Thursday, September 30, 2010
Coincidence, or an obscure signature? Israel never denies allegations of its intelligence operations, but does it sometimes sign them?
Left: with wife, son, and grandson. Look the gallery over.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I think what's happening here is that Shenouda was widely criticized by Copts for apologizing and seeming to kowtow to Muslim pressure. So now he's saying he didn't apologize, though it sure sounded like it. (Expressing regret and sorrow usually constitutes an apology.)
So now Bishoi has embarrassed not only the Church but the Pope himself, put Shenouda on the defensive, as well as offending al-Azhar and Muslims in Egypt generally. Not to mention having already offended Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.
His earlier comments that the Gospels provide support for Husni Mubarak may help him somewhat, but I think Bishop Bishoi's position as what the Italians would call a papabile, a credible candidate for the next Pope, are fading fast. Of course, I'm neither a Copt nor an Egyptian, and may well be wrong.
And since I characterized the Pope's remarks as an apology in my earlier post, I guess I should
I know what they're getting at, but did they have to choose Che Guevara? His romantic revolutionary image came mostly after his death; his "theories" on guerrilla war would have made Mao or Vo Nguyen Giap laugh out loud (and probably did), and he's not exactly one of my role models. Why not choose a picture of Nasser with some revolutionary with less blood on his hands?
Still, I do get their point, and so will many Egyptians.
Meanwhile, the "Where's Husni?" Photoshopping continues apace:
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
After 40 years, the term "Nasserism" is still sometimes heard, and people even self-identify as Nasserists (Egypt has a Nasserist Party). No one hears the term "Sadatism," and I suspect that "Mubarakism," if the word is ever invoked, will be seen as a pejorative rather than a compliment. But then, Nasser was only 52 when he died. You may recall this Egyptian commentary I posted earlier this year:
explained here: "The high one built the High Dam; the low one built the Low Barrier [in Gaza]: fair or not, it shows Nasser's persisting image.
Of course, most Westerners never "got" Nasser's appeal. Anthony Eden saw him as Hitler and the Suez Canal crisis as Munich; Western leaders generally (except to some extent JFK) saw Nasser as an adversary (which he often was), a dictator (which he was), and a demagogue (which he was, though more effective at it than most). I remember Nasser only from his later years, and like many my knowledge of his oratory is dependent on old videos, for I was in my first year of Arabic when he died. But I want to try to offer some interpretations today.
He quarreled a lot with other Arabs: with King Hussein, the Saudis, the Syrians when the United Arab Republic broke up. Yet every Arab leader, and five million of his own people, attended his funeral in 1970. When Sadat was assassinated in 1981, three former US Presidents attended his funeral, but only one Arab head of state, Ja‘far Numeiri of Sudan. showed up. (Egypt was then outcast from the Arab League for its peace with Israel; Oman and Somalia did send lower level representatives.) And Sadat's funeral was held in a closed military zone. Here is a YouTube of the Nasser funeral:
When (or perhaps, if) Husni Mubarak does prove to be mortal, does anyone, even he, think he will get that kind of a sendoff? Will his successor trust the Egyptian people to assemble in such numbers?
In Nasser's era, Cairo's Sawt al-‘Arab radio ("Voice of the Arabs") was listened to across the Arab world (and Egypt helped make cheap transistors available at home and abroad), and one saw his picture on kiosks, on T-shirts, and elsewhere in countries far from Egypt.
So what was Nasser's appeal? And why, even today, does he evoke images in the Arab world unlike those of any of the Nasser wannabes who have proliferated since? As I've said before, too often they emulate the worst aspects of Nasserism (the Mukhabarat state, political prisoners, suppression of democracy) and few of the good ones (populism, land reform, inspirational leadership). But other elements of his popularity with the Arab masses as a whole (if not with those who found themselves in his prisons) have to do both with the man and, I think, with the times in which he flourished.
Let me suggest several elements.
First, the man himself was something new. In a country which had been long ruled by Kings, and whose Prime Ministers were wealthy men with "Pasha" after their name, here was an Army colonel who was the son of a minor civil servant (a postal worker). Though he was not the first military ruler: he quickly overshadowed Muhammad Naguib, however, and like Ahmed ‘Orabi long before, he came from a humble background. He pioneered the now routine approach of beginning his speeches in classical Arabic, but shifting into colloquial Egyptian, which even the illiterate could understand. He portrayed himself as a man of the people, and with Nasser, it worked much better than it did when Sadat tried the same image. The latter went for the paternalistic, village elder image, while Nasser sought to appear as more one of the people.
