Middle East News – June 30th

– The United Nations has come to an international agreement that they say is the first step to placing a new regime in power in Syria.  – CNN.  But all of their plans hinge on Assad stepping down from power, leading many to say this is another failed attempt by the UN to solve the Syria crisis diplomatically – Al-Bawaba

– The Turkish government has begun to mobilize the nation’s military on its border with Syria. This comes in retaliation to the Syrian downing of a Turkish jet that accidentally entered its airspace – CNN

– Polifact.com has created a ‘Morsi Meter,’ which aims to track sixty four different promises made by the new Egyptian President Morsi as he attempts to bring democracy back to Egypt – CNN

– The Saudi government has announced that it will be training 450 religious policeman to patrol popular tourist sites in order to make sure that Islamic law is adhered to by foreign visitors – Al-Bawaba

– Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir died today at 96 years of age. Shamir led Israel during two periods in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  He was the first Israeli prime minister to deal with the Palestinian Intifadah and the Lebanon crisis – Al-Jazeera

– Caterpillar, the international manufacturer of bulldozers, has been removed from the socially responsible lists of international businesses.  This is in reaction to use of Caterpillar products to evict Palestinians from their homes by the Israeli government – Al-Jazeera

– Hamas has declared that one of their senior members was assassinated while in Damascus, Syria – Al-Jazeera

– UNESCO has officially placed the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on its World Heritage List.  This is the first World Heritage site from the nation of Palestine, which is not recognized by most international organizations – CNN

Middle East News – June 7th

Abid Hamid Mahmud, shown during his time in Saddam Hussein’s administration, was executed today by the Iraqi government

– Who are the ‘shabiha,’ the name given to state sponsored militia groups that have been blamed for much of the Syrian violence? – BBC

– Ten years after his capture, Abid Hamid Mahmud, Saddam Hussein’s top security aide, has been executed by the Iraqi government – BBC

– So, what’s the difference between the two remaining Egyptian presidential candidates, and who are their supporters? – BBC

– As reports surface of another mass murder by Assad’s Syrian army UN observers were directly blocked from investigating by soldiers at select checkpoints – This is the first time that Syria has directly stopped the investigative efforts of UN observers and shows a complete failure of the UN mission – Al-Jazeera

– Algeria, long one of the smallest players in OPEC, has announced that it is stepping up oil and natural gas production in order to raise its stock in OPEC – Al-Jazeera

– Amid the chaos in Syria, a similar humanitarian crisis in the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan is occurring – Humanitarian groups say that foreign intervention is needed to save thousands of civilians from the daily aerial strikes that are occurring on the border between these two feuding nations – Al-Jazeera

– Should the Middle East be WMD free? – Al-Jazeera

– Taliban soldiers have been arrested in connection to the poisoning of well water at a school in Afghanistan in the first arrest of its kind in Afghanistan – Al-Jazeeera

– Amid the growing violence in Yemen there is talk of dividing the country into two nations, or rather a return to the North and South Yemen divide that existed until 1980 – Al-Jazeera

– In prison Mubarak has continued to suffer from ‘acute depression’ and ‘hypertension,’ though his condition is likely to garner little sympathy from thousands of Egyptian protesting his perceived light jail sentence – Al-bawaba

– The Saudi Arabian government has issued a call to its female students to ‘try harder’ and to tighten up their lax uniforms in the next week or they will face legal measures – Al-Bawaba

Middle East News – June 6th

Rebels continue to class with Assad’s troops in an area of Homs dubbed ‘sniper alley’

– Fighting in Syria has destroyed the once bustling city of Homs where fighting has boiled down to one chaotic street dubbed ‘sniper alley’ – CNN

– Russia and China have come out fully against any planned military intervention in Syria, meaning that, for the mean time, diplomacy will have to suffice to calm down the escalating conflict there – Al-bawaba

– As thousands of protesters gathered outside to protest Mubaraks ‘lenient’ sentence, the former president’s health continues to deterioriate as he begins his life sentence – Al-Bawaba

– Al Qaeda’s #2 man has reportedly been eliminated by US drone attacks, causing many to wonder if Al-Qaeda has much left – Al-Bawaba

– Violence continues in Tripoli, Libya as a bomb went off outside of the United States embassy – BBC – Meanwhile though, the Tripoli airport has been cleared of the rebel militia who held it for over two days and flights have resumed – BBC

– Some in Germany have begun to question their country’s long accepted military support for Israel in light of two nuclear submarines that were recently sold to Egypt – BBC

– Continued US military intervention in Pakistan is hampering efforts to finally eradicate polio in the country – Polio incidents were reported in an all-time high this past year as human rights groups say mistrust grows between Pakistanis and any foreign influence due to destructive US military strikes – CNN

