July 2005 Archives
July 31, 2005
Alawi-Ismaili violence in Syria
No value added, just pointing to a Josh Landis narrative of a trip to Qadmous, where Alawi villagers attacked a number of Ismaili-owned stores recently. I am having no luck whatsoever finding any news summaries (or mention whatsoever) of the event outside Landis' site. Some excerpts under the cut, but go read the whole thing.
July 29, 2005
Furthering Political Integration in the Gulf Cooperation Council
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a grouping of six states on the Arabian peninsula- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE- formed in 1981. Each of the aforementioned states is an absolute monarchy that depends upon hydrocarbons as the primary source of revenue for its rentier economy. The organization’s record on cooperation thus far has been mixed. Significant decisions require the unanimous support of all six member states. The GCC acts an effective bloc only when members’ national interests coincide. However, when consensus cannot be reached, decision-making is blocked.
"A black comedy of errors"
It was shocking to discover Lynne Graham's seminal treatise on East-West relations, "The Arabian Mistress", languishing in the one-dollar-clearance bin at Books & Record Exchange. In her detailed allegorical analysis of the strained and difficult history between Arabia and the West, Graham brings both depth of knowledge and sharp perception.
"Arabia" is encapsulated in the boldy-drawn, bold-tempered protagonist, Prince Tariq Shazad ibn Zachir. Graham's multiple, florid descriptions of this 28-year-old "paramount Sheikh of Jumar" are surely a sly dig at Western stereotyping of the "Orient", from the lush harems depicted in Orientalist art to cult romance figures such as Valentino's The Sheikh.
"He stilled like a lion on the prowl. Magnificent, hugely confident, his silent grace of movement one of his most noticeable physical attributes. In the sunlight he was a golden feast of vibrant masculinity. His luxuriant black hair shone. His tawny skin glowed with health and his stunning bronze eyes gleamed like precious metal, both brilliant and unreadable. Indeed, he was quite staggeringly beautiful..."
July 28, 2005
Fatwas Against Terrorism
From the State Department:
The Fiqh Council of North America has issued a fatwa against terrorism:
The scholars based their ruling on several Quranic passages, including the verse, “Whoever kills a person [unjustly]… it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.” (Quran 5:32)
I mentioned this verse a while back, to make a point about terrorists in Iraq "justifying" their behaviour by using apostasy as a loophole. That loophole was closed by a group of clerics in Jordan, one day before the London bombings.
Theological Question of No Relevance
This question has no bearing on anything modern or political, just idle intellectual curiosity, if anyone in the brain trust can help: What is the consensus - if any -- among Islamic scholars on the Christian figure St. Paul (Boulos)? Is he regarded as a corrupter of original Christianity, a victim of distortion etc.? Yes, I know a trip to the Encyclopedia of Islam would probably help but I'm too lazy at the moment.
Terror & Ideology - A Resume
We've been talking quite abit about this, naturally given London, Sharm esh-Sheikh and the like. I think a small wrap up, as well as a compare and contrast, especially with some recent reports and editorials, may be useful. So, below the fold I think the expression goes, a longish commentary and perhaps a slight Lounsbury-ish rant:
July 27, 2005
On IMF, Populism, Yemen & Jordan: Populism as Self Defeat, or why subsidy riots are not wins
A small note in response to a note by our friend, the Father of Aardvark(s) (hmmmm, I believe that I should create an Arabised plural, and for the sheer fun of it, a broken one, so from now on, Abu Aardvark to me is Abu Araadvaraak (abusing grammar and presuming Ardvark is a compound word), or in Maghrebine form Bou Aradvrak). on the 'victory' of the Yemani street in reversing the revision of subsidised petrol prices.
Posted by The Lounsbury at 03:09 PM
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Filed Under: Business, Private , Economic Development , Economic Policy , Foreign Policy & MENA , Gulf , Levant , MENA Region General , Op-Ed
July 26, 2005
Combating Terrorism, Part II, or: Why Do They Still Hate Us?
In a recent New York Times op-ed piece (free registration required), Olivier Roy questions the nature of the relationship between Islamic terrorism and the Israel/Palestine conflict; after all, many of the splashiest Islamic terrorist acts of the past few years have taken place either on the periphery of the parts of the Islamic world that have traditionally drawn Western attention (e.g. Afghanistan, Chechnya), places that haven’t been part of the Muslim world for several centuries (Spain), or places which only recently have experienced an influx of Muslims (England, the U.S.)
Creating Opportunities - Liberalisation & MENA, The Micro Level
A small piece of news that I shall try to expand on, but after some little work on a Fund proposition. In the meantime, for comment and reflection.
