A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Turtlegate: Did King Farouq's Turtle Die (Again?) Last Week, or Not?

Apparently not. I was too busy last week to mention the widespread report that a turtle that had once belonged to King Farouq and that was believed to be the second oldest turtle in the world, had died at the age of 270 at the Cairo Zoo in Giza. The story may have originated with the sensational paper Yom 7, but was widely repeated, for example here.

There were variants. The turtle was not 270; it was 280. Or 217. It had been given to the Giza Zoo by King Farouq in 1936, or by Khedive Ismail in the 1870s. Or Khedive Tewfiq.

It was suggested it was the turtle that Farouq's daughter Princess Ferial is riding in this picture, from the late 1930s or 1940-ish (Ferial was born in 1938.)
Gradually, someone must have noted the varied stories weren't terribly consistent. Then someone noticed that the King's turtle had reportedly died in 2009. Oh, and again in 2011. And again last year.

A couple of Twitter posts:
As the first of those posts suggests, people were grasping at any story linking to King Farouq as a contrast to the present situation; this may be one reason why the story spread so quickly. This story in Britain's Independent debunks the whole story, saying the turtle, named Samir, actually died 15 years ago, quoting Egypt's Director of Regional Zoos. (But what would he know?) It suggests the story was made up (fairly clearly true) to discredit President Morsi (less clear).

Civil Marriage Comes to Lebanon, with Caveats

Last Thursday, Lebanon's Interior Ministry registered the civil marrage of Kholoud Sukkarieh and Nidal Darwish, a move widely heralded as the establishment of civil marriage in Lebanon. The couple married on October 10, 2012, and had their marriage acknowledged as legal by the Justice Ministry several weeks earlier; except for Turkey and (within certain limitations), Tunisia, no Muslim countries in the Middle East have civil marriage. Nor does Israel. Lebanon has long allowed civil registration of marriages performed abroad, and the courts regulate those marriages based on the laws of the country where the marriage took place (France, Cyprus, etc.), but marriages performed in Lebanon were always subject to one of the 18 recognized religious sects. This is the first legal registration if a civil marriage that was performed on Lebanese soil.

There has been no new legislation to authorize civil marriage, however. If I have this right, the civil marriage activists who have pushed this case essential recognized that Lebanese law does not in fact prohibit civil marriage, though there's no regulatory law in place either. They simply got married (a willing civil notary performing the ceremony) after having their religious affiliations struck from their state identity registrations. The laws dating from the French mandate did not prohibit this but did not provide for it either.  (Tunisia, if I understand rightly, has a civil law of personal status and records civil marriages, but with some Islamic restrictions such as not allowing Muslim women to marry non-:Muslims. Some of my legally trained readers will probably correct me on the specifics in both cases.)

The Interior Minister who provided the final decision to register the marriage added the condition that the two cannot subsequenly change their religious affiliations. That condition, probably intended to placate the angry religious sects (the Sunni establishment has declared any Sunni supporting civil marriage as apostate), but the legal basis for those conditions is already being called in question.

So, as is often the case in things Lebanese, the main headline (Civil Marriage Comes to Lebanon) is true, but with lots of footnotes and caveats. Nonetheless, it's a step. Congratulations to the happy couple, over six months after the actual ceremony.

Post Mortem Assessments on the Egypt Independent Closure

Last week's decision ti close the weekly print edition of the English-language Egypt Independent (see this piece, with links to the last issue, published online only), and — after an initial statement indicating the online English edition was also being closed — a clarification that the online version would continue, but with an "integrated newsroom" with Al-Masry al-Youm (presumably meaning no independent English-only reporting staff), several commentators have weighed in with post-mortems:
  • At the Daily News Egypt, itself an online reincarnation of a paper closed last year, Mahmoud Salem ("Sandmonkey") offers "Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept it . . ." a challenge yo English-speaking readers to rally to keeo alive an independent press in English. (The Ahram Online website and the Al-Ahram Weekly in print are, of course, government-run papers.)
  • Vivian Salama at the Columbia Journalism Review website has a piece, "In the Egypt Independent's Closure, an End of a Beginning," interviewing the former Editor-in-Chief, Lina Atallah, and citing the growing pressures on the independent press, in Arabic as well as English.
  • At the Wall Street Journal's Middle East Real Time, Maria Abi Habib on "Egypt's Independent Press Takes a Hit."
  • Mention of Lina Atallah above invites the comment as well that Egypt Independent not only had a female Editor-in-Chief but a reporting and commentary staff that must have been nearly half female, certainly not the norm in the Egyptian press. Sarah Carr, one of those reporters, takes to her own blog to deliver the scathing "A Statement from the Fortress of Evil," satirically purporting to be the "full version" of what was "left out" of the management's official statement. ("Al-Masry Al-Youm Corp. has decided to shut down its one good thing which was called Egypt Independent but which in this statement will be called The Egypt Independent because of our natural aversion to accuracy.") It clearly conveys what she sees as their contempt for their readership. (It's therefore appropriately and colorfully profane: language Not Safe for Work, but funny.)

Monday, April 29, 2013

RUSI Briefing Paper Suggests UK May Return to "East of Suez"

I was just entering the Middle East studies field back in 1971 when Britain wrapped up its once dominant presence "East of Suez" the Kipling-inspired phrase used to refer to the British position in the Gulf. Announced several years earlier, as a result of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's rolling back of Britain's power projection, Britain dissolved its various protectorates, leading to formal indepenndence in Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman, and the creation of the United Arab Emirates. (Kuwait had become independent the decade before.)

Today, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the venerable (founded by the Duke of Wellington) British think tank on defense affairs, released a Briefing Paper called "A Return to the East of Suez."

There's a press release here, and you can download the whole report in PDF here.  A video announcing the report, written by Gareth Stansfield and Saul Kelly and introduced by Michael Clarke, appears below.

The report is being seen by some in the British press almost as if it were a formal announcement of government policy, and in fact it may be intended to prepare the ground for such a step. It  may also be an attempt to reassure friendly Gulf states (especially the UAE) that they will not be left high and dry as the US retrenches after withdrawing from Iraq and preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan.

