A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, September 30, 2013

Assassination Attempt Against Coptic Bishop of Minya

Coptic Bishop Anba Makarious, General Bishop of Minya, escaped an apparent assassination attempt earlier today, one of the highest-ranking Christian figures to come under fire in the sectarian violence that has torn Upper Egypt since August. Bishop Makarious was reportedly visiting a church in the Abu Qurqas region of Minya Governorate when his car was fired upon; he and his driver escaped unharmed.

Minya Governorate has one of the largest populations of Copts in Upper Egypt and is also a hotbed of political Islamists; church burnings in Minya were reported after the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in August.

More Warming with Iran

While Washington is preoccupied with the question of a government shutdown, the US-Iran thaw continues apace, with President Rouhani suggesting a restoration of airline flights, and other elements in the Iranian power structure signing on to the thaw. Robin Wright brings us up to date at USIP's Iran Primer.

Bouteflika Comes Back Fighting

Algerian President Bouteflika chaired a Cabinet meeting  yesterday. (Link is in French.)  The primary reason this is news is that it is his first this year.

You may recall that Bouteflika suffered a stroke in April. There were widespread rumors he was in a coma and periodic rumors he had died. The usual photos of the President in the hospital in France did not appear.  Officially he was said to have suffered only a "mini-stroke" or "transient ischemic attack." But later the media began referring to a "cardiovascular accident," suggesting something more serious. He reappeared in June, and then returned to Algeria in July. He made few public appearances and speculation has been rife about the succession. Before the stroke, there had been signs Bouteflika was planning to run for a fourth term in elections next April. The President, now 76 and the few surviving fighters from the war of independence still active in politics, clearly has been out of the political center for months now.

Until this month, when Bouteflika has come back fighting. On September 11, he reshuffled the Cabinet, naming new Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice. This has been widely interpreted as reinforcing his own supporters, in order to either give him a fourth term if he chooses to run, or giving him control over the succession.

Even more importantly, he has reportedly moved to strengthen his allies in the Army command against the powerful head of the Army's Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), the main military intelligence wing, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Mediene. Mediene, usually known by his nom de guerre Toufik,  has led an anticorruption campaign that jas targeted some of the President's allies. According to some reports, he has taken the Police Judiciaire and other agencies and put them directly under the Army Commander,  a Presidential ally.

The indefatigable Algerian blogger Kal at The Moor Next Door offers a summary of the moves that Bouteflika has been making and also has prepared this chart of the reported changes in the DRS, which is copyright by him:

It's still far from clear whether Bouteflika will seek a fourth term or will merely seek to ensure that his allies control the succession, but the wave of moves since September 11 appear to at least confirm that reports of Bouteflika's political death were as premature as reports of his physical death.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Belated Weekend Nostalgia Photo

Boxer Muhammad Ali (ex-Cassius Clay) and Nasser, 1960s?. [Commenter below's link to similar picture says "circa 1964."]

To the best of my knowledge no one has yet claimed the boy is a young General Sisi. (Though I'm sure someone will.)

Hat tip to Paul Sedra on Facebook for this one.

Sudan: Over 50 Dead So Far

The demonstrations continue in Sudan, and the death toll has reportedly passed 50. An Amnesty International Report adds:
Local sources and activists have put the figure much higher, in excess of 100, and at the time of writing the two organizations were still receiving reports of shootings and excessive use of force.
 Apparently the authorities are using live ammunition and lethal force against unarmed demonstrators.

No Handshake, But a Phone Call

So President Obama and President Rouhani have spoken by telephone, the first direct contacts between a US and Iranian leader since 1979.

That's a good sign, but 20 years after the Oslo Accords it is worth remembering that talking to each other, while a precondition for peace, is not in itself peace. Iran's new leader is a lot more personable than his execrable predecessor, but there are still huge gaps between the two sides.

Obama signed off with Khoda Hafez. Let's hope so.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Metalworking Shopkeepers in Cairo Suqs Using Hebrew words in a Private Language?

Here's a wild and wonderful story if it can be borne out:  Jacky Hugy for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse writing on "The Secret Language Of Cairo's Jewelry Merchants," quoting research by Hebrew University Professor Gabriel M. Rosenbaum on a secret language used by jewelry merchants in the Khan al-Khalili and other jewelry suqs in Egyptian cities. He thought he recognized a few Hebrew terms when they were speaking in a private patois among themselves (and he's a Professor of Arabic so he wouldn't be fooled by cognates), and claims to have traced it back to the Middle Ages, when most of the metalworkers were Karaite Jews, and apparently used Hebrew jargon as a secret language. Some of the evidence cited:
Thus, for example, in market jargon the word yaffet means "good" or "nice," similar to its meaning in modern Hebrew. The merchants use it to share information about clients who look wealthy or give their opinion of a good product. “The opposite of yaffet is ashfoor,” says Rosenbaum, “a word whose root is unknown, and which does not suggest a Hebrew parallel.”
Some of the merchants use the word zahub, whose origin is the Hebrew word zahav for gold, to refer to one Egyptian lira. When they want to hint to a colleague that he better get rid of a customer, the merchants tell him halakh, or ahalakh, which sounds like halah, the word for "go" in modern Hebrew. Others use the word admoon. It means an "old tool," or a piece of jewelry that was repaired, and that the merchant polished up and shows in his display window as if new. Its origin is in the Hebrew word kadmon, which means "ancient" or "old." In colloquial Egyptian Arabic, the Hebrew letter kof (k) is pronounced as an alef (a silent letter), and thus kadmon became the term admon among Egyptian merchants. The possessive word they use, shal, is also taken from Hebrew. Shali means "in my possession" or "with me," while shalakh means "in your possession" or "with you." But the greatest influence is in the realm of numbers. The merchants and metalsmiths in Egypt’s marketplaces actually count in Hebrew: echad (1), shnayin (2), shlosha (3), shloshin (30), shishin (60), shefin (70), shmonin (80) and so on.
It's credible enough; I know some folks in the market will use various code words, or Nubian, or in one case I heard of Swahili, to talk without their customers' understanding. I rather doubt that today's mostly Muslim and Christian shopkeepers are aware they're using Hebrew words and numbers, though.

Karaite Jews were a sect of Judaism, still found in Israel and a few pockets elsewhere, who accepted the Torah but rejected the Talmud and were once highly prominent in many Middle Eastern societies.

Kerry-Zarif Meeting: At Least They're Smiling

Well, they're both smiling.  Let's hope that's a good sign.

