tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Middle East wipes itself off the map

Once upon a time, Iran's president said he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. Last month, British budget airline BMI beat him to it; the low-cost, no-frills airline caused a stir among London-Tel Aviv passengers who noticed that the map in the plane's in-flight brochure had omitted their country of destination. In its place: "Mecca."

Well, Israel is no stranger to massive relaliation: last week the Israeli ministry of tourism launched an advertising campaign in Britain whose accompanying maps do not delineate the occupied Palestinian territories, but rather show a bright yellow Israel from sea to Dead Sea.

Poof! Israel, gone. Palestine, gone.

So with both Israel and Palestine wiped off the map, the political geography of the Middle East is undergoing a transformation not seen since the Sykes-Picot conspiracy drew wide arcing lines all over the sand in 1916.

First, a group of development investors from Dubai swooped in on the now-wiped Holy Land and claimed it; they plan to call it "Dubai West" and fill in the Dead Sea with islands in the shapes of an olive tree and a Magen David.

Iran, vexed at missing the opportunity to wipe Israel off the map itself, had to settle for wiping the Sinai off the map instead. As an upside, this now settles the debate about whether Egypt is African or Asian.

Kuwait settled its old score with Iraq, wiping it off the map and replacing it with the glib "Kuwait II".

The United States, seeing the chaos ensue in its favourite oil garden, quickly moved to annex Saudi Arabia as the 51st state; they had to tweak the name a bit so it sounded more Native American.

Oman sold out to the highest corporate bidder, wiping itself off the map. And Lebanon finally threw in the towel versus its rival Syria; if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Ladies and gentlemen, here it is: your new Middle East map.

Unless there's more map-wiping to come.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Iranian Booze Cruise crashes in Saudi Arabia

An Iranian cargo ship with 6 sailors and 1500 cans of beer got lost in a storm in the Persian Gulf and crash landed in Saudi Arabia, where a local rescue team saved the sailors from further danger with emergency rations of nuts, pretzels and turmus.

Saudi authorities reported that the Iranian crew of the vessel were at least "17 sheets to the wind"; the legal limit in Saudi Arabia is 3.

Once the crew were safe, authorities seized the ship’s cargo, which included approximately 2000 bottles of hard liquor and mixes, as well as 1500 beer cans. Many more were blown ashore.

Saudi authorities quickly and humanely destroyed all the booze, though no detail was given as to the method of disposal.

Alcoholic beverages are officially banned in Iran, where every year dozens die from ingesting moonshine. Saudi Arabia also enforces prohibition; in 2006 twenty Saudis died from drinking cologne as a substitute for booze.


Since we've been offline for a week, here's a freshly distilled flask of the latest headlines from around the Middle East:

Leaked information from a UN report suggested that Hezbollah killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri... but Syria Comment sees a conspiracy... a Jewish Israeli woman in Holland borrowed an Arab nom de plume to win an Arabic poetry contest... Bahrain finally caught the Swine Flu... a bill before the Israeli Knesset would make it a crime to be Palestinian... an Egyptian millionaire was sentenced to death for arranging the murder of Lebanese pop singer Suzanne Tamim [pictured]... Iran launched a surface-to-air missile at Facebook... hmmm, another Libyan dissident died mysteriously... the government of Oman denied that the local temperature reached 47 degrees... Yemen is troubled by a surge in pesticide smuggling.

And, just as the Tuque Souq predicted in March, Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah has been named Prime Minister of Kuwait for the 784th time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mohamed Kohail, in his own words

The Canadian Press released a story late yesterday confirming that Mohamed Kohail, the Canadian citizen on death row in Saudi Arabia, delivered a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper via Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai who visited Mohamed Kohail in prison in Jeddah last December.

Extra troubling, aside from the obvious, is that Mr. Obhrai wouldn't confirm whether Mr. Harper even read the letter, leading critics to charge that the Harper administration is trying its best to stay out of this whole affair.

Here is Mohamed Kohail in his own words, to PM Harper:
“Mr. Harper, I have been in jail for two years now. I am imprisoned with hundreds (of) high-profile criminals in Saudi Arabia for a crime that I did not commit... I was tortured to sign a confession... I was misinformed that I would be allowed out of custody the moment I signed it...

