Friday, September 29, 2006

Quranic Verses, Iraq and Her Neighbors

A 'Quranic Dispute:
Alarabiya TV, which is Saudi-owned but operates out of easy-going Dubai, has been tackling a controversial issue in Islam: the idea that the 'Quran as it exists today does not have the exact original text as dictated by the Prophet Mohammed to the sahaba. The controversy was revived recently by a Moroccan academic who claims that some verses were dropped, perhaps during the reign of the third Caliph Othman.
A professor at al-Azhar in Cairo, Shaikh M. al-Mahdi, has refuted that, saying said that the current text of the 'Quran is the exact original one, without any changes. He said that each chapter of the text was written down immediately upon revelation, and that the Angel Gabriel usually reviewed it during Ramadan of each year, for a total of 24 reviews by Gabriel. He also claims that the Prophet was made to forget some of the verses deliberately, especially those that were harsh.
Another al-Azhar scholar, a Shaikh al-Jundi, said that the 'Quran was revealed in the seven most common dialects of the Arabian Peninsula, and that may explain some unusual-looking 'jumps' or the seeming segmentation in the flow of the text, which makes it look like some phrases were deleted.

Iraq and Her Neighbors:
Looks like the Saudi fence along the Iraq border I mentioned two weeks ago will become a reality. It is also expected now to cost $ 12 billion, up from the $7 billion I mentioned. What a big difference two weeks makes. There have also been incidents of sporadic violence and intrusions along the Kuwaiti border with Iraq. Armed groups have been taking occasional shots toward Kuwait. It is not clear who is involved, it is doubtful that even the Iraqi government, or the Coalition, knows. Still, given the history of Kuwait with Iraq, these incidents make people understandably nervous. One undeniable fact remians: an Iraq facing deep security, political, and economic troubles has always managed to export trouble to her neighbors.

Although bloodshed continues in the Baghad area and the Anbar Province, there is a shift of tensions to the north, toward the border of the Kurdistan region. It evolves around territory, especially Kirkuk, the reversing of Ba'athist population dislocations (ethnic cleansing), as well as control of the oil and gas industry.
At Karbalaa', a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has accused Ba'athist and Sunni extremists of kidnapping, raping, and murdering scores of Shi'a women in Dialy near Baghdad. The province of Dialy includes such notorious tourist hotspots as B'aquba.

The foreign minister, a Shaikh al-Khalifa, complained in a press interview about possible spread of sectarian tensions from Iraq. He also mentioned Iranian interference in his country's politics. The population of Bahrain is reported to be more than 70% Shi'a, and there have been complaints that they are discriminated against by the rulers and the minority elites, who are Sunni. The island nation, famous recently for being the new home of Michael Jackson, is scheduled to hold legislative elections next November. The elections will be held for only half the legislature, the other half will be appointed by the king- a smart, if questionable, insurance policy common in the Gulf region.

Saudi Arabia & Hizballah:
Alquds Alarabi, published in the safety of London, reports that Hizballah has issued a denial of a report by the Saudi daily newspaper al-jazeirah, that it had recently interviewed Shaikh Hassan Nassrallah. The Saudi paper had reported in the purported interview that Nassrallah had said that he will soon visit the Kingdom to personally thank her leaders, especially the King and Crown Prince, for their help to the Lebanese people during the July war with Israel. Odd.

Shaikh al-Sudeis, the Imam, or vicar if you will, of the grand mosque at Mecca, who is clearly not anorexic, has called for an international 'Accord of Honor' which defends religions, stops bloodshed, and protects innocents. He also called for all Moslems to stand firm in the face of the naked Zionist aggression against the 'blessed land of Palestine', among other things.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Verbose and Boring in Bahrain

An Example of No-No Journalism

Below is an abridged version of a Stalinesque interview done last week (9/20) by the owner of the Kuwait daily Al-Siyassa with the Prime Minister of Bahrain. This piece should be taught in schools of Journalism (and other media) as a definite no-no.

(No this is not a blind date going nowhere, although the pained facial expressions and especially the body language make it seem like one. The PM is on the left- the owner/chief editor is on the right, in case you could not guess).

Editor's preamble: Sometimes one cannot stop asking, as long as one can easily get the question in question to those in charge (Disclaimer: no, I swear I did not make this up, I could not if I tried). Here in Manama there are many questions that deserve answers, since without these said answers such questions remain unanswered and become sources of anxiety, and avenues for guesses which might solidify into part of the public perception of reality, even though they are not based on facts or evidence. Therefore I had a first question among the many questions that I presented at the beginning to His Highness the Prime Minister of The Kingdom of Bahrain, Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa.

Q: This first question which I raised to the high Bahraini official went thus: Your Highness the Prime Minister, I shall tell you what people are talking about here. And I ask you: Is it true that these days the skies over the ruling family in Bahrain are stormy and full of clouds?