Today's Kerry-Zarif Meeting Could Be Far More Important Than Any Photo-Op Handshake

The expected meeting today between US Secretary of State John Kery and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is the first such meeting in several years and the first in a much longer period with any chance (however remote) of making any substantive progress. No one can know what its real chances may be at this time. Both sides suspect (and have historical reasons to suspect) the other's motive, sincerity, and intentions. Both sides, if perceived as conceding too much, would face a political firestorm at home, in the Iranian case, one rooted in the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

But what is abundantly clear is that there are opportunities at least hinted at, that we have not seen in many years. And that if a breakthrough is going to take place it will be through the Kerry-Zarif meeting (perhaps the first of a new round of negotiations?) and not through some imagined summit between the two countries' Presidents,

The huge amount of media hype on Tuesday, when Presidents Obama and Rouhani were at the UN at the same time, over whether the two men would meet, or at least shake hands, or occupy the same room together, led to a disappointment, But high-profile handshakes, however great as photo-ops, do not resolve conflicts of longstanding, ridden with suspicion and recrimination. Neither side trusts the other, and each has its reasons. Diplomatic process will depend on confidence-building, tenacity, determination, and minds that are cautiously open but not gullible. And the ability of each to reach a deal they can sell domestically is far from certain. But this will matter far more than an Obama-Rouhani handshake could have.

Interestingly, Zarif has been posting his travel diary to his Facebook page, and the US Institute for Peace is translating the entries into English. That part, at least, is something new and different.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sudan Erupts

"The People Want the Fall of the Regime.": "Al-Sha‘b yurid isqat al-nizam"  was the iconic chant of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, and now it's being heard in Khartoum and Omdurman. Sudan has endured three days of worsening demonstrations in the wake of a move to lift government subsidies on fuel prices. 

The death toll is rising; the last estimate I saw was 10 dead but that is likely a low estimate. Today the Internet was shut down, at least for a while.

So is Sudan belatedly having its Arab Spring moment? Actually it had demonstrations back in 2011, and has continued to face challenges created by its loss of South Sudan and its persistent economic problems.

Questioning the Tunisian "Sexual Jihad" in Syria Story

You've probably already seen the stories, all over the media, claiming that Tunisian Islamist women are traveling to Syria to wage "sexual jihad" by providing comfort to jihadi fighters in Syria. Even the Tunisian Interior Minister has confirmed the story, saying his Ministry is blocking such travel. But Sana Saeed questions the bona fides of the whole story:

Unfortunately for what seems to be that blind spot people have when it comes to stories on Muslims and sex, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of Tunisian female warriors going to fight a holy sex war.
Sucks, I know.
Despite the lack of clear evidence of a sex war pandemic, this hasn’t stopped news media outlets all over the world from grabbing, expanding, and running with this story.
She links the story to earlier wild stories about fatwas on sexual issues and notes that the evidence remains scanty and in some cases denied by those being quoted:
In December, Lebanese news channel Al Jadeed reported that hardline and popular Salafi scholar Shaykh Mohamad Al Arefe, a loud and inciting opponent of the Syrian regime, had issued a fatwa (a non-binding religious opinion) allowing the gang rape of non-Sunni Syrian women by rebels. Not only did the scholar vehemently deny expressing any such opinion, on Twitter and in later sermons (both links in Arabic), but the story was debunked by the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah.
On March 27, 2012, the Pan-Arab news site Al Hayat, published a piece discussing the apparent crisis of young Tunisian girls and what was being referred to as “Sexual Jihad.” It claimed that the impetus behind this was another fatwa from Al Arefe, in which he urged young women to go in engage in the so-called sexual Jihad by offering themselves to the rebels. There was, however, no proof of this fatwa and those close to Al Arefe also thoroughly denied the cleric had ever made such a ridiculous statement.
Usually most of these stories that seem to have no clear  sourcing are not endorsed by the country in question's Interior Minister, admittedly, but Saeed's takedown of the story seems to have some solid points.

"The Rising Profile of Algerian Manga"

Here's a piece by M. Lynx Qualey at Arabic Literature (in English) with a title that grabs attention: "The Rising Profile of Algerian Manga."  While comics and graphics novels are popular throughout the Arab world, Japanese-style manga is not widespread, though she also links to an example from the Emirates. My own familiarity with the genre is limited but my daughter is a fan of both manga and its animated relative, anime. And I noted previously on this blog that the UAE has also experimented with anime.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Government to Delay MB Dissolution Until Appeals Exhausted

The Egyptian government will not implement the court-ordered dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood organization until the appeals process is complete.

This would seem to delay but not avoid a potential new outbreak of violence.

Fouzi El-Asmar, 1937-2013

Facebook Profile Photo
Fouzi El-Asmar, Palestinian and Israeli Arab author of To Be An Arab in Israel (1975) and much else besides, journalist, academic,  and activist, has died. Born in Haifa, he eventually became a prominent dissident voice among Israeli Arabs. With allies such as Israel Shahak and Uri Avnery, he nonetheless spent time in Israeli prisons and eventually settled in the United States, teaching and writing.  Magda Abu-Fadil remembers him at the Huffington Post,

Monday, September 23, 2013

Egyptian Farmer Arrested for Labeling His Donkey "Al-Sisi"

This story would seem to imply that despite the recent proliferation of Sisi sandwiches and other things  (recently, Sisi chocolates have been reported as well), perhaps not everyone is drinking the Sisi brand Kool-Aid(TM)?

Longtime readers may recall that back in the SCAF era, a Member of Parliament quoted a folk saying, "we let the donkey get away while holding on to the saddle" (نترك الحمار ونمسك بالبردعة). He was accused of calling Field Marshal al-Tantawi, Sisi's predecessor, a donkey, though he hadn't really done so exactly. (And the accusation got more publicity than the original quote, just as I imagine this photo would not have gone around the world if the man had not been arrested.)

Himar (donkey) is a standard insult in Egypt.

UPDATED: I just noted the donkey has a sidearm.

