Politics rules the news cycle on Islam and the Middle East. Given the colonial history of the region, there have been numerous puppet leaders installed or allowed to dangle over the years. But the latest puppet regime in Egypt, which has had its share, centers around a cosmetically enhanced widow matron that lolls around in a negligeé and talks about sex. Her name is Abla Fahita and she is a puppet in a new Egyptian tv series. She is turning heads in post-Brotherhood Egypt; if Morsy was still in power, it might very well be her own head that would have been in cinematic danger, although she has been on Youtube for several years and made an appearance on Bassam Yousif’s show. She even has her own MTVish video.

Humor has never been in short supply in Egypt, so even if her Friday night show is censored off the air, other puppets will appear. But in the meantime, if you want to laugh along with a lot of Egyptians, who are in need of something to laugh about beyond politics, just put “Abla Fahita” into Youtube, sit back and enjoy.

Dear Husni,
I had no idea you were so poor. Only 25 million stashed outside Egypt? What happened to all the millions you took in over the years? Was your wife like Imelda Marcos, buying way too many shoes? Of course I will be glad to help you get access to that money. After all, you stole it fair and square. And Sisi can siphon off as much as he wants, now that the Brothers are gone. I know how much you have suffered, so I will not charge you anything for helping you. Some of my best friends are Egyptian and I know they would help me if I ever needed someone to get 25 million out of the bank. By the way, your English has really improved. Did you take lessons in prison? Or did you use Google Translate? You did not mention which bank your funds are in. Someone told me it was in the same offshore bank as the savings of Mitt Romney, but I find that hard to believe. I am really honored that you chose me out of the millions of people getting spam emails to help you. I am sorry it has taken so long but your email went into my Junk folder. Can you imagine that. I am really glad I found it. Just send me you bank name, account number and password and I will sure do you justice.

Yours sincerely,

John Doe

So here is the story. A plumber in Texas (some of the least rosy redneck territory out there where they gulp down tequila or whiskey with their tea partying) sells his old Ford truck and forgets to remove his logo. The auction house sends it along the chain of used cars and trucks, not knowing where it might end up. This is the automotive counterpart of banking derivatives and we know how great that was. Then one day there is a tweet from the Ansar al-Jil terrorist faction in Syria showing a new use for the old leaky-faucet-repair truck: a large gun mounted and firing (probably at nothing in particular and not hitting anything, but it makes a great propaganda shot). And there is the Texan Mark-1 plumbing logo for all to see in the twittering world and beyond. Forget the Alamo, this is really bad news.

This being Texas, the phones start ringing back at the plumbing office and this is a leak that is about as bad as any sewer overflow you can imagine in this redneck part of the woods… Damn terrorists no doubt causing true-blooded Americans’ pipes to get clogged. Terrorists in your bathroom no less… (more…)

Apocalypse has gone digital in a big way. A Google search will open up more prophetic doomsayers than you can shake a Schofield Bible at. One of my favorites (perhaps not the right term for what I actually think about such sites) is the slick Youtube “Armageddon News.” The voice is that of the standard digital female used in a host of amateur cartoon videos. There is no obvious reference to who puts the site out, so my first reaction was that it could be satire. But in this case the real thing is probably more satirical than any satire could be. The Youtube channel presents 23 videos. One of the more bizarre videos links the “mark of the Beast” and the number 666 in the biblical book of Revelation to Islam in a rather ingenious way. Of all the conspiracy theories out there about Bible prophecy and Islam, this one takes the proverbial cake. Do check it out on Youtube.

So here is the gematric plot, as devised by Satan, of course. In the Greek of the book of Revelation the number 666 is spelled out in Greek letters. Guess what? If you do a little angle (not angel) shifting you will have the bismillah alongside the cross swords. John left a clue some two millennia ago for anyone with a vivid imagination. But there is more. If you look at the ornamental marks on Allahu Akbar, they are all 6s. How more specific can you get? (more…)

Risk goes Mideast

The more the media spreads news about ISIS or ISIL or IS or Da’ish, the crazier it gets. The current Wikipedia entry is one of the longest I have ever seen. But let’s take a reality check here. ISIS is a digital creation as much as a successful terrorist operation that feeds the current media frenzy with Islam and terrorism. If social media precipitated, or at least facilitated, the Jasmine Revolution that blossomed into a wider Arab Spring, then cyberspace is the spontaneous generator of ISIS. This is no homegrown group, despite the caliphal self appointment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (remember “whose your daddy?”) It has been hugely successful in recruiting, with estimates as high as 31,500 fighters according to the CIA over a month ago.