The Moroccan business press reported an item that I would think most readers would pass over in boredom, but I find highly relevant to understanding why unemployment is so high throughout the MENA region and why liberalisation - domestic liberalisation even more so than to the global market, is so important for giving real opportunities to the populations here. And by doing so, providing alternatives to the ever more attractive nihilism of Salafist Takfiri ideology.
The Lounsbury Return: Iraq & Civil War
I'm back from a bloody long trip and quite beat. Regardless, a quick note to draw attention (via Juan Cole) to a New York Times article, cited at the billmon blog, discussing the new emergence of open discussion of the emerging civil war in Iraq. As longtime Lounsbury readers know, I called the "entry into the Lebanese logic" a year or so ago.
Turns Out Iran's History Begins Before the Hostage Crisis - Part 1
It turns out that Iran's history begins before the '79 Hostage Crisis.
Now, some of you may ask why I didn't go straight to Ervand Abrahamian's* The Iranian Mojahedin. There's more than one reason why. To start, his work is disputed by the PMOI. For me to use his work to gainsay the PMOI seems needlessly arbitrary. Second, I need at least some sort of a minimalist landscape to use as background for the portrait of the MKO in my mind. I need some deeper history. Third, that book's not in at my local library.
It's interesting that in the preface both Juan Cole and Michael Ledeen are given thanks for their help in making the book possible. These are two folks who are seen in American, popular, political culture as residing on opposite sides of a fence- one a pro-neocon visionary and the other a librul with qualms about nuking Mecca. The book was published back in 1981 when, presumably, the differences between the two fellas were less hyped.
July 23, 2005
Another 9-11: Christmas for the Mojahedin-e Khalq?
According to former CIA agent turned journo, Philip Giraldi, Cheney has told STRATCOM to draw up a plan for responding to another major terrorist attack on the US with an assault on Iran. It'd be a full scale affair including "a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons." And, "As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States."
The piece is featured in Aug 1 print edition of American Conservative Magazine
Hopefully, this is what Senator Kyl would call "over the top bluster" on Mr. Giraldi's part. If not, if there's some substance to this characterization of the plans, another tragic attack on the US could be the opening the Sazeman-e Mojahedin-e Khalq-e Iran have been waiting for. They may be able to leverage tragedy and their not insignificant support among various US political actors into an expense paid trip to the remains of Tehran.
Combating Islamist Terrorism: Policy Approaches
Militant Islamist ideology is not a recent phenomenon, the concepts have been around for decades. It was popular with Muslim youth in the 1960-70s, particularly after Sayyid Qutb published Signposts on the Road, a bestseller in the Islamic world that continues to influence Islamist ideology today. At the time, enthusiasm for nationalism was waning and writers like Qutb were disgusted with the corruption of secular authoritarian governments and the perceived erosion of Islamic principles in Egypt and across the Middle East. The answer was of course a return to religion, and a firm rejection of jahiliyya, the state of ignorance and barbarism that occured in the absence of Islam (historically, this term refers to the pre-Islamic period).
So why has this sort of thinking been adopted more recently by a segment of young European Muslims? What is the source of their disenchantment and frustration and how can European (and North American) governments address this issue without compromising ideals such as tolerance and multiculturalism?
July 22, 2005
Sharm el-Sheikh has hosted many international summits and peace conferences. Last year, I had planned a trip to the Sinai (Dahab) but cancelled it in favour of Hurghada because of a bombing near the Egypt-Israel border.
Mubarak may see this as an opportunity to lock down Egypt even more, police presence was enormous when I visited last December, just a few months after the Taba bombings.
Beirut: Monot Street bomb
I'll make this short, because I'm sitting here at home typing this, when I could be going looking for fine (or, likelier, mediocre) Scottish product to finish the day off with.
Monot Street got bombed. 1 killed, 7 injured. But Monot Street.
Monot Street, for those not in the know, is the finest source of pure night-clubbing Lebanese Protest Chyx (as seen in a warblog near you about four months ago) in the world. There is no rival.
I was walking back down from watching BATMAN RETURNS (good flick, by the way) via Rue Monot, and saw a bigger than usual crowd, especially for before 10 PM on a Friday. Plus, instead of all trying to get into some night club, they were looking at something further down the street. There were also a bunch of military vehicles nosing their way down the way. As I got further, some harassed middle-aged guy in army fatigues was shouting at the various pimped-out lounge-lizards to "Please disperse. Stay behind the lines." (Or something like that. In Arabic.)
I took off on a side street, stopping to ask some guy walking the other way with a big honking camera: "Shu saar? Kaan infijar?" "Yes, bomb." At which point I found a coffee shop with a TV on.
