A Hebrew Novel of Jewish Alexandria, Now in English

Yitzḥak Gormezano Goren published his novel Alexandrian Summer in 1978, but it has only lately been translated into English. André Aciman reviews the novel, which is based on the author’s own childhood:

The military coup that was to overthrow King Farouk in 1952 and, with his ouster, eventually dissolve all remnants of multi-national life in Egypt, can only confirm the [narrator’s family’s] sense that life as they’d known it in Alexandria was fast coming to an end. Surging anti-Western and anti-Semitic rhetoric on the streets and in radio broadcasts had turned Egypt into a tinderbox that was to explode with the Suez Canal war of 1956, a war that proved disastrous to Egypt’s European community. French and British nationals were instantly expelled, their exodus immediately followed by the expulsion of the majority of Egypt’s 85,000 Jews, most of whose ancestors had been living along the Nile and its Delta for more than a millennium and long before the advent of Islam.

Alexandrian Summer is a nostalgic, farewell portrait of a world that was fast expiring but still refused to see that history had written it off. . . . This, after all, was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-sexual, multi-everything society where Coptic, Jew, Muslim, Catholic, and Greek Orthodox lived tolerably well together and where multilingualism was the order of the day. Everyone was part Levantine, part European, part Egyptian, and one-hundred-percent hodgepodge, just as everyone’s sentences were spiced with words and expressions lifted from French, Italian, Arabic, Ladino, Turkish, Greek, English, and whatever else came by. Tart-to-toxic bons mots in a mix of six to eight languages could singe you just enough to shake you up but without causing any damage. Similarly, the mix of populations was never perfect, and cultures and creeds jostled one another without scruple. There again, the tussling was amicable enough and never deadly. But no one was fooled for long.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Arab anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Egypt, Ladino, Mizrahi Jewry, Suez Crisis

 

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy