Category Archives: Middle East

Bibi and Donald and Adele and Forcible Dates: Is the Thrill Gone Already?…………..

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Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu is coming to Washington this week. Meetings of world leaders with Netanyahu remind me of younger days and dating days. Sometimes the thrill is gone from the get go, from the first time. Sometimes afterwards she (usually) or he realizes they would not want a repeat.
In world politics it is that way too, except that these diplomatic dates are almost like “forcible dates”. If one lasts eight years as a leader he/she would have to keep on dating him or her often.

George W Bush kept his meetings with Netanyahu to a minimum: he already knew exactly what his date would say. Which always takes the thrill out of any date. Clearly Obama did not want a repeat after his first date with Netanyahu, but he had no choice: eight years in office is a long time. I doubt any world leader ever looks forward to meeting him. (American Congressmen and Senators are not world leaders, they are more like star-struck Bibi-groupies. Or maybe they can’t get another date with so many resources).

In fairness, almost all other Middle East leaders are also like Bibi in that respect: they all think others are thrilled to hear them whine out their wisdom.

I suspect, as some comments in the media have noted this week, that Donald and Bibi will start taking many bathroom breaks during their very first date this week. A real date is not like a long-distance post-election telephone date, you don’t see and hear the warts (a rude person would add that you don’t use your olfactory faculties).

Mr. Netanyahu is at a bigger disadvantage here when he meets Trump this week. He really has no new case to make anymore. The US Congress, both houses and almost both parties, have been making the case for him for several years. The Senators and Congressmen have made his visit to Washington redundant, just a cosmetic thing. A photo-op. Sort of like watching Beyonce and Adele walk and pause on the Red Carpet: it has nothing to do with the prize…..

But eye candy is much more pleasing to look at than older men plotting to step into the next military quagmire……

Cheers

M H Ghuloum

Arab Leaders Blowing in the Wind: Torn Between Many Lovers…….

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The Arab regimes that care, mainly in the Gulf region, have failed to devise and implement a strategy against the expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East. Military attempts in Iraq and Syria (via insurgent Jihadi proxies) have failed. An extended and ferocious destructive bombing campaign with Western help seems to have failed against the fierce Yemenis. Attempts at forging various reliable foreign alliances, from Turkey to Africa, have failed. Now they think they have a chance at a reset with the Trump administration, but that is probably just another illusion.

A leading Saudi newspaper editor, Mr. Turki Al Dakhil who is close to some potentates, has asked Saudis to launch a campaign on Twitter and other social media praising Donald Trump’s criticism of Iran. In the process also exaggerating it. Many, including the huge official Saudi Electronic Army have been tweeting hashtags (most common hashtag has been #TrumpWarnsIranianTerrorism or something like it) supposedly egging Mr. Trump on, pushing him toward a confrontation with the Iranian regime.

Wahhabi extremists, Salafis, ISIS fans, Al Qaeda fans and other assorted fans of Jihadi cutthroats are all suddenly tweeting in praise of the new President of the United States.

Remember when President Obama complained to the Atlantic Magazine last year that some Arab oligarchs in the Persian Gulf were trying to get the USA to join their regional sectarian conflicts? They are now trying to egg Trump on to fight their sectarian war in the Gulf region and possibly beyond. Only a few weeks ago they were blasting Trump as an Islamophobic racist, now they are clinging to him as a potential war ally. The last great (very) white hope.

Of course this is not new. After the fall of Baghdad in 2003 some Arab autocrats tried with George W Bush to provoke yet a new Gulf war. But he turned out smarter than that, less cooperative. Obama was even more skeptical of the Arab oligarchs, especially after the uprisings of 2010/2011 started. So, the oligarchs soured on Obama and hitched their wagons to Benyamin Netanyahu of Israel. As they waited for their old Clintonista friends to retake the White House.

Netanyahu talked tough against the mullahs, but he would not go to a risky war for the sake of Wahhabi kings and princes who don’t even recognize his country. You see, I suspect that much of Netanyahu’s bluster about the Iranian regime was to divert attention from the settlements in the West Bank (he has been warning since 1995 that Iran will have a nuclear weapon within six months). Some Iranian leaders helped him along with their absurd and bigoted comments about the Holocaust and their silly “Death To” slogans. The Iranian hardliners are good at milking these hostile slogans to their advantage in the Middle East, even if they harm their country’s interests in the halls of power in the West.

