote the play “Comedy of Sorrows” only a few months after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in February of 2011. As such, it was one of the very first creative pieces produced in response to the Egyptian revolution. Following a run of 60 performances in Egypt, a translation by Rebekah Maggor toured the States in Spring of 2012 as a staged reading, with performances at CUNY Graduate Center, the Radcliffe Institute, and Vanderbilt University, amongst other venues. Two years into the revolution, Hani Omar Khalil sat down with El-Husseiny in Cairo to discuss both his own evolution as a political playwright as well as the role of theatrical narrative in the shaping of national discourse. Questions and answers were given in Arabic, with translational assistance provided by Omar S. Khalil.
While studying in Cairo in 2009, taxi drivers would often ask me if I studied at Al-Azhar University. Although I was conversant in the Egyptian dialect of Arabic, several of my syllables strayed from native pronunciations. Sometimes I’d slip in some literary phrase if I couldn’t come up with the dialect, which made it plausible to the driver that I was some devoted Muslim boy studying at Al-Azhar. Nevertheless, on the outside, I looked as Indian to an Egyptian as Amitabh Bacchan. Even though I often played along with my Al-Azharite identity, to the disappointment of most taxi drivers, I have never been a pious student of Arabic nor a Bollywood superstar. I am not a hafiz though I can recite some well-known lines from Imru’ Qays, Mahmoud Darwish, and other poets through which I learned Arabic.
Ashraf Khalil’s Liberation Square offers a gritty and engrossing account of the events that took place in Egypt in 2011, using the voices of both Egypt’s most prominent political observers and the activists who risked everything in pursuit of an ever-elusive dream. Khalil, who has covered regional politics from Cairo, Jerusalem, and Iraq for a variety of publications over the past 15 years, adds his perspective to the narrative, allocating praise and blame in careful doses. An Egyptian-American raised in the States, Khalil’s personal stake in the outcome of this upheaval makes him a unique interlocutor. As such, Liberation Square is not simply a catalogue of Egypt’s revolution; rather, Khalil, who is not afraid of colorful metaphor or bawdy language, calls for systemic change. Delving into the psychology of the uprising, Liberation Square illuminates both how corrupt Mubarak’s regime had become, and how improbable the success of the uprising to oust it was. Continue reading Liberation Square→
Pope Shenouda III’s passing comes at a moment of political uncertainty for a new Egypt and its Coptic communities. In Western media, fears of “sectarian violence” and potential “religious discrimination” have been expressed in numerous articles focusing on his passing as the next stage of a timeless religious conflict that will erupt between the Muslim and Coptic communities in Egypt. But, is “sectarianism” in Egypt indeed timeless and inevitable?
It is September 2009; I’m in Upper Egypt, on this particular night, at the monastery and commemoration site of three martyred youth of Coptic history in a suburb of Luxor. As I passed a pathway littered with garbage set ablaze, I am told to look down, walk fast, and stay close to the Coptic sisters as we walked by a crowd of Muslim men or so my Coptic sisters told me. I felt their fear while we were walking through this neighborhood, but I didn’t entirely understand why. As soon as we arrived at the monastery, I asked my Coptic friends why we walked so timidly. They replied, “This area is unsafe for Christians at night.” With those words, I began to reflect on the reason and context for such words, and why fear of the Muslim other was so deeply seated in the Coptic community, at least the one I was acquainted with in Sheraton, Heliopolis. Continue reading “The Unknown”: A Coptic Spring?→