Fortunately, the bomb was at 9:45 PM, at which time the Street is hardly even warmed up yet.
I'd like to use this space for a very special message for whoever is making all these bombs: Would you sad sons of bitches please get a life? What, are you afraid the sad speccy anoraks in London are going to get ahead of you in the cross-continent bomb-laying sweeps? It isn't funny, it isn't clever, it isn't even scary. It's just a pain in the ass. Go do salsa dancing lessons or something, I hear it's a great way to meet chyx.
July 21, 2005
Suspect named in Hariri investigation
Well, sort of. In an interview with Le Figaro, Detlev Mehlis, head of the UN commission investigating Hariri's death, has named Mustafa Hamdan as "a suspect", but at the moment he's only suspected of trying to obstruct the investigation by clearing the crime scene prematurely. Hamdan is the commander of the presidential guard, and the only senior chief of the security services who was not fired since the Hariri assassination.
In the interview, Mehlis also says that he doesn't know if he's going to need a 3-month extension, but that the commission is doing its utmost to return its report by September 15th. He expects to interview Rustum Ghazaleh (chief of Syrian security in Lebanon at the time) soonish ("très bientôt").
Secret Dubai Diary Blocked by the UAE
One of 'Aqoul's contributors, secretdubai, now has firsthand experience with UAE's strict internet censorship practices. Her blog, Secret Dubai Diary, was apparently blocked by UAE's Etisalat internet provider after she published a (rather funny) poem based on Gilbert & Sullivan.
The resulting furor has been picked up by local news:
Secret Dubai Diary, a weblog that examines UAE life from an occasionally ironic perspective, was blocked for visitors using Etisalat servers on Sunday.
"I have never heard or read of a Dubai blog being blocked before," says Adnan Arif, an award-winning UAE-based blogger. "Out of all the UAE-based blogs it is the most interesting. It is probably the first blog to hit on a formula that works for local readers."
July 20, 2005
On Iraq: The Question of the Army-in-training
Juan Cole printed a letter today from "Brian", who claims to be a former Australian army officer involved in the training of soldiers. Brian is not impressed with the training regimen in Iraq:
A Short Section of Preliminary Remarks
I s'pose before I get started, I should identitify myself. Being the fat, navel-gazing American that I am, I've had to be reminded from time to time of the necessity of such niceties as introductions. [Hi, Mrs.Khodabandeh ;)]
As thankful as I am for the opportunity, I'm not sure why I've been allowed to contribute here. I'm by far the least educated and most ignorant, least travelled and most provincial, of my esteemed colleagues. I s'pect indulging me's the gilding on the lily of their exercise in madness. Nonetheless, I'll saunter on with it before the indulgence of my co-conspirators is exhausted.
For me, like a lot of us fat, navel-gazers, what raised the threshold for the rationality of ignorance about MENA and the "Muslim World" was 9-11. The subsequent invasion of Iraq served to further my interest in "orientalism."
That's the short of how I came to be rambling and mumbling here for your amusement.
July 19, 2005
Oh NOES, it's teh SEE EYE AY!
Being back in Jordan after a two-year absence has proven to be quite interesting. The amount of newly opened American chain stores are quite large, as are the amount of 'alternative' locally-owned bars and pubs. I've frequented the latter group quite a bit this past week, and have noticed an eerie amount of American folks hanging out among the upper-class Jordanian youth.
For instance, I noticed a tall man with a shaved head and well-built body sitting down alone at a table. This man could have been taken straight out of the military had he not been reading a book, cross-legged, while quietly drinking a glass of wine. I walked up to him and asked him what he was reading, and invited him over to our table. He ignored the question but introduced himself and walked over with me anyway. When he sat down I repeated the question, and he said: "I'm a writer." Intrigued, I asked him what sort of stuff he wrote. He responded with a vague answer, something along the lines of: "I write different things, for papers and stuff, and other things too."
Another incident occurred at the Jordanian Film Convention I attended a few nights ago. This man, J., claimed to work with an NGO "dealing with Iraq". He didn't know what NGO he was working for, however, or at least, that was his reponse when I asked him. After talking to a friend I found out that this guy actually interviewed Iraqi prisoners, but again, not much was known about the actual organization he worked for.
Now this is not going to be an analysis so much as a personal observation, or perhaps a 'word from the street' sort of thing. Tonight, another friend mentioned the abundence of Americans "studying Arabic" here in Jordan. Funnily enough, however, it seems that even after spending months "studying", none of these people could speak more than a few words or sentences. Furthermore, young Arabs who live here find themselves casually questioned by these foreigners about what they think of the war, the government, or Islam.
