Friday, June 09, 2006

Baheyya's tribute to Ahmed Abdalla

Egyptian blogger Baheyya impresses me every time I read her posts. She still makes me wish I knew more about Egypt and its politics. In this post she remembers Ahmed Abdalla, a leading opposition figure in the ongoing birthing pains of democracy in Egypt. The name is new to me, but that is more a reflection of my ignorance than his importance. This is a ringing tribute to a man of principle taken too soon.

...He had a mirthful, loquacious manner and spoke Arabic, English, and French beautifully. Above all, he was that exceedingly rare specimen of intellectual who neither disdains nor romanticises ordinary people. Instead, he lived among them, understood them, loved them, shared their burdens, and did his utmost to alleviate them.
[Having been a student activist in his twenties] Ahmed Abdalla opted to write his doctoral thesis at Cambridge on students and politics in Egypt, and its book form remains the single most valuable English-language contribution to the topic, second to none. It is a scholarly, historical oeuvre written in a staid, analytical style, with significant bits of auto-critique and reflection, scrupulous documentation, and many gems buried in the footnotes. There is no awkward tension between the scholar and the activist, no grand unsubstantiated claims, no self-exoneration, and—-just as important-—no irritating and pointless second-guessing or hand wringing.
Advocacy mixed with analysis was the driving force behind Abdalla’s energetic bid for parliament in the 2005 elections, and his years long focus on the vexing
condition of child labour. Eschewing both the easy, moralising condemnation of the practice and indifference to it as yet another “social problem,” Ahmed Abdalla made the difficult choice of actually doing something about it. He established the
Centre for Youth and Social Studies
, both a research and information centre and an actual space where working children convened each week to, simply, live their childhood. They drew artwork, made puppets, played music, had a meal, and subjected their bodies to physical activity of a different order than the gruelling labour that marked the rest of their week. It was a place unlike any that I’ve ever been in, where the concrete reality of child exploitation coexisted with an utterly charmed environment full of laughter, love, and an aura of being blessed.

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