30 Mar 2013

Egypt launches ambitious campaign to 'end humour' by 2018

The Egyptian government today announced ambitious plans to 'end humour' by 2018. Modelled after the hugely successful 'End Poverty' global campaign, the initiative will aim to eliminate humour, satire and joke-telling from Egyptian society within a tightly-controlled five-year plan. Smiling will also be frowned upon, even though it won't be strictly prohibited.

The campaign was launched earlier today by ordering the arrest of popular TV satirist Bassem Youssef, widely seen as a symbol of the nation's obsession with flippancy and light-heartedness. A stern-looking government spokesman announced that this is a symbolic strike at the entire echelon of satire and joke-telling that has infiltrated Egyptian society, hinting that foreign hands have been behind the drive to paralyse the nation through the promotion of humour in a strict religious nation.

24 Mar 2013

Saudi Arabia Announces Historic Decision to Ban Everything

In an unprecedented move in modern governance, Saudi Arabia announced today that it will introduce a ban on everything. The announcement has sent shockwaves throughout the kingdom and the Middle East, leaving many governments wondering ‘why didn’t we think of that first?’ The new rule is expected to revolutionise governance in this part of the world, and may indeed have wider repercussions.

The announcement was made early on Sunday morning by a Saudi official in a press conference, expected to be the last of its kind because press briefings will automatically be banned when the ban takes effect. Sheikh Jassem Ahmad Al-Manea, a high-ranking official in the Saudi Ministry of General Regulation and the Promotion of Abstinence, presented the historic ban to members of the local and foreign press.

22 Mar 2013

Syria: A Human Flood from the Baath State

Read my latest piece for Syria Deeply A Human Flood from the Baath State about the rural/urban divide in Syria and its impact on the uprising. Below you can watch in full Omar Amiralay's excellent film A Flood in Baath Country which I discuss in the article. 

"In 2003’s “A Flood in Baath Country,” Amiralay developed this theme as a metaphor for the Baathist ‘deep state’, as he revisited the Euphrates dam which featured in his early work. Four decades into its existence, the party and its leaders had clearly formed no real allegiances in Syria’s inland regions. Despite its omnipresence, it remained a remote and detached entity as reflected in the repetitive slogans the people used throughout the film to talk about it." Excerpt from the article.

21 Mar 2013

It’s ever so simple: a tribal map of the Middle East

Hint: It's not really about the map, which I didn't draw. Source: http://arthurzbygniew.blogspot.co.uk/p/air-bulletin.html
The Middle East. The land of minarets and veils and other inaccurate clichés. Where every male’s earliest memory is being assaulted by a stranger who cut off a piece of his genitals. And they wonder why there is so much aggression. The Middle East remains a mysterious place that defies Western understanding because of its complexity and the stubborn refusal of so many to accept broad generalisations about it.

This unhelpful pedantry has fortunately been challenged by several brave Western observers who carried out extensive research in the area, mainly by talking to taxi drivers from Cairo to Tehran and, whenever that proved unsatisfactory, they made up conversations with taxi drivers. While this evidence is not ‘real’ in the conventional sense, it does however prove their theories.

19 Mar 2013

There was indeed ONE good intervention. In the entire history of mankind.

Following my last post The real lesson of Iraq: there are no good interventions. several people got in touch to remind me of the Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia. There seems to be a consensus that the only ever good intervention in the entire history of humanity is that one. I stand corrected, the generalisation was inaccurate. Because the Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia was the exception. There's a phrase about rules and exceptions that I can't remember now, but it will come to me.

The real lesson of Iraq: there are no good interventions.

Fate decided that the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, regarded widely as an occasion to reflect on the lessons of that catastrophic adventure, would occur against the backdrop of the on-going debate over intervention in Syria. For interventionists this represents an opportunity to re-establish a distinction between good interventions and bad interventions. Their aim is clear: to salvage the doctrine of humanitarian interventionism and dissociate it from the bitter legacy of Iraq’s invasion. This is nothing short of a wilful attempt NOT to learn the lessons of Iraq.

