Category Archives: Middle East

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.

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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KuwaitCox2 ا

“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.
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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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?

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Adieu Sykes-Picot? World War ISIS, World War DAESH………..

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The 1930s saw a complex web of changing European alliances that kept shifting until 1941, when the division of the wartime antagonists took its final shape after the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
After the Nazi/Fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War, at the sunset of the 1930s, the major Western powers of the time, Britain and France, signed a deal with the devil of the time, Nazi Germany.  That Munich Deal gave up a large chunk of Central Europe to the Nazis and set up the invasion of Poland. Stalin, even more suspicious of the West than they were of him, panicked and decided to make his own Soviet deal with the German devil. Hence the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of  the summer of 1939.
Thus World World Two evolved.

In Syria the alliances have also shifted over time. With the start of the 2011 spring protests, the absolute undemocratic Wahhabi Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf saw opportunities. As did influential Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood groups in these countries. They saw sectarian and strategic opportunities. As did some hawkish but perhaps gullible American politicians (McCain, Lieberman, Graham, Hillary Clinton, etc). They declared that the Assad regime is about to collapse and that they support the “Syrian opposition”. It was like the alliances of the war of 1939-1945: alliances of divergent interests among these mainly foreign groups. The common goal seemed to be to overthrow the Syrian regime, just as they did in Libya, and to bloody the noses of its allies among the dour Iranian mullahs. Then perhaps to fight among themselves over the remains of Syria.

Except that the Wahhabi elements, bolstered with Gulf money, weapons, and Salafi volunteers, soon took over much of the Syrian military opposition in-country. Their efforts were supported by the accommodation provided by the Turkish Islamist regime for Jihadists and weapons flowing through what I have called the Erdogan Trail. The local Iraqi-Syrian offshoot of Al Qaeda split from the original Wahhabi terror group and declared a Caliphate, an Islamic State stretching from west of Al Raqqa to east of Mosul. Other Al Qaeda affiliates and offshoots (Al Nusra, Ahrar Al Sham, Army of Islamic Conquest, a few other “Al”s, etc) took over what remained of the opposition assets and territory inside Syria.

The Western powers stuck to the simple narrative supplied by their Wahhabi allies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar that there is a legitimate Syrian moderate opposition fighting on the ground to overthrow the Al Assad regime and establish ‘democracy’. That these Gulf autocratic kleptocrcies are seeking to establish democracy in Syria, something they deny heir own peoples. But facts on the ground in Syria, and bloody facts in places from Sinai to Paris to Baghdad to Kuwait and Libya and West Africa have proven otherwise. The Western powers are wisely moving away now from the sectarian Syrian narrative as provided by the Wahhabi princes and potentates.

Syria is a mess created by both its regime and the fractious sectarian opposition as well as by Arab and other foreign powers. It needs a solution supported by its people, but not the outcome sought by the neighboring autocrats. That would only replace Sykes-Picot with new sectarian statelets in parts of Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Even after the inevitable demise of this half-baked Caliphate of ISIS. It may already be too late to save the current shape of Syria and Iraq intact. Islamist Turkey, with its seething ethnic and sectarian divide might be next.
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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Hungry Militias: Who is Backing Whom in the Middle East and Across the World………

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“The letter accused rebels and forces loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh of “targeting anything that moves in the city of Aden, preventing medical teams and volunteers from reaching the injured and killing humanitarian agents.” Forces supporting President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, backed by airstrikes, battled Houthi fighters, who took control of the port, Yemeni officials said. The clashes are the latest in Yemen’s months of violence, which exploded before Hadi’s ouster from Yemen by the Iranian-backed Houthis………..”

(FYI: there are no forces supporting Hadi. Not even the Saudis. Only Hadi supports Hadi. Those fighting around Aden against Houthis-Saleh are fighters of Southern Independence or AQAP).

