A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Laylat al-Qadr and the Last 10 Days in Ramadan

As we move into the last ten days of Ramadan, it may do well to revisit my post of last year on the Laylat al-Qadr, the night the Qur'an calls "better than a thousand months," when the first revelation was given to the Prophet. Tradition holds it is one of the even-numbered nights of Ramadan, in its last ten days or, in some traditions, last week. The link above is a longer post ont he subject. Again to my Muslim readers, Ramadan Karim.

A "Bright Day" for Iraq?

Nuri al-Maliki, the somewhat lame duck Iraqi Prime Minister, has called today "a bright day" for Iraq, saying "It's a day that Iraq gained back its sovereignty. Iraq is now its own master."

Well, maybe. There are still close to 50,000 US troops there, after all, and the formal end of combat5 operations today is a bit of an afterthought since the last combat brigade left earlier in the month.

President Obama will address the end of combat operations, though we certainly haven't seeen the last US casualty in Iraq. At least he won't don a flight suit, land on an aircraft carrier, and declare "Mission Accomplished," as was done the last time we declared combat operations ended (a tad prematurely).

Marc Lynch offers his take: "Why the Iraq Milestone Matters."

Juan Cole, meanwhile, writes "The Speech President Obama Should Give about the Iraq War (But Won't)."

Unlike Cole, I'm not sure I'm ready to assess all the rights and wrongs of the war just yet. It was a war of choice, and lasted longer than its proponents ever dreamed, but it did end a brutal; regime, albeit at high cost in Iraqi as well as American blood. Iraq is far more stabilized than it was a few years ago, but months after the elections, it still has no government. Perhaps it's best to reserve a final verdict, or to remember the reply reportedly given by Zhou Enlai when asked what he thought of the French Revolution: "It's too soon to tell."

Is Gamal Coming to the Summit?

Ha'aretz is reporting that Gamal Mubarak is accompanying his father to the Israeli-Palestinian direct talks in Washington this week, which Husni Mubarak and King ‘Abdullah of Jordan are attending. If this occurs, and particularly if Gamal meets with the Israeli delegates, it would seem to confirm that his father intends for him to succeed. Certrainly the proxy campaign for Gamal, the appearance of pro-Gamal posters, etc. have all seemed to point the same way, but officially there has been no indication that the elder Mubarak will not seek another term. If this is true, it could be the point where the denials stop.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Qadhafi in Rome Again

Brother Leader, making his usual fashion statement, has been in Rome for the fourth visit since signing a friendship agreement in 2008.

So far, he's assembled 200 young Italian actresses and models and urged them to convert to Islam; urgd the Islamization of Europe; offered millions to a small town that showed him hospitality; and let it be known thas a photo of him with Silvio Berlusconi will appear on Libyan passports.

He would be so entertaining if it weren't for the fact that the Libyan people have to live under him.

Stranger and Stranger: Saad Ibrahim Signs Gamal Mubarak Proxy

Okay, this gave me a double-take and then a triple-take: Saad Eddin Ibrahim has signed a proxy supporting the nomination of Gamal Mubarak for the Presidency.

Yes, I checked and it's not April 1. Yes, that's really him in the picture, and there are lots more pics of the signing at Al-Yawm al-Sabi‘ as well as an account (Arabic).

The AP account notes that he says he didn't "endorse" Gamal, he only supported his right as a citizen to run. This Al-Masry al-Youm report calls him "the most prominent opponent of tawrith" (the passing of the Presidency from father to son), and quotes him as saying he supports every Egyptian's right to run for the Presidency, and has also signed a proxy for Mohamed ElBaradei. (Link is in Arabic.) Perhaps it really is a statement for pluralism.

Yet he also gave the pro-Gamal forces a huge PR coup; he's savvy enough to know they would play this up heavily. Hassan Nafaa, a backer of ElBaradei, was quoted in the AP report as saying: "He's either lost his mind or there is a deal with the ruling regime . . . This is a miserable fall for Saad and no one is going to believe him anymore."

Naturally one wonders if this was some sort of quid-pro-quo for his being allowed to return to Egypt from exile earlier this month. He's long been a critic of tawrith, and he's long been outspoken, even to the point of going to prison and going into exile, so a sellout to the regime doesn't seem likely. I'm reserving judgment for now; I've known Saad on and off for years and am not sure if he was really trying to make a point or what, but it seems clear the Gamal folks are going to milk this for all it's worth.

If you missed it while I was away, Issandr El Amrani's weekly column for Al-Masry al-Youm English last week was about "Gamal Mubarak's Non-Campaign" and opened with the words, "How strange Egyptian politics are becoming." He can say that again; I'll eagerly await his take on this, and post more as I see it.

Back Again

I'm back from vacation, but with the usual backup of E-mails and workload in the day job. I'll start blogging more later today.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Link and a Picture

I'm still on vacation (there's a lot of that in the Mideast blogosphere right now), but will drop in to note that Marc Lynch makes some good points on How Arabs View the Anti-Mosque Movement, noting the marginal nature of the Arab voices questioning the mosque, which I, among others, may have given too much attention.

And while I'm at it, I'll give you another picture to take your mind off the August heat.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In Lieu of Blogging, a Picture

If we could hold Israeli-Palestinian talks here, I think they'd chill out and maybe get somewhere . . .

I have nothing important enough to say to interrupt vacation, so I thought I'd give you a relaxing picture to look at.

(Fontana Lake, North Carolina, just south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Taking A Week To Relax: Posts will be Occasional

It's the doldrums of August, and many of you will have noted that even the Foreign Policy Middle East Channel (a conglomerate of authors) declared they had "Gone Fishin'" this week. I'm just one guy blogging, not a group. But I have a wife and daughter who, during my broken hip, surgery, and cranky convalescence were constantly helping out all through a long, hot summer, and they as well as I need a respite from work. A planned two week vacation in July fell victim to the injury and doctors' orders, so a single week in August has to suffice. Still, we'd all like to relax as thoroughly as our dog Coco, shown here, does every day.

I don't have a guest blogger lined up, but I actually don't consider the blog to be work, am never without a computer, and I imagine I will post from time to time as I did during last year's vacation, by posting if anything major happens (Husni Mubarak dies/steps down/his hair turns gray; or Rima Fakih wins Miss Universe; or Israel/the US/John Bolton acting alone attack Iran: something like that), or I find a fun link, or I just feel like it. On the other hand the usual several posts a day will not be forthcoming. See you more frequently in a week; occasionally in the interim.

