Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Letter from Iraq: What was left behind

An interesting exposé on PM Maliki and his rise to power in the New Yorker by Dexter Filkins (NY Times Baghdad bureau chief 2003-2006). 
In the summer of 2012, a mysterious man walked into the office of Rafe al-Essawi, then the finance minister, and handed him a sheaf of documents. The man, who identified himself as Mohammed Abdullah, said that they were government contracts, totalling seven billion dollars, along with instructions to wire payments to a series of Iraqi bank accounts. They appeared to have been approved by Maliki’s cabinet and signed by four of his ministers. Essawi examined the documents, and quickly determined that they were fraudulent: the contracts, the companies, the approvals, the signatures. “Everything was fake—everything,” Essawi told me. 
Essawi ordered his men to block the exits and arrest the man, but he managed to get away. Soon afterward, Essawi said, he visited Maliki and handed him the file and a photograph of the man, captured by the ministry’s security cameras. He told Maliki he believed that Abdullah was probably working with people close to Maliki. “I asked the Prime Minister to use the intelligence agencies to investigate,” Essawi said. Essawi never heard back. A few months later, Iraqi troops stormed the Ministry of Finance, setting fire to Essawi’s office and several others, and destroying the cameras that had recorded Abdullah’s photo. The soldiers carted away dozens of Essawi’s bodyguards. 
Essawi’s story is one of dozens I heard in Iraq and neighboring countries about corrupt members of Maliki’s government, ranging from a circle around the Prime Minister to the lowest functionary. Most of the allegations are unproved, but they are persistent; Iraqi and U.S. officials, both current and former, tell tales of extortion, bribery, kickbacks, and theft. Many involve the siphoning of Iraq’s oil revenues, which last year exceeded ninety billion dollars. Others describe the corrupt use of Iraqi banks to tap the black market in dollars. In the past few years, several government contracts have turned out to be entirely fake. In 2011, the government cancelled a $1.2-billion contract to build ten power plants, and announced that the Canadian company hired to do the work existed only on paper. “The corruption is Olympian,” the former senior C.I.A. official told me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Looks like the Washington Post finally picked up this two-month-old story:

Called the Jaafari Personal Status Law, it would prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims, prevent women from leaving the house without their husband’s consent, automatically grant custody of children older than two to their father in divorce cases and legalize marital rape.

The law, which proponents say will save women’s “rights and dignity,” would also permit boys to marry as young as 15 and girls to marry as young as nine. Girls younger than nine would be permitted to marry with a parent’s approval.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Maliki meets the Matrix

This is Nuri al-Maliki's (re)election poster.

 It reads: "The world leader in fighting terrorism"
 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Ja'fari Personal Status Law

The Iraqi Council of Ministers has just approved the controversial Ja'fari (Shi'ite) Personal Status Law and sent the bill to parliament, even after declaring just days ago that the matter would be decided after the elections. If this reactionary bill is passed, Iraqi men will be able to marry girls as young as nine 'lunar' years (a little under nine calender years), and a married woman won't be able to initiate a divorce unless she can prove under oath (with two witnesses!) that her husband is impotent or cannot achieve an erection. Yep. 

There are other goodies in the law such as legitimizing spousal rape, temporary marriage, polygamy; barring married women from leaving the house without permission; reliance on oath alone for proving paternity (no need for any DNA evidence, as it used to be); a husband can deny expenses for his wife if she is unable to satisfy him sexually; a deceased person's will can be decided by next of kin under oath (no written will needed); uprooting civil marriages and alimony for divorced women, etc., but I can't find any version in English. There's absolutely nothing on it from the mainstream media either. 

At the legal level, the law is consistent with Article 41 of the Iraqi Constitution, which reads, "Iraqis are free to abide by their personal status according to their religions, sects, beliefs, or choices, as regulated by law."

In terms of content, civil elites consider the proposed law unconstitutional because the Constitution prohibits any law that is inconsistent with Article 2, which stipulates in Paragraph (b), "No law may be enacted that contradicts the principles of democracy," and in Paragraph (c), "No law may be enacted that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms outlined in this Constitution." However, the minister of justice is basing his argument on Paragraph (a), which stipulates, "No law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam."

That vague and ambiguous article has become a Trojan horse for religious parties to impose their laws. This ambiguity has led to another level of factors, mainly religious factors, which helped the justice minister in his mission.