Answer: Perhaps you meant with your question if there were differences between the Prime Minister and the King, so let me make it easier for you and comfort you with an answer, yes...within the ruling families in the region there are differences of opinion (this is a not too subtle dig at diffreences within Kuwait), and some people try to fan the flames of these differences. Perhaps such people will succeed or perhaps they will fail. The difference between success and failure of such efforts depends on the wisdom of the men who rule, and how they manage these matters. Such things are natural. I remeber when I was a youngster (he was one, you know) there were some differences within the ruling family, and it was encouraged and stoked by gossip mongers and people who had an interest in such things, in changing differences and elevating them into disputes. The wise ones among the family met and realized that they should not allow themselves to become victims to gossip-mongers and those with narrow interests, or victims of those who banged the drums to change differences into disputes.. They sat together, opened up their emotions to each other, and that was the end of that..................(many, many dots).

Q: Your Highness, you hear all the tales and whispers around you, and about you, surely you were exposed to fierce winds which you overcame. Did they, these fierce winds, disturb you (At least he did not call him sweetie)?......

Part of the Answer (a small part): I will be honest with you, and tell you that stories and tales that are repeated here and there reach me, some of it is softened, some not, by people who do not wish to hurt my feelings. Some of it is also exaggerated...........I do not say there are no differences, it is natural to have differences, what is unnatural is the existence of those who try to change differences into disputes. In all stable and perosperous nations there are those who try to create disputes between the First Man in the nation and the Second and Third man, and these attempts do not succeed but fail subject to the existence of some degree of wisdom among such men.......(many more dots)
ad nauseam.....

(There are three full pages, big wide newspaper pages, of this stuff. I could not translate all of it today. I do have a life of sorts. Get my drift?)

Yemen Elections, the U.N. and Mainstream Arab Leaders

Middle East Commentary

Yemen Election:
In a shocking upset for an Arab leader, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh has won an 82% landslide victory in the presidential election. Mr. Saleh has been in office for 28 years. Arab media had been predciting the results for some time- in itself an amazing feat of journalistic prescience unseen these days anywhere outside the Arab World. Except for North Korea.

Mr. Saleh had initially declined to run for office because, it was said, he wanted some free time to take his wife out to dinner and perhaps an ice cream cone afterwards. The public was stunned into justifiably incredulous silence. He finally yielded to irresistibly strong pressure from the same formerly incredulous Yemeni public, who apparently did not know how they would manage without Mr. Ali being at the helm for at least two more decades, or three. It is not known if he has any male children to inherit the persidency, like Assad of Syria or Mubarak of Egypt- which might explain the sudden urge to take his wife out to dinner, and an ice cream cone afterwards.

Leadership Styles:
Yesterday I saw two leaders address the world and their own peoples from the UN. Both seemed so confident in the righteousness of their cause, and in their superior faith, of course. Both have been polarizing figures, with strident enemies and strong supporters in their own respective regions. I discovered with some shock that Bush and Ahmadinejad have much more in common than I had realized. This can be good or it can be bad, depending on one's outlook.

Yet the two were not addressing each other, they talked around each other, rather like debating candidates in an American election campaign. But then this is what U.N speeches are about, putting positions on the record, and trying to sway audiences worldwide. Except that in most cases there are no worldwide audiences. ( The ranting speech by Venezuela's Chavez defies comment).

For example, the only audiences to speeches delivered by Arab leaders at the UN are captive viewers bound to state-owned television stations- plus underlings and minions who are later queried about the delivery and content of the speeches, just to make sure that they actually watched and listened. Even the doemstic captive audience is not guaranteed anymore in this age of satellite TV and the internet. I certainly have not watched one in many years, whether it was delivered at the UN or anywhere else, and I used to be a domestic captive viewer. It is no fun listening to a speech with nothing new in it, and Arab leaders almost never say anything new in their public speeches. These guys are too stiff to venture into new territory. I suspect some of them might say interesting things in their private conversations, although sometimes I am doubtful about that too. Perhaps the pillow talk, such as it is, is interesting. Maybe.

The last interesting public speech of an Arab leader was probably delivered by the late Anwar Sadat- a speech in which he did something Arab leaders almost never ever do: he said something new and unexpected, and then he went ahead and did it. He must have, because he gained the enmity of most Arab leaders and many of their peoples. In return, Sadat contemptuously called them 'dwarves and midgets', and he probably wasn't far off the mark, because in the end they came back to him.

Colonel Qadhafi of Libya was also known for delivering speeches with interesting offbeat content, but that was years ago when he was also engaged in financing some unusual activities in the air as well as on land. He is now older, wiser, and boring, as befits a grown up Arab leader. He is almost mainstream Arab now, he even dyes his hair jet black, a sure sign of Arab mainstream tendencies. Still, he needs a jet black mustache (dyed of course) to be eligible for full membership. Occasionally the Colonel slips something into his public statements that reminds one of his old wild days, when he seemed to enjoy stepping on brittle Arab toes and sensitive tails tucked between legs.
(Note: the above was mostly borrowed from my other website)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

An Egyptian Archimedes, The Mufti and Adultery

Aljazeera TV quotes a leading official of Egypt's ruling party hinting that President Mubarak's son can replace him through retirement. The official asserted triumphantly "This would not be an inherited presidency in this case"- presumably because there is no death involved. I can imagine the eager party functionary who first hit upon this great idea- how he ran out of the bath as naked as an Egyptian Archimedes, screaming joyously "Eureka, Eureka!"
Interesting way to show respect for the people and their intelligence in the New Middle East, or is it the New Old Middle East?

