April 2013

Goodbye, Al-Masry Al-Youm
by Sarah Carr, Egypt Independent, April 26, 2013

In 2010, Abdel Moneim Saeed, then the chairperson of state mouthpiece Al-Ahram, oversaw an outrageous bit of Photoshopping on the newspaper’s front cover, when US President Barack Obama was replaced with Hosni Mubarak at the head of a group of leaders striding out of a meeting in Washington.

This Photoshop-gate inspired the inevitable deluge of derision on social media. As well as being breathtaking and hilarious in its own right, it was a bit of light relief from the tense and strange months leading up to the revolution and, in particular, another photo that went viral in 2010 thanks to social media — that of the mutilated corpse of Khaled Saeed.

Al-Ahram’s big cheeses remained belligerent in the face of the ridicule. Its editor-in-chief, Osama Saraya, described it as an “expressionist” photograph that gave a “brief, live and true expression of the prominent stance of President Mubarak in the Palestinian issue.”

In a 2010 interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Abdel Moneim Saeed, meanwhile, insisted that the paper did nothing wrong, condemning the “herd mentality” that dominated the response to the picture and pointed out that the Economist “often employs graphics, pictures and illustrations to make its point.”

According to the weekly, Saeed was particularly piqued by the fact that nobody had bothered to read the report below the Photoshopping, penned by him.

He also lamented that “some in this profession mix opinion with news, thus becoming the jury and the judge. We have a long way to go on the road to advanced journalism.”

Coming from the man who ran Al-Ahram for almost four years, this statement is extraordinary. It is like a mosquito complaining about buzzing noises. Al-Ahram, like virtually all state press in Egypt, has wildly — shall we say, “expressionist” — content. It gives itself the license to report the news as it appears in the daydreams of whoever is Egypt’s most influential player on any given day, and the public purse funds this. (more…)

Photograph courtesy of Dr. Muhammad Gerhoum

The recent hail storm in Sanaa took a cold turn. Here is Frosty the Yemeni Snowman in his Friday best. But just because he will so easily melt away into the crowd, don’t assume he is a terrorist. No more drones, please…


In much of the Western world Sunday is traditionally the day devoted to religion (and picnics and sports and going to the beach when the sun shines, etc.). Even those who are not devoted to a particular religion find something to devote themselves to. So today I would like to devote my comments to the very idea of what it means to be “devout.” The tragedy orchestrated two weeks ago by the Boston Bombers adds yet another milestone to those who see Islam as a religion that promotes violence. Yet the two brothers who senselessly took several lives and forever altered the lives of many others appear to have almost no real knowledge of their religion. I am struck by the widespread use in the media of the term “devout” to describe the older brother Tamerlane. I am not at all surprised that an Islamophobe like Pamela Geller writes that “Again and again we see that Muslims who commit jihad violence are pious and devout.” Geller was commenting on an AP report that Tamerlane’s aunt had said he was a “devout Muslim” who prayed five times a day. The phrase went viral in the news media in part due to this sound bite but also because it reflected a common stereotype.

It seems that all it takes to be labeled “devout” as a Muslim is to pray five times a day, believe that 72 virgins are waiting anxiously to serve you in Paradise and be hooked on Internet terrorist sites. I don’t remember anyone saying that Terry Jones, the lunatic preacher who says he has a divine mission to burn Qurans, is a “devout” Christian. The Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik is usually labeled a “right-wing extremist” yet his writings show a profound regard for Christendom über alles. A person can be “devoted” to anything, including evil, but if I think of a “devout” Christian, Jew or Hindu, I think of someone who has internalized the devotional aspects of their religion due to an insight into the theology. (more…)

The photographs here were taken of camels and people in Libya around 1957 by Dr. Virgil Clift.

Omar Borkan Al Gala

The news from the Middle East and broader Islamic World is as dismal today as it was yesterday. Syria continues to be a spiraling bloodbath, as does Iraq as we near the 10th anniversary on May 1 of the notorious Bush the Younger declaration of “Mission Accomplished.” Several hundred garment workers may have lost their lives in the collapse of an 8-story sweat shop in Bangladesh and the list goes on. There are times when those of us on the comfortable outside looking in need to take a breath and find something to laugh about in the onslaught of absurdity. The fact that yesterday I heard a lecture on Waiting for Godot is not entirely irrelevant for posting this blog.

For the Saudi purity police it seems that it is possible for a visitor to be so media-savvy handsome that local women need to be protected by deporting him. The case in reporting-stupidity point is about a certain Omar Borkan Al Gala, a fashion photographer, actor and poet from Dubai. England’s authoritatively silly tabloid The Sun carries the following subline: “THE internet is awash with speculation that one of the men deported from Saudi Arabia for being “too handsome” is a fashion photographer from Dubai.” For a pretend news source that Murdoch-murders the truth every chance it can get, there seems to be a voyeuristic fascination with Arab men’s bodies, including Saddam in his undies.

So is this guy really so handsome that he is a whipped-up man of mass distraction to the Saudi regime? (more…)

After a hail storm in Sanaa; photograph courtesy of Dr. Muhammad Gerhoum

The economic and political situation in Yemen these days is anything but heavenly, but then yesterday in a different kind of climate all hail broke loose.

by Timothy P. Daniels, The Islamic Monthly, April 22

In the aftermath of a week of mainstream media coverage and elite political figure’s statements related to the Boston Marathon bombing, the ongoing processes of pathologizing Islam and its significance for Pax Americana are made evident. Initial questions about whether this bombing was the work of domestic or foreign terrorists or the work of “lone” wolves quickly turned to claims about Arab individuals, international students, and dark-skinned men with foreign accents as “persons-of-interest” and “suspects.” The specter of dangerous foreign “others” in Boston overshadowed the likely homegrown white-supremacist-Christian terrorism lying behind the eerie fertilizer factory explosion in Waco, Texas close to the 20th anniversary of the FBI massacre of the Branch Davidian “cult.” Fourteen dead, scores injured, and an entire town left demolished; however this devastating event was hurriedly pushed out of the news cycle and political rhetoric without any answers for why this blast occurred. The irrationality of this differential response became even more apparent after the FBI released and posted pictures of two suspected bombers and the subsequent massive military mobilization of forces and technologies to corner, capture, and kill these young men. As their identities as Muslim Chechens became known, the media began to speculate about their links to international terrorism and their presumed religious motives. (more…)

Above and below are two scenes in Tripoli, Libya from the 1950s, when it was still a kingdom. Both are from Christmas and New Years greeting cards with the greeting in English.

Photo by Jenah in Tripoli; printed in Italy

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