Monday, 14 June 2010
Something else caught my attention today with regards to Khaled Sa'id, on whose murder and subsequent demonstrations I blogged yesterday. Perhaps because of my own interest in e-activism and the Middle Eastern blogospheres, and perhaps because of discussions that sprung from a symposium on the topic held only a couple of days ago - Khalid Sa'id's entries on Wikipedia caught my attention.
Whereas there remains no Wikipedia entry on Khalid Sa'id on Wikipedia English, Wikipedia Arabic features a short stub on the Alexandrian victim of torture. Wikipedia Masri however featured a much longer and more more detailed article on Khalid.
Wikipedia Masri is the Egyptian Arabic version of Wikipedia, a free, open-content encyclopaedia. This Wikipedia primarily acts as an alternative to the Arabic Wikipedia in favour of speakers of the Egyptian dialect. It was proposed on March 30, 2008 and started as a developing project on April 2, 2008 in the Wikimedia Incubator. The proposal was accepted in July 2008 and the announcement was made on the first day of Wikimania 2008 in Alexandria. On November 24, 2008, the Egyptian Arabic Wikipedia became an official Wikipedia, and the Incubator articles were transferred to the new domain.
The controversial Wikipedia Masri raised eyebrows in Egypt and beyond. While some questioned the linguistic ramifications of the move and the hardships expected since the Egyptian dialect is a spoken, not a written, dialect. Semantics and syntax have never been developed or formally codified for any Arabic dialect - Egyptian included. But is Wikipedia Masri an isolationist attempt to particularise Egyptian articles on Wikipedia, isolate a non-Egyptian readership and attract the Egyptian readership away from Wikipedia Arabic? Or is it simply complementary to Wikipedia Arabic giving voice and space to express things in colloquial dialect?
Others saw Wikipedia Masri another move towards inward-looking Egyptian isolationism reminiscent of the attempts to Romanise or Latinise Egyptian Arabic or revive the Coptic script to create additional barriers between Egypt and its other Arab-speaking neighbours - efforts reminiscent of their contemporaries in Atatürk's Turkey. To date, proponents of a Romanised, de-Arabised Egyptian dialect continue to advocate the isolationist, perhaps even self-Orientalist, agendas. One such example is the "Masri Language" website which outlines "Il Ebgediyye" (the alphabet) for "Il Loğe-l Masri-g Gidiide" (the Modern Egyptian Language) which, according to the site, is still under development - "lisse b'tittawwar." According to the site administrators, Modern Egyptian only has few rules or "Şweyyit Cawaħid" as the site proclaims in Romanised Egyptian. The Romanised alphabet and the "few rules" are devised by a certain Mamduh Schauki.
This is far from some random, rare or Egypt-exclusive phenomenon. Many amongst the "intelligentsia" in postcolonial Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and elsewhere shared similar feelings. Iran might have certainly taken a much earlier isolationist turn some centuries ago, but the reign of the Pahlavi Shahs in the early 20th century was a significant attempt to isolate Modern Persian from neighbouring Arabic, Pashto and Urdu by introducing European words to replace their Arabic counterparts. Turkey took a more radical step, turned its back to Asia and the Middle East, Romanised its alphabet, disassociated from its past and self-Orientalised itself. Egypt's fin de siècle elite was no different - the belle epoque was characterised by vocal advocates of Egyptian particularism, claims that the interconnectedness between Egyptian and European antiquity only suggests Egypt is more European than Arabo-Islamic and a sincere desire to Romanise the Egyptian dialect and revive the ancient liturgical Coptic script - the heir of Ancient Egyptian. In Lebanon, Phonetician-ness and the desire to Romanise the Lebanese dialect took a very similar turn.