In principle, no Iraqi cleric can oppose applying provisions that date back to earlier times and which are supported by religious texts. Some of those texts set the marriage age as low as 9 and others relate to the role of women in society whereby a woman is subject to her husband's will and is deprived of all the gains made under the 1959 Personal Status Law, which is considered a civil law par excellence.

The problem facing the Jaafari personal status law is that the normal pattern of laws pertaining to the issues of marriage, divorce, inheritance and women's rights in the world have been evolving toward greater freedom and equality, so why would Iraqi laws head in the opposite direction?

Backward, like a camel's urine, as the old Iraqi proverb says.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

10 year blog anniversary!

It's been one crazy decade between dodging bullets and maneuvering militia checkpoints and concrete blocks to stealthily flying out of Iraq and achieving my lifelong dream of studying and living in the Land of the Free and getting reunited with family, relatives and friends in a better place, full of potential. 

I haven't blogged much about my experiences here in the US between New York and Texas but I hope to share them with you at some point. There were many ups and downs along the way but I can safely say that I'm finally settling down, getting my citizenship soon and, errmm, 'maybe' the M word. :p

I didn't get you any cake, but here's one of my favorite Iraqi delicacies, pacha. Yes, that is boiled lamb head, hooves and stuffed entrails seasoned with dry lemon over soaked bread loaves. Isn't that so yummy?



Enjoy!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Al-Qaeda in Iraq checkpoints on Baghdad-Amman highway

This is how Al-Qaeda (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) operates with impunity on the international highway between Baghdad and Amman in the Anbar province. The victims, Syrian truck drivers, were summarily executed after failing to answer how many times a Muslim is supposed to kneel during dawn prayers.

 Where are your drones, Mr. Obama? Oh, sorry I forgot you're too busy spying on your own citizens and jailing whistleblowers now to even bother about 'terrorists' anymore. Hell, I'm willing to bet these guys might even be some of the groups you're arming and funding through Syrian 'rebels'

 

Friday, July 05, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

Syria

What the hell is wrong with this country? The US now wants to arm the sectarian factions that have been chopping off the heads of 15-year-old boys for 'blasphemy'? Hate-filled jihadists who cut out the bleeding hearts of dead Syrian soldiers and eat them? These are the same people that drove Iraq to civil war and now they've managed to do the same in Syria, threatening to burn up the whole region in flames with their 7th century mindsets! They have openly declared that America is their enemy over and over again. Do you not read or follow? Can someone tell me why? Fight them in Iraq and Afghanistan and then support them in Syria? Have you not learned the lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq? Why is Obama such a Saudi tool? There is no more Free Syrian Army fighting over there. They have long ceased to count in this fight. It is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria waging holy war against Shia Arabs, Alawis and Christians, and whoever doesn't follow their extremist brand of Islam. Saudi and Qatari backed jihadists who will turn a modern Arab state into another theocracy. They are the Arab version of the Taliban... and you're going to give them more arms to kill our children and later yours...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tensions high in Baghdad

These flyers were distributed this night in the Mansur and Karrada districts signed by 'Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq (a renegade Shi'ite militia formerly linked to the Mahdi Army) threatening members of the Sunni community (referred to here as the grandchildren of Umar and A'isha) with 'liquidation' if they do not leave. The threats followed a wave of bombings targeting Shia neighborhoods during the last two days killing up to 30 people. 

Locals reported fake checkpoints set up in several areas of southern Baghdad stopping vehicles and checking IDs. 


Monday, April 29, 2013

Fishy timing

And, of course, we all know Maliki never lies:

(CNN) -- Iraq's government ordered 10 television networks shut down Sunday, accusing them of stoking sectarian violence with "unprofessional" and "unethical" coverage of recent clashes in the country's north. Sunday's order from the Communications and Media Commission includes the Qatar-based satellite network Al Jazeera and eight outlets aimed at the country's Sunni Arab minority.

Ahmed Saeed, a reporter for Baghdad Satellite TV, said the decree effectively halts his network's reporting. "We cannot cover anything now," Saeed said. "Iraqi security forces will immediately arrest us." The Sunni outlets are based outside Iraq, in Jordan, Dubai or Egypt. Most have been sharply critical of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government since fighting last week between government troops and Sunni tribes in northern Iraq left more than 100 dead.

 The communications commission accused the networks of airing "misleading and exaggerated" coverage of the fighting in the city of Hawija, near Kirkuk, where dozens of demonstrators died in clashes with Iraqi police. The shuttered stations ran inflated death tolls and "carried a clear message by encouraging criminal activities and attacking security forces," it said.

