Saturday, January 2, 2010
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
- Marc Lynch's People of the Year 2009: Middle East Edition. While I'm tempted to do something similar I suppose I'd seem to be derivative. Some thoughtful choices, though.
- Greg Gause guest-posting at Lynch's site on the Kuwaiti confidence vote. A good background treatment.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
UPDATE: Sorry, till I read the comments I didn't realize the link was wrong. Now it's fixed.
I therefore refer you there without further comment.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Via a blog I hadn't seen before by a grad student at Indiana, Views from the Occident (which has quite a bit of unexpected stuff on it), an illustrated post on "Cyber Jihadis' Lord of the Rings Obsession." Yes, you read that right. Apparently online jihadi sites are fascinated by the film version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and keep using its imagery in their websites. Sometimes they portray their side using the evil Nazgul (Arabic means "the victorious faction" or "the victorious sect"):
But more often they're the good guys. Here they're elves fighting orcs:
Watch the videos over there too, though some are just plain weird. So's the whole theme. But an intriguing if rather odd observation.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
go straight to 2:40, 5:00, 7:04 to hear the language itself. (Ignore the video's ill-informed claims that this is descended from Aramaic, by the way.) If you speak Greek, there are even lessons at Hki Fi Sanna. This is far more incomprehensible to me than any mainstream Arabic dialect I've ever heard, including the Levantine Arabic from which it presumably derives - a remarkable case study in how much isolation from related varieties speeds up language differentiation.
It doesn't sound anything like Levantine Arabic to me. I can recognize a few words, but it's like trying to understand French if you only speak Spanish. Or maybe even Dutch and English. The link he notes, actually spelled on the website Xki fi Sanna mostly requires Greek, but the transliteration used reminds me a bit of Maltese, itself an Arabic spoken dialect that got separated from the Islamic world and written Arabic and took on a life of its own. There's an Egyptian proverb, azan fi Malta, to give the call to prayer in Malta. An Egyptian teacher once told me it meant they wouldn't understand you, but that's not really it: they would understand the words, since Maltese is an Arabic dialect that has become a separate language, but they're Christians, not Muslims, so they wouldn't heed the call. (Why I know anything at all about Maltese is a long story, not for this post.) Maltese is said to have links to Siculo-Arabic, spoken in Sicily when it was under Arab rule (just as some aspects of Tunisian Arabic allegedly derive from Andalusian Arabic, since a large number of Muslims expelled from Spain ended up in Tunis). (Note added later: in fact the not uncommon Tunisian surname Mourou is actually said to be from Moro.)
Also, if the post isn't recondite enough for you so far: While browsing around at Jabal al-Lughat I found a very interesting post called "Why would 'qaswarah' be claimed to be Ethiopic?" which makes the above discussion seem mainstream. Still, linguists among you may find it intriguing, as I did, though in fact no one can really comment who doesn't know 1) Qur'anic Arabic, 2) the Qur'anic tafsir tradition, 3) Ge'ez (Old Ethiopic), and 4) the Old South Arabian writing system. I don't qualify (okay on one and limited on two, dead no on three and four). Among personal acquaintances my count comes up to precisely one, who's now retired, and perhaps one other (yes on Old South Arabian, not sure about Ge'ez, and also retired), though worldwide there are doubtless hundreds (well, maybe dozens) who fill the bill, including Lameen Souag. Even if you aren't qualified to critique the argument, it's an interesting read.
Friday, October 9, 2009
The U.S. administration is furious over Israeli incitement against President Barack Obama, Democratic congressmen close to Obama told an Israeli source who returned from a visit to Washington this week.I know, it's a classic Washington no-named-source background leak/spin, but it also suggests that some folks "close to" the Administration are sending a message via "an Israeli source" (governmental? political? journalistic? academic?) that they don't appreciate some of what's been coming out of the Israeli governement lately. One exhibit for the prosecution: this piece by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in The New Republic that manages to link the Goldstone Report with Ahmadinejad and Holocaust denial.
The congressmen even hinted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been personally involved.
The source, who met in Washington with administration officials and members of Congress, told Haaretz he was stunned by the level of anger there over attempts to portray Obama to the American public as an enemy of Israel because of his efforts to restart peace talks and freeze settlement construction. "There are people here who are playing with fire by damaging our relationship with the U.S.," the source said.
As blogger Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic noted on the Oren piece:
I'm not sure that this is the specific piece Akiva Eldar's story is aimed at: but it's a good example of the tone of some pretty official sounding Israeli criticism (e.g. by the Ambassador to Washington) that if not aimed directly at the US Administration, is at least rather inflammatory. I know Oren was an IDF spokesman during the Gaza war, doing reserve duty, but he isn't that anymore, he's the Ambassador to the United States. I've admired his historical works (the one on the US and the Middle East and the one on the 1967 war), but this is flat out propaganda. It reminds one of the old Victorian quip (Charles M. Doughty quotes it in the opening of Travels in Arabia Deserta) that "a diplomat is sent to lie abroad for his country," but come on.