Enter Donald Trump and his frustrated hawkish former generals and cultural religious racial warriors.

So that is where it stands now. The Arab oligarchs are suddenly admirers of the American leader they called a clown only a few weeks ago. They think they have a chance against Iranian expansion with Trump, given that the president is surrounded by hawks and by cabinet members and advisers who have been close to the Iranian Mujahideen-Khalq opposition group.

Trump promised to avoid foreign wars and focus on America, but he is now making ominous noises. Will he go to war for his new autocratic admirers? Hopefully not: the Middle East has had enough of foreign meddling and Western wars.
Just help defeat ISIS and Al Qaeda, Mr. Trump, then get the hell out. You don’t belong in the Middle East permanently. The Iranians and the Arabs (and Kurds and Jews and others) belong there, and they have for thousands of years.

Cheers

M. H. Ghuloum

A New Persian Gulf War? A Message from Marcus Licinius Crassus to Donald Trump……..

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“The Saudis have been bombing the Houthi rebels and ravaging their country, Yemen, for two years. Are the Saudis entitled to immunity from retaliation in wars that they start? Where is the evidence Iran had a role in the Red Sea attack on the Saudi ship? And why would President Trump make this war his war? As for the Iranian missile test, a 2015 U.N. resolution “called upon” Iran not to test nuclear-capable missiles. It did not forbid Iran from testing conventional missiles, which Tehran insists this was. Is the United States making new demands on Iran not written into the nuclear treaty or international law—to provoke a confrontation? Did Flynn coordinate with our allies about this warning of possible military action against Iran? Is NATO obligated to join any action we might take?………..”
Also sprach Pat Buchanan, now older and even wiser.

Mr. Trump is a Manhattan businessman and a showman. Which means he has mastered the arts of showmanship and bluffing (and bullying).
His nonsensical campaign promise to ‘Make America Great Again‘ was absurd, as if America is Egypt or Peru. But it was bought by enough of the desperate industrial working classes, and much of the campaign-money-donating upper classes, to get him into the White House. Even as he lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes.

His promise of America First looks set to be set on fire by his new adventurism in the Persian Gulf region. Possibly egged on by some of the same Arab and Jewish regional allies he detests so much. He has surrounded himself by a few former military men and civilian hawks who have a chip on their collective shoulders regarding the Middle East, especially Iran. They think they can win the wars of choice that Bush and Obama squandered.

Now they have made Donald Trump into a George W Bush on steroids. But a new military conflict in the Persian Gulf will last much longer than the hawks and chickenhawks think. Remember the Iran-Iraq war? It was started by Iraq as a blitzkrieg victory, but it lasted eight years and ended up destroying Iraq. This latest war in Afghanistan has lasted 16 years, so far. The latest Iraq war started in 2003, Syria is in its seventh year.

A lesson for Mr. Trump from ancient Roman history, if he and his new generals care to read. Read the story of the Roman consul and general Marcus Licinius Crassus, a friend of Julius Caesar. He collected a huge army of many invincible Roman legions to invade ancient Persia more than two thousand years ago. Another unprovoked war. Crassus and his Roman legions vanished somewhere in the Iranian Plateau, never to be seen or heard from again.
Lesson? Wars of choice half-way across the world are not a good investment (as you, Mr. Trump and your class would say).
Mr. Trump, there are no direct American national interests threatened by the Iranians. They have not broken the Nuclear Deal with the world powers. They have not attacked Americans or America’s regional allies, yet. So, tone down the bluffing.

Mr. Trump, you are used to playing the cheap game of Casino poker, but the mullahs play the more enduring game of Chess. A game their country invented when your ancestors were still lurking in the caves and forests of Central Europe.
So, call back the dogs of war, get them out of your White House. Don’t throw good money after bad in the Middle East. Save a few more trillions of dollars and many lives on both sides.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Trump Middle East Policy Confusion: America First? New Muslim Wars First?…….