Whether Nasser really led a "Revolution" or just another military coup is still debated today, but he did go through some of the motions of social revolution: breaking up the big landholders' estates, promoting cooperatives at the local level, making "workers and peasants" key symbols of the country, and creating a sense that things were better for those workers and peasants. At a symbolic level, the standard depiction of the "average Egyptian" in political cartoons shifted from "Misri Effendi," a Fez-wearing caricature whose name means "Mister Egyptian" but with a sense of an established gentleman, to "Ibn al-Balad," "son of the country," a galabiyya-clad fellow from the workers or peasants. The fez disappeared, and while many Egyptians kept addressing each other as "Pasha" or "Bey", it became taboo to use such terms officially. And of course, he was a stunning orator who knew how to rouse his people; last year I quoted the old Classical aphorism:"When Aeschines finished speaking, people said, 'what a great orator.' But when Demosthenes finished speaking, people said, 'Let us march against Philip.'" Nasser was of the "march against Philip" school.
But in addition to the man, there were the times in which he lived. The colonial period was winding to an end, and Nasser supported independence movements in Algeria and elsewhere, but more importantly, his confrontation with the colonial powers, Britain and France, over Suez became a potent symbol of defiance and independence. The Cold War rivalry and the willingness of the Soviet Union to back Nasser (despite his destruction of the Egyptian Communist Party) made such posturing possible, in ways it would not be today. It was a heady period of new nationalism, and Arab nationalism, often seen as outmoded today, seemed the wave of the future.
Even the emotions accompanying Nasser's funeral were dependent on the time. It was September 1970, the "Black September" of Jordan's showdown with the PLO, and in the midst of that period of explosive inter-Arab tensions, Nasser hosted an emergency summit of the Arab League in Cairo. His role as effective leader of the Arab world seemed to have recovered from its 1967 defeat, and he had just seen off the last Arab head of state when he was stricken with his fatal heart attack. He seemed to have died in the saddle, in the midst of leading the Arab world through a period of internecine struggle.
Nasser made many mistakes, some disastrous; the 1967 war, which he seems to have never intended, was a disaster for Egypt and haunts the region still. The aspiration for pan-Arab leadership diverted the Revolution from domestic reform and economic progress into a military buildup. The national security state apparatus which he put in place is there still, and is replicated in most Arab countries, long after the land reforms and social welfare innovations were lost or abandoned. Even his remaining admirers tend to find fault with some of his policies today.
But in his day he seemed something more to many, and when he died four decades ago, the mourning extended beyond the valley of the Nile. For all his flaws and weaknesses, he still seems to have played a bigger role, on a larger stage, than any of his later imitators. Aspirants to fill his shoes have ranged from the erratic (Qadhafi) to the despotic (Saddam Hussein), and while Nasser could display both of those characteristics, he had something else as well. Perhaps it is as hard to define as it has been to replicate, or perhaps it is merely a true talent for leadership that shines through even his more reckless and ill-advised blunders. Perhaps even Nasser's enemies would agree with what Lord Clarendon meant when he called Oliver Cromwell "a great, bad man," or the sense that lies behind the enduring British fascination with Napoleon (they have produced nearly as many biographies as the French). He has been dead more than twice as long as he ruled, but his name is still invoked. He still fascinates.
Anyway, a day after Al-Azhar criticized Bishoi, his boss, Pope Shenouda III, publicly apologized for his errant bishop. The Pope said, "Debating religious beliefs are a red line, a deep red line." He thus acknowledged that while Christians and Muslims naturally disagree about the divinity of Christ, you don't talk openly about it in a Muslim society. And as for Bishoi's reportedly calling Muslims "guests" in Egypt, he suggested he had been misquoted but also said that Copts were the guests because they are a minority. Bishoi's papal ambitions have likely been set back a bit by this round of controversy, which isn't his first.
Many will doubtless see this as surrender to Muslim pressure, but Bishoi clearly said things that Christians have learned not to say in a Muslim country, and has been taken to the woodshed for it. But it's also rather humiliating for Shenouda himself, that the Pope, the heir of Saint Mark, is forced to apologize on television to Muslims for remarks by the head of the Holy Synod, the man who is sometimes described as the number two in the Church.
The interview itself is an unusual public apology for the Pope; his age and frailty come through,a and if I were Bishoi, I'd be rethinking my plans for being the next Pope. For those with Arabic, here is at least part of the interview on YouTube:
Monday, September 27, 2010
All this tends to lend credibility to the claims Iran was specifically targeted (though if it's a psyop instead of cyberwar, that could just mean that it's working). Though all very spy-thrillerish, just because Iran is paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't after them.
In addition to serving as Foreign Minister 2001-2005, his diplomatic career included Ambassadorships to Moscow and Washington. He served in the then Soviet Union during its dissolution, and as Ambassador to the US from 1992 to 1999. He seemed both effective and approachable during his Washington tenure. His brother ‘Ali, also a diplomat, served as Ambassador to France.
