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, October 30, 2009

2nd annual Tuque Souq Autumn Reading List

The Tuque Souq is taking its annual autumn repose and letting the blog rest for a week. Jeepers, you say, a week without shoe-throwing pun-loving pirate camels... what'll I do?

Go outside, get some fresh air... for a few minutes. Then, get back in front of your interwebbed machine, slave, and read some blogs.

This year's Autumn Reading List features some new additions to the Blog Roll, a selection of Middle Eastern themed blogs that have popped into our field of cyberview recently, many of which have names almost as catchy as ours. Enjoy.

Maya's Amalgam: A Lebanese artist's illustrative take on social affairs, very unique, often humorous. Definitely worth a look.
The Moor Next Door: Good political critique from North Africa, excellent title.
MondoWeiss: Self-described warrior of ideas on the Middle East. Mostly coverage of Israel/Palestine. Takes itself seriously. As it should.
Saudi Jeans: Social commentary from Saudi Arabia, from one guy's perspective. As he explains, he's Saudi and he likes to wear jeans. That's it. Also, he started his blog primarily to improve his English. You be the judge.
Jews sans frontieres: Good name that would be great if it rolled off the tongue easier. Venomous critiques of Zionism.
Lawrence of Cyberia: The name is catchy the first time you say it, less so each time after. The content mostly covers Israel/Palestine, with some general comment on Middle East news.
Tikun Olam: Very well done blog. Entries are more like essays. Covers progressive, mostly Jewish activism in the US vis-a-vis the Middle East.
American Bedu: Daily life of an American woman in Saudi Arabia. Presents itself as mainly educational. Often pedantic but occasionally insightful.
AquaCool: Daily life of a Palestinian housewife in the UAE, or sometimes Tunisia. Diary form. Interesting, let's say.
Abu Khaldoun: Father of Ibn Khaldoun? Topical coverage of Middle East news with a general, if sometimes rambling, commentary.
Friday Lunch Club: Random thoughts and impressions on Middle East news, including obscure new. Despite the name, it's updated as often as 10 times a day. Too much writing. Bloggerrhea.
Magharebia: News digest from Mauritania, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco. Very unbloggy.

Algérie-Maroc: Memory and history. Quaint.
Nouvelles d'Orient: Middle East blog of Le Monde Diplomatique. Obviously newsy.

Tunisie Socio-Democratique: The difficult job of opposing the mainstream in Tunisia. Or why there isn't an opposition in Tunisia.
Fettounsi: A critical media blog in Tunisia. Or why Tunisia needs a critical media.
Medounet Mohamed: Education in Morocco. Or lack of it.

And, to offer a final nugget from the Internet mine, here's a creative new site just started called Carpooling in Egypt, which is self-explanatory and, if you've ever been stuck in Cairo traffic, long overdue.

(Or you could just read last year's 1st annual Tuque Souq Autumn Reading List again.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Israel facing hollow cost of hummus

The Israeli ministry of preemptive strikes has warned the government that the country is falling dangerously behind its rivals in the Middle East's newest arms race, known as the Hummus War.

Over the weekend, Lebanon put on a show of force, announcing to the world that it had added to its arsenal a 2056-kilogram bowl of hummus and a 3557-kilogram bowl of tabbouleh.

Both dishes are world records; previously America held the hummus record at a mere 363 kilos. The tabbouleh included 1600 kilos of parsley, a forest roughly the size of the Negev.

Thousands of Lebanese nationalists marched through the streets of downtown Beirut behind the parade of oversized mezze, singing and chanting provocative slogans aimed squarely at their country's rival.

"Our aim is clear," said one Lebanese chef who asked not to be named Suleiman. "These dishes should be exclusively Lebanese, with an appellation similar to Greek feta, Scotch whisky, and Canadian bacon."

Israel remains in a state of high alert and extreme hunger (a southerly wind carried the aroma across the border from Lebanon).

"It's a new cold war," said an aide to Israel's minister of offensive food, "insofar as most of these dishes are served cold. Okay, some of them are better at room temperature. But I think I've made my point, which is that Israel will not be wiped off the map."

Indeed, many outside observers note that because the Israeli military has invested only in tanks and razor wire and nuclear weapons, the country is ill-equipped to match weaponry in this new theatre of war.

The government of Lebanon has maintained that these colossal plates of hummus and tabbouleh are defensive deterrents, existing to keep the country safe (and very, very regular). But at the sight of all those pureed chick peas, Lebanon's masses are primed for war.

One thing appears certain: If Israel tries to break the record, Lebanon will have the garbanzos to fight back.