Alwatan newspaper of Kuwait quotes (9/19) an interview in the Egyptian weekly Rose Al-Yousef with the Mufti of Egypt, the head Islamic honcho in the country. Apparently he has claimed that a woman who bore a child exactly four years (1460 days) after her husband's death could not be considered a zaniya, a loose woman or an adulteress. So far so good, there are others who would agree with that. But then he ruined the whole effect by stating that if she bore a child 4 years+1 day after her husband's death, that is 1461 days, then she would be a loose zaniya- very loose indeed. Apparently he, the Mufti, used the precedence of some revered person who was born quite properly and normally almost four years after his father's death. Revered or not, his mother must have been a very convincing talker, among other things. (Note: some irreverent person might remark that this comes dangerously close to immaculate conception).

Riots continue against the Pope's speech in Germany (the speech was in Germany, not the riots). Some of the protesters have become wise to the fact that the Pope is not American, which must be a disappointing fact: it looked like they were burning the German flag for the TV cameras somewhere in Pakistan yesterday. This is quite a switch- usually there are lots of U.S flags in reserve somewhere in some protesters' cellars, especially in friendly allied countries like Pakistan, ready to be whipped out and burned at the slightest provocation. They must have run out of American flags, what with all the riots over the past few years, and scrambled to find a German flag, not an easy thing to find in Pakistan, or anywhere south of Bavaria.
Qadhafi's son has suggested the Pope study Islam carefully, as a prelude to conversion. I think he is these days.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Lost Pope, A Gracious Rabbi, A Dour Shaikh

Did the Pope Change the Subject in the Middle East?

Pope Benedict's speechwriters slipped, and in the process handed Arab, Iranian, and other assorted Moslem leaders a welcome change of subject. Browsing through the Arab media, it is clear that everybody has rushed to get in on the act. Potentates, academics, fundamentalists, pious people, secularists, former communists and others. The only Arab newspaper I could find that took a pass on the issue was the mouthpiece of the Iraqi Communist Party. It is always good to be on the right side of an issue, especially if everybody else is. In the Middle East it is called jumping on the lead caravan- but watch out for that hump.

Even Rabbi Shlomo Amar, chief Sephardic Rabbi in Israel, graciously sent a letter to Shaikh al-Qardhawi, a top Sunni Moslem honcho, expressing sympathy and his regret at the Pope's slip. The dour Shaikh, perhaps not appreciating the humor and ever suspicious of dastardly Jewish conspiracies, declined to respond to the letter.

Most protesters have not seen a copy of the Pope's actual speech. This reminds me of the furor over Slaman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. True, that book had outrageous symbolisms that could only enrage the pious Moslem. Yet most people whom I knew at the time who were loudest in condemning it had not read it, and many of them were academic types. They also claimed to have no intention of ever reading it. (Disclaimer: I did smuggle a copy back into my undisclosed Middle East location at that time. Unlike Clinton, I inhaled it and I enjoyed it- In fact I read it twice, although I also understood the cause of all the rage at the time).

As I said, this furor has been a (welcome?) change of subject. Even in distracted Baghdad there were protests. Unfortunately it did not induce the Jihadist homicide bombers or those who kill on identity to take a sabbatical- not even for the sake of Islamic solidarity in the face of the world wide web of infidel conspiracies to undermine the faith and distract our wise leaders, may they live forever, from the task of serving their peoples diligently.


Monday, September 18, 2006

An Islamic Dichotomy- A Syrian Invasion?

Comment and News

It looks like the sectarian war of words that accompanied the Lebanon-Israel war is easing. Shi'a-Sunni sectarian tensions started to escalate, especially in the Persian Gulf region because of developments in Iraq, but they rose to new virulent levels during the Lebanon War last summer. The loyal media waged a hot war of words evolving mostly around suspected loyalties of the Shi'as, many of whom sympathized with Hizballah. Many Sunnis across the Middle East also sympathized with Hizballah, but the sectarian distinctions were used in the media to offset that.

In the Gulf region sectarian emotions are as strong as tribal ones, and the two often overlap. This is especially true in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where strong alliances exist among tribes and Sunni Salafi fundamentalists. The rulers have taken advantage of that by catering to both and often encouraging it, often using this alliance for their own political ends. It is a known fact that in the Gulf region fundamentalists tend to have a simplistic view of Islamic morality: they focus on the application of the basic pillars of the faith, to the exclusion of all other ethical or moral issues that deal with accountability and the sanctity of public property and public funds. This is a great deal if you are among the potentates.