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The slogan America First implies focusing on internal US affairs: the economy, trade, infrastructure, even immigration.
Yet the Trump administration is already being pulled into a new morass in the Middle East (the Muslim World in case you didn’t know). It is falling for the trap of an Iranian missile test that is apparently unrelated to the Nuclear Deal (JCPOA). Perhaps it is a test by the mullahs of a new administration that is already shooting itself in the foot in domestic matters (healthcare, immigration). The new alleged ballistic missile test, which at least Russia and China certainly consider unrelated to the Nuclear Deal, came quickly after reports of a phone call between Trump and the Saudi King that mentioned containing Iran.
The Iranians most likely look on their ballistic missiles as defensive weapons, since hey don’t have the threatening Western-made sophisticated warplanes that their potential regional enemies have. Part of their deterrence that would prevent a repeat of an attack similar to the Iraqi Baathist invasion of their country.

Or maybe the mullahs in Tehran were giving Mr. Trump and Netanyahu something to discuss when they meet next month. The latter would be eager to sell Trump the snake-oil of another Muslim war/quagmire that neither Bush (W) nor Barack Obama would buy from him. The Trump administration probably won’t get far in the UN Security Council: even the European allies may oppose them. New President Trump has no reservoir of goodwill in Western Europe, or in most of the world, to draw on. He never had any beyond his own base and his own party.

In fairness, the Trump administration apparently have discarded the silly notion of “tearing up” the Nuclear Deal. It is not really a “piece of paper” as experienced right-wing hawks like John Bolton still think. They now seem to realize that it can’t be undone beyond campaign rhetoric.

In response to reports of the recent Iranian missile test, the White House NSC issued a tough statement mainly attacking Barack Obama for it (Obama, not the UN). A very retro reaction. Expect a Trump tweet to follow soon. Also expect more muscle-flexing in the Persian-American Gulf region by both sides, something even allied regional governments worry about.

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

John F. Kerry of Arabia: an Honorable Man, a Futile Quest……

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John F Kerry is an honorable man. We knew that from the 1960s. He served honorably in Vietnam, did not evade or avoid the war like most his current critics. He also honorably spoke out afterward.
Later today, soon, he will speak about the “Middle East” problem: Palestine-Israel. But he will get nowhere. The Israeli Likud has a lock on both houses of the U.S Congress, on both parties. It will probably be a good speech, but too optimistic. It will get nowhere.
Mr. Trump has already contributed his own drivel to complicating the issue.
Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Kushner Of Arabia: Just Who Outside Europe Believes in a Two-State Solution Anymore?…..

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“Can Obama save the two-state solution? ShibleyTelhami says the verdict is still out..…”

No, not really, although his abstention on UNSC 2334 was an attempt to keep the two-state idea alive.

Give it up? It is almost not a serious option now, given the deliberate facts being created fast on the ground. Obama is/was probably the last US president to actually believe in the feasibility of two states. The whole Israeli cabinet doesn’t believe in it. Most US senators/congressmen don’t believe in it (apparently it ain’t seemly for a real man to espouse a two-state/bi-state thing). AIPAC only pays lip service to it when it suits them and consistently supports policies that undermine it.

The fact is that many Palestinians don’t believe in it either: the same goes for many other Arabs and Muslims. Some pay lip service to it, some still think and often openly talk about one-state extending “from the River Jordan to the Sea“. So some Arabs and Muslims are as one-staters as the Israeli Likud and its allies are. And we all know what is also meant by this alternative “one state”.

Arab media have in past years extensively quoted former PLO leader Yassir Arafat that there is a plaque outside the Israeli Knesset that says: “Your land, O Israel, extends from the Nile to the Euphrates“. Many, nay most Arabs believed him. Some referred to a vague map on a coin as proof. I have always had my doubts. Could be just some irresponsible quote from the Old Testament (many such quotes exist in all Holy Books). It is more likely that some far-out Christian Zionists in America believe in such borders than Israelis or American Jews. Something to do with a Levantine version of Manifest Destiny and From Sea to Shining Sea.

AS for the Two-State solution, apparently only the Europeans consistently believe in it anymore. Plus some Arabs and a few marginalized Israelis. But there is a suspicion in Washington that the Europeans are a bunch of latent anti-Semitic wusses, right? (Well, probably some of them still are).

So: what to do? Mass expulsion (a k a ethnic cleansing)? It was done in Palestine post-1948, and it was also done to many Jews in the Arab countries around that time. Apartheid or Separate but (allegedly) Equal? History in South Africa and French Algeria and the American South does not give that a high mark. Separate never means equal.