The list includes one Shiite network, Al-Anwar. Some outlets, such as Al Jazeera, have been ordered to shut down operations in Iraq before; the network had no immediate response to the latest order. Watchdog groups previously have accused al-Maliki's government of using the communications commission to stifle criticism from Sunni outlets in particular.

More

Monday, April 08, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Baghdad 10 years after the invasion

I've always enjoyed the Iraq documentaries by Vice Media and their controversial brand of 'gonzo journalism'. I wrote a couple of articles for them back when I first arrived in the US in 2006.

 

 Parts 2,3, and 4 here.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Pentagon's links to Iraq torture centers

I guess this is old news now:
The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the "dirty wars" in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents.

These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country's descent into full-scale civil war. Colonel James Steele was a 58-year-old retired special forces veteran when he was nominated by Donald Rumsfeld to help organise the paramilitaries in an attempt to quell a Sunni insurgency, an investigation by the Guardian and BBC Arabic shows.

After the Pentagon lifted a ban on Shia militias joining the security forces, the special police commando (SPC) membership was increasingly drawn from violent Shia groups such as the Badr brigades.

A second special adviser, retired Colonel James H Coffman, worked alongside Steele in detention centres that were set up with millions of dollars of US funding.

Coffman reported directly to General David Petraeus, sent to Iraq in June 2004 to organise and train the new Iraqi security forces. Steele, who was in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, and returned to the country in 2006, reported directly to Rumsfeld.
More

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Iraqi Deputy PM almost lynched

Iraqi Deputy PM Salih al-Mutlag gets chased away by angry protesters with stones and shoes at an anti-government demonstration in Ramadi this morning. The video is crazy. It clearly shows the crowd getting riled up with some people shouting, "Kick out the traitor," "Slaughter the bastard," "Kill him," and the obligatory "Allahu Akbar" and then shots are heard, probably from Mutlag's bodyguard. At this point, Mutlag and his entourage quickly withdrew from the protest site with the crowd in hot pursuit. They ran and dragged themselves for a good distance with bodyguards shooting in the air until they got to their vehicles. The cameraman runs beside them the whole time. What's funny is that these people are supposed to be Mutlag's constituents. More here.

Another video showing the moment Mutlag was chased away from the protest.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Peshmerga fire on Iraqi Army helicopter

So Iraqi helicopters can't fly over disputed areas?
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Troops from Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan opened fire on an Iraqi army helicopter on Tuesday, underscoring tensions between Baghdad's Arab-led central government and the Kurdish region, officials said.

Iraq's government and self-ruled Kurdistan last month both sent troops from their respective armies to reinforce positions around towns in disputed areas where they both claim control as part of a broader feud over oil and territory.

Kurdistan Peshmerga officials said on Tuesday they fired on an Iraqi military helicopter near Sikanyan town just north of the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, to keep the aircraft from taking surveillance pictures of their military positions.

"We opened fire at an Iraqi military helicopter flying over our forces," said Anwar Othman, deputy minister for Kurdish military affairs. "This is a clear message that next time our response will be tougher."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Egyptian Copt blogger sentenced for blasphemy

Yep
A court in Egypt had sentenced a blogger to three years in prison for blasphemy and contempt of religion. 
Alber Saber was arrested in September after neighbours accused him of posting links to a film mocking Islam that led to protests across the Muslim world.

There has been a proliferation of prosecutions for blasphemy in Egypt in the nearly two years since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. Many of those targeted are Copts, who make up about 10% of the population.

Although blasphemy has long been a criminal offence, Article 44 of the draft constitution contains a specific article prohibiting insulting prophets.

Human rights activists have warned that it is inherently contradictory to Articles 43 and 45, which guarantee freedom of belief and freedom of thought and opinion. "Expect to see many more blasphemy prosecutions in the future now that it's embedded as a crime in the constitution," Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times.
More info and links on this Facebook page and #FreeAlber on Twitter.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Exxon snubs Maliki over West Qurna 1

Looks like the Kurdish region promises a sweeter deal for Exxon. This will definitely put a brake on Maliki's ambitious plans to rival Saudi Arabia in oil exports, maybe even if Russian and Chinese oil companies rush in to fill the void, which seems to be what he prefers (more loot for him and the other bandits in power that way):

(Reuters) - Exxon Mobil wants to leave its giant oilfield project in southern Iraq, diplomatic sources said, in a move likely to aggravate the country's internal tensions and hamper Baghdad's ambitious energy expansion plans.