July 18, 2005
Uzbek Refugees in Kyrgyzstan: It's Tough To Be Popular
For those who haven’t been keeping score, in May the Uzbek government fired on unarmed demonstrators in Andijon, in the Ferghana Valley. Twenty-three local businessmen had been on trial, accused of being Islamic extremists, which in post-Soviet Central Asia tends to mean “anyone who pisses off the government.” (Particularly ironic in Uzbekistan, headed since 1991 by the most un-aptly named Islam Karimov, who had been First Secretary of the Communist Party before Uzbek independence, but I digress.)
Thousands of demonstrators had massed over the preceding months in the town square to protest the trial of the 23. On the morning of May 13, an armed group broke the 23 detainees out of jail; shortly thereafter, all hell broke loose, with military vehicles surrounding the demonstrators on the square and opening fire on them in the early evening.
July 17, 2005
Everyone's an Apostate
...When you’re Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said his group had formed a new armed wing to fight the Shi'ite militia Badr Brigade, according to an audio tape attributed to him and posted on the Internet on Tuesday.
"We in al Qaeda Organisation for Holy War in Iraq announce the formation of a military brigade named Omar Brigade, to cut off the symbols and factions of the treacherous Badr Brigade," said the voice on the audio tape which sounded similar to previous recordings attributed to Zarqawi.
Badr Brigade is the military wing of the Shi’a SCIRI (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) party. It claims to have transformed into a purely political organization, but most Iraqi Sunnis remain unconvinced.
July 15, 2005
In Defense of Ignorance: Pundita
The wise words of Pundita, noted moron and probable foreign policy wonk in Washington:
My position is don't try to understand by listening to the Europeans. The French went on and on about their experience in Algeria to explain why they were against the US invasion of Iraq. Hello, we're not the French...
And don't allow academics and well-meaning Europeans to terrorize us into thinking we require a scholarly grasp of the situation in the Middle East before we can formulate a correct approach.
Here is the full entry, for readers interested in seeing her "argument" in its entirety. Comments are not permitted on her blog, and if someone posts a refutation of her writing in their own journal, she quaintly refers to these entries as "letters", thereby escaping the obligation to link back to them during her own rebuttal.
The biggest irony I find in her writing is how much it resembles policy pieces written by British colonial officials, even as she complains about Europe's colonial baggage in the Middle East. Strong "Orientalist" slant, complete ignorance of subtleties in terms of religion, ethnicity, cultural/regional variations and recent history. Looking over Juan Cole's recent note on Iraqi casualties (an estimated 8,000 in the past 10 months, or 800 per month, likely excluding those killed by US military action), a ham-handed "screw research and/or informed decisionmaking, we're Americans!" strategy does not necessarily yield productive results in the short or long-term.
PS - Now that we're on the topic, watching The Battle of Algiers is useful for understanding both the French experience in Algeria and potential parallels with the US experience in Iraq. Lounsbury goes on about this film endlessly, even the Pentagon has screened it.
Pew Global Attitudes Survey Shows Decreased Support for Suicide Bombing
Via the Washington Monthly (which has nice pretty graphs, just don't even think about reading the comments), The Pew Charitable Trusts have a new report out (PDF here) covering global attitudes on Islamic extremism, suicide bombing, and other miscellany. The survey includes 11 non-Muslim-majority countries, and 6 Muslim-majority countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Morocco.
I'm poking through the PDF and may post more later - on a first skim, I'll note 3 things:
1 - Per Kevin Drum's comments, the countries that have seen bombings are less likely to support them. Lebanon fits this pattern as well, although the bombs (most likely) aren't Al-Qaeda.
2 - A positive attitude towards Christians & Christianity in Muslim-majority nations correlates with the size and visibility of the Christian minority - in Lebanon, over 90% positive (including 84% positive among Muslims); in Indonesia and Jordan, 58% positive; in Turkey and Pakistan, neither of which have substantial indigenous churches (Pakistan never has, Turkey disposed of the indigenous Christians some time ago), 22%.
3 - It's really frustrating trying to figure out whether the Lebanon figures are for Lebanese Muslims or for all Lebanese. I'm assuming all Lebanese except when specifically broken out. (Where they have been broken out, there are real divergences: 53% of Leb Christians think Islamic extremism is a problem in their country, vs. 4% of Muslims; 7% (EDIT: 71% oops) of Leb Christians think a hijab ban would be a good idea, while 99% of Muslims think it's a bad one. The last bit, in particular, would be no surprise to anyone who's listened to Lebanese Christian women talk about the hijab).
Anyway, more later, perhaps.
UPDATE: further comments in the extended entry.
