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May 2nd 2016

Border Crossings: The Yacoubian Buidling

From
the characters of Buthayna, Taha, Abd Raboh, Muhammad Azzam, and many more, The Yacoubian Building illustrates the
corruption of the Egyptian society and the border crossings of gender, class,
and religion. The author, Alaa Al Aswany, uses the building as a form of
symbolism to illustrate the social hierarchy of Egypt from the rooftop slums to
the luxury apartments as well as a representation of past and present Egypt,
where it was once a newly built, high end building and now has become a
rundown, aged residence.

The
transgressions and border crossings fill the lives of these characters, each
with their own representation of the Egyptian society. Buthayna has to work
extensively in order to provide for her family. When working for her employer,
Talal, she accepts his sexual harassment because of the extra money. She
becomes a representation of the economical corruption that takes place in
Egypt. Because of this corruption she is forced to transgress her morals in
order to support herself and her family. When Buthayna talks to her mother
about this issue, her mother simply explains that she should find a way to
satisfy her employers without losing her virginity. Buthayna has to succumb to
the corruption; as a result, loses the love of her life, Taha. Her relationship
with Taha represented a possibility at moving forward to future, better Egypt.
But when she falls into the corruption of present day Egypt and satisfies her
employer, the relationship is broken. One problem after another, she uses the
corruption to try to steal the apartment from Zaki Pasha and be rewarded with
money for her family.

The
corruption also spread throughout the social classes. Aswany uses Taha’s story
as a representation of the lack of social mobility and corruption of religion
in Egypt’s society. Taha was filled with hope to surpass the life he was given
and that of his father; he worked hard, did well in school, and applied to the
police academy. He represents the eager youth and future of Egypt; however,
when denied acceptance because his father was a door man, Taha loses hope for
social mobility and falls into Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. He falls into
a world of cruelty and the corruption of the government transforms him. When he
is arrested and raped in jail, he tries to discuss with the Sheikh about the
rape; but, he is automatically shut down and denied the ability to talk about
his psychology and physical pain. It is taboo and unspeakable, and therefore
the sheikh leads him to a different path – radicalization and violence. His
desire for revenge is supported by the brotherhood and his death is carried out
in the shooting with the officer who ordered his rape. All Taha ever wanted was
to be a police officer and time after time, Egypt’s discrimination to social
class and the corruption of power and politics caused him to lose himself and
eventually, died killing a police officer. Taha tries crossing the border and
in the process losses himself, his hope, his friends and family, and was fooled
by a false sense of power and belonging.

Throughout
Egyptian society, religion plays a major role. The character, Hagg Azzam, is
able to gain the respect of the society and succeed economically mainly because
he is known to be a god-fearing man. This allows him to deceive his way to the
top, portraying the corruption behind the Egyptian economy. He uses this to his
advantage and manipulates interpretations of the Islamic religion to fulfill
his own selfish, sexual desires. He uses Souad solely as a sexual tool and
refuses to let anyone know of her, to let her see any of her family including
her son, and forces her to abort her baby when she becomes pregnant. The reason
this was able to occur is because of his money and his support to her family. A
large theme in this film is the degradation and loss of one’s dignity in order
to satisfy needs, whether it is financially or sexually. The disadvantage to
his easily accessible power is that it is easily taken away. When he was
targeted by a high-powered political figure and threatened by the police, he
was quick to return to his weakness and was exposed. Aswany shows the
manipulation that happens behind the scenes in the Egyptian political power and
how easy it is to exploit.

Similar
to Buthayna and Souad, Abd Rabuh need to make his money in order to support his
family. His transgression was his relationship with Hatim Rasheed. Initially he
refused to accept this taboo and felt extremely guilty because it was against
his religion; however, he was able to follow through knowing that in return,
Hatim Rasheed would provide for his family and bring them to him. This
situation caused Abd Rabuh to lose himself and forget everything he stood for
in order to provide a home and food for his wife and child. Aswany; however,
shows the forbidden nature of homosexuality in Egyptian society when Abd
Rabuh’s child dies and he blames Hatim Rasheed, and consequently, Hatim Rasheed
dies. Additionally, Aswany brings up the topic
of sexuality as a result of French influence, prohibited from portraying
homosexuality as a part of the Egyptians.