What sweetens the pot even more is that Salafi doctrine teaches loyalty to the ruler, as long as he enforces the basic pillars of Islam. This is largely based on quotes from Abu Huraira, who quoted the Prophet Mohammed as saying that a Moslem must obey and put up with his Moslem ruler, no matter how bad or evil he is. It is sort of like rendering unto God what is His and rendering unto Caesar (read oil potentate) what belongs to him and everyone else. This also makes it easier for a ruler to hold his nose and cater to these groups. Actually, in some cases both sides must hold their noses.

King Abdullah II, de Jordanie, yesterday expressed regret that some 'regional' powers are trying to fan the fires of sectarianism, and cause frictions between Shi'as and Sunnis. The King of Jordan is famous for his unfortunate statement a few months ago expressing alarm about a "Shi'a Crescent" across the Middle East. The King did not express any regrets for his own divisive statement. Still, the king must be raking in the oil aid money- quite a contrast with his father the Late King Hussein, de Jordanie aussi, who made the big mistake of siding with Saddam after his invasion of Kuwait. That was a lesson well learned.

deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said that a new law will be passed next month allowing for disarming the militias in Baghdad. He said it will be part of a reconciliation project. Sounds like a good idea to calm down tired and bloodied Baghdad, but will the warlords play?
The I'etilaf (Shi'a) and the Kurdish Alliance made clear that they will offer the draft law on regional federalism to the Parliament this week. Opponents will petition the Supreme Constitional Court to look into some of its provisions.
Ministers of Interior (Police and Security, Interrogation, Knock-on-the-door-at-dawn) of Iraq's neighbors will meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss a Security Strategy against terrorism and keeping Iraq's borders secure from infiltration. It is not clear if they will focus on incoming or outgoing traffic.

Hizballah leader Hassan Nassrallah has criticized the Lebanese cabinet and called for its replacement. The Prime Minister, Mr. Seniora, said disarming Hizballah will be done only peacefully.

The Kuwait daily tabloid al-Siyassah claimed last week that the United States has set November 8th as the date for overthrowing the Baathist regime in Syria. So, after the votes are counted here, and before the recounts are done, the troops will drop in on Damascus, with the editor of that newspaper in the forefront as part of the cannon fodder. The paper also claims that the failedv terrorist operation at the U.S embassy was staged by Syrian intelligence with the aim of improving relations with the United States. There must be less convoluted ways to improve relations with Washington. But then it is Arabia Deserta, or is it Arabia Petraea?


Friday, September 15, 2006

The Pope's Faux Papa, New Plan for Iraq: Talibaning the Jihadists

The Pope and Islam:
The Pope quoted an early Byzentine emperor talking to a visiting Persian scholar, and the Moslem world went on a rampage...again. In Pakistan they condemned and burned effigies of the Pope. In Iran they condemned the Pope and for good measure shouted 'Marg bar Amrika, Death to America' even though the man is not American. In the Arab countries they are scrambling to out-outrage each other, the English grammar be damned. All across the Middle East they are condemning in unison....fundamentalists, secularists, rich men, poor men, beggar men and thieves.

Part of the quote was unfortunate, for it did insult Mohammed. Islamic scripture, especially the Hadith, contains cases and quotes of abuses thrown at the Prophet Mohammed by the infidels of his era. These are published and read quite legally. The Pope was quoting someone, but in this explosive age of unreason, it would have been tactful to skip it.

As for the part about spreading the faith by the sword- it is part of the history of the faith. The Hadith and our historians tell us of the great battles against the infidel Arab tribes of Jahiliyya, as well as against the Persians, the Byzentines and the Goths of Iberia. These battles are glorified in textbooks. The fact is, the faith was spread by the sword- mostly after the death of the Prophet. This is what I was taught at school from K1 and for over 12 years. Our history texts always glorified the conquest of Damascus, of Andalusia, of Egypt. And the Jewish oasis of Khaibar in Western Arabia.
For that matter, Christianity was also spread by the sword. Otherwise South America, Oceania, large swaths of Africa, and, yes, North America would not be mostly Christian today.

Baghdad is to be ringed with a security belt, reducing access to the city to a few main roads, More U.S. troops will also be redeployed to the capital from al-Anbar province. It looks like that mostly Sunni province is being ceded for now to the Salafi Jihadists and their allies. The huge province has very long borders with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, which makes it almost impossible to control the flow of men, money, and arms.
The apparent goal is to choke off the flow of Sunni terrorists into the city, thus preparing the ground for eventually easing out the Shi'a militias. Clearly the two are connected: without cutting off the access of the jihadists and Baathists to Baghdad, it is hard to make a case for disarming or, more likely, redeploying the entrenched Shi'a militias. It looks like a good plan on paper, but can the capital be made secure from the daily bombings?
As for al-Anbar, perhaps it is best to keep it isolated for some time. The example of Afghanistan is relevant here, where the Taliban and their al-Qaeda guests were isolated and running a country (literally deeper into the ground), which made it easier to sweep them out. If the Salafi Jihadists and their Baathist allies can be coaxed into a settled life in al-Anbar, saddled with all the trappings and restrictions of running a province with scant resources, where rustling sheep is considered an avocation, then perhaps at some point they can be swept away like any other incompetent regime.

