Wednesday, August 21, 2013

El-Sisi as Macbeth

Bloody days in Egypt.  A Pakistani columnist (might they know a thing or two about military dictatorships propped up by a well-manipulated Islamist threat?) predictably and accurately invokes Shakespeare to size up the carnage, implicitly comparing Egypt's de facto ruler Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Macbeth.  The interesting part is his critique of Mohamed El Baradei, the Nobel laureate/coup backer/fig leaf vice president/perennial tweeter of truth to power whose belated post-massacre bout of conscience has driven him to exile in Vienna.  El Baradei is compared, a bit shockingly to my eyes (is it the gender dimension? or the implication that he has actual blood on his hands?) to Lady Macbeth:
Interim Deputy President of Egypt, Mohamed Mustafa El Baradei, generally considered as a toady of the West, has resigned protesting the military crackdown. However, can he absolve himself of the responsibility? He cannot remove the innocent blood of thousands of innocent Egyptians off his hands like Shakespeare's Macbeth after the murder of Duncan:

“Will all great Neptune‘s ocean
wash this blood,
Clean from my hand? No, this my
hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red” (II:2).

Nobel Laureate El Baradei, rightfully considered as the enemy within, stands among them who have turned red the blue waters of the Mediterranean. History is witness that people, who have innocent blood on their hands and conscience, are judged even posthumously and most often they taste the fruit of their crops in their lives. Shakespeare again points this fact through Macbeth's soliloquy in Act 1 Scene VII very well:

“But here, upon this bank and
shoal of time,
We'd  jump the life to come.
But in these cases
We still have judgment here;
that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which,
being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this
even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our
poison’d chalice
To our own lips.”
I don't know enough about Pakistan to pinpoint the local targets of Syed Javed Hussein's critique, but it sounds like there might be some.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pray for Egypt

Time out of joint. But in case anyone doubted the omni-relevance of Hamlet in Egyptian political culture, here's a typical, fairly vacuous example of a secularist writer in Egypt, Mona Ragab, organizing a column in the Al-Dustur newspaper (from Aug 12, before the latest bloody crackdown on Brotherhood supporters) as an extended riff on how the phrase "To be or not to be" (and she highlights its source) captures the great dilemma facing Egypt's identity today. She glosses "To be or not to be" as a choice "between survival and dissolution" (al-baqa' wa-l-fana' -- a Sufi-tinged phrase that has a history in Arabic Shakespeare translations), then "between success and failure."
«إما أن نكون أو لا نكون، هذه هى المسألة « هى عبارة شهيرة للشاعر الإنجليزى الخالد والأشهر ويليام شكسبير من مسرحيته الشهيرة «هاملت» والتى تحولت إلى أفلام سينمائية ومسرحيات بعدة لغات فاشتهرت فى أنحاء العالم
إلى يومنا هذا، وتحولت إلى حكمة حول البقاء فى اللحظات الصعبة، وهذه العبارة تعكس القدرة على الاختيار بين ضدين، إما البقاء أو الفناء، أو بين النجاح أو الفشل للإنسان، إلا أنها أيضاً تتعلق بكل القرارات الصعبة فى الحياة.
Egypt, she argues, must choose: to be the multi-religious nation with the 7000-year history, or to fall victim to the "terrorism" of "al-Ikhwan al-Muta-aslimin" (The Islamizing Brotherhood) against the will of the "vast majority of the Egyptian people." 
Accusations of fascism as well as symptoms of fascist behavior have not been lacking on either side of the latest wave of conflict in Egypt; as ever, Hamlet lends himself to such polemics. 
إن الشعب المصرى الآن أمام اختبار محدد فى هذا التوقيت الدقيق من تاريخ الوطن وبعد ثورة كاسحة ضد حكم الإخوان المتأسلمين وهو «إما أن نكون أو نكون»، إننا أمام مسألة مصير وطن عمره ٧٠٠٠ عام، وبقاء دولة بكافة مؤسساتها المختلفة، وشعب يضم مسلمين ومسيحيين تعايشوا معا ولم يفرقهم أحدا طوال هذا التاريخ الممتد عبر العصور ورغم تعاقب الحضارات على أرضه المباركة.
«إما أن نكون» هو خيارنا الوحيد كشعب عريق يريد دولة مدنية ديقراطية ومستنيرة وليست قائمة على الاتجار بالدين، وكحكومة ليس أمامها إلا أن تستجيب وأن تلتزم بإرادة الشعب المصرى، والـ٤٠ مليون رجل وامرأة وشاب وشابة ممن خرجوا لتفويض الجيش المصرى بمواجهة الإرهاب والعنف.
لقد رفض الشعب الإرهاب وأقصد بالشعب الشعب المصرى كله باستثناء عدد قليل يمثلون جماعة الإخوان المتأسلمين وأتباعها، والمرتزقة الموالين لها من غير المصريين والذين يحملون السلاح ويوجهونه بكل صفاقة إلى صدور المصريين بغية بيع الأرض المصرية وتقسيمها.
«إما أن نكون» هو اختيار لابد أن تترجمه الحكومة المصرية الانتقالية لوقف قتل المصريين وتفعيل القوانين التى تمنع التظاهرات والاعتصامات والمسيرات المسلحة والممارسات الإجرامية والتعذيب الوحشى والخطف الممنهج لمعارضيهم.
 I never said it was pretty, did I?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Antony & Cleopatra at FringeNYC: "These strong Egyptian fetters I must break"