Monday, October 26, 2009

For rhyme and reason, Saudi couple to divorce

A Saudi woman, supposedly happily married to her husband for 17 years*, is filing for divorce after discovering that he invented an unwelcome nickname for her in his cell phone: Guantánamo.

Apparently the husband thought it would be a splendid repartee if, while out late nights with the boys, he could look at his ringing cell phone and declare, "Hush up, shabaab, Guantánamo is calling... Do you want Guantánamo to know where we are? If I have to go to Guantánamo now, I'll be in real trouble."

But the wife was not amused. According to her statement to police she said:

I am a truthful woman,
from the land where the palm trees grow,
and sometimes I do want to
let the verses out of my soul.
But a guantanamera? I am not a guantanamera.

My husband is a horrible man.
Here I grow a white rose, in July as in January,
and give it to him who gives me his open hand.
And this is how he repays me?!
A guantanamera? I swear I am not a guantanamera.

He pretends that he's this wounded stag seeking refuge in the mountain,
where the brook gives him more pleasure than the sea.
But do you know the last time he pleasured me?
Let's just say that my verse is not exactly flaming red lately.
Guantanamera? I'm no f*cking guantanamera.**

* From the Tuque Souq math department: 30-year-old woman minus 17 years of marriage equals: Hombre, you married a 13-year-old and you have the gall to call her names?!

** Guantanamera, of the famous poem/song by José Martí, is spanish for "Woman from Guantánamo." Full English translation here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Yemen to resolve civil war with Guitar Hero tournament

As Yemen's tragic civil war continues unabated in spite of Western media's concerted efforts to ignore it (the Reverse-Afghanistan postulate: if a war falls on a mountain and CNN isn't there to embed in it, is it really worth fighting?), the need for mediation is immediate.

The current conflict is one of the Yemeni military--backing the mostly Sunni secular nationalist government of Ali Abdullah Saleh--attempting to crush a rebellion by the Houthi ethnic minority, practitioners of the Shi'ite Zaydi sect of Islam, in the northern mountains. A dire humanitarian emergency now affects tens of thousands of civilians in Houthi areas.

But the conflict underscores the fractious and turbulent coalition of increasingly hostile sociopolitical groups in Yemen, which is barely a generation removed from reuniting after decades of split. Sunni religious extremists are becoming more influential, and the country's former staunchly secular urban elites are being marginalized. The Houthis claim to bear the standard of Yemen's former theocratic royal line, which resonates well with other minority groups across the country.

The animosity is deepening, as evidenced by the decrease in Qat-chewing this year.*

In the absence of any aid or assistance from the rest of the world, Yemen has decided to take conflict-resolution matters into its own trembling hands. President Saleh has called all factions together for a three-day summit to decide the fate of the country with an epic tournament of Al-Moosiqar.

Al-Moosiqar (Arabic for "the musician") is a web-based music-simulation game built on a platform similar to RedOctane's Guitar Hero or Harmonix's Rock Band, and is produced by Quirkat Gaming of Lebanon.

Except that instead of wailing on a toy electric guitar to KISS or Nirvana, Al-Moosiqar players strum a simulated Oud along to classical Arabic music tunes (or they can upload their own modern-music MP3s).

The game is available in both Arabic and English versions from Fuzztak.com. [PLAY NOW]

Players use keyboard commands to instruct a two-dimensional (and very non-Arab-looking) animated figure whose facial expressions let you know how well you're doing.

Why Al-Moosiqar? "Every day, we feel the lack of a suitable avenue for Arab generations to express their love of video gaming in a way that reflects their identity and aspirations. Al-Moosiqar will capture and deliver to the world a unique Middle Eastern music channel thriving on creativity and musical expression," said Candide Kirk, Quirkat’s CTO, in a press release.

More than that, it might just help solve Yemen's civil war. The leaders of all of Yemen's factions, including the Gitmo detainees just sent home, will gather for a big tourney this weekend. The winner gets Yemen. All of it. According to reports, the players will start with a little Amr Diab, move onto some Marcel Khalife and Fayrouz, and top it off with the Star of the East herself, Umm Kalthum.

Come Monday, Yemen will have a new country, and a new Oud Hero.

* Got nothing else to do today? Watch this in-depth doc on Yemen's Qat problem, "A Nation on Drugs," and then see if you can still bring yourself to toke up this weekend.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Royal immunity includes germs, says Morocco

Kings don't get sick. That's the message that thick-headed Moroccan journalists just can't seem to get. Last week a court in Rabat ordered the editor of the weekly al-Michaal newspaper imprisoned for a year for publishing articles questioning the health of King Mohamed VI.

