Hammond on Saudi Arabia's media empire

When Andrew Hammond writes about Arab media, I read attentively -- from Arab Media & Society:
Powered by vast petrodollar resources, thus began a concerted Saudi attempt to dominate the world of cable and satellite television media in the Arab world and steal the thunder of Egypt, once the leader of Arab media in the 1950s and 1960s with its Arab nationalist political ideology. Egypt’s once omnipotent “media of mobilization” (i‘lam ta‘bawi) gave way to Saudi Arabia’s “media of pacification”, or i‘lam tanwimi—a new soporific media of arguably far greater proportions and reach than anything Gamal Abdel-Nasser ever had, where entertainment helps put the political mind to sleep and politics is maintained within strict limits. If Abdel-Nasser wanted you fi-shari‘ (on the streets), Al Saud wants you fi-sala (in the living room). [...] In conclusion, Saudi Arabia has made an immense effort to control the flow of information in the Arab world and assure positive coverage of its politics and society, or often to assure no coverage at all. This effort has involved saturating the Arab viewer in Arab and Western entertainment in the form of dramas, quiz shows, comedies, films, and “soft religion” and only as much politics as is necessary. Saudi Arabia’s pan-Arab media empire promotes specific messages which present themselves as “liberal”, “reformist”, “moderate” and “modern”, but they are also conspicuously Washington-friendly and anti-al-Qa‘ida, Hizbullah, Iran or any other body presenting a challenge to the Pax Americana in the Arab world and the governments who form part of that constellation.
Much there about the al-Arabiya / Al Jazeera wars and more. And buy Andrew's book on Arab pop culture and his new one on What the Arabs think of America too! (Via Kafr al-Hanadwa)
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Desmond Tutu, anti-Semite

A Minnesotan university decides to ban a Desmond Tutu appearance because of anti-Israel comments he made -- Banning Desmond Tutu:
Tutu's appearance—slated for the spring of '08—was made possible by the university's partnership with PeaceJam International, a youth-centered project that taps Nobel Laureates to teach young adults about peace and justice. For four straight years, the Catholic university's St. Paul campus had played host to PeaceJam festivities featuring Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Shirin Ebadi. But in a move that still has faculty members shaking their heads in disbelief, St. Thomas administrators—concerned that Tutu's appearance might offend local Jews—told organizers that a visit from the archbishop was out of the question. "We had heard some things he said that some people judged to be anti-Semitic and against Israeli policy," says Doug Hennes, St. Thomas's vice president for university and government relations. "We're not saying he's anti-Semitic. But he's compared the state of Israel to Hitler and our feeling was that making moral equivalencies like that are hurtful to some members of the Jewish community." St. Thomas officials made this inference after Hennes talked to Julie Swiler, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. "I told him that I'd run across some statements that were of concern to me," says Swiler. "In a 2002 speech in Boston, he made some comments that were especially hurtful." During that speech, titled "Occupation Is Oppression," Tutu lambasted the Israeli government for its treatment of Palestinians in occupied territories. While a transcription clearly suggests his criticism was aimed at the Israeli government ("We don't criticize the Jewish people," he said during the speech. "We criticize, we will criticize when they need to be criticized, the government of Israel"), pro-Israeli organizations such as the Zionist Organization of America went on the offensive and protested campus appearances by Tutu, accusing him of anti-Semitism.
Yes, that Desmond Tutu. Update: See the "offensive" Tutu quote in the comments (thanks, Jose), and Juan Cole reminds us that:
Ann Coulter once said of Muslims, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Coulter can speak at UST. But not Desmond Tutu.
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Arab actors and Hollywood