The desire of the world's largest publicly traded oil company to quit was due to prospects of slim profits from the estimated $50 billion West Qurna-1 project, the sources said. An exit from the project would contrast with a deal Exxon signed a year ago to explore in Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region, where incentives are better.

Baghdad deemed the Kurdish deal illegal and promised to punish Exxon by ripping up its contract for West Qurna-1, which has reserves of 8.7 billion barrels.
More

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The other face of Baghdad

Yes, it still exists.

These are snapshots of just one neighborhood of Baghdad, called al-Utaifiya, which is right across the river from where I used to live.

 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Iraqi traffic policemen, taking a short break from their regular duties, volunteer to help municipal workers with paving a road in Baghdad, from this morning

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Angelina Jolie receives a warm welcome from Iraqis during her visit.

The crowd was heard chanting, "Send us American celebrities, not bombs," and "With our blood and souls, we sacrifice ourselves for you, o Angie".

I vote for Kim Kardashian to visit us next

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Maliki's office targets nightclubs

Again:
Owners and employees at Baghdad nightclubs and bars voiced frustration on Wednesday after their establishments were raided by troops who allegedly beat customers and staff a day earlier.

The raids, the first of their kind in several months, come as the Iraqi capital takes tentative steps to emerge from years of conflict and violence, with a limited nightlife having slowly returned.

Army special forces carried out raids of venues serving alcohol at around 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Tuesday "at dozens of nightclubs in Karrada and Arasat, and beat up customers with the butts of their guns and batons," said an interior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Artists who were performing at the clubs were also beaten," the official said. The reason for the raids was not immediately clear.

Another security official, who also declined to be identified, said the raids were ordered by Lieutenant General Faruq al-Araji, the top security official in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office, but he did not say why.
More.

Every time PM Maliki wants to bolster his 'puritanical' credentials and appeal to the rising Islamic fundamentalist fervor among his Shi'ite base he comes up with this gimmick of targeting alcohol shops and bars, as if they are the main source of Iraq's internal problems. It doesn't matter that public services are still in shambles almost ten years after the war, or that insurgents are making a strong comeback in their former strongholds and are increasingly successful in staging mass car bombings and attacks against security forces, or that corruption and graft have become so rampant among governmental officials that nobody even pretends to try doing anything about it. But God forbid the trampled Iraqi people have some semblance of a normal nightlife and be allowed to keep at least a small shadow of their former secular lifestyle. Now every goon in Maliki's office has the power to shut down the city if he happens to feels like it.

May a phlegmy, pungent spit soil your filthy beards, Iraqi officials, the whole lot of you, Sunni, Shia and Kurd. May your bloody, rotten corpses be dragged through the streets of Baghdad by angry mobs for letting the Iraqi people down once again. And may you and your filthy offspring and extended families choke to death on the 750 billion dollars you have stolen from the state coffers over the last ten years.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

RIP Neil Armstrong

Largest Iraqi flag flies over US

Iraqi adventurist Fareed Lafta, a pilot, skydiver, former weightlifting champion, and Iraq's only qualified cosmonaut, broke a Guinness record for largest flag flown while skydiving when he flew the Iraqi flag while parachuting over the Skydive Chicago facility in Ottawa, Illinois, a few days ago. Before that he flew in a lawn chair suspended by helium-filled party balloons over central Oregon, USA just last month.
Lafta, born in 1978, was part of the team that did the first ever Mt. Everest skydive in 2008 and he hopes to represent Iraq in space one day.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Saudi Arabia objects to dot gay domain

Because Saudi Arabia is clearly such a 'moral' society:
Opposition to the creation of the internet address ending .gay has been voiced by Saudi Arabia. Its Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said the action would be "offensive" to some societies and cultures.

The authority has filed an official objection to the move with Icann - the organisation overseeing the rollout of hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLD). "Many societies and cultures consider homosexuality to be contrary to their culture, morality or religion," its submission said.

"The creation of a gTLD string which promotes homosexuality will be offensive to these societies and cultures. We respectfully request that Icann refuse the application for this gTLD."

The country has also objected to:

.sex on the grounds it would increase the proliferation of pornographic material on the web.

.virgin, .sucks, .dating and .baby because they might also be used by pornographic sites.