July 14, 2005
....And what do you get if you lose?!
Among the inordinate political junk mail I get as a person with a MENA interest was the following:
Enter the US Campaign Raffle Today and Win a Free Trip on a Global Exchange Palestine/Israel Reality Tour and Other Great Prizes! There are only two weeks left to enter . . .
Isn't winning a raffle like this something like winning "The Lottery" in that very famous Shirley Jackson story of the same name?
In this week's Economist (subscription content, unfortunately), the notion of "Radicalism by Internet" was brought up as a potential explanation for how disaffected second- or third- generation Muslim youths seek out and discover online mentors who possess both the ideological and practical skills necessary for orchestrating terrorist attacks in Western countries:
As an incipient extremist group grows more obsessive, and its weaker brethren fall away, hard-core members often withdraw from the mosques. Indeed, a big recent trend in European Islam, says Mr Roy [Olivier Roy is a noted scholar in this field, not as cool as my favourite Frenchman Gilles Kepel, but this is just my opinion] is the mass withdrawal by militants from mosques that are under surveillance. This has made extremism even more elusive, and the internet’s influence even greater. To a large extent, “the internet has replaced Afghanistan” as a source of training and inspiration for militant Muslims, says Stephen Ulph, a scholar working for the Jamestown Foundation, an American think-tank.
Islam & Terror - Profounder Reflections
As noted, I remain submerged in corporate flackery and spin, but I wanted to bring several items to everyone's attention.
First, the esteemed Abu Aardvark has two important posts up:
July 13, 2005
Islam, London, Terror & Cult: Further Musing
By serendipity I ran across this article:
The interesting nexus with the headline is the Wahhabite purists' approach to the religion. In many ways taking a infantalising view of their fellow Muslims, they activily wish to destroy the past to avoid "shirk" - polytheism. Does not speak strongly to their respect for the 'aql -reason (yes 'aqoul is a form of this word)- of their fellow Muslims.
Muslims in Europe - London Bombings as Domestic Terror and Suicide
Being frightfully busy writing corporate propaganda (otherwise known as responding to transparency in quarterly reporting by - as the French rather wonderfully put it, putting heavy make up on the accounts), I am afraid this is as much an open post as anything.
Nevertheless, The Financial Times and other sources report that the identity of the actual bombers, who do indeed appear to have been suicide bombers, has more or less been established.
July 12, 2005
Lebanon II - Building on Breaking
No substantive commentary, but I draw attention to this:
The target, a pro-Syrian politician.
I opined months back that I did not like the US supporting a maximalist approach to opposition politics because of the chances of playing into returned inter (and intra) communal violence.
The overall analysis behind this is that while, yes, a majority of Lebanese do not want a return to civil war, as in Iraq, and as in Lebanon - it is not the majority that makes these things happen. One simply needs enough hard men on either side who can make a profit in some manner, via power or money, to push it, and enough weakness on public authority side to be unable to choke the trend off.
Lebanon probably can choke the trend off, but the state is just weak enough that this can't be dismissed.
I also note the potential for a currency crisis which could help precipitate serious tensions.
Explosion in Antelias
Radio and TV in Lebanon are reporting a large explosion at the Pointure roundabout in Antelias, a Christian suburb north of Beirut. TV pictures are showing people very badly injured, being loaded into ambulances, and blackened, twisted cars. Apparently, (outgoing) Defense Minister Elias Murr has been injured in the explosion. Murr, though Greek Orthodox, is traditionally associated with the pro-Syrian wing of Lebanese politics.
Nothing yet on aljazeera.net, naharnet, or bbcnews.com.
Update: BBC News story says 2 injured (as does the al jazeera ticker), one of them Murr.
July 10, 2005
Long Lines at Lebanese-Syrian Border
After the extended political crisis that led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence from Lebanon, followed by the election of the anti-Syrian former opposition coalition to a majority of the seats in the Lebanese parliament, Syria has started to demonstrate the kind of leverage it still possesses over its smaller neighbor.
For the past few weeks, traffic across the Syrian border has been dramatically slowed, particularly in the case of trucks, which according to This Middle East Online reprint of an AFP article are taking four to five days to cross the border. The article also records that the Syrian government claims the slowdown has been caused by tightened security measures to prevent Islamic militants from coming into Syria.
Lebanese business leaders are screaming for the governments to come to some sort of agreement, but negotiations attempted by both the government of the outgoing and incoming prime ministers have proven fruitless. All land exports from Lebanon to other Arab countries must pass across the Syrian border, and agricultural products in particular are spoiling in transport.