It's interesting how few Arab adapters of Shakespeare do anything with Antony and Cleopatra. The best-known adapter, the Egyptian "poet of princes and prince of poets" Ahmad Shawqi, made a point of appearing to avoid Shakespeare's version in his own Tragedy of Cleopatra, although M.M. Badawi finds evidence of Shakespearean influence.

But if you're in New York this month and feel like exploring the play's Egyptian resonances, check out this American-made Tahrir-themed adaptation by The Porch Room on the NYC fringe.  The company's press release follows:

The Porch Room Presents
Antony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives
The New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC
A production of The Present Company
August 9th - 25th| Tickets: $15-$18.
For tickets visit
Showtimes: 8/10 9pm |  8/11 2pm | 8/16 9:30pm |  8/18 4:45pm |  8/19 12noon
The Lynn Redgrave Theater  45 Bleecker Street  New York, NY 10012
The Porch Room is proud to present Anthony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives as part of the 17th annual New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC.  The play, a sold out hit at last year’s Philly Fringe Festival, will be directed by John P. Dowgin; it was written by Pete Barry and J. Michael DeAngelis, with original text by William Shakespeare.  Just named a “Top Eight Must See” show at the Fringe by!
Antony & Cleopatra: Infinite Lives is the story of an Egyptian expatriate who gets caught between two revolutionaries - her fiancé, an activist director who tries to upend his commissioned Shakespeare production, and her brother, a nationalist fresh from the violence of Tahrir Square.  Drawn from the events of 2011, this original play juxtaposes the recent Egyptian revolution alongside Cleopatra's Egypt as seen by Shakespeare. 

The show features Samantha Apfel, Thom Boyer, Kelsey Bramson, Catherine Cela, Tara Cioletti, Nick Imperato, Chelsea Lando, David Mazzucchi, Nazli Sarpkaya, Jackie Sherman, Brandon Smalls, Kyle Smith and Thanh Ta.  Devin Plantamura and Dustin Karrat are returning to reprise the roles they originated at last year’s Philly Fringe Festival.
Original music by Rebecca Kotcher.  Costumes by Olivia Rutigliano.  Directed by John P. Dowgin.  Written by Pete Barry and J. Michael DeAngelis, with original text by William Shakespeare.  Produced by The Porch Room.