.tattoo because the practice is contrary to religions "such as Islam and Judaism".

.wine and .vodka since they could glamourise the consumption of alcohol.

.africamagic because it "implies that it is linked to black magic and this is considered offensive".
More

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A valiant Free Syrian Army fighter poses after heroically rescuing a kitten from the clutches of Assad regime forces in Aleppo.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mali graced with Shari'a law

Nothing says primitive apes more than reactionary 'Islamists' carrying out 7th-century tribal desert punishments in the 21st century. Hell, I don't think even apes would do this to their own kind.

Now they have taken over Mali.
A spokesman for the radical Islamic group controlling northern Mali says a couple who had an adulterous relationship was stoned to death this weekend in the town of Aguelhok.

Sanda Abou Mohamed, a spokesman for the group Ansar Dine, told The Associated Press by telephone on Sunday that the couple was executed according to Shariah law.

A resident of the northern city of Kidal, who had spoken to witnesses in nearby Aguelhok, said the man and woman were buried up to their necks, then pelted with stones until they died earlier Sunday. The resident requested anonymity because he feared for his safety.
More

I still don't really get why Islamists get upset the most by intimate adult relationships, 'adulterous' or not. They never seem to get as upset about murder, bombings of innocent civilians, plunder, robbery, slavery, poverty, but nature forbid that they find out about two adults in a marriage-less relationship. It tends to stir the most primitive blood lust urges in them.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Legend of Karfan and myths about Syria

Karfan was one of the earliest, if not the first, Syrian bloggers in English, and the protagonist of an award-worthy blog about Syria and Arab society in general. Writing in the third person, he painted a rare, unabashed portrait of what it's like for the regular Syrian to live under one of the most murderous, repressive regimes in the region.

His posts (signed by 'Karfan & Friend') are interspersed with countless personal accounts and anecdotes, and are, at first glance, crude, tongue-in-cheek, nihilistic, and very funny (but not the good 'funny'). In many ways, the Syria he describes in his writings bears a huge resemblance to Iraq under Ba'athist rule. He used to blog intermittently from an Internet cafe in neighboring Lebanon, where he made periodic visits in 2005 and 2006, in order to escape the scrutiny of the Syrian Mukhabarat, until he abruptly stopped posting in August 2006 with no explanation whatsoever for his disappearance.

I figured it was somewhat relevant, given the current dramatic situation going on in Syria, to revisit his humorous blog posts. I strongly recommend the whole blog (including the comments) as required reading for anyone interested in Syrian and Middle Eastern affairs. It's actually not really that long (a total of 14 posts), and it serves as an excellent background to understand the present crisis.

In his first post he introduces Karfan:
This blog is by Karfan, whose name means disgusted. Generaly disgusted with life and everything in it. Recently, disgusted with all those who are trying to make a living from giving false and fictitious analyses about Syria and with those who believe them.
He then goes on in his second post to introduce us to the Syrian people. According to Karfan, in reality, there is no Syrian 'people'. Instead, there are:
Sunnis, Alawis, Druuz, Christians, Smaeelis, Kurds, Palestinians, Mad'umeen (the favored ones), Mas'uleen (high governmental people), Bathists, Shwam (Damascenes), Shawaya (bedouins), Numailatieh, Haddadeen, Khayateen (the last three are Alwai tribes), Umalaa (traitors), Sheu'ieen (communists) , Mukhabarat (secret agents), Manayek (dickheads), Kharawat (assholes), etc. That is how we call each other, but in school books, we were told that we are Arabs. Except this fictitious categorization, Karfan never knew what else actually joins these people, but they were there around him and he could easily tell who is who and what to call them.
Syria itself, as far as Karfan is concerned, is a fictitious, manufactured entity that exists only on paper and in school books. He asks himself what is this Syria that is talked about on the news? In fact:
Karfan lived in cities called Tartous and Damascus, and he was told that these are just cities in a place called Watan Arabi (Arabic Homeland). Besides this fictitious homeland, he never knew what else actually joins these cities except the bumpy roads between them. He could see this Watan Arabi on all the maps around him, but never gone to any of the other places that consist this vast land. He was not allowed to go to cities in Jordan or Egypt because he was told they were traitors. He was not allowed to go to cities in Lebanon because he was told there was a war with the enemies. He was not allowed to go to cities in Iraq because his passport bears the seal (Valid to all countries except Iraq!!). Eventually, these "Arab" places became to him, and his generation, as Djibouti and Salvador, mere names.
He describes with distaste the sectarian and tribal nature of Syrian society with the everyday example of the obligatory 'where are you from?' question that creeps into every interaction between his countrymen (very similar to Iraq). Karfan mentions that this is actually a not-so-veiled attempt to determine the sect or ethnic group of the speaker, and he admits that he often trolled fellow Syrians who asked him this question by inventing an imaginary place to confuse them and watch them squirm trying to figure out his background, also adding that this game of 'where are you from?', mastered by all Syrians, is an essential survival skill.