The LAT has a great piece by Ashraf Khalil on Arab actors in Hollywood dealing with prejudice and typecasting -- More work, one role for Arab actors:
"What kind of a name is that?" the voice coach asked at the end of the lesson. The name on the check he'd been handed by his student didn't match the young actor's European-sounding stage name. The actor hesitated. He was fairly new in town and leery of any missteps. "Umm, my grandfather was Middle Eastern," he said. The actor said the room temperature seemed to drop. The teacher took him aside and spoke urgently. "Look," the teacher said, "I see big things for you, but if you tell people this, you will not work in this town." Recently, the actor landed a prominent role in a big-studio film. But he still feels compelled to keep his heritage under wraps. Only his closest friends know his ethnicity; he tells others that his parents are Italian, French, anything but the truth. "I'm really proud of who I am, but I'm constantly having to lie about it," said the actor, who didn't want to reveal his name for fear that he would be relegated to playing terrorists, the new Arab acting ghetto. [...] But until that engagement becomes a full-fledged conversation, the enduring dilemma for Arab actors is whether to play terrorist roles. It's often the only work available to them, but it can leave them feeling guilty or conflicted. Tony Shalhoub, the Emmy-winning star of "Monk" who's of Lebanese descent, recalled his first television gig playing a terrorist on a 1986 episode of "The Equalizer." "I did it once, and once was enough," he said. Writer-director Hesham Issawi, an Egyptian, said the increase in the quantity of Arab roles hadn't been matched by an increase in quality. "The roles are bigger, the scenes are bigger, the money is better. But it's still a terrorist role." He cited two exceptions: the terrorist recruiter character in "Syriana," played by Egyptian Amr Waked, and Metwally's part in "Munich." Both were smart, nuanced militant roles, he said. "There's a little more depth. There's more to the characters, and they're not stupid," Issawi said. Kanater says he doesn't object to playing the bad guy. "I can play a villain. I played Caligula onstage." What he resents is a steady diet of shallow, poorly written bad-guy roles. "You go for some Arab role and they say, 'Can you do it again with a heavier accent?' " Kanater said. Yasmine Hanani, a young Iraqi American actress, has played roles in "Over There" and "Sleeper Cell." Her character in "Sleeper Cell" beheaded an FBI agent. "The thing about playing terrorists is they exist too. It's real, even if it's only half the story," she said. "If I don't do it, someone who knows less about my language and culture will." That terrorist dilemma has even been turned into comedy. The pilot episode of "The Watch List," a Middle Eastern American show vying for a spot on Comedy Central, features a skit in which young Arab actors learn how to play terrorists. The students practice holding an assault rifle, begging "24's" Jack Bauer for their lives and, finally, falling down dead. In the end, the teacher, played by Iranian American comedian Maz Jobrani, earnestly urges his students to learn how to play these roles "so that Latino actors won't get them." The undisputed champion of the Arab terrorist role is Sayed Badreya. The burly, bearded Egyptian-born actor has played an array of menacing characters in a 20-year Hollywood career. He'll appear with Robert Downey Jr. in next year's "Iron Man" as an Arab arms dealer who kidnaps the hero. In 2003, he and Issawi made a short film called "T for Terrorist" in which an Arab actor, frustrated with endless terrorist roles, takes over a movie set at gunpoint. Badreya recalls when he first arrived in Hollywood in 1986. "I couldn't work. I was too handsome," he laughs. "So I put on some weight and grew a beard, and suddenly I was working every day and playing the angry Arab."
The classic treatment of Arabs in Hollywood remains, of course, Jack Shaheen's Reel Bad Arabs. .
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Fifi Abou for president?

Funny quote in this otherwise bog-standard succession story -- With tough moves, Egypt moves to ensure stability whenever post-Mubarak era dawns:
Some, even in the opposition, believe it should, because a military-backed candidate would have wider acceptance. But the army — led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, a Mubarak loyalist — has been largely segregated from Egypt's politics since the assassination of former President Anwar Sadat by Islamist army officers. That has left the stage open for Egypt's first civilian president. "We have distanced ourselves from politics long ago," said former Staff Maj. Gen. Hossam Sewilam, who once headed the Armed Forces Strategic Research Center. "If they elect Fifi Abdou" — a famed Egyptian belly-dancer — "or (Gamal) Mubarak, they are free. It's not our business." With the military on the sidelines, the government has to show strength to keep succession smooth, said Gihad Auda, a senior member of the ruling National Democratic Party.
The story should have discussed the role of the security services, as opposed to the army, in the succession question.
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Our estranged, and strange, neighbors

Mango Girl says it so I don't have to -- Ethnically based land rights challenged in Israel:
A development to keep track of - the Jewish National Fund, the para-state authority for land use in Israel, is being ordered by the Israeli High Court to overturn its Jews-only land lease policy. Nothing could be more central to the idea of Israel, or a starker metaphor for the basic contradictions of its political project - and it’s good every now and again to bring some of those contradictions out in the open.
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Dipnote, the State Department blog

The State Department has launched its own blog, Dipnote. I expect much spin and PR for Karen Hughes, and hopefully some helpful tips about seating arrangements and other etiquette issues. Since policy issues will not be discussed with any degree of seriousness (after all there is a press office to handle that) it'd be nice to see some juicy anecdotes from FSOs (that's Foreign Service Officers).
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IntelliBriefs: Saudi Arabia's media influence