From Michael Clarke's Foreword:
At a time of economic retrenchment and growing uncertainty within Europe, it may seem strange that the UK sees its future military security increasingly‘east of Suez’. Such an emotive phrase suggests imperial ambitions at a time when UK armed forces are smaller than they have been for 200 years. But there are compelling reasons for the UK to take its Gulf relationships much more seriously.
The military intends to build up a strong shadow presence around the Gulf; not an evident imperial-style footprint, but a smart presence with facilities, defence agreements, rotation of training, transit and jumping-off points for forces that aim to be more adaptable and agile as they face the post-Afghanistan years from 2014. The Minhad airbase at Dubai in the United

Arab Emirates (UAE) has emerged as the key to this smart presence and more will be heard about it, alongside the Typhoon deal with the UAE, in the near future.
This may not yet be declared government policy; indeed, the government may prefer not to plunge into a public debate about it. But the UK appears to be approaching a decision point where a significant strategic reorientation of its defence and security towards the Gulf is both plausible and logical. This was not an evident assumption of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review and it remains to be seen whether the government will choose to enshrine a reinvigorated Gulf policy as a strategic shift in its defence and security focus. But there are compelling reasons for the government to consider it during 2013, in the light of the outcome of the UAE state visit to the UK at the end of this month.
The release video:

Will Bouteflika's "Mini-Stroke" Dampen Talk of a Fourth Term?

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika suffered a "mini-stroke" or transient ischemic attack (TIA) on Saturday and is recovering in a Paris hospital,  with official statements insisting there is no permanent damage and he is recovering well. Such attacks are, however, sometimes called "warning strokes," and may be early warnings of a more serious attack. a TIA stems from a temporary blockage in a blood vessel.

Bouteflika's health has long been a subject of rumor. He periodically has been hospitalized in France, amid rumors of stomach cancer or something similar, always denied. On the Internet, where one's mortality rate can easily exceed 100% and Husni Mubarak has died many times (Husni Mubarak dies about once a year), Bouteflka has died occasionally, most recently last September.

Joking and rumors aside and without questioning the official claims that there is no permanent damage, this event may have an impact over the debate over a possible fourth term for the 76-year-old President.

Bouteflika has not officially declared for a fourth term, and some reports suggest he doesn't want one, and he has also said it's time for a new generation, but there are elements in the FLN party pushing for a  fourth term, and Bouteflika has not ruled that out. Elections are due in April 2014, a year from now.

There is a widespread if unproven belief that the powerful military and intelligence services,, whose influence has been curtailed under Bouteflika, oppose a fourth term because they fear that Bouteflika's extended family, including his brother and his family, are seeking to succeed. (The unmarried Bouteflika has no children.) Opposition parties also oppose a fourth term. (Last time Bouteflika won 90% of the vote, but it's unlikely such improbable victories would be credible post-Arab Spring.)

The "mini-stroke" will at minimum give opponents of another term new ammunition; at most, it could rule out another term and open up a real political contest, at least within the establishment parties.

To Eastern Christian Readers: Palm Sunday Greetings (Belated) and Best Wishes for Great and Holy Week

This year Eastern Christian Easter is more than a month after the Western date: next Sunday. For my Middle Eastern (and other) Christian readers who celebrate on the Eastern date, yesterday was Palm Sunday and Great and Holy Week has now begun.

This is true for the Eastern Orthodox (in our region, the Greek, Antiochian, and Alexandrian churches plus of course, Russia and much of eastern Europe, and the churches of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Sinai), the Oriental Orthodox (the Copts, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian, Ethiopian and Eritrean churches, and the Syriac daughter churches in India), and those in the tradition of the Church of the East (the Assyrian Church and its daughter church in India), plus, this year, some Eastern Catholic churches choosing to celebrate on the Eastern date for ecumenical reasons.  Felicitations to you all (especially any I forgot).

 Al-Bawaba  has a slideshow on the difficulties facing Middle Eastern Christians this Palm Sunday.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Weekend Nostalgia: Gezira and Cairo from the Air, 1904

Yes, it says 1904, and no, it wasn't the Wright Brothers. According to the data at Wikimedia Commons, photographer Eduard Spelterini took the photo from a balloon about 1,600 feet in the air in 1904.

Gezira Island (redundant of course, since Gezira means island) is on the left; Cairo proper on the right. Of the three bridges that now connect Gezira/Zamalek to downtown, only the southernmost, the original 1872 Qasr El-Nil bridge (replaced by the present bridge in 1933), was there. (The bridge at the top of the picture, north of the island, is the railroad bridge.) Nor is Gezira buried under the tangle of bridge ramps and flyovers that exist today,

At the east end  of the original Qasr El-Nil bridge is the Qasr El-Nil barracks, where British troops were garrisoned until 1948, and where the Nile Hilton would rise in the 1950s. The Egyptian Museum is also clearly visible.

The Gezira Sporting Club is already there in the center of the island, and the fairgrounds to the south where the new Opera was built in the 1980s.

What's perhaps most striking is the northern part of the island, the today-densely-populated and up-market district of Zamalek. There's almost nothing there.  Originally planned by Khedive Ismail as a garden island, he built the Gezira Palace for his guests including the Empress Eugenie for the opening of the Suez Canal. By the time of this photo the palace had become a hotel; below, in 1906.
It later became the Omar Khayyam Hotel and is today the core of the much grander and expanded Cairo Marriott Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino.

There are only a handful of other buildings visible in the photo, some of which were elegant villas, but Zamalek isn't really there yet. ("Zamalek," ironically, means "huts," and may originally have applied to construction huts, though the name originally applied to a village on the Giza side, not on Gezira; the street now called 26th of July St., and before that Fuad St., started life as Zamalek St. because it went to Zamalek; now it goes through it. It most assuredly does not consist of huts today.)

Egyptian Twitter Fad: Translating Colloquial Proverbs into (Literal) English

 A hot hashtag on Egyptian twitter yesterday: #كلام_مصري_مترجم ["Egyptian words translated"]. Most posters are posting proverbs or colorful metaphors, translating them into English, usually quite literally, and without any exegesis. Only a handful post the original Arabic; sometimes the meaning is obscure if you don't know the original. But the hilarity of the literal translations seems to be part of the joke.
(Huh?) Others are slightly more obvious if still a bit awkward in English.
Or maybe not:

Some are clumsy translations of curses:
And at least one person who may not have gotten the idea clearly has translated a common obscenity known to every speaker and student of Arabic:
I'm not sure that was the idea of the exercise. I doubt if anyone with even a modicum of Arabic needs to ask what the original Arabic is for this one. At least they used the "polite" clinical term in the English translation.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ursula Lindsey on the Various Arabics

We've had frequent discussions on this blog about the diglossia problem: the divergence between the Classical and Colloquial Arabics, and the concern that Modern Standard Arabic is dying or endangered.  Ursula Lindsey at The Arabist points to a piece she's published at Al-Fanar, a site devoted to Arabic educational issues. It's a good piece, more solid and less sensational than some of the wrting on the subject, and it deserves your attention:"The Arab World's Tangled Linguistic Landscape."

