WikiRiot or average Friday jihad?

Before I went to Jordan, one of my professors told me jihads always start on a Friday after mosque. So I had to laugh when I saw the lead paragraph in the LA Times:

In an unprecedented development in Jordan, protests similar to those that have rocked Tunisia and Algeria in recent weeks erupted in the Arab kingdom Friday.

Thousands of people took to the streets of the capital, Amman, and several other cities to protest rising food prices and unemployment, media reports say.

Aside from complaints, they also pointed rare and stinging criticism toward the Jordanian government, headed by Prime Minister Samir Rifai.

“Down with Rifai’s government,” protestors chanted as they marched through Amman’s city center, according to Agence France-Presse. “Unify yourselves because the government wants to eat your flesh. Raise fuel prices to fill their pockets with millions.”

Similar protest marches were held in the cities of Maan, Karak, Slat and Irbid, where demonstrators shouted that Jordan was “too big” for Rifai, the report added. All in all, around 8,000 people turned out for the marches — despite previous measures by the Jordanian government to create more jobs and control rising commodity prices.

According to a report by Egypt’s state-run Al Ahram news agency, tanks surrounded the Arab kingdom’s major cities and checkpoints and barriers had been set up.

The report, headlined “Jordan fears another Tunisia”, claimed that Jordan’s King Abdullah II had set up a special task force in his palace that included military and intelligence officials to try to prevent the unrest from escalating further.

It said the country’s main opposition group — the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood — had not participated in Friday’s demonstrations, but the group will reportedly join a sit-in outside parliament Sunday, along with the the country’s 14 trade unions, a move that would probably increase the pressure on the Jordanian authorities.

— Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

The Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t involved? Yeah, sure. “Unprecedented development”? I’ve seen plenty of those demonstrations from my balcony overlooking Wadi Sacra near the al-Husseini mosque, and long ago learned not to make travel plans for Fridays.
Checking back at this week’s story about Algeria from al-Jazeera, there is a similar pattern:

Young people clashed with police in Algiers and several other towns across the country on Friday despite appeals for calm from imams.

In Annaba, 600km west of the capital, rioting broke out after Friday prayers in a poor neighbourhood of the city and continued late into the night.

Are the Tunisia riots different?
They started Dec.17–that would be Friday, Dec.17. but a NYT piece claimed they had been fueled by Wikileaks:

But their new and conspicuous riches, partly exposed in a detailed cable by the American ambassador and made public by WikiLeaks, have fueled an extraordinary extended uprising by Tunisians who blame corruption among the elite for the joblessness afflicting their country.

And one demonstration appeared to have been called by a group on Facebook–on a Thursday.
Some of the controversy was said to center on the wife of the Tunisian leader:

Cables from the United States Embassy in Tunis that were obtained and released by WikiLeaks, including one titled “Corruption in Tunisia: What’s Yours is Mine,” sketch out some of the reasons. Before her marriage to the president in 1992, Ms. Trabelsi had been a hairdresser from a humble family with little formal education. But since then, many in her family, along with the president’s, have ascended to the pinnacle of wealth, owning major stakes in many of Tunisia’s most prominent companies.

“Seemingly half of the Tunisian business community can claim a Ben Ali connection through marriage, and many of these relations are reported to have made the most of their lineage,” the ambassador, Robert F. Godec, wrote in a cable two years ago. “Ben Ali’s wife, Leila Ben Ali, and her extended family — the Trabelsis — provoke the greatest ire from Tunisians,” he added, noting that he heard frequent “barbs about their lack of education, low social status and conspicuous consumption.”

Nouveau riche. No wonder he went back to Modern Standard Arabic after his predecessor had instituted the use of colloquial forms.

One of the symbolic indications of the political change was the linguistic shift that Ben Ali made in his first Communiqué and in his subsequent public political speeches. While Bourguiba used a constellation of linguistic codes — Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, Tunisian Arabic, and French, Ben Ali chose to reclaim fuṣħaa as the only official variety of Arabic to use in public political speeches.

But wait, I see here there were riots in Jordan–in Maan, no surprise there–on Tuesday:

Rioters rampaged in a southern Jordanian town on Wednesday in a second day of disturbances aimed at the central government but rooted in deep tribal rivalries. The trouble erupted after two workers were killed, apparently in a clash between tribes, in the conservative southern town of Maan, about 130 miles (200 kilometres) south of the capital of Amman. Police battled demonstrators with tear gas. The riots raged until early Wednesday morning. About 500 protesters set fire to cars, government buildings and smashed shop windows before police managed to restore order.

Oh, my, and riots at the University of Jordan before that:

Last week, police used water cannons to disperse students at the University of Jordan in Amman during riots there. Twelve people were injured and campus facilities were damaged. Students from competing tribes threw sticks and stones at each other over the results of student council elections.