With
all these characters attempting to transgress and cross many borders; Aswany
himself is crossing his own borders. The issues presented in the film from
gender and sex, homosexuality, class, and religion are taboos and have always
been sheltered from public views. In Egypt, these topics are unspoken of and
the fact that Aswany effectively portrays these social issues causes his
audience to shine light on topics that have been held in the dark for so long.
He has the power to speak up about these issues and allow the society to think
about what’s really happening in their own country. The Yacoubian building started out so fresh, new, and prestigious
and now lies in the center of Egypt, stranded and broken down from all the
corruption and exploitation. These issues are the reason for it and by crossing
his own boundary, Aswany shows hope to bring new perspective to Egypt and it’s
people. However, there are limitation to his power. In order to be released
there essentially had to be a twist in the stories. Whether it was from the
homosexuality still being a result of the French influence or the death of
Hatim Rasheed, as well as the death of many of the other characters, it is
evident that Aswany is still restricted to the boundaries of his audience and
society.

Guilt and Shame: The Bastard of Istanbul

The
simple yet complex emotions of the five-letter words, guilt and shame, flow
through the blood and veins of the people of both Turkey and Armenia. Through
the characters of Mustafa, Armanoush,
and Asya, Elif Shafak uses the two psychological states to illustrate the importance
of moving on and letting go.

Elif Shafak portrays the effects of
these experiences through the encounters in the two cafes, the virtual Café
Constantinople and the actual Café Kundera. On a national level, the blindness
and denial that result from the guilt and shame of the Turks arises in
Armanoush’s conversation with The Nonnationalist Scenarist of Ultranationalist
Movies and the Dipsomaniac Cartoonist. The two turks from the cafe are quick to
jump and yell, “that didn’t happen” (Shafak, 209). On the other side of things,
when Asya goes to speak and defend herself in the virtual cafe with the
Armenians, they are quick to judge and criticise, asking for an apology from
the state (260). The overarching picture however is that both sides are fighting
these emotions of guilt and shame; both blinded by their own perspectives.
Where the “oppressor has no use for the past” and the “oppressed has nothing
but the past” (261). They will remain in denial if they don’t come together and
confront their faults. Shafak clearly conveys this importance by reminding the
reader that both sides are at fault here. The Turks fail to admit their
wrongdoings, while the Armenians “[savor] the cocoon of victimhood” (261).
Armanoush and Asya come together to identify these problems and represent the
confrontation and acceptance of moving on.

Armanoush travels to Turkey in
search for a deeper connection to her roots. When Armanoush initially is
introduced, we can see the shame she feels when she holds back from telling her
new Armenian American friend that her step-father is a Turk (93). She arrives
in Turkey expecting a kind of apology, or guilt, for what happened when she
tells her story to the Kazanci family; however, she realizes that this won’t
happen. The reason for this is that, there is no longer a connection between
the generations from those who committed the crime to those who live in
present-day Turkey. They have been shut out from the truth so much that, she is
in search for something that doesn’t exist (164). They were both frozen in
“different time frames” (165).

Zeliha’s guilt and shame lies in
Asya. The secret of her father becomes a major aspect that creates and shapes
Zeliha’s character. She starts out the book strong and rebellious. Throughout
the novel, she is seen as the rebellious one. However, her pain of shame lies
at the depths of her soul. Shafak symbolizes her through the metaphor of the
tea-cups. The book begins with her buying the tea-cups, and ends with her
admiring that they have endured the strength all this time. However, she
carries around this burden that shames her, building up a strong wall that has
allowed her survive, unbroken, for the last twenty years. Unlike Mustafa’s
fate, she is able to move on but telling Asya the truth and live happily with
Aram.

