June 2012



If you are puzzled about camels, check out this online puzzle


The epitome of Arabic greetings is salam alaykum, peace be upon you, but it seems that the Middle East harbors more harb (war) than peace these days. It can be argued that this is hardly new for a region that has seen more warfare over time than any other. Perhaps the characterization of the region as the Holy Land has as much to do with the amount of human blood spilled on its soil as for the number of prophets preaching peace. But today’s news cycle is particularly sad because nowhere does there seem to be much hope for furthering the peace that most people are dying to achieve. The violence drones on and on.

As former President Mubarak lies in a coma, many Egyptians are once again flooding Tahrir Square to contest the military’s coup-like takeover of political power, although perhaps it should be styled a makeover, since they have held de facto power all along and will continue to do so no matter who is elected. To Egypt’s south far less individuals took to the streets in Khartoum, protesting the Sudanese government. Although Somalia has been pushed out of the major news cycle, the situation there remains as volatile as ever. Crossing over into Sinai, an Israeli construction worker was killed a few days ago and in the escalating tension Hamas has fired rockets at Israel and Israel has launched air raids in Gaza. Syrian violence continues but without the pretense of powerless monitors and the repaired helicopters that were being shipped from Russia. In Iraq pilgrims continue to be targets of bombs and pay for their devotion with their lives. In Yemen the military commander of the brigade that drove Ansar al-Sharia out of their southern base was killed earlier in the week by a suicide bomber. Even in Turkey there has been recent violence from Kurdish nationalists.

Long ago one of the prophets in this region said the immortal words: Blessed are the peacemakers. But how can they be blessed if they are absent? Why does the curse of the warmakers seem to outweigh efforts at peace? If Indeed we recently witnessed an “Arab Spring,” the reality is that spring is part of a seasonal cycle and not eternal. The “fall” of dictatorial regimes is still playing out, but the cold sectarian winds blowing out hopes for peace and the frosted rhetoric of intolerance do not bode well for the tender blossoming of sought freedoms. The region needs a Gandhi, not an Osama or an Assad. The region needs a salam dunk, not a harb to the right. But, if history is any gauge, there will still be no blessings to confer in tomorrow’s news cycle.


Photograph by Steve McCurry

The photographer Steve McCurry has published some incredible pictures of Yemen on his blog. It is well worth checking out the pictures, but it is necessary to avoid the captions, which are neoconnish and ill conceived. When they say a picture is worth a thousand words, it can also be in reference to the kinds of words used. As long as the little boy is in the hands of his tribal family and values, he is most unlikely to be any kind of terrorist.


Photograph by Steve McCurry


The polling is over in Egypt, but the dust has not yet settled. Given the simoon of recent political events, it is not likely to settle soon. Unofficial tallies place the Muslim Brotherhood backed candidate, Mohammed Morsi, with the lead. But the official results will not be released until June 21. Yet, it is possible to ask if there can be any real winner, since the ruling military council has ensured that it will continue to call the shots and ride oversight on any new government. The stage is now set for either a confrontation between supporters of the Brotherhood and the military or a marriage of convenience. I suspect the latter. The military is not about to lose power, not has it gambled away its prestige by engaging in ruthless slaughter as has happened in Syria.

Egypt, as most people know even if they only read their King James Bible, has a long history. Relics of the pharaohs dot the landscape; the pharaohs were gods on earth, the absolute dictators of their day, and they generally got along fine with the religious framers. When Akhenaten tried to go against the grains of the gods and call for the worship of one God, Aten, it was a short-lived moment. The rulers in the Islamic era were also not on the side of democracy. When the Mamluks, foreign mercenaries who wreaked havoc on the locals, took over in the 13th century, they played the religion game and adopted devout-sounding names, but their lust was for power and revenues and not to glorify Allah. It is tempting to view the continuing role of Egypt’s military as a Mamluk ploy, only from within. The military today is thoroughly Egyptian and has vast economic assets as well as the ability to channel politics. (more…)


The Third Voyage of Sinbad, by Charles Robinson (1870 – 1937)

[Webshaykh’s Note: This last semester I taught an Honors Seminar on the Arabian Nights. The last assignment asked students to write the 8th voyage of Sindbad, drawing on what happened in earlier voyages. I will post several of these here for your enjoyment. This is the fifth one I am publishing by Becky Cuthbertson The fourth is by Mahmoud Abdelaziz. The third is by Peter Otis. The second is by Marissa Priest. For the first by Taryn Teurfs, click here.]

The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor
by Becky Cuthbertson

For many years after his seventh journey, my father Sindbad the Sailor stayed at home, resuming his former lifestyle. He was joyous at my birth and that of my sister’s. We lead a life of indulgence and happiness; we had all the luck in the world. Many years later, my father sat at home with his wife, my mother, by the fire; they watched my sister and I play. He thought that it was a shame that my sister and I would never meet our grandfather; my parents fled my grandfather’s great city where men turn into birds and my father swore never to sail again. Smiling at my mother, he announced that we were journeying to see our grandfather; we were sailing next week.

My mother looked at him curiously, “Husband, have you not sworn to never sail the seas again?”

He smiled broadly, “Yes my dear but I shall press my luck one more time; I am not sailing for excitement or adventure but to visit family. Allah should not begrudge me that.”

So the following week we set off, sailing to find the city of my grandfather. A few days out to sea, a storm hit. The ship was rolling, rain down pouring, and wind gusts pitched the ship from side to side, almost capsizing us several times. All of us prayed to the Almighty God to protect us, save us, and deliver us from harm while the crew worked to stabilize the ship. Lightening began to strike off in the distance, but at every crash, a bolt loomed nearer and nearer. The captain bolted down below and brought up with him chalk. Murmuring to himself, he began to draw patterns all along the rails.

“Captain,” my father called, “why are you drawing with chalk all over the ship?” (more…)


Yemen Press is reporting that they have uncovered documentation that the head of military finances in Yemen from 1998-2009, ‘Abd al-Mun‘im al-Adīmī, appropriated about 281 million riyals for his own use during the Salih regime. As his name suggests, he was indeed a slave to the role of benefactor, but not in the hallowed religious sense. Such corruption is not unique to Yemen, as dictators and monarchs do the same all the time. Power corrupts, as it has since records have been kept. The political cartoon accompanying the article speaks for itself…


The Library of Congress has archived many of the Gramophone recordings from the early part of the last century. This includes several vaudeville songs about Arabs. One of these, about Egypt, is “Arab Love Song” sung by Harry Macdonough for Victor Records, made possibly as early as 1908. My personal favorite is “Sahara (we’ll soon be dry like you),” a prohibition era song recorded by Esther Walker in 1919. There are also comedy routines, like the schtick by Charles G. Widden on “Peterson at the Turkish Bath”. Then if you want a one-step from 1918, try “Arabian Nights” by the Waldorf Astoria Dance Orchestra or the fox trot “Oriental Love Dreams,” recorded in 1924 by Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra or “Harem Life” recorded in 1919 by the Paul Biese Novelty Orchestra.


As begun in a previous post, here are several vintage photographs from Philip J. Baldensperger’s The Immovable East, published in 1913, and available for free as a pdf at archive.org

(more…)

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