Media here in the United States have a way of describing certain Arab or Muslim political entities or groups by their perceived affiliations. Especially political or military groups that they dislike or disapprove of. For example, any Middle East group deemed friendly with the Iranian regime is described as Iranian-backed (or Iranian-supported) w.x.y.z, and I can almost read or hear a disapproving sniffle. I never read a description like Saudi-backed (or Saudi-supported) q.w.e.r.t.y. No mention of Saudi-backed or Qatari-backed or Turkish-backed Nusra Front. So, I have suggested a list of other potential backed-by list, just to even the playing field (or is it the killing field?):

  • Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’a Militias; Iranian-backed Houthi Zaidi Shi’as; Iranian-backed Hezbollah; Iranian-backed Hamas; Iranian-backed Assad; Iranian-backed anyone who is not Saudi-backed; Iranian-backed Texas used-car Dealer Wannabe Assassin Arbabsiar (LOL);
  • Saudi-backed Wahhabis; Saudi-backed Hariri; Saudi-backed Hadi (actually nobody-backed Hadi); Saudi-funded Jihadis; Senegal-backed Saudis; French-backed Saudis; Saudi-Qatari-Turkish-backed Nusra Front; Saudi-Ignored AQAP in Yemen; Saudi-backed Likud;
  • Qatari-backed Ikhwan; Qatari-backed Hamas; Qatari-backed Jihadis; Qatari-funded FIFA officials; Emirati-backed Sisi; Emirati-backed Clinton Foundation; Saudi-backed Bush Library;
  • Turkish-backed Nusra Front; Salafi-backed Caliphate; American-backed FSA; American-backed Jihadis in Syria; British-backed Bahrain Rulers; 
  • Republican-backed Netanyahu; Netanyahu-backed GOP; Adelson-backed contenders; Caliphate-backed Naftali Bennett; PLO-backed Ayelet Shaked;
  • We can also extend this to other, er, interests: Honey-Baked Ham (something I wouldn’t eat); Chinese-style Beijing Duck and Chicken Kung-Pao; English-style Fish and Chips; Ballpark-style Hot Dogs; Arab-Style Fried Sheep Brain; Serbian-Style Fried Sheep Balls (a k a: fried sheep cojonesبيض غنم)……………

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter

Middle East Democracy: Between Bibi and Sisi and the King of Kleptocracia………..

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  • Al Sisi (Egypt): Al won almost 98% of the vote in a very weak turnout. He had a weak opponent who should have boycotted the “election”. Not that he needed it: the generalissimo was already in power before the vote. He even promoted himself to Field Marshal before the election.
  • Bibi Netanyahu: he is struggling now to keep his job. In spite of the stunt he arranged with the U.S. Congress and the circus in Washington. He is behind by 2-4 seats. Might manage to hang on if he can kiss enough extremist little party arses (even more extreme than he is). Somebody did that in Germany decades ago and became chancellor.
  • Bashar Al Assad: he got 88% of the vote in a very imperfect not-exactly-free election (I am being polite here) at wartime. Oddly, he very likely even won a majority of the Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. Which makes me wonder: who were they escaping when they crossed the border?
  • AbdRabuh Hadi (Bin Zombie of Yemen): a favorite of the GCC potentates, the general won an “amazing” 99.8% of the vote and he had no opponent (so who did the 0.2% vote for?).
  • Hassan Rouhani (Iran): won barely above 50% of the vote.
  • Generic King WhatIsHisFace (of Kleptocracia): 100+%, always.
  • Shaikh Khalifa Al Khalifa, Prime Minister of Bahrain: he has been 43 years in office, beats the late Gadhafi and closing in on Queen Victoria. 100+%.
  • Mahmoud Abbas (PLO): Lingering in office until death do them part.
  • Actually Iraq may shape up as a good experiment in parliamentary democracy. If they can shake off sectarian and ethnic conflicts. The prime minister has changed twice in peaceful elections, even though the Jihadi terrorists are waging war. Most Arabs don’t like to admit this, but it is the case.

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter

Qatar and Her Sisters: Foundation for the Defense of More War……..

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KuwaitCox2    ChristmasPeanuts

“It has been dubbed the most two-faced nation in the world, backing the U.S.-led coalition against the militants of the Islamic State while providing a permissive environment, in the words of one top American official, for terrorist financiers to operate with impunity. And despite a growing furor on both sides of the Atlantic, Qatar, the tiny but super-wealthy Gulf emirate, shows scant willingness to clamp down on the jihad moneymen. Indeed, it may never unless Western powers start raising the political stakes. A new report identifies more than 20 funders designated as terrorist-linked by the U.S. or UN who have benefited from a mixture of benign neglect or support in Doha. “With every important case of suspected terror finance involving a Qatari national in past years, the government in Doha has refused effectively to crack down,” according to the study, “Qatar and Terror Finance,”……………Al-Nuaymi, who has also been fingered by the UN and the European Union as a funder of terrorism, has held major roles in official Qatari organizations, including serving as a board member on charities backed by the government and at the Qatar Islamic Bank…………….”

This Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) website claims it is “a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)3 policy institute focusing on foreign policy and national security………” The most reasonable among its leaders is dead: one former NFL quarterback named Jack Kemp who went on to Congress and the Reagan cabinet. I usually take their analysis about the Middle East with a pound or two of salt, and I am being extremely polite here.
The Foundation For the Defense of Democracies has little to do with “democracy”. It is an extreme warlike group inhabited by frustrated American warhawks/chickenhawks and scurrilous Arabs and other exiles who seek more Western wars and destruction on their native region. The group is dedicated to two things: (a) absolute Israeli supremacy in the Middle East, and (b) waging more wars of choice on any remaining Middle East country that is not allied with the United States. Just a list of its board and its comments and its contributors will tell the story.

Having said that, this is not to deny that certain elements in the Persian Gulf states are heavily involved in financing Jihadi terrorists in Iraq and Syria. And not just Qatar, the Little Wahhabi gas power. I have written on this since before 2011, before the first Wahhabi suitcases of cash money from the Gulf entered Syria, through Turkey and Lebanon (the latter care of the pro-Saudi March 14 bloc). In Iraq the trail can lead all the way back to the elections of 2005 and the rise of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, possibly earlier.

Ironically, there were no Qataris involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks, mainly Saudis, and Egyptians and Emiratis. Qatar has a tiny native population (some 90% are imported temporary foreign labor) but a lot of surplus money. Unlike some other Gulf states, they send more money and less Wahhabi volunteers to kill Shi’as and people of other faiths.

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Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Our Fertile Crescent of Turmoil and Violence: Neither Shi’a nor Sunni nor Wahhabi……

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In our native region, the origins of symbolic crescents go back deep into history. In modern times it makes for some memorable sound bites. From the original Ramadan Crescent we have gone through others. From the Fertile Crescent to Zbigniew Brzezinski‘s Arc (or Crescent) of Crisis of 1978 to the more recent sectarian “Crescents”.

Remember when the “Shi’a Crescent” was the fashionable term among the foreign policy connoisseurs of the West? That was when they talked about a Shia Crescent (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon) and the media picked on it and spread it? That one imploded early in 2011 with the explosion of what became the doomed Arab Uprisings.

Remember when some started to talk of a broad “Sunni Crescent” (Turkey, Qatar, Saudi, GCC, Syrian Opposition, etc)? All these were cute sound bites that sought to summarize and hence (mis)represent the march of events and history across the Middle East. As usual, the sound bites simplified and grossly misrepresented a set of complex situations.

Then there is the more specific “Wahhabi Crescent” that is defined by Saudi Arabia and Qatar at one end (one tip), and by the Jihadist terror groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS and Al-Nusra and the Salafi movements at the other end (the other tip). There is some serious interaction in between. No need to go over Taliban and Boko Haram and their ilk.

What we have now is one huge wide Arc of Sectarian Turmoil and Violence that spreads from the northeastern shores of the Tigris and Euphrates south to Yemen and north up through the Sinai and across the Nile and into Libya. I am not even including the distant peripheral neighbors like Afghanistan and Pakistan and northwest Africa. Now, more than three years after the so-called Arab Spring, we are having the beginnings of a possible regional bloodbath. In some cases like Syria and Iraq and Libya and Yemen it is well advanced, in other cases like Egypt and Palestine-Israel it is somewhat controlled and sporadic. The violence is also nibbling at some other states of the region, like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Lebanon, threatening to get out of hand.

Oddly, or maybe not, the non-Arab countries and quasi-countries of the region are quite stable, given the storms raging around them. Turkey, Iran, Israel, and even Iraqi Kurdistan have managed to go through non-controversial political processes, in one case with smooth and peaceful leadership change. Yet these same non-Arab countries are deeply involved in the turmoil raging through the eastern part of the Arab world. In some cases feeding it, in others exploiting it. 