Stones I can believe, but sticks?

Add to that this weeks change in government in Lebanon, and one could almost suspect a full moon.

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Folding Hobez

It’s still gardening season, but the rain has driven me indoors today. No matter, here is the perfect breakfast, using the labneh (yogurt spread) I made yesterday and pita bread (hobez) خبز folded the bedouin way, along with a little Italian decaffeinated espresso and heart-healthy evaporated milk instead of cream.

The bread was taken from the freezer and defrosted for 40 seconds in the microwave.  Then a few seconds on the stove over a flame.

For dipping, the bedouin way with bread is to tear off a piece and fold it with one hand–remember that bread and water are sacred and accepted with the right hand only. The end result has ideally three folds and is folded something like an envelope. The children are very good at this, turning and folding simultaneously with the same hand.

Then use it to scoop up some labneh. Yum. Here it’s had a little olive oil dribbled over it, although I’ve only see it eaten plain.

Posted in Arabs, Food. 2 Comments »


It’s been a long time since I made labneh.  If you’ve never eaten it, it’s a spreadable Middle Eastern yogurt.  You tear off a piece of pita bread, use it to scoop up some of the spread, and pop it in your mouth.  It’s very easy to make, and delicious, but a bit time-consuming.

It also is a welcome diversion from staff meetings and the syllabus stuff I’m supposed to be writing.

In Jordan, we made it with a liter of whole milk and a container of yogurt (the kind with live cultures). Here I have a gallon of milk and two yogurts.

First, you heat the milk until a skin forms on the top.  Do not start blogging and forget it is on the stove.

Let it cool a little, then lift the skin off the top.  Check the temperature with your wrist the same way you would check a baby bottle to make sure it’s not too hot, then stir in the yogurt.  Cover it and put it in a warm place overnight.  I covered it with the pan lid;  in Jordan we used blankets.

The next day it will be nice and thick, and it will have a nice yogurt smell.

Spoon it into a bag for draining.

Then hang it up. In Jordan this would go on the balcon for the afternoon and the juice would drip out on to the balcony floor and trickle onto the street below. In the U.S. it can hang over the bathtub.

After eight hours or so, depending on how thick you want it, you can take it out of the bag and store it in the fridge.

This reminds me of the bowls of tzatziki with fresh pita that they bring to your table in Greece when you sit down at a restaurant. It’s made with thick lebna as a base, mixed with garlic and small cubes of cucumbers.

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Third Intifada

Someone yesterday asked what is the Third Intifada. Some people had been chanting it in the city and they didn’t know what it meant, so they asked on a blog thread.

I’ve never heard of a Third Intifada; it sounds something like “World War Three”. There have been two Palestinian  intifadas so far, one in the 80s and one starting in 1999 when I was there, and ending 2005-ish. (Wikipedia: First Intifada, Second Intifada) The intifada is a low level attack on soft targets–suicide bombers blowing up pizza parlors, kids throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, that kind of thing. Unlike 9-11, it tends to be perceived in Jordan, whose population is 60% Palestinian,  as a legitimate military action against Israel. A few Israelis die, and 4 or 5 times as many Palestinians die, but it’s seen as the only way to put pressure on Israel. It also totally ruins Jordan’s tourism and puts their economy in a nosedive–from maybe 3% growth per year to zero–but still they support the Palestinians.  What else can they do.

I see absolutely no purpose to the intifadas, except perhaps to channel frustration away from the ruling group and help keep them in power. It makes the young people feel hopeless and suicidal (see the image of Farfur the Hamas martyrdom mouse at right), and gives the group in power an excuse not to govern.  I have long been frustrated with Palestine for not just acting as if they already had a country and just…governing it. The corruption more than anything is what encourages groups like Hamas.

Even as a vehicle for expressing frustration, I suspect the days of the intifada are numbered. Witness the nonsense over the “Intifada NYC” t-shirts that plagued principal Debbie Almontaser, the founder of the Arabic-English language Khalil Gibran International Academy elementary school. During an interview with the New York Post (big mistake right there, thanks to her bosses) Almontaser was asked a question about the meaning of the word intifada and gave the dictionary definition.  Later the reason for the question became obvious; there was an organization in the same building as an organization that supported the school, Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, and they were selling a t-shirt that said “Intifada NYC”.

Almontaser could have done several things that would have commanded my admiration. She could have condemned the intifada out of hand in no uncertain terms, which is what she did the next day after some reflection. Or she could have defended the intifada as the right of the Palestinians to self-defense, if that’s what she believes. There are plenty of people who believe that, and I can respect that point of view, even if I’m personally horrified by attacks on civilians (and for that matter, non-civilians). If nothing else, it might have been an education for some people to hear it. Or she could have just said the t-shirt belonged to a group that had nothing to do with her school, which is true enough. But when Almontaser went up against the heavy guns of the haters, she waffled, giving the win to the haters and their definition of intifada. So now “intifada” has shifted even further towards being a word that stigmatizes Arabs and Muslims.

