Book Review: The Tentmakers of Cairo looks at Egypt’s overlooked art

'The Tentmakers of Cairo' looks at Egypt’s overlooked art. (Shutterstock)
Updated 09 January 2019
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Book Review: The Tentmakers of Cairo looks at Egypt’s overlooked art

BEIRUT: In the heart of medieval Cairo, facing the gate of Bab Zuwayla, lies the picturesque Street of the Tentmakers, Shari Khayamiya, lined with shops selling vibrant applique panels. This sewing technique, whereby textiles are sewn onto a ground material, is known as “khayamiya” and is unique to Egypt.

“The Tentmakers of Cairo,” by Seif El Rashidi and Sam Bowker, traces the origins of “khayamiya” from the 11th century to the present day. Khayamiya, the art of the tent, is derived from the Arabic word “khayma,” meaning tent.

It is difficult to understand why khayamiya has been the focus of so little attention besides a few articles, including an excellent piece in 1996 by John Feeny in “Aramco World Magazine,” a 2003 thesis and a 2015 documentary film by Kim Beamish.

Until the end of the 19th century, khayamiya was essentially viewed in architectural terms. The authors reveal clear links between tent panels and doorways from that period, “indicating that these textiles were conceived of as architecture in cotton.”

With their colorful patterns of greens, blues, reds and yellows, these distinctive textiles brighten up a street. In the words of the authors, “they unite ornament, function, and ritual in a spectacular display of Egyptian visual culture.” A more decorative khayamiya devoid of Arabic calligraphy emerged in the 1880s to cater for the needs of the nascent touristic market for souvenirs of Egypt.


What We Are Reading Today: Why Nationalism by Yael Tamir

Updated 15 January 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Why Nationalism by Yael Tamir

  • Book explains why it is more important than ever for the Left to reclaim nationalism from right-wing extremists, and to redirect its power to progressive ends

Around the world today, nationalism is back — and it is often deeply troubling.

Populist politicians exploit nationalism for authoritarian, chauvinistic, racist, and xenophobic purposes, reinforcing the view that it is fundamentally reactionary and antidemocratic.

But Yael (Yuli) Tamir makes a passionate argument for a very different kind of nationalism — one that revives its participatory, creative, and egalitarian virtues, answers many of the problems caused by neoliberalism and hyper-globalism, and is essential to democracy at its best, according to a review on the Princeton University Press website. 

In Why Nationalism, she explains why it is more important than ever for the Left to recognize these qualities of nationalism, to reclaim it from right-wing extremists, and to redirect its power to progressive ends.