In her link at The Arabist,  she also notes something we've commented on as well in  the past:
During the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, there were two slogans: الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام ("The People Want the Fall of the Regime") was in Fosha, or classical Arabic and -- as that language does -- it traveled across borders, from one Arab country to the other. But in Egypt there was also another slog: ارحل يعني امشي ("'Depart' means get out!") which "translated" the Fosha word for "leave" into the Aameya one. The revolution spread alongside a classical slogan, but they also saw an eruption of colloquial Arabic, indispensible to satire and subversion, to "telling it how it is," into the stultified public discourse, and I think that will remain the case (look at Bassem Youssef, look at mahraganaat music).

The End of The Egypt Independent

The Egypt Independent, the  English-language paper from the Al-Masry al-Youm group, has shut down its print and online editions. As the editors note:
Four years after the birth of Egypt Independent, the management of Al-Masry Media Corporation has informed our editorial team that our print and online news operation is being shut down.
Because we owe it to our readers, we decided to put together a closing edition, which would have been available on 25 April, to explain the conditions under which a strong voice of independent and progressive journalism in Egypt is being terminated.
The management, however, withheld the printing of this edition. While the print house received the final proofs on 23 April, management ordered a last-minute stoppage after scrutinizing the issue’s content. 
In keeping with our practice of critical journalism, we use our final issue to reflect on the political and economic challenges facing Egyptian media, including in our own institution.
Today, we share this final issue with our readers in digital form.
The digital version if the last edition, at Scribed, is here.

The struggle of English-language papers in Egypt is pretty well-documented, and discussed in the final edition. Also, at least three journalists who lost their jobs a year ago when Daily News Egypt shut down, have now lost their second paper in a year: they discuss their experience here,

Since apparently the online edition is closing too, this loss will be felt. You will be missed. [Update: the management now says they will retain the online edition, but with an "integrated newsroom" with Al-Masry al-Youm.]

ANZAC Day 2013: 98 Years Since the Gallipoli Landings

Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
— Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, 1934.
The quote appears on the Atatürk Memorial in Turakena Bay, Gallipoli, and on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial, ANZAC Parade, Canberra, Australia.
ANZAC Cove During the Battle
April 25, 1915: British, French, Australian, and New Zealand troops landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, in a daring if doomed effort to take Constantinople, drive the Ottoman Empire out of World War I, and shorten the war. It would be a major debacle for British arms, lose Winston Churchill his job as First Lord of the Admiralty, and haunt his career for decades. The original idea was to use a naval force to force the Dardanelles, and in fact the Turkish authorities, knowing they were not a naval match for the Royal Navy , made contingency plans to leave Constantinople. But when the British used obsolete vessels and encountered a minefield, they abandoned the naval aspect (which might have worked), and prepared a land campaign. Meanwhile, the Ottomans had plenty of forewarning.

But even though Gallipoli became a disaster in British military history, it helped give birth to three great modern nations. To this day ANZAC Day (today) is a holiday in Australia and New Zealand, and fills the place that November 11 (Remembrance Day/Veteran's Day) does elsewhere in the English-speaking world. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) suffered enormous losses, fed into a meat grinder assault against a ridgeline, but both Australia and New Zealand emerged from it, and from the subsequent Chanak crisis, much more independent of their mother country, with modern identities of their own. In fact, as the quote above notes, they and the Turks get along well enough and they admire Atatürk's respect for their dead. In the eyes of many Australians today, the real villain of the piece was not the Turks, but Mother England. (Affectionately (?) known Down Under, of course, as "Pommy Bastards.")
Kemal at Gallipoli
A third country also was born of Gallipoli: the local Ottoman commander, moved to the peninsula before the landings, was a colonel named Mustafa Kemal, the future Atatürk. In some ways the emergence, from the Ottoman defeat, of the later Turkish Republic, is also a legacy of Gallipoli.

Although the Islamist, post-Kemalist Turkey of today is undergoing some historical revisionism about Kemal's real importance at Gallipoli, most Western military accounts still credit him for the success.

Kemal During the War
On ANZAC Day of 2011 I did as lengthy post about Gallipoli and Chanak, with some videos and details of when the last veterans of each force passed a way. If you missed it, I strongly recommend you read it now.

Yakup Satar
And I leave you once again with the face of the last Mehmetchik, the last Ottoman veteran of the Great War, Yakup Satar (1898-2008), who died five years ago this month shortly after his 110th birthday. He did not serve at Gallipoli, but in Mesopotamia, and became a prisoner of the British at Kut, but it's a wonderful face and a reminder of how recently the last veterans of the War to End Wars left us.

ANZAC Day greetings to all. And for any Aussie readers, folksinger Eric Bogle's great antiwar song about Gallipoli, done with period photos from the battle (and later, photos of modern Canadian troops serving abroad):

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reports of the Syrian Bishops' Release Were Untrue

Yesterday's reports that the two Syrian bishops (the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox bishops of Aleppo) kidnapped on Monday had been released safely have proved to be untrue. The bishops' whereabouts remain unknown,

The Armenian Deportations, 98 Years On

Today is marked by Armenians worldwide as Armenian Genocide Day; it is also an official holiday in the Republic of Armenia. On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman authorities rounded up leading Armenians in Constantinople ,beginning the process that would, over several years, lead to deportations and deaths on a mass scale.

The next day, British, French, and ANZAC forces landed at Gallipoli.

Nearly a century after the fact, and 90 years after the end of the Ottoman Empire, the question if whether it is appropriate to refer to the tragedy as a genocide continues to be a subject of often very heated rhetoric between Turks and Armenians. Turkey actively lobbies other countries to dissuade them from recognizing the events as genocide, though the Turkish Republic had not yet been established. I see little to gain by plunging into this thoroughly rehashed and studied subject, except to note that large number died (Assyrians and Greeks as well as Armenians), and that today is the day they are memorialized.

On a related note, Akiva Eldar looks at the ambivalent feelings in Israel about the Armenian massacres.
Armenians being marched under guard, April 1915

Fighting Brings Down 11th Century Minaret in Aleppo

Before and After (BBC)
The Great Mosque of Aleppo, also known as the Umayyad mosque, has been the scene of much destruction in the war-torn city, and already was being cited as one of the prime examples of the toll the war is taking on antiquities.

Now, the oldest surviving part of the mosque, a minaret dating from AD 1090 (and which survived the Mongol conquest of 1260, which destroyed other parts of the mosque) has been brought down.

The mosque has been controlled by the rebels; government forces are fighting to retake it. The government claims the rebels set off explosives that brought the minaret down; the rebels say a tank fired a round that collapsed it. A You Tube video claims to show the immediate aftermath of the collapse:

Intriguing Piece of Ancient Egyptian Art

We've been mired in the third millennium long enough, so it's time for a little Ancient Near East. This intriguing piece from the Egyptian New Kingdom is a cosmetics spoon, apparently for applying kohl. It's delicate and elegant, but what to make of the imagery? (Hat tip to Diana Buja; image via this Spanish-language Egyptology site.)

