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The blog does not at present have an automatic commenting facility. Readers' comments, suggestions and corrections are nevertheless welcome and can be sent by email. Sensible comments on blog items (and possibly even stupid ones too) will be posted here.

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Re: Assad and the email sceptics  

From: Aron Lund, Sweden. 20 March 2012

I just read your post on the Assad e-mails and As'ad AbuKhalils take on them. I agree completely with you. While one should obviously be careful about trusting unverifiable material released for political purposes, it's impossible to think that this is simply a case of mistaken identity. 

No one who reads the "Sam" e-mails can think that they are for another person than Bashar al-Assad. "Sam" is spoken to as "Your Exellency" or "Mr President" time and again, always referred to as the highest decision-maker, repeatedly identified with Bashar al-Assad, and the exchanges include photographs of Bashar and others, love letters to/from Asma, advice for the president's interviews, and so on. None of this makes sense if the intended recipient is Sam Dallah, or any other "Sam" that's not Bashar.

Are they fake? They absolutely could be. Are they real but in fact addressed to Sam Dallah? No way on earth.

Either the e-mails are all well-made forgeries tailored to correspond to real financial transactions, media appearances and interactions with outsiders, to add credibility; or they are a mix of both real e-mails and cleverly planted forgeries; or they are all genuine. My own guess is that it's a mix of both – assuming they got their hands on real e-mails, it would still be very tempting for the opposition and/or intelligence organizations involved to add a little extra spice, wouldn't it?

But bottom line, the e-mails can certainly not be both genuine and intended for Sam Dallah.

Re: The Chilean way, and the Arab way

From: Ziad Al-Duaij, 16 October 2010

Ever since that wonderful emotional day, many of us in Kuwait have been joking about what it would have been like if it had happened here. 

No heads of state would deign wait for the miners to come out of the mine, but instead a day later they would all be shipped off to "thank" the head of state and smile for the cameras, all the while pledging loyalty and expressing gratitude to the great leaders' efforts to end their ordeal!!!

Your post is spot on! And then there's the religious factor as described here

Re: A gay ad for Coca-Cola in Egypt? 

From: Mohamed El Dahshan, 29 August 2010

Like most everyone I watched the clip on television and smiled - and that was extent of it. It - along with the rest of the series, actually - isn't particularly memorable.

After reading your post I watched the ad twice - and my conclusion remains the same: You're reading too much into it.

Now whether the headshake means 'you're not touching my coke' [... partial pun intended] or 'that's all the romance you're gonna get' may be up for interpretation, but I would rather impute it to the film's romanticism (it is, after all, the most romantic line of an uber-famous romantic comedy [yes, I recognized the dialogue, guilty as charged]) than any surfacing sexual preferences on the part of our 'disappointed' fellow.

As for cinemas - they're not particularly associated with gay romance. Just romance. In fact, due to the unclear line between homoeroticism and male friendliness in this country, I'd be more tempted to think that heterosexual romance would be more inclined to seek refuge in a dimly lit theatre.

I don't think this ad will be remembered, unless it's by one of those blogs that see everything as 'groundbreaking'. 

Re: Saudi king seeks to restrict fatwas

From: Baher Ibrahim, 15 August 2010

I wanted to comment on the last paragraph in this post. While I agree that there are "authoritarian tendencies" in Islam, I think you're overlooking an important point, which is that Islam is a religion. Religions, Islam or otherwise, are designed to be authoritarian. Whether it's Egyptian Christians following Pope Shenouda III's orders or Muslims following the dictates of scholars and sheikhs, that's what religions do. They're not democracies and they can't change themselves to satisfy the people. Disobeying religion is another thing, which people should be completely free to do should they choose. But if you're going to adhere to a particular religion, the only way to do so is to obey it. At least that's how I see it.

Regarding your suggestion that Muslims need to "rely less on fatwas and move towards a situation where ordinary believers can make their own informed choices on ethical and religious matters", I think this is harder than it seems. I am a Muslim, and if in the event that I wanted to make an informed decision on a particular matter of which I was unsure, I probably wouldn't be able to. For a scholar to make an informed and sensible fatwa, he usually has to draw on an enormous body of texts to ensure it doesn't contradict the principles of the religion. This is why there's an entire university (Al Azhar) devoted to the study of Islamic legal principles, Shariah law, the four schools of jurisprudence, usul al-din, the hadith, the Qur'an with all its tafseers, and so on. Obviously, these are things that almost all Muslims know nothing about. Muslims come from all over the Islamic world to study them in Al Azhar. Now, all this would understandably seem unnecessarily complicated to a non Muslim (or even to many Muslims like myself), but for many, especially those who cannot make a single decision without confirming its legality first, this is very important.

