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.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tuque Souq Spring Break

The Tuque Souq is on a Spring Break this week. But we'll be back soon, in fact just in time for coverage of the Algerian presidential elections. [Spoiler Alert: Louisa Hanoune, leader of the Algeria Worker's Party, attempting to become the first female head of state in the Arab World, will not win.]

And to distract you from reading any real news in our absence, we've compiled a list of the Top Ten (subjectively) funniest Israelestine-related Onion articles from the past 20 years.

10. Bin Laden sends belated threat to Israel for 60th birthday
June 3, 2008
9. Israel agrees to the creation of a Palestinian homeroom
April 2, 1997
8. God re-floods Middle East
May 1, 2002
7. Israel intercepts massive Palestinian rock shipment
November 5, 1996
6. Israelis, Palestinians agree to share headline
July 16, 2003
5. Palestine appoints new Minister of Rubble
November 19, 2003
4. Conflict ends as Israel returns lawnmower to Palestine
December 3, 2008
3. Hamas calls for 'Giant Summit' with all Israelis
Feb 15, 2006
2. War talks begin at Camp Goliath
July 26, 2000
1. Sexual tension between Arafat, Sharon reaches breaking point
May 29, 2002

Friday, March 27, 2009

World Cup 2010: Follow your favourite to glory

Who's your favourite Middle Eastern squad? The stretch run of World Cup qualification commences this Saturday, March 28, with a full slate of European and Asian group-stage games. And the final Africa group stage kicks off on Saturday as well.

Here's the latest breakdown of the Middle East / North Africa region's national teams in their quest to qualify for South Africa 2010 (listed in order, according to the Tuque Souq's predictions, of most likely to qualify to least likely):

Egypt: Reigning African champions have a favourable draw, grouped with Algeria, Rwanda and Zambia in Africa Group C. The Egyptians are one of the hottest teams in the world, rising to #15 in the FIFA world rankings. Expect to see them in South Africa.

Iran: Currently in third place in Asia Group 2 after a draw in North Korea. But Iran is still a good bet to finish in the top 2 and grab an automatic bid; even third place would give them a good chance. The third-place finishers in each of Asia's 2 final groups will face each other in a playoff. This could be, for instance, Iran versus Bahrain (see below; Iran would be the favourites here). The winner of that two-legged playoff would face a further playoff against Oceania champs New Zealand (who are not very good) for the very last spot in the World Cup.

Saudi Arabia
: Currently in fourth place in the same group with Iran and the two Koreas. We're suggesting the North Koreans aren't a favourite to seal the deal, and Saudi have a decent shot at a third-place finish, which would yield hope.

Tunisia: Assuming they can handle Kenya and Mozambique, the steady North Africans will still have to overcome powerhouse Nigeria to qualify out of Africa Group B. The Nigerians do have a history of underachieving, though they are undefeated in Africa qualifying so far. [See the Tuque Souq's special Tunisia football post.]

Israel: Handed perhaps their best chance in decades to qualify when they were drawn into Europe's Group 2 with only Greece and Switzerland as real competition. They're in if they win the group, or if they finish second they face a playoff draw for an at-large bid to South Africa. Huge pair of games versus Greece looming this week. The 2 squads meet Saturday in Ramat Gan, Israel, and then follow with a game in Athens next Wednesday. This very well could be Israel's year. Then we could hope for a World Cup grouping with Iran to really excite the tourney! [That's Israel's superstar Yossi Benayoun pictured.]

Morocco: A good team, but a long-shot bet in Africa's Group A to outduel stellar Cameroon. Togo and Gabon are also in the way.

Bahrain: Not good enough to stop Japan and/or Australia in Asia's Group 1, where Bahrain are currently 3rd. But third place would get them a playoff, probably against Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Qatar: Could do exactly what Bahrain are trying to do (above). Qatar are currently 4th in Asia's Group 1. Huge match-up against their rivals coming on April 1.

: They'd need to upset Egypt in Africa's Group C. Very unlikely.

United Arab Emirates: Still alive but in the cellar of Asia's Group 2. With 4 games to play, they'd have to beat Saudi Arabia and North Korea this coming week and get some help from above to even make the playoffs.

Sudan: Not expected to be a serious threat in Africa's Group D with favourites Ghana and surprisingly good Mali and Benin.


