A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Showing posts with label Interesting Links. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Interesting Links. Show all posts

Saturday, January 2, 2010


It being the last weekend of the holiday season I am averse to posting, but the rush to judgment on Yemen requires some kind of sane assessment. Fortunately, Marc Lynch has provided us with one, and it's one I can endorse in almost all its points, so I can enjoy the last gasp of the holidays. I have a deadline this week.

Monday, December 21, 2009

After Hariri's Damascus visit

Sa‘d Hariri finally took the road to Damascus yesterday, ostensibly to offer condolences on the death of Majd al-Asad but also because it was expected of him. Thoughtful comments as usual from Qifa Nabki, while Josh Landis posts on Hariri's poor Arabic.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Some Links for the Snowed-In

I don't post on weekends normally, but if you, like me, are anywhere on the eastern seaboard of the US north of Florida, then you, like me, are snowed-in by a record snow. Somewhere between one and two feet in the DC area, and still winding down. So I thought I'd post a few links from recent days for those who can't get out of their homes yet. The only plow my street has seen was last night, and we've had 24 hours of steady snow since then. So in the meantime:
  • I haven't posted some recent MEI podcast links: the whole list is here; some good presentations, among them Tom Lippmann on Saudi Arabia, former hostage John Limbert and Trita Parsi (separately) on Iran, Claude Salhani on the Bush years, William Polk on Israel, Palestine, and the US.
That should keep you busy till the plows come. (For those of you lucky enough to be in the Middle East, never mind.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Surfing with Nasrallah"

Following the earlier post about the blog Blogging the Casbah, I've received a comment from co-blogger Abu Guerilla that not all of their posts are necessarily all that serious, and referring to the post last July entitled "surfing with Nasrallah."

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

Jihadis and the Lord of the Rings

Sometimes stuff comes up that doesn't seem to fit in any of my categories. This one, discovered via The Arabist, is one of those.

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

Cypriot Maronite Arabic and Other Cool Stuff

Tired of the same old posts about politics? Okay, this is for those of you who are interested in the arcane stuff. We've talked a few times about diglossia and Arabic dialects. The excellent linguistics blog Jabal al-Lughat, written by Lameen Souag, an Algerian studying African languages at SOAS, had a post recently (well, last month, I'm late to the party) with references to Cypriot Maronite Arabic, three words I'm not used to seeing together. I knew there was a fairly substantial Maronite Christian community in Cyprus, but did not know that elements of this community have retained a spoken Arabic dialect. What's more, he links to a YouTube video called "Sanna" (from lisanna, "our language"). The main narrative is in Greek, with English subtitles, so note his comments first on what to listen to:
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

Eldar on US Congressional Anger; Oren's New Republic Piece

Okay, this is quoting a story that is clearly classic Washington-style spin with lots of anonymous sources, but Haaretz' Akiva Eldar is a fine reporter (and no great friend of the Netanyhahu Government), and for what it's worth, it's at least worth noting: read the whole thing, but here's the gist:
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.

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.
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.

As blogger Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic noted on the Oren piece:

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.

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.

Women in Algerian Politics

The Moor Next Door — the best English-language blog on Algeria and the Maghreb, I think — has linked to some interesting data on women in Algerian politics: data tables on women in Parliament and spreadsheet data on the same.

Useful info I think, and valuable data.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Edition of Arab Reform Bulletin

The Carnegie Endowment has the October issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin up. As usual, it covers quite a bit of ground: Egypt and the Swine Flu, Tunisia's elections, and much more. And the Arabic version is here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MEI on YouTube: The Debut

The Middle East Institute has been podcasting its various events for some time, and is now beginning to post videos as well, on YouTube. The YouTube channel is here, and our first offering is of Qubad Talabani talking on August 11, though we've just gotten it up. I had linked to the podcast earlier, but now you can see Talabani talking about Iraqi Kurdistan after the recent Kurdish elections. (Yes, he's the son of Jalal.) I won't embed them all on the blog, but am doing so with this one to lure you in. It's in six parts (that pesky YouTube 10 minute rule) but I hope that's not too much of a deterrent.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Recent MEI Events

An in-house roundup (more outside links later, if I have any), catching up with some recent links to MEI publications and podcasts:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Films and Audio on Egypt in the 50s and 60s

Some Egyptian multimedia links, both audio and video, that may interest my fellow old Cairo hands (though more for the Arabic speakers, though the video may work for non-Arabists), all from Zenobia at Egyptian Chronicles: and most of them from her YouTube channel.

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

Unintended Consequences: Iranian Sanctions and Google Ads

An interesting post by a tech columnist at Foreign Policy: due to US sanctions, Google Ads don't appear on Iranian social news sites: as a result potential income is denied to the very people seeking to change the regime the sanctions are directed against. The headline — "Iran's Twitter Revolution Won't Succeed Because of US Sanctions" — probably overstates the case a bit, but it's a reminder that sanctions are a coercive tool that can often hurt the very people who need to be encouraged.

Friday, August 28, 2009


I'm tired of always calling this "Weekend Reading," and my daughter starts fourth grade Monday so we've been talking about the imminent return of homework, so I think I'll call it that for now. Should you feel the need to spend still more time reading about the Middle East, here are some items:

Doings on Other Blogs

A couple of notes from the Middle East blogosphere:

  • 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

Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

I've said it before, but with things escalating rapidly in Afghanistan, it's worth repeating that Abu Muqawama (Andrew Exum, mainly) has been looking at counterinsurgency doctrine, Afghanistan, and their interactions intensively. He's your best source, in my personal opinion, but if you're not reading him, you're not familiar with the situation. (Unless you're there.) His recent conversations with other strategists about the subject is important, and he also has General McChrystal's new "COMISAF COIN Guidance" on Afghanistan, and his own comments on it.

[For those who don't speak Milspeak, COMISAF COIN Guidance means "Commander, International Security Assistance Force, Counterinsurgency Guidance." Okay?]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekend Reading

I have to think of a clever title for this Friday afternoon links collection that I've been calling "Weekend Reading." Meanwhile, here's the latest installment. And since I've had comments about some of the linked reports, I'll re-emphasize that I'm neither endorsing their arguments nor, in many cases, have I even read much of them beyond the summaries. I'm just keeping my readers informed of what the think tank world is up to.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More Mubarak

The Project on Middle East Democracy's POMED Wire has a roundup of coverage and opinion pieces related to the Mubarak visit, including some I'd missed.

More Bad News on Internet Freedom in MENA

A report at Menassat citing new report showing that Internet filtering is actually increasing in the Middle East North Africa region. The report itself is available in HTML here and as a PDF here. A press release/FAQ is here.

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.

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.

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.

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

New Site on Arabic Dialects and Slang Terms

Via Arabic Media Shack and an article in The National, I learn of a website with a new, online dictionary of Arabic dialect and slang, called mo3jam.com. The site is called mu‘jam (معجم), the traditional word for lexicon. There's also an English language homepage, here, though most of the user-contributed entries are in Arabic, and I suspect that the site won't be of much interest to those who don't know at least some Arabic.

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.