– The Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) has rejected a bill that would have allowed five Israeli buildings to legally exist on formerly Palestinian land – Al-Jazeera – Will Israel be adding another settlement onto Jerusalem, and how does this effect peace talks between Israel and Palestine? – Al-Jazeera

– Slavery still continues in Mauritania, though international efforts are slowly shedding light on this medieval custom persisting in the modern world – CNN

Middle East News – June 5th

Abu Yahya al-Libi, Al Qaeda’s number two man, has been the target of dozens of recent US drone attacks in Pakistan

– Egypt has moved forward with their trial of 43 NGO workers (many from the United States) who they say were operating illegally and disturbing the peace during last spring’s protests – if the trials continue Egypt could lose all of its aid money from the United States, well over a billion dollars annually – CNN

– For decades Syria has militarily and politically interfered in Lebanon and Iraq and is now threatening to become just like those divided, sectarian countries – CNN

– In reaction to international governments expelling Syrian diplomats, Syria has said that ambassadors from many western countries are no longer welcome within its borders – BBC – Meanwhile Syria has finally allowed for UN humanitarian aid to enter the country, a hopeful sign for the thousands of displaced citizens within its borders – Al-Jazeera

– The amped up drone strikes in Pakistan have apparently been targeted at Abu Yahya al-Libi, Al-Qaeda’s number two man – It is not yet known if the attacks hit their targets or not – CNN – Many in the Middle East feel that these drone attacks could lead to an era dominated by secret operations and a United States president who is no longer accountable for his actions – Al-Jazeera

– Many Syrian Kurds, mostly army defectors, have fled to northern and western Iraq – Ironic considering the traditional anti-Kurd attitude the Iraqi government has taken – Al-Jazeera

– A Kuwaiti man who allegedly insulted the Prophet on Twitter has been sentenced to ten years in prison in a landmark case on freedom of speech in a nominally Islamist country – Al-Bawaba

– When will America intervene in Syria? Huffington Post

– Thousands of Islamic clerics protested yesterday in Jordan over low salaries and a perceived government failure to give them autonomy from the political system – Al-Bawaba

Weekly Middle East Historical Figure – Harun Al-Rashid

Harun Al-Rashid delivering a decree surrounded by opulence and decadence, as his reign came to be viewed by Europeans

Harun Al-Rashid (763-809) – Ruler of the Abbasid Caliphate (786-809)

Perhaps the most famous Muslim ruler of his era, Harun Al-Rashid was instrumental in creating the modern image of the Middle East and his reign represented a golden age of Muslim culture.  His court was the model that was used for the setting of many of the stories in One Thousand and One Nights that later became famous in the Western world.

Under his rule the Abbasid Caliphate became the richest, most powerful and culturally influential political entity in the world.  His court was filled with philosophers and scientists and he was a patron of the arts and architecture.  This time of Muslim history, filled with richness and splendor, became the way that many Europeans came to view the Muslim world.  This is characterized by the settings used in the Arabian Nights tales or myths such as the magic carpets, making Harun Al-Rashid’s cultural legacy as important as the political achievements of his lifetime.

One of the more famous anecdotes concerning Harun Al-Rashid was the clock that he sent to Charlemagne, then emperor of the Franks.  The Frankish emperor had never seen such technology and thought that the clock was run by magic, displaying the technological gap that then existed between the Muslim world and most of Europe.

In the political sphere HarunAl-Rashid led successful military expeditions against the Byzantine Empire and was instrumental in reinvigorating the previously declining and fragmenting Abbasid Caliphate.  But, upon his death, he divided his empire between his sons, which led to a lengthy civil war that began the irreversible decline of the empire that stretched from modern day Iran to Spain.

Yet, the reign of Harun Al-Rashid represented the high point of Muslim cultural and political influence in the world at large.  Not until the Ottoman Empire would a Muslim ruler exert so much control over the world.

Yacoubian Building

The Yacoubian Building was also made into one of the most expensive (and successful) films in Egyptian history

It’s hard to find popular Arabic (or Middle Eastern in general) novels translated into English, which makes the Alaa Al Aswany’s Yacoubian Building a perfect opportunity to read an Arabic novel.  Aswany is the most famous Egyptian novel of the modern era and this novel in particular drew strong criticism for its unflinchingly honest portrayal of modern Egyptian society.  The novel is set in modern Egypt and uses a variety of characters to expose the corruption, religious fundamentalism and disillusionment of modern Egypt.  In the backdrop of the Mubarak administration and the political upheaval of the last year this 2002 seems all the more prescient.

The novel features dozens of interwoven characters richly portrayed by Aswany, with each storyline highlighting a different indiscretion of Egyptian society.  It easily stands up to the best English novels of the past decade and is necessary reading for anyone wishing to expand their literary horizons beyond the western world.

Don’t just take my word for it though.  If you’re still interested buy a superb translation here.