A Little Humor for Mondays

I've quoted the satirical Pan-Arabian Enquirer at least once before. This time, they talk about a guy you've probably met a few times: "Returning expat wows hometown with fluent grasp of about three Arabic words."  It deserves quoting in full, and the last line is a masterpiece:
DOHA: A British expatriate has reportedly enthralled friends and family in his hometown with an impressive display of language skills picked up since living in the Middle East.
Doha-based property sales executive Timothy Vadger returned to Daventry in the English Midlands on Thursday for a week-long visit, and has since been welcomed as a cosmopolitan superstar for his grasp of Arabic vocabulary.
According to sources, the 26-year-old has been casually dropping words such as ‘shukran’ and ‘halas’ into conversations as if by accident. Although initially causing some nervousness among the crowds in his local pub, such efforts have resulted in wide-eyed awe from his former schoolmates, many of whom have been conjuring images of Vadger riding across a desert atop a camel and swathed in billowing robes rather than sitting in a traffic jam in a Toyota Corolla and sweating inside a grey Top Man suit.
“Hey Steve, thanks for the pint, shukran! Oh sorry, just a bit of Arabic slipping out there, can’t help it!” was one of the first examples of his bilingual prowess to cause a gasp among regulars. Having later mesmerised his growing audience with a detailed analysis of how and where you can drink alcohol in Doha, Vadger is believed to have followed this up with a wholly inaccurate description of the Arab Spring in an attempt to impress a nearby table of girls.
“Basically, the Egyptians were totally halas’ed with Gaddafi and were, like, yalla, you need to quit, fattoush?”
 Fattoush, indeed.

Banning the Brotherhood, Again

The Muslim Brotherhood has survived for 85 years despite being formally illegal for much of that time, including the entire period 1954-2011, though it elected members of Parliament (as independents) in the late Mubarak years. Before Nasser's 1954 crackdown the British instigated a ban in 1942 during World War II and the King banned it again in 1948. In other words, Egyptian secularists who feel that today's court decision, which "bans the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood organization and its non-governmental organization and all the activities that it participates in and any organization derived from it," will mean the decisive end of the organization are unlikely to be proven right.

Even without the history of the Brotherhood as a tightly organized underground body which has survived for decades in the shadows, today's decision will be appealed. The case, in fact, was not brought by the government but by the leftist Tagammu‘ Party.

Nor is it made clear in the decision whether "any organization derived from it" includes the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political wing. If the FJP is banned from running in Parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood will have no incentive to try to find a modus vivendi with the military backed government. Up to now some have speculated the FJP may be allowed to run candidates, and today's ruling is unclear on the fate of the FJP.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Nostalgia for Rouhani's Visit: Nasser al-Din Shah's European Tours

As a new Iranian President comes to the United Nations, it may be worth remembering the foreign travels of an earlier Iranian leader, the Qajar ruler Nasser al-Din Shah (1831-1896; Shah 1848-1896). Something of a Westernizer (but by no means a liberal), the Shah visited Europe in 1873, when Queen Victoria gave him the Order of the Garter,  and he presented her with the Order of Aftab. He visited Europe again in 1878, when he attended a Royal Navy Fleet Review, and again in 1889. (He was assassinated in 1896.)

His diary of his 1873 tour was even published, and you can find it online here.
Shahanshah Meets Queen-Empress

At Royal Albert Hall with Prince & Princess of Wales

Victoria wearing Order of Aftab, as Empress of India

Avner Cohen on Israel and Chemical Weapons

A few days ago I noted the growing discussion of Israel's chemical weapons capabilities. Avner Cohen, best known for his work on Israel's nuclear program and Shane Mason now weigh in at Foreign Affairs, arguing that Israel's policy of "ambiguity" on nuclear and other WMD issues may be outmoded. An excerpt:
Although the attempt to bring Israel into the debate stems from clear political motivations, it also highlights the uncomfortable, indeed problematic, nature of Israel’s evasion on all matters relating to WMD. Israel’s refusal to acknowledge its chemical weapons program only further underscores what has been clear for some time: ambiguity on WMD has become a political burden for Israel, particularly as it tries to rally the world behind preventing a nuclear Iran. Its unwillingness to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention -- a stance it takes largely for the sake of opacity, since it has no use for chemical weapons whatsoever -- undermines its security interests and intensifies its international isolation.

Although neither confirmed nor denied by the Israeli government, it is widely presumed that, at one time in its history, Israel possessed chemical weapons. Israel likely launched its chemical weapons program in its first decade after independence in 1948, prior to its nuclear program, in an era when Israeli leaders believed their country’s survival was in peril. At the time, chemical weapons were Israel’s weapons of last resort. The recently discovered 1983 CIA documents published in Foreign Policy, which claim that Israel had an active chemical weapons program, may refer to the last residues of such a program. Today, however, Israel does not have an active chemical weapons arsenal (one that could quickly be made operational and deployable for battlefield use) and has not had one for decades.
 And later:
It is time for Israel to revisit its old-fashioned chemical weapons ambiguity. In light of the Assad regime’s use of the weapons, and with the international community intensely focused on their prohibition, Israel’s past program and its reluctance to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention have become a strategic, diplomatic, and military burden -- both for Israel and its most important ally, the United States. By failing to ratify a convention banning a weapon it does not need, Israel finds itself in the company of Angola, Egypt, Myanmar (also known as Burma), North Korea, South Sudan, and Syria -- a motley crew of pariah and failed states with which it would certainly like to avoid association.

Rouhani's Charm Offensive

Hassan Rouhani, after giving interviews to the Western media and showing signs of being serious about his opening to the West, has now taken a page from Vladimir Putin's playbook by writing an op-ed for a US newspaper.

On the eve of Rouhani's visit to the UN, there seems to be a real opportunity for some sort of breakthrough, or at least softening, in US-Iranian relations. The recent freeing of political prisoners, apparent relaxation of the ban on social media, and implied criticisms of Syria all point to a genuine opening up both domestically and abroad.

It must be real, since the neocons seem to be panicking. William Kristol in The Weekly Standard is panicked enough to write a feverish comparison to the 1930s and Munich (Rouhani being Hitler of course), but looking for salvation from a preemptive Israeli attack on Iran because "the prime minister of Israel is now the leader of the West." You know there must be a real danger of peace breaking out to inspire Kristol to such rhetoric.

My own feeling is, let's give Rouhani a chance. See what he brings to the table, but be open. In the 1990s, when Mohammad Khatami made the first gestures by an Iranian President toward the West, he faced strong opposition at home, and eventually we found ourselves dealing with Ahmadinejad. Rouhani may fail as Khatami did, but we know Ayatollah Khamenei soured on Ahmadinejad, and Rouhani's victory, while a surprise, suggests he will be allowed to try a new approach. Let''s see where it leads.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Possible Flags for the new Egyptian Republic, 1953

This may interest the Egypt hands. When, a little under a year after the 1952 coup, Egypt declared itself a republic, it was felt a new flag was needed to mark the new identity, replacing but perhaps incorporating the flag of the monarchical period (Right).

