Egypt Independent

Final Issue: Chaotic thoughts to the editor

This piece was written for Egypt Independent’s final weekly print edition, which was banned from going to press. We offer you our 50th and final edition here


Dear Lina,

I am writing to you with a conflicting urge of writing and not writing, and thinking back to a conversation we had with some urgency in February 2011. I asked, “How do you write at such a time?” and you responded, “Writing is a form of action, it’s activism. You just write!”

In this wondering of things starting, things ending, and imminent change, learning to live with the threat of not taking “the institution” for granted, I wonder about the larger implications of our work — questions to which I don’t have an answer and that reside between language, often articulated in the margins of a readership.

What is civic society? What does a newspaper contribute? What does an art institution contribute? How are they different?

A newspaper is an art institution and a cinema. Is there a political delineation, a place to which we all belong? Is this space — of an imagining, idealizing and thinking young left of a culture at large — real?

That is not to say that I am able to answer any of these questions myself, or I’ve exhausted my questioning. Most of the time, I am grappling with issues that are similar to the ones on your editing table determining the future of your work — similar to ours as artists and art institutions.

I pause at prefacing my worry with the symbolic trauma: What does it mean to “terminate” Egypt Independent?

Language and institutions: There is the looming question of audience and language that renders what is outside the “mother tongue” as supplementary, collateral or excessive, an implied leaning that this space is reserved for a select few, a general assembly that is bound by sharing a language.

I think about English when I think about writing, I think about English when I think about art, and I think about English in terms of Egypt Independent. I think in English, but I think Arabic, not in Arabic.

I wonder about this in context of what you are trying to do, the forcing of a language onto my tongue and into discourse, onto a way of thinking. I hesitate as I wonder about the force of language, choice and what it means to be an international institution, locally, in the world.

We presume language as a means of communication, rather than a form of institution; we presume language in how we live.

In a conversation in Yemen with a taxi driver, the driver poignantly asked: Why does Europe not have an Arab Spring? What unraveled was a conversation on Occupy movements and European uprisings, but beyond that, the global financial system, capitalism, the world, money, war, the Internet, information and the future.

What is the relationship between the economy and what we do, in the at-large sense, and in the micro sense?

The moment of perceived threat of your termination is my frenzied wondering in figures: How much money do you need to raise keep running? How many people are on the payroll? What does it cost to maintain a server? What’s your budget to have a print run of X-thousand copies and to distribute countrywide and beyond?

My own thought itinerary worries me. When did I start thinking in figures and facts? Writing is not subject to that — writing as thinking, writing as doing.

The form that Egypt Independent will take, with you and your team, will change. It won’t disappear.

It will gain intent in resistance, grow more robust, and find more cause and deliberation in what it will become. It is not just a paper or an office. It is a space for language that allows for certain ruminations, for thought to evolve and finding a way of “doing” as writing you say is a form of “activism.”

It has, and continues, to make room for thought that parasitically spawns taxi-ride conversations in Yemen.

In that sense, if art at large is a form of language, then your contribution inspires making form and making institutions possible. For now, I’m staying hopeful.

Think: Egypt. Think: Independent.



Sarah Rifky is a curator living and working in Cairo.