Wikipedia’s red scare

I am not sure who took the census, nor if anyone was counting the disaffected white guys who crossed the Turkish border over the past several months, but this is a rather large number for a ragtag wannabe caliphate. It is a bit of a mystery how this number, incredible as it is, has been so successful against the Iraqi army, said to have 271,500 active personnel and 528,500 reserve, or Syria with 250,000 active personnel in its army. If this were a RISK game, I would say that both Iraq and Syria are not into gambling as much as ISIS is. Remember those games when your nerdy friend put all his troops in Kamchatka and conquered all of Asia only to lose everything before his next turn when everyone else ganged up on him. If only this was a Risk game.

ISIS has a glossy side

I am fully aware of the horror of ISIS. If you read Revelation and like Armageddon scenarios, these guys are the Beast, the Antichrist and even the Whore of Babylon rolled into one. And why not throw in that stealth Mohammedan Barack Hussein Obama. (more…)

If you take the time to check the “Spam” folder in your email accounts, you will undoubtedly find quite a few solicitations for getting money out of a foreign account. Usually it is the widow of a former dictator in Nigeria, a lawyer for a deposed general or even winning the lottery in Barcelona. Recently I noticed a purported message from a U.S. army officer in Afghanistan who wants to get money out of there. But for the first time I received a message from a “Yemeni”, fictitious as it obviously is and certainly not from an email account ( in Yemen. Here is the message:

Hello Dear

My name is Mr.Al-Hawshabi Karim , A Yemen national I have been diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer .It has defiled al forms of medical treatment, and right now I have only about a few months to live, according to medical experts. I have not particularly lived my life so well, as I never really cared for anyone(not even myself) but my business.

Though I am very rich, I was never generous, I was always hostile to people and only focused on my business as that was the only thing I cared for. But now I regret all this as I now know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the money in he world. (more…)

There is a very interesting set of 40 maps that Max Fisher has put together on one website to explain the history of the Middle East. Check it out here.

Below are Map #7 and Map #23

What the Middle East looked like in 1914

This is a pivotal year, during the Middle East’s gradual transfer from 500 years of Ottoman rule to 50 to 100 years of European rule. Western Europe was getting richer and more powerful as it carved up Africa, including the Arab states of North Africa, into colonial possessions. Virtually the entire region was ruled outright by Europeans or Ottomans, save some parts of Iran and the Arabian peninsula divided into European “zones of influence.” When World War I ended a few years later, the rest of the defeated Ottoman Empire would be carved up among the Europeans. The lines between French, Italian, Spanish, and British rule are crucial for understanding the region today – not just because they ruled differently and imposed different policies, but because the boundaries between European empires later became the official borders of independence, whether they made sense or not.

Syria’s refugee crisis

Syria’s civil war hasn’t just been a national catastrophe for Syria, but for neighboring countries as well. The war has displaced millions of Syrians into the rest of the Middle East and into parts of Europe, where they live in vast refugee camps that are major drains on already-scarce national resources. This map shows the refugees; it does not show the additional 6.5 million Syrians displaced within Syria. Their impact is especially felt in Jordan and Lebanon, which already have large Palestinian refugee populations; as many as one in five people in those countries is a refugee. While the US and other countries have committed some aid for refugees, the United Nations says it’s not nearly enough to provide them with basic essentials.

Traditional Plow Agriculture in highland Yemen, for which there are many proverbs

When “Being There” is Here: An Anthropologist at Large in Digital Humanities

On Wednesday, March 5, I will be giving a talk at the CUNY Graduate Center for the Program on Religion, directed by Prof. Bryan Turner. Lunch will be served, and coffee too, of course. The talk will be in room 5307 of the Graduate Center at 34th St. and 5th Avenue, 12.30-2 (lunch served from 12.15), to discuss a topic pertinent to many disciplines.


The aim of this talk is to explore the role of traditional field-based ethnography in the rapidly evolving world of digital humanities. I look back on my original ethnographic fieldwork in Yemen in 1978-79, before there was an Internet or laptop computer. While technology has long been an important resource for anthropologists, the digital world allows for instantaneous contact in a way never available before. There is now a role for e-ethnography, analysis of representation and communication in cyberspace in which the field literally comes to the computer of the researcher. The talk will explore the implications of recent advances in the digital humanities on the nature and future of anthropological research.

Daniel Martin Varisco is President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies. He is the founding editor of CyberOrient, an online journal co-sponsored by the American Anthropological Association and Charles University in Prague. His last book was Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid (2007) and he is currently finishing a book titled Culture Still Matters: Notes from the Field.

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