Direct Talks to Resume?

The US has announced that direct Israeli-Palestinian talks will resume in Washington September, if Israel and the Palestinian Authority accept the US invitation. Israel has accepted, and the PA sounds positive.

While talks are generally a good thing, does anyone think anything will come of them? Apparently the goal is to set a one year time frame for concluding an agreement. Can either the present hardline Israeli government or the present weak Palestinian Authority find common ground on that deadline?

Of course, I hope there is progress. But I'm not even all that confident that something won't happen in the next couple of weeks to torpedo the talks.

More on Galant Forgery

Israeli police have issued an arrest warrant for a mid-ranking IDF officer in the Galant forgery case, and are exonerating Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi of any involvement. That avoids a high-level scandal, but it still leads damage done to the reputation of the IDF.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Leaving Combat Missions in Iraq

With the departure of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division across the Kuwaiti border (the CENTCOM photo at right shows them leaving Baghdad), the US combat mission in Iraq is officially over, though no one is raising "Mission Accomplished" banners this time. With 50,000 troops still in-country on advisory and training missions, and the Air Force flying cover, US troops are by no means out of harm's way, and some may be tempted to call the whole thing a bit of a sham to comply with a campaign promise.

But it's more than that. I think Juan Cole gets it right in his post on the subject: the importance is to show the Arab world that our intentions are not to stay in Iraq, and that we really do intend to leave. (I may not agree with all the other points in Juan's post, but I agree on that one.) Our effort in Iraq is aimed at ending our mission, not extending it.

The Galant Affair

Israel has had a potential scandal simmering for the past couple of weeks that now appears to be in full eruption, raising questions about the Israel Defense Forces' leadership, the relationship between the Armed Forces and the Defense Ministry, and civil-military relations generally. Basic background is here.

Israel's Channel 2 revealed the existence of a document purporting to be a memo from a public relations firm on how o boost the candidacy of Southern Command GOC Gen. Yoav Galant (left) as the next IDF Chief of Staff. The whole thing is linked to bad blood between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and current IDF Chief Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, whose term Barak declined to extend. Galant and the head of the PR firm whose leterhead was used have both said that the document was a forgery. Now Prime Minister Netanyahu has stepped in, amid charges that senior figures in the IDF may have been behind the alleged forgery, and with editorialists comparing it to the forgeries used in the Lavon affair of the 1950s and lamenting the declining reputation of the IDF. Ashkenazi apparently had the document for weeks before informing the police; who is actually suspected of the forgery is not clear.

The IDF has had a rough few years since the 2006 Lebanon War. The glory days of 1967 are clearly long gone, and one of the key unifying institutions of the Israeli state is looking a bit worn. While Barak is so far portraying himself as the victim of the current affair, it also could cast a shadow over his own tenure in the Defense Ministry. Although Galant appears to be the victim of a forgery, the selection of the next IDF Chief will surely come under renewed scrutiny.

Miss USA (You Remember: the Hizbullah Mole) is Fasting

You may remember the high weirdness that ensued when Rima Fakih, a Lebanese American, was chosen Miss USA/Universe last May. There were some utterly insane far-right Islamophobic posts suggesting she was some sort of Hizbullah plant (her father at least is a Lebanese Shi‘ite, though I get a sense it may be a mixed marriage), but since some of her cousins (in the usual Lebanese extended family) are alleged to have been Hizbullahi, the lunatic right decided she was some sort of Hizbullah plant to, um, take over our beauty pageants? Most Hizbullahis have tended to do well in pole dancing contests, after all. (And, as Hanin Ghaddar pointed out, it's not your average Hizbullah family, since the family home in Lebanon flies a big American flag. And also, the family celebrates both Christian and Muslim holidays, which is why I think it may be a mixed marriage.)

Now we are informed that she is, in fact, fasting for Ramadan, despite the fact that the Miss Universe Contest starts Monday. Ramadan Karim, Rima. (Why is this news? She can eat in the evenings. The photo below suggests she's not a big eater anyway.)

She's also modest, as noted in The Huffington Post:

Miss USA Rima Fakih talked to "Access Hollywood" about the Miss Universe promo shots, which will feature each contestant wearing body paint. Fakih said, "I love it. Oh my god. I've always wanted to do body paint and the fact that we get to do it with Miss Universe, that just shows you that there's going to be a lot of professional artists."
Some of the contestants offered to do it topless, including Fakih, but she will only be showing her back in the pics. "I told the [pageant organizers] I feel comfortable with beauty and with being unique. I'm known to standout and always wanting to do something different," Fakih said. She also mentioned the Miss USA lingerie photo controversy, remarking, "I think [people] need to look within what the pictures are trying to show, more than just what you just see on cover."
I guess if she's a Hizbullah mole, topless is okay as long as only your back is shown. And as soon as time permits, I will "look within what the pictures are trying to show." I obviously owe this to my readers.

If it isn't obvious, I consider the whole flap over her last May the stupidest story of all in the growing Islamophobia of the paranoid right. What, exactly, defines the alleged enemy? If a woman wears niqab, which the press will probably call a "burka," France, Turkey, and even Egyptian universities will ban it. Even hijab, the head veil only, is cause for suspicion. But then this young lady gets denounced as a Hizbullah mole?:

Okay, you guys, stop salivating. You just need to know the face (you are looking at the face, right?) of Hizbullah! (Though how she'd hide a suicide vest under the leopard-skin bikini is problematic.)

Now making fun of extreme Islamophobia is a bit unsporting since it's so easy, like dynamiting for fish at a dam, but if that young lady above is Hizbullahi, I'm converting. (Note if wife reads this: joke purely for rhetorical effect, dear.)

I don't pay attention to beauty pageants generally, and Miss Universe rarely at all, but this could be worth watching. (Umm, I mean entirely for its Middle Eastern resonances, of course.) And of course as an American, I'll root for Miss USA.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Arab Commentators Distancing Themselves from Mosque Controversy

I haven't been writing about the Park51/Cordoba House controversy (the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque") because it strikes me as a manufactured/manipulated debate aimed more at influencing the midterm US elections in November than anything else. I basically agree with Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama (version 1.0 last Friday, not the revised and confused version 2.0) that religious freedom is paramount, and besides, it's just a prayer room in a community center. And, as has been pointed out, no one has objected to the Pentagon mosque, (technically a non-denominational chapel, but when used for Muslim prayer it's a mosque).and that actually was built in the location where the aircraft hit the building, not two blocks away.