14 Mar 2013

Did the Muslim Brotherhood Hijack Syria's Revolution?

“No one in Syria expected the anti-regime uprising to last this long or be this deadly, but after around 70,000 dead, 1 million refugees, and two years of unrest, there is still no end in sight. While President Bashar al-Assad's brutal response is mostly to blame, the opposition's chronic failure to form a viable front against the regime has also allowed the conflict to drag on. And there's one anti-Assad group that is largely responsible for this dismal state of affairs: Syria's Muslim Brotherhood.” 

In an article published yesterday in FP, Hassan Hassan argued that the Muslim Brotherhood is largely to blame for the failure of the Syrian opposition to overcome its divisions and play a more decisive role in the Syrian uprising. In How the Muslim Brotherhood Hijacked Syria's Revolution, Hassan described how the Brotherhood exploited its regional connections and disproportionally large representation within the myriad bodies of the ‘external’ opposition to increase its own influence at the expense of the opposition’s effectiveness and unity.

13 Mar 2013

Well-informed Misreading: A History of Syria with Dan Snow

‘Syria has been at the heart of human civilisation for thousands of years. The violence now raging across the country often seems random and inexplicable but it isn’t. If you want to understand what’s happening in Syria and this region at the moment there’s only one place to start, and that’s in the past. Those fighting for control of Syria nurse grievances stretching back centuries.’

I watched Dan Snow’s documentary ‘A History of Syria’ (BBC Two, 11 March), in which he tried to explain the historic roots of the on-going conflict there. Snow had clearly delved deep into Syrian history and tried to understand the dynamics of what’s happening today, travelling to various parts of Syria and talking to both pro and anti-regime Syrians. Unfortunately, his conclusions were distorted by his overreliance on historic precedents and the extent to which past grievances are dictating what’s happening today.

Large Hadron Collider to be taken over by social scientists

In an unexpected development, CERN announced earlier today that the Large Hadron Collider will be handed over to teams of social scientists for the next two years. The LHC is scheduled to shut down for essential maintenance and upgrade works until 2015, but an extensive technical assessment carried out by CERN concluded that it could be used for social science experiments during this period. The scheme has received backing from the European Union and various governments as it is expected to generate thousands of jobs for social science graduates. 

11 Mar 2013

The Sheep, the Wolf, and the Lettuce: The Riddle of the Lebanese Elections

There’s an old riddle that goes like this: there’s a farmer that has a sheep, a wolf and a lettuce that he needs to take across a river. However, his boat can fit only one of the three in addition to him. If he leaves the wolf with the sheep, the wolf will eat the sheep. If he leaves the sheep with the lettuce, the sheep will eat the lettuce. So how does he move all three safely across the river?

7 Mar 2013

Ed Husain: Why Shallowness Is the Key to Peace and Other Clichés

Following his recent article for the New York Times, Ed Husain agreed to write a follow-up piece elaborating on this bold proposal for ending the boycott of Israel and grabbing the Islamist tiger by the tail. 

Thousands of Muslims visit Jerusalem every year, but not since Saladin conquered Islam’s third most sacred site has the arrival of a single Muslim individual carried as much symbolic weight as my recent trip to the ancient city.

I had come carrying an olive branch.

5 Mar 2013

The Empire of Cheese: An Interview with Joseph Massad

Following his colossal interview ‘The Empire of Sexuality’, we arranged to interview the most prominent Arab intellectual in the post-Fatimid era, Joseph Massad, about another problematic concept at the intersection of late capitalism and Euro-American hegemony, cheese. We were intrigued by Massad’s comments about western culture’s tendency to label the various stages of milk into clear-cut ‘categories’, such as butter, cheese and ice cream, so we dispatched Alex Osman Fassbinder and Mga Mga Mawali Mxmachk (the x is silent) to talk to him. The interview below promises to radically transform how we understand and conceptualise dairy products.