Stay tuned………


Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Middle East Leaders Tweeting: Khamenei’s Sports and Abdullah’s Market Crash………


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Bashar Al-Assad (June 17 TV interview): when the nation is in crisis, the president’s job is even more important, and must remain to solve it. (I don’t know about this thing of “must remain to solve it”: the Saudi king returned home from Morocco last week and their market immediately crashed as he landed).

Ahamdinejad: (no tweets from his account for month, very uncharacteristic, unless he violated the TOS. Could he have gone online incognito?).

Ali Khamenei (June 17) dissing the US Electoral College system, calling it gerrymandering (a surprise use of an American political term): @khamenei_ir How is it possible 2 become US president with fewer votes…..?“
Khamenei has also been waxing nostalgic this month about his youth, and about sports, from mountain climbing in Iran to volleyball (presumably not Beach Volleyball). Which makes you wonder: does he know something the public doesn’t, yet?

Hassan Rouhani (June 17): @HassanRouhani #Rouhani’s Opposition to the Bomb: The Iranian President-Elect’s 2006 Letter to TIME via @TIMEWorld”.  Benyamin Netanyahu immediately opined that he is opposed to this Iranian opposition to the bomb. Said he smelled a whiff of anti-Semitism, retroactively. Said he ought to be bombed just for saying it.

Saudi King Abdullah: (Wish tha Twitter?= WTF is Twitter?) And who is this Gerrymandering thing the Iranian Rafidhi turban-head cleric was talking about up there?

Saudi Mufti: This is evil. Spit out and ask forgiveness, otherwise you’ll never see hide nor hair of them virgin houris. Instead the flames of hell shall caress your walnuts.

Nuri Al-Maliki: I gotta learn about real longevity from the PM of Bahrain.
Psst, Nuri: It’s the family and the mercenaries and the Saudi troops, stupid!

Morsi: @MuhammadMorsi Evoked blood in the same sentence as Nile waters (it is common Arab political bullshit to insert blood into a political statement). Jumped on the Syrian war while kissing up to Sudan’s Al-Bashir.  We shall aid the Syrians with words, liberate Nile headwaters or switch to our blood for irrigation, regain the Sudan (without al-Bashir), and drive the Israelis……….. mad trying to figure me out.

Hip Saudi Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal:
They say I ain’t no leader, but I own Twitter………. almost.


Wars R Us: Another Warmonger Joins AEI, Lieberman Decides against WINEP…………


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“In a bid to lend a patina of “bipartisanship” to its ideas, the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has made former Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) the co-chair of its newest foreign policy initiative. The move has been met with raised eyebrows, as progressives have not considered Joe Lieberman an authentic representative of their foreign policy positions for quite some time, if they ever did in the first place. Lieberman will co-chair the new “American Internationalism Project” with former Senator John Kyl (R-AZ). As the project is intended to “rebuild and reshape a bipartisan consensus around American global leadership and engagement,” Lieberman’s participation is aimed at blunting the perception that anything coming out of AEI is a dogmatically Republican plan. AEI generally hews to a hardline neoconservative standard on foreign policy; its staff in the area includes former Bush Administration officials John Bolton, Richard Perle, and Marc Thiessen………………..”

Joe Lieberman is a one-issue guy as far as foreign policy is concerned. His focus is on that one issue and other peripheral issues that touch on it. Yet he has picked to join a different special interest institute than the house that AIPAC built (Washington Institute for Near East Policy). But he fits in right with that other one-issue guy, John Bolton. Mr. Bolton is so extreme that even a Republican U.S. Senate refused to confirm him as Bush’s ambassador to the UN. He had to be appointed for only one year during a recess. Bolton has one other issue, besides cultivating his mustache: pushing for a new war of choice in the Middle East, a war that even Bush-Cheney were not stupid enough to start. In this issue, Lieberman and Bolton are in complete agreement.
Lieberman spent the past few years in the US Senate trying to subvert its resolutions toward another war in our region. Until his very last month. Not that he needed much hard work to do it.

With Jon Kyl as part of the team, we might as well call it :Wars R Us.