A catharsis? Maybe Netanyahu and Lieberman (Avigdor not Joe) will show up on the steps of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and start a Kumbaya session with Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, for the benefit of the television cameras. Newly Likudnik Alan Dershowitz can be there too.

Maybe Trump will send his son-in-law as he has reportedly threatened, to do something. But being Jewish, even (or especially) Jewish-American is no guarantee of success over there. Besides, this is not some money-focused real-estate business deal in Manhattan: too many historical emotions are involved on both sides.

The prognosis doesn’t look good for the next four years, but the past eight years were not so great either for Israel-Palestine. Especially when the US Congress (both houses) talks and acts as an extension of the Israeli Likud and its more extreme components.

A Nobel Prize or two are waiting, but I know neither Trump nor Netanyahu nor any current Arab leader will do anything to deserve it. The Nobel Committee was bitten by that same bug a couple of decades ago.
Cheers

M Haider Ghuloum

Political Psychology: This Irrational Urge to Punch Erdogan, Slap Salafis…….

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Strange. These days, whenever I see Turkish leader Caliph Recip Erdogan, I get this unreasonable but overwhelming desire to punch him in the face. Actually in the mouth and nose area specifically.
Why do you suppose I feel like punching him in the face? Odd: I am a cheerful and peaceful and un-punching-in-face type of person. With one exception. I have always been that way, until now. Could it be because he reminds me of someone who did not get punched in the face until it was too late, some 75 years ago in Germany?


(That is mostly the case: although actually there are a few people, all male and mostly from my Persian Gulf region, whom I sometimes get the strong urge to slap in the face. But they tend to be Gulf Salafis and a slap to the face is not the same as a punch, is it? Besides, I imagine many rational people feel like slapping a Salafi as soon as he opens his mouth)

All a new phenomenon of recent time, so unlike me: I always get along with others, except for rude people. Maybe it has to do with all the “stuff” back in the Middle East. But I’ll sort it out. One way or another, probably without having to go to Turkey.

Cheers (if possible)

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Middle East Humor: Looking for Smiles in all the Wrong Places………

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“Here’s something that has always puzzled me, growing up in the U.S. as a child of Russian parents. Whenever I or my friends were having our photos taken, we were told to say “cheese” and smile. But if my parents also happened to be in the photo, they were stone-faced………… He found that in countries like Germany, Switzerland, China, and Malaysia, smiling faces were rated as significantly more intelligent than non-smiling people. But in Japan, India, Iran, South Korea, and—you guessed it—Russia, the smiling faces were considered significantly less intelligent…………..”

I have occasionally commented in my posts here on the humor or lack of it in the Middle East. Anyone who reads my posts on humor would know that the region between Waziristan through the Persian Gulf and all the way to Algiers suffers from an acute lack of humor. With a few possible pockets of ‘some’ limited humor in the region.

I have often comment about humorless Jordan. But the rest of the region is not far behind. Syria was never known for her humor, and no doubt it is much worse now. The same applies for the Lebanese who are great cooks but suck at telling jokes. Iranians and Israelis are no better. Even American Jews who move to settle in Israel manage to lose any sense of humor that they might have had. As for the Turks, they take the second prize (after Jordan): ask any Turk, male or female or transgender, about humor and they will most likely respond “what is that?

Which brings me to Egypt, the once jewel of Middle Eastern and African humor. It used to be the most, possibly the only, Arab country with a sense of humor. Not anymore. Egyptian humor was famous under Gamal Abdel Nasser, and it survived Anwar Sadat. Under Mubarak it weakened, perhaps a by-product of increased Wahhabi influence. Now under General Field Marshal Sisi humor seems to have vanished from Cairo, even as Wahhabism is going mainstream. Thousands of political prisoners, many disappearances and a rising campaign of terrorism can do that to a society.

As for my native region on the (Persian) Gulf. I recall when I first graduated from college in America and went home. I was used to people smiling at me or smiling back at me in public places in the USA. Even the dogs in the parks would try to lick my hand or hug my leg tightly and in a suspicious way, if you get what I mean.