The controversy is worrisome, of course, insofar as it incites and inflames hostility to ordinary Muslim Americans, and indeed, some regular towns with no connection to 9/11 are campaigning to keep mosques out. (Yes, you can't build churches in Saudi Arabia. America is not Saudi Arabia. That's the point.)

Since I had little to add that others with more readers than I haven't already said, I haven't posted. But I thought I'd point to an interesting development: while, quite predictably, most Muslims abroad seem to sympathize with the project, there are Arab voices taking a note of caution, either saying that this is a domestic US issue, or worrying that the debate will inflame anti-Muslim feelings. Here's a piece in Arab News, for example, and an English-language piece from Al-Sharq al-Awsat. True, those are both Saudi newspapers, and Saudi cautiousness is proverbial, but the experts quoted are not all Saudis; there are Egyptians for example.

Now one can argue that this caution is centered mostly in defenders of pro-US regimes who worry that the controversy will give ammunition to Islamists, But it's still a phenomenon worth noting.

Possible World's Biggest Guitar Coming to (Where Else?) Dubai

A new Hard Rock Cafe is coming to Dubai, replacing one that closed last year. The new one will have a 118-foot guitar over the front door. We're told that "The owners have also submitted their immense guitar to Guinness World Records."

Dubai, of course, has the world's tallest building, but the Saudis beat them to the world's biggest clock.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Another View on Arabic

Thanks to his comment posted on my earlier post on Qifa Nabki's column on Arabic, I find that Wastafarian (a great psuedonym) at Blogging the Casbah has translated a piece by Egyptian author Fahmy Huweidi on the "slaughter of the Arabic language," worrying about the classical language being corrupted by colloquial in newspapers. We've talked about the diglossia issue among others in the past. I'm personally closer to the views of Qifa Nabki here than to Huweidi's, but thought it was a good example of the death-of-Arabic argument and worthy of calling it to your attention.

Gamal's Hopes

A few links on the issue of Gamal Mubarak:

Things are picking up speed. Gamal's putative candidacy, which seemed to be foundering, is still not clearly secure (the military and security services remaining the big unanswered question), but there's clearly a solid push, however elitist, to promote him. Of course, Daddy hasn't yet said he's not running, but the health rumors persist.

Afghanistan Oil

The hope, or perhaps willow-the-wisp, in Afghanistan has long been the country's reputed mineral wealth. The problem, as with southern Sudan and a few other places, is that it can be hard to extract mineral wealth when there's a war going on. Now there's a report of significant oil under Afghanistan. Whether it can be exploited, of course, is another matter. But it could be good news for the country, given the right circumstances.

Monday, August 16, 2010

‘Allawi's Party Suspends Talks

‘Iyad ‘Allawi's ‘Iraqiyya Bloc in Iraq has suspended talks about a coalition government between itself and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance, after Maliki reportedly called ‘Iraqiyya a Sunni bloc. It insists it is multi-sectarian (‘Allawi is a Shi‘ite).

After five months of stalemate, the failure to form a coalition threatens to cast a shadow over the US effort to emphasize the end of its combat role in Iraq by the end of August. (Of course the distinction between "combat troops" and training troops is a fine one, but it allows the US President to claim he has fulfilled a campaign promise.)

‘Allawi's bloc one 91 seats in Parliament, Maliki's 89.

The [Insert Name Here] Gulf, Yet Again

The old Persian/Arab Gulf argument is back again, with the Mayor of Shiraz (Iran) going after Gulf Air because the Bahrain-based airline does not call itself "Persian Gulf Air." (Thanks to The Gulf Blog for catching this one.) You'll recall that this sort of thing keeps coming up, and even led to postponement of the (apparently misnamed) Islamic Solidarity Federation games.

It also is noted in the first link above that the Iranians have also gone after National Geographic and banned both its Atlas and its reporters.

I know from experience as an editor that Iranians, including Iranian scholars living in the West, get very insistent about this, and whereas my predecessor sought to use just "the Gulf," I let the author decide, and the Iranians of course always will choose Persian Gulf.

If we agree, will they scrap the nuclear program?

Ghazi AlGosaibi Dies at 70

Ghazi AlGosaibi, the Saudi diplomat and poet, has died of cancer at age 70. In recent years he has been serving as the Saudi Labor Minister. He's probably best known in the West for his tenure as Ambassador to London in 1992-2002, and in the Kingdom for his poetry, often featured in newspapers. He left the London post after controversy over a poem praising a suicide bomber.

AlGosaibi was a member of a prominent trading family in both the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where prominent members are in business, and in Bahrain, where the Gosaibis also play important roles. He had also served as Ambassador to Bahrain.

In addition to his poetry, he had published a number of novels.

Besides the BBC article linked above, here's Arab News' appreciation, and that of the Saudi Gazette.

Friday, August 13, 2010

There's Hope for Arabic Yet

You'll recall that on several occasions here we've linked to aspects of the ongoing debate in the Arabic world over whether the rise of English and other languages and of colloquial speech (and the occasional leader such as King ‘Abdullah II of Jordan or Sa‘d Hariri who stumblewhen speaking the literary language) mean that Arabic is a dying tongue. You can find many of these earlier links by checking out my Arabic language tag.

Anyway, to bring a little sanity to the debate, let me refer you to a column by Elias Muhanna (AKA the Lebanese political blogger Qifa Nabki, but here a columnist writing a lead article in the Review section of The National) arguing that The Death of Arabic is Greatly Exaggerated. (He also links to it at the Qifa Nabki blog, with a post starting out in Arabic noting that it has nothing to do with Lebanese politics, and joking that he got carried away, presumably by his passion for Arabic.)

He does it better than I can, but it doesn't take a lot of reflection to know that much of the "death of Arabic" stuff is nonsense: literacy is more widespread today than in earlier eras; though the Arab world may still produce fewer books than other regions, it produces more than it did a few decades ago, and websites, satellite channels, Facebook postings, Twitter tweets, etc. mean that Arabic has never been written so much as today. Muhanna cleverly quotes Ibn Manzur, author of the massive lexicon Lisan al-‘Arab, (which is the Oxford English Dictionary of Arabic, the gold standard) who in the 1200s was lamenting that Arabic was being eroded away. The central role of the Qur'an has kept Arabic, at least in its literary form, less susceptible to change than most languages, but of course the spoken language has diverged. You can equally find medieval and early modern writers in any language or culture agreeing with the critics of today: the young people are disrespectful; manners are no longer observed; the language is going to hell in a handbasket, etc. etc.

