November 2012

Syrian President Assad; photography by Benoit Tessier/ REUTERS

The Formation of Syria’s National Coalition: An Assessment and Analysis

By Amr al-Azm

Syria Comment, November 13, 2012

Following talks with a number of people who attended the Doha meeting of November 8-11, this is my assessment of the newly formed “National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition”. The coming together of the various Syrian opposition factions to finally strike a deal based on a 12 point agreement that would unify them under the umbrella of a newly created coalition body is remarkable considering the obstacles that had to be overcome. It faced intense opposition by some groups, particularly the SNC, which viewed this as a blatant effort to sideline them. Its members have fought for a leading role in the new group.

The original Riad Seif plan called for a council of 51 seats, a joint supreme military council, a judiciary commission and the formation of a provisional government selected from technocrats.

The new National Coalition that emerged in Doha on Monday ended up comprising of 65 seats. The SNC was earmarked 22 seats, the local administration councils were allocated 14 seats (one for each of the provinces in Syria), national figures were allocated initially 8 seats, eventually rising to 10 seats, with the balance (19 seats) to be distributed amongst the various remaining opposition groups and entities. The new coalition eventually managed late on Monday evening to eventually select Moaz Al-Khatib (a cleric and former imam of the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus) and two deputies (with a third still to be named by the Kurds) who are Riad Seif (both prominent dissidents and activists). A third position, which is until now poorly, understood is that of Secretary General, to be occupied by Mustapha Sabagh (head of the Syrian Business men Group). It is rumoured (by Al-Jazira and others) that the position would carry sweeping powers to rival even those of the head of the coalition Moaz Al-Khatib and seen as a principle demand by the Qataris. (more…)

Anouar Majid provides a short video of scenes from Tangier today. Check it out at Youtube.

A Chronology of Nineteenth Century Periodicals in Arabic (1800-1900): A Research Tool

This website provides a chronology of nineteenth-century periodicals in Arabic.

Although it is meant to include all periodicals published in Arabic or in Arabic and in another language (like the usual pair of Arabic and Ottoman Turkish) or in Arabic written in a different script (like Judeo-Arabic) in the period from 1800 to 1900, this chronology is certainly incomplete. Furthermore, there remain numerous problems with dating and locating individual publications as well as identifying their owners, editors, or publishers. A common problem is that journals with different editors used the same title or the same editors published periodicals under different titles.

Thus, at the moment we consciously publish a working draft with the purpose of making our information available to the scholarly community. We welcome all readers to submit any comment, corrections, and new data via the email addresses provided in the “Submit comments” section. We would like to ask all contributors to always refer to the ID at the end of each row – in case of comments on existing entries – and cite their sources, as otherwise we cannot consider the submission for being included in the table. Every contribution will be acknowledged.

We chose to present the core data as a table containing information on titles, dates of first and last issue published, place(s) of publication, names of publishers and editors, language(s) of publication, and available collections. In addition, we provide various indexes of publishers and locations, as well as a bibliography of the most important secondary sources and available union catalogues. To search any part of the website, the browser’s search function should be invoked (Ctrl-F for Windows, Cmd-F for Mac OSX). Please keep in mind that unicode symbols adhering to the IJMES transliteration must be used.

For details, see the website at the Zentrum Moderner Orient.

Tall al-‘Umayri, field H, Early Iron I possible four-room building (courtesy Tall al-‘Umayri Project)

The American Journal of Archaeology is granting free access to an article by Barbara A. Porter, Christopher A. Tuttle and Donald R. Keller entitled “Archaeology in Jordan, 2010–2011 Seasons.” The images are online and the article is available as a pdf here.

Tunisian Salafists; Photo by Reuters

By Anouar Majid

Many people in the Muslim world are scrambling to get out from centuries (not just decades) of tyranny and build a good future for themselves and their descendants. They want to catch up to the West, build strong economies, and invent things that would make their nations proud, but they keep slipping further behind nations that were once their peers. This regression only intensifies their desire to get respect. With nothing to show for their pride, they go back to the distant nebulous past to sing the glories of long-dead warriors and savants. An imagined glorious history is a safer bet than the dysfunctions of the present or the bleak promises of the future.

It is this attachment to the past that produces the kind of extremism many of us find abhorrent. The new offenders these days are the Salafists, a loose confederation of Muslim literalists who believe that the pristine faith of the seventh century is the best remedy to what ails Muslim-majority nations today. Sporting robes and beards, they have declared war on churches, women with skirts, bars, insufficiently pious Muslims, and anything that smacks of the false West. Even Islamist parties, including Hamas, are not immune to the Salafist righteous indignation. (more…)

Portrait of a lying woman, Antoine Sevruguin, Iran, 1901 (

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then one like this century-old photograph taken in Iran will leave the reviewer with no loss for words. Here is the quintessential native Ottoman Era odalisque to ogle at. A number of enticing props are they as well: the flowers in hand, the shoes on the bed at the end of a curvaceous bottom in corso flowing down the exposed torso, the half-hidden belly button, long pigtails and dark kohl-laced eyes. Not only is this figure exposed to the viewer, but she engages with a direct gaze, using a hand to cradle her head. Here, visually presented, is the Orient represented: a luscious and willing consort for the taking.

The photograph above is part of a series of Ottoman Era images from the Ottoman History Podcast, a radio program and Facebook site based in The Netherlands. The site has a splendid selection of photographs from the Ottoman Era, the vast majority of which are not odalisque cheesecake, and it is well worth perusing.

Regarding the photograph above, here is how the Facebook site describes it: (more…)

Book Night With Gregory Johnsen

12 November 2012 – 6:00pm – 7:30pm

40 West 45th Street, Club Quarters, New York, Free admission

by Sonya K. Fry, Overseas Press Club of America

The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia [W.W. Norton & Company, November, 2012] is an eye-opening look at the successes and failures in fighting a new type of war in the turbulent country of Yemen, written by Gregory D. Johnsen, who is an OPC Foundation Scholar, a Fulbright fellow in Yemen, part of a 2009 USAID conflict assessment team and is now a doctoral candidate in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University.

Johnsen takes readers into Yemeni mosques where clerics in the 1980’s recruited young men to jihad to fight the Russian invaders in Afghanistan. These men eventually formed the basis for the Al-Qaeda movement. The story also leads to the presidential palace in Yemen where the country’s military dictator, Ali Abdullah Salih vascillated between helping the U.S. get rid of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and hindering the process. Salih himself called this delicate balancing act of staying in power a “snake dance.” For years this dance included concealing Islamists from the prying eyes of U.S. intelligence and yet later he allowed the U.S. to conduct attacks that killed dozens of Al-Qaeda operatives including Abu Ali al-Harithi, who was known as the “godfather” by U.S. intelligence. The dramatic story sounds like a Hollywood movie: Haritihi turned on his cell phone as he left a secret meeting which signaled a predator drone to track him. The first missile from the drone exploded next to Harithi’s speeding car. He threw the phone out of the window and screamed at everyone to get out, but there was nowhere to go since they were in the middle of the desert. The drone fired its second missile and the car exploded in flames. (more…)

For those in the New York area and who have power (I still do not after Sandy hit last week), there are two films that will be of interest to those who read this blog. One is American Imam by Donya Ravasani. It is showing twice at the IFC Center: Saturday, Nov 10 at IFC 11:15am and Thursday, Nov 15 at IFC 1pm

It will be screened together with Building Babel, David Osit’s documentary about the developer of the so called Ground Zero Mosque.

For details on New York’s Documentary Festival, check out their website.

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