In a similar pattern, his subsequent posts are in-depth examinations and debunkings of what he calls 'myths' about Syria and Syrians, including examples and personal stories in each.

In myth no. 2 "We have an identity," he denies there is such a thing as a Syrian national identity and juxtaposes it with the Syrian regime's 'hammering' about Arab identity and 'Arabism':
Karfan never met a single young Syrian who actually believed in Arabism, in term of believing that we should respect other citizens from what is called Arab World just for the sake that they are Arabs. People who live in Syria never respected each other to begin with for them to respect outsiders. We have been conditioned to say that we want to be united with Arab countries in the Gulf, but call Gulf Arabs Dickheads and have the lowest esteem towards them. We have been conditioned to say that we want to liberate Palestine, but call Palestinians Manayek (Assholes) and treat them badly in Syria most of the time or corner them in dirty areas and speak behind their back as if they are invaders from another planets.
Myth no. 3 is a closer look at Arabism in Syria. Karfan distastefully concludes that it is simply a meaningless term invented by the 'failure generation' of Syrian pan-Arab nationalists and thinkers who left their 'legacy' of Arabism in tons of books that are used by lucky falafel street vendors to wrap their sandwiches with. In addition, he expresses his disgust with foreign political analysts who talk about the 'dying of Arabism' in Syria, noting wryly that it never even existed in the first place.

In Myth no. 4 Karfan calls Syrians 'pathetic' because they strongly react to anyone who dares to reveal uncomfortable truths about their society and imagined unity with vulgarity, also responding to detractors in the comments on his first few posts. Included between the lines is a brief introduction to the Syrian leader 'King Lion the 2nd' (Bashar al-Assad), his father 'King Lion the 1st' (Hafez), and his brother 'the White Knight of Tadmur' (Rifaat).

Myth no. 5 is about Syrians' innate fear of civil war and how it was used as a pretense by the Assad regime to hold on to power by convincing Alawites that the Sunni majority is out to get them if Assad ever falls.

Bashar al-Assad's personality cult is closely analyzed, mocked and derided in Myth no. 6, particularly his long-awaited reforms and the part, parroted by foreign journalists, about how he is 'Western-educated'. Karfan relates his amusing theory about the Assad dynasty and gives an example:
Most people know the French "King Louis the 16th" whose head was chopped like a potato by the angry mob. Karfan has this theory that when this king's ancestors started their dynasty, they actually had names: the first King Louis and the second King Francois the third King Charles or something. After a while though, people noticed that there are no differences between those kings and stopped bothering giving them different names. They just gave them the name Louis and numbered them: King Louis the 3rd, the 4th and so on.
And the natural conclusion of his theory:
It took 16 King Louis for the usually-clever French people to realize that these kings will not get any different from one another. Karfan is wondering how many Kings it would take for the dumb-ass Syrians who still repeat Khitabb El-Kassam (the inauguration Speech) to reach the same conclusion, maybe till the King 28th? Till then.. They can wait for the diamond.
Myth no. 8 is a humorous summation of Syria's three-decade occupation of Lebanon, which Karfan refuses to categorize as an occupation, citing stories from his own military service there as a conscript lieutenant and how he was 'humiliated' trying to smuggle back a few cartons of La Vache Qui Rit cheese (prohibited in Syria). He describes Rafiq Hariri's assassination:
King Lion the 2nd's younger brother and his cousin killed one of the past cooperators there, and the rest of the warlords there found this a good opportunity to stop sharing the cake with King Lion and his gang and moved to kick his army out. This assassinated big thief was until recently a very good friend of the Lion's gang. But the rule of all gangs is that no one is safe in a gang. The people in that country are angry at the death of one of their own thieves by Syrian thieves.
The following posts, or myths, deal with Ba'athism, the Alawite sect, the Syrian opposition, expatriates, the Ismaelis (Sevener Shi'ites) of Syria and their antagonism toward Alawites, Syrian economy, Iskandarun, occupation of Golan. His post about Golan in August 2006 was his last, and it was quite obvious that Karfan had a lot more to say before he was interrupted.