Let me add something to what he has said: it's singularly appropriate that someone who blogs as Qifa Nabki is writing about the Arabic language. Those of you with more than casual Arabic already will recognize that his blog takes its name from the most famous and recognizable poem in the Arabic language, rather as if he'd called it something like Arma virumque cano, or perhaps "Twas brillig and the slithy toves." "Qifa nabki" (let us stop and weep) is the opening of the Mu‘allaqa of Imru'l-Qays, one of the standard seven pre-Islamic odes (qasidas) preserved as the dawn of Arabic poetry, and the most famous of them. The whole poem in the original Arabic is here. A 1917 English translation (not the best but online) is here. You can hear it recited in Arabic here (MP3). I'm just doing my best to promote classical Arabic.

Also, "Let us stop and weep" is a pretty appropriate name for a Lebanon blog.

Anyway, read his piece if you have any interest in or love for the Arabic language. Or want to learn more.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer Issue of the Middle East Journal is Now Online

The Summer issue of The Middle East Journal is now available. The online access is here. (For subscribers wishing to access the electronic edition, instructions are here. Non-subscribers can purchase individual articles for a fee.)

The articles (click through to read the abstract) are:

John C. Shenna (pseudonym), "The Case Against the Case Against Iran: Regionalism as the West's Last Frontier." A case for a regional solution by a serving European diplomat writing under a pseudonym.

Ray Takeyh: "The Iran-Iraq War: A Reassessment." Assessing the war 30 years after its outbreak.

April Longley Alley, "The Rules of the Game: Unpacking Patronage Politics in Yemen." How patronage really works in Yemen.

Nora A. Colton, "Yemen: A Collapsed Economy." The title should be self-explanatory.

Donald L. Losman, "The Rentier State and National Oil Companies: An Economic and Political Perspective." On the concept of the rentier state as it relates to national oil companies in the Gulf.

In the Book Review article, Brice Harris reviews five recent books on the history, diplomacy, and politics of the Arab world. That article and the full book review section can be found here.

Our quarterly Chronology, which has appeared in every issue since our first in January 1947, is available here.

Again, for fuller descriptions, click through to the abstracts.

World's Biggest Clock to be Started this Week; Saudis Dream of Replacing GMT

The world's biggest clock, which stands atop the under-construction world's second tallest building, is to be tested during this first week of Ramadan. The complex, which will include an enormous hotel to cater to Meccan pilgrims, stands near the Masjid al-Haram in the heart of Mecca. While the size and scale ranks it with the sort of architectural wretched excess we associate with the Burj Dubai (excuse me, Burj Khalifa), the Saudis have other ambitions for the big clock: they'd like to see Mecca time replace Universal Time (Greenwich Mean Time), at least in the Muslim world.

First, the size: as this Daily Telegraph comparison notes, it's some six times higher and the clock face diameter is six times bigger than Big Ben, which it otherwise loosely resembles in form. (Before the trivia commenters jump in: I know that "Big Ben" properly refers to the bell, not the clock, but apparently the Daily Telegraph doesn't.) The clock face will be covered in Italian mosaic tiles, 13,000 of them made from gold, and so on. The overall complex will contain hotels (one in the clock tower), a shopping mall, two helipads, prayer areas for 30,000, etc. Here's Wikipedia on the overall complex, being built by the Bin Laden group (yes, those Ben Ladens, but the ones who have denounced Usama: I'm sure some conspiracy theorists will pick up on this anyway).

Now, the GMT issue. Here are articles in English from Arab News, the Saudi Gazette, and, again, the Daily Telegraph on the issue. As the latter puts it:

According to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric known around the Muslim world for his popular television show "Sharia and Life", Mecca has a greater claim to being the prime meridian because it is "in perfect alignment with the magnetic north."

This claim that the holy city is a "zero magnetism zone" has won support from some Arab scientists like Abdel-Baset al-Sayyed of the Egyptian National Research Centre who says that there is no magnetic force in Mecca.

"That's why if someone travels to Mecca or lives there, he lives longer, is healthier and is less affected by the earth's gravity," he said. "You get charged with energy."

Western scientists have challenged such assertions, noting that the Magnetic North Pole is in actual fact on a line of longitude that passes through Canada, the United States, Mexico and Antarctica.

Actually, that last paragraph overlooks the fact that magnetic North shifts about over time, and even the Saudi Gazette article refers to "scientific" evidence in quotes. The idea that Greenwich Mean Time (officially Universal Time today) is a colonial-era invention (some Americans once urged a prime meridian through Washungton) is a reasonable argument, provided you don't mind throwing out every navigational chart and map published in the last century and a half, and of course really messing up the GPS in the Saudis' own limos, since GPS cooirdinates are all based on the prime eridian. Of course, if the Saudis want to cite both longitude based on the Prime Meridian and longitude based on Mecca, as they cite both Hijri and Western dates on their newspapers, they're free to do so.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Ramadan Moon: Sighting or Calculation

At left, from The National, a photo captioned:
Hasan Hariri, a member of the official moon spotting team, uses his telescope to look for the moon to signal the start of Ramadan yesterday. Galen Clarke / The National
I noted yesterday on the eve of Ramadan that there could be some countries who started the month of fasting on a different day than others. It occurs to me that, if I'm really supposed to be explaining the region to those unfamiliar with it, I should discuss how the start of Ramadan is determined and why not all countries may start on the same date, even though I suspect that the vast majority of my readers already understand this.

In fact, I gather that much of the Shi‘ite world consider that Ramadan begins at sundown tonight, and the fast at dawn tomorrow; most of the Sunni world started last night and this morning. Sunnis in Iraq are fasting; their Shi‘ite neighbors start tomorrow.

Why the disagreement? The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, and each month has 29 or 30 days. The new month begins with the sighting of the new moon; traditionally this had to be a visual sighting, but if weather or other issues intervene, some countries and legal schools permit using a calendar to predict astronomically when the moon should appear. In any event the month of Sha‘ban, which precedes Ramadan, cannot have more than 30 days, so if there is no moonsighting by the 30th, the next day must be 1 Ramadan, even without a moon sighting.

Confusing? You have no idea: take a look at this page, which shows the various means of calculation different countries use. That page, you may note, is at a website called moonsighting.com, devoted to nothing else. Here are some of the sighting reports.