This is a reproduction of a page from "one of the Egyptian magazines" (not further identified) from the area, with some of the suggested designs:
Many of the designs are derived from the red-white-black tricolor that originated with the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans and was increasingly used for Arab flags; some combined it with he Royalty-era colors, not always successfully.

In the end, the first flag chosen for the Egyptian Republic was a simple Arab tricolor with no other decoration (left). Except for slight differences in shape, that flag is essentially identical with the one Yemen uses today.

Somewhat later it was decided to add the "Eagle of Saladin" (an earlier version of the eagle on today's flag) and the old royal emblem.
UAR Flag
This flag was superseded in 1958 by the two-starred flag of the United Arab Republic; then in the 1970s by the flag of the Federation of Arab Republics (with the Eagle of Qureish rather than the Eagle of Saladin), and finally in the 1980s by the current flag.
Federation Flag

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A 20th Century Egyptian Trinity

I don't know when or where, but this photo is an amazing juxtaposition:
Umm Kulthum on the left, Naguib Mahfouz in the middle, and Tawfiq al-Hakim in his inevitable beret, gesturing at right.

Now that would have been a dinner conversation.

Israel's Chemical and Biological Weapons Capabilities

For the first time in the debate over Syria's apparent use of chemical weapons, some discussion of Israel's capabilities in chemical and biological weapons has been heard. The Times of Israel has run a detailed piece by Mitch Ginsburg, "‘Should there be a need’: The inside story of Israel’s chemical and biological arsenal."

And there was this piece last week at Foreign Policy by Matthew M. Aid, "Exclusive: Does Israel Have Chemical Weapons Too? "  The report is based on a previously classified CIA estimate and contains previously undisclosed details, but it is hardly news that much of the intelligence community has long believed Israel has both chemical and biological capabilities, or the capacity to achieve them in short order. The article suggests the development of the capability was in response to Egypt's use of chemical weapons in the Yemen civil war.

Israel signed, but did not yet ratify, the Chemical Weapons Convention. It has not signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. It's widely believed other countries in the region also have, or have had, CBW capabilities. Now that Syria has offered to sign and ratify the Convention, pressure may build for similar action by other regional countries.

A Reminder that Classical Arabic ≠ Modern Standard Arabic

The always interesting linguistics blogger Lameen Souag has a post, "Anachronistic Arabic in Algeria", reminding us that our tendency to equate "Modern Standard Arabic" and "Classical Arabic," though both can translate as fusha, can be misleading, since today's literary Arabic has much new vocabulary not found in the Classical language.

He offers a case in point:
The following sentence, which I was shocked to read in "The Language Planning Situation in Algeria" (Benrabah, 2007, in Language Planning and Policy in Africa), is a perfect example:
"For example, [in Algerian Arabic] common Arabic words such as mekteb ("office"), tawila ("table"), mistara ("ruler"), and siyara ("car") were replaced by their French counterpart pronounced [biro], [tabla], [rigla], [tomobil] respectively." (p. 49)
The automobile was invented in 1886, 56 years after the French conquered Algiers - and the word sayyārah سيارة wasn't proposed to describe it until 1892, by the Egyptian Ahmad Zaki Pasha. There was no pre-existing Arabic word in Algeria for ṭumubil to replace. A quick look at a dictionary of Algerian Arabic from 1838 reveals that the word ṭabla طابلة was already being used for (tall) tables then, so there's no reason to assume it came from French rather than some other Romance language (it's attested in Andalusi Arabic as ṭablah طبلة "table"). More to the point, Standard Arabic ṭāwilah طاولة is not to be found in pre-modern Arabic dictionaries, and in fact is a later borrowing into Egyptian Arabic of Italian tavolo. There is no reason to suppose that it ever existed in the Arabic of Algeria. Only the other two are real cases of replacement, and not precisely from the Modern Standard Arabic forms either: the 1838 dictionary gives "m'sèteur" مسطر for "ruler", and "makhzenn" مخزن for "office".
As Lameen notes as well,
Algerians often assume a dialectal word is non-Arabic when in reality it's easily found in the classical dictionaries, simply because it's fallen into disuse in Modern Standard Arabic (for an egregious example, see my post Les Algériens qui ont oublié les dictionnaires de leurs ancêtres). Cases like this one illustrate that the converse is also true: we tend to assume that at some ill-defined point in the past Algerians were speaking to each other in the Arabic we learned at school , and forget that Modern Standard Arabic includes many words and expressions that were invented within the past century.
Let me add an Egyptian note to the whole issue of "table": the standard Egyptian colloquial word for table (though tawla will be understood) is actually tarabeza, a word which is obviously not Arabic. It is in fact from Greek trapeza, but the most common meaning of that word in Modern Greek is "bank." The original meaning seems to have been something like a counting board, leading through many paths to "table" on the one hand and a bank on the other. (Think of the similar link in English between a checkerboard and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.) (Oh, and Greek trapeza also gives us English trapeze, but I'll let you figure that one out yourselves.)

Why is Arabic so fond of borrowing other people's words for "table"?  I'm not sure. There are perfectly classical words, and one of the Qur'an's Suras (the fifth) is even entitled Al-Ma'ida (المائدة), "The Table." I'm pretty sure even linguists would count that one as Classical Arabic.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Speaking of E.W. Lane: Lane on the Ghawazi (Ghawazee) of Cairo

I noted earlier today that it was Edward William Lane's birthday and commented at some length on his master work, The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. As an example of his observational skills, and since the work is in the public domain, I thought I'd reproduce the entirety of his Chapter XIX, "Public Dancers." This deals mostly with the ghawazi, which he spells ghawazee, a separate tribelike group who danced professionally in public and who are often considered an important element in the various dance traditions that came together to create the Egyptian belly-dancing tradition, now seemingly a dying art in the country of its birth.

You can find a modern discussion of the history of the ghawazi (singular, ghaziyya) at Wikipedia; that article places their origin among the Dom or gypsies of the Middle East. Some descendants of the 19th century ghawazi are said to still exist in the Qena and Luxor regions of Upper Egypt, and aspects of their costume (particularly the vest) are still echoed by belly-dancers today. I've often thought of discussing the history of the raqs sharqi or belly-dance on this blog, and perhaps this post can serve as an inaugural post in the series.