I agree with you that the government attachment to a fatwa automatically damages its credibility, but I am puzzled as to the solution. The late Sheikh Tantawi had some relatively liberal and moderate views, but the fact that he was a government appointee made him seem like a corrupt government mouthpiece. On the other hand, if Al Azhar were to become an entirely independent institution, I fear that it would be overtaken by the same ultra-conservative Salafis that have dominated our satellite TV. It's a big dilemma.

Re: A reply to the Angry Arab

From: Benjamin Greer, 2 November 2009

I agree with you, and I just wanted to make a brief comment on your last sentence, which rejects the idea that social problems are "immutable part of the national character, hard-wired into people’s genes". 

I think that the Catch-22 you describe is precisely a consequence of people's belief in the existence of nations and "national character". Nationalists, like the Angry Arab, believe that their nation is a real, sacred entity possessing an eternal virtuous character; any criticism of social problems is therefore seen as slander against the nation, and social problems must therefore be blamed on something external to the nation.

Orientalists and racists also believe that nations are real, but they believe that other people's nations are inferior to their own. But as a great deal of social science has shown in the past few decades, there is no such thing as nations, and and national characters are myths. If the Angry Arab stopped believing in the existence of an Arab nation, his objections to your argument would evaporate.

Re: King Farouk of Unesco?

From: Osama Diab, 8 September 2009

Farouk Hosny and the 'first lady' are the examples I despise the most; people whose jobs are to improve the image of an oppressive regime by bringing operas by Verdi to Luxor and the Pyramids and pretend to promote books and reading, while reading and knowledge, in reality, is the thing the regime fears the most. Boutros Ghali is still used by the regime today, in the human rights field, because of a prestigious UN position he had 15 years ago. We don't want this to happen again.

Re: Arab science fiction

From: Siad Darwish, 12 August 2009

What I would add is that sci-fi can be seen in the wider picture of utopias, as the genre was formerly called. With the emergence of modernity and the industrial revolution people in the West thoroughly believed that technology will only improve humanity for the common good. You could then see, shortly after WWI and with the great depression, the emergence of negative utopias. Visions of the future, that depict the 'dark side' of modernity and technology, and it's misuses. 

I think that sci-fi has to be viewed within the framework of western modernity. And it would be interesting to see how visions of the future are influenced by the realities of the present. Which would then allow us to paint a picture of what Arab sci-fi would look like in this day and age. I'd suggest it would lie in Orwell's, Huxley's and Kafka's tradition.

I agree that present-day hegemonic interpretations of Islam are uneasy about science, but so are other world religions to varying degrees, as it questions the pillars of their very existence. Great post however!

Re: Shock of the new media

From Cyberfact, 19 July 2009 

Where is the mention of the west's censorship of the Arab press – like al-Manar and the many instances of outright military attack on those and other sites? Much of this is led by Israel's initiative, so I dont suppose you'll have the courage or permission to explicate THAT anytime soon. 

Re: Shining all over Egypt  

From Ellis Goldberg, 18 July 2009

I think Bayram was exiled for insulting Fuad (Farouk's father) in the early 30s rather than Farouk in the later 1940s. The general point that lese-majeste (sorry no French accents available) remains a crime in the Arab world is incontestable; it seems to me that many people thought that that was precisely the red line that Saad al-Din Ibrahaim crossed and led to his imprisonment (and ultimately his exile).

Re: Egyptian floozies

From Timothy Reece, 12 July 2009

I am in agreement with you in the respect that the great OED may be wrong on this occasion. I was told of this origin of the word by the renowned interpreter Lesley McGlaughlon (name may well be spelled differently!). He has 30 years experience as an Arabist including cabinet level interpreting with Margaret Thatcher as well as work with Prince Charles. I'd go with him on this one!


Comments on 
blog items


The Chilean way, and the Arab way

A gay ad for Coca-Cola in Egypt? 

Saudi king seeks to restrict fatwas

A reply to the Angry Arab

King Farouk of Unesco?

Arab science fiction

Egyptian floozies

Shining all over Egypt

Shock of the new media


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Last revised on 20 March, 2012