In order to move on and let go, the
truth must be set free. One of the characters who carries the most guilt,
Mustafa “was precious from the day he was born” (Shafak, 31). He was always
seen as a king, leaving the four sisters to feel like “unwelcome visitors”
(31). Shafak’s description of Turkey and it’s judgement of woman who rebell
like Zeliha builds a parallel issue to the ideas of gender and sexuality.
Gulsum raised her only son in hopes for him to become just like his father,
strong and powerful. The standards in a patriarchal society not only affect the
woman, but also the men. The guilt and shame strike when Zeliha humiliates and
emasculates him because he is unable to have friends and be loved by women
(46). She sees behind his “forced masculinity” and this mockery triggered him
to violently rape her (46). By oppressing Zeliha and shaming her, he feels as
though he is able to part with his own guilt and shame. This; however, remained
untrue. By leaving his family behind, he shut out the past and didn’t look
back. When he was forced to return to bring back Armanoush, all the pain from
the guilt of raping his sister and the shame he carried on his back came
rushing through and led him to his decision to commit suicide (337).

On the broader scale, Shafak regards
Mustafa as high and king-like, subtly symbolizing Turkey’s “immortal leader”,
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Okten, 97). The initial signification of his
relationship to Ataturk was the identical first name, carried out with his
royal position in his family. When Mustafa left his family for America, he
resembled the death of Ataturk departing from Turkey; however, having an
endless leadership. The people never forgot him and he remained in their
hearts, just as Mustafa remained in the hearts of the Kazanci family. Elif
Shafak repeatedly connects the two and uses their relationship as a symbol. As
one of his last words, Mustafa states, “for me to exist, the past had to be
erased” (Shafak, 337). Similar to Ataturk, without creating a separation
between the past of Turkey, the Armenian Genocide, and starting a complete
reformation, he wouldn’t have been able to be seen as highly as he was. Like
Mustafa, he created a “home with its backdoor closed to the past” (285) and
refused to open it. The people of Turkey followed him with “endless respect”
(Okten, 111). He forced the Turks to bury down the guilt and shame; leaving the
new and future generations to become completely ignorant and without the
strength to uphold the knowledge.

Shafak’s ending of Mustafa’s suicide
represents the letting go of Ataturk and his rule; allowing his dark secrets to
be released into the light. When Auntie Zeliha finally releases the truth about
Asya’s father, everything makes sense, the truth is set free. They are able to
move on, Turkey is able to move on, and Armenia and Turkey will be able to
bridge the gap that has stood for many generations.

The theme of guilt and shame lies
deep within the roots of the two cultures. Shafak uses the many representations
throughout the characters in the book to highlight its deadly effect. From the
cafe characters, Armanoush, Zeliha, and Mustafa; Shafak sends a powerful
message to her readers about the importance of moving on and setting the truth
free about the Armenian genocide as well as the truths about the different
taboo’s in Turkish and Armenian cultures that lie deep within history.

Short Answer 1

The main obstacles that the Middle
East faces throughout its attempts to achieve social justice and democracy is
the presence of authoritative regime, socialism, and corruption. The government
controls the small turning wheels of the community and has the power to
overtake anything and anyone that doesn’t function that way they would like. In
Saudi Arabia, there are a tremendous amount of rigid media laws and self
censorship. The information that gets sent out to the public is filtered and
controlled by the leadership. For the arab world, the introduction of satellite
television and the internet allowed the information to flow throughout the
Middle East. People in Egypt were able to instantly be informed about the
people in Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya, and many more. They were also able to
communicate with people all around the world. It was a revolution in and of
itself. Throughout the uprisings, cyber journalism and the media led the
so-called leaderless revolution. Many questioned why previously no one spoke up
and it was because they feared repression and failed revolutions resulting from
a lack of people who shared the same view. The media and television made civic
engagement possible and became the new tool that united the people with hope
and power. With two sides to everything, there came disadvantages. During the
revolution in Egypt, the government impeded internet access for one week in
order to prevent communication with the protestors. Additionally, the death of
Khaled Saeed in Egypt was a representation of the government’s abuse of power,
when he refused to allow the government to monitor his internet use. Many
people around the world began fighting this and helping the Egyptians, which
fueled the government to hack the social media accounts and retrieve the easy
accessible information online. Another example of the government interference
of the media would be Al Arab news station that was shut down by the government
after one day when it aired an interview with Khalil Al Marzooq that the
government did not agree with.

