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Gulf News’ unadulterated anti-semitism 7, June 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Media in the ME, Middle East.
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The Gulf News out does itself in this example of egregiously anti-Semitic sentiment. As if to try to out perform the host of atrocious newspapers across the Middle East, the Gulf News, a hopelessly bland, emasculated and talentless newspaper, really pulls out all the stops with this classic. Yet another triumph for Arab newspapers.

I think and have said that on this occasion – as many before – Israel was mostly, if not vastly, in the wrong. Yet this kind of pathetic demonization of one side is just really so unhelpful. I truly hate this kind of populist (or purportedly populist) pandering of newspapers to the very lowest common denominator in society. The absolute definition of the gutter press.

Facebook more popular than all Arab newspapers 26, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Middle East.
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The BBC reports that Facebook now has some 15 million subscribers across the Arab world; a million more than all newspapers – Arabic, English and French – put together. This is, of course, no great surprise. Not only is the standard of Middle Eastern journalism fairly abysmal [as I’ve argued here, here, here and here] but given the youth bulge in many Middle Eastern societies not to mention the generally closed-off nature of civil society and other forms of expression, meeting, etc, and Facebook is tailor-made for the region.

This kind of growth will be perturbing some of the region’s less enlightened governments. Only yesterday Kuwait announced that it was going to ban BlackBerry messenger in a valiantly pointless attempt to stand in the way of an ever increasingly technology dependent and technologically savvy population. It will only be a matter of time, I’d have thought, before some Sheikh or other in the GCC or some enthroned dictatorially democratic leader in the rest of the Middle East decides that Facebook ought to be wholly banned. Much luck to them.

Hat hip: MEI Editor

Russian made rocket hits Jordan 25, April 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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Last week a Russian made Grad rocket hit a warehouse in Aqaba, Jordan. Reports seem to suggest that it was in fact aimed at the Israeli Port of Eliat, adjoining Aqaba, which would make more sense. No one really seems to know where it was fired from. Mideasti narrows down the suspects here.

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Map of Arabic dialects 16, April 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East, Random.
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Here’s a fascinating map of the various Arabic dialects found throughout the Middle East. Being far from an expert or even someone overly proficient at Arabic I’ll just make two quick comments.

1) It must not be forgotten that this map does not at all account for the differences in Arabic. Whilst, for example, Iraqi and Gulf Arabic might not be that dissimilar, Gulf and Moroccan Arabic are, I believe, hugely and almost incomprehensibly different.

2) This map also significantly underestimates the importance, spread and general dissemination of Egyptian Arabic. Whilst the map shows that this dialect is spoken only along the Nile and in its delta, Egyptian Arabic is, so to speak, the lingua franca/arabica of the Arabic speaking world and will be understood essentially everywhere. This is due to the profusion and ubiquity of Egyptian media (notably films and music) throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Though to some degree this is changing today, with Lebanese film and music coming to the fore, Egyptian Arabic is still entrenched and widely understood.

Hat tip: Simon Kerr

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The death of the Arabic language? 26, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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Many people in the Gulf that I’ve spoken to in recent years fear greatly for the future of the Arabic language. This is to some perhaps surprising. It is difficult to countenance the notion of a people forsaking their own language when it is such a key feature of their religion, life and culture. Yet although Arabic will clearly never disappear, fears of its increasing marginalisation are real.

Abbas Al Tonsi, known to many an Arabic student for co-authoring the Arabic language text-book Al Kitab, has verbalised these fears. There are primarily two factors at play.

Firstly, the march of the English language, the lingua franca of business and economics as well as a whole host of other spheres, is continuing apace. In – as they say – an ever more globalized world, a firm grasp of English is becoming ever more important. Gulf countries are switching their education systems from Arabic-focused to English-focused to supply their future generations with one of the key skills enabling them and their country to compete effectively: English.

Secondly, compounding this problem, Al Tonsi places the blame on Arabic schools whose teaching styles, as anyone who as been in a government school in the Gulf can testify, leave a lot to be desired. Rote learning, drilling and grammar and emphasized ad nauseum, which is quite at odds with more advanced and interactive methods used in teaching English.

Women’s rights in Middle East 5, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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A study of women’s rights in the Middle East has just been released. Tunisia and Jordan, two countries which provide legal protection against domestic abuse, came top of the list, followed by Morocco, Algeria and Lebanon. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Yemen and Saudi propped up the list at the very bottom. Indeed, Yemen holds the dubious distinction of having the lowest percentage of women ‘economically active’ in the world at a paltry 28%.

Al Arabiyya also picked up on a typical Saudi piece of absurdity where women are allowed to study for law degrees but are not allowed to appear in court for their clients. Yet, as always with Saudi, its small steps.

Kuwaiti Ambassador: ‘it’s the Persian Gulf’ 20, February 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iraq, Kuwait, Middle East, The Gulf.
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Kuwait’s Ambassador to Iran recently told the Iranian news agency Mehr that the body of water between Arabs and Persians is and always will be called the ‘Persian Gulf’. This is quite an admission from an Arab Ambassador. Typically, Arabs call the body of water the Arabian Gulf whereas Iranians fall back on centuries of customary law and modern-day international law and call it the Persian Gulf. Recently an Iraqi politician suggested that the water ought to be called the Gulf of Basra, just to complicate things further. Angry spats frequently develop over the naming of this body of water. Indeed, ironically the Islamic Solidarity Games were recently cancelled because of arguments over just this issue. It is unlikely that this Ambassador’s comments will make him many friends on his side of the Gulf.