Police stormed the Casablanca office of al-Michaal and hauled away its editor, Driss Chahtan. Prison terms were also handed down to two offending journalists, Rachid Mahameed and Mostafa Hiran, who wrote a series of articles in September claiming that the king might be sicker than the government is letting on.

The court decision follows a series of reported investigations by Moroccan authorities of independent media outlets which are critical of Morocco's royal family. Last month two editors of the independent daily al-Jarida al-Oula were detained and interrogated also for publishing articles that questioned the political motivations behind what appears to be a conspiracy to conceal the health of the king.

He's only 46, what could be wrong with him? (He suffered a reportedly severe gastrointestinal infection in August and had to spend a week in convalescence. Last year rumors surfaced that he took a secret trip to France for surgery of an unknown nature. The exact cause of his father's death was never investigated. Denying it all just makes the whole Moroccan government look ill. Whoops, did I say all that out loud?)

In general, Morocco's judiciary has not been kind to Morocco's media. This past summer a court upheld a ruling in the case of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi versus three Moroccan papers, and ordered the publications--which had published articles critical of Qaddafi--to pay punitive damages amounting to one million dirhams (roughly $125,000) to Muammar himself.

Qaddafi reportedly spent the money on a new sound system for his rocket car.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Israel envisions revisions, then revises guises

The Israeli ministry of education has announced a recall of a new Hebrew-language high school history textbook in which Palestinian claims of violent ethnic cleansing during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war are presented alongside the longstanding Israeli argument that 750,000 Palestinians simply decided to move to Lebanon all at once (and coincidentally during a war).

The book, written entirely by Israeli scholars and earlier approved by the ministry, was thought to be the first Israeli school text to present any possibility of legitimate Palestinian claims to the land that is now Israel. But it seems Israeli high schoolers won't be getting all the facts this term.

The recall is an ironic twist on Israel's regularly scheduled textbook policy, in which the Israeli government and its legions of rightest supporters have long accused the Palestinians of employing textbooks with anti-Israel biases (or at least that present a worldview that diminishes prevailing Western historical foci), although it is well documented that most of the offending textbooks were written prior to the Oslo Accords by textbook companies in Egypt and Jordan.* (Still, Palestinian textbooks today, shockingly, do not go out of their way to celebrate the birth of Israel, either.)

In related news, many coffee shops across Israel are refusing to serve Turkish coffee, owing to an ongoing diplomatic spat between Israel and Turkey. Turkish coffee is a popular brew in the Middle East in which finely ground coffee beans are boiled thick in a small pot and served with their dregs in Lilliputian cups.

The boycott will not affect the Palestinian territories, where like most Arab countries the coffee-related historical revisionism has long since renamed Turkish coffee as "Arabic coffee." Considering that the "Turkish" in Turkish coffee describes the origin of a vaguely unique brewing process (and is really more of a self-applied tribute to the colonial Ottoman-era coffee culture) and not the origin of a particular bean, the revision is considered justified.

As such, Israel should embrace alternative history in this case, especially now that Istanbul boulangeries have started to sell "culturally appropriated unleavened flat cakes" with apricots.

* For an exhaustive academic review of the campaign against Palestinian textbooks, read "The International Controversy Regarding Palestinian Textbooks" by Nathan J. Brown, professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grateful for Dead? Jordan to start digging Two-Seas canal

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan will not win any awards for exciting news. In fact, the most common front-page stories in Jordan usually involve King Abdullah inspecting troops, various royal family members receiving obscure awards or greeting C-list celebrities, the announcement by one awkward acronymic organization that it is creating a new spin-off acronym, or (seriously, folks), the painting of new guard rails at the Amman citadel.

(In all fairness, the coverage of Brangelina's recent layover in the Kingdom was well done.)

So we were taken aback when Jordan announced some real news: it will soon start construction on what is colourfully known as the Red-Dead Canal (aka Two-Seas canal).

Originally conceived as a tripartite cooperation between Jordan, Israel and Palestine to restore healthy water levels to the Dead Sea and provide much needed drinking water to the parched region, the Red-Dead canal (from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea) has been maligned by environmental groups for its potentially devastating impact on both marine and desert ecosystems.

Thanks to gross misuse of the Jordan River and its headwaters over the past 50 years, the Dead Sea is shrinking at a rate of a metre per year; in other words, within your grandkids' lifetimes they will be able to walk across it without getting their feet wet.