I thought ambassadors were supposed to smoothe over rifts, not inflame them. And I thought they were supposed to speak to the broadest number of citizens in the countries to which they have been appointed, not provide inflammatory rants to the already-persuaded. But this Michael Oren piece in TNR abandons any pretense of diplomatic balance.
The premise of Oren's piece is that Israel faces a new Nazism represented by Ahmadinejad and Holocaust deniers but, to an even greater extent, by the South African liberal, Richard Goldstone, and the United Nations. Oren seems to be arguing that Gaza was a war of survival for the Jewish state and that Israel had no choice but to launch a war that killed, by one conservative Israeli count, 320 children, destroyed 4,000 homes, and up to 80 government buildings. Even if one is sympathetic to the horrific barrage of Hamas rockets that Israeli citizens endured (and what decent human being wouldn't be?) - every single rocket being a war crime - it helps no one to use language this extreme or to distort history in this manner.
Useful info I think, and valuable data.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
- The second installment of our Viewpoints series on "The State of the Arts in the Middle East." Summary at the link; full text here.
- "The Nightmare Scenario in Afghanistan," an op-ed by William Maley, MEI's Marvin Weinbaum, and Rani D. Mullen, originally appeared in ForeignPolicy.com.
- "Kuwait Looks Towards the East: Relations with China," a new Policy Brief by Khizar Niyazi. Summary at the link; full Policy Brief here (PDF).
- Podcast: Roby C. Barrett, "Gulf Security and the Procurement Future: Challenges and Issues." Podcast begins to play when you click the link (use earphones in an office).
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Via Zenobia,who seems to have a real interest in the exiled royal family and has some 43 videos on various Egyptian historical subjects. Here are some key ones:
The initial communiqué on July 23, 1952, the first announcement. Sadat made it so I assume this is he. (Audio only.)
Muhammad Naguib's first address to Egypt:
- King Farouq's Funeral, Rome, 1965:
Capture of the Egyptian warship Ibrahim in 1956 Suez War:
Inauguration of Cairo Tower in 1961:
She also has a whole series of videos of King Farouq in exile. If that sounds interesting, go and enjoy. I always figured Farouq to be, as he himself seemed to acknowledge, about as powerless in the end as the Kings in the pack of cards, but for those interested, there are a lot of videos at her site.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
- Podcasts of recent events at MEI: On August 27 (yesterday), US Ambassador to Kuwait Deborah Jones gave a briefing on Kuwait; I attended this one and she was pretty forthcoming, especially in the Q&A. Also, from August 19, Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha on "Development Challenges in Pakistan." Podcasts begin to play when you click on the link.
- Dana Moss, a Libya specialist at WINEP, has some thoughts on Qadhafi's 40th anniversary of the revoloution and his forthcoming visit to the UN. (I'll post about the whole Englewood, New Jersey controversy at some point. Qadhafi setting up his tent in Jersey is just too good to leave alone.)
- A friend and reader passes along this article on the Al-Ghosaibi family's claim that they have been the victims of a massive fraud by a Dubai bank. From the Financial Times.
- The same reader also recommends this peace by Hazem El-Beblawi, "Political Identity and Economic Interest." Also worth a read.
- Blogger Rob at Arabic Media Shack, which has had some interesting posts I've linked to in the past, has announced he's packing it in. Sorry to see him go.
- Just when there's at least a faint rustling that a Lebanese government might actually be formed sometime in the next few weeks, the fine Lebanon-watcher Qifa Nabki warns that he'll be returning to Harvard and his doctoral studies after a year in Lebanon, and may not be blogging as heavily. I hope he at least checks in when a Cabinet is formed. Of course, it's already been three months since the elections, so he might have plenty of time to get settled. (Seriously, as this Daily Star article notes today, there's concern now that President Michel Suleiman's plans to travel to New York for the UN General Assembly in late September could be jeopardized if there's no Cabinet by then.)
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
[For those who don't speak Milspeak, COMISAF COIN Guidance means "Commander, International Security Assistance Force, Counterinsurgency Guidance." Okay?]
Friday, August 21, 2009
- In-House business first. I've already mentioned MEI's latest Viewpoints collection on the 30th anniversaries of major events of 1979, but I'll link to it again anyway. Full text in PDF here. Also, a couple of other additions to our web publication series: Alex Vatanka on "Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani's Public Greeting." It first appeared in Jane's Intelligence Weekly. Alex, an Adjunct Scholar at MEI, is an Editor at Jane's. Also up is a commentary that originally appeared in The New York Times by Hossein Askari and Trita Parsi, "Throwing Ahmadinejad a Lifeline." Trita is also one of our adjuncts.