Lane's description of the ghawazi remains the classic one;  he also illustrated the ghawazi, but was not primarily an artist. Other, better painters also noted the ghawazi, including the great Orientalist painter David Roberts:
David Roberts: Ghawazee of Cairo
And the later French Orientalist artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, fond of harem scenes:

 Also from Gérôme:

But since Lane's account is widely considered  a classic and is now in the public domain, let me reproduce it here in full (click to enlarge the images to make them more readable):

A photo (postcard?) of a ghaziyya, c. 1906:

Oslo at 20: Two Views on the Two-State Solution

The 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords (left) has of course generated a lot of commentary, including the now inevitable debate over whether the two-state solution is dead.

Two informed commentaries that reach (largely) opposite conclusions are worthy of your attention. In Sunday's New York Times Ian Lustick offered a post-mortem on the "Two-State Illusion." Sample:
Yet the fantasy that there is a two-state solution keeps everyone from taking action toward something that might work.
All sides have reasons to cling to this illusion. The Palestinian Authority needs its people to believe that progress is being made toward a two-state solution so it can continue to get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidize the lifestyles of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants, and the authority’s prominence in a Palestinian society that views it as corrupt and incompetent.
Israeli governments cling to the two-state notion because it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.
American politicians need the two-state slogan to show they are working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.
And the alternatives? Lustick continues:
In such a radically new environment, secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as “Eastern,” but as Arab. Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution for translating what they have (numbers) into what they want (rights and resources). Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater Land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or a regional formula more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.
It remains possible that someday two real states may arise. But the pretense that negotiations under the slogan of “two states for two peoples” could lead to such a solution must be abandoned. Time can do things that politicians cannot.
A less grim assessment from Hussein Ibish and Saliba Sarsar at The Daily Beast: "Israel and Palestine Vs. 'Blood and Magic'." They strongly disagree:
However, as the latter part of his article makes clear, his "new ideas" are mainly an incoherent jumble of imaginary scenarios, all of which require an alternative reality to emerge at some point in the future. Nothing he suggests can be built on under present circumstances. None of it holds together as a coherent or even semi-coherent counterproposal.
Worse still, most of what he envisages requires by his own admission decades, if not centuries, to become possibilities, and further Israeli-Palestinian conflict is inevitable.

So not only would we have to wait scores of decades, if not centuries, for any of these "alternatives" to begin to emerge, they could only be the product of further wide-scale bloodshed.

Despite Prof. Lustick's passionate dismissal, the two-state solution remains the only viable option for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His counterfactual musings don't provide any practicable, coherent or implementable alternatives. It's an interesting thought experiment to dismiss the global consensus, stated position of all relevant parties, logical implementation of international law, and only practicable means of achieving the minimum goals of each party in favor of flights of fancy. But it has no political value whatsoever. Indeed undermining the only plausible conflict-ending scenario, while not suggesting any serious, practicable alternatives, is actually harmful.

Although realizing a two-state solution faces serious and growing obstacles, it alone allows both Palestinians and Israelis to avoid an ongoing struggle with no end in sight. Yes, “Time can do things that politicians cannot,” as Prof. Lustick writes, but the goal must be to achieve a solution in our lifetime—not in 120 years as with Irish independence, or 132 years as with Algerian independence, two of the key examples he cites.
The occupation is an emergency, not a macro- or trans-historical problem, particularly for the millions of Palestinians living under its oppressive rule. They, especially—but we too—do not have the luxury of waiting to see what the next hundred years of history will bring us, good or bad. On the contrary, we must have the courage to act now, and with urgency, within the existing realities, however difficult, to try to create a working solution to a situation that is both intolerably unjust and regionally (and to some extent even globally) destabilizing.
The debate over the two-state solution is growing in recent years. These two articles, I think, encapsulate the opposing arguments rather well. Ibish and Sarsar seem to recognize the urgency of a solution, while Lustick feels the opportunity has already been missed. For those of us without the patience to wait for the long-term historical evolution Lustick describes, I hope the two-state solution can still be salvaged. But given the present leaderships on three sides (including Hamas in Gaza), I fear that Lustick may prove right.

In any event, both of these thoughtful analyses deserve a full and careful reading, not just my brief excerpts.

It's Edward William Lane's 212th Birthday

Edward William Lane
Once again, as I do every year, I pause to note that it is Edward William Lane's birthday. He would be 212 today. I've posted about Lane many times, especially on his birthday which I happen by a stroke of luck to share. His huge Arabic-English Lexicon remains a major tool; his translation of the Arabian Nights may have been superseded but still has valuable notes; but Lane's greatest work remains The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, the classic description of life in Cairo in the reign of Muhammad ‘Ali. A great work of cultural anthropology before the field existed, it still repays reading.

Manners and Customs is dated, but that's part of the point: it preserves a glimpse of everyday life in Egypt at a time when Egyptian chroniclers were mostly preoccupied with the doings of the rulers. If you know Egypt today you should read it. Besides, you have no excuse not to, since you can find it online free from Google Books.

A happy 212th to Lane.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Glitch or New Policy? Iranians Have Access to Facebook and Twitter, Today at Least

Iran shut down access to both Facebook and Twitter during the 2009 post-election troubles and both have remained inaccessible, even though President Rouhani has a Twitter account.

Until today, when Iranians discovered they could access both sites. There has been no announcement so it's unclear whether this is just a glitch of some sort or a quiet bit of liberalization. It isn't clear if it's working throughout the whole country or even on all ISPs. Or, of course, if it will still be there tomorrow.

Turkey Shoots Down Syrian Helicopter

Turkey says it shot down a Syrian helicopter that violated Turkish airspace. The Turkish statement said the Mi-17 helicopter was warned repeatedly but crossed the border and was shot down by two Turkish F-16s; it reportedly fell on the Syrian side of the border.

This is the latest incident between Turkey and Syria along the border; Turkey says it has revised its rules of engagement and will act against any border violations,.

Retaking Dalga

Egyptian troops have retaken the town of Dalga in Minya Governorate, which had been held by Islamists since the crackdown last month on Morsi supporters. The operation involved both Army and police units and was supported by helicopters.

Dalga has a substantial Coptic population and its Copts have reportedly been subjected to extortion and threats; at least five churches in Dalga, including one ancient one, have reportedly been burned.

The military-backed regime has been criticized for lack of action against Islamist attacks on Copts, and previous attempts to retake the town have failed.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Osama El-Baz, 1931-2013

At Camp David 1979
During Anwar Sadat's Presidency, Osama El-Baz was sometimes referred to as "Egypt's Kissinger," but unlike his American counterpart, he remained close to the center of power for decades, serving throughout Husni Mubarak's Presidency as an adviser and head of the President's Political Office. The 82-year-old diplomat and political adviser died today. (Link is in Arabic.)