The Dead Sea is more than a mawkish boon to the tourism industry; it comprises a delicate ecosystem of bacteria, algae and minerals that is governed by the extremely unique chemical composition of Dead-Sea geography. Nobody wants to see it emptied either of its water or its aura.

Right, but how does flooding the Dead Sea--the most saline, undrinkable water on the planet--with water from the Red Sea via the Gulf of Aqaba--which also, last time we checked, is salty water--rescue a country like Jordan (92% desert and the 11th driest country on Earth) from its drinking-water problems.

The Red-Dead canal, in theory, would power itself with a series of hydroelectric dams which would harness enough energy to compensate for that required to get the water out of the Red Sea in the first place. Energy surpluses from the dams would then be used to power a desalination plant or two for much-needed fresh water, whose salty runoff would flow right on into the saltwater paradise that is the Dead Sea.

The three-million year-old Dead Sea is almost dead, see?

Critics maintain that importing foreign saltwater (along with toxic metals picked up during the desal process) into the Dead Sea will have as negative an effect on that ecosystem (and, to make the point broader, on the mineral-mining industries in the region) as the current problem of the Jordan River's increasing failure to trickle down. Moreover, desalination plants are known to consume huge amounts of (fossil-fuel) energy in their construction and operation, more than hydroelectric dams could compensate for. Additionally, digging canals across the desert to transport saline water could affect, through seepage, the precious reserves of aquifer-based freshwater underneath the sand.

Who will win this debate? We might actually have to follow Jordanian news to find out. Step aside, Brangelina!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Saudi cleric erect over co-ed university

Saudi Arabia's new King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) doesn't exactly roll off the tongue like Oxford, Stanford, or NSCAD, but it's already dropping a lot of jaws.

The main attraction isn't the state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, the DOW-funded chemical R&D program, the eco-friendly architecture of the entire campus, the $10-billion start-up endowment, or the gorgeous landscape of the university set between the desert and the Red Sea.

Nah, the biggest draw to the school are the chicks. KAUST is Saudi Arabia's first co-educational university, a fact which has drawn the ire of conservative clerics such as Sheikh Saad bin Nasser al-Shithri, a member of the influential Council of Senior Clerics.

Sheikh al-Shithri, who also objected to the university's teaching of such controversial topics as evolution, relativity and gravity, was especially incensed at the admission of women to the school, which he believes contravenes Saudi interpretation of Islamic Law.

"Look," he said. "I've got nothing against women. It's just that, at university... well, have you seen the film Animal House? All those nice boys came to university to study in an austere environment, but when they discovered women they turned to drugs, sex, and these very improper shenanigans like 'road trips' and 'toga parties.' After that, even if they managed to graduate they'd be no good to society."*

After his comments sparked an outrage, Sheikh al-Shithri tried to back down from the controversy, saying he wasn't opposed to all forms of sexual expression at KAUST. For example, of the university's absurdly superfluous and hackneyed phallic seaside tower he approved enthusiastically. "But," he concluded, "that's the only erection we want to have on this campus."

Since the university opened last month, Sheikh al-Shithri has been asked to step down from the Council of Senior Clerics. None of them care to be reminded that they never got to go to a toga party, either.

* - What Sheikh al-Shithri actually said was more like, "When men mix with women, their hearts burn, and they will be diverted from their main goal, which is education." However, like Saudi Islamic Law, translation has many interpretations.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tunisia and Bahrain plan to get lucky this weekend

The Tuque Souq's very masculine love affair with Tunisian football is primed for another romantic escapade this weekend as Les Aigles de Carthage--as Tunisia's national team is nicknamed--play their penultimate World Cup qualifying match on Sunday versus Kenya.

In last month's critical Africa Group B match, Tunisian midfielder Oussama Darragi scored a stunning goal 3 minutes into extra time to draw his side into a 2-2 tie with Nigeria in Abuja, leaving the shocked and heavily favoured Super Eagles still two points adrift of the North Africans with two matches remaining.

Check out the replay of this incredible goal--Darragi collects a pass chipped over the defence and beats the goalie at a tight angle.

Sunday at Stade du 7 Novembre, Tunisia's home turf, Les Aigles with a win over Kenya can clinch their fourth consecutive World Cup finals berth if Nigeria fail to win against Mozambique.

In other World Cup news, wee Bahrain enter the final stage of their Disneyesque quest for a World Cup finals debut.

After their shock defeat of Saudi Arabia last month, the diminutive islanders have reached the final playoff round of World Cup qualifying, which owing to FIFA's pro-Occidental regime of continent-based qualifying, sees Asia's fifth-place team (Bahrain) play Oceania's best team (New Zealand) for one, lottery-like at-large berth in the World Cup finals.