“Mr. Harper, I'm 24 now and I don't know how much (more) time I will spend in prison or how much time is actually left on my life... You have ordered your officials to seek clemency for me in Saudi Arabia back in early March (of 2008). However, I have not seen tangible actions made since then... Every time I was assured by the Canadian Embassy (representative) that the government is working secretly on the highest level of officials, the court upholds the death penalty... I was told by the judges that I should not think I would escape the death penalty ... since I am Canadian...

“I've lost my hair, two years of my life and see death coming to me closer every day... I want to come back to Canada to finish my degree — me and the rest of the family — and continue my life as a good citizen... [I beg you to use] every way possible to get me out of this situation.”
Last week, the government of Saudi Arabia decapitated five men--among them Sultan Bin Sulayman Bin Muslim al-Muwallad of Saudi Arabia and ‘Issa bin Muhammad ‘Umar Muhammad of Chad, both of whom were 17 when they committed (admittedly atrocious) crimes--in public executions. This brings the toll to 36 so far this year on Saudi Arabia's state-run chop blocks.

Anyone who thinks Mohamed Kohail has a magic get-out-of-beheading-free card is sorely mistaken. As the Tuque Souq has pointed out here, here and here, the Harper clique is about the only hope that Mohamed Kohail has for justice.

The Harper government spent political capital (and almost certainly a few million loonies, through various channels) to bring home two Canadian diplomats kidnapped in western Africa. Is the cost really that much higher for Mohamed Kohail, or for that matter Abousfian Abdelrazik or Omar Khadr?

Israel fails to make peace with Eurovision Song Contest

The Israeli tandem of Noa & Mira Awad--a Jew and an Arab representin' together with their song of peace, "There must be another way"--finished a disappointing 16th (out of 42) at this year's Eurovision Song Contest, the 54th annual event which stops all of Europe in its tracks for 5 days each May.

Norway was the winner at this year's event, held in Moscow. Israel's drought reached 11 years (it last won in 1998; also in 1978 and in 1979). Could be worse: Portugal is now 0-for-46 in the competition.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Qaddafi prepares to take over world (body)

Passport? Check. Suitcase? Check. Enemies list? Ticked. Billion-dollar frivolous lawsuit for defamation of character? Check.

Muammar Qaddafi, officially Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution--whose career trajectory has now passed the orbits of army Colonel, revolutionary hero, dictator, scion of pan-Arab nationalism, patron saint of international terrorism (or, depending on your outlook, freedom fighting), and leader of all Africa--will complete his dream for global dominion when Libya assumes the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly later this summer.

(Look out, Mr. Universe.)

Any doubt that Qaddafi is adapting to his burgeoning status as global alphadog with anything but grace was euthanized by his filing of a one-billion-dollar lawsuit against a Ugandan tabloid--The Red Pepper--which recently suggested that the Colonel has had a steamy affair with that country's Queen Mother.

(Qaddafi also has outstanding lawsuits pending against unflattering newspapers and journalists in Niger, Algeria and Morocco. Next up may be Zimbabwe, whose press has lampooned the Libyan leader for throwing a tantrum when, upon arriving for an official state visit in South Africa, Qaddafi was greeted by South Africa's minister of culture instead of incoming president Jacob Zuma.)

“We stand by the story,” said Red Pepper editor Ben Byaraba, “and we are waiting for Qaddafi to stand in court to accuse us of writing that he is engaged in the sex scandal.”

Should worse come to worse, of course, the newspaper--nay, the country--would not be able to pay off Qaddafi. Uganda's per-capita GDP is about $1100, which means Qaddafi may have to accept 909,090 average Ugandan citizens in lieu of a cash settlement.

All kidding aside, the recent mysterious death of a Libyan opposition leader suggests Qaddafi is getting cozier with America ahead of what is sure to be a spectacle of his addressing the United Nations General Assembly later this year.

The death in a Libyan prison of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi just weeks after he was visited by reps of Human Rights Watch has raised the alarm that Qaddafi is doing America favours ahead of Libya's formal welcoming back into the society of Western-friendly nations.

