Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Leaving on a jetplane...
Don't know when I'll be back again......"
Peter, Paul & Mary- Dec 1969: their own bit of Bush-ism

A columnist, Mahmoud al-Mubarak, has written an interesting column in the daily alhayat . He titles it "When the Guest is an Idiot." No, he is not writing about Ahmadinejad as a guest of Columbia University- he is writing about another leader, another guest, on another visit just about to start. Now, if the two ever meet, it might be hilarious.

Elaph notes that the Israelis are receiving Mr. Bush (not with flowers, but) by intensifying the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories of the West bank.

The same site also headlines a report that "Arabs Lose 50% of Their Brains Each Year". My first reaction was extreme worry at the thought that all are becoming half-wits and then worse every year. In that case, and using some version of half-life analysis (the power of e exponential and all that), at some point in time the brain power of the Arab world will approach zero- but of course it will never get to zero- the mathematical function won't allow it. The curve will be asymptotic to the zero-line. I believe that will be much worse than the case is now- unless they lose 50% of the leaders each year, to voluntary retirement of course. Of course.
But not to worry, the report was not as revolutionary as that.

Now the mystery is cleared- perhaps this is why they don't let them drive over there. A Saudi woman in Cairo drove her Hummer into a taxi and killed three (so far). Some Cairo press reports claimed that she was a princess, but in Cairo any Gulf woman is a princess or a shaikha- many like being thought of as such, except for the real ones. Some Saudi media outlets were quick, in tribal Gulfie fashion, to declare that the (Saudi) woman is of an Egyptian mother- as if a personal accident casts a pall over Saudi Arabia, and an Egyptian mother somehow spreads the blame among the Had the woman won a gold medal, or mor likely given birth to a kid with two sets of eyes, a holy sign in some circles, everybody would be scrambling to claim her...100%, and the other tribe be damned.
A richness of alibis: the lady claimed she was trying to dislodge her son who had slipped between the seats and that her brakes failed at the same: in the old days the Zionists would have been blamed as well- but that was the Old New Middle East...before the birth pangs that rained death over Southern Beirut and killed so many people in the Summer of 2006- Ok, OK, arguably those explosive birth pangs were initially invited by the Hezbollah action of kidnapping two Israeli soldiers, before they got out of hand.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Secretary General of the Arab League is probably a humorous person, many Egyptians are- unlike, say, the Lebanese and Jordanians where it is often impossible to discern a sense of humor. In the Gulf states there is some limited sense humor as well, but it is always at the expense of others. Perhaps this is because the Egyptians are secure of their own place in history- they have no inferiority complex, because they concede that they are in many ways inferiors to some other nations now. The others, they suspect that they are inferior, in many ways, to many others as well, but they would never concede it, and try to cover it up with permanent scowls which scream "I am serious, take me seriously." Try driving or walking around in the Gulf States or in Jordan, or Lebanon- you'll see mostly scowling faces, especially among the extremely insecure men. This also applies to a lesser extent to Iranians and I suspect the Israelis as well, although I doubt that they can match the others.

Almost all of them have at least one thing in common: they are ruled by lousy regimes. But so are the Egyptians, who seem to have kept their historic sense of humor- but I suspect that the longer Mr. Mubarak lasts, the less humorous Egyptians will become. Before you know it, you can walk around a grim Cairo, looking at scowling faces, thinking you might be in Amman, Riyadh, or Beirut.

Back to Mr. Moussa, the Arab League chief. He said the other day that Lebanon is solely 'an Arab issue'. He said that between visits of American and French dignitaries, and between statements from Mr. Bush, Secretary Rice, and M. Sarkozy about what should happen in Lebanon. Even Dr. M. Kouchner, whose heart is probably not in it, has opined on it.

The Iranians, the target of the League's statement, are being clever about it. They have a finger in the Lebanese pie, like evrybody else, but they have refrained from making public statements about Lebanon recently. Which has led to louder complaints by frustrated Arab governments and their media about "non-Arab" interference in Lebanon- they do not mean American, French, or Israeli interference. Perhaps they mean Hezollah and Syria which are Arab and not Mr. Hariri who is both Lebanese and Saudi- and as Arab as a Lebanese can get.

Arab media, especially in the Gulf region, are full of columnists sharing with us their wishes for the new year. They mostly want for the Lebanon impasse to be settled, for Syria to desist, for democracy to prevail in places like Venezuela, Pakistan and Myanmar- and in some Arab states like Syria, but only Syria is named because that is the only Arab state where democracy, accountability and freedom do not flourish.
Either they are insinuating that these are the main countries of the world that are still undemocratic, or they are insinuating that it is hopeless to hope for democracy in the Arab world and hence it is best to push for it elsewhere. I suspect the latter in most cases.

Hezbollah's Hassan Nassrallah has also opined on his country's situation. He has threatened more serious civil action to break the political deadlock. Except the deadlock is not lasting because of the Lebanese, they are good at compromises- it is lasting because both sides are being subjected to extreme pressure from their rich Arab and powerful foreign supporters.

Iran's supreme leader (for life of course), no, the real leader not Ahmadinejad (he is only the elected help), has stated that not having relations with America is one of the main policies of his country. This is the first time I hear that not having relations with another country is a major policy of a government. Perhaps the US stand on Cuba is another case, althoug there might be unresolved financial, economic, and Florida electoral issues involved in that case.
He hinted that Messrs Bush and Chaney should not lose hope though, because this may change some day.