One may naturally say that this seems extremely haphazard and overly complex. Yet how many Christians have any idea how the date of Easter is determined, or why East and West differ on the date? (Don't get me started.)

So my Ramadan Karim greetings of yesterday are extended to those who begin the month tonight as well as to those who have been fasting since morning.

When Will The Middle East Have its Steven Slater Moment?

By pure coincidence on this first day of Ramadan, we have a new folk hero in the United States who might be worth consideration as a role model for Middle Eastern citizens who have been long-suffering in their endurance of autocratic, unresponsive, and often corrupt governments. Like most folk heroes, he's an outlaw of sorts: he's under arrest and several charges are pending. For those who are outside the US, and anyone who spent yesterday in a cocoon, let me first recap the story and its US cultural resonances, and then extrapolate to the Middle East.

Steven Slater was unknown to anyone yesterday morning; his main fan page on Facebook nowe has over 114,000 followers and climbing rapidly. Unlike Slater, most folk heroes are romanticizations of pretty sleazy folks: Robin Hood may or may not have existed, but became the outlaw who stole from the rich to give to the poor,though he may just have been a robber; Jesse James robbed the railroads at a time small landholders were being pressured by the railroads (though he didn't give his money to the poor, except in modern myth), so he was seen as a folk rebel; John Dillinger similarly robbed banks when the banks were seen as predators in Depression era America, though like Jesse James he was also a cold-blooded killer; Bonnie and Clyde were romanticized because they were a male-female team. They actually shot up my home town, killing cops, but still got to be played in the movies by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

Slater, on the other hand, seems to be an ordinary guy, a flight attendant who was pushed to the brink by a recalcitrant passenger who hit him in the head with her luggage after fetching it from the overhead when she was supposed to be seated. He then grabbed the intercom, cussed her out quite roundly, and then, in what seems to have really caught people's imagination, grabbed a couple of beers from the galley, deployed the emergency evacuation slide, and left the plane, his employment, and the recalcitrant passenger with a certain flair.

Americans like rebels against authority; Slater may be in legal trouble (at first he apparently couldn't post the $2500 bail, but talk show offers should easily cover that). He's a folk hero because everyone who deals with the public has had the fantasy of quitting spectacularly while putting down a totally out of line ass [euphemism for slightly longer similar word] of a customer/client/passenger. We admire the rare hero/outlaw who actually has the cojones to do it. And then, of course, there's the classic cinematic Steven Slater moment from the movie Network (1976), when Howard Beale (Peter Finch) becomes "the mad prophet of the airwaves":

Okay, let's apply this to the Middle East. Admittedly, Steven Slater knew he was not going to be hauled away by the secret police and disappear. Those 75,000 plus Facebook friends can chip in for a good lawyer, and the talk show circuit should make up for his lost income as a flight attendant. I doubt he'll see much jail time (would a jury convict, unless they exclude any juror who's ever flown commercial?) The consequences of this kind of rebellion in the Middle East can be a lot more serious (not that Slater isn't in hot water).

But it's still fair to ask: where are the Middle Eastern Steven Slaters, who aren't going to be pushed around by entrenched bureaucracies and their autocratic sponsors, but will call a spade a spade and pull the evacuation chute? Where are the Middle Eastern Howard Beales, who are willing to shout out their windows that They're Mad as Hell and They Aren't Going to Take it Any More?

I'm not going to indulge in cultural stereotyping here, since in all cultures, people living under despotic or autocratic rule do tend to be a bit more resigned and subservient than those in democratic societies. It isn't due to a culture of resignation, but one of self-preservation. The nation of Goethe and Schiller and Beethoven, after all, produced the Nazis, and resistance, while present, was limited. It can happen anywhere. It hasn't happened here yet, but Britain had its Cromwell, France a couple of Bonapartes, etc.

And of course, it's presumptuous of me, living in suburban America with a wife and kid and dog and minivan, to tell Middle Easterners to stand up and revolt. Marx and Engels could sit in libraries in Europe and write, "Workers of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your chains!", but rhetoric aside, most of the actual workers of the world had much more to lose than Marx or Engels. Armchair revolutionaries, like armchair generals (the "82nd Chairborne"), know exactly what somebody else ought to do.

But why haven't we seen more public outrage in the Middle East? Most of the region's "revolutions" have been mere military coups; the modern exception is the Iranian revolution, but arguably at least the rise of the Revolutionary Guards Corps in recent years amounts to a Bonapartization of the revolution. Algeria had a legendary struggle for independence; though Bouteflika emerged from that struggle, he is no revolutionary today.

I do think, however, that new media and instant communications are gradually changing this status quo. The Green Movement in Iran a year ago failed, but people were indeed shouting that they were as mad as hell and weren't going to take it any more: except how they did that was to climb on rooftops and shout Allahu Akbar. What clerical government can punish that? (Well, this one, but it was still pretty much a Howard Beale moment, if you recall the YouTube videos.)

We saw this as well with the recent case of the Khaled Sa‘id killing in Alexandria, which has sparked many demonstrations and marches, and reports that people are tearing down Gamal Mubarak posters in Egypt as well as putting up anti-Gamal posters.

I doubt if most Middle Easterners have heard of Steven Slater yet, but our new folk hero/outlaw might inspire some folks out there to challenge authority.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ramadan Karim 1431

In Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other key countries, the new moon's sighting has been officially announced, so that Ramadan begins at sundown tonight, and the fast begins at dawn tomorrow. To my Muslim readers, a Ramadan Karim. (In some countries the moon may not be sighted and the authorities may proclaim Ramadan a day later, but the Fiqh Council of North America is apparently recognizing tonight as the new moon.)

UPDATE: There may not be much difference this year: some countries considered Tuesday Shaaban 30, which means Ramadan has to start tonight. (There can't be more than 30 days in a Muslim month, New Moon seen or no.) But others considered it 29 Shaaban, which means if the moon wasn't seen, Wednesday would have been 30 Shaaban. Anyway as far as I can tell posting this update in the evening, virtually everybody is starting Ramadan, and the fast will therefore start at dawn.

Hizbullah Presents its Case That Israel Involved in Hariri Assassination

I was a bit flippant in my remarks last week when Hizbullah announced that Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah would present evidence that Israel was involved in the Hariri assassination. I'm no fan of Hizbullah, and while Israel does use targeted assassination, I still don't think Hariri would be high on their list. The original suspect, Syria, and the current suspect, Hizbullah, make more sense.

