The Arabist

Launched in Cairo (Egypt) in 2003 by Issandr El Amrani, a Moroccan-American writer and analyst, The Arabist is an independent blog covering “the domestic politics of Arab countries”. If the primary focus lies on Egypt, the blog also aims at exploring “broader issues in the Arab world, US policy in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and cultural developments throughout the region”. The blog is maintained in collaboration with Ursula Lindsey, a journalist interested in “culture, education and politics in the Arab world”, and welcomes contributions from multiple contributors, journalists and/or academics specializing in the region. After a very prolific decade, The Arabist is now less frequently updated, but remains nevertheless a valuable and reliable source of information for scholars interested in contemporary Arab politics.

Screenshot of ‘The Arabist’ main page, June 30, 2020.

The main page is used for posting links relevant to the themes of the blog, and is updated every couple of months. The Podcast & Projects tab in the top-left menu leads to additional resources: podcasts, press articles in translation, a guide to Egyptian political, economic and social issues, and an Egyptian magazine’s archive.

Bulaq: The Arab World in Books is a podcast started in November 2017. Co-hosted by Ursula Lindsey and Marcia Lynx Qualey, book critic, editor, ghostwriter, and literary consultant and editor-in-chief of ArabLit, Bulaq looks at the Middle East and North Africa “through the lens of literature and at literature through the lens of current events”.

From 2009 to 2014, The Arabist Podcast focusing on Egyptian politics during the revolution and its aftermath was co-hosted by Issandr El Amrani and Ursula Lindsey.

The 80+ episodes of both podcasts can be listened to and/or downloaded from their respective pages.

The Sabry Guide was developed in 2012 by Bassem Sabry, an Egyptian political analyst who passed away prematurely in 2014, to provide an overview of the political, economic and social challenges facing post-Mubarak Egypt, with a a focus on the everyday problems encountered by the Egyptian population. Re-arranged for clarity, this guide will be of interest to scholars working on contemporary Egypt.

From 2011 to 2018, in partnership with the firm Industry Arabic, ‘The Arabist’ regularly published materials selected from the Arabic press In (English) Translation.

Last but not least, The Cairo magazine archive makes available the 30 issues of this “magazine for News, Business and Culture” published between March and November 2005.


Jadaliyya is an independent electronic magazine published by the Arab Studies Institute, a not-for-profit organization based in Beirut that produces knowledge on the Arab World .

English Interface

Far from the main-stream media and common perspectives, Jadaliyya offers original insight and critical analysis rooted in local knowledge, scholarship, and advocacy. Jadaliyya is supported by a dedicated team of volunteer contributors among whom a number of well-known academics, journalists, and intellectuals like Sinan Antoon and Bassam Haddad. With a bilingual interface (EnglishArabic), and articles in Arabic, French, English, and Turkish, Jadaliyya aims to reach out to a broad audience located in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

Arabic interface

Jadaliyya contents can be browsed from the main page by country (Egypt, Palestine, Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Turkey, Maghreb) or by category (Refugees and Migrants, Cities, Culture, Law and Conflict, Political Economy, Pedagogy, Reviews, NEWTON, Reports, Media).

Articles can also be searched using the search window next to the categories (top menu), or discovered via the Jad Navigation page featuring “Recent stories”, “Jadaliyya recommends”, and “Arab Uprisings selections”.

“Pages” menu

The Pages menu at the top left corner of pages offers a wealth of information about the journal and its contributors. For questions or further information, you may visit the Contact Us page.

Egyptian Caricatures Archive / أرشيف الكاريكاتير المصري

In May 2018, the French Centre for Economic, Legal, and Social Study and Documentation (CEDEJ) based in Cairo, Egypt, launched in association with Bibliotheca Alexandrina a new portal to host its rich collection of Egyptian caricatures.

Egyptian Caricatures Archive/أرشيف الكاريكاتير المصري makes available 12,000 humorous drawings published in Egyptian newspapers between 1970 and 2010. This invaluable collection of primary source materials now available in Open Access to researchers and the general public.

The caricatures have been catalogued by the CEDEJ Library allowing for the database to be searched by different fields:

  • title of caricature
  • date of publication
  • title of newspaper where it was published
  • topic (drop-down menu)
  • author
  • keyword.

Images are provided in JPEG, and can easily be downloaded and saved.


At the time of our visit the interface was only accessible in Arabic, but according to the official announcement made by CEDEJ, the implemention of the English and French interfaces is scheduled for Octobre 2018.

Dr. Pasha M. Khan: The new Chair of Urdu Language and Culture

Hi friends!