Al-Libi, a member of an Islamic opposition movement to Qaddafi's rule, was renditioned and tortured in Egypt under the auspices of the CIA where he produced forced confessions linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda of the sort that the Bush administration needed to justify its 2003 invasion.

He was then repatriated to Libya, where Qaddafi--no friend to Islamists anyway--locked him up at the request of the American government. Then came the Human Rights Watch visit, worries that the Obama administration is having trouble putting the Bush administration's record to rest, and (presto!) al-Libi's sudden, apparent suicide.

Cavorting with HRW is just the kind of thing that would embarrass the US and jeopardize its plans to use Qaddafi as a proxy for a new, softer kind of imperialism. A redeemed Libya heading the UNGA looks tolerable on America's ledger. A Libyan who can't keep his mouth shut about torture does not, and Qaddafi won't abide such defamation of his character.

Would Qaddafi kill to take over the world?

More Tuque Souq coverage of the Lightness of Being Qaddafi

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pope flunks Facebook quiz, leadership in doubt

Pope Benedict XVI's 1.1 billion Facebook friends were stunned this morning to read a wall posting from the pontiff that blared: "Pope B-16 just took the Holy Land Trivia quiz and scored 56%. Can you do better?"

"OMFG," said one commenter. "I know more holy stuff than the pope."

Vatican officials say that Benedict was hoping for a little downtime after a long day standing in line at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, so he curled up at his Bethlehem hotel with his laptop and a virgin Bloody Mary and sank into Facebook.

His Holiness is already having a rough week in the religion department, ever since he arrived in the Holy Land having forgotten to pack his mea culpa. Muslim leaders in Jordan were hoping for an apology for the pontiff's 2006 remarks criticizing the prophet Muhammad. Jewish leaders in Israel wanted an apology for the Vatican's passive voice during the Holocaust. Christian leaders in Palestine were simply hoping the Pope and some of his friends would move in with them.

This week Benedict has also had to confront his Nazi past, deal with getting around Israel's Separation Wall in the West Bank, and restore hope to his flock in the Middle East. It's been, well, a crucifying ordeal.

According to a Vatican spokesperson, the pontiff was extremely tired, dehydrated and suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome when he logged on to his Facebook account, which may explain why he missed such quiz questions as Where is the Mount of Olives?; How many Stations of the Cross are there?; and What was Jesus's middle name?*

Vatican officials quickly moved to assure the world's 1.1 billion Catholics that the pope would do better next time. Meanwhile, they downplayed speculation that in the future pontiffs might be chosen based on how well they do on the quiz.**

The moral of this modern biblical story: Let he who is without sin try to deal with all that sh*t.

* OMG - JK :-)
** The Holy Land Trivia quiz on Facebook is a creation of the Israeli consulate in New York City, which hopes to entice American Christians to follow the pope's pilgrimmage to Israel and spend lots of money and love Israel blindly, etc, etc.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Aloha(locaust): 12-year-old candidate to offer Hawai'i to Jews

He's only 12 years old, but Kourosh Mozouni already knows how to find Hawai'i on a map, and he's damn confident that, if elected Iran's next president, he'll be able to convince all Israelis to move there.

The precocious pre-teen is the 171st and littlest candidate to officially register for Iran's upcoming presidential election, scheduled for June 12. He unveiled his campaign platform at a rally in Tehran yesterday, beaming to an adoring crowd and confidently asserting that Iran's "mothers, children and young adults will vote for me."

Mr. Mozouni's ambitious agenda includes banning video games ("they encourage an indolent comportment in Iran's proud citizenry"); giving mothers the right to work ("verily a mother's hand offers strength as her enduring love engenders wisdom"); and free refrigerator-repair education for all ("You all have refrigerators at home but do you know the different parts of it?").

And, once elected to Iran's highest elected office, the lil' tyke plans a summit with his American counterpart, the objective of which shall be the successful and fair-market-value purchase of the Hawai'ian islands, which Mr. Mozouni will offer to the Jews as a new homeland.

According to the campaign, the original tribes of Israel will be apportioned to the Hawai'ian islands. The Levites, in keeping with Biblical tradition, do not share in the apportionment of the land.