Well, it's a girl or young woman, and a duck. (Maybe a goose? Let's call it a duck.) Since the girl seems to be wearing only a loincloth and no top, let's assume she's swimming. Duck suggests water; prone position suggests swimming. It's an interesting spoon, but a bit hard to figure out the backstory:
  • Is this a really gigantic duck, or a really small woman? If the former there's a 50's sci-fi movie theme here.
  • Is she holding on to the duck because she can't swim?
  • Or is she perhaps pushing the duck?
  • Am I over-analyzing this?
The only one I can answer is the last one: probably yeah. But a fascinating piece. Said to be piece number 1725C, in the Louvre.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Last Word (I Hope) on Femen's "Topless Jihad"

A few weeks ago I  commented on the backlash among Muslim women to the Ukrainian feminist protest group Femen's so-called "International Topless Jihad Day." What was billed as a protest in support of Tunisian Amina Tyler, with Femen protesters showing up topless at mosques around Europe with anti-religious slogans, produced a lot of online criticism by Muslim women who saw the protest (quite rightly, I think) as a Western, Eurocentric, and neocolonial case of "enlightened" Western women "saving" oppressed Muslim women, taking up the white woman's burden, as it were. The backlash was louder than the Femen protest.

I belatedly encountered this essay, in, of all places, the Harvard Crimson, the venerable university newspaper, by an undergraduate Muslim woman, Marian H. Jalloul. It's called "Mind over Boobs," though as an Editor I always keep in mind that may not have been the author's preferred title. I think it nails it pretty well and is the most eloquent statement I've seen. (Some quoted strong language.)
Amina’s message is beautiful, and I wholeheartedly agree with it: Her body is hers, and she has the right to use it as she pleases, including as a canvas of expression. It is not the source of anyone else’s honor. I even respect the bold execution—it definitely caught my attention. What I do not appreciate is FEMEN’s inability to accept Muslim women’s definition of freedom. I do not respect their projection of their ideals onto me, or their implication that I am too weak and oppressed to speak for myself.
It is ridiculous how widely accepted it is that Muslim women are oppressed in choosing to cover their bodies. This “clash of civilizations”—more accurately explained as the clash of ignorance by Edward Said—is preserving the idea that Islamic views and Western views cannot coincide. I know how much Western society loves its feminism: I was born and raised into it with a strong, highly educated and respected mother who kicks butt in her field—all while wearing a headdress. That being said, it is almost imperialist to apply Western concepts of feminism to other cultures. There are varying definitions of feminism, and not all urge a woman to flaunt her body because it is her right. On the contrary, feminism from the Muslim perspective encourages women to be modest in their dress and to be seen as equal intellectuals, not merely as bodies.
Just as some women feel strong and confident showing a little skin, veiled Muslim women feel strong and confident covering their skin—and there is nothing wrong with either. The West may see oppression in Muslim women covering their bodies at the will of a male-dominated society in the same way Muslim women may see oppression in the objectification of Western women’s bodies at the hands of a male-dominated society. I am a veiled, Muslim-American woman, and I am also a feminist. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
The message that has been spawned by this “noble movement” is disgraceful. FEMEN seems to imply that Islam is to be blamed for global sexism. Imperialist rhetoric that Islam is a woman-hating religion and stands on five pillars of sexism does nothing but aid the global surge of Islamophobia. No other nations, religions, or cultures are targeted to quite the same extent. In turn, this opens the door of opportunity for other countries that have a perpetual track record of discriminating against their women, the U.S. included, to point the finger at Muslim societies.
The vast majority of veiled Muslim women are not oppressed in their hijabs, and even if we were we (and even to those veiled Muslim women who are being oppressed) sure as heck are not seeking liberation from a group of women who will insult our religious beliefs in order to affirm their own self-importance. As another Muslim woman put it, “We won’t be needing any of that ‘White-non-Muslim-women-saving-Muslim-women-from-Muslim-men’ crap!” FEMEN holding up signs that read “Fuck your Morals” is not liberating us—it is simply making us angry. I am all for supporting Amina and her rights, but when it is done through plain offense, Islamophobia, and at the expense of the reputation of over a billion Muslims, I will stand my ground. We do not need saving. We do not need you to defend us. We can speak for ourselves. And moreover, we do not need to flaunt our breasts to feel liberated.
I understand that FEMEN is trying to defend Amina, but supporting her rights by attacking a religion is counterproductive to their movement. If they find freedom through being nude, then that is great. All the power to them. As for me, my mind is my means of liberation. Not my boobs.
Amen. I hope that is the last word on this. (Not on feminism, but on Femen and Islam.)

Who Kidnapped the Syrian Bishops (and Who Freed Them)?

[UPDATE: There are now some denials that the bishops have been released.]

Bishop Ibrahim (left) and Bishop Yazigi
Two Syrian bishops from Aleppo, kidnapped yesterday by unknown forces in northern Syria, have been released today. 

The two, Greek (Antiochian) Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo Boulos Yazigi (Yaziji), and his Syriac Orthodox counterpart, Yohanna Ibtahim, were kidnapped while returning from Turkey to Aleppo on Monday reportedly in the village of Kafr Dael. The Syrian government, through its SANA news agency,  blamed rebels (and some Lebanese reports echoed that), but the Syrian National Coalition and other rebel groups rejected this and called for their immediate release. The new head of the SNC, George Sabra, just elected tor replace Moaz al-Khatib (who resigned), called for the release; Sabra, a leftist and secularist, is himself of Christian (Greek Orthodox) background (also a former Communist), and one of the relatively few Christians supporting the rebels.

A friend of Metropolitan Yazigi, quoted in the Guardian, has suggested that Yazigi has expressed some criticism of the Asad regime and implied that the regime might be behind it.

One point I haven't seen mentioned in most of the Western reporting on this: Bishop Yasigi is the younger brother of the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch,  John X Yazigi, who was elected late last year.

Two Tomb Discoveries (Maybe?) of Famous People

Some grave matters to discuss this morning: not all that serious, mind you, but involving tombs. Neither of these stories is as clear-cut as one might like, but both involve possible discoveries of the graves of people who are, in some circles at least, famous names. Even if both are wishful thinking, it seems to me worth noting.

Nasreddin Hodja
First, Nasreddin Hodja.  A rather brief article under "Archaeology" in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News' website tells us, in its frustratingly brief entirety:
A stone coffin that was removed from an old graveyard many years ago in the central Anatolian province of Eskişehir’s Sivrihisar district during a construction and kept in the library of the Ulu Mosque since then was identified as the coffin of Nasreddin Hodja, a sufi believed to have lived in the 13th century.

Anadolu University Professor Erol Altınsapan said it was a big discovery for the Turkish world.