Why anyone was chanting about intifada on American streets this week I don’t know. Clearly it was a response to the recent Israeli boarding of the Turkish ship, but other than that, I suspect it was nothing more than an expression of frustration.

Bonus photos:

Some date the beginning of the Second Intifada to the day following Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, an area known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif.  When I visited the Temple Mount I asked where this place was where Sharon had stood, and the area pointed out to me was between the Mosque of Omar and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Up the stairs, I asked, pointing to the gold-domed Mosque of Omar?  No, I was told, below the stairs.

I am standing in the above photo on the left in the shadow beside the wall. In the background is the Mosque of Omar, where the Navel of the Universe is supposed to be located, and where the Ark of the Covenant may have once rested, hidden before its final disappearance.

At the bottom of the stairs is the al-Aqsa mosque, built by the Knights Templar.

Here is a closeup of the entrance, or maybe it’s the exit, depending on how you look at it.

I love this building.  My companion didn’t understand why I wanted a photograph of it, maybe because there was a very photogenic gold domed building right behind it.

After having stood in this spot, I still don’t understand why the Palestinians would want to riot when Sharon stood here.

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Arabia Explorers

When you think of exploring Arabia you usually think of Sir Richard Burton and Johann Burkhardt, or maybe T.E. Lawrence or even Gertrude Bell. These are all on wikipedia’s list.

Here is another list from Zahra Dickson Freeth’s out of print Explorers of Arabia from the Renaissance to the end of the Victorian era, along with any wikipedia links that exist.

Lodovico Varthema, gentleman of Rome (entered Mecca 1503)
Joseph Pitts (captured English sailor in Mecca c 1685) [google books limited view]
Carsten Niebuhr (cartographer)
Jean Louis Burckhardt (rediscovered Petra)
Richard Burton
William Palgrave spy, former Jesuit and British diplomat (1826–1888)
Carlo Guarmani (Italian) author of 1864-1866 Classic Works ‘Al Kamsa’ (about the Arabian horse) and ‘Journey from Jerusalem to Northern Najd’
Charles Doughty author of 1888 travel book Travels in Arabia Deserta republished by T.E. Lawrence
The Blunts Anne Isabella Noel Blunt and her husband Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Arabian horse aficionados


Top, William Palgrave’s map of Arabia;

Bottom, Lady Anne Blunt, in Bedouin attire

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Arab Heritage Month

Trying to catch up on my email to make Thanksgiving plans, I found a link to the schedule for Chicago’s Arab Heritage Month. Once again I have managed to miss a great deal of it.

I was most disappointed to find that the Jasmin Jahal School of Dance‘s “Belly Dance Workshop: Intro to Sword Dancing” was over.  Not that I could have gone; it conflicts with my work schedule. Several years ago I went to Jasmin’s Arab Heritage Month event (an introductory lesson was only $10 back then, not $35) and greatly enjoyed the workout. Jasmin is a great teacher with apparently limitless energy. Even those with two left feet will believe that they too can learn to belly dance. The type of dance here is the traditional kind that is done at Arab wedding parties, the kind with only women present, not the kind done in certain (unnamed) north side Greek restaurants .

Unlike the Arabeque Arab festival, there is no master list of participants for Arab Heritage Month. Here is my own partial list, collected from hovering a mouse over the calendar of events:


The two-part PBS film “Islam: Empire of Faith”

The Desert Triology [sic] of Nacer Khemir

Continuous exhibit

“Arab World Cultural Display” at Green Hills Public Library, 8611 W. 103rd Street, Palos Hills
from 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM from November 1-30. Admission: Free


Mondays: “Mornings with Ray Hanania” on WJJG 1530 AM Radio for guest information

Saturdays: Islamic and Arab Voices of Chicago presents “Arab Culture and Countries” & “Arab-Americans Past, Present & Future” on WCEV 1450 AM and streaming live online at


Galerie du Maroc (Moroccan Arts)
exhibit of Images du Maroc by Michael Monar
a traditional music performance by Bulbul Ensemble (see “music” below)


Arabic for children on Saturdays from 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM at Bridgeview Public Library (year-round) “Arabic Story and Basic Arabic Language Class for Children”


“Homeland Insecurity, the Arab-American and Muslim Experience after 9/11” by Dr. Louise Cainkar. Over a hundred in-depth interviews conducted  in the Metropolitan Chicago Area, about the experiences of Arab-Americans and Muslims after 9/11.