The War for Iraq: Arab Silence, American Blindness


A leading Iraqi Sunni politician, a Mr. Adnan al-Dulaimi, today condemned ‘militia’ attacks in Baghdad and other towns. The ‘militias’, or ‘sectarian militias’, is now the new catch phrase used among the Sunnis in Iraq and across the Gulf region in referring to Shi’a armed groups. The term has even crossed continents and become de rigueur among the savvy politicians looking toward ‘08 and among the media in Washington. Which makes sense, since these groups are militias and they are Shi’as, and they are widely suspected of being involved in killings based on identity. They are part, but only part, of what is tearing Iraq apart.

But the Iraqi politician refrained, with admirable self-restraint, from condemning the Salafi jihadists and Baathist terrorists who have been wreaking havoc in Iraq for three years. Unfortunately, he is not alone in that selective restraint- the political and media elites of the whole Arab World have watched silently as the slaughter, mostly of Shi’as, accelerated in Iraq. Just as they watched silently while the Baathists of Anfal gassed the Kurds and razed their villages, and expelled hunderds of thousands in ethnic cleansing operations in the 1980s. The best of them watched silently, others were eager cheerleaders. Not a single one has apologized or expressed regret for a past position- not a newspaper editor, not a leader.

In Iraq, the daily scenes of death and misery became part of a subtle bargaining process: not only to reverse the democratic process in Iraq, but also to keep at bay the wolves at the Arab doors howling for reform and accountability. Then came a day when in Jordan, and in some other Arab states as well, they suddenly discovered that al-Zarqawi and his group were terrorists who could kill non-Shi’as as efficiently. But that came after the bombings in Amman extinguished the gleam of pride in the native son who had done well by himself and his sect.

Some must have been doing more than just watching the carnage take its toll not only in human lives, but also on the fabric of an Iraqi society devastated by 80 years of oppressive minority rule. The men, materiel, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funds must come from some sources with deep pockets. And it obviously cannot be a Shi’a source. Hint: Iran is the only Shi’a source with that kind of money, but it probably prefers to finance Shi’a organizations like Hizbollah rather than Sunni/Salafi groups who are its enemies. So, whence come all the massive funds needed for the men, food, shelter, trucks and other equipment? (Another hint: Syria is almost a basket case and cannot afford to finance the intensive Jihadist campaign). So, let us start the search from the beginning....for the organizations with deep pockets that want to provide the financing.

Perhaps someone needs to explain these sectarian nuances to the leaders and their advisers, their Arabists, in Washington D.C. Or perhaps they understand these things and are playing the card for all its worth with a view to a future confrontation with the stubborn mullahs and Ahmadinejad, the often incoherent little man who is needling the clerics from the right in Tehran. Perhaps the experts are intellectual Clark Kents doing their best to look awkward for a purpose. In that case, it is time to head for the phone booth and show Lois their real stuff.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Al-Qaida in Lebanon, Taliban Redux, and an Immortal Egyptian Phrase

Analysis and Commentary

Is al-Qaida surging again? For some time now al-Qaida had almost disappeared from the screen, literally. The terrorist organization was reduced to issuing a series of rambling video-audio tapes, telling the world that it still existed. Of course the bombs kept exploding in Bali, Madrid, and London took. And al-Qaida does not engage in military operations, it plans patiently its suicide killings.

For a while the group was overshadowed by world events, events in which it had no significant role, if any. There was Iraq, then the Iranian nukular (or is it nuclear?) issue. Then came the unkindest cut of all, as far as all Salafi jihadists are concerned: their thunder was stolen by a Shia organization from Lebanon. Hizballah is not only of the wrong sect, it does not even subscribe to a global jihadist philosophy, and it sucked away the limelight and a big chunk of Moslem popular imagination.

Now al-Qaida is back, waving its new trump card: a kaffir recruit, a former pothead from Kaleephornia (or is it California). But the real news should be the Taliban, who seem to be regaining ground in parts of the Pushtun lands in Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border. The Taliban are also resorting to the tactics of the Sunni terrorists in Iraq- suicide bombings and roadside explosives that kill indiscriminately. These are having some effect- otherwise Afghanistan would not even be in the news again.

In an ominous sign, al-Qaida is apparently activating its franchise in Lebanon. The group, led by someone al-Arabiya TV (Sept 12, 2006) calls Abu Rushd al-Migati had been dormant, training and sending occasional bombers across to Iraq. Now it seems to seek a local role in Lebanon. With Sunni-Shia tensions high in the Persian Gulf region, it is likely to get some funds from that region, if only to keep Hizballah looking over its shoulder.