Short Answer 2

The confrontation of traditionalism
and modernity in the film Shahrbanoo was presented in Melissa, as modernity,
and Shahrbanoo, as traditionalism, and the different roles they have as a woman
in their individual societies. Shahrbanoo feels as though Melissa’s modernity
will hurt her and she is following the wrong path when she doesn’t cover up.
Melissa initially doesn’t realize the power that the woman like Shahrbanoo
have. Although different from the western idea of woman power, the work and
effort of the woman in the life of Shahrbanoo are present in cooking, working,
and providing for her family. In Shahrbanoo, these two ideas confront each
other in terms of the position of a woman in the society and how the two perspectives,
although very different, come to understand each other. In the Yacoubian Building, when the traditionalism and modernity are
confronted there are two different results – they either clashed or combined.
With the example of homosexuality, Hatim Rasheed confronts modernity with
traditional, Abd
Rabbuh, the end result was multiple deaths. With Taha’s rejection from
modernity, he follows traditionalism in the footsteps of the Islamic
brotherhood and dies. However, modernity and traditionalism end the film with
the marriage between old Egypt, Zaki Pasha, and new Egypt, Buthayna.
Additionally, in the Silences of the
Palace
, the confrontation of these two ideas was through the juxtaposition
of the upper and lower level. In specific the event of the dinners, with modern
clothing and European influence, as well as the scenery of the rich upper
class; in contrast with the lives of the lower level with the decoration,
clothing, and back-breaking jobs.

Short Answer 3

The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings
were connected by many things, one of them being social media and the role of
cyber activism. From the spark of Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide, the media was
what connected and unified the people; from “the crowd [that] videotaped the
demonstrations and posted the videos on Facebook” and then Al-Jazira taking it
and broadcasting it to the entire Arab community (Gelvin, 47). Soon enough,
journalists were naming these uprisings as the “Twitter Revolution” or
“Facebook Revolution”, representing the means in which they used to gather
their people and communicate. The media enabled civic engagement for a mass
number of people and fueled the different countries by the information passed.
In Gelvin’s book he justified the metaphor of the “wave” by describing how
Tunisia galvanized; however did not cause, the Egyptian revolution. People
began taking the ideas of the previously successful revolutions, like the idea
of mobilization, and carrying it out such as the Tahrir Square and the Pearl
Roundabout. Although there were many advantages to the media, there were also
many disadvantages. The government was easily able to manipulate the form of communication
between the people, like the Egyptian government’s ability to impede of the
internet for an entire week. They also were able to hack into different social
media accounts and spy on the protestors. Additionally, social media took away
from the “real heroes” who protested and fought in the country (Gelvin, 58).
The social media in the revolutions was not the cause of the revolutions;
however, played an important part in fueling the different revolutions and
facilitating communication and unity within the people.

Short Answer 4

The unaborted children in The Silences of the Palace and The Bastard of Istanbulsymbolize the
future of the country and signify the hope for change and a second chance.
Alia’s unborn baby, initially signified a repeat of the same life as her
mother’s life, Khadeja. By going through with the abortion, she would remain in
the same path and same destiny. At the end of the film, by not aborting her
child; however, she represents a sense of empowerment and strength for the women
of Tunisia; facing the challenges and representing change and power for the
future. In The Bastard of Istanbul,
Asya represents the new generation and new mindset that is open to bridging the
gap between Turkey and Armenia. When she speaks to the people in Cafe
Constantinople, she sincerely apologizes to them for the horrific events and
she reacts very differently from the Turks in Cafe Kundera. Asya represents the
strength for the knowledge that the new generation has to overcome this rigid
break in Turkey’s past. She represents hope for change in the future as well as
strength from Zeliha.

  

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