: Barely missed out on qualifying for Africa's final round, losing on tie-breaker rules to Ghana and Gabon.
Syria: Beat Afghanistan 5-1 aggregate and then Indonesia 11-1 aggregate in the Asia prelims. Then in the first Asia group stage they fell barely short on tie-breaker rules to the UAE.
Kuwait: Good enough to get a bye out of the prelims, but finished a disappointing last in the first group stage, behind Iran, UAE and Syria.
Iraq: Former Olympic champs trounced Pakistan 7-0 aggregate in the prelims, then finished third to Australia and Qatar in the first group stage.
Jordan: Edged Kyrgyzstan 6-5 on penalties in the prelims, then finished a distant third to the 2 Koreas in the first group stage.
Oman: Beat Nepal 4-0 aggregate in the prelims. Finished third to Japan and Bahrain in the first group stage.
Lebanon: Beat India 6-3 aggregate in the prelims, then lost all 6 of its games in the first group stage.
Yemen: Beat lowly Maldives 3-2 aggregate in the first prelim round, then fell 2-1 to Thailand in the prelim playoffs.
Palestine: Lost 7-0 aggregate in two prelim games against Singapore.
Mauritania: Lost all 6 of their preliminary round games in Africa.
Djibouti: Also lost all 6 of their preliminary round games in Africa, by a worse margin.
Somalia: Didn't compete.


March 28
Greece at Israel
Tunisia at Kenya
Gabon at Morocco
UAE at North Korea
Qatar at Uzbekistan
Saudi Arabia at Iran
Bahrain at Japan

March 29
Zambia at Egypt

April 1
Qatar at Bahrain
UAE at Saudi Arabia
Israel at Greece

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Djibouti Call: A little love, please

In a recent career-advice article in the Toronto Sun, columnist Mike Strobel advised that it's okay to tell a few white lies on your sumé, especially if the lies are manipulations of facts too obscure for any employer to check.

His example: "Interviewers are so swamped these days, who has time to check facts? What's the diff if you add 'Honorary President, Republic of Djibouti, 1993-1994.' This will cleverly conceal the fact you've never been east of Brockville."

Indeed, this hypothetical liar assumes an acceptably low risk that his job-interviewer will actually be Hassan Gouled Aptidon--who in fact was the President of the Republic of Djibouti in 1993-1994--if for no reason more conspicuous than the fact that Aptidon is deceased. Yes, it seems likely that no potential employer will know Djibouti from an aardvark, hence the reference in the Sun column.

At the Tuque Souq, we don't condone lying in any form, but of course it is not really within our mandate to condemn it either. So lie, don't lie, it doesn't matter to us.

But nobody is pulling a fast one on us about supposedly obscure facts concerning former leaders, honorary or otherwise, of Djibouti or any other place for that matter. Nor should any employer fall for such chicanery.

The Tuque Souq does not have any job openings, but if we did, and you were to apply, and further you were to lie on your sumé about having been the president of Djibouti, and still further your white-lie claim to the presidency of Djibouti was not a parody of this blog post... you would not get the job. We check the facts. (If you were parodying us, obviously that would be grounds for your immediate hire.)

And we also object to the objectification of Djibouti as a subject of fact too obscure to verify. Take note Djibouti-bashers: Djibouti is larger than Connecticut, has more people than Iceland, and without its port landlocked Ethiopia would not be able to export 1.44 trillion* coffee beans each year.

Spread the love. Give Djibouti a call.

* - We arrived at this number by taking the latest available gross tonnage export figure of Ethiopian coffee and multiplying it by a fairly reliable estimate of the number of harvested, raw coffee beans per ton. But since we don't consider this a fact, we didn't check it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Somali Pirates prefer microwave dinners to Cordon Bleu

From the current issue of Vanity Fair, an article on the anatomy of the Somali Pirate hijacking of the French cruise boat Le Ponant, authored by Tuque Souq favourite William Langewiesche.* In 2008 a handful of Somali pirates seized Le Ponant and held the boat and its crew of 30 French men and women for ransom. The article, long and wonderfully thorough, is called: "The Pirate Latitudes":
Soon afterward [Captain] Marchesseau’s hopes for the pirates’ imminent departure were dashed when additional gunmen arrived carrying large quantities of cigarettes and supplies, which they began unloading onto the marina platform. The food was crude but not beneath comment by the French. It included disgusting soft drinks, disgusting cooking oils, and cartons of disgusting spaghetti, which spilled onto the deck from a box that split. A bucket contained a full sheep’s worth of disgusting sun-dried meat. It was upsetting. Surely these Somalis realized that a ship like the Ponant would have plenty of its own supplies, and that in terms of cuisine it was not just some average prize.