Read them all.

Let's hope Karfan is still alive and that he witnesses his countrymen succeed in overthrowing the Assad dynasty and achieve some degree of political freedom very soon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Saudi authorities detain webmaster

They are really serious about trying to put an end to those pesky bloggers who 'insult Islam':
Saudi authorities have detained a Saudi national for setting up a website that "harms the public order and violates Islamic values", court documents and his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia, which follows an austere version of Sunni Islam, shows little tolerance towards public dissent and censors its media. Cyber crime regulations that came into force in 2007 make bloggers and website owners legally accountable for what they publish online.

The 25-year-old Ra'if Badawi, who runs the website "Free Saudi Liberals", was charged with cyber crime and also with disobeying his father, which is considered a crime in the conservative Arab monarchy and top US ally.

"He did that by setting up a website that harms the public order and violates Islamic values, including insulting the divine being and attacking some religious icons such as the Grand Mufti," a document from the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution showed.
More

 This is the Saudi 'Grand Mufti':

 

 I mean, come on. Who can resist not making fun of this guy?

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Monica, Monica!"

A crowd of Egyptians in Alexandria pelted Hillary Clinton's motorcade with shoes and tomatoes today while reportedly chanting, "Monica, Monica", in reference to her husband's short-lived White House affair. Lulz.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Saudi Arabia considers law against 'insulting Islam'

Saudi Arabia is studying new regulations to criminalise insulting Islam, including in social media, and the law could carry heavy penalties, a Saudi paper said on Sunday. 
The potential regulations come five months after a Saudi blogger and columnist Hamza Kashgari, 23, was arrested for tweeting comments deemed as insulting the Prophet Mohammad. Kashgari said there were things he liked and disliked about him. 

"Within the next two months the Shura Council will reveal the outcome of study on the regulations to combat the criticism of the basic tenets of Islamic sharia," unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter told al-Watan, adding that there could be "severe punishments" for violators. 

Criticism penalised under the law would include that of the Prophet, early Muslim figures and clerics, it said. 

"The (regulations) are important at the present time because violations over social networks on the Internet have been observed in the past months," the sources said.
More

The Saudi blogger Hamza Kashgari has been under indefinite detention (for 157 days) since his extradition to Saudi Arabia from Malaysia. #FreeHamza

I lol'd at this part:
"I don't want anything to affect my freedom and we don't want Saudi Arabia to be another Iran."
Iran is way more 'free' than Saudi Arabia. They actually have presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections every four years, unheard of in Saudi Arabia. Women enjoy considerably wider freedoms there: for example they are not prohibited from driving or traveling without a male chaperone, and they do not prohibit the 'mixing' of sexes in schools, government institutions and public gatherings. There is an entertainment, art and music scene. Religious minorities are not frowned upon and can worship freely. There is a vibrant atheist community and they openly have publications and discussions without fear of retribution from authorities. They do not have a 'Religious Police' that roams the streets and shopping malls to enforce an archaic dress code on women. Clerics are not immune from criticism or even ridicule. And, the best of all, their country is not named after the ruling dynasty.

This is Saudi Arabia:


And this is Iran:


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Today's Iraq

An interesting and revealing photo slideshow from Iraq by Ayman Oghanna, an Iraqi British freelance photographer. Images are from Baghdad, Basra, Erbil, Tikrit, Najaf and Ramadi. Notice the brigadier general on his cheesy 'throne', the grim wedding decorator and the fiery display of Shi'ite pilgrims in Najaf. My favorite is the bar scene at Abu Nawas St.. It reminds me of days bygone.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Banner from Qatif

Shi'ite protesters in the eastern region hold a banner during the funerals of the protesters shot by Saudi riot police. It reads: "This is the Republic of al-Ahsa and al-Qatif. No to the kingdom of Wahhabis and Al Saud."



***

A child from Syria holding a sign: "As long as you respect my rights you are my brother. It doesn't matter if you worship God or a stone ~ from free Yebrud 7-10-12"

Monday, July 09, 2012

Saudi lizards

Dogs are considered 'unclean' in Saudi Arabia, and they also say 'angels' do not enter a house where a dog is raised. Dhabb (uromastyx) lizards are a a different story, however, and Saudi angels don't seem to fear them as much. According to the Sunnah, they were Prophet Muhammad's meal of choice.