A key player in the 1979 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, El-Baz also represented continuity in Egyptian foreign policy, often used for quiet diplomatic missions; his influence survived the tenure of many Foreign Ministers as he enjoyed the trust of the Presidents he served.

His younger brother, Farouk El-Baz, is a geologist and professor known for his work on the Apollo moon landings.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Yom Kippur

I was at MEI's Egypt conference all day today, hence no blogging, but greetings to readers observing Yom Kippur.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

For the Eve of Yom Kippur, a Post on Cairo's Jewish Community on Rosh Hashona

Yom Kippur begins tomorrow night; here's a piece for Tablet about the beginning of the High Holy Days in Cairo: "Cairo Jews Show God They Are Still There."

For an earlier post about the late Carmen Weinstein, see here.

The Growing Insecurities in Egypt

MEI will be holding its all-day conference on Egypt tomorrow, called "Securing Egypt's Future." I hope to see you there if you're in the neighborhood. But just how insecure is Egypt's future? I'm not sure certain aspects of this are being reported thoroughly, and I myself have been remiss as well. [UPDATE: Today the State of Emergency was extended for another two months.]

Did you realize, for example, that this railway-dependent country has been without nationwide rail service for a month? Shut down August 14 by the Interior Ministry after the breakup of the Muslim Brotherhood encampments, it's still shut down, or was as of yesterday. This may be an effort to deter a flow of pro-MB demonstrators from Upper Egypt into Cairo, but it also cuts the spinal chord of the country. It may be bureaucratic inertia on the part of the Interior Ministry, too.

And the media is fearful and increasingly toeing an official line. Bassam Youssef's satirical show has not yet returned to the air and many papers and TV channels are under fire or have been closed. Many, perhaps most, are Islamist, but liberal channels are also under fire.

Egypt's history and culture are also under fire. You may have heard about the looting of the Mallawi Museum at Mallawi in Minya Governorate, a repository of artifacts from Amarna and elsewhere (and much of what was taken is still unaccounted for), but did you know (as noted in the linked article) that also the villa and large personal library and archive belonging to famed Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal was destroyed by fire, by Islamist mobs apparently, on August 15? I have lots of gripes about Heikal as a journalist, a historian, and in other areas, and the fact that he kept a lot of Nasser-era documents, apparently including some originals not found elsewhere, has been controversial, but the utter destruction of that archive greatly undermines the ability to document Egypt's already neglected modern history.

The blame is not on one side. The rail closures and the press pressures are the government's responsibility, while the attacks on cultural institutions came presumably from Morsi backers, either the Brotherhood or more radical groups. 

Meanwhile, attacks on Coptic targets may have abated but have not disappeared, while violence in Sinai has escalated. It is harder for many Egyptians to feel safe:
Holy Qur'an, Sura XII, Yusuf, 99:
فَلَمَّا دَخَلُواْ عَلَى يُوسُفَ آوَى إِلَيْهِ أَبَوَيْهِ وَقَالَ ادْخُلُواْ مِصْرَ إِن شَاء اللّهُ آمِنِينَ 

 And when they entered unto [Prophet/Patriarch] Joseph, he took his parents to him and said, "Enter Egypt in safety, if God wills."
إِن شَاء اللّهُ

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Nael Shama in Le Monde Diplo: "Understanding Cairo" and How its Presidents Haven't

A hat tip to Ursula Lindsey at The Arabist  for my belated discovery of this gem from Nael Shama at Le Monde Dipomatique in English: "Understanding Cairo." Egypt's Presidents (with one exception) are assessed as not understanding the capital. Read it all, but it offers such a refreshing insight and a new spin on recent events that I think it deserves rather extensive excerpts:
Modern Egyptian rulers failed to unravel the secrets of the city, abandoning it at times, unleashing their wrath against it at other times — always failing to understand it. They mistook Cairo’s patience for apathy, overlooking the fact that, like all old cities, it is both wise and resilient. It smiles in the face of hardships, bears the ebbs of time with a strong heart, but in response to tyrants, it doesn’t murmur: it shouts.
President Anwar Sadat sought solace in his village house in Mit Abu El-Kom, in Menoufia Governorate, away from Cairo’s political traffic jams. Sadat was not returning to his roots in a quest to consolidate family ties or evoke sweet childhood memories. Sadat hated Cairo and its unruly people . . .
Likewise, from the late 1990s until 2011, President Hosni Mubarak — and his “royal” entourage — spent long periods of time in the resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh, far away from Cairo’s oven-like heat and suffocating air pollution . . .
. . . In the tranquility of his comfortable exile, Mubarak could block out what had become of Egypt during his three-decade rule: a despairing nation, a corrupt and dysfunctional state, a failing economy addicted to foreign largesse, crumbling services, an ailing infrastructure, a population boom (more than a million new souls every year), a fading grandeur replaced by a pitiable image in the region and beyond. Yet Mubarak’s flight to the periphery did not bring the core to rest: Cairo bent under Mubarak, but it did not break. Eventually, Cairenes flocked to Tahrir Square, Cairo’s (and Egypt’s) center, to seal Mubarak’s fate.
. . . Morsi’s downfall was also partly because he didn’t understand Cairo. Despite the MB’s successive ballot box victories in post-Mubarak Egypt, it was Cairo that slowed down the group’s foray into the territory abandoned by Mubarak and his defeated, dissolved party. In Cairo, Morsi lost both rounds of the presidential elections (May-June 2012) as well as the referendum on the constitution (December 2012).
Morsi visited Tahrir Square only once after his election victory. This visit came on his first day as president, in order to celebrate his victory among his supporters and, in hindsight, to pay farewell to the central square of a city he so quickly and foolishly lost. Morsi remained oblivious to the threat posed by Cairo’s recalcitrance until the very end.
The exception? Who's left?:
Only Nasser — who clipped the wings of the aristocracy and uplifted the poor, creating a viable middle class — bonded with Cairo. The expansion in education and health services and the establishment of an industry-oriented public sector gave rise to, and consolidated, Egypt’s middle class in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, he vowed steadfastness against the tripartite aggression (Suez) from the rostrum of the widely revered Al-Azhar mosque, in the heart of Cairo’s old Islamic city. “I am here in Cairo with you and my children are also here in Cairo. I did not send them away [for protection from air raids],” he said, to affirm his loyalty to the city.
Nasser did not travel much during his reign. He was not a big fan of the tourist retreats of Egypt’s pre-revolution aristocracy. He stayed in Cairo, and there he died. In the autumn of 1970, Nasser resided for a few days in Cairo’s posh Nile Hilton during the emergency Arab summit convened to put an end to the bloody Palestinian-Jordanian conflict — Black September. On the night of September 27th, on the balcony of his hotel room that overlooked River Nile, Kasr El-Nil Bridge and the lights of the city that never sleeps, he told his friend Mohamed Heikal: “This is the best view in the world.” On the following day, he died.
There's a genuine truth in this piece, and one that goes far to explain the deep differences among Egyptians today. Read the whole thing, though. At least twice.

