Syria’s Subversive Soaps

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

My article in the Atlantic on Syrian soap operas.

Anthony Shadid goes to Hama

July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

In President’s Square, the government dismantled a statue of Hafez al-Assad on June 10. The next day, residents recalled, a man nicknamed Gilamo put his donkey on the pedestal. Hundreds gathered, clapping, in mock displays of obsequiousness.

“Oh, youth of Damascus, we in Hama overthrew the regime,” residents recalled them chanting. “We removed Hafez, and we put a donkey in his place.”

The New York Times

Arabic News Links of Varied Importance

July 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

  • Man electrocuted in Aleppo car wash.
  • Some Syrian actors don’t like Bashar al-Asad and aren’t afraid to say it.
  • Syrian Opposition argues over formation of shadow government at Istanbul conference. Kurds withdraw because of marginalization of their concerns. Haithem Maleh talks sense into people: “Internal opposition is fundamental, while the opposition abroad works to provide support and assistance.”
  • Lebanon is kinda like the Bermuda Triangle. At least for Estonian tourists.
  • 13 people poisoned in Jeddah restaurant.
  • Syrian married couple seeks advice after recent demonstrations have brought out irreconcilable political differences.
  • Elderly Saudi man’s love of foreign novels leads him to internet exploration.

Photo from Flickr.

Hotel Rooms

June 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here are some photos that I gathered from Flickr of travelers’ hotel rooms in the Middle East. My personal favorites are from Bahrain and Saudi.












Photo Sources (in order): Syria: Slurff, Marginilo, RovingGastronome; Morocco: jeanclaudeparisio, Holly Hayes, DorteF; Yemen: s1ingshot, ben.ragsdale; Kuwait: LeMeridienHotels, jeremyhaynes1974; Saudi Arabia: Jackson Lee, iamnatatonia, lost_in_sky; Bahrain: ulanowski, Ramadan; Egypt: kenmoo, jcravens, grapejuiceGTA, ignasi.capdevilla, jfkavinoky, minchelle, shinycity; Algeria: Amberinsea, Justin E. Tilton; Oman: stepnout; Sudan: fiorucci; Jordan: Isalum, suedebicycle

The trash and the dirt and the misery

June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Trash, dirt, and misery is how one of the proprietors of the Charles Helou transportation hub in Beirut describes it now. The site of Charles Helou became an informal transportation hub during the civil war, but in 1994,  it became official, with goals of consolidating several taxi and bus companies. Since the 1990s, its original sheen has faded.

All this and more is discussed in Nora Niasari’s short documentary “Under the Bridge.”

Beirut has a damaged transportation infrastructure to say the least and the documentary touches on a few aspects of it. From the hundreds of broke-down Czech buses now in bus graveyards to the chaotic bus stations underneath bridges, we observe how Beirut transportation also bears the marks of conflict and economic struggle.

The documentary provides the images, along with Lebanese narrations, that coincide with a more complex history. The history is fleshed out in the text accompanying the documentary, with a focus on the Dawrah, Charles Helou, and Cola stations.

Abandoned buses and tramways can be seen as tombs from a distance in ‘Bus Cemeteries’ located at the central stations of ‘Mar Mikhael’ and ‘Sahet Al Abed,’ with one or two caretakers watching over 500 buses on a daily basis. Cola and Dora still remain as central transport hubs, however, their socio-political fabric has changed significantly. In Cola, political forces including Hezbollah, The Amal Movement, and the Lebanese Army govern an overlapping area of Shiite and Sunni Muslims in South-West Beirut, where rising tensions and clashes are ever-present under the bridge. Independent bus and taxi drivers are suffering due to the extreme monopolization of bus depots by private companies, creating chaos and a feeling of constant fear in their daily activities.

Top photo of Charles Helou from Nora Niasari.

Syrian Media and A Gay Girl in Damascus

June 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

As many predicted, the Gay Girl in Damascus hoax fits perfectly with the Syrian regime’s narrative of foreign-led instigation of protests in Syria. The hoax has been covered in several Arabic-language news outlets, but the coverage is not yet as widespread or significant as it appears to be in English-language outlets. In coming days, I’m sure there will be more extensive coverage from outlets like al-Akhbar, but until now, here is how some Syrian outlets are talking about Tom MacMaster.

SANA includes a link to the story on their homepage with reports in English and Arabic. The Arabic version reports that “American participates in campaign of deception by fabricating a Syrian woman’s blog [who claims] to be kidnapped in Syria.”  That pretty much sums it up. SANA cites The Guardian as its main source of information, but does not mention sexual orientation until the second to last paragraph. The main thrust of the article is the fact that an American promoted “lies and allegations against Syria,” which turned out to be entirely false.

The Syrian online news site Syria News reports the incident as a hoax and clearly mentions that MacMaster impersonated an Arab-American lesbian. Again, the sexuality aspect takes a back seat to the whole “lies and deception” aspect. The article also highlights the Western media’s role in passing off fiction as fact, citing the Reuters photo incident as further proof.

Al-Watan Online, a Syrian site connected with the print version of al-Watan (owned by Rami Makhlouf), gives the standard interpretation of the hoax as read above. Al-Watan states that the gay identity of the blogger was what “helped attract interest of the media and people in the West.”

My guess is that we haven’t seen the last of MacMaster in the Arab press.


Running the Party Line in Syria

May 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

My article on the Australian news site New Matilda is up! I look at protest coverage in Rami Makhlouf’s newspaper al-Watan.

Before March 2011, the name Rami Makhlouf received scant mention in the English-language press. Then, as Syrians began taking to the streets in large numbers in the southern city of Deraa, media around the world reported that many demonstrators had chanted that someone named Rami Makhlouf was robbing them. As al Jazeerareports, “demonstrators have shouted the name of Makhlouf as a symbol of graft in a country that has been facing severe water shortages and unemployment ranging from government estimates of 10 per cent to independent estimates of 25 per cent.”

Commentators taking a crash course in Syrian politics started to ask the question: “Who is Rami Makhlouf?”