Both men were grandsons of Ahmed Maher Pasha, Prime Minister of Egypt in 1944-45, who was assassinated on the floor of Parliament.
Akiva Eldar today says:
It's no spin. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really is looking high and low for a magical solution to both let the tractors get back to work on settlement lands and leave President Mahmoud Abbas at the negotiating table.
But how do you do that? The US has been openly critical of the reluctance to extend the freeze, but since "openly critical" does not mean taking any actual action (such as stopping US contributions to Israel that go directly to settlement expansion), and won't do more in an election year, it's pretty much up to the Palestinians now: stick with the talks even with the end of the freeze, and hope for some progress, or go through with the threat to walk out and have Israeli apologists blame you for another failed round of peace talks?
More later today.
Friday, September 24, 2010
But there's a lot of creative folks out there. For example, a Spanish site here has him running with the bulls at Pamplona:
And, while my Spanish is a little rusty, this must be a photo from Mubarak's youth:
Zeinobia has collected several from the Internet and Facebook, and you can find all of them here, but the one reproduced below is particularly pungent I thought. Yes, that's Gamal on the tricycle. Click to enlarge.
And on that note, have a great weekend.
One of the most sophisticated pieces of malware ever detected was probably targeting "high value" infrastructure in Iran, experts have told the BBC.
Stuxnet's complexity suggests it could only have been written by a "nation state", some researchers have claimed.
It's drawing a lot of attention from tech blogs and security types, especially because, as this graph from the Symantec report suggests, it's targeting one country:
Here's a piece arguing that Iran's Bushehr reactor might be the specific target, though others say there isn't enough evidence yet. And here's a technical piece (far beyond my meager computer skills) on which the argument is based.Here's another suggesting the enrichment plant at Natanz, not the reactor at Bushehr, is the target.
And here's more on just how sophisticated it is.
Not surprisingly, a few of these articles note this Israeli report last year that Israel was developing a cyberwarfare capability, possibly targeting Iran.
Some reports suggest this is too sophisticated not to be run by a nation-state. It seems aimed at specific factory control mechanisms; some seem targeted at Siemens products.
I suppose Israel and the US would be the first suspects, but the potential for unintended consequences (infecting your own plants?) would seem to be a concern.
And of course, this may all be psywar rather than cyberwar, but then again . . .
I've talked about Bishoi before. He's bishop of Damietta and Secretary of the Holy Synod, and considered (not least by himself) a likely successor to Pope Shenouda III should the frail octogenarian Pope pass on. He's the Church's ecumenical outreach bishop for other Christian churches, but has sometimes raised questions about whether Catholics and Eastern Orthodox can get into heaven, (as for Protestants, it's probably best not to even ask: his English website has a prominent denunciation of Seventh-Day Adventists.) His approach to ecumenism is, one might say, a little limited.
Ah, but as I noted earlier this year, he's quoted the gospels on why Husni Mubarak should be supported, and of course Pope Shenouda has said nice things about Gamal. Bishoi does presumably want to be the next Pope, and the state has an effective if unofficial veto on the succession.
Bishoi has gotten in trouble for comments about Islam before, but he's just gotten in trouble again, at a time when the church is under fire and the Pope's health is uncertain. His foot-in-mouth problem may be undermining his ambitions.
A speech he had prepared for delivery in the Fayyum got leaked to the media, and in it he reportedly questioned whether some verses of the Qur'an were actually revealed to the Prophet or were added after his death. Now, apparently he said that Christianity and Islam were compatible except for a handful of Qur'anic verses, specifically citing one that says that those who say that God is Jesus Son of Mary are unbelievers. While that would clearly seem to be unacceptable to a Christian priest, a Christian priest in a Muslim country isn't supposed to come right out and question the validity of Qur'anic revelation. He also supposedly said that many Muslims believe Christ was crucified (generally they hold, based on the Qur'an, that he only appeared to be crucified and another died in his place), and is also alleged to have said that Muslims should remember that Copts were in Egypt first, allegedly referring to Muslims as "guests" who arrived only 14 centuries ago. He's hardly the only Copt who feels that way, but he's a bit prominent to be saying it in public.
It's said he postponed the formal speech when he learned it had leaked. Anyway, if you read Arabic, there are fairly detailed accounts in Al-Wafd, Al-Dostor, and Al-Masry al-Youm (all opposition or independent papers, none unfriendly to Christians and the last with Copts among the owners). For accounts in English, much shorter and less detailed, here's an article in Al-Masry al-Youm English and an opinion column in the same paper.
This will be the usual flurry of controversy; so far the official media doesn't seem to be piling on. But Bishoi's papal ambitions may not prosper if he keeps opening his mouth.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
At least this year Ahmadinejad could claim the award for ranting from the podium: last year, of course, he was outstaged by Qadhafi's hour and a half stream-of-consciousness happening. Brother Leader isn't coming this year.