Kourosh Mozouni seems to have some support amongst the masses, but Iran's secretive ayatollocracy still holds ultimate sway; the supreme Guardian Council vets all presidential hopefuls before the election, and the wee Kourosh is not expected to make the final cut.

Monday, May 11, 2009

"We are the Swine Flu" tops Egyptian charts

Egyptian singer Sha'ban Abdul Rahim, also known by the diminutive Sha'bula, has written a pork-mongering song about the Swine Flu panic in Egypt, in which the government conducted a nationwide massacre of pigs.

Sha'bula, who dresses like the Egyptian version of Elton John, with a bowlcut to match, is known for his political songs but not necessarily for his political acumen. This new ditty is, well, uncomplicated...

The Swine Flu, by Sha'bula
We have yet another disaster,
The situation is dangerous,

That's all we needed,

Swine Flu.

It's an illness that threatens humanity,

I'm warning you,

It's spread to two countries already,

America and Mexico.
The flu has spread and become a dangerous disease,

It's not just birds anymore, it's pigs, too,

If you come across a pig or a sow,

You need to
get the hell out of there.

In every port and airport we need to write,

In big letters,

You're not allowed to enter Egypt with a pig

Pigs, birds and who knows what else,

People are scared,

May Allah protect us from cats and dogs, too.

I tell you loud and clear,

We don't want to be quiet,

It's a shame people are dying because of pigs and chickens,

So what if a few pigs die,

It's better than wearing masks over our mouth and nose.

We closed down many farms, killed many birds,

Now we want the go-ahead to kill all the pigs.

If we let the pigs live, we'll sacrifice many people,

It's better for people to be healthy,

So to hell with the pigs.

I hope they kill them, so people can be safe,

Without police intervention, without strikes.

We have yet another disaster,

The situation is dangerous,

That's all we needed,

Swine Flu.

Here's a clip of Sha'bula singing the song on an Egyptian talk show, with subtitles provided by MEMRI.*

In the subsequent (unintentionally hilarious) interview, Sha'abula admits he hadn't even heard of the swine flu when his producers called, asking him to put together a song about it.

* You can probably guess by the title of the clip on their website--"Egyptian singer Sha'aban Abd Al-Rahim sings about Swine Flu, calls for killing pigs, and declares: I am crazy about my dogs but will be willing to kill them for compensation"--that MEMRI is not an Arabophiliac organization.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

U.S. court still 12 Pirates short of a jury

Would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family? Sure you would. But say your family didn't like bread; they liked boats. Would you steal a boat to feed your starving family?

A Somali mother pleads for her boy, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, who was captured by U.S. navy SEALs in their life-imitating-Hollywood rescue of an American freighter captain off the Somali coast.

The boy (who may be as young as 15 or as old as 18; alas, his Pirate's License was lost at sea) will stand trial as an adult. And why not? If you're old enough to hop into a skiff with a crew of emaciated, shoeless desperados, you must be old enough to stand up to a jury of your peers.

Therein, quoth the Bard, lies the rub.

Not only do U.S. prosecutors need to dust off some very old laws pertaining to piracy (see Union Government v. Confederate Pirates, 1861), they need to find a dozen peers of Mr. Muse to render justice.

Apropos of which, the FBI has put out an All-Points-Bulletin for twelve pirates to serve on a jury for the accused.

According to a statement, the shortlist includes: Long John Silver, Captain Hook, Blackbeard, Redbeard, Bluebeard, Sir Francis Drake, Captain Jack Sparrow, Anne Bonny, Mary Read, Grace O'Malley, Captain Morgan, and Mistress Ching.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Canadian newspapers continue to miss the boat on the pirate story, especially now that Canada's mission in the Gulf of Aden has been extended.

"Canada's Piracy Folly," whined a Winnipeg Free Press editorial, calling for Canada to get tougher on pirates like the Americans and French. "There is no one that the pirates would rather be caught by than Canadians," the article deadpanned.

"Canada's duty on piracy," said a Toronto Star editorial, is to curtail this pussyfooting "catch-and-release" policy and "buff up the handcuffs."

