Adam Bede: An Ancient Egyptian Genesis

15 Aug

Snippets from the paper I read at Tea with the Sphinx Conference in Birmingham last month. The paper discusses George Eliot’s novel Adam Bede, and the author’s attempt to create a new creation story by combining ancient Egyptian motifs with the Genesis story. George Eliot renounced Christianity in her youth and in her first novel she was attempting to create her own gnostic gospel, or alternative to Anglican Victorian Christianity. The paper is scheduled for publication as a chapter contribution in a collected essays volume by Liverpool University Press.

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The Snake who Was God

2 Feb

The article is out now in the current issue of Nile Magazine. I discuss in it snake worship in ancient Egypt within the context of an old struggle between monotheism and its ancient rival, polytheism.

It was inspired by my sons’ fascination with a sand snake called Sandy which we have been visiting regularly in the reptile pen at a local animal farm since last summer. Written in the spirit of the ancient wisdom!

Further details on the article and the issue in the link https://www.nilemagazine.com.au/

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From Waguih Ghali to Edward Said

25 Nov

Both Waguih Ghali and Edward Said spent much of their lives unable to return to their countries of birth due to religio-political reasons. Even though the former was Egyptian and the latter was Palestinian, their lives, as international as they were, had a lot in common. Ultimately, however, there was one fundamental difference between them: Ghali let his creativity consume him, whereas Said allowed academia to nurture his. In the end, they both fell victims to their heredities, respectively. The question remains on whether a fine balance between both approaches is possible and if so how could it be defined?!

 

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Waguih Gahli (192?-1969)

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Edward Said (1935-2003)

 

Survival and Oblivion: Egyptian Jews after the Second Exodus

23 Jun

Whenever Egypt is mentioned today in conversation, it is often with an assumed Islamic identity in mind. A minority of Christian Copts sometimes creeps into the discussion later on as an afterthought. This assumption is often accompanied by the rather unconscious or indirect presumption that there are few Jews in Egypt today, if any. This is not true.

It is easy to understand however why this is the mainstream account. The Second Exodus from Egypt occurred in 1956, under Colonel Nasser’s orders, stripping all Jews of their Egyptian citizenship and expelling them from Egypt. The vast majority of Egyptian Jews fled to one of three destinations of refuge: Israel, Mediterranean Europe (mainly France and Italy) and the Americas (primarily Argentina). This was, however, neither the beginning of trouble for Egyptian Jews in modern times, nor its end.

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Read more here

Article published in History Today on 8 May 2017.

2 Way Street: Immigration, Integration, and Terrorism

4 Jun

There is no justification to any of these atrocities as the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said. But in order to concentrate our efforts at preventing these kinds of attacks in the future we need to look into potential causes to the problem of radicalisation. In the UK, we have a big problem with our arms deals, morally void is not an exaggeration. Although much of this finds its way to Daesh, through the surrounding countries which are fighting a war by proxies, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, we shouldn’t confuse this with terrorist attacks whether on our soil or in other countries around the world. There is another more potent cause to this crisis.

we are failing at integrating immigrants in our society, which seems to be one of the chief elements in a radicalised person’s life.  I’m not talking about first generation immigrants here on whom news outlets tend to unfairly put the whole responsibility of integrating. I’m talking mainly about children and grandchildren of immigrants who CAN grow up feeling alienated from both their society as well as their parents’ and easily fall prey to radicalisation. I’m saying ‘can’ here, because I’m not talking about everyone who comes under this category, I’m talking about the likelihood of this happening as in the case of the Manchester bomber, the Westminister attacker, and others. Highlighting again, there is no excuse or justification for terrorism, but there are reasons, causes and symptoms which we can analyse in order to root out the problem.