Ahmadinejad may have aspirations, but Qadhafi's still the master of the art.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Don't bother locking them up: just drop them out in the desert and by the time they get home, the protests are over.
Qandil had earlier estimated that 30 activists were arrested on Tuesday.
Some were later released on the desert road between Cairo and Ain Sokhna, others in Al Moqattam and on the Cairo-Ismailia road.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
One thing I find interesting is that the Reuters link above only mentions he ‘Orabi connection late in the article, and many of the accounts I've seen don't mention it at all. Perhaps this is because the reporter has no idea who ‘Orabi was, or assumes at least the readers won't, thus missing the historical symbolism the demonstrators were trying to evoke (see my earlier post). (The actual link, by the way, which I omitted earlier, is that September 21 was the date of ‘Orabi's death in 1911.)
We talked last year of the problems of "presentism" and lack of familiarity with regional history, culture and languages as impediments to understanding the region today, and I think that the reports that omit or downplay the ‘Orabi connection are an excellent example of this.
Sadly, so is the fact that historically, most Egyptian street demonstrations don't lead anywhere.
In a famous incident in September 1881 ‘Orabi and his supporters stood in front of Abdin Palace and read their demands, with ‘Orabi proclaiming that free men had been turned into slaves.
Today, Egyptian reformers of a variety of stripes are trying to repeat the affair, assembling at Abdin Palace in central Cairo and at a spot in Alexandria demanding change. The Twitter hashmark #Oraby2010 has the tweets in English and Arabic.
While it's clear already the police are present in force to keep things from getting out of hand, it's worth noting the subtext of choosing this particular symbol of Egyptian nationalism: the ‘Orabi revolt was the first time since the suppression of the Mamluks that the Egyptian Army sought to intervene against a ruler. Coming as it does in the wake of the posters touting ‘Omar Suleiman for President, it suggests a theme that runs just below the surface of some of the opposition rhetoric: recognizing that the regime will not support a democratic transition, some people seem to be longing for the military to step in. Indeed, the one thing that seemingly stands between Gamal Mubarak and the Presidential succession is uncertainty about how the military, and the equally important security services, would react to a civilian with no military background.
Of course, many of the protesters may simply see ‘Orabi as a potent symbol of Egyptian nationalism, of a peasant standing up to a monarch.
Then again, he was an officer.
Meanwhile, Kuwait has similarly revoked the citizenship of a London-based but Kuwaiti-born Shi‘ite cleric, Yasser al-Habib, accused of insulting the Prophet's wife ‘A'isha and others of the Prophet's companions. He has served sentences previously for similar offenses. (In fact, Shi‘ites traditionally denounce the first three Sunni Caliphs because they kept ‘Ali from his rightful role as Imam, and the Prophet's widow ‘A'isha because she led a revolt against ‘Ali in the Battle of the Camel in 656 AD. But Shi‘ite clerics living under Sunni rule usually don't raise the subject frequently; from his London exile, he has apparently been quite vocal on the subject, even accusing ‘A'isha and Abu Bakr and ‘Umar of conspiring to assassinate the Prophet.
These aren't really parallel cases (one is mostly political, the other religious), but they are both a sign of growing sectarian division in the northern Gulf states.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Good; I'm glad there's no new crisis. But what happened here? A propaganda effort gone haywire? A confused report of some mistaken-idenity incident? A psychological op of some sort, by somebody? Or something like a covert team that were captured but then managed to be extracted?
Or, nothing at all.
I doubt we'll learn from internl Iranian sources, so we may never know.
General Sayyed's defiant return has a whiff of Mussolini's March on Rome in it; once one of the most powerful security men in the country, he could be a potent allly for Hizbullah in any new confrontation.
It's a trying time for Lebanon right now, and misjudgments can easily lead to violence.
Qifa Nabki here.
Friday, September 17, 2010
On Yom Kippur last year I noted the links between Yom Kippur (the 10th day of the Jewish New Year) and the feast of ‘Ashura (the tenth day of the Muslim New Year, which before it became the great Shi‘ite feast of mourning, was alrady a Muslim day of fasting.) I won't repeat myself but will refer you there.
G'mar Hatima Tova. An easy fast and a fulfilling Yom Kippur to those observing it.
It is, once again, Edward William Lane's birthday. For those who weren't reading this blog a year ago, you should first read my post of last year on the great Orikentalist, author of Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon, and a once famous translation of the 1,001 Nights. Lane, shown at right, is a sprightly 209 today.
Since we share a birthday, I mark his in a futile hope of ever producing anhything comparable to his body of work. Though he'd have probably been a great blogger.
