Friday, January 28, 2011

Encyclopedia Out + Jean Wyllys, Brazilian Congressman + Revolt Hits Egypt

A while back I mentioned that the journal Encyclopedia's second volume, F-K, would soon be out, and it is now on bookstands and available for order ($25).  I've flipped through a copy of this newest volume and am delighted to say that like the first one, it is a beautifully designed and produced journal, but it's also an inventive, intellectually provocative anthology and a substantial (and hefty, in terms of size and weight) book.

tumblr13I'm also very pleased that my translations of two of Brazilian writer Jean Wyllys's microstories from his collection Aflitos (Fundação Casa Jorge Amado; Editora Globo, 2001), which won his native Bahia's Prêmio Copene de Cultura e Arte in 2001, appear in this volume. I began translating them in the middle of last decade, and about a year and a half ago completed a translation of the entire volume. I haven't yet found a publisher, but the experience of translating his very condensed, lyrical prose pieces, some of them closer to poetry than fiction, others nearer to horror in the brutal realities they depict, and all of which offer a fresh perspective on Brazilian and Bahian life, was instructive and creatively energizing.

I'm also glad to have undertaken this project translating Jean's work. As I've noted before, he was the first person to come out as gay on a Brazilian reality TV show--Big Brother 5, which he won in 2005--and after moving to Rio de Janeiro and returning to his roots as a journalist and professor for a few years, he recently ran on the Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL) ticket, representing a district in Rio, was elected in October and is now the first openly gay federal deputy (equivalent to a US Representative) to be seated in Brazil's lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies.

I imagine he'll be a bit too busy to write more fiction anytime soon, but I hope he continues to do so, and I also hope his legislative and proposed political goals and career succeed, for him, his constituents and the Brazilian people.


Not long ago I blogged about the revolt in Tunisia, which continues as I type this entry, and it was clear to me that if it could even partially succeed--and it has--its spirit would spread throughout other parts of the Middle East. And it has. The largest popular revolution appears to be unfolding in Egypt, where protesters comprising a sizable cross-section of that country's urban populace have staged sustained public protests against the unresponsive, dictatorial government of nonagenarian president-for-life Hosni Mubarak.  Economic stagnation, an authoritarian political systm and violent repression of dissidents have long created a volatile situation that has finally exploded, sparked in part by Tunisia's example, and it's unclear that Mubarak and the security forces will be able to turn back the clock.

In response to the revolt Egypt's government last night shut down Internet, wireless cellular phone, SMS/texting, and satellite phone services, and its secret police and over the last few days its security forces have fired live and non-live ammunition on protesters, killing and badly wounding numerous people in Cairo, Suez, and other cities. The government's communications blackout continued today, in order to shut down Friday afternoon post-prayer demonstrations, though several news reports I've read say that protesters nevertheless gathered at 6 different sites around Cairo, and began marching on government buildings. Anti-nuclear weapon activist and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, an acknowledged leader of the opposition, returned to Egypt yesterday to rally the opposition and today the security forces purportedly turned water cannons on him and numerous supporters, besieging them in a Cairo mosque.  The New York Times is now reporting that Mubarak has now called the military to quell protests that the police forces cannot and has declared a curfew, but demonstrators remain on the streets, a ruling party building is in flames, and Al Jazeera has footage of a torched police car being pushed off a bridge. One thing that remains unclear to me is how widespread the uprisings are. I have heard about demonstrations and attacks on protesters in Suez, but what about other sizable Egyptian cities like Alexandria, Giza and Port Said? What about in the mid-sized cities and in rural areas? What about in southern Egypt? Also, if the protests do succeed in toppling Mubarak, as happened in Tunisia with Ben Ali, who are the likely leading candidates to replace him, and what sort of democratic, republican government might emerge?

Symbolic and public protests have also begun in Algeria, Yemen and Syria, which also suspended its Internet service. In the current New York Review of Books in an article entitled "Uprisings: From Cairo to Tunis," William Pfaff discusses the ferment bubbling across the Arab world, and notes how many of the strongmen under threat have been close allies, sometimes protegés and agents, of US power. This was the case with Tunisia's Ben Ali, who even studied in the US; Mubarak has for years collected billions of dollars annually to prop up his regime. Across the region, US-allied leaders have been stalwarts in the nebulous "War on Terror" at the same time as they have grown increasingly ineffectual in addressing the social, political and economic problems in their own countries. Among the many fine points Pfaff makes, one is key: reform in and of itself hasn't always worked out either. Ben Ali's educational and social reforms in part enabled his downfall, by helping to create a more educated population, a working and middle class with a mind of its own unwilling to continue to take the degraded and diminishing opportunities his regime offered. Enlightenment in this case unleashed forces to ensure its fuller realization. Egypt is several orders larger than Tunisia, with an enraged and engaged young populace, politicized secular and religious opposition parties, and perhaps a majority with no desire to go backwards. As I noted with Tunisia, it's unclear what the final outcome of this current Egyptian revolt will be, but what is likely is that whatever results, Mubarak's hold on power will be fatally damaged, even if he manages to retain it.

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