But to be fair to Nasrallah, much as I personally dislike Hizbullah's goals and ideology, his speech seems to be a serious rhetorical effort to marshal data that can be used to suggest Israel had motive, opportunity, and means. It includes some surprises (Hizbullah claims to have, or to have had the capability to monitor Israeli surveillance video transmissions), and by raising a new candidate for perpetrator, it muddies the waters and diverts attention from the accusations expected from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). Israel has said it monitors all of Lebanon and indeed, if Hizbullah was monitoring drone footage for a decade, it could have cherry-picked the footage to suggest a special interest in the waterfront area where Hariri died. (And while many Arab commentators are praising the intercepts as a defeat for Israeli intelligence, don't forget that we learned last year that Iraqi insurgents had hacked the feed of US Predators; Hizbullah is certainly technically more capable than Iraqi insurgents.)

Here is the full transcript of the press conference in Arabic from Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV, and here's a lengthy English summary and paraphrase also by Al-Manar. Naturally, Lebanon blogger Qifa Nabki is on the case; he live-blogged yesterday's speech, and has a commentary up on Foreign Policy's Mideast channel, plus a new post on his blog on the dilemmas facing Sa‘d Hariri. For those with good enough Arabic, the whole thing is on YouTube in 14 parts (though I haven't watched it all), of which here's part one:

Whatever else you may think of the actual case, I believe Nasrallah has played the STL rather well here: You say you have a case against us; well, we have a case against Israel. Nasrallah admits he has no smoking gun. It remains to be seen whether the STL does.

I had not previously commented much about Lebanon's ongoing and unfolding alleged uncovering of a major spy ring. which recently saw the arrest of former General Fayez Karam, who is said to have confessed to spying for Israel since the 1980s. He was more recently a senior official in Michel ‘Aoun's (Hizbullah-allied) Free Patriotic Movement. But Nasrallah pointed to evidence from the arrested spies that he claimed supported his allegations, though their testimony is not yet public.

I'm not convinced, but Nasrallah's speech has shifted Lebanon's internal debate, and that's what he was seeking to do.

It's Official: Saudis Lift Blackberry Ban

It's been widely reported since Friday's brief outage and then restoration of Blackberry service in Saudi Arabia, but now it's official: Saudi Arabia will allow Blackberry service to continue because it's making progress in negotiations with RIM about using Saudi servers.

Given that the UAE ban isn't set to kick in until October, there's certainly a chance that one will be negotiated too.

I suppose this is good news for Blackberry users, though it adds the potential that Big Brother can gain access to your data, so perhaps not.

More on August Ramadan: Worst in 25 Years, or Maybe Ever?

I noted yesterday the difficulties of Ramadan fasting in the hot, long days of August, and discussed the issue at more length last year. This article in The National suggests this year will be particularly bad: the hottest in 25 years of record keeping, but it also suggests that given the global heat wave, it could be even worse than that. Temperatures from 45.2° to 49.2° Celsius are forecast (113° to 121° Fahrenheit) are forecast.

Okay, back when I was living in the region I decided I never wanted to convert anything above about 40° Celsius into Fahrenheit because I didn't want to know the temperature. Even so I can't remember evber being above 45° Celsius, about 113°F, and that was in Aswan in summer. But this article claims that Medina this summer hit 63° Celsius. If that is not a typo, that equates to 145° Fahrenheit. I have no idea if that's verified, since it'd usually said the highest temperature ever recorded was 57-58°C recorded in Libys in 1922, which would equate to about 136°F. It will be interesting to see if the Prophet's City broke all records and kicked Libya out of Guinness, but I will await the verdict of the experts.

Still, it's going to be a rough month without a drink of water.

What Did Steve Jobs Know and When Did He Know It?

Hmm . . .

With the threat of the Blackberry ban, the UAE is selling out of IPhones and IPads . . .

Monday, August 9, 2010

Two Good Reads on Iran

There's so much rhetoric and overheated posturing going on on Iran these days that it's always a pleasant surprise to read a good, solid, well-argued analysis. To read two in one day is even more unusual, which is why I want to recommend two that I read today (though the first is dated yesterday):

Gary Sick, who was more or less present at the creation of the Islamic Republic, offers "America and Iran: Strikes, Sanctions, and Scapegoats." As usual, read it all, but here's a selected quote:
The key question about Iran today is not whether it will be attacked or collapse under sanctions. It is whether Iran is capable under its present leadership to take a sober decision about how to deal with the outside world. The Revolutionary Guards have established a dominant position in Iran’s military, its economy, and its politics. Iran increasingly comes to resemble the corporatist states of southern and eastern Europe in the 1920s and ‘30s that we call fascist. Iran is conducting an interior battle with its own demons, from the millenarians on the far right who choose to believe that Khamene`i is the personal representative of God on earth, to the pragmatic conservatives who simply want a more responsible leadership, to the reformists of the Green movement whose objective is to put the “republic” back into the Islamic Republic by giving the people a greater voice.

This is a yeasty and unpredictable mix. No one knows what is going to happen next.

And this is the reality that the Obama administration must deal with. The danger is not that the administration will back the wrong horse in Iran. The real danger is that the Obama administration will be so preoccupied with domestic American politics and its constant demand to look tough when dealing with Iran that it will inadvertently rescue this cruel but hapless regime from its own ineptitude by providing a convenient scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in Iran.

While Gary Sick is known as an Iran-watcher first and foremost, most of us associate Rami Khouri with the Arab World, but he's also always good on US policy and he's recently back from Iran, hence his "Resolving US-Iranian Tensions," at Agence Global. Again, read it all, but here's an excerpt to tempt you to click through:
The Iranian sense of history is not about past grandeur only. It is also heavily defined by a sense of being betrayed and exploited by many Western powers in the modern era, especially on nuclear industry issues. Iran -- like Turkey and Israel, but unlike Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- insists on safeguarding its national interests and will not play by the deceitful old double-standard rules set in London, Paris, Moscow, Washington and, more recently, Tel Aviv. This is mainly a demand for dignity and respect, intangibles that are largely missing from the American-Israeli diplomatic lexicon, which is more anchored in power.