Probably the best way to observe Lane's birthday is to dip randomly into Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, a superb description of the Muhammad &lsuo;Ali era which should be resd by anyone with an interest in Egypt, anyone who has drunk from the Nile. Fortunately, these days, thanks to Google Books, you can do that from the comfort of your keyboard.
Since I covered most of the basics in the previous post, I though I'd talk a bit more about Manners and Customs. A work of cultural anthropology before the field existed, it was an elaborate description of Egyptian society from the inside, by an Englishman who lived as a merchant-class Egyptian and seems to have been privy to a great deal of detail about everyday life. As a portrait of Egypt on the eve of Westernization, when Muhammad &lsuo;Ali was modernizing but before Europeans arrived en masse, it captures a transitional moment. Some of the things it described are still practiced today — the shaduf for raising water appears on Pharaonic toms and is still in use among the fellahin even today (left).
Other practices are long gone, and bear little resemblance to current practices; still others have clearly evolved from the Lane era, but are still recoghizable.
I would caution anyone about to go to Egypt not to read Manners and Customs before leaving; unless you have a time machine set for 1830, you'll never recognize the place. But once you're there, and know your way around a bit, you'll start to recognize the continuities. They don't say Misr Umm al-Dunya (Egypt is the mother of the world) for no reason.
It's a big book, very detailed, illustrated with the woodcuts you see a few of here. Like the country itself, it's worth the voyage.
As I've already noted, Lane also gave us two other classics, his eight-volume Arabic-English Lexicon, which he died before completing, and his translation of the 1,001 Nights, with profuse notes. But it's still Manners and Customs that endears this long-dead chap whose birthday I share to me.
For one thing, where else can you possibly find a drawing of an Egyptian parade in honor of a circumcision, shown below?
New IDF intel head and other new appointments as the change of command approaches.
A pizza order disrupts West Bank checkpoints, gets reporters detained.
And — no, a caption contest would be wrong, but this photo — no, it's better without comment:
It's on Ha'aretz main web page. Complain to them.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
For another thing, Al-Ahram aren't the only people with Photoshop. Egyptians and others have been weighing in, for example with "Mubarak's New Album," or this posting by Sarah Carr of Mubarak's neglected role in other historical events. (For the captions, you need to know that the original fake — as opposed to these fake fakes — was captioned "The Road to Sharm al-Sheikh." More, please.)
But when you live in a bubble, are you able to hear the laughter?
Al-‘Arabiya's own account in English is here, but it never cites what the "serious errors" were. Here's a more straightforward backgrounder.
You need to know that although Al-‘Arabiya is based in Dubai, it is owned by a Saudi media empire and funded by the Saudis; it is generally considered to have been founded to offset the influence of Al Jazeera, which the Saudis see as hostile. One of the most influential Saudi Royals, Prince Salman, the Governor of Riyadh, had openly criticized the anti-Wahhabi remarks.
Rashed has a reputation for provocative comments — he has been one of the few Arab editors to urge that the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" not be built — and the subtle jockeying between Saudi liberals and the religious establishment usually remains below the radar. This time the comments (which were not Rashed's own, so far as I can tell), crossed a red line and brought the wrath of the Kingdom down.
He may keep his job after all, but I think he's probably gotten the message. It's a reminder that the satellite channels, however free they seem most of the time, still have their red lines: Al Jazeera doesn't attack the Qatari government and Royal Family, and Al-‘Arabiya, though in Dubai, doesn't criticize the Saudi system. Or had better not.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The continuing debate over this photo and its Photoshopped version made me look at the original more closely and made me notice something new (though I'd subconsciously thought it reminded me of something): The way they're striding earnestly forward, with serious expressions and their hands hanging free at their sides like they're ready to slap leather: it's the Gunfight at the OK Corral! But who's on the other side? Hamas, Hizbullah, and Ahmadinejad?
And are these guys the Earps or the Clantons?
I'm not sure Al-Ahram is "under fire", exactly, since they probably don't care, but "makes itself a subject of widespread ridicule" would seem fair.
A sign of the problem facing these talks is that we've reached the point where we're inclined to interpret the fact that the talks haven't collapsed after two meetings as an optimistic sign, when in fact the lack of visible movement on the settlements issue means any real breakthrough seems unlikely. It's possible Netanyahu will have some sort of de Gaulle moment and decide he wants to be a peacemaker. (Whoever thought Ariel Sharon would give up Gaza?) Or unicorns could appear, persuading everyone to make peace.
It's long been a cliche to say that the peace process has become all process and no peace, so I'm not being very original in saying it again, but it says something about the process that what passes for good news is "they're meeting for a third time and no one has walked out yet!"
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
First, the original White House photo:
Natural enough. Obama leads the way in his White House, and since these are Israeli and Palesintinian peace talks, Netanyahu and ‘Abbas come next, and then Mubarak and King ‘Abdullah.