In Egypt, Prime Minister Mohammed Nadheef, his last name means ‘Clean’, is being forced out. According to media reports, Mr. Clean apparently ran afoul of Gamal Mubark, the son of the president and heir apparent to the Egyptian throne, who is said to be an eager reformer. So, out he goes, and in comes a Mr. Rasheed- his last name means ‘Wise’ or ‘Rightly-Guided’ but don’t hold your breath. So, Prime Minister Wise (no, he is not Weiss) will get a crack at the immovable Egyptian bureaucracy. A great Egyptian political leader, Saad Zaghloul once succinctly summed up the political situation to his wife (sort of Egyptian pillow talk, if you will) in one sentence: ‘mafeesh faida ya Saffiya. Ain't no use, it is hopless, Saffiya.’
In the Arab World you can repeat the same phrase today, about twenty two times, once for each capital. If you do, you would be right in almost every case, but you would also be very unwise.


Friday, September 08, 2006

King Abdullah's Iraqi Wall, America's Mexican Wall, and The Chines Yuan


Some people in the United States have been demanding a security fence across the border with Mexico, one that they hope will stop illegal immigration from the south and stem the tide of their company CEOs speaking only Spanish and their neighborhoods turning dusky. There probably is a lot of illegal immigration from Canada as well, mainly from Asians and Europeans who can fly into Canada without a visa. Now a security fence, or wall, may work if you have an efficient policing and enforcing mechanism. Just building a fence/wall and turning on a switch will not do, unless you can refer back to the old East German manuals. Besides, it will most likely have more a negative impact on the environment, the fauna of the southwest than a positive one on the flow of illegals.

Now it looks like this good-fence-makes-good-neighbor idea is spreading across the world. Arab media report that Saudi King Abdullah is planning a long fence, perhaps the mother of all fences, across his country's long, some say too long, border with Iraq. The fence will consist of electric wires, berms, trenches, bricks, crotch-cupping rappers and other assorted things that might annoy and deter incoming traffic. A veritable Arabian Maginot Line. Of course the Iraqis can bypass that by swinging wide across Belgium, always the soft....crotch, or underbelly if you will, of its neighborhood (What else is under a belly?).

King Abdullah, whatever one thinks of the regime that he heads, is a simple but level-headed and intelligent man- he has what is called bedu or badiya smarts. He is not quite the modern day Claudius, Plato and Ataturk all wrapped in one the way the sycophants in the Saudi-owned media make him out to be these days. But that is ok, Arab media in general is full of sychophants kissing all the rulers'...err....noses.
Now if this calm elderly monarch is so worried about Iraq, if the reports of this Saudi fence are true, that has ominous implications for the future of Iraq and the region. It means the Saudis, and other Arab oil states, the moneybags and real powers in this post-nationalist and quasi-fun-damentalist Arab World, are ready to give up on their northern neighbor. If the rports are true, which is a big 'if'.

Some time back Kuwait was also thinking of a fence along the Iraqi border, but that was when Saddam, formerly admired across the region as Abu Uday, was still in power. Now, with the uncertainty of the terror and counter-terror campaign across Iraq, perhaps the idea will be revived.

A wall, or a static line cannot in itself keep away determined invaders, as Les Francaises discovered at least once. The Saudi worry seems to be more of refugees in case Iraq either moves to a full scale civil war or breaks up into several states, some of whom maybe turn out to be nasty neighbors.

Then there is the other fence/wall, the one we have been screaming about, before we started planning our own. The nascent Israeli wall across the West Bank, part of which is already finished.

Of course the Chinese started this whole dependence of walls when they built their own many centuries ago, perhaps with an eye to the future explosion of American and European middle class tourism....with the yuan kept at such a low exchange rate, shyly shadowing the dollar at an annoyingly fixed distance.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bush, Ahmadinejad, Mithradites, and Saudi Jinn

Comments and Analysis

An Acquaintance contacted me this afternoon and talked about Presidents Bush and Ahmadinejad. She noted that this morning, in fact hours earlier, Bush had called the Iranian leader a 'tyrant'. She though that was not the proper title or adjective to use because, she said, the man was elected as an underdog against the chosen candidate of the powerful clergy. Ok, she added, the elections are restricted and framed so that only those who pose no threat to the clerical regime can run- still, the man won. Even if most people were disappointed and stayed away from the polls.
I asked her what she thought Bush should call Ahmadinejad that is more accurate and reminds people of the man's strange world views and possible aspirations. An idiot, she told me right away. But leaders don't call each others 'idiots', I reminded her. It is so un-statesman-like (I broke it into three slow syllables). She did not seem convinced.

Which caused me to think: maybe she was right. 'Tyrant' may not be the right word in this case. If only because most of our Arab allies are at least as 'tyrannical'- none of them has ever been elected in a free election. In the Middel East, a leader who is not a tyrant is soon dead or, if he is lucky, in exile. Still, an idiot does not sound a....'presidential' thing to say. I know, nor is sh-t, but that word was not mentioned publicly in an open forum. Besides, IT happens.

Personally the term tryant is much maligned these days. Two thousand years ago it merely described a certain type of ruler and did not repersent any form of judgement about his behavior. In those days everybody was at least a tyrant- I know that Mithradites was even worse, at least one of the several Mithraditeses was.