“We removed the bones of his daughter of Fatma Hatun, in 2003 from a graveyard in Sivrihisar and delivered them to a museum. An area 50 meters away from this grave was reorganized by the municipality years ago and this coffin was uncovered. Examinations showed that the coffin belonged to Nasreddin Hodja,” Altınsapan said. He said Akşehir was known as the birth and death place of Nasreddin Hodja but from now on Sivrihisar should be recorded as the place where he was born and died.
There are a lot of questions here: how was it identified? (Also, when? Apparently after 2003 but when exactly?) One question no Turk, and no one from the larger Turkic world would need to ask, though, is who Nasreddin Hodja (modern Turkish Nasreddin Hoja) was. The real 13th century Sufi whose bones may have been discovered long ago morphed into a folklore hero of the first order, a "wise fool" figure whose seemingly comical actions conceal wisdom or teach lessons. He has become both a vehicle for Sufi teaching and comical folktales from Turkey through Iran and up into Central Asia, and is sometimes considered the origin of the similar "wise fool" figure of Arab folklore, Juha (Joha, Goha). The latter is not normally portrayed as a Sufi, but the tales are similar.

It's like finding the grave of, I don't know, Robin Hood or somebody. I wish the article were a bit moire detailed.

La Rendicion de Granada: Boabdil (left), Ferdinand and Isabella
Second, "Boabdil." Sultan Muhammad XII of Granada, last of the Nasrid rulers of Granada and the last Muslim sovereign in aL-Andalus, was known as Abu ‘Abdullah, and is known in the Spanish-speaking tradition as "Boabdil." (Spaniards also know him as El Chico.) He surrendered his throne and his sultanate to Ferdinand and Isabella on January 2, 1492 at Granada, marking the completion of the Spanish reconquista and freeing up Ferdinand and Isabella's funds to sink a little venture capital in a visionary Genoese sailor's exploration later that year. (Some say Columbus was present at the surrender.)

As the ruler who marked the end of 482 years of Muslim rule in Spain, "Boabdil" has been usually seen as a tragic figure in both the Spanish and Muslim traditions. He crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and lived out his days in exile as a guest of the Marinid Sultan of Morocco. Though some think he died in Tetuan, there is a stronger tradition that he lived until 1533 and died in Fez. Now, as this article in Spain's El Pais notes (article in Spanish), archaeologist Francisco Etxeberria thinks he's found the tomb: in an area outside one of the gates of Fez. He's awaiting permission to dig, so this story, too, has a lot of loose ends.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Modesty Glasses" for Haredi Men?

Okay, I know The New York Daily News is not exactly the greatest source (though after the performance of The New York Post last week, which seemed toi be reporting some alternate universe, it seems downright respectable), but it has a story on what it claims is a new product for haredi or ultra-Orthodox men in Israel: "modesty glasses" that blur their vision so they will not inadvertently have to look at women.

How do they keep from walking in front of buses?

Judiciary, MB in Egypt Approaching Showdown?

Last Friday, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt held demonstrations calling for a "purge" of the judiciary, as the continuing series of confrontations between the courts and the Presidency deepen. Having already dissolved the Lower House of Parliament last year, the courts are considering the constitutionality of the Shura Council, the Upper House now serving as the sole legislature, while other court rulings have put off the Parliamentary elections, originally due this month, until fall at the earliest. The Shura Council is meanwhile debating a new Judiciary Law that would force the retirement of as many as 3,000 judges.

Meanwhile, the government has essentially ignored court rulings against its appointment of the Prosecutor General and another ruling that sought to remove the Prime Minister. Justice Minister Ahmad Mekki has submitted his resignation, though it is unclear if it will be accepted; a Cabinet reshuffle is expected in the next few days. [Update: Mekki reportedly will not resign and Morsi has reportedly suspended the Judicial Authority Law after talks with the judges.]

Along with the Cabinet reshuffle, the government is expected to name new governors for the Governorates; if it seeks to name primarily Brotherhood members, it is likely to deepen the confrontations; it could however signal a willingness to work with the opposition. President Morsi's international travels have yet to provide the sort of deus ex machina solutions to the country's economic problems he seems to have hoped for, and the failure to address the economic crisis further deepens the political stalemate.

Well, It's Different: An Emirati Anime Series

 Just to get the week under way, here's something offbeat from The National: "Meet an Anime Hero Whom Knows Arabic," about the fist home-grown Emirati series in Japanese anime style.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Boston Bombers: Preliminary Thoughts

This has been a wild week, here and elsewhere. Besides the events in Boston, there were ricin-laced letters in Washington, the plant explosion in Texas, and so on. The ricin seems to have been a homegrown US radical, but now that we've learned the identity of the Boston bombers, the talking heads are having a field day talking about their Chechen backgrounds.

There's obviously a lot still to be learned. I think we should learn a bit from the misreporting we've seen already this week. The New York Post printed a photo of alleged "suspects" who were nothing of the sort, and there have been other rushes to judgment, false reports of an arrest, etc.

It may well prove that this act of terror in Boston was indeed a blowback of some sort from the Chechen conflict, and the perpetrators were radicalized by that. But I would also urge caution until we understand their motives better: apparently it's not clear that either of these men ever set foot in Chechnya. Before coming to the US, they live in Kyrgyzstan and Dagestan. The older brother, who traveled to Russia last year, might have gone to Chechnya, but the links to that conflict are still pretty shaky and unclear.

Juan Cole has an intriguing, if also unproven and perhaps premature suggestion: That the father and family were supportive of the Russian crackdown in Chechnya, even perhaps with security, and that this could be a sign of sons' rebelliousness against a father (and yes, he mentions Turgenev). It might explain some of the lingering questions. But my own instinct is still, let's wait and see before we "explain" the bombers' motives.

And, as is often the case, The Onion may have the best observation: "Study: Majority of Americans Not Informed Enough to Stereotype Chechens."

Posts are Coming

Today's posts are coming; a busy day. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Remembering Bourguiba

Tunisia Live offers some reflections by Ali Ben Mabrouk remembering the career of Habib Bourguiba, 13 years after his death and nearly 26 after his deposition. Many young Tunisians are too young to remember the rather mixed legacy of the country's founding father, "Supreme Combatant," and onetime Presdent-for-Life.

The Death of Carmen Weinstein, Head of Egypt's Small Jewish Commuinity

[UPDATE: Zeinobia has photos and coverage of the funeral at Cairo's Adly St. Synagogue today. Apparently an unprecedented media turnout for the tiny Jewish community.] Last weekend, Carmen Weinstein, head of Egypt's Jewish Community Council, died at the age of 82. Her funeral is today; Magda Haroun will succeed her. Though she headed a tiny community today numbering only in the dozens, she sought to preserve the remnants of Cairo's once influential Jewish community, which once number4ed some 80,000. She sought to preserve abandoned synagogues, maintain cemeteries, and keep the memories of the community alive.