But that's not good enough for Al-Ahram. Egypt must lead, even if only via Photoshop:
Do they think nobody will notice, or do they just not really care if they do?
I won't try to comment. There are too many people around who know the subject far better than I, so let me send you their way: first, in-house, MEI's own Gönül Tol, a pre-referendum piece found on our website but which first appeared on Foreign Policy's Mideast Channel last week. Read it where you will. The Middle East Channel also had a piece by Hatem Ete on "The Battle over Constitutional Reform in Turkey," also written before the vote.
Israelis generally don't like Erdogan very much, but Amos Liel in Ha'aretz says the referendum ranks him "second only to Ataturk" (heads are exploding in the Turkish military). The Jerusalem Post is less excessive but swallows hard and notes Erdogan won a major victory.
Monday, September 13, 2010
*And as Qifa Nabki noted, it's been rapidly dying since the great lexicographer Ibn Manzur lamented its decline in the 12th century AD.
The UAE is doing a lot to preserve its cultural heritage and traditions, and this does not strike me as a particularly bad idea, but with all the Arabic-is-dying the-sky-is-falling talk lately, this fuels the fire.
Or as Barbie might put it according to one urban legend: "Arabic is hard. Let's go shopping."
Now go back and learn those weak verbs and broken plurals.
Campaigns to overturn the ban by women's activists are frequent and there have been claims that King ‘Abdullah may favor repeal, but the ban has remained in place. Ironically, as has often been poin\ted out by reformers, Saudi women often have to depend on foreign male drivers, thus placing them in a car with a man who is not a family member, a major taboo.
I won't say "I told you so." Oh, wait, I guess I just did.
[Correction: for most of the day this said "dug up in an Irish blog." Freudian slip: an Irish bog.]
Saturday, September 11, 2010
For those of us who try to educate people about the Middle East, it has obviously been a challenging nine years, two wars, and much rhetoric. The ability to distinguish between real enemies who pose a threat and an entire global culture remains difficult for some people, as the current controversies over the "Ground Zero mosque" (which isn't at Ground zero and isn't a mosque) and the Qur'an-burning furor remind us. Nothing that has happened since, however, detracts from the shock of the original terrorist act in a country that had long felt secure from attack behind two oceans.
Remembrance is necessary, but those who try to exploit the day for their own goals should be ignored.
Friday, September 10, 2010
No, really. It comes up from time to time. Juan Cole noted it a couple of years ago, but it often turns up in genealogy texts and the like. When you go back far enough, everybody is related to everybody else, after all. I've also heard that something like 80% of people with northwest European ancestry have a direct descent from Charlemagne; it's just most of us can't document it, while the aristocracies can. I've dabbled in my own genealogy since high school and have heard of the Queen's descent for years, but thought I'd bring it up now, when Islam and the West often seem to forget just how intertwined their histories are.
Anyway, she apparently doesn't just have just one descent from the Prophet, but multiple lines of descent through several of his children and through several of QEII's own rather varied ancestral lines. Here's one version of her several lines. There are lines from the Prophet's daughters Ruqayya and Umm Kulthum, and a couple of lines through his grandson Hussein (so she could add "Sayyida" to her royal titulature), one of which also passes through the line of the Shi‘a Imams to the 10th Imam (and a sister of the 11th), and yet another through Hussein's brother Hasan (so she's also a Sharifa), and some other variants of these.
The key is that several descendants of the Prophet married into the Umayyad Caliphal house, and when the last Umayyads fled to Spain (al-Andalus) in 750 AD they carried several Prophetic descents with them. The usual intermarriages of daughters and sisters of the Caliphs with various local rulers in Spain eventually included some marriages with local Christian rulers, which in turn put the Prophet's DNA into some of the local dynasties of what became Portugal and Castile, and also into the Hapsburg line. Given all the usual intermarriages, she ended up with multiple descents, some coming through Edward IV, but others coming in through various German and other houses later on, the latest through Mary of Teck, wife of George V and the Queen's grandmother.
One reason that this can be pretty confidently documented is that descent from the Prophet was taken very seriously in classical Islam: the sayyids and sharifs received subsidies from the state, so genealogical trees were carefully kept. (King ‘Abdullah of Jordan's family tree, which isn't hard to locate online, is probably absolutely sound, since the Sharifs of Mecca, his ancestors, kept the official records.) The Queen's being a multiple descent, it is almost certainly valid in some if not all lines.