Egypt's Neglect of its Modern History

Here's a thoughtful peace by Paul Sedra on "Egypt's History Problem." An excerpt:
Over the past ten years, I have visited Egypt roughly once each year. And in the course of these visits, I have developed a sort of ritual — namely, I make an attempt to visit the Taha Hussein Museum, or “Ramatan,” just adjacent to Haram Street in Giza. The museum is the former home of the great thinker and writer of twentieth-century Egypt. I say “attempt” because I have never quite succeeded in making the visit. I have managed to locate the museum, to view the exterior walls — nay, I have even spoken with the staff, both on the telephone and in person. But I have never actually set foot within the walls of the museum — not once, after ten years of attempts. And every time I have communicated with museum staff, I have received but one excuse for the apparent indefinite closure of the museum — tarmim, restoration.

Egypt can seem utterly saturated with history. What countries can boast so vast a heritage, with such a visible wealth of monuments? But Egyptians frequently have a paradoxical — and, as I will suggest, problematic — relationship with that history, that is illustrated, at least in part, by the anecdotes above. For while there exists a fierce pride in Egyptian history, not to mention an intense interest, there likewise exists a casual, almost cavalier attitude in certain quarters towards preserving and showcasing Egyptian heritage — an attitude that I can only characterize as paradoxical.
He concentrates on Egypt's neglect of its modern history, which I think is the most neglected of all; Pharaonic is seen as the main draw for tourists, with the Coptic and Islamic periods less so, and modern history largely an afterthought. His conclusion:
Can one in good conscience call the Mahmoud Khalil Museum — attracting perhaps a dozen foreign visitors each day — a museum? Perhaps only in the most dismal sense of the term: as a place to warehouse dusty relics with which one has no connection. Egypt has the raw materials for literally dozens of museums, which could rank with the very best the world over — places where Egyptians could explore the genealogy of their everyday lives. But this time will only come when the museum is refigured as a place for all Egyptians.

Neirouz: Coptic New Year, 1730

Long before September 11, 2001, September 11 marked a less grim date: new year in the Coptic calendar. This is sometimes referred to as "Egyptian New Year" because the Coptic calendar, being solar, has long been used by Muslim Egyptians for agricultural purposes; the ancient Egyptian new year began after the height of the Nile flood, usually in August; the later Coptic calendar descends from the ancient one, and the first of the month of the Coptic month of Tut today coincides with September 11 in the Gregorian calendar. (And the month of Tut echoes the ancient Egyptian name Thoth, for the god of the same name.) Today marks the first day of the Year of the Martyrs 1730 (the Coptic calendar dates from the persecutions of Diocletian, not from the birth of Christ).

For unclear reasons, Coptic New Year is known as Neirouz, which seems to echo the Persian Nowruz which is in the spring. Some think an ancient "feast of the rivers" (Ni-Yarouou) somehow was conflated after the Arab conquest with the Persian word. Whatever the origin, a happy New Year to Copts (and those living by the Egyptian agricultural year).

It is also the Ethiopian New Year, by the way.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Ma‘alula Fighting: Bad Timing for the Syrian Opposition

I didn't note it last week when the fighting broke out around the Syrian mountain town of Ma‘alula, since it was neither the first nor a particularly unusual case of fighting in a Syrian Christian community, though predictably it caught the attention of the Western media because of Ma‘alula's distinction as one of only three towns where Western Aramaic is still spoken, giving the media the lead that it is a town that "still speaks the language of Jesus."

Longtime readers may recall my series on Aramaic a couple of years ago, when I posted about the survival of spoken Western Aramaic in the three towns of Ma‘alula, Bakh‘a, and Jubba‘din. (Eastern Aramaic, in contrast, has far more speakers, in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, and in the diaspora.)

Much of the reportage (besides the earlier link, see for example here, and here) has emphasized the town's distinctive position perched in the mountains and the survival of Aramaic; reports that some of the rebels who seized the town may have been from Jabhat al-Nusra, including a suicide bombing at the roadblock controlling entry to the town (allowing the headlines to link al-Qa‘ida allies and a town that speaks the language of Jesus) naturally drew attention. (For a Syrian Christian account and links, see here.)

But it was not attention that the Syrian rebels needed in a week when the US was gearing up for an attack on the Asad regime. It gave ammunition to those abroad (including many Western critics who fear that the rebels will be hostile to Syrian Christians), and of course the Asad regime quickly made propaganda. Reports that the rebels destroyed a large, prominent statue of the Virgin Mary in the town, and that they occupied the ancient Greek Catholic convent of Mar Taqla while the nuns hid in caves, provided more fuel for fear of what some Syrian rebels intend toward minorities.

As usual in this war, the evidence is conflicting. The rebels posted videos showing the Mar Taqla Mother Superior saying the nuns had been well treated (and there are reports that when Asad forces retook the town, she was accused of collaboration with the rebels). Ultimate control of the town is still in doubt as the fighting has gone back and forth.

If indeed the fighters around Ma‘alula are from Jabhat al-Nusra, they may have little interest in what happens to the ancient Christian churches and monasteries around the town, but they may have given a black eye to the rebel cause just as the US was eyeball-to-eyeball with the Asad regime. Other Christian communities in Syria (and elsewhere) have suffered as much, but the "speaks the language of Jesus" aspect (and the picturesque nature of the town) guaranteed more coverage of the fate of Ma‘alula than would have been (has in fact been) the case with a less famous Syrian Christian town.

On Taking "Yes" for an Answer

President Obama will be speaking tonight and the diplomatic picture is still evolving, but if Syria has (as Russia is reporting) agreed to turn over it chemical weapons and sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, that's a major breakthrough. True, verification may be an issue (chemical weapons are easy to conceal) and the whole thing may be merely a stalling action, but I think it's important that the US not be seen as refusing to take yes for an answer; in fact, the Russians right now are looking like the peacemakers, improbable as that may seem.

