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Florence in Words

Visitors from Fes

Fatima Sadiqi and Moha Ennaji, two of the editors of the Northern region’s Women Writing Africa, came into New York this week not only to have brunch with me, but to attend meetings at the United Nations (Fatima) and at Pace University (Moha). They are also seeing one of their three sons, who is now working in New York—and talked of the other two, in Seattle and London. For the first time in their married lives, they are alone together, and rattling around in their large home in Fes.









Fatima SadiqiMoha Ennaji
Fatima Sadiqi
Moha Ennaji


We talked of depression, both personal and political. I was most interested in their view of the Arab spring, not only in peaceful Morocco, but in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria.
They are close to friends in Tunisia and they are taking an optimistic view that sense will prevail and that the Islamists will remain moderate and permissive towards the secular members of the country. Moha’s latest piece, to be found on the web in Project Syndicate, “The Maghreb’s Modern Islamists,” contends that sensible people—in Morocco and Tunisia—will realize that their first goal most be strengthening the economy. As Moha puts it in his essay, “These governments’ first major test of economic stewardship will be how they treat the tourism industry . . . [as] a critically important source of employment and foreign currency.”

Fatima has recently written about issues of gender and language “at the heart of the new Moroccan constitution.” A major feminist issue she has espoused for several decades is the marginalization of women who speak Moroccan Arabic and/or Berber. While the new constitution, Fatima contends, “institutionalizes gender equality through reinforcing the presence of women” in various public domains, still more important is the recent establishment of Berber as an official Moroccan language. She understands, however, that statements or labels are not enough. How to implement the promotion of Berber is a major feminist political issue.

Their views of Egypt are far less sanguine, and about Libya and Syria, they are frankly frightened, not to mention Iran and Israel. Most of all, they are aware that, in the ten years or so we have known each other, their region has been turned upside down. I have long admired them for many reasons, not the least of which is their stable marriage. I also envy their multi-linguist talents: they can converse or write—and in the case of Moha, translate on the spot—in Berber, Arabic (both Moroccan and Standard), French, and English.

I should have taken photographs on the street in front of my building, but alas, I didn’t. But the photos above are a couple I happen to have. Read More 
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End of the Year Letter

Rebecca Seawright, Grandma Alice Jackson holding Kennedy and her new stuffed dog, and Jack Wright, Kennedy's father
Dear Friends:

Yes, I know, I am weeks late with this end-of-the-year letter. What inspired me to write today was coming across last year’s plaintively optimistic letter. I hoped that President Obama would be able to do more, and I hoped that my book would do well and that I would quickly find new forms of productivity.  Read More 
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Egypt Again

Egypt is still very much on my mind. Yesterday I had an email from Nadia, the one Cairo person in the group of academics I worked with on Women Writing Africa: The Northern Region. She is a professor of English at the university there. This is what she wrote: Read More 
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Revolution in Egypt

When the street revolution in Egypt began, I wrote at once to my Women Writing Africa colleagues, to say that I was “worried” about them, and heard that Azza was “safe in India.” Others in Alexandria—Sahar, Amira, and Heba—wrote to say they were fine, very excited, and asked me to “pray” for them—and for Egypt. Heba is a passionate Copt who took me to visit both the “Desert Fathers” and the “Desert Mothers” on one visit to Egypt. I’ve heard from Sahar most frequently, who wrote today that people were going back to work on Monday, and that she was hoping the “transition” would be peaceful. I urged her to keep writing, since I continue to worry about their safety, even in Alexandria. And I have heard nothing from Nadia, the one member of the group who lives in Cairo. Read More 
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