Revolution or Business as Usual in Egypt

An article in The New York Times, never a fan of the Al Sisi government, and as usual, in sync with the Obama administrations viewpoint that the Muslim Brotherhood was the wave of the Arab world’s future, . It quotes a number of “experts” predicting instability in Egypt. Apparently this is mostly due to a wealthy young Egyptian named Mohamed Ali, living in Spain,  attacking Al Sisi on social media, using videos, exposing corruption in the Al Sisi regime.  ( surprise surprise!!! Imagine corruption in the Egyptian government!!).  Following the removal of Mubarak, under  temporary military rule an election was held in which the only tightly organized political party in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood “won” and Mohamed Morsi became president. Morsi, has become part of the conventional narrative  as “the first democratically  elected president” in Egypt’s history.

al sisi

General Al Sisi ( he now wears civilian attire)

It quickly became apparent to the Egyptian urbanites that “democratically” electing Morsi, representing a movement that is antithetical  to democracy, was problematic at best.  General  Fattah Al Sisi positioned himself to head the Supreme Council of  the Armed Forces (SCAF)  which assumed power upon the removal of Mubarak, and quickly moved to position himself as amenable to working with the Islamist Brotherhood, as did most of the military leadership. Morsi convinced himself he was the man of the year and fumbling his way through his short presidency, brought in Al Sisi to become his defense minister, firing the former Mindef, Field Marshal Tantawi, after several bloody  attacks on  Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai. These attacks were perpetrated by the Egyptian branch of al Qaeda, a more violent wing of the Islamist movement. The Muslim Brotherhood government rapidly made themselves very unpopular trying to impose medieval  Islamist regulations on daily social life.  Instead of attacking the basic and massive problems of the Egyptian people, they  contented themselves debating the Muslim version of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Morsi was a disaster, at one time being caught on camera scratching his crotch while talking to a foreign dignitary.

Al Morsi and Erdogan

Morsi and Erdogan (Birds of a feather except Erdogan a  lot smarter)

To some military leaders, it appeared that Morsi was imitating the path of Erdogan in Turkey, assuming dictatorial powers which he would then use later to crush the power of the military in Egyptian political and economic life. Actually, Morsi himself, tried very hard to cozy up to the military granting them privileges beyond that bestowed by Mubarak and  Anwar Sadat. Meanwhile Western commentators began circulating rumors that Al Sisi was a closet Muslim Brotherhood (MB) member, based on his appointment by Morsi to the top military position in Egypt, and the term paper he wrote while attending  the  American Army War College. It was also noted that his wife  and daughter wore the hijab.  Neither was indicative of Islamist tendencies. I read his paper and it was typical Arab boilerplate stuff, e.g., Arab-Israeli inequities, Western misunderstanding of Arab needs, etc.,  nothing radical in it.

Despite the close alliance of the MB with the SCAF, the military leadership recognized the danger of the Islamist movement, and Morsi seemed  slow or unwilling to deal harshly with the Islamist  terrorists in the Sinai peninsula.  So despite  the displeasure of the American state department, the  Obama White House, and the risk of siding with liberal youth groups, who were notoriously fickle, a decision was made to remove Morsi.  The army and security apparatus using the  cover of liberal youth demonstrating against the incompetent,  but oppressive  Islamist government,  took  the plunge and removed Morsi and the leadership of the MB. Most of them found warn receptions in Turkey where they continue to agitate against the Al Sisi regime.  Morsi  then took Mubarak’s place in prison. ( Mubarak  is now in house arrest).

 

Arab rulers have always known that being feared is better than being loved. Reading some of the Naguib Mahfouz novels  illuminate  how seemingly random arrests and brutality of the  omnipotent security apparatus enervates and paralyzes opposition. So another revolution in Egypt?

It will not happen. The idea of another “Arab Spring”  in Egypt is wishful thinking on the part of the anti – Al Sisi axis of leftists, Islamists, and Western academic “experts.”

Mohamed ali media

Mohamed Ali  Abdel Khaleq film producer and wanna be revolutionary

The Egyptian people are not in the mood for more political upheavals, and under the short tenure of Morsi , Islamism has proven that it is not the answer.  Over the years Egyptian military  has insinuated itself  into into every aspect of Egyptian life, especially the economic. The military is an institution onto itself.  With some sectors of exception, the military establishment is shot through with corruption, nepotism, and incompetence,  but nevertheless, like most Arab militaries,  is revered by most of the people. Given the poisonous attributes of the Arab political climate it is not difficult to understand why the Arab people see the military as the only bastion of worthiness  to cling to. Recommended reading: The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture by Alia Said Mostafa.

Mubarak, though authoritarian, was ironically, the most liberal of the Egyptian leaders since the departure of King Farouk. It was his quest for a more liberal economic system to be managed by his son, being groomed as his successor, which the bloated bureaucracy,  (the deep state) military leadership,  and security apparatus resisted. These are the pillars of the state of Egypt. Mubarak would still be president had the aforementioned pillars of the state decided to keep him. His promotion of his son, and vision of the future, was not in their interest, (particularly financial) and so they stepped aside, and for a while allowed the mobs to present a facade of revolution.They allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to rule till they hanged themselves and then stepped in to “right things.”

