Monday, February 18, 2008

Politics and Religion at ArchaeoBlog! Stifled, Egypt’s Young Turn to Islamic Fervor
The concrete steps leading from Ahmed Muhammad Sayyid’s first-floor apartment sag in the middle, worn down over time, like Mr. Sayyid himself. Once, Mr. Sayyid had a decent job and a chance to marry. But his fiancée’s family canceled the engagement because after two years, he could not raise enough money to buy an apartment and furniture.

Mr. Sayyid spun into depression and lost nearly 40 pounds. For months, he sat at home and focused on one thing: reading the Koran. Now, at 28, with a diploma in tourism, he is living with his mother and working as a driver for less than $100 a month. With each of life’s disappointments and indignities, Mr. Sayyid has drawn religion closer.

Here in Egypt and across the Middle East, many young people are being forced to put off marriage, the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect. Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood.

“I can’t get a job, I have no money, I can’t get married, what can I say?” Mr. Sayyid said one day after becoming so overwhelmed that he refused to go to work, or to go home, and spent the day hiding at a friend’s apartment.

I just wanted to pass this article along, not because I agree with it all, but because I have some experience with it. Employment is dreadful in Egypt. Many of our hired laborers -- people who would carry baskets to and from the screens -- were college graduates. In 2003 our generalized go-fer guy (he took care of daily things like schlepping breakfast out to the site, finding needed items in the markets, etc.) had a law degree.

I don't know about the whole "growing religious conservatism". . . .I didn't really notice it, though I never hung out at the universities; although every time I was at the AUC it felt like going into a sea of modernity with well-dressed young people all over.

We tend to get annoyed really easily at all the supposed bad behavior that goes on, such as people always trying to sell you something, to the little power plays that goes on as people jockey for position in the hierarchy. But we in the west often forget how really underdeveloped many of these countries are. I learned not to interfere too much in these sorts of things between the locals because it's their livelihood and they most often have far fewer financial resources than even us lowly graduate students.

UPDATE: And more! A reader sends this link involving a Turkish archaeologist (Muazzez Ilmiye Cig) who ran into a bit of trouble recently:
SPIEGEL: In one of your books, you claimed that the headscarf was worn by temple prostitutes in pre-Islamic days. Some people interpreted this as a direct insult to Muslim women. In 2006, you even appeared in a Turkish court on charges of "inciting hatred."

Cig: I didn't just claim it, I discovered it. The old cuneiform of the Sumerians describes how sexual rituals with young men were a religious requirement -- one of many -- for priestesses. These women wore veils over their faces to identify themselves. This is a historic fact. I'm a scientist. Whether this article of clothing, a sex symbol, is suitable as a moral calling card today is something for others to decide.

I don't think I posted any links on this story a while back, but I did see them.