I suspect that this can be achieved, though, if the second requirement for a successful negotiation is addressed seriously, which is a restoration of Western and Security Council confidence in Iran’s declarations about its nuclear industry. If Iran is not hiding a secret nuclear weapons program, it should not hesitate to provide all the answers to the questions posed to it by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- yet Tehran’s position is that it will not provide such answers in an atmosphere of threats, sanctions and wild assumptions of its nuclear guilt and deviousness by the US-Israel-led camp.

Another Ramadan in August

Last year I meditated briefly on the difficulties Muslims face when Ramadan falls in August; with the heat combined with the long days, and with Ramadan due to begin (subject to sighting the moon) on Wednesday, the observations I made then are valid again this year. (Obviously this refers to the Northern Hemisphere, where the bulk of the Muslim world lies: Muslims in southern South America, South Africa, Australia etc. have August in the winter.)

Whether the stresses of heat and long days without the relief of drinking water increases regional tensions during Ramadan is debatable; but with tensions high along the Israel-Lebanon border, and the religious devotion and deprivation of water can certainly influence judgment. Despite a general sense that Ramadan, as a holy month, should be immune to fighting, there is a long history of warfare in Ramadan, ranging from the Prophet's Battle of Badr in 624 AD to the launching of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War (the crossing of the Suez Canal being appopriately codenamed Operation Badr). Those instances were in the spring (Badr) and fall (the October War), so they may be beside my point.

I will, of course, have more to say during Ramadan.

The Tanker Attack's Belated Confirmation

Some 10 days after the original incident, and somewhat buried due to the weekend, we learned that the attack on the Japanese tanker M Star was indeed a terrorist attack, seemingly giving credence to a claim by the shadowy ‘Abdullah al-‘Azzam Brigades that they attacked the ship.

There would probably be more open alarm being expressed if a) the damage had been greater; b) there hadn't been so much initial confusion, as to whether it was a seismic event or an attack; and c) the delay in announcing a cause.

The fact that only one person was injured on board the tanker, and that the damage was so limited, means that there has been no knee-jerk panic, but a persistent fear has been that terrorist groups could target tanker traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, which could send insurance premiums soaring (as occurred in the "tanker war" phase of the Iran-Iraq war. A repetition of the incident or a more successful attack could still be cause for concern.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Saudi Blackberry Blackout Only Lasted Four Hours?

Saudi Blackberries did indeed cease functioning today — for four hours. Then the handsets started working again. Some reports suggested the ban would start at midnight. There have also been reports that the Saudis and Research in Motion (RIM) were near some sort of deal.

I'm signing off for the weekend; may all your Blackberries continue to work.

Gulf Blackberry Blackout to Begin Today, Maybe

Blackberries will go black either today or tomorrow in Saudi Arabia. (I can't explzain the discrepancy, but most sources make it today.) It doesn't sound as if Research im Motion (RIM) is willing to negotiate, at least in their Western public statements emphasizing everyone on the Internet uses encryption, but perhaps there's still room for a deal, since Saudi Gazette was expecting one as of Thursday night, and other Saudi sources seem optimistic.

Elsewhere, the UAE is still planning its cutoff in October. Lebsnon is now talking about joining the rush. Kuwait has already looked at the issue.

Bahrain is resisting: not only are they saying they won't ban the Blackberry, but the Crown Prince himself is Tweeting that "Decision to stop it is ignorant,short sighted and unenforceable."

I somehow can't see the key business centers of the Gulf — Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Saudi Arabia — simply shutting down one of the region's key networks, and one that is quite popular in the Gulf. I'm guessing it's a negotiating ploy, a game of "chicken," where both cars drive at each other head on to see who flinches. But it's an intriguing debate.

Anti-Gamal Posters in Cairo

Activists in Cairo described by Al-Masry al-Youm as followers of Ayman Nour have been chased through the streets of Cairo by police for posting the posters shown here: A "No" symbol over a picture of Gamal Mubarak with the slogan Misr kabira ‘alayk, translated in the article as "Egypt is too big for you," though "too great for you" or even "greater than you" would not be off base either.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Saad Eddin Ibrahim Goes Home

Saad Eddin Ibrahim has returned to Cairo after three years of exile in the US. Last year a court reversed a conviction that was keeping him out of the country, though the government has frequently harassed him in the past and may resume its pressures. His case has been an irritant in US-Egyptian relations (he holds dual citizenship and his wife is US-born).

He is quoted as saying he's looking for a quiet visit with family and former students. I wish him well and hope he doesn't face new problems.

Egypt Wants to Patent Koshary, Other Foods

In keeping with such stories as the food fights between Israel and Lebanon over hummus, I must call attention to this story that says Egypt intends to patent such foods as koshary, ful, fateer, etc. I'm not sure about patent law and wonder if trademarking it as "real Egyptian koshary" or some such wouldn't be the way to go, if indeed there are other countries trying to claim it.

I won't comment on the specific foods, since some of them I love and some I can't stand, and I'll offend somebody.

The Arabist: Could Sinai Bedouin be Behind Rockets?

First, Issandr at The Arabist gets my attention by linking to one of my headlines (yes, I'm vain), but then he offers some intriguing suggestions about the possible source of the Eilat/Aqaba rockets. (He also tosses in a video of William Shatner singing "Rocketman," which may appeal to those who think Shatner can sing, if they exist, though I gather he's not among them.

Anyway, his question is whether this could somehow be connected with the recent dissidence among the Sinai Bedouin. At first it seems unlikely (why would they attack Eilat and not one of the Egyptian resorts?) but then, this is a complex region and the issues have odd overlaps. He admits it's an "outlier" among possible explanations, but we've had more Bedouin dissent in the last few weeks than in recent memory. Could there be a connection?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

UN Says Israel Didn't Cross Blue Line

UPDATE: But see this report that the IDF general was out of contact with UNIFIL during the height of the incident.

I didn't post anything yesterday about the Israeli-Lebanese border clash because the conflicting narratives of the two sides made it unclear who provoked it. At least according to early reports, UNIFIL is supporting the Israeli claim that they were cutting trees in Israeli territory when the firefight began.

Which raises the question of why Lebanon might have provoked an outbreak, since there is enough fear of a renewed Israel-Hizbullah war without the Lebsanese Army provoking new tensions. This Ha'aretz article says the IDF blames a single Lebanese officer acting on his own initiative. That may well be the case, or it may be a convenient explanation that lets the Lebanese government off the hook and defuses a tense situation.

Lebanon disputes that the Blue Line, demarcated by the UN after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon always represents the international border, and such a disagreement seems in play at the location where the trees were being cut, but the Lebanese have agreed to respect the Blue Line in the past.