Back home, whenever I stopped at a red light and looked at the car next to me all I saw was a frown, mostly a scowl and a silent growl. Whether I looked to my right or my left, I was always rewarded with a scowl. Later on I realized that it was just a result of insecurity and some suspicion, not hostility. Many people on my Gulf often feel that they would not be taken seriously or respected unless they scowled at others.
Nowadays it has gotten even more complicated. Other factors have entered the equation: by the time they figure out which tribe or religious sect you belong to, it is too late to smile.

Still, I never respected someone who answered my smile with a scowl anyway. But the scowls worked: I stopped smiling at strangers back home.


Cheers
M Haider Ghuloum

 

Humor and Aguafiesta Violence from Early Islam to……

Al Azhar and the Academic Laws of Physics: Sharia Rules on Human Gases

Arab Media…..

WTF: Railway Link to Yemen, from Funny GCC to Asinine GCC…..

 

Arabian Gulag: the Cruel but Overlooked Punishment of Internal Exile……

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“Prominent Egyptian activist and lawyer Gamal Eid has said that security officials prevented him from travelling from Cairo to Athens early Thursday morning amid what he describes as a campaign against rights campaigners critical of authorities. “A late decision was issued. I’ve been prevented from travelling and I’m returning from the airport! What a law-respecting country,” Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights, wrote on Facebook early Thursday. Eid was barred from leaving on a dawn flight bound to Athens after his name was found on a no-fly list, airport officials told Aswat Masriya news website. Eid said that he was not provided with a reason for the ban.…………”

This is not new. Across the Arab world and the rest of the Middle East tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands are banned from travel abroad for political reasons.  It is not called Internal Exile, but that is exactly what it is, a form of forced exile within a country. What Arab officialdom and media term as “man’a min al-safar“, Banned from Travel (Abroad). It is done to punish people who criticize a regime or displease it.

Every Arab country has tens of thousands of these Internal Exiles, and so do non-Arab Middle East countries as well. The computer age has made this cruel form of punishment easier to enforce and expand and monitor. From Bahrain to Riyadh to Cairo and beyond, those whom the regime deems loudly unfriendly to it are “Banned from Travel Abroad”.
No, it has nothing to do with terrorism, this form of punishment preceded the age of Wahhabi terrorism, but it has expanded now and “terrorism” is occasionally attached to placate some Western governments and NGOs.

Mostly it is below the international radar, this huge Arabian Gulag of internal exile. An internal prison. If they are not in an actual brick and mortar prison, then they probably do not exist to the outside world. Most are not charged with any crime. But there are probably as many or maybe more of these forced internal exiles as there are political prisoners kept in cells.
Other advantages to the regimes: these forced internal exiles, the “banned from travel abroad” are cheaper to maintain than formal prisoners and not as ‘obvious’, and they are below the international radar. A cruel Arabian Gulag that is ignored by most of the world.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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A Dummy’s Haiku Guide to Free Speech in the Middle East: from Islamic to Nomadic to ……..

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Haiku:
About Free Speech…
Can it be free at a price?………..
Tell our leaders…….

So what is this “free speech” that many constitutions claim to allow but few actually do? Especially in the Middle East:

  • The Arab League considers free speech, to the extent that it considers anything seriously, as whatever each existing government in power wants it to be. Especially those regimes with deep pockets.
  • In Egypt, free speech is whatever does not criticize the president and insult the armed forces (apparently there is some difference), or mentions Mohammed Morsi without adding the term “deposed” as a prefix. Or anything that does not point out that Egypt (or even Cairo) are not, as the natives and a few Arabs claim, Mother of the World.
  • Al-Azhar sheikhs in Cairo define free speech as their interpretation of the  Holy Quran, the Hadith, and more importantly whatever the current president of the country says.
  • Less stable and more violent Arab countries have a more flexible definition of free speech. In Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, free speech is more nomadic: it depends on which part of the country you are in (and on who you are). Which might be considered by some as an improvement over what it is in other Middle East countries.
  • In Somalia, Sudan, and Djibouti, also considered “Arab” countries, you ask anyone about free speech and he or she might respond: WTF is that?
  • Free Speech in the whole “Persian-American” Gulf region will be covered in the next post, right after this one.
  • Western powers consider free speech in the Middle East as whatever encourages the ruling avaricious oligarchs to spend more money on weapons of death and repression.
  • Ist das klar?

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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