As if in punishment for this stupidity, one of the pirates then slipped off the marina platform and fell into the wake. He immediately disappeared. Ahmed [the pirate leader] came rushing up the stairs and demanded that Marchesseau maneuver the ship to search for him. The search lasted 15 minutes, until Ahmed called it off. He said the dead man was a hero, and his family would be paid $100,000 for his sacrifice. That sum was probably a brag, but the promise of a payment indicated a level of organization that turned out to be real...

[The Captain] asked, “What do you want?” Ahmed answered, “Money.” It seemed easy enough. These people were not political. They were not terrorists. They were perhaps Muslims, but probably not devout. They were pirates, plain and simple.
[The sun never sets on the pirates at the Tuque Souq Somali Piracy Watch bureau.]

* - I noticed that Langewiesche's bio on the VF site is not only out of date (the Atomic Bazaar book came out a year ago), but it fails to mention his best book (and I've read them all): Sahara Unveiled, in which the author narrates his journey across the desert.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Between Fatah and Hamas, I choose Canada"

From the first in a series of political cartoons by a Palestinian artist. The strip is part of a Middle East political-cartoon exhibition called "Lighting Lamps" currently touring around the West Bank after visiting Egypt and Jordan:

Man A: "Are you Fatah or Hamas?"

Man B: "I'm Palestinian."

A: "Habibi… don't be clever. We're all Palestinian. Who are you with in the civil war?"

B: "I'm against the civil war."

A: "We're all against it, but it happened…..so who are you with?"

B: "I'm against both."

A: "Don't drive me crazy. You have to choose between Fatah and Hamas."

B: "Between Fatah and Hamas, I choose Canada."

And just for grins, here's another cartoon on the same subject:
Underneath the two straws is written in Arabic (obviously): Hamas and Fatah.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Kuwaiti Prime Minister plays "tag" with self over and over again

Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah yesterday tendered his resignation to his boss (and uncle)--the Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah--deciding that he would rather quit his job than face tough questions in Parliament about his shoddy handling of the economic crisis.

The Emir, who has final say on all matters of the government of Kuwait, can choose to appoint a new prime minister, or he can choose to dissolve parliament and force new elections and then appoint a new prime minister. Either way, the dude that becomes the PM will be the same dude.

You see, here's the great thing about Kuwaiti democracy: In November of last year, Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah tendered his resignation to the Emir because of parliamentary infighting over economic issues. The Emir accepted, and then chose a new prime minister. Whom did he choose? Why, Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah!

The same dude got reappointed. He was also reappointed in May 2008. He's also been reappointed several times since he was first elected prime minister in 2006. How's that?

Well, it seems there is a pretty narrow list of possible Prime Ministers of Kuwait. In fact, the list is 1: Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah.

He's also the Crown Prince. In fact, on the Wikipedia site of the current Emir (Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah), it already says "Succeeded by: Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah" even though the latter al-Sabah hasn't even become Emir yet. The former al-Sabah was the last prime minister before the latter al-Sabah, before the former al-Sabah became Emir and appointed the latter al-Sabah as his replacement.

[I realize this post has be come ensconsed in al-Sabahs. So I'll get to the point.]

Bottom line, if anyone comes up to you today and wants to place a bet on the next PM of Kuwait, and further offers you the chance to bet on every single Kuwaiti in the entire universe other than Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, and further gives you 10,000-to-1 odds... Do NOT take the bet. You've been warned.

The Tuque Souq is here to help.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Comoros to war with France over naughty island

Warm, salty ocean currents aren't the only waves washing over the Comoros Islands this week: nationalist fervor is at an all-time high ahead of two very important referenda on the agenda.

First, Comorans -- the people who inhabit one of the 3 Indian-Ocean islands of Grand Comore, Moheli and Anjouan; collectively known as the Union of the Comoros Islands -- will go to the polls on March 22 to vote on a referendum to reduce the size of their bloated government.

In addition to having an overall federal president and legislative assembly, each island also has its own president and legislative assembly, which seems to some Comorans as excessively bureaucratic for a country with 730,000 people whose primary economic concern is the ylang-ylang harvest.