Lucette Lagnado at the Wall Street Journal, herself of Egyptian Jewish background, remembers her here. Other appreciations: Ahram Online. the Jerusalem Post, the NYT. You can also find the Jewish Community Council's newsletter Bassatine (named for Cairo's ancient Jewish cemetery) here.

Recently a newly made documentary remembering Cairo's former Jewish community was withdrawn at its opening due to concerns from the security services (though subsequently released). It is a reminder that there are still sensitivities surrounding the issue, perhaps especially today, with an Islamist leadership.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Reminder: MEI Arab Transitions Project Launch Tomorrow

 I've posted about this before, but for those of you in the DC area, a reminder that MEI  is launching its Arab Transitions Project tomorrow with a half-day conference at the National Press Club focusing on Egypt. You can find the program and registration information here.

The Threat of the Arabic Language, or the Crime of Flying While Arab

Okay, since we still have no clue who bombed the Boston Marathon, and despite the fact that it was US tax day and close to the anniversaries of the Oklahoma City bombings and the Waco siege, iconic anniversaries to the local homegrown American fascist wannabes, many Americans are deciding to blame the default villain, Arabs/Muslims. To the point that an American Airlines flight returned to the gaate when passengers freaked because two passengers were (gasp!) speaking Arabic!

(I don't want to add to the xenophobia. but Monday was Kim Il-sung's 101st birthday, and the North Koreans keep threatening to nuke us. Why not freak out if you see someone eating bulgogi and kimchi or listening to K-Pop music?) (NO: Please don't.)

The New York Yankees have put up a Boston Red Sox logo on Yankee Stadium and the country is full of solidarity with Boston, which I share and encourage. But let's also remind people speaking a foreign language is not a crime. We may all feel Bostonian today, but at the same time, Kullina natakallam al-‘Arabiyya.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Morocco Cancels Joint Exercise with US over Sahara Rights Dispute

Morocco has canceled a joint military exercise with the US scheduled to begin tomorrow, in a show of its displeasure over a US announcement that it is considering supporting a proposal to give the United Nations force monitoring the Western Sahara, MINURSO, a human rights oversight capability.

The decision to cancel the African Lion exercise followed a meeting of the Royal Cabinet summoned by the King (link in French).

A Moment of Perspective

Just to put it all in context: at least 55. and perhaps as many as 60, people died from bombings in Iraq yesterday, and in Syria, at least 15 (not counting those who died of shelling, aerial bombardment, etc.)

This is in no way intended to denigrate, disrespect, or diminish the tragedy of those who died in Boston. Every person's death diminishes us all. But we are all worth remembering. It's not a competition: journalists used to joke about "Mexican bus equations" (cynically, one dead American roughly equals 100 dead Mexicans in a bus accident, the latter itself a journalistic cliche).

Of course the US media will cover Boston first; Iraq and Syria are both old news and recurring carnage. But no man is an island, but wherever and whenever men and women die at the hands of their fellow humans, it is an assault upon us all.

About Those Awful Russian Photographers ... and Golf on the Pyramids

Just last month we were all linking to wonderful photos taken by Russian photographers who had climbed to the top of the pyramids, which is illegal despite people having been doing it for oh, 4,500 years (give or take a few); the government screamed, the photographers apologized, and everyone loved the photos.  It's been said that in colonizing the Spanish went where they could find gold, the French and Russians where they could find furs, and the British . . . well, this photo suggests that they went where they could find the ultimate golf tee:
Now, I'm no golfer, though I hope he's using a driver if he hopes to hit the Chephren pyramid. My parents made me take golf lessons as a kid and, like most forced lessons, it soured me on the game forever. But, I wonder if this isn't a picture golfers shouldn't venerate right up there with, of course, the ultimate golfer's dream, hitting a golf ball on the moon: Astronaut Alan Shepard hit two on February 6, 1971:

Monday, April 15, 2013

No Time for Talking Head Speculation

The bombings in Boston are terrorist attacks, but it's far from clear who the perpetrator(s) may be, and between the talking heads on the 24/7 news channels and the compulsive nature of some on social media to express opinions on absolutely everything, the wisest response is to shut up until more is known.

Initial reports suggest the bombs, while coordinated, were not that sophisticated. That might mean a "lone wolf" bomber, but whether home-grown or foreign is unclear. A New York Post report — and that tabloid seems to have been operating in an alternate universe for a while, reporting several stories that proved untrue — even reported a Saudi national was in custody. The Boston Police promptly denied that, and also said no one was in custody. But that and other speculation led to some anti-Arab and anti-Muslim Internet chatter. And considerable concern among Muslims fearing they might be blamed. President Obama was right to warn against jumping to conclusions: many of us remember how the media assumed the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was foreign terrorism, when it turned out to being an apologist for anyone,  that's just American fair play: it was Patriot's Day in Massachusetts, after all. (But also income tax day, which could provoke some anti-tax radicals.) When there's evidence to discuss, the pundits and talking heads will have something to talk about. Until we know more, we should all just shut the [hell*] up.


Fayyad's Fall: Was the West Too Supportive?

The resignation over the weekend of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad came after weeks of political maneuvering and longstanding issues with President ‘Abbas,but the timing is nevertheless unfortunate given the US attempt to restart the peace process, embodied in President Obama's and Secretary of State John Kerry's recent visits to the region.

There's a wide range of commentary out there (links below), but one emerging theme seems to be this: Did the US (and Israel) actually undermine Fayyad's position by their enthusiastic support for his policies? Did this tend to lead to his being seen as "America's man" (and hence Israel's) in the Palestinian Authority?

Certainly from Fayyad's initial appointment in 2007 the US and the West generally have been enthusiastic in their support of Fayyad's economic policies, reform measures, efforts to build infrastructure and civil society, — and quite justifiably so, in my opinion. But as this perhaps laid on a bit too thick, allowing Fayyad's enemies to label him a Western (read: American) puppet or stooge? That seems to be a criticism being put forward by many of Fayyad's supporters.

For a wide range of English-language analysis and opinion on Fayyad's departure: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The National, Arab News, Haaretz (paywall),  972 Magazine.

Arab Spring and When to Use Colloquial Arabic

Duncan Wane has a useful overview at Muftah called "The Many Arabics of Politics", a sort of compendium of how, during the Arab uprisings, the leaders' use of Arabic evolved with attempts to sound more informal as the crisis deepened. In our ongoing discussion of diglossia and classical vs. colloquial Arabic, we've touched on this before (such as when Ben Ali said he was going to speak in colloquial and then didn't). Wane's scorecard: Ben Ali and Mubarak stayed formal mostly to the end; Qadhafi more colloquial (but not his son Saif); Asad the most formal of all; Salih in Yemen and Bashir in Sudan more informal.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Weekend Nostalgia Picture That's Timely (if Nostalgia Can Be Timely)

I know this makes two Nasser pictures in one day, which might suggest I'm more of a Nasser admirer than is in fact the case. But I often post old pictures to start the weekend, and given the week's events and the growing tensions between Copts and Muslims in Egypt, this photo is a reminder that things were once better. 

