Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Arabîzî : the Romanisation of Arabic

Even if Arabizi means nothing to you, you may use it everyday when you work on your laptop or send messages from your cell-phone. Arabizi is one of the expressions for what is also called ‘arabiyyat al-dardasha, i.e. the more or less phonetic Arabic written with Roman characters in order to use various IT applications when an Arabic keyboard is not available and/or easy to employ.

– or Aralish, or Franco (for franco-arabe in the Maghreb countries) – is not anymore an absolute necessity in order to communicate in Arabic as it was in the early ‘90s with the very beginning of a widespread Internet but it remains useful at times. Above all, it has become a funny way, now adopted by many young Arabs (and marketed by advertising agencies) to express oneself with the too serious and intimidating written Arabic.

It is worth mentioning that the mere existence of Arabizi gives some credit to those who think that something like a “common Arab culture” still exists! Indeed, Arabizi has appeared and developed itself as an accepted code among all IT Arab users, without any interference of any kind from any official body.

Arabisi may be understood as a new lingua franca (the "lingua franca" was a kind of pidgin, mainly a mixture of Arabic and various Roman languages, which was still in use around the Mediterranean shores at the end of the 19th century). Promoted by the more dynamic and globalised segments of the society, Arabizi is the language of the youth, a language which has absolutely no respect for the older elites and for their command of the (difficult) written Arabic used as a tool for their “symbolic domination”.

Indeed, many (grown-up) people will condemn such a “foolish” attitude toward the Arabic language which is considered to be the core symbol of the Arabic and/or Islamic community. And sometimes they could not be blamed when you watch ads like the one which promotes Maren, one of the tools developed to type Arabic from an English keyboard: it gives the impression that nobody had never typed in Arabic before Microsoft software!

Even more, the ones who are afraid of the spread of these news tools which make easier the shift from the Arabic to the Latin alphabet remember that if the use of the Arabic alphabet in order to transcript other languages like Berber, Persian, Urdu and many others has been historically the rule, in modern times, the first example which comes to mind is, on the contrary, the romanisation of the Turkish language in 1928, shortly after another very symbolic decision by Kamal Atatürk, the abolition of the Califate in 1924.

Links to the some softwares for a “romanised” writing of Arabic to be found in the original post in French.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Price/Prize of an (Egyptian) Intellectual

Every year, the Egyptian state gives several prizes to its best intellectuals. In a very democratic way, the local intelligentsia is supposed to select itself its nominates according to rituals which do not contribute very much to the surge of new talents although they show the self-proclaimed celebration of some of the more obedient voices to the regime.

A reality that nobody really denies in fact. For instance, the celebrated Egyptian novelist Baha Tahir confessed he did not feel at ease receiving the “Mubarak prize for literature” being at the same time member of the jury.

But everybody does not share Baha Tahir’squalms about the public generous gifts. The literary critic Gaber Asfour for instance, now in charge of the “National initiative for translation” after he has been almost 15 years the General Secretary of the Supreme Council for culture, an official body who, incidentally, gave him that year one of its prizes, of some 200.000 EP (around 30.000 USD).

But Ahmad Higazi, a poet previously mentioned in this blog, has done better: he gave himself, a few months ago, the prize (100.000 EP) he organized as president of the Poetry commission at the same Supreme Council of Culture!

Fortunately enough, not all Egyptian intellectuals are able to accept anything against the regime gifts. We already mentioned how the scandal provoked by Sun’Allah Ibrahim’s public refusal of a distinction given by a state doing nothing for the Palestinian according to him.(And recently, the Egyptian press has spoken of – useless – pressures from Faruk Husny, the Egyptian minister for Culture, against Sonallah’s participation to a Literary festival in the south of France.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French. Illustration : photo by Joshua Stacher/http://www.personal.kent.edu/~jstacher/Photo.html#home

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The « Fourth Power » of a Rebel Diva

Some people could be surprised to learn that Mrs Malouma Mind Meidah (المعلومة بنت الميداح), the well-known singer, is also, since 2006, a member of the Mauritanian Parliament.

Elected for an opposition party, Malouma is not afraid to make her own way, in politics as in art. Thus, she does not follow the classical path of the musical traditions she inherited from her family but creates a “contemporary tradition” where the Arab and Berber local maqamat (musical modes) mix with the African rythms.

Her new blues comes from a long tradition where songs – for a celebration as for a protest – have always been a kind of “fourth power” in the Mauritanian society, at least before the coming of the modern media.

If the Arab women seem to gain some political presence in the Arab Peninsula, it must be said that they play a larger political role in Mauritania since the country achieved its independence in 1960. Today, women represent 18% of the members of the Parliament, and one third of the local elected representatives.

Recently, Malouma has had some trouble with the local authorities who seized, as she was back from Senegal were she had them printed, thousands of her CD’s, with some new songs rather critical of the regime. A sign, although she says the contrary, that her protest songs, and politically oriented art in general, has still some influence in a country like Mauritania.

Here the introduction (1'30) of a documentary film (52 min) produced by Al-Jazeera documentary and more links and information, as usual, with the more developed the post in French.