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16 Dec 2013

Six Kalīlah wa Dimnah Tales: Thinly-Veiled Arab Spring Fables

The Lion King engaging in dialogue with a protester
While researching the ancient Arab animal fables book Kalīlah wa Dimnah I came across these six incredible tales in a chapter called The Spring. They bear an uncanny resemblance to our modern day situation and there are many lessons that could be learned from these wise stories, which is why I am sharing them with the general public.

The Turtle King of Toonis

Once in the green forest of Toonis there lived a tyrant turtle who ruled with an iron fist. The Turtle King was in power for decades and had amassed a huge fortune which he shared only with a narrow circle of his relatives while the rest of the animals lived in poverty. The turtle king awarded lucrative government contracts to his wife and his close relatives which bred discontent among the general population.


One day, the creatures of the forest erupted against the Turtle King and to everyone’s surprise the Turtle King quickly fled from his palace and went to live in the faraway desert land of the Waha-Bees. (Of which we will hear more.) This was the only quick thing that the Turtle King had ever done in his life. After he left, the animals of the forest got together and there was a general feeling of harmony and good will. But this did not last for long so the animals decided to host a national dialogue and everyone is waiting to see what happens next.

The Camel King and the Pyramid Scheme

Once in the land of Gypt there lived a tyrant Camel King who ran an elaborate pyramid scheme. The Camel King played the other animals against each other and formed an elaborate power structure which was triangular in shape with him at the top. Thus the Camel King had managed to rule for many decades without having to deploy much force. The Camel King had a penchant for pinstripe suits and was generally thought to be wily and clever, although those who knew him well said otherwise.

The Camel King was getting old and he began to prepare for his son, Gamel the Camel, to succeed him. But Gamel was not popular and there was much discontent among the other animals. Eventually the animals erupted against the Camel King and used a little bird to spread the news of their revolt. The Camel King besieged the animals and tried all he could to break them down, including charging them with non-metaphorical camels in what became known as the Battle of the Camels. But the animals fought heroically and repelled the assailant camels.

At this point, the Supreme Council of Armed Foxes decided that the situation was unsustainable and decided to interfere. The foxes were ruthless and wily, and they also had a lucrative side-line in manufacturing and hotels which they wanted to protect at any cost. The Foxes forced the King Camel out of power and there was much jubilation and celebration in the land of Gypt. A King was chosen from the ranks of the Brotherhood to replace the King Camel, at which point accounts of the story begin to diverge quite radically.

Some said that the Brotherhood King had started to behave exactly like the King Camel. Others said this was a conspiracy. There was much turmoil and general clusterfucks, until the Foxes decided to intervene again and forced out the Brotherhood King and replaced him with a temporary Donkey King. But behind the scenes, the wily Fox Chief is the one pulling all the strings. Not so behind the scenes, though. In fact, quite in your face. And now there is much anticipation as everyone wonders if the Fox Chief will become the next King, and there are chocolate bars that bear his likeness.

The Wolf King and the Elephant Natoo
Once in the desert land of Leebia, there lived a cruel wolf king who ruled the land with an iron fist. The Wolf King was erratic and temperamental, with emphasis on ‘mental’. The Wolf King had ruled for many decades by undermining the traditional power structures and pretending that real power came from popular animal committees. The Wolf King was regarded as a major pain in the arse by Animal Kings in faraway lands, but they overcame his natural revulsion towards him because he provided them with a steady supply of oil and even free torture services.

Encouraged by the revolts in the other lands, the animals of Leebia revolted against the Wolf King but they did not prevail and a stalemate came to pass with nobody appearing to have the stronger hand. At which point the Elephant Natoo, who lived in the cold Northern lands and had previously had no scruples about dealing with the Wolf King, decided to intervene out of animalitarian principles. The Elephant Natoo stomped around like the oaf that he is and destroyed much of the Wolf King’s defences until he was eventually defeated by a mermaid.

The Elephant Natoo then lost interest in Leebia and went to stomp around other lands, leaving Leebia in a state of disarray and confusion. The Bearded Jackals quickly seized control of Leebia and they behaved like complete jackasses. And now chaos reigns in Leebia and some say at least we got rid of the cruel Wolf King but what to do about the Bearded Jackals.

The One-Eared Jackal King of Yes-Men

That’s pretty much it, let’s skip this one.

The Grateful King of the Two Seas

Once in the land of the Two Seas there lived a tyrant king called the Grateful King who ruled with an iron fist. Some said that the Grateful King’s Vizier was really in charge and he had indeed been in power for a long, long time. Encouraged by the revolts in the other lands, the animals decided to come together and demand reforms but some of the other animals questioned their motivations, which is something that didn’t happen in the other places. They accused them of protesting because they were Moonies and they resented being ruled over by Sunnies, which poisoned the whole atmosphere and spread division.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Waha-Bees felt that this one was too close to home and they weren’t going to put up with it, so they sent in their army to put down the revolt. The Waha-Bees accused the Persian Cats of interfering in the land of the Two Seas and accused them of inciting the revolt, but the Persian Cats denied this. Meanwhile, the Elephant Natoo kept very quiet and didn’t even mention its animalitarian principles, which is hypocritical to say the least.

The Lion King of Soorya

Once in the land of Soorya there was a Lion King who ruled with an iron fist and who inherited power from his father, Lion King Sr, in elections in which he received 137% of the vote. In the beginning, some Animals said that the Lion King was a reformer especially that he had brought in large calculating machines and covered souks, which were highly coveted in the land of Soorya. But it quickly transpired that the Lion King wasn’t that different, and the situation grew worse.

The Lion King was boasting that there will be no revolt in Soorya because he was a just ruler but, as often happens in these fables, reality turned against him and the seeds of revolt began to grow. The Lion King responded harshly, but some said it’s the Ba’ath Dinosaurs that wouldn’t allow him to contemplate even modest reforms. Animal politics can get pretty complex, especially when extinct species get involved.

Meanwhile, the Elephant Natoo rediscovered its animalitarian principles all of a sudden, and threw its weight behind the revolt. This angered the Bear Rasputin, who felt betrayed by Natoo in Leebia, so he decided to intervene on the side of the Lion King. The Waha-Bees and several of their neighbours also decided to intervene, particularly because of their affinity with their fellow revolting Sunnies. In response, the Persian Cats decided to support their long-time ally the Lion King. Pretty soon, every animal tribe near and far decided to stick its nose in Soorya.

But the elephant Natoo began to have second thoughts about what it was doing in Soorya. Natoo was particularly scared by the Bearded Jackals who had begun to descend on Soorya in droves from all corners of the jungle. Natoo had a complex history with the Bearded Jackals, but it wasn’t a secret that they hated each other now. Natoo for a while seemed to have forgotten its enmity with the Bearded Jackals, which is strange because elephants never forget.

The United Animals sent in one wise old owl after another, but they all failed to achieve peace in Soorya. Soorya’s neighbour Not A Christmas Turkey began to regret what it had done in Soorya and started to warn the other animals, but the situation is complex that nobody can see a way out. Meanwhile, Sorrya’s other neighbour Mr Wolf keeps slipping in to steal a few chickens because it has a reputation as an asshole to maintain. All the while, the Bearded Jackals are getting crazier by the day and they’re freaking everyone out, including the narrator of this story. Especially that this is a thinly-veiled metaphor and if there’s anything Bearded Jackals hate it’s a thin veil.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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