There is a good report on integration which I read recently, based mainly on the profiles of the terrorists who led the attacks on the French Capital, but as I have not been able to find a copy of it that I could share, I am sharing instead this article from the Washington Post which is in agreement with this point on “The generation in between,” which “is anchored neither in the old or in the new. They often are searching for self or identity beyond self.” Hence, better integration mechanisms for their parents and consequently for them should help prevent this problem and reducing the likelihood of this dangerous void. Many immigrants are well-integrated, they and their children are good citizens, and it is also worth pointing out that not every unintegrated immigrant or son of an immigrant is going to turn this way. Nevertheless, this does not mean we cower away from addressing our failure at, and responsibility of, integrating those we can.

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We need to treat integration as a two-way Street. The immigrant cannot shake hands with someone whose hands remain casually lurking in their pockets, even though we continue to expect immigrants to have this kind of superpower.

We’re sorry Isis, we got it wrong…again!

2 May

 

The atrocities committed by ISIS are known to the vast majority of people. In the UK we have recently been exposed to yet another terrorist attack which ISIS claimed ‘responsibility’ for. We have seen it on the news, we have read numerous analyses of it in the papers and listened to radio reports on security measures in and around Westminister Palace. Nevertheless, none of ISIS’ atrocities are new to us, their crimes against humanity are well observed by media outlets. Yet not many of us realise that ISIS is a name we made up, that unlike al-Qaeda which is a direct transliteration of the older terrorist organisation’s name, ISIS is something unrelated to this relatively new monstrosity.

Their name is Daesh, which we in the Anglophone world, translated into the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’ then created the acronym ISIS out of this translation. Some poeple would shrug their shoulders at this and say we call them whatever we call them, it doesn’t matter. But as a matter of fact it matters, because by making up an incorrect name we have also created a confusion between two entirely unrelated entities. Isis is the goddess of fertility and motherhood in ancient Egypt. Her iconography alongside her son Horus has a direct influence on the development of the iconography of Mary and Jesus. ISIS, or Daesh as we should appropriately call it, on the other hand, claim themselves to be Muslim (though many Muslims would disagree with this) and if they could they would destroy all traces of ancient Egyptian heritage as they have done and continue to do with world heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, needless to mention their recent attacks in Egypt.

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Mislabelling anything is misleading enough, but mislabelling evil can lead to bigger horrors by allowing it to disguise itself in forms we revere and cherish.

So once again… We are sorry Isis, goddess and mother of mothers!

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Three for Three

21 Mar

Today is the first day of Spring and it happens also to be World Poetry Day and Mother’s Day (in Egypt and the US and several other places in the world, in the UK, however it falls on Sunday 26/03). For this triple occasion, I chose three short but potent poems, which are Victorian in the broader sense of the word. The first two poems are Ionic and Anna Dalassini by the renowned Alexandrian Poet, C. P. Cavafy, whose birth and death were in the Springs of 1863 and 1933. The third poem is by Ann Mary Evans (1819-1880), whose pen name is George Eliot. Evans is an internationally-renowned Victorian novelist but she is less known for her poetry. Her poem Roses is such a delightful one and well-fitted for a sunny Spring day like today.

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Ionic

That we’ve broken their statues,
that we’ve driven them out of their temples,
doesn’t mean at all that the gods are dead.
O land of Ionia, they’re still in love with you,
their souls still keep your memory.
When an August dawn wakes over you,
your atmosphere is potent with their life,
and sometimes a young ethereal figure,
indistinct, in rapid flight,
wings across your hills.

 

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated from Modern Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

 

Anna Dalassini

In the royal decree that Alexios Komninos
put out especially to honor his mother—
the very intelligent Lady Anna Dalassini,
noteworthy in both her works and her manners—
much is said in praise of her.
Here let me offer one phrase only,
a phrase that is beautiful, sublime:
“She never uttered those cold words ‘mine’ or ‘yours.’ ”

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated from Modern Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

 

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Roses

You love the roses – so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!

(George Eliot, 1819-1880, The complete poetical works of George Eliot. New York, F.A. Stokes & brother, 1888)