Archive | June, 2011

The doctor is in

23 Jun

"You have myopic astigmatism, sir."

I found this on the Middle East Institute Editor’s Blog*. This is just too laconic to neglect, as Bashar of course is an ophtalmologist. What’s more, this cartoonist seems to be irritated by Bashar’s neck. I can relate.

By the way: German news magazine “Der Spiegel” ran an interesting article in this week’s issue highlighting the difficulties specific to Syria’s opposition. The regime employs an absurd amount of  intelligence services, making trust hard to be established among activists. Yet the sheer amount of intelligence personnel also leads to competition and stalking among the services until ultimately, no information seems reliable. The Assad regime has applied this method for decades. Since the Assad family’s power is not based on religious, democratic or royal legitimacy, maybe it is based on ensuring that just very few people know enough to put one and one together.

Anyhow, I remember well the stereotype of the “wary Syrian”.

* The Editor’s Blog didn’t know who to credit for this cartoon, so neither do I. Just like them, I’ll credit as soon as I know more and hope I’m not infringing.

“Fried eggs over easy or sunny side up?” “Ummm…..”

14 Jun

While Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has obviously opted for a gory turn of events, news on Jordan continue to remain rather sparse. As I’ve mentioned before, the struggle for reform is on in Jordan, just as it is on everywhere in the Middle East. Jordan’s King Abdullah II. is not one for blood and thunder, but he currently faces criticism and reform demands too, and he cannot risk a “sit it out” strategy.

Having remained rather calm during the past months, the King faced his people’s anger first-hand when his convoy was attacked by angry young Jordanians throwing stones while he was visiting the city of Tafilah in the south of the country on Monday. The incident was minor and no one was harmed, but it should not be underestimated: Tafilah is a region populated largely by native Jordanians, who are politically better represented than the Jordanian Palestinians. The Hashemites largely rely on keeping the native Jordanians happy, as political stability is said to depend on their loyalty. It thus seems rather alarming that this attack did not take place among the pro-reform, politically underrepresented Palestinian population of Amman, but within the loyal heartland.

Shortly before this incident, King Abdullah II. had announced the pardoning of some 8’000 prisoners. One of the official explanations was that releasing those prisoners would save the Jordanian government around 40 million Jordanian Dinar (39 million Euro) per year. The King also announced that in the future, he will cease to appoint his ministers and instead have parliament elect his cabinet. The pro-reform camp was unhappy about this, because it smells appeasement and wants more reforms. Apparently, the stone-throwing Tafilah youngsters were unhappy too, but I am not certain why:

They might oppose the king’s mass pardon, cutting back his own power and appeasing Palestinians. Or they might simply be annoyed with their stalling economic situation. Or they might demand democratic reforms too, which I think is least likely.

Whatever the reason, Abdullah is under pressure. Either both Jordanians and Palestinians pull at the same pro-reform string and Abdullah looks at fried eggs sunny side up. Or he is severely sandwiched between Jordanians’ and Palestinians’ demands, dishing him fried eggs over easy. Neither breakfast is particularly desirable.

By the way: The Jordanian government yesterday was quick to deny any such incident had taken place at all. And today, Abdullah II. announced to launch a fund to boost development and income in the economically stricken Tafilah district.

Interesting. Double-ended appeasement? Fried eggs sunny side up?

Link 14 Jun

This is such an insanely great idea!

If you should happen to go to Cairo, try catching on of the “Taxis of Knowledge”: An initiative that started in 2010 has equipped some 200 Cairene cabs with literature. So while weaving through Cairene traffic jams during rush hours, you can lean back and dive into, say, Alaa al-Aswani’s “Yacoubian Building”. So if you stay with your driver for all of your rides, you might even be able to get through your favorite book. The project is said to be hugely successful among Cairene taxi clients, and will therefore continue through 2011.

I say: Book your flight and make a reading list.

Taxi of Knowledge: Reading on the road

The Empire strikes back III

14 Jun

So, yes, you’ve heard: The MIA Gay Girl from Damascus is actually a Straight Guy from Virginia. The story’s was over the news yesterday, on German outlets as well as American. Western and Arab outlets mainly seem to focus on the internet-inherent problem of constructed realities and reliability of information. Media over here apparently loved the idea of gay activism in a Muslim country so much that they forgot to double-check their facts. What we got instead was trigger-happy  journalism.

I am now wondering how Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its supporters will use this incident to denounce political activism and the internet community. I could imagine that Syrian political activists aren’t all too happy about a fictional character stabbing their non-fictional cause in the back.

Will keep you posted about articles discussing this issue.

The Empire strikes back II

8 Jun

… And today the blogoshphere is abuzz with the latest on Amina Arraf: Andy Carvin has found out that no one in the Syrian LGBT scene knows her. He has also unsuccessfully tried to contact friends of hers, and now there’s an entirely new scenario in the room: Is Amina Arraf even real? Is hers just a fictional blog? Or is she a real person socializing online only? Andy Carvin shares his very interesting thoughts on tweetdeck.