July 09, 2005
The wonders of wasta
What is wasta? In Arabic, it roughly means "connections" or influence, and is arguably the most valuable form of currency in much of the Middle East, far more effective than bribes and certainly more effective than following due process.
It is of course an obviously unequitable and counterproductive phenomenon. At a simple level, it puts incompetent people into jobs they ill deserve and will ill manage. As this article notes:
"Intercessory wasta angers unsuccessful candidates who have outstanding credentials, and creates dependencies among those who are less capable, yet obtain power and position because of their wastas."
Anyone working in the Gulf (and possibly in the Western world) will have witnessed "phantom jobs" - a usually prestigious and highly-paid position that is either unneccessary, or carried out by two people. In the latter case, there will be a national and and a lesser-paid expat in essentially the same role. The national will probably have a higher title. The lesser-paid expat will actually do the job.
This can work fine assuming the company is profitable enough for the double-paypacket, unless the national get the whim meddle in an area he is totally unqualified to handle. We can use "he" here fairly safely, given Arab women tend to enter the job market on merit at least as much as wasta. Wasta is in fact a barrier to many females, just as it is to expats of both genders.
On the serious side, wasta can be a significant hindrance to economic development. "Driving out competence by ignoring merit and performance diminishes the nation's economic competitiveness."
July 07, 2005
He who warns is excused?
This is a response to Simon W. Moon's question in an earlier entry about the London bombings. Referring to the translated statement alleging al-Qaeda responsibility, he asked:
What is the "He who warns is excused." bit about?
Google just turns up similar letters and a couple of stories from long ago times whose significance is not clear.
Father of Aardvaarks on London
I am about to piss off to the club to do my usual things, which include supporting the Great Cuban Revolution for Impoverishing the Countryside by consuming its products and writing either semi coherent rants, engaging in semi coherent rants with other club members, networking, and finally, incongrously whipping out the laptop in fits of inspiration (or desperation, very hard to tell the difference really).
In that vien, I wanted to share something serious, the quick comment by the Father of Aardvark(s) on London and its meaning:
An extended comment on IMF, Jordan discussion
As this is rather long for comments, a small entry on the IMF, Jordan and Liberalism discussion based on our esteemed co-author, ridemycamel, who again hopefully will pardon my poor manners, sharp tongue and the like.
I also note that due to popular outcry, I am introducing block quoting. I dislike it, but have to maintain some pretension to customer service or our financier will dump me. (Although it was such a pain to add I can't promise consistancy here)
We're all watching developments in London, obviously. The al-Qaeda statement claiming responsibility was apparently published in Arabic on al-Qal'ah, should anyone feel inclined to translate/comment.
Update - Wikimedia has a screenshot:
BBC has translated the statement.
July 06, 2005
Media, Reform, US Gov and Business
On US Gov and Media Reform, an email
I reproduce here an email from a friend of mine in private equity and media in the Middle East, located out there. And an Arab too, not some whinging expat (ahem).
It is lightly edited to scrub certain references and the like, but I share it for its interest. I note that some US Gov types wanted to meet with media actors, including from the business side. I made the introduction. Here is my amigo's note afterward.
Posted by The Lounsbury at 07:58 AM
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Filed Under: Business, Private , Economic Development , Foreign Policy & MENA , MENA Region General , Media , Op-Ed , Political Development
July 04, 2005
IMF, Jordan and Hegemony: A Rebuttal of Sorts (Updated)
Let me engage for the first time a co-author, in particular ridemycamel in regards to his entry on the IMF.
I’ll say first of all it is intelligent, well-written, clear and concise. Incredibly wrong-headed and trapped in leftist twaddle, but well-written. I thank the author in advance for what I am sure will be an interesting reply and while I am going to whack him up side the head a number of times, it is with all due respect.
From the top then:
Financial Aid, the IMF, and Historical Structures: The Case of the Bread Riots in Jordan
Economic Growth, Media Modernisation and Competition in MENA
Given my abiding concern for seeing economic growth occur in this fine region – that is the MENA region – I thought I might return to some thoughts I have had following on prior comments on the business environment and the like.
First, a brief comment (or perhaps a rambling and extended comment) on mentalities, provoked by a conversation with one of the women who render my life complex (if interestingly corrupt and immoral) in regards to a local television effort to create a “star system” to promote local talent.
Rather like the Lebanese “Star Academy” it is an interesting way to bring up new talent and provide a public exposition of popular trends. As an added advantage, the local chicas who compete are quite hot with a distinct tendency to wear the latest inappropriate Leb Slut fashions, which is very hard to argue against.
The Lounsbury Introduction
As my opening post at this little blog, « ‘Aqoul » perhaps a word of introduction, and my own view on the purpose of this, a "group blog."