Oh, and more than one Arab opinion-maker has expressed the wish that, in 2008, the biggest hit Arab song will be something other than the hit for 2007: that one was "bahibbak ya hmar, I Love You, Jackass". No idea which one of the jackasses the song was dedicated to- I believe it is a one-size-fits-all type of song that can be sung in any Arab capital safely.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Arabia 2007, Political vacuums, Bhutto's Revenge,

"The root of the word 'vacuum' is the Latin adjective 'vacuus' which means empty, but space can never be perfectly empty. A perfect vacuum with a gaseous pressure of absolute zero is a philosophical concept that is never observed in practice, partly because 'quantum theory' predicts that no volume or space can be perfectly empty in this way." Wiko.
Arab media has been full of anguish over Lebanon. Statements by Arab leaders are full of the same anguish about Lebanon. They are all worried about the vacuum of the presidency in Lebanon. This is all symbolic, of course, because the president of Lebanon is a head of state and does not make policy: he is no more important for the daily running of the country than the presidents of Israel and Germany, and how many people remember their names? What they probably worry about is the continued impasse between the Hariri-Saniora rump cabinet and the Hezbollah-Amal-Michel Oun opposition, which has paralyzed the country. There is a vacuum in Lebanon that needs to be filled soon, if only bcause it is hampering the functioning of a full cabinet that does not exist.

Reporters, columnists, and opinion-makers in the (Persian) Gulf of Frustration states, some of them perofessors doubling as royal gunslingers, get especially misty-eyed about Lebanon these days. They lament the old days when they spent summers in cool Lebanon, doing and drinking many things they cannot do and drink at home whether in Najd, Hijaz or on the shores of the Gulf of Frustration. Those were the same old days when many disenfranchised Lebanese, mostly Shi'as, were confined to their southern villages and subsistence farms, and did not bother the bosses who ruled from Beirut and were mostly paid up agents of Western and Arab regimes. Those were the days when everybody knew their place: in true Arab fashion, as the atrocious popular Gulf saying goes, "one never extended his feet beyond his blanket". That tattered blanket has been kicked off and burned. Aaah, for the days of cheap drinks and cheap women in Lebanon, perhaps gone forever.

Yet everybody in the Arab media seems to ignore a bigger vacuum looming in the Middle East- in the largest Arab country. The president of Egypt, in power for over 26 years, is nearing eighty years of age. He has always refused to appoint a vice president, disingenuously claiming that he does not want to impose a future president on the country. And he says it with a straight face. He has imposed himself on the people without an election for all these years, yet he worries about a vice president. Of course he has been grooming his son to inherit power, in the style of a true Arab absolute monarchy, a la Kim Jung Il and Bashar al-Assad, both having inherited their respective countries and their peoples from their despotic fathers. He has been doing it for a quarter century, and has only been forced in recent years to show his hand. And the Arabs, rulers and media have bought it all, hook, line, and sinker- well, they know, but then they all play the same game. So apparently has the West: both Bush and Sarko stand next to Mubarak, creator of what can be potentially the biggest political vacuum in the MIddle East, and decry the vacuum in Lebanon. Clever Arab autocrat? Dumb Westerners? A bit of both.

The Saudi ruling family has noted the possibility of family conflict once the direct sons of old Ibn Saud are dead. The ruling family has set up a council from among its members, of course, to look into the issue of succession in the future. They do not want a vacuum and the potential internal conflicts it might lead to, as has happened in some emirates and sheikhdoms in the Gulf in recent years.

Iran's Ahmadinejad made a blunder of his own by talking about a coming vacuum in Iraq. He said that Iran, along with Iraqis and other regional nations like Saudi Arabia, can help fill the vacuum. This was another of his many foolish statements- he seems to be good at making them just when everybody has almost forgotten his last one. It shored up the Bush administration policy in Iraq and the Middle East by worrying Americans and scaring the hell out of some Arabs. But is any regime foolish enough to think it can supplant the United States in Iraq and do any better?

In Pakistan, the late Benazir Bhutto was being feted as a near-martyr democrat by the Western and Arab press when her will was read. In true 'turd' world fashion, she had willed the whole Pakistan People's Party to her 19 year old son and her husband with sticky fingers. That was her lousy present to her people on New Years Eve. Maybe it was her way of avenging herself and her father. No wonder Pakistan is a hopeless case with nuclear weapons. Imagine Hillary willing the Democratic Party to Chelsea.

Alarabiya TV reports that Saudi Arabian security has been holding a blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, for three weeks now. Officials say he is being held for breaking certain 'regulations'. They did not say what these regulations were that he broke- perhaps they have not decided. I think it has to do with free speech and speaking his mind, to some extent. The report notes that he is one of the few Saudi bloggers who write in their own names. His family have not seen him since his arrest, and they do not know what he is being charged with. Bloggers in Egypt were also eagerly persecuted by the thugs of the security services, with several arrests and many sites being closed.

On the brighter side, and contrary to some 'expert' predictions in the West, petroleum prices held steady and then moved above $ 90 during the year. This has been good politically for all Middle East rulers, both Arab and Iranian. Talk of reform continues, but it is more muted, and is almost exclusively about economic and financial reform, which tends to flow with about the speed of cold molasses on a January morning.
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