Back to Saudi Arabia and the 21st Century: A teacher in the Saudi city of Jeddah had to finally call in the cops. Alarabiya TV reports today that this teacher was contacted by someone from Africa and told that some 'Jinn', evil spirits to you kaffir infidels, are in possession of his life and his destiny, unbeknown to him. He was to pay a sum of money to be rid of the pesky spirits and somehow find some old treasures belonging to an ancestor of his. The man, now good and greedy, was strung along, and ended up paying huge sums of money either by wire transfer or directly to the agents of this 'African' shaikh. In the end, when they failed to come up with maps to the purported treasure, he went to to police. I wonder what magnet madrassah- this innocuous term is a school to most of you- he taught at.


Monday, September 04, 2006

The Iranian Front, Iraq's Flag, Russia and the Salafis

Analysis and Comment

The Iranian Front:
Alarabiya TV quotes the British media that Israel has appointed a General to lead a newly-created unit for an 'Iranian Front'. The station quotes some experts as saying that Israel now considers Iran its 'main strategic enemy'. The report also claims that Israel feels that it now has the last two years of the Bush administration to do something about Iran- either unilaterally or perhaps in cooperation with the US.
I believe it is highly unlikely that Israel will take any action, if it intends to, against Iran without cooperation from the United States. The United States is now effectively the master and gatekeepr of the Arab World- American power now controls all the skies, the seas, and the landmass of the Middle East, with the exception of Iran. Israel's air force must pass through 'American territory' to get across the Persian Gulf or the Zagross Mountains.

For all the commentary and analyses about the blunders of the Bush administration in the Arab World, starting with Iraq and neglect of the Palestine issue, it now looks like the United States is more in control of the Arab World than ever before. Even the British in their imeperial days had to share power with the French and some independent local dynasties in Iran, Saudi Arabia and even North Yemen. No power has ever had so much control of the area to the east and south of the Mediterranean, not since the Roman Empire. The only attempt to challenge this Pax Americana seems to come from Iran, the same source of the major challenge to the Roman hegemony two millennia ago. Right now it does not look like this challenge will have any better luck than the ancient one. For one, the packaging is not very attractive, and the substance within the package is probably not acceptable to many people in the region.

Talks in Lebanon:
In Lebanon, the UN's Kofi Annan confirms reports aired days ago on the Arabic Aljazeera TV of indirect negotiations between Israel and Hizballah for an exchange of prisoners. The Saudi-owned Alarabiya TV reports, somewhat gleefully, that Qatar Air will be the first air carrier to fly directly to Beirut without stopping in Amman for inspections by Jordanian security on behalf of Israel. It also claims that Qatar has made the special arrangements directly with Israel. So far Qatar is the only Persian Gulf country which has an Israeli representative office in its capital, something that will likely expand to include a couple of others, probably UAE and Oman. within the GCC Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain are more problematic in this regard- they are shy and reticent for political reasons and will take many more years.

Kurdish vs Baathist Flag:
In Iraq, the issue of lowering and banishing the old Baath flag in Kurdistan is escalating for now, but will most likely fizzle to nothing. The PM, Al-malki has said that the national flag should be raised all over the country. Sunni politicians threaten to start a political campaign aimed at keeping the flag which still seems to carry Saddam Hussein's handwriting. The Kurds claim they willl be happy to raise the very first republican Iraqi flag on national occasions- that was the flag that preceded the first Baath coup in 1963. The Sunnis have a strong attachment to the Baath flag, because it plays to their own and the country's once-strong pan-Arab orientation when they controlled Iraq for decades. In the end the Kurds will win the argument since the Iraqi Constitution stipulates a new national flag. Besides, the opponents have no leverage.

Gulf Fundamentalists and Russia:
Russia has listed two major Kuwaiti non-profit organizations as terrorist organizations. One is the Jamiyat el-Islah, the Social Reform Society (aka the local Moslem Brotherhood), the other one is even more problematic, it is the Islamic Heritage Revival Society (aka Salafis). The latter was the local cheerleader for the Taliban before 9/11. The Russians clearly at the least suspect their involvement in financing the troubles in Chechnya. These two organizations are the strongest political 'parties' in Kuwait because they were the only ones that were allowed to operate freely during the 1970s and 1980s. They have several members in the cabinet.
The U.S. Treasury Department has in the past designated the Pakistani and Afghan branches of the Islamic Heritage Revival Society (the Salaf of Kuwait) as terrorist networks.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Al-Qaida Needs New Rags, Lebanon Blockaded, Saudi Man Cuts Own 'Cord'

Al-Qaeda Feels Left Out:
Ayman Al-Zawahiri released another video-clip, lest the world forgets him, hiding so far in the rugged tribal lands of Pakistan while Hassan Nassrallah enjoys the limelight and the ambience of Beirut. He invited the American people to convert to Islam. No takers so far. I think he might have better luck if he changes his attire, perhaps to something that does not immediately evoke in some American minds a certain derogatory term related to loose clothes. Has the man never seen these other elders (the kaffir equivalent of shaikhs), the clean-looking fershly-scrubbed Mormon boys and (gasp) girls? And I thought they went everywhere.