First, although I originated the name in a fit of archness two years ago or so in the context of another "project" to open a "Middle East" focused group blog that went nowhere, the motivating force was a one eerie who has both the technical skills and lack of good judgment to set up and finance this, which intends to be a group blog for commenting on the MENA (Middle East – North Africa).
Since good deeds rarely go unpunished, I am sure she will come to regret it, but in the meantime I hope we can make this slip in judgment worth her while, as well as ours. For the moment let me express my hope that this corner can contribute something worth the electrons it burns up (or at least she remains foolish enough to pay for these indulgences).
July 03, 2005
Burning bridges, breaking borders
Gulf Arabs and expats are fairly consistent in their opinion of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom and its oppressive laws and corruption are resented and despised, and businesses trips to the Kingdom are generally loathed and dreaded. The statement: "I've got to fly to Riyadh tomorrow" provokes more sympathy and spine-shuddering among males (given female expats are lucky enough to usually escape the experience by dint of owning a vagina) than any personal tragedy.
Now Saudi Arabia is objecting to a causeway that the UAE plans to build to Qatar, to make travel easier. One could already travel between the UAE and Qatar by land, if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wasn't so backwards, restrictive and uncooperative as to make it impossible for anyone to pass through a tiny bit of its land. Land which - according to some maps and opinions - does not even belong to KSA anyway.
Click maps to enlarge
According to other reports, Saudi Arabia is also dead set against the building of a bridge that Qatar and Bahrain are currently planning to build. “This is because Riyadh fears this kind of bridges would enhance the affinity and rapprochement between the small member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council."
"Relations among the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain are currently witnessing improvement, making the kingdom to see how their relations develop within the Gulf environment. This follows the distancing of Bahrain and UAE from the kingdom in recent times, while Oman is closer to the new Gulf bloc of the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. As for Kuwait, it is now keeping a close eye on the developments before it decides where to align itself", the report said.
Cairo's Collapsing Buildings
While being driven past the outskirts of Cairo, I noticed a large number of unfinished buildings inhabited by Egyptian families. My tour guide, having already explained the nightmare of Egypt’s population explosion, told me that these unfinished buildings were actually a form of tax evasion. Apparently land taxes were lower on properties with unfinished buildings, which explained why so many of them had steel rebars and bits of cement hanging off the topmost floors. Keeping a building perpetually unfinished was a useful way to avoid taxes in a country where government spending did not generally lead to improved living standards.
Now anyone familiar with Herodotus knows not to believe everything an Egyptian tour guide says, but it seemed plausible under the circumstances. It did not, however, explain why Egyptians would build such ramshackle homes, structures so unstable that they frequently caved in and killed the families living within them. Some expat journals, noting the frequency of these collapses, lamented the fatalism of Egyptians and their apathy in the face of such tragedy. In terms of incentives, this type of behaviour makes no sense, unless there are serious barriers standing in the way of improvement.
Financial Aid, the IMF, and Historical Structures: The Case of the Bread Riots in Jordan
Some of the most fascinating aspects of financial aid-- in my opinion-- are the often implicit regulations that come along with it, and how it re-shapes and re-forms the societal structure of a developing country. This can be viewed particularly well in the majority of resource-poor MENA countries. By examining the history of financial aid in Jordan during the 1990s, for example, you can clearly see how the flow of financial aid was based as much on the political decisions of the Jordanian monarchy as it was on the country’s needs. What is even more intriguing is how this aid has changed the historical structure of Jordanian society and removed the bargaining power from the hands of the subaltern groups in the Kingdom and into the hands of the capitalist powerbrokers in Amman and Washington.
This change is best viewed through the two bread riots that erupted in Southern Jordan in 1989 and 1996. Both riots were almost identical in nature, yet the monarchy’s response to each crisis was unique. The changes in the response of the monarchy towards the bread riots are best explained by how different social forces are incorporated or excluded in the global neo-liberal historic bloc, and the way historical structures are shaped, satisfied or frustrated in the process of this hegemonic formation.
July 02, 2005
The Struggle of Moderate Islam
Moderation good for Muslims
"ISLAM recognises no theocracy, and no overlordship of any religious leader or party. Each believer prays directly to God without any intermediary. So in a way, the authority of our clergy rests on very shaky foundations." Irfan Hussain (KT, April 21) has hit the nail on the head.
I really appreciate you for publishing this wonderful opinion. Some clerics go rampant not only in Pakistan, but also in Bangladesh and many other developing Muslim nations. Muslim parents in these countries send their children to 'madrassas' to learn about Islam and its beauty.