(After suffering no fewer than 20 palace revolts since 1975 -- a phenomenon that has given birth to Comoros' unofficial nickname: the "coup-coup islands" -- Comorans have enjoyed nearly a decade of political calm and burgeoning democracy, and so are now ready to cut back on big government as the economy begins to slag.)

Second, the French -- the people who inhabit France, now on its Fifth Republic itself -- will vote in a referendum on March 29 on whether to formally incorporate the disputed island of Mayotte into la belle république.

Comoros claims Mayotte for itself, though the Mayottese seem to prefer becoming an overseas department of France (like Gaudeloupe, e.g.) over joining an island federation with the collective GDP of the Rue du Cherche-Midi.

Comoros considers this a declaration of war by France. Perhaps emboldened by the fact that France has lost a few wars lately, Comorans are urging their government to stand up to the French empire. But will they have enough government to be successful?

[Fact-checker update Mar 24: It is Mayotte that is voting in the referendum on the 29th, not all of France. We apologize for inferring from limited news access that the whole country of France would s'arrêter for a day and vote on the fate of some tiny island in the southern Indian Ocean.]

Friday, March 13, 2009

Syria installs market economy just in time for collapse

You might recall from an earlier Tuque Souq post that Syria's reformist finance minister famously lauded his country's imperviousness to the global financial crisis by reminding us that Syria really doesn't have much of an economic infrastructure to collapse.

Well, so much for the strategy of "the best way not to lose is not to show up."

That's right, Syria just got itself a stock market!

Finance minister Dr. Mohammed al-Hussein rang the first bell to open trading earlier this week, sending all three of Syria's stock brokers in a buy-and-sell frenzy (for about 39 seconds).

Because the new DSE (Damascus Securities Exchange) has only 6 companies listed on its index, trading will only be open twice a week for a few hours at a time, and prices will be strictly regulated so that the value of any stock cannot change by more than 2% over the course of a day's trading.

Syria's nascent private sector is anxious to carve out its own little (state-controlled) market economy within Syria's (state-controlled) socialist-like economic system. Apropos of which, it took little more than a decree from President Bashar al-Assad a few years ago to get this little project off the ground.

Still, the journey of a thousand bank failures begins with but a single step.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shoe Intifada heads to court

The trial of Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former U.S. president George W. Bush last December, resumes on Thursday after adjourning last month.

The shoe hurler is charged with assault and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. The trial was postponed in February so the panel of three judges could determine if Bush's visit to Iraq was really an official state visit, which could affect the severity of al-Zaidi's punishment.

Mr. al-Zaidi remains unapologetic, which of course maintains his immense popularity, evidenced by the throngs who turn out just to see him go in and out of the courthouse in Baghdad.

[UPDATE MARCH 12: al-Zaidi was sentenced to 3 years in prison]


Hilary Clinton--or at least her mug--got a shoe in the face at a protest in Indonesia, as the new U.S. Secretary of State was making an official visit.

3 protesters tossed shoes at a former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) officer after he gave a lecture at an Amsterdam Hotel. A witness noted that they threw only left shoes (how deliciously appropriate!).

A judge dropped the case against a man who threatened a New York City transit official with a shoe after becoming enraged at a fare hike. [See earlier Tuque Souq post]

Brazil's president joked to reporters that he would not abide any shoe-throwing from the press.

Latvians protested their country's economic crisis by hurling shoes at photos of government officials and parliament.

Taiwanese commemorators of the infamous 228 Massacre planned to throw shoes as part of their memorial service.

The Chicago Tribune advocated the unlacing of shoes to protest the fallen pride of the Illinois state government.

The UK's Secretary for Scotland Jim Murphy faced a shoe-throwing protest from Scottish nationalists.

As always, keep up with all the coverage of the Shoe Intifada right here at the Tuque Souq.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Israel constructs giant hands to defend Gaza borders

This wildly popular YouTube video--produced by Gisha, an Israeli organization that advocates freedom of movement for Palestinian civilians in Gaza--depicts a Gazan boy running around trying to get out of Gaza, only to be blocked at each turn by a giant hand.

[Note the sleeve above the hand that blocks him at the Rafah border is striped like the Egyptian flag. I suppose we are to believe that all the other giant hands are Israelis because they are sleeveless and hairy.]

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bouha! Tunisia football is awesome (and hairy)

Having lived and cheered there, the Tuque Souq is unabashedly partial to Tunisia and especially Tunisian football. The former (2004) African Cup of Nations champions have qualified for the last 3 World Cup finals, and first qualified in 1978 (where they famously trounced Mexico with 3 unanswered second-half goals in one of the all-time great, if obscure, World Cup upsets).