This really isn't surprising given the intermarriage, even across religious lines, of European aristocracies, so that the Umayyads of Spain infused Prophetic descent into many European ruling houses (others came into other European lineages via Sicily and the Crusader states), combined with the fact that if we all knew our ancestry as well as the royal houses do, we might all (those of European or Middle Eastern descent, anyway) find out we're descended from rhe Prophet. (Rev. Terry Jones of burn a Qur'an day has the good Welsh last name of Jones, and the Welsh had lots of kings; I wonder . . . )
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Tensions between Bahrain's Shi‘ite majority and the Sunni-dominated government have been simmering for years, but the current tensions in Bahrain are unusually high, and seem to be relating to an overall increase in sectarian tensions in the Gulf, perhaps related to tensions with Iran but, in the Bahraini case, by fears of Shi‘ite gains in the October elections. It deserves watching as there is a potential for more serious confrontations.
Israel is known for its armored prowess, from the 1956 Suez War onward, and some of the biggest tank battles in the post-World War II era (since Kursk) have been fought in the Sinai and Golan in 1956, 1967, and 1973. Tal was Israel's armored prophet, its analog of J.F.C. Fuller, Basil Liddell Hart, Charles de Gaulle, Heinz Guderian, Erwin Rommel, or George S. Patton. He is remembered as the father of Israel's indigenous main battle tank, the Merkava ("chariot" in Hebrew), and he developed armor doctrine that proved dominating in Sinai in 1967, based on mobility, long-range fire, and rapid penetration. When Arab military academies study Israel's tank tactics (and they do), they are studying Tal.
Some have suggested the triumph of armor in 1967 led to a weakening of the infantry arm and the consequent fallback of Israeli forces from the Suez Canal in 1973; but it was armor which struck back across the Canal and turned the tide in the war.
Here's Ha'aretz' obit, here's the Jerusalem Post's, and here's his Wikipedia bio, The Jerusalem Post obit says that "Tal was named one of the top five armored commanders in history at The Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor in Fort Knox, Kentucky, along with Maj.-Gen. Moshe Peled, General George S. Patton, Creighton Abrams and German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel." Two Israelis in the top five seems a bit much (Patton and his protégé Abrams were probably givens at the Patton Museum), and some Brits and Russians might object, but he was in that class.
Tal deserves to be remembered for another matter: after the ceasefire in the 1973 war, in his role as Officer Commanding, Southern Command, he received an order from Chief of Staff David Elazar and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan ordering him to attack Egyptian troops. Viewing it as an illegal order after the ceasefire, he refused to obey, demanding confirmation from Prime Minister Golda Meir and the Supreme Court.
In the aftermath of the war he was vindicated, but the seeming insubordination probably kept him from ever occupying the Chief of Staff's position.
We may not hear any acknowledgment of it, but I suspect many Arab tankers who fought against him will quietly note his passing as one of the great tankers of the 20th century. If he can be criticized, it is probably for making Israel too armored-mobility dependent in its military theory in the 1960s and 1970s, a tactical leaning which would be of limited use in Lebanon in the 1980s or in the far different conflicts which have followed.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
In addition to the new moon bringing the month of Shawwal, it is also the first of the month of Elul in the Jewish calendar, the new year 5771, the first day of Rosh Hashonah (or Rosh Hashanah). Shona Tova to Jewish readers.
Well, of course there's been a lot of reaction. Brian Whitaker reflects on the subject here. A roundup of various comments from around the blogosphere is over at Global Voices. As'ad AbuKhalil, the Angry Arab, is angry of course, calling this a "colonial study." (Obviously, too, there's a loaded element in that the study came from an Israeli university.)
My own reaction is puzzlement and wondering what motivated the study. Only 40 subjects were studied, all university students. Learning a language in adulthood is, of course, always more difficult than acquiring a first language as a child. Some of the students spoke only Hebrew; others already "knew Arabic well", though it's not clear if they were native speakers. It's also clear that the study is talking about the writing system, not the language itself.
Many commenters have already taken the natural tu quoque approach and noted that some of the things that make Arabic hard to learn — being written from right to left, not writing the vowels — also hold true for Hebrew. (And I'd note that handwritten Hebrew script diverges from the printed character much more than does handwritten Arabic.)
And what about the thousands of characters in Chinese? Japanese kangi? (Here again the difficulty is the writing system, not the underlying grammar.)
I personally suspect this is just another case of an academic study that had funding and decided to prove what it already assumed to be true, but I shouldn't impute motive I suppose. The summary seems to suggest that the Arabic language itself creates a learning disability, which has naturally infuriated some people. Of course it's harder for an English speaker to learn Arabic than say, Spanish; it's a different language family and a different script. But it's an alphabetic script and once learned seems pretty readable to me. Admittedly as my aging eyes struggle with small diacritical marks I prefer to read newspapers online, where Control++ magnifies the letters, rather than on paper. But I have the same trouble with small print in English.
Enough of this silly discussion. Go do your Arabic homework.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
John Duke Anthony remembers him here. An Arab News appreciation here.