Bulbul Ensemble is a takht based in Chicago. The ensemble plays the music of Oum Kalthoum, Fairouz, Asmahan, Sabah Fakhri and others, including composers Muhammad Abdal-Wahhab, Assi and Mansour Rahbani, Sayid Darwish, and other great artists from 20th century Near East music. Musicians: Nai: Kim Sopata, Oud: Rami Gabriel, Percussion: Doug Brush,Violin: Steve Gibons.

[Bulbul’s next public appearance:  Saturday, Dec 5, 2009, from 3 pm to 5 pm Il-Bulbul Arabic Music Ensemble Performs at Oak Park Winterfest
Downtown Oak Park, IL. — check their webpage for some amazing  concert excerpts with unfortunately low sound quality]

Assi El Hellani & Shada Hassoun in Concert at Rosemont


Chicago’s Premier Arabic/English monthly, Al-Offok Al-Arabi Newspaper (The Arab Horizon), presents an introspective look into Chicago’s Arab-American Community. The paper has been covering the local scene and its organizations & individuals for over ten years…Links: profile for editor Amani Ghouleh.


Oriental Institute’s highly acclaimed special exhibit “The Life of Meresamun: A Temple Singer of Ancient Egypt.”

Upcoming events

Just for my own reference I’ve pasted here the info for a couple of upcoming events, tomorrow’s Oriental Institute (the inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark) tour is not to be missed.

tonight (free music downtown):

What: Amman Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International Program presents Doris: The Arab Musical Star
Where: Chicago Cultural Center – 72 E. Randolph, Chicago
When: Nov 18, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM

Description: The Amman Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International Program cordially invites you to a performance by Doris, the fabulous Arab musical star.

Admission: Free, but reservations are required

For more information email or call Adrienne Tongate: 312-742-5320

also tonight (radio):


Connecting Women Radio presents “Celebrating Arab Heritage Month”

Where: Nov 18, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PMDescription:

CCHR Advisory Council on Arab Affairs member Hanadi Abukhdeir will be speaking about the Advisory Council and Arab Heritage Month, and author Alia Malek, will be discussing her new book “A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots, American Stories.”

For more information, call Faten Abdallah: 646-595-3653

tomorrow (U of C campus museum tour):

Oriental Institute presents “Gallery Tour: The Life of Meresamun: A Temple Singer of Ancient Egypt”

Where: University of Chicago – 1155 E. 58th Street, ChicagoWhen: Nov 19, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PMDescription:

Don’t miss this last chance to tour this exhibit with Curator Emily Teeter before it closes on December 6th!

Learn the behind-the-scenes story of how the Oriental Institute produced this three-dimensional biography of an ancient Egyptian priestess, and see how forensic scientists have used the latest CT data to reconstruct Meresamun’s physical appearance as she actually looked nearly 3,000 years ago.

For more information call: 773-702-9507 or visit:

A week from Monday:

Eid Al-Adha (!!?!)

What: Moraine Valley Community College presents “Eid Celebration”Where:

Moraine Valley Community College – 9000 W. College Parkway, Palos Hills, Room U111

When: Nov 30, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PMDescription: Do you have friends, colleagues or classmates that celebrate “Eid” and have always wondered what it is? A short presentation about the significance of the holiday will be presented. Enjoy free Middle Eastern sweets in celebration of the Muslim holiday, Eid Al-Adha. Also have your name printed in Arabic calligraphy to take home!

Admission: Free

For more information, contact Multicultural Student Affairs: (708) 974-5475

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Looking for Ibn Zaydun

Does anyone know what this poem is?

Here is a partial quotation from a Jordanian named Zaydoun. His namesake was the poet Ibn Zaydun from Spain who was famous for loving a princess. The Ibn Zaydun poem fragment is something like “We used to meet…our meeting” the last word being the Arabic word “deena” (?) (meeting).  Apparently the first two lines of the poem are somewhat famous in Arabic and are studied extensively in Syria.

A cursory review 9f a few google books shows Ibn Zaydun was the great poet that set the standard for judging later poets.  So far I have tracked down the quite short Wikipedia article about Ibn Zaydun, a tantalizing tourism biography, and a few lines of a poem from Syrian (?) blogger MoCo:

God has sent showers upon the abandoned dwelling places of those we loved. He has woven upon them a striped, many colored garment of flowers, and raised among them a flower like a star. How many girls like images trailed their garments among such flowers, when life was fresh and time was at our service… How happy they were, those days that have passed, days of pleasure, when we lived with those who had black, flowing hair and white shoulders… Now say to Destiny whose favors have vanished – favors i have lamented as the nights have passed – how faintly its breeze has touched me in my evening. but for him who walks in the night the stars still shine: greetings to you, Cordoba, with love and longing.