While Muhammad Morsi did not attend Pope Tawadros II's installation or Christmas services, President Nasser and Pope Kyrillos VI (Pope 1959-1971) got on well, and according to most accounts genuinely liked each other. Here they are in 1965, preparing to lay the cornerstone of the new Coptic Cathedral in Abbasiyya: the same church that came under attack last Sunday.

Wikipedia Now Available in Kabyle

Presumably reflecting the growing Amazigh awakening, Wikipedia is now available in Kabyle, the Berber language of eastern Algeria and one of the most widely spoken. [Note: Link was corrupted; now fixed.]

I'm not sure about the page I linked to as I don't know Kabyle, but I think it has something to do with Kabyle linguist and author Mouloud Mammeri.

Egyptian Presidents, Pakistan, and Hats: Then and Now

You'll recall that when President Morsi received an honorary degree in Pakistan, he got a lot of online comment for this picture:
And then Bassem Youssef's supporters showed up at the court with this:
Well, it seems that Egyptian Presidents visiting Pakistan tend to get photographed wearing unusual headgear.  A hat tip to Sarah Carr for pointing out this wondrous pic from a Nasser visit in 1960:

But you know, somehow I have to say, Nasser actually makes this work. He somehow pulls it off, as Morsi does not. On him it looks good, or perhaps more precisely his smile and his eyes convey the sense of  "I look ridiculous, don't I?" as if it's an inside joke. Nasser, who was never freely elected, knew how to play his audience like a true politician. Morsi, who was freely elected, doesn't get it. Not yet anyway, and perhaps not ever.

A sense of humor might help. I've said before Morsi seems to have been the very rare Egyptian born without one, or perhaps he had it removed. Nasser's eyes say it all. It's a joke to him, and he's sharing it with his countrymen.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Riverbend Returns, At Least Briefly

During the early and middle years of the Iraq war, a female Iraqi blogger who called herself Riverbend became something of an Internet sensation in those pre-social media days. Her blog, Baghdad Burning,  began after the American invasion and continued until she and her family fled to Syria in 2007. Her  blog also was published in two books.

In conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the US occupation of Baghdad, she has posted one update after a six-year silence, which she says will likely be her last. She left Syria before the fighting got too bad, spent a year in another Arab country "nearby," and is now in still another Arab country, angry about the fate of Iraq.

Perhaps the last word we'll hear from a pioneer Middle East blogger. 

Lynch on Whether Western Experts Got the MB Wrong

Yesterday Marc Lynch posted a lengthy piece called "Did We Get the Muslim Brotherhood Wrong? Nope.  But It's Time to Revise Our Assessments," "we" in this case meaning Western experts on Egypt. Certainly many liberal Egyptian critics (and rightwing American critics) have charged that the experts somehow promoted the Brotherhood by overemphasizing its democratic values and commitment to pluralism.

He offers a nuanced response, which  you need to read in full, but here's an excerpt:
When the revolution broke out, then, the Brotherhood had already driven away many of its most politically savvy and ideologically moderate leaders. Its leadership had become dominated by cautious, paranoid, and ideologically rigid conservatives who had little experience at building cross-ideological partnerships or making democratic compromises. One-time reformists such as Essam el-Erian and Mohammed el-Beltagy had made their peace with conservative domination and commanded little influence on the movement's strategy. It is fascinating to imagine how the Brotherhood might have handled the revolution and its aftermath if the dominant personalities on the Guidance Bureau had been Abou el-Fotouh and Habib rather than Shater and Badie -- but we'll never know.

A second part of the answer, I believe, lies in the genuine confusion the revolution produced at every level within the organization. Every part of the Brotherhood's ideology, strategy, and organization had been shaped by the simple reality that victory was not an option.  The Brotherhood wasn't ready when that changed. It has proven unable and unwilling to effectively engage with other trends, and its clumsy rhetoric and behavior has fueled sectarianism, social fragmentation, economic uncertainty, and street violence. The thuggery of some of its cadres reflects either a loss of control at the local level or an inflammatory, reckless strategic choice -- neither of which reflects well. Its decision to seek the presidency after vowing not to do so stands as perhaps its most devastatingly poor decision -- one that shattered confidence in its commitments and made the group responsible for the failed governance it now faces.
Today he's noted the extensive responses his column has received and announced he is planning to put together a response post or roundtable on the subject, which could engage the debate further.

The Copts Get Tough: Church Issues Demands

In the wake of the sectarian conflict in Egyot: a still from a 1960s Egyptian movie: a Muslim sheikh and a Coptic priest on a bicycle built for two. Too bad it's only an old movie.

In the real world, the Coptic Church, sounding tougher than in the recent past, has issued demands of the Presidency:
The Coptic Orthodox Church has identified five demands for President Mohamed Morsy to resolve the sectarian crises that have erupted in various parts of the country.
“We demand the president to apply the law to everyone, ensure safety and security in the entire country, activate fully the principle of citizenship, amend religious discourse, and teach Coptic history in schools,” Father Makary Habib, the personal secretary to Pope Tawadros II, told the Turkish Anadolu News on Wednesday.
“The absence of the law treated Copts as if they were second class citizens,” Habib said, adding that what is happening now is the result of thirty years of sectarian problems under the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.
“We are tired of painkillers,” he said, hinting to informal and customary solutions. “We need concrete steps.”
Though Egyptians marched yesterday against sectarian violence, tensions remain high. Anyone have a supply of bicycles?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Khusus Vandals Weren't Christian, and the Cross Was a Swastika . . .

The sectarian violence that rocked Egypt this past weekend — first at Khusus in Qalyubiyya north of Cairo on Saturday and outside the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo on Sunday — left at least seven dead (five in Khusus and two in Cairo. And what started it all?  As is far too often the case, a combination if rumor and misunderstanding, After youths reportedly painted graffiti on an Islamic institute in Khusus, Muslims claimed that the young people were Christians and they had been painting crosses on the building.

Well, it turns out they weren't even Christian; they're identified as youths named Ahmad and Saleh. And the "cross" was not a cross, but a sort of swastika (actually a reverse swastika), shown below. They reportedly did not even know what the symbol meant.