- Steven A. Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations has a "Contingency Planning Memorandum" on the prospects of instability in Egypt due to the anticipated transition of power; the cover material and summary is here and the full report, "Political Instability in Egypt" in PDF is here. Obviously tied to the Mubarak visit. And related: a post-visit post by Cook at the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog including an extended comment by Michele Dunne.
- The Brookings Institution's Doha Center (everyone seems to have one these days) has produced a "Policy Briefing" called "Pakistan's Madrassas: The Need for Internal Reform and the Role of International Assistance."
- From Carnegie's Middle East Center, Paul Salem comments on "Fatah Congress Strengthens Abu Mazen and Rejuvenates the Movement."
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
In one sense, there's not that much new here. Back in March, Reporters Without Borders issued a report naming the 12 countries that were the worst "Internet Enemies": seven (Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) were in the greater Middle East. (The other five were China, North Korea, Burma, Vietnam and Cuba. Great company.) On the other hand, the evidence presented in the latest report, compared to a 2007-2008 study by the same group, suggests the filtering is intensifying. The summary of "Regional Trends" deserves quoting extensively:
Internet censorship in the Middle East and North Africa is on the rise, and the scope and depth of filtering are increasing. Previous ONI tests revealed that political filtering was limited in some countries, but 2008-2009 results indicate that political censorship is targeting more content and is becoming more consistent. For example, previous tests found that Yemen temporarily blocked political Web sites in the run-up to the 2006 presidential elections, and Bahrain did the same ahead of parliamentary elections. However, 2008-2009 testing revealed that filtering in these two countries has been consistently extended to include several Web sites run by opposition groups or news Web sites and forums which espouse oppositional political views.The idea that web publication must comply with publishing laws intended for the print media is a reminder that many regimes just don't get it yet: or hope to be able to control new media with the ease they controlled the old. Some will succeed, at least for a while. One of the first points most regimes make to support their Internet filtering is that they must block out the outrageously explicit Western pornography that is easily found on the Internet. That wins over the social conservatives, the religious establishment, and probably a great many ordinary citizens. But once the filters are in place it seems to be the political sites, the critics-of-the-regime sites, that are blocked first, along with the pornography.
In the meantime, countries that have been filtering political content continue to add more Web sites to their political blacklists. For example, filtering in Syria was expanded to include popular sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon, as well as more Web sites affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood Kurdish opposition groups. Another example is Tunisia, which added more political and oppositional content as well as other apolitical sites such as the OpenNet Initiative and Global Voices Online.
Social filtering is also increasing and is catching up with the continuously growing social Web. Most of the Arab countries were found to have started to block Arabic-language explicit content that was previously accessible. Interestingly, filtering of Arabic-language explicit Web content in the Middle East and North Africa is usually not as fast as that of other languages. ONI’s investigation revealed that the US-based commercial filtering software used by most of the ISPs in the region does not pick up Arabic content as comprehensively as content in English.
Increases in filtering are the norm in the Middle East and North Africa, and unblocking is the exception. Of the few examples of unblocking of Web sites is Syria’s restoration of access to Wikipedia Arabic, Morocco’s lifting of a ban on a few pro-Western Sahara independence Web sites, and Libya’s allowing access to some previously banned political sites. Sudan’s filtering of gay and lesbian, dating, provocative attire and health-related sites was also more limited compared to previous test results.
Another regional trend is that more Arab countries are introducing regulations to make Web publishing subject to press and publication laws and requiring local Web sites to register with the authorities before they can go live. In Jordan, for example, the country’s Legislation Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office issued in September 2007 a decision that Web sites and electronic press must comply with the provisions of the publications and publishing law and fall under the oversight of the Publications and Publishing Department, which announced it would exercise immediate supervision and censorship.
Another example is Saudi Arabia, which announced in May 2009 plans to enact legislation for newspapers and Internet Web sites that will require Saudi-based Web sites to get official licenses from a special agency under the purview of the Ministry of Information. Bahrain already has a similar system that requires local Web sites to register with the Ministry of Information.
There are many overlapping issues here, and I'll leave it to the professional monitors to spell them out in greater detail. But it seems to me unlikely that, in the long run, a country that wants to be an integral part of the global economy is going to be able to block or filter Intenet access forever. Blocking pornography is one thing: the porn sites are hardly likely to be trying all sorts of hacker tricks to break through the firewalls, since there's not much profit in it. But the political sites are another matter. Despite all the coverage of the "Great Firewall of China," Chinese dissidents do get read. And during the Iranian uprising after the elections, all sorts of use of proxies were being passed around through Twitter and other media. I barely understand the technology involved, but the more versatile and flexible a medium, the likelier it is you can evade the censors/blockers.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Since I've previously posted on diglossia and the differences in Arabic dialects, and I know some of my readers have an interest in the subject, let me say that the site is worth a look. It has separate listings for different dialects. I'm just beginning to explore it and will note any interesting entries.