New Zealand, for those of you who weren't aware that Oceania was a continent, got to this stage of World Cup qualifying by beating the snot out of countries like Fiji (population 849,000), New Caledonia (population 249,000) and the offshore tax-haven of Vanuatu (population 240,000).

Given that New Zealand have a stellar record beating up on small islands, the Kiwis are fairly confident they can eliminate Bahrain. Thus the latter are hoping the overconfidence of the down-under cousins will be Bahrain's boon.

Game 1 of the home-and-home playoff is tomorrow in Manama. The second leg will be in New Zealand on November 14.

Tunisia 1-0 Kenya
Nigeria 1-0 Mozambique
Bahrain 0-0 New Zealand

Les Aigles won but so did Nigeria, so it all comes down the final day, November 14, when Tunisia travel to Mozambique and Nigeria to Kenya. On the same day, in Africa Group C, Egypt will host Algeria, the former needing a win to qualify and avoid a huge upset. And Bahrain will need a win or at least a goal-scoring draw to edge the Kiwis. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Syria dumps two-timing Facebook over Golan affair

"Men always want to be a woman's first love; women like to be a man's last romance. " -- Oscar Wilde.

Syria. She's a loyal gal. She's a one social-media-forum kind of woman. She's dated around, cautiously: Twitter, Skype, The Tuque Souq. But then she picked her favourite: Facebook. And for awhile, she and Facebook had a good thing going. It wasn't easy; she has a bit of the emotional baggage of Lebanon with a dash of the co-dependent tendencies of Iran. But Facebook grew on her, and she finally accepted that she could be loved.

Then she found out about the affair. Facebook was two-timing her. And with her bitter rival: Israel.

The affair took place in the rolling fertile hills of the Golan Heights, where cool breezes and waterfalls beckon lovers intent on a tryst.

From the beginning of their relationship until just a few weeks ago, Facebook considered the Golan Heights part of Syria; if when you created a Facebook profile your biographical information included the Golan Heights as a place of residence, Facebook would automatically consider your country of residence "Syria."

(For those of you just joining us, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and has held the region ever since; Syria (like most of the world) considers it Syrian territory and expects it back someday in a hypothetical peace agreement.)

But after a campaign by Israeli settlers in the Golan, Facebook altered its policy and now allows users from the Israeli-occupied region to choose which way they want to swing, whether they want their profiles to proclaim them from Israel or Syria. Facebook wants it both ways.

So Syria says to Facebook: "Just turn around now, you're not welcome anymore." Many Syrians and their sympathetic neighbours have launched a boycott of Facebook* in protest. Will they survive?

* Irony alert: Syria has blocked Facebook access in the past, but Net-savvy Syrians often get around the blockade by going through proxy sites that offer shadow IP addresses to conceal one's country of origin. Now, with Syrians engaging a self-blockading boycott, Syria's government won't lose sleep over how to keep its nationals from logging on and posting pithy status updates.

Monday, October 5, 2009

New Pirate Party of Canada has Somali Pirates baffled

The new Pirate Party of Canada (PPoC), the latest incantation of single-issue politics in Canada's crowded constitutional chorus, may yet succeed in its stated goals of reforming copyright laws and regulating Net neutrality. But it has already succeeded in one undeclared goal: confusing the hell out of Somali Pirates.

The PPoC also wants to blow down the metaphorical walls between peer-to-peer file-sharing over the Internet. Its members aim to drop anchor in the harbour of artists' rights to share their music freely. They want to see the proponents of Canada's corporatized patent system walk the plank.

And therein lies the Somalis' chagrin: the gratuitous use of figurative language.

"Apparently they're into sharing things and relaxing the restrictions on sharing," said a Somali Pirate spokesman who asked not to be named. "We're not sure what is going on, but clearly a bunch of computer nerds are running around claiming to be pirates when they've never even taken over a ship and held it for ransom."

The spokesman wailed over the slow summer on the high seas. "It's been a really tough season with all the monsoons and the global recession affecting the pleasure-cruise industry. But we're making a recovery this autumn. And just about the last thing we need right now is competition from Canada."

Asked to comment on the juxtaposition of the pirate metaphor in the Canadian political spectrum with the infringement upon civil liberties of de facto Internet regulatory policies in a post-industrial globalized commercial society, the Somali Pirate spokesman said only that, "you people obviously have too much free time and not enough real problems."

The Tuque Souq tried to reach the PPoC for comment, but the line was jammed with bit-torrent downloads.

[Tip 'o the hat to Dean for the scoop.]