But it's also worth noting that there are still plenty of voices wanting to strike Syria anyway, even if Syria agrees to give up its weapons under agreed international inspection. Some are sincerely eager to punish Asad for the use of chemical weapons; others, especially in Israel and Saudi Arabia, see the real enemy as Iran, and Damascus as merely a pit stop on the way to Tehran. But the world is not  convinced by the US case on this one. The deal on the table, if it can be achieved and verified, is most likely the best resolution at this time. But let's see what happens next and what the President says.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Syrian Deal in the Making?

The US Administration has been rather quick to seize upon a possible exit from the dilemma it faces in Syria, where the prospect of winning support from Congress is rapidly receding and there seemed to be few favorable outcomes, the idea that Syria might give up its chemical arsenal in exchange for no US strike seems suddenly to be a realistic exit strategy that could avoid conflict. And if this proves to be a workable deal (far from certain), Vladimir Putin will deserve credit for helping throw the US a lifeline. And in the short term at least, the Senate vote has been postponed, and thus the ticking clock has been reset. At a moment when Syria and the US were eyeball to eyeball (to quote the late Dean Rusk), the Russians may be able to broker a deal which removes the chemicals from the table with neither side visibly blinking. The turnaround in rhetoric from just a day ago is striking.

But it is also worth remembering that, as I noted earlier today in a post, former Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin proposed a similar solution over a week ago.

Egypt's "Spy Stork" Menes Reportedly Has Been Eaten

You'll recall the initial reports that it was a "spy duck," and, after its revelation as a stork, its release, and its being given the name Menes,  how it was released to a game park.

Now, unfortunately, Zeinobia brings us the bad news: game park notwithstanding, according to the Nature Conservation Egypt site:
Sad news: Menes the White Stork has been killed.
After being safely released into the Salugah & Ghazal protected area several days ago, Menes flew off to a nearby Nile Island, where he was captured and killed, to be eaten by local villagers.

A Footnote to Today's Talk of a Possible Syrian Deal

As President Obama's efforts to persuade Congress to authorize a Syrian strike face increasing resistance, there has been a flurry of interest today in a possible deal involving Russia persuading Syria to give up its chemical weapons and transfer them to international control in exchange for avoiding an American strike. Secretary Kerry seems to have floated the idea, perhaps inadvertently, but Presidents Putin and Asad have pursued the idea.

Whether this proves to be a solution to an increasingly uncertain deadlock or a false start, a trial balloon that is quickly shot down, one thing that I haven't seen noted by most of the talking heads is that retired Israeli Gen. Amos Yadlin, former head of Military Intelligence, suggested a deal along these precise lines more than a week ago.

As The Times of Israel reported on August 31:
Were Putin to offer to take Assad’s chemical weapons out of Syria, said Yadlin in an Israeli Channel 2 news interview, “that would be an offer that could stop the attack.” It would be a “genuine achievement” for President Barack Obama to have ensured the clearing out of Assad’s capacity, and that would justify holding fire, said Yadlin. For Putin, such a deal would also keep the US from acting militarily in a state with which Russia is closely allied.
I have no idea if Yadlin's remarks had any influence on the apparent trial balloon today, but if this actually brings results, perhaps Yadlin's remarks should be noted.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cult of Personality? What Cult of Personality?

There are many things deserving of blogging but it's a Friday night so let's try something light. As long ago as July we noted what seems to be an emerging cult of personality around Egyptian Defense Minister General Sisi, including claims that he was the boy giving flowers to Nasser  in this picture:
Then my post about General Sisi's political ambitions drew five hilarious comments by commenters funnier than I am, so I posted about the response to my post, and comments on that have reached 37 so far.

Just last week we encountered this curious tribute to the Egyptian Army:

Well, things are getting personality cultish enough that a mere blogger can't be expected to keep up. But never fear, relief is here. The General Sisi cult now has what  it has been crying out for: a Tumblr, called Sisi Fetish, and headlined "Where else have you seen General Sisi today?"

The selection may be tongue-in-cheek but I fear the items and photos themselves were made quite seriously. There are the posters urging Sisi to run for President:
Nothing remotely Mussolini-ish about that logo, right?

Then there's the lion of the Egyptian Armed Forces:
Actually, lions seem to be a fairly common theme around here:

But there are some genuinely educational items among the content. I for example, had not known until this Egyptological expert (it says so right here) informed us that "Sisi" is the same name as that of Ramses III! (Say it, Sisi, Ramses). See, it's obvious, he's not just Nasser,he's Ramses! (Ramsisi?)

 Oh, wait, he's not just Ramses and Nasser; He's Sadat, too:
The fellow to the right of the poster in the galabiyya adds a folksy touch to show that while Sisi may be Nasser, Sadat, and Ramses, he's also a man of the common people. But why is Sadat saluting with his left hand?

Remember Him?
Now, anyone looking at all this would assume General Sisi was Egypt's ruler (or the reincarnation of several of them, at least). But he's only Defense Minister. The actual Acting President is ‘Adly Mansour (right). Though admittedly, Mr. Mansour does not appear to be a candidate for a cult of personality.

But now we have the Sisifetish site to keep us from missing out on anything as we sit back and enjoy our (New!) Sisy Mix sandwiches! (I guess they needed balance for the name "Amo Hosny"):
Things are getting strange, indeed.

I don't have a nostalgia photo for this weekend but will leave you to contemplate over your Sisy Sandwiches the Sisi/Ramses connection and other such things, and offer a suitable tribute (though not from the Tumblr) like this one to the Egyptian Armed Forces:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Yemeni Activist Ibrahim Mothana Dies at 24

Facebook Profile Photo
Yemeni activist Ibrahim Mothana, a founder of the Al-Watan Party and a prominent critic of the US drone program, has died at the age of only 24. An activist in the democratic movement since the 2011 uprising, he was well-known abroad for his good English, giving him an audience, such as this 2012 New York Times op-ed, "How Drones Help Al Qaeda". Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian published the text this year of his testimony prepared (but not delivered as he could not attend) when he was invited to testify before a US Senate Subcommittee looking into the legality of the use of drones: "A young Yemeni writer on the impact and morality of drone-bombing his country."

The cause of death is unclear but a possible heart attack has been mentioned. Appreciations of his work at the Huffington Post Yemen Peace Project website and at Afrah Nasser's blog.