A (much) belated congratulations to the new Chair of Urdu Language and Culture, Dr. Pasha M. Khan. Dr. Khan began in the Institute of Islamic Studies last year and has quickly risen ranks!

If you haven’t, be sure to take a read through Dr. Khan’s impressive PhD dissertation entitled “The Broken Spell: The Romance Genre in Late Mughal India.” Or his essay on “The Lament for Delhi ( Fughan-i Dihli).

Congratulations, Dr. Khan.

Robert Wisnovsky & Institute of Islamic Studies News

Hi friends!

Recently, Dr. Robert Wisnovsky of the IIS of McGill was promoted to full professor and has also been appointed to a James McGill professorship. This is of course wonderful news and a much deserved recognition for his individual achievements, but it also is an important milestone for the Institute for which we can all be proud.

In related news, Dr. Wisnovsky was recently interviewed by the Montreal newspaper, Le Devoir: Humanités 2.0 – Le zéro et l’infini McGill numérise la science et la philosophie islamiques.

In addition, Dr. Wisnovsky has an article in the forthcoming Cambridge University Press publication entitled Interpreting Avicenna Critical Essays.

Many congratulations, Dr. Wisnovsky!






Gezi Park Uprisings in Turkey

Hi friends!

The recent uprisings in Gezi Park have peeked people’s interest in Turkey and the various uprisings across the Middle East, particularly those of the 2011 Arab Spring. Our colleague, John Eilts at Stanford University wrote an informative post on sources on and about Gezi. And our friend Rifat Bali of Libra Books has listed the following websites and resources:

However, most interesting (to me!) is today’s al-Jazeera photo essay “In Pictures: The Taksim Square Book Club” which depicts numerous people reading in the park. And a couple of weeks ago the Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet,  had an article on “Publishing houses to unite in Gezi Park to distribute major resistance material: Books.”

For those curious to read more about reading habits and the evolution of reading in Ottoman Turkey and the early Republic take a look at:

Şahbaz, Namık Kemal. 2009. Türkiye’de ilkokuma ve yazma öğretiminin tarihsel gelişimi. Ankara: MEB.

Fortna, Benjamin C. 2011. Learning to read in the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish republic. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Digitization of Turkish Manuscripts in the Balkans

Hi friends!

A short news piece released yesterday has announced a joint effort between the Yunus Emre Institute and several Balkan libraries in order to digitize various Turkish manuscript collections.

For those of you inclined to read about the Turkish manuscript holdings of the Vatican Library, take a look Rossi, Ettore. 1953. Elenco dei manoscritti turchi della Biblioteca vaticana: vaticani, barberiniani, borgiani, rossiani, chigiani. Città del Vaticano: Biblioteca apostolica vaticana (Ref. Z6605 T8 R6 ).

For more information on the Vatican’s manuscript collections take a look at St Louis University’s Vatican Film Library subject guide.

Timbuktu: Ancient Manuscripts in Danger of Extinction

May 20, 2013 marks the launch of global fund-raiser, T160K: Timbuktu Libraries in Exile.

A far cry from the fabled ends of the earth, Timbuktu, a small, northern enclave in the West African nation of Mali, is at the heart of a modern-day quest: to save the city’s many ancient libraries from destruction. Action must be taken immediately to preserve these ancient writings. Last year, after more than seven centuries in generational homes of dedicated safe-keepers, this collection of over 300,000 medieval manuscripts was suddenly caught in the middle of an ideological, territorial war. At great urgency and peril, a team of local stakeholders led by Abdel Kader Haidra and Dr. Stephanie Diakité conspired to rescue their beloved treasure.

This group of brave librarians, couriers and local Mali citizens risked everything to smuggle over 1,000 trunks of manuscripts by donkey cart, bicycle, on backs, and in boats, out of the city to new hideaways in other parts of the country. Not one document, not one person was lost during the evacuation.

Now that they are safely re-located away from the Sahara, the libraries have new enemies: humidity and tight quarters. This fatal combination could lead to devastation by mold and mildew. Most of these documents are made of rag paper and unstable inks, too fragile, even, to endure scanning digitization. The most immediate need is to re-package them in archival materials, index and re-secure them in their temporary sanctuaries. When it is again safe, they will be returned to their original guardians in Timbuktu.
Though the libraries are now secure from certain destruction by combatants in the war in Mali, a massive undertaking is required to prevent these exiled manuscripts from self-destructing. $7 million is needed to procure archival and storage materials and the labor necessary to preserve this priceless cultural heritage.