Anyone for Saudi lizard stew?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Saudi security forces respond to Shia protests with force

Saudi riot police snipers fired live ammo at hundreds of unarmed Shi'ite protesters in the city of #Qatif today. Three protesters were killed and 20 others wounded. The demonstrations erupted after a prominent anti-government Shi'ite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was chased, shot and arrested by the authorities earlier today. More from al-Jazeera.

 

The demonstrators are shouting 'Death to Al Saud', 'Down with state security' and 'We will never be humiliated.' Hillary Clinton will not utter a word of protest, of course, so as not to embarrass her Saudi buddies.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Afghan woman publicly executed near Kabul

I thought one of the reasons the US invaded and occupied Afghanistan was to 'liberate' oppressed Afghan women. But this still happens and in Kabul of all places (video in link):
A man who Afghan officials say is a member of the Taliban shot dead a woman accused of adultery in front of a crowd near Kabul, a video obtained by Reuters showed. In the three-minute video, a turban-clad man approaches a woman kneeling in the dirt and shoots her five times at close range with an automatic rifle, to cheers of jubilation from the 150 or so men watching in a village in Parwan province. "Allah warns us not to get close to adultery because it's the wrong way," another man says as the shooter gets closer to the woman. "It is the order of Allah that she be executed."
More

Of course the adulterous man was probably congratulated and awarded a medal by his peers.

Libya

A group of Libyan girls after voting in today's landmark election

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Maliki is so full of himself

On the road from Fallujah to Baghdad, security checkpoints feature large posters of #Iraq PM Nuri al-Maliki (via Prashant Rao, AFP Baghdad bureau chief)

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Pakistani mob burns 'blasphemer'

Nice allies you got there, America.


A Pakistani mob has taken a man accused of blasphemy from a police station and burnt him to death, police say.

The man was being held for allegedly burning a copy of the Koran in public. The incident took place on the outskirts of Bahawalpur, in Punjab province.Witnesses said hundreds of people looked on as he screamed for help.

Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law imposes the death penalty for insulting Islam, but it is rarely carried out. The area where the lynching took place is home to hundreds of madrassas - religious schools - run by radical Islamist or sectarian groups.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Update

I now have a one-bedroom apartment in NW SATX, a roomie from Iraq (who has a job and studies), a 2002 Mazda sedan, and $1500 in my bank account. The apartment complex is a bit run down and the neighbours aren't the best folks the city can offer, but it's a start. What I like about it is that it's somewhat diverse, and management seem to be serious about any would-be troublemakers. Still waiting to retake my TOEFL test later this month so I can start applying for dental schools again (my best shot is Penn Uni.). My family have been trying to track me down but I'm not budging on my position. Still need to get my furniture and books from them but I'll figure it out. Also need to go to University Hospital to negotiate a way out of my hospital bill or get better terms for my Carelink payment plan. Things could have been better but at least I still have my job, and for the first time in two years I'm breathing freedom again.


Monday, June 25, 2012

SOS

I have been finally forced to leave my humble abode for the last year and a half due to some expected familial problems that have exacerbated lately. I am still in San Antonio but seeking lodgings and a roommate until I can get myself into dental school. Contributions through my tip jar would be kindly appreciated as I am in dire need for any assistance I can get. Z

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bumping into...



Living in San Antonio TX, a military city, it's not uncommon for me to literally 'bump' into American servicemen who have fought (or are still fighting) in Iraq (and other parts of the world). This was a US Air Force pilot who was part of both Desert Storm and the recent Iraq war and was proud of it. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mixed voter turnout in Egypt so far (accompanied by violence between Shafiq and Mursi supporters):

Qalyubia %55
Elminia %30
Fayyoum %25

via journalist Hamdy Kassem

#EgyPresElex

UPDATE: Mursi leading in four governorates (Elminia, Fayyoum, Sohaj, Wadi al-Jadid) and Shafiq leading only in al-Gharbiyya. Wanna place bets on who's going to win?

UPDATE 2: Runoff results, Mursi %54.8, Shafiq %45.1

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More Lolz

One of the cartoons that caused the Salafis to go on rampage in several parts of Tunisia today. Oh the Irony!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Saudi father auctions his son for suicide mission in Syria

He mentions that his other brother is already a 'martyr' (probably in Iraq) and the bidding starts at 200,000 Saudi Riyals (about $53,400)