Is it a coincidence that the Star and the Free Press are landlocked papers? Because the one good (albeit brief) angle on the story lately has come from the Halifax Chronicle Herald:

"It needs to be said there is ample evidence of foreign fishing vessels, primarily from the European Union and Asia, having ravaged fish stocks – valuable tuna, in particular – for many years in Somalian waters."

That's a relatively muted version of the whole story: that decades of exploitation of Somali resources, coupled with ruinous attempts by the West (and Ethiopia) at nation-building, have left Somalis with little else to conclude but "a pirate's life for me"; that illegal foreign fishing in Somali waters--the 'other' piracy--has robbed Somalia of more than shoeless pirates like Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse could ever hope to recover.

NPR's recent angle on the story: That Somali pirates, hard-up for Swiss bank accounts, have taken to depositing collected ransoms on the sea floor, for later withdrawal.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Syria bans The Tuque Souq!

A new report from the Damascus-based independent Syrian Media Centre called "Syrian Pens Fall Silent" laments that a record 225 Internet sites and portals are now blocked in Syria.

Among the URLs that can't be accessed from within Syria's borders: social-media favourites like Facebook, YouTube, Skype, and Google's entire suite of blogs (including The Tuque Souq).

In a related report, Syrians were found to have the world's lowest adult rates of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), and Post-Traumatic Twitter Disorder (PTTD), a relatively new affliction in which sufferers cannot be in a confined rectangular space with more than 140 characters at a time.

Also purged from Syria's domain: An-Nahar and most other Lebanese news sites, the official website of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as websites of dissident Kurdish and Islamist groups.

Syrian cybercafé proprietors are required to spy on their customers' surfing habits. Journalists and bloggers are routinely harassed for their online revelations; accused by the mukhabarat of "weakening state security."

In a Facebook posting to his 12 friends (all of whom are outside of Syria), President Bashar al-Assad* said: "Bashar al-Assad is lonely, might rent a film tonight. Any suggestions?"

Reached at his global headquarters, the Tuque Souq's supreme commander declined to comment on being banned in Syria. But he did say, Check out these other Tuque Souq postings about Syria:

* Bashar al-Assad is also president of the Syrian Computer Society**
** Wikipedia is not banned in Syria.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Egypt launches preemptive sandwich at Swine Flu scare

Presently the Tuque Souq global headquarters is guarded by three score and twelve elite fighting boars from the 101st special forces regiment, raised from birth on nothing but habanero salsa and anabolic steroids, trained in forty-seven different forms of martial arts and close-quarter combat, outfitted with fully automatic antiviral laser tusks, and who meditate in alternating twelve-hour shifts to endlessly looped Kurosawa films overlaid with high-volume Rage Against the Machine tracks.

We thought we were safe from the Swine Flu.

But Egypt is going one or two thousand steps further: killing the country's entire population of swine.

There are an estimated 250,000-400,000 pigs in Egypt, raised mainly by the country's Coptic Christian minority. Though there hasn't yet been a case of the latest Swine Flu reported in Egypt, and though the World Health Organization (WHO) begged Egypt not to overreact, the Egyptian government passed emergency legislation to begin slaughtering every last piggy in the land, even calling on the army to help.

WHO is flabbergasted. “We don’t see any evidence that anyone is getting infected from pigs,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director general. “This appears to be a virus which is moving from person to person.”

WHO refused to comment on the likelihood that the Egyptian state is using the viral scare to nationalize the swine industry in Egypt, taking the business away from Coptic herders and selling the slaughtered meat back to the public in the form of new state-controlled BLF (Bacon-Lettuce-Falafel) sandwiches.

Even Egypt's health ministry sees through its own government's thinly veiled tactic to rid the country of free-range pork. “We're at stage five [of the pandemic], the matter is now human not animal,” said Egyptian health ministry spokesman Abdelrahman Shahine. “The authorities took advantage of the situation to resolve the question of disorderly pig rearing in Egypt.”

Mr. Shahine then fled the press conference for the nearest all-day breakfast diner, possibly hoping for one last helping of peameal before the ghastly cull is complete.

Alas, this terrible tragedy could've been averted with a little clear thinking, common sense, and seventy-two well-trained defence boars.