According to Dr. Diakité, “We saw the power of these libraries when people from all walks of life, whole villages, and speakers of every language in the region gave their time and effort, even under considerable risk, to help us evacuate them to the South. We believe that securing these manuscripts is a positive step towards a process of enduring peace and a reduced toll of human misery for this entire region.”
The rainy season is upon us. Every day counts.

For all Media inqueries / interview requests please contact:
Danielle Chiero – Public Relations
p: 360 878 9761

Mali: What really happened to the manuscripts?

Some of you may have been heard about Islamic manuscripts of Tombouctou being burned and destroyed. Some contradictory and confusing information had been coming in for two days*. Well, here is the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project / Huma University of Cape Town update, dated 30 January 2013:

Since the start of this week there are reports about the destruction of library buildings and book collections in Timbuktu. It sounds as if the written heritage of the town went up in flames. According to our information this is not the case at all. The custodians of the libraries worked quietly throughout the rebel occupation of Timbuktu to ensure the safety of their materials. A limited number of items have been damaged or stolen, the infrastructure neglected and furnishings in the Ahmad Baba Institute library looted but from all our local sources – all intimately connected with the public and private collections in the town – there was no malicious destruction of any library or collection.

By Sunday January 27 the Ansar Dine rebels had fled Timbuktu.  The French army and its Malian partners entered the town on that day.

One of the first reports on Monday morning out of the town was that a library and books had been set alight.  A Sky News journalist, Alex Crawford, embedded with the French forces, reported in the evening from inside the new Ahmad Baba building, which is opposite the Sankore mosque.  This building was officially opened in 2009 and is the product of a partnership between South Africa and Mali.  It is meant to be a state-of-the-art archival, conservation, and research facility. Images showed empty manuscript enclosures strewn on the floor, some burnt leather pouches, and a small pile of ashes.  She reported that over 25,000 mss had been burned or disappeared.

Additional images showed her going down to the vault of the archives and looking at empty display cabinets. No signs of fire could be seen.

The mayor of Timbuktu, Hallè Ousmane, based around 800 km away, in Bamako, was quoted in various media reports that a library building and manuscripts were torched by fleeing rebels. There is no other evidence but the word of the mayor. News spread to international media and the mayor’s words were reported as hard fact.

We tried all of Monday, since these reports appeared, to contact colleagues in Timbuktu but without success. The town was in a communications and electricity blackout since around January 20, we were told by Malian colleagues; no eyewitness reports had been coming out of the town for more than a week at this point.

Sources from Bamako in the evening reported that Mohamed Ibrahim Cissé, President of the Chairman of the Board of the Cercle of Timbuktu still confirmed, on France 24, that the new Ahmed Baba Institute building had been burned by the Ansar Dine before fleeing. By Monday night we finally managed to contact our colleague, Dr Mohamed Diagayeté, senior researcher at the Ahmad Baba Institue, now based in Bamako. He heard much the same reports that we heard.

However, he added that the majority of the mss. of the Institute was still stored in the old building – opened in 1974 and on the other side of the town, from the new building.  He told us that the latest news about the new building, as of eight days before the flight of the Ansar Dine, was that the building had not been destroyed. He said that around 10,000 mss had been stored in the new building since there was no more space for the mss in the old building.  They were placed in trunks in the vaults of the new building.  Upstairs, where the restoration was taking place and boxes were made there were only a few mss.  After seeing Sky News footage, he says that the images were of the few mss upstairs waiting to be worked on by the conservators.

However, by Tuesday morning, Dr. Mahmoud Zouber, Mali’s presidential aide on Islamic affairs and founding director of the Ahmad Baba Institute, told Time, that before the rebel take-over the manuscripts: “they were put in a very safe place. I can guarantee you. The manuscripts are in total security.”

Finally, the journalist Markus M. Haeflinger, writing in Neue Zuercher Zeitung this morning, reports on his interview with the previous and present directors of the Ahmad Baba Institute in Bamako, on how the larger part of the Ahmad Baba collection was hidden and even transported out of Timbuktu during the crisis.

The protection of the cultural and intellectual heritage of this region needs to be enhanced and promoted. The abandonment of the security of Timbuktu nine months ago, the flight of archivists and researchers, and the closure of libraries should not be repeated. We remain in contact with our colleagues in Mali and are keen to establish precisely which manuscripts were damaged, destroyed, or stolen.

*See the links below: [PHOTOS]: Burnt ancient manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Centre for Documentation and Research in Timbuktu, Jan. 28-29, 2013 [includes VIDEO footage from inside the Centre]