And yet, seven people are dead.
From Egypt Independent

Damage to the Great Mosque in Aleppo

These photos reportedly show damage to the Great Mosque (or Umayyad Mosque) in Aleppo, reportedly dated yesterday, in the latest evidence of the continuing damage to Syria's artistic heritage:

Morsi Orders Complaints Against Journalists Withdrawn

President Morsi of Egypt has ordered that complaints filed by the Presidency against journalists be withdrawn in the name of freedom of expression. Morsi has been openly criticized by the US over complaints against journalists, threatening Egypt's negotiations with the IMF over its economic situation (somewhat alleviated by a pledge by Qatar to buy $3billion in Egyptian state bonds).

Others have also filed complaints against journalists; Morsi's action presumably only affects those filed by the Presidency. Morsi had sought to deny that he was personally behind the complaints, but his critics noted that they were initiated by the office of the Presidency, which of course he controls.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Aftershocks of the Cathedral Clashes

Many Egyptians seem to be taking a hard look at their growing sectarian polarization in the wake of Sunday's clashes at the Coptic Cathedral in Abbasiyya; despite years of violence, church burinngs and sectarian clashes, the attack on the central shrine of the Coptic Church and seat of the Coptic Pope are perceived as crossing previous red lines.

Pope Tawadros has directly criticized President Morsi over the government's failure to protect the church; he has accused Morsi of a "dereliction of duty." The Pope also canceled his weekly Wednesday sermon.

Others are trying to discern the meaning of the clashes. At Abu Dhabi's The National, Issandr El Amrani blames social fragmentation:
The attack on the Cathedral of St Mark in Cairo on Sunday was in one respect a watershed: never before has what is essentially the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Church been attacked in this manner.

But in most other ways, the sentiment many Egyptians feel is one of dazed, if horrified, familiarity. There simply have been too many such attacks in the recent past.
At Jadaliyya,  Paul Sedra sees the problem as revealing a disappearing concept of citizenship:
I have written before in these pages about Egyptian sectarianism, its modern origins and recent manifestations. The impulse to lay the blame for this sectarianism at the feet of the Muslim Brotherhood is strong and, in my view, not without justification, particularly given the sectarian incitement in which the organization has engaged since its rise to power. Indeed, only two weeks ago, Amnesty International issued a press release directed at Egypt’s rulers whose title read, “Egypt’s Coptic Christians must be protected from sectarian violence.”
But the language of that title points to a tendency that, I would venture, bears nearly as much responsibility for the current violence as the Brotherhood. The notion of “protection” referenced by Amnesty conjures up an image of Coptic Christians in Egypt as an inert, monolithic bloc – a bloc whose leadership is assumed to reside with the Church. What is missing here is the notion of citizenship – the notion of Copts as Egyptian citizens, equal before Egyptian law and the Egyptian state to their Muslim compatriots.
The Atlantic Council posts Wael Eskandar's eyewitness account of the fight at the Cathedral.

Islamist-Coptic violence  was present throughout the entire Mubarak era, but so long as it was isolated in distant villages, many Egyptians could dismiss it as exaggerated accounts by Christians, and remain in denial that Egyptian society has deep divisions on sectarian lines. The Abbasiyya confrontations may have finally ended that denial. The growing Islamist complaints about Egypt's minuscule Shi‘ite population, ludicrous as it seems, suggests that for Salafis at least the "Egyptian" identity is far less important than the Islamic identity; but unlike the tiny Shi‘ite minority, the Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and play a major role in Egyptian society. Denial is increasingly difficult, and now Pope Tawadros has openly laid the responsibility for the lack of security at the Cathedral at the door of the Presidency.

Scandal: Who Ate the President's Camel?

Al-Arabiya is reporting that a camel ceremonially presented to French President Hollande during his visit to Mali, as a gift expressing thanks for France's military intervention in Mali, has been eaten, apparently by the family who were supposed to be caring for it.

More on Arabic Dialects and the "Survival" of Arabic

The Arabic language is a frequent subject of discussion here, including the diglossia issue of colloquial (darija/‘ammiyya/lahja/etc.) versus formal/literary/fusha. Let me add to that the latest posts from the Arabizi blog: "The Fight for Arabic: But Which Arabic?", from which the image at left is taken, and a somewhat related post,. "'Who Says I Won't Be Cool Anymore if I Speak Arabic?': the Fight for Arabic," about a Lebanese effort to encourage Arabic use (and fully recognizing the exceptional case of Lebanon).

Monday, April 8, 2013

Google is celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Piri Reis Map

Google likes to celebrate anniversaries with special logos, and yesterday it chose to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Piri Reis Map, a 16th century Ottoman map attributed to the Ottoman Admiral Piri Reis and one of the very first to show North America. The map itself, published in 1513, was the fgirst Ottoman map to show North America and one of the earlier ones of any nationality; based on a variety of Spanish and Portuguese portolan charts, and other sources, it is quite accurate for its era and has generated a certain amount of fringe theories (such as that Piri must have had extraterrestrial help in mapping Antarctica) which should not detract from the map's genuine contributions. The Ottoman Navy in the 16th century was a powerful force, and its intelligence services appear to have been efficient.

From the map:


Morocco: Rumors About the King's Health

In Morocco, the monarch's heath is a taboo subject for the media: lèse majesté is still very much an offense. But here's an article (in French), from a French-language (and I gather, Paris-based) online site for Moroccan news, that goes ahead and repeats rumors that King Muhammad VI may be ailing.

Some may recall that back in 2009, the government shut down a publication and jailed its editor for publishing speculation on the King's health. Ironically, my post about that was my only previous post speculating about the King's health, but it clearly showed it's a sensitive subject.
For those who don't read French, a lot of the article is wispy and speculative: that the King has put on weight and doesn't look as vigorous as he once did; Spanish reports claiming he'd had surgery secretly in Europe: speculation about lung or kidney or liver ailments, all seemingly without much to back them up. For all I know the King is perfectly healthy, but it's a reminder that when any subject is absolutely taboo, rumors will be circulated.

Deaths at the Cathedral

The weekend sectarian violence between Copts and Muslims in Egypt was the worst in months, with five dead at Khusus in the Delta on Saturday (four Christians, one  Muslim) and two more killed in clashes outside St. Mark's Coptic Cathedral in Cairo's Abbasiyya District yesterday. As is too distressingly common, the fatalities reportedly arose from graffiti on a Muslim institute in Khusus which was blamed on Christians. President Morsi reportedly called Coptic Pope Tawadros II after what is believed to be the first direct attack on the Cathedral, the Pope's seat.

Sectarian tensions have simmered since the revolution (in a sense, since the 1970s), but despite Morsi's periodic assertions of concern, many Christians believe that the Muslim Brotherhood tends to look the other way when the attacks are coming from radical Salafis who are its political allies. But most of the confrontations recently have been in villages on Upper Egypt or the Delta, not at one of Cairo's more prominent landmarks, as was the case this time.