Lebanon Blockaded:
The Lebanese Asembly Speaker, Nabih Berri, who also heads the Shi'a Amal (Hope) movement, has called for Lebanese parliamentarians to stage a protest over the continued Israeli blockade of his country.

Middle East reports indicate that the Israeli blockade covers air traffic as well as sea and land movements. Apparently all airliners heading for Beirut airport must now land first in Amman, Jordan for inspection before being allowed to fly into Lebanon. Arab commentators who care to comment on this complain that basically Jordan is playing the role of Israeli inspectors or security agents. All Arab governments have so far avoided this thorny issue in the good old-fashioned Arab way, by simply ignoring it. Some insane Arab commentators have suggested that all Arab leaders should get into a plane and fly into Beirut without stopping in Amman for the mandatory inspection. So far there are no takers.

Looks like a cabinet reshuffle is in the cards for Iraq. It is highly unlikely that the partisan or sectarian mix will change. Arab media also report that former US Secretary of State James Baker is heading a special group charged by President Bush with assessing US policy in Iraq. The reports said that Baker is currently in Iraq holding meetings with top leaders. But if this is true, can he repeat his succeses before Desert Storm (90/91) and in Florida (2000)?

Ayatollah Sistani has warned the Iraqi government that the state must control the security situation, otherwise others might fill the vacuum.

Oil Prices and Reform:
Gulf news reports indicate that the price of Persian Gulf crude is now at the low $60s. That should have no immediate budgetary effect, since the price used for budget planning is much lower than that. The lower oil prices should have positive long-term effects, though- under other circumstances they might force serious attention to economic and fiscal reforms. Usually, when oil prices are lower, the talk of reform escalates, but all is forgotten when prices move up, which they inevitably do, in terms of current dollars.

Saudi Man Cuts own Manhood: reports that a 28 year old man in Saudi Arabia stood up in a mosque during the early morning prayers and made a brief speech to the congregation. He told them that people should be respectful and should cut off any part of their body that moves during prayers. The man took off his clothes as he talked, then he took out a sharp instrument and cut off his penis. reports indicate that the young man had been married three times and that all his marriages had ended in divorce. reports also said that the same mosque witnessed a similar event about a year earlier. Must be something in the water.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Uneasy Peace in lebanon, War Drums On the Persian Gulf

News and Commentary

It seems that the war of words over Lebanon has been toned down in most of the Arab media. There are exceptions however, including some dailies in Kuwait and one or two Saudi newspapers, and the London-based alquds alarabi, which takes the opposite view. A recent trend in the Gulf emirates has been to enlist professors at local universities to write opinion pieces on this issue that support the editorial positions of the newspapers. Presumably this is supposed to have more influence on public opinion, although I have my own serious doubts.

Arab media mention reports of mediation on an exchange of prisoners between Lebanon and Israel. The reports claim, alternately, that Italy and Germany are involved. Hassan Nassrallah, leader of Hezballah, has also hinted of 'negotiations' in recent days.

Some daily tabloids in the smaller emirates of the Persian Gulf region are beating the drums of war, all but urging a US attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. This is especially true of two tabloids in war-weary Kuwait of all places. However, this is not the case with most of the media in the region. One of the tabloids, alseyassah, claims on its front page (September 1) that an Iranian plot has been uncovered to start a massive terror campaign on the Arab side of the Gulf. It ties the plot to some top Hizbollah operatives, whom it claims have disappeared from the radar and might be in place for such a campaign. In other words, a Shi'a (Shiite to the infidels) version of the Sunni Salafi terror campaign that has plagued democratic Iraq. No other media sources in the region have carried this story. The same tabloid claimed last week that the US was planning a coup in Baghdad to overthrow the elected government and appoint Iyad Allawi as leader, with some former Baathist general as military commander. A news item like this, even though most likely fabricated by the editors, does not exactly enhance Mr. Allawi's chances of a political comeback.

A sign of things to come: reports indicate that Mr Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, has ordered that only the Kurdish flag is to be raised on official buildings. The Alarabiya TV reports that he has ordered all Iraqi flags removed.

In Bahrain, Alarabiya TV quotes opposition figures as claiming that the Sunni rulers of the heavily Shi'a island (70-75%) are working to change the population mix by giving citizenship to thousands of Arabs and Asians. In the Gulf emirates, the issue of nationality and naturalization of foreigners is in the hands of the Minister of Interior (sort of like Attorney general in the USA or Home Secretary in the UK), who is always a powerful member of the ruling family. Bahrain has been plagued by high unemployment and discontent among the Shi'a majority for years.

In Egypt, there has been criticisms of the two funerals for the late Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz. One funeral was held in an upscale part of Cairo, and was oddly a military service attended by the President and high offficials. The other funeral was held in his old modest neighborhood, in the poorer section of Cairo, near where he grew up and wrote his masterpieces. It is still not clear why a military service for a man who never served in the military.

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