UPDATE: ANERA's appreciation here. I understand something will appear in The Washington Post tomorrow.
The leaked photos themselves are here. I link not to further the smear campaign but so readers can see what the fuss is about (and how innocent the pictures are: safe for work unless you work for the Taliban). Though captioned "ElBaradei's Family Secrets," they're not particularly shocking: mostly wedding photos of her marriage to her British husband, and some beach photos where she's in a relatively modest bathing suit. But in increasingly puritanical Egypt the presence of apparent wine glasses at the wedding reception, and the swimsuit photos, as well as a party photo of her and female friends with champagne bottles, may cause some scandal, as could a screenshot of her Facebook Info page in which her political views are listed as "very liberal" and her religion as "agnostic." She's obviously not running for office, and her views may not be shared by her father, and her Facebook page was supposed to be private anyway.
ElBaradei has accused the government of being behind the campaign, which seems to be a widespread assumption. His National Association for Change says it will take legal action.
The Muslim Brotherhood backed ElBaradei on this, saying the following:
Given the realities of modern political campaigning, it should come as no surprise that the candidates most likely to use negative ads are the ones who feel most challenged . . .
However, there has been speculations such allegations may have been initiated by the Egyptian security apparatus, in an effort to influence the public negatively toward El Baradei, playing on both their emotional and spiritual stance. It may have also been seen as a shot to weaken the stance of the popular political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, which supports El Baradei in his appeal for political change, but it will not tolerate such allegedly unislamic behavior. If this proves to be the fact, it will reveal that security is bidding on the publics' religious & sentimental values.
Undoubtedly, for most Egyptians, choosing a ruler whose criminal security apparatus focuses on beating and killing civilians, and who shows no regards to human rights, freedom and dignity is far more than dangerous than electing the father of a bikini-clad daughter.
A lot of bloggers are making similar points, and the violation of a family's privacy seems to have offended many; the ruling National Democratic Party has distanced itself from the affair. Blogger Zeinobia wants ElBaradei to slap somebody. The breach of etiquette seems more controversial than any wine glass on a table.
In the wake of the appointment, Ehud Barak has been ordered to put a hold on his personal investigation of the "Galant Affair." A mid-level (field rank) officer, Lt. Col. Boaz Harpaz, reportedly carried out the forgery.
Monday, September 6, 2010
Whether you're celebrating in 1431, 5771, 1727, 2003, or just plain 2010, I'll post suitable greetings.
Friday, September 3, 2010
The internal machinations of the Egyptian elite (and, since the Sadat era, especially the military relations with the political sphere) are as opaque as the internal dynamics of the Saudi princes: those who think they know what's going on are almost certainly wrong. But reflecting on the timing — ElBaradei's star is fading; Gamal in in DC getting a taste of diplomacy; Saad Ibrahim gave Gamal a big PR boost, willingly or no — this is interesting timing.
A comment on my post of yesterday, and my response thereto, are worth repeating:
Now, the early commentary is interesting. Zeinobia is concerned, wondering why the supposed supporters of Suleiman say (I haven't found that quote) that security (presumably State Security, thus, the Interior Ministry) is supporting Gamal. She wonders if there is a rift between the Interior Ministry and the Military. It's a good question, but if this is some kind of ploy while Mubsrak is out of the country, it seems unlikely to be initiated by Suleiman. But then, if it's not, why doesn't he repudiate it?
Suleiman, at 74, is no youngster, has close links with the US and Israel (particularly with their intelligence bodies), and until a few years ago had no public profile whatsoever. Does that make him qualified to be President? (Well, I suppose if you compare him to Gamal . . .)
There's a new Facebook campaign, including as a starter a detailed hio of the man.
So who is this guy?
He was born in the Qena Governorate of Upper Egypt in 1936, and that makes him the rare Upper Egyptian in a regime whose elite are mostly from roots in the Delta, many from Menufiyya like Mubarak (and Sadat). He attended the Military Academy and served in the War in Yemen and the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, though his exact role is not stated. He served first in Military Intelligence, rose to command it in 1991, and in 1993 shifted to the General cntelligence Service (in US terms, shifting from DIA to CIA, but with both agencies far more powerful inside the regime).
In June 1995, he was in the car with Mubarak when it was attacked by assassins in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Mubarak reportedly credits Suleiman with saving his life, and the two men have been personally close ever since. Traditionally the head of General Intelligence is never mentioned, but since about 2000 when he began to be involved directly as an Israeli-Palestinian mediator, he's regularly appeared in news photos.
Still, he's a man of the shadows, and there's little to suggest he wants the Presidency, though as the commenter above notes, it's time for him to say so if he doesn't. If he really is moving for the Presidenxcy and/or there's a split between the military and Interior Ministry over the succession, this could be important.