Saudi Arabia's media influence:
Saudi Arabia's takeover of the region's media is a reflection of what is occurring globally where a handful of multinational companies increasingly dominate the media. This spills over from entertainment into news coverage. To Saudi Arabia such control is paramount in an era when the media is increasingly pervasive, because Riyadh's political and economic clout – and the survival of the Royal family – depends on the kingdom retaining its position as a leading player in the region's power politics. To retain this balance of power – held in the region by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia against an ascendant Iran and non-governmental actors – informative and potentially damning news on the kingdom needs to be squashed. Saudi Arabia's approach to media under its control, and the harsh punishments on those that do not portray a rose-tinted view of the royal family and the kingdom, is mirrored in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, which have similarly draconian media laws to retain monarchical power bases. Qatar can be considered somewhat of an exception with Al Jazeera, but when it comes to the channel applying the same exposure to governmental malfeasance and social issues in Doha as it does elsewhere in the region, Al Jazeera comes up short. Although much of Saudi media ownership revolves around entertainment, as the Managing Editor of Beirut-based Middle East Broadcasters Journal, Habib Battah, pointed out: "MBC, Orbit, Rotana – all these companies have a big Saudi stake and are not really about Saudi Arabia, but about appealing to a pan-Arab audience," that is perhaps the point, with Saudi shareholders - most linked to the royal family - being able to dictate what is, and what can be, aired to a pan-Arab audience, even if it is only entertainment.
Worth reading in full, even if it only skims the surface.
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Science and the Islamic world

Science and the Islamic world, an essay by a Pakistani scientist on the decline of science in the Islamic world in my favorite magazine (not really), Physics Today:
In the Islamic world, opposition to science in the public arena takes additional forms. Antiscience materials have an immense presence on the internet, with thousands of elaborately designed Islamic websites, some with view counters running into the hundreds of thousands. A typical and frequently visited one has the following banner: "Recently discovered astounding scientific facts, accurately described in the Muslim Holy Book and by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 14 centuries ago." Here one will find that everything from quantum mechanics to black holes and genes was anticipated 1400 years ago. Science, in the view of fundamentalists, is principally seen as valuable for establishing yet more proofs of God, proving the truth of Islam and the Qur'an, and showing that modern science would have been impossible but for Muslim discoveries. Antiquity alone seems to matter. One gets the impression that history's clock broke down somewhere during the 14th century and that plans for repair are, at best, vague. In that all-too-prevalent view, science is not about critical thought and awareness, creative uncertainties, or ceaseless explorations. Missing are websites or discussion groups dealing with the philosophical implications from the Islamic point of view of the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, superstrings, stem cells, and other contemporary science issues. Similarly, in the mass media of Muslim countries, discussions on "Islam and science" are common and welcomed only to the extent that belief in the status quo is reaffirmed rather than challenged. When the 2005 earthquake struck Pakistan, killing more than 90 000 people, no major scientist in the country publicly challenged the belief, freely propagated through the mass media, that the quake was God's punishment for sinful behavior. Mullahs ridiculed the notion that science could provide an explanation; they incited their followers into smashing television sets, which had provoked Allah's anger and hence the earthquake. As several class discussions showed, an overwhelming majority of my university's science students accepted various divine-wrath explanations.
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Eissa trial begins

Ibrahim Eissa's latest trial started today, and while he decided not to attend he may have an interesting defense strategy based on his allegations that President Mubarak is in poor health:
Eissa pointed out that the president's health would be raised at each court hearing, "meaning that those who brought the case want his health to be discussed." As with other trials of journalists, the case against Eissa has been brought by a private individual since Egyptian law allows citizens to lodge complaints which can then lead to criminal convictions. Eissa is now the target of eight such private cases, something he called "proof of the judicial farce" being played out against him. "I hope the case will be decided in accordance with the law and that jailing journalists will be a red line -- even if I have no faith in this regime," said the editor.
In that case, why not get an expert witness to conduct a medical examination of Mubarak to ascertain that he is, in fact, in good health and thus that the rumors are baseless? Brilliant, even if I doubt the judge will go for it.
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Hodeiby: Your best friend hates you