Was Ahmadinejad's Motorcade Attacked?

There are conflicting reports about an alleged grenade attack on Mahmud Ahmadinejad's motorcade in Hamadan, with Al-Arabiya and other reports claiming it was a grenade, and Iranian official media, after some confusion, saying it was only a firecracker. Interesting, though I doubt if we'll hear much more.

Hizbullah Finds the Real Hariri Culprit!

It's been five and a half years, the international Special Tribunal for Lebanon has chased down leads pointing first to Syria, thennto Hizbullah, and the mystery of who killed Rafiq Hariri remains unsolved, though indications that Hizbullah is about to be named sent King ‘Abdullah and Bashar al-Asad on their strange allied visit on Friday.

Relax: it wasn't Syria, it wasn't Hizbullah, it wasn't Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candlestick: the eminent detective Sherlock Nasrullah has solved the case: It was (drumroll) . . . Israel! And he'll reveal the conclusive evidence of this . . . well, soon. And Qifa Nabki comments here.

Now, there are a lot of questions still open about this case. I realize the STL itself shifted its own focus from Syria to Hizbullah, and maybe they are in fact not to blame: most Mideastern assassinations have a Murder on the Orient Express theme, where everybody had a motive.

But why would Israel want to kill Hariri in 2005? He'd left office. He was no enemy; he'd done much to stabilize Lebanon. This is the kind of old-fashioned Arab "blame everything on Israel" syndrome that has plagued the region so long.

Nothing more right now.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Garbage Dreams": Film About Cairo's Zabbalin

We've talked a few times about the Zabbalin, Cairo's Coptic trash collectors who suffered badly from last year's swine flu related pig cull/mass hamicide, since they raised pigs in the garbage dumps and saw most or all of them destroyed. They're an intriguing subculture, and have attracted attention from time to time from students of the city, including this MEI publication from 2008. A new documentary film on them and their story is getting a great deal of attention so I thought I'd provide some links.

Ursula Lindsey at The Arabist has reviewed the film Garbage Dreams for The National, which includes some information I didn't know about their history and origins, and in a post at The Arabist has also included an interview with the Director, Mai Iskander. The Arabist's Issandr El Amrani already reviewed the film here. And of course, there's a Facebook page. The film's website is here. you can order a DVD here, and here's the trailer, with subtitles:

Latest Dispatches from the Blackberry Wars

In my native Ozarks one sometimes heard of a "blackberry winter," sort of the opposite of an Indian Summer, when things warmed up enough in late winter for the blackberries to bloom early. A different sort of Blackberry winter seemed imminent with yesterday's UAE and Saudi moves against Research in Motion, but now there are reports that RIM has agreed to let India monitor its services, and may have set up a server in China, which may augur well for finding a modus vivendi with the Gulf states. Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, whose ban was to be in effect even sooner, there is talk that ISPs may ignore it for the time being, expecting it to be lifted, and things there seem generally uncertain.

I deplore censorship, but I recognize that sovereign nations have certain rights to monitor potentially dangerous communications; the UAE Ambassador to the US has protested State Department criticism of the ban, noting the US already asserts monitoring rights. As I noted in an earlier posting, I have an Android phone, which means whatever mere nation-states may seek to learn, I'm watched by Google and therefore have no expectations of privacy. But RIM seems to really annoy certain countries for its encryption methods.

Monday, August 2, 2010

National Geographic Al-‘Arabiyya Coming Soon

I've always had a soft spot for National Geographic. Growing up in a smallish Midwestern city, it was my window on the rest of the world, and taught me more, at times, than my schools did. And I still have a collection of National Geographic maps dating back to the late 1950s somewhere in my basement. And their headquarters and museum is just a couple of blocks from my office.

So I found it interesting that an Arabic edition of National Geographic is to be introduced in October. It will appear 11 times a year, with some 20% of the content generated locally.National Geographic Al-‘Arabiyya will be published by Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) which already broadcasts the Arabic version of the National Geographic Channel. (And also owns The National, the paper reporting the story.)

Random thought which shows my age: There was once a time in America, before Playboy and its imitators came on the scene, when National Geographic was the only mainstream publication that could get away with female toplessness in pictures, provided of course they were exotic, primitive, and (unspoken condition) nonwhite. I don't think they do that much these days anyway, but I doubt it will play that role in the Gulf, somehow.

Who's Firing Rockets from Sinai?

For the second time in three months, a person or persons unknown havc fired rockets against the Israeli resort town of Eilat and the Jordanian port of Aqaba next door. Though Israel was probably the intended target, no one was injured by the one rocket that landed in Eilat; one man was killed and three others injured by the rocket which fell in Jordan, just outside the Intercontinental Hotel. Two more rockets fell into the Gulf of Aqaba.

As with the previous incident, it's not clear who is firing the rockets, which appear to come from Egyptian territory in Sinai. In the April incident Egypt reflexively denied the rockets came from Egyptian soil until it was clear that they must have.

Israel has suggested radical Islamists may be behind the attacks; unlike rocket firings from Gaza, Palestinians do not have ready access to Sinai. But radical attacks on Egyptian hotels in Sharm al-Sheikh and Dhahab have demonstrated a willingness by radical Islamists (perhaps) to strike at Egypt's "Sinai Riviera" tourist industry, which is popular with Israeli tourists. attacking Eilat carries the fight directly to Israel's own resort industry.

UAE Suspending Blackberry; Saudis to Follow

It's not just a threat any more; the UAE is suspending Blackberry E-mail; and browsing services as of October 11, affecting some 500,000 users, and Saudi Arabia says it will follow suit even sooner, banning services by his coming Friday. (Apparently the ban does not extend to voice telephone calls, according to some of rhe reports.) The UAE argues that both the US and UK have legislation requiring that they be given access to calling information in national security cases but that Research in Motion (RIM), which runs Blackberry, has not complied with similar UAE legislation. India has been in negotiations with RIM because Blackberries were reported used by the terrorists who attacked Mumbai, and has threatened to suspend service as well.

Given the role of Dubai as a business, travel and communications hub, I would assume this would be a blow to RIM and that the October 11 date — more than two months out — is a sign that this is an attempt to bring RIM to the negotiating table.Here's Gulf News on the need for providing "alternative services" by October; and here's a survey of pressures on RIM in other countriesj, including reports that RIM agreed to set up a server in China to retain service there.