But, unfortunately, the children learn an extreme form of Islam created by misinterpreting the teachings of Holy Quran and the 'hadith' in an aggressive way by these clerics. They merely take advantage of the poverty and illiteracy to inject the doctrine of violence and hatred in the veins of young pupils. They portray the image of non-Muslims somewhat like 'untouchables'.
The acquiring of knowledge is treated as a sin and moderation is seen as transgression. The beauty of Islam is completely destroyed. Thus, the religion of peace is transformed into a religion of terror. The teachings of these clerics suggest Muslims are born only to go for ‘jihad’ and dying irrationally will help them acquire salvation.
Jihad is allowed only when the enemies target us, and the killing of innocent people for the sin they never committed is not jihad, but an extreme sin. God created every human being and only God has the power to take the lives of His creatures. Islam teaches us to respect life, not destroy it. These clerics should not be encouraged. They transgress, invent, and destroy the true teachings of Islam.
The Muslim governments should keep these people in check in order to progress and make our mark in the world. The acquiring of knowledge should get top priority. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) always taught the believers to acquire knowledge and to spread knowledge. We should follow his holy teachings.
— Mohd. Salekun Noor, Fujairah
July 01, 2005
Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination
I just thwacked myself on the head with Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination. Literally. I was so furious with the idiocy of the story that I had to do something. Hurt quite a bit, for a paperback.
Aside from Bridget Jones's Diary, I have never read girly novels. In fact, I routinely scoff at their tangerine and lime covers as I walk by the Chick Lit table at my local bookstore. But this weekend I spent far too much time reading about economic development and the plight of women in China, it was very depressing. Decided that a dose of fluffy, girlish escapism would be a pleasant distraction, perhaps I could lose myself in the adventures of an interesting female character and her CIA-agent love interest.
As you can guess from the title, our protagonist has an "overactive imagination" but (surprise!) happens to be spot on when she starts to believe that a jetsetting playboy is actually an Islamist terrorist. Why? Well, he's swarthy, speaks Arabic and happens to be in the same city when a cruise ship gets blown up by (surprise!) al-Qaeda. Since the author is an ignorant nitwit when it comes to Arabs, Islam, MENA and Islamist terrorism, it turns out that the playboy is in fact an al-Qaeda terrorist. A beautiful, sexy terrorist that Olivia wants to screw, but can't because she feels put out by the six-foot-tall sultry Indian model who hangs around him all the time.
New arrivals to Dubai - the self-proclaimed media capital of the Middle East, with a dedicate media "free" zone - are often suprised at the stunning mediocrity of UAE newspapers. Here are some reasons why the Dubai press is so pathetic:
Newspaper journalists are paid tiny, "asian"-level salaries (salary levels depend on ethnicity here), often a good deal less than Dh3000 (US$750) per month. This ensures that the vast majority of hacks are from the Subcontinent, where a strange, archaic form of English called "Babu English", according to Melvyn Bragg, is spoken. Many if not all of these journalists are unqualified, untrained, and unexposed to quality western media.
The Head of Copy of one daily paper has a team of subeditors who rather than just sub copy, rewrite it from the ground up. Asked why the paper can't just hire decent journalists in the first place, he explains that one subeditor can manage the work of about six reporters, therefore it is cheaper to have a small team of talented subeditors, and endless useless smudgers.
Unfortunately papers often employ barely literate subeditors as well. This in turn drives decent journalists away. "I just couldn't take the fact that they would actually change my copy and put huge grammar and spelling errors into it, when my grasp of English - as a Brit - was far better than theirs," one ex-reporter complained.
An Account Manager at the Dubai office of a major international PR company once revealed that they deliberately send out press releases to the newspapers late in the day, around 5pm, in the fairly certain hope that these releases will be cut-and-paste verbatim into newspaper articles, by lazy and incompetent journalists running out of time.
This explains why anyone working in the media needn't bother to read the business sections of the newspapers, as the exact same stories will have already arrived by email earlier (often several days earlier) in the week.
Newspapers in Dubai are in oppressive thrall to the middlemen of various royals. As the Editor of another daily rag explained, every day hours are spent (wasted) trying to work out the exact placement of the various "sheikh-cutting-ribbon" pics on the front page, to ensure the most senior dishdash is highest and most prominently displayed, and so on.
Most senior UAE government ministers and even Dubai's ruler have repeatedly called for more transparency and a tougher press. But the lowlier dishdashes, civil servants and assorted retinue members feel it is their role to scrabble around and interfere, erroneously believing it will somehow curry favour with their patron to quash a story or bully someone into buttoning their lip.
As the abovementioned editor points out: "I can't ring up Sheikh Mohammed three times a day to ask him to call off his middlemen."