Currently ranked 45th in the world (and 9th in Africa), Tunisia are led by star midfielder and OGC Nice player Chaouki Ben Saada, as well as Brazilian-born striker Francileudo Santos and former Etoile du Sahel (Sousse) star Saber Frej, who now plays club ball for Le Mans.

But my favourite thing about Tunisia football -- Bouha! Bouha is the mascot of my beloved L'Etoile football club (currently third in the table in the Tunisian professional club league). Bouha is... what the hell is he? Some sort of confused-looking Scottish devil? A hirsute desert-dwelling albino hay farmer? Actually I have no idea. Nobody yet has been able to give me the low-down on Bouha's origin. Anybody know?

L'Etoile last won the league championship in 2007 and the Coupe de la Ligue in 2005. Its main rival is L'Espérance Sportive de Tunis, the club owned by the family of Tunisia's president Zine el-Abidine ben Ali and the all-time winningest Tunisian club.

The greatest moment in the history of Tunisian football came in 2007, when L'Etoile du Sahel captured the African Champions League trophy with a 3-1 upset victory over club Al-Ahly of Egypt, indisputably Africa's best club team of all time. L'Etoile's then star striker Amine Chermiti scored 8 goals in the tourney, parlaying that success into a deal with German club and Bundesliga title-chasers Hertha Berlin, where he now plays.

Chermiti is also a budding star on Tunisia's national team, which opens play for World Cup qualification on March 28 against Kenya. Tunisia are also grouped with Mozambique and Nigeria; the group winner advances to South Africa 2010. May the spirit and flowing red locks of Bouha guide Tunisia to victory!

[Coming later this month... the Tuque Souq World Cup qualifying preview. Stay tuned.]

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Omar al-Bashir to ICC: "Eat it!"

The hordes of judges, lawyers and bureaucrats of the International Criminal Court sat down at their breakfast tables this morning and discovered via the local news a helpful message from indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir: "Eat it!"*

"I think he meant the Eggs Benedict," said one lawyer, "which I was thinking of ordering anyway."

"I wasn't even hungry yet," said another ICC official, "but Mr. al-Bashir is right: a healthy breakfast is the most important part of a good day."

And what a day it is, as the ICC will formally issue an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president on charges of war crimes for the ongoing Darfur thingy. A defiant Omar al-Bashir is preparing to dodge the summons, readying the Sudanese military to act against any domestic support for the ICC ruling.

For example, Sudanese officials told Doctors Without Borders operating in Sudan to find a border quickly and cross it.

Refugees and aid groups in Darfur fear a surge in attacks if the ruling is handed down against al-Bashir today. Will the ICC eat its words?

*What al-Bashir really said was "immerse it [the arrest warrant] in water and drink it," which is a common Arabic derision; whereas "eat it" is obviously an idiomatic translation for the benefit of those Westerners who, unlike the Sudanese, are accustomed to having plenty to eat.

[Update: The arrest warrant has just been formally announced.]

Monday, March 2, 2009

George Clooney saves Darfur, might run for President of Sudan

George Clooney, quite dashing
The dramatic, psycho-thriller rivalry between actor George Clooney and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir took a Soderberghian twist recently as the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir--the alleged mastermind of the 6-year-long genocide in Darfur--after Clooney met U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss the ongoing conflict.

Coincidence? We think not. To wit:


June 2003 - Government of Sudan begins arming and deploying Janjaweed militias against rebel factions in the Darfur region.

June 2003-February 2009 - Janjaweed and other government-backed militias attack and destroy hundreds of villages, displacing as many as 2.5 million people. At least 300,000 civilians (and some say the number might be over 1 million) in Darfur are killed either by the militias directly or from starvation due to displacement and famine. Meanwhile, the international community is powerless to stop the massacre and ease the suffering of millions of lives.

Omar Bashir,  quite confused
February 2009 - Actor George Clooney returns from Darfur and meets with U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss the situation in Sudan, urging immediate action to stop the genocide.

March 2009 - International Criminal Court issues controversial indictment and arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on allegations of committing war crimes and genocide.

See? Actors do matter.

(The actual news: After formalizing the indictment last week, the ICC is expected to officially issue the arrest warrant for al-Bashir this Wednesday: a historic moment as no sitting head of government has ever been summoned for arrest by the ICC.)