Hat tip: the ever reliable MEMRI

From bum bomb to body bomb? 1, February 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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Fears have been raised of a new generation of suicide bombers secreting explosives inside their bodies to evade airport security. This story appeared in the Daily Mail (a.k.a the Daily Fear), a newspaper that loves nothing more than whipping up an unjustified frenzy about illegal immigrants, security issues and Princess Diana.

The article quotes MI5 officials voicing such fears based on information from “observing increasingly vocal internet ‘chatter’ on Arab websites this year.” The Daily Hate goes on to quote “a leading source” who suggests that bombers might insert explosives near the appendix or their breasts if they are a female bomber.

Something like this is, in many ways, a logical progression. From bombs strapped to vests, to bombs in shoes, to bombs in underwear to bombs inserted up the bomber’s bottom, bombs stitched into, for example, the chest may well be the next evolution. If PETN, the explosive of choice for recent bombers, was used, a frighteningly small amount of it would be needed to punch through the thin skin of a plane. The Daily Hate suggest that as little as 8oz properly shaped can penetrate as much as five inches of armor.

A few thoughts:

  • In the aftermath of the horrific Madrid train bombings in 2004, I remember various articles discussing the next generation of Al Qaeda ‘sleeper agent’. These omnipotent agents would dress, act, live, eat and drink like ‘us Westerners’, only harboring their deep, dark secret within, waiting to unleash their bombs at an opportune time. Also, they did not have any real contact with the Al Qaeda ‘base’ in Afghanistan/Pakistan but were instead inspired over the internet. These supposed terrorists were, therefore, the very apogee of terrorism: undetectable, driven and deadly. Yet, such terrorists essentially do not exist. This story was more of an apocryphal warning for the maintenance of impossible levels of vigilance than anything else.
  • This potentially undetectable bomb strikes me as somewhat similar in nature. Especially so being as it is the Daily Fearmongerer that has the story. Apologies for belaboring the point but they are such a disreputable paper, so callously playing on peoples’ fears that I find it difficult to believe a word that they write.  Lord Northcliffe the founder of the Daily Mail, after all, based the paper on the notion of giving readersa daily hate to keep them coming back for more.
  • Yet, such a bomb is clearly possible and however unlikely it may be, it needs to be taken seriously. I’d suggest that this further goes to show that profiling of some form or another may well be a larger part of the answer than scanners.

Hat tip: CKU

Lynch on Qaradawi 21, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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The ever redoubtable Marc Lynch has an excellent post on the ever interesting Yousuf Al Qaradawi. Few people could, I suspect, have written this particular blog post, drawing as it does on a deep and detailed knowledge of the region and its intricacies, its personalities, its narratives and its language. Lynch seeks to, within reason, take the temperature of the Arab public on some key points such as Yemen and Egypt’s Gaza barrier, using Al Qaradawi as a weather vane. It’s really good stuff and something to which we bloggers must aspire.

Iran’s TV channel taken off Arab satellite 11, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Media in the ME.
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(Go to 10:23 for the relevant clip)

Two of the Arab world’s biggest satellite broadcasting companies, Nilesat and Arabsat, have taken the Iranian channel Alaam of the air for breach of contract. Needless to say, no specific, verifiable breach has been mentioned. It doesn’t take much of an imagination or much understanding of the Middle East to believe that this was done for political reasons and that this ‘breach of contract’ business is but the laziest of covers. Hezbollah, for example, Iran’s proxy, have come out and decried this change, citing political pressures.

In numerous fields, Arab Sunni states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have, for years now (or for centuries in different ‘formats’), been engaged in what can broadly be described as a cold conflict with Iran/Persia. Occasionally this conflict bubbles to the surface in, say, the form of the Iran-Iraq war or even verbal jostling as to the name of the Gulf separating the Arabian Peninsula from modern-day Iran. Alaam must be seen in this context. As a font of Iranian soft power, broadcasting Iran’s point of view across the Arab world directly into homes.

This kerfuffle is reminiscent of many Arab states’ outrage at Radio Cairo’s pan-Arab exalting, Arab monarchy decrying broadcasts during Nasser’s pomp. These were believed to incite the local populations against their rulers, advocating Nasser’s wholesome, brotherly and lofty pan-Arab ideals against, for example, the morally corrupt, Western supporting, elitism of Saudi Arabia’s monarchical rule.

Al Jazeera’s broadcasts in recent years, often bitingly critical of, well, all Arab regimes at one time or another have enraged Arab leaders. Indeed, so far as I can recall, all Arab states have either sent petitions to Qatar’s Foreign Ministry to demand that they control Al Jazeera or have broken off diplomatic relations with the small, thumb sized Emirate.

(Incidentally, I am sure that there is an interesting article there: comparing Radio Cairo to Al Jazeera…)

Hat tip: A jolly good one from Abstract JK