Your best friend hates you: prolific Muslim Brother Ibrahim Houdeiby's latest article, perhaps his best one yet, on Egypt's promotion of anti-Americanism and how it relates to the "engage the MB" debate. He concludes with an interesting argument:
In the era of “neo-terrorism,” or micro-terrorist groups, this increasing hostility only means a threat to American national security. With the rapid boom in technology and communication, it takes no more than a connection to the Internet and a few dollars to develop a bomb and threaten the security and lives of innocents anywhere. Therefore, relying on the strong relations with Egypt’s dictator as a substitute for building bridges of understanding with the Egyptian people is a strategic mistake. The current and next American administrations have one of two possible alternatives. The first is to continue supporting a regime that complies with all their demands yet spreads embedded anti-Americanism on the domestic level, and suffer the possible consequences of that, which will be devastating to everyone. The second alternative is to support real democracy in Egypt, and realize that the outcome would be a government that would not necessarily serve America’s short term interests in the region. The outcome will be a government that pursues Egypt’s interests, and manifests the people’s will, yet does not fuel widespread inherent hostility towards the United States.
On the other hand, the MB is not exactly known for its pro-US rhetoric either, is it? So the message is, if you encourage democracy in Egypt, even if it will inevitably strengthen the MB (at least initially), Egypt will continue to play more or less within the limits imposed by American regional hegemony. And presumably refrain from doing things like sending soldiers to defend Lebanon from Israel. Or am I reading it wrong?
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WaPo on MB Crackdown

Cairo Moving More Aggressively To Cripple Muslim Brotherhood:
CAIRO -- After imprisoning or prodding into exile Egypt's leading secular opposition activists, the government is using detentions and legal changes to neutralize the country's last surviving major political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. Brotherhood leaders and rights groups contend the government is clearing the stage of opponents in politics, civil society and the news media ahead of the end of the 26-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, who is 79. Egyptians widely expect the transition to be tense and that Mubarak's son Gamal will be a top contender. "Tyranny has reached unprecedented limits from any previous regime," said Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the supreme guide, or highest leader, of the Brotherhood, which the government has outlawed for decades but allowed to operate within narrow limits. "This is insane tyranny." Egyptian officials point to the group's high level of organization and violent past, and insist it remains the most dangerous force in Egypt. "The Muslim Brotherhood represents the framework for future violence," said Mohamed Abdel-Fattah Omar, a lawmaker from the ruling party and a former head of the state security apparatus.
The article continues to link the crackdown on the MB with a general wave of repression (the press, civil society, etc.) linked to succession. This theory, frequently aired in the local press, is that the regime is moving to ensure that all vehicles of dissent are unable to organize when the time for succession comes, presumably in the next 24 months. But that would mean that there is a plan in motion for succession, and nothing could be less certain (even if some candidates may be maneuvering). Maybe it's not that the crackdown is in preparation for succession, but rather that the uncertainty over succession has become such an existential problem (in the philosophical sense, not life-or-death sense) that it pushing various political actors (opposition parties, the MB, the press, civil society, etc.) to assert themselves and make a push on long-held beliefs and positions. Or maybe things are so opaque it's hard to make heads of tails of regime strategy, if strategy there is.
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On the UN Human Rights Council

The Israeli government and President Bush are right about the UN Human Rights Council: it does not fairly spread blame for human rights abuses. But the problem is not that it blames Israel too much -- it does quite an appropriate job in that. It's just that it should also focus on other countries, including members such as Egypt (local human rights organizations even campaigned against their country's membership here!) and of course places like Sudan, Iran, China, North Korea or Myanmar. But everything it says about Israel holds, and it doesn't mean it should change its mind about regularly reviewing human rights abuses in Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. I can't say I like the Council's composition much, but then again I don't like the way the Security Council works either -- and that's much, much more important. [I bring this up because a commenter left the link above.]
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'Polygamy' soaps irk feminists in Egypt

'Polygamy' soaps irk feminists in Egypt:
Cairo: Egyptian pro-women groups are disappointed that several TV serials being shown on local and Arab TV feature polygamy as a recurrent theme. "I have been working in the field of women's welfare for more than 20 years and I have never seen so many polygamists in Egypt as portrayed in TV dramas," said Eman Beibers, the chairperson of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women. At least seven television serials with polygamists are on the air waves every night of Ramadan - when viewing rates in the Arab world peak. "These shows by no means reflect real life in Egypt where many young people cannot afford the spiralling cost of marriage," Beibers told Gulf News.
My TV isn't working well so I haven't had a chance to watch this year's soaps. But Beibers does seem to have a point about TV's obsession with polygamists...
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