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May 31, 2011

One thing in Arabic, Another in English … at MIT?

Was the translation accurate?

One of the most common knocks against Arab leaders is that they say one thing in English to Western audiences and another thing in Arabic to their own supporters.

Sadly, it appears that this phenomenon has played itself out at the Center for International Studies (CIS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

First, some background.

Previously, Snapshots has written about a presentation that took place at MIT’s Center for International Studies (CIS) on April 29, 2011.

The presentation, which included speeches by two members of the April 6 Youth Movement that played a significant role in ousting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year, can be seen in its entirety here.

In a blog post titled, “Extremists Can Tweet, Too, Jason,” Snapshots lamented the failure of Jason Pontin, editor of MIT’s Technology Review to raise questions about the revolution that has taken place in Egypt. We wrote that with his “obsession on how activists used Facebook and Twitter to achieve Mubarak’s ouster, Pontin failed to ask some of the most basic questions about where the revolution is headed.”

In particular, Snapshots criticized Pontin for failing “to ask how Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood are using the technologies the April 6th Youth Movement used to achieve Mubarak’s ouster.”

But wait, there’s more!

A video has surfaced challenging Arabic-to-English translation provided during Ahmed Maher’s presentation. The upshot of the video, posted by Egypt Forward on Youtube is that at a crucial point during the presentation, the English translation does not match what Maher said in Arabic.

Egypt Forward provides its own word-by-word translation of what was said in Arabic for a portion of the event. It then continues with the translation – as it was made on the scene by a translator provided by MIT’s Center for International Studies.

The video indicates that in Arabic, Maher, one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, accused Israel of perpetrating a "genocide" against the Palestinians. (It goes without saying that any allegation of genocide against Israel is simply untenable. The Palestinian population has increased substantially over the past several decades.)

If this is the type of rhetoric being used by secularist revolutionaries who ousted Hosni Mubarak, this is of great importance and interest.

Nevertheless, the only people who would know what Maher actually said are the people in the audience who speak Arabic, because the accusation was, according to Egypt Forward, not conveyed to English speakers in the audience.

The translator said in English that (and this is a paraphrase) in a neighboring territory, people are being oppressed and killed and are having their rights taken away. This is a long way from the accusation of genocide apparently leveled initially by Maher.

You can watch Egypt Forward's video yourself here.

Posted by dvz at May 31, 2011 02:00 PM

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