Under  Al-Sisi the pillars of the state have thrived. Like the Ba’ath party in Iraq, the military has woven itself into the fabric of the state, ( Recommended Reading: Militarizing the Nation by Zienab Abul-Magd) and I, at least, see no way for a “revolution” to unseat him. It is always possible that a palace coup could occur if a cabal of senior authorities within the  pillars of the state  become  disenchanted, but the mystic of social media and elitist students bringing down the new pharaoh  is a pipe dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Arab Mind Again… and Again

In 2004 an editor of a publishing company called me up and asked if I would write an introduction to the Arab Mind by Raphael Patai. I was thrilled. It has always been one of my favorite books and the most informative book one can read before deploying to an assignment requiring working with Arabs. I told the editor that many Arabs and academics disliked the book intensely…to my mind mostly because it hit nerves…… Usually a great indicator of unvarnished truth. At that time and for years previous to that troops deploying to the Middle East were given the Arab Pablum briefings, e.g., don’t use your left hand to eat, don’t show the soles of your shoes to your guests,  don’t talk to them about their women ,etc. Generally a recitation of proscriptions and prescriptions, but nothing deeper than that. Patai went to the heart of these dos and don’t’s and explained the whys. My previous 8 years of experience in the Arab world, and that of most of my compatriots aligned perfectly with the findings of Patai in the book.

patai

Raphael   Patai

The Middle East Quarterly published an article, which included my forward to the Patai book and some of the usual left wing snotty reviews, It is at https://www.meforum.org/636/the-arab-mind-revisited

My article “Why Arabs Lose Wars,” (after 20 years still popular among advisors working with Arab militaries) was an analysis of the cultural attributes surfaced by Patai, particularly those which adversely affected their military competence. All of it was based on my on-the -ground observations. The wisdom of that book has aged only a little and not at all in the essentials. I did a presentation at the ASMEA conference entitled “Why Arabs Lose Wars Twenty Years Later,” and my findings were that very little if anything had changed. That should not be a surprise to anyone given how slow cultures, especially Arab cultures, change, particularly military cultures.

The book was doing fairly well in sales as a plethora of articles came out after 9/11 in the “why do they hate us so much” category with much of the Western academic community  using the inevitable fall back argument, Zionism, imperialism, colonialism, i.e., it was our fault. Another frequently heard argument by the PBS/NPR  short list commentators was the  plaintive “Islam means peace.”  Therefore the terrorists “weren’t real  Muslims.”  As George Orwell so acutely observed, the arguments were so stupid only an intellectual could believe them.

But what really gave it a boost however was Seymour Hersh, the muckraker, writing that the Arab Mind was a torture manual. It was presented as the manual for torture used by the guards at the Abu Graib. The use of Patai’s book as a torture manual was entirely fabricated of course, but it was the perfect weapon for use against the “war of convenience,” as the cognoscenti termed the Iraqi war.  The reservist soldiers who were in charge of the Iraqi prisoners, and perpetrated the acts, which became a cause celebre in the liberal circles, were a part of an undisciplined unit with poor training, and absolutely no leadership whatsoever.  The issues had nothing to do with the Arab Mind,  but as we know so well now, truth is malleable and belongs exclusively to those who own the media.

However it did create a small rush to purchase the book by those who believed anything that pushed the Bush’s war mantra. Not that I profited. I was paid 50$ to write the forward. In the deluge of trenchant criticism leveled against the book I, mostly escaped being blamed, my guess being that as a retired military officer I really was considered  too stupid to know what I was doing. Only retired military officers who later teach at Ivy League schools are reluctantly welcomed into the cold and treacherous embrace of academia.

Seymour called me one time, hoping to get some more dirt. It was a very short conversation. Basically I told him to stuff it. But the Abu Ghraib story has become embedded in the narrative of the Iraqi war.

In writing the forward I not only had to satisfy the editors at the publisher house, but also Patai’s daughters who both taught at eastern liberal colleges. They quite rightly stoutly defended their father, which must be tough in those leftish institutions.

The book was once on the Pentagon’s reading list, but as old soldiers like me know, too much of our military leadership, who leap fearlessly from airplanes and sport chest full of medals, nevertheless wilt under the accusatory eye of a small blonde reporter from the New Yorker, or the disdain of academia, so regretfully the book has disappeared from those lists.

But the bottom line is this: Patai was a Hungarian Jew. That stuck in the craw of many of the most fierce critics, especially those of the Edward Said academic cult. Never mind that Patai also wrote a book called the Jewish Mind.  But the elephant in the room and one never mentioned in the scathing reviews was that a Jew wrote the book, not only a Jew but a Zionist as well. It was one that will never be mentioned in the derogatory reviews of the book.  Yet at the bottom of the criticism his origin was the mainspring. It betrays one of the grievous faults of the Arab elite….an inability to blame themselves for their continuing decline into irrelevance, using outdated shibboleths to deflect their responsibility, depending  upon  Western academic facilitators  to protect their incompetence.  It also exposes the mediocre quality much of the U.S.  Middle East academic community in which many still live in a stilted leftish, modish, version of the world,  in sync with the current zeitgeist.

Just my contrarian view.

 

oh well back to the Washington DC circus . They are about to bring in the clowns.

 

 

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The Beginning

Becoming  the new Lawrence of Arabia. How it all began.

 I was in my third years at West Point, a “cow” as we were referred to in those days. I was academically pretty far down in the class as I hated any subject with numbers in it but was fairly good in subjects with words. Since, West Point, in those days, was an engineering school, nothing came easily to me, but I did well enough to get one of the electives offered to “goats” (cadets toward the bottom of the class)_ It was Middle Eastern history. Why I am chose that class I cannot recall,  but it put me on a path that I follow to this day.

I do not remember the name of the Middle East history professor but he was a captain and had been part of the Foreign Area Specialist (FAS) program,  spending several years in the Middle East. I loved his classes and the mystery of the Arab world.The desert has also always had a special fascination for me, but that was years to come.

As he lectured I was hooked. This is for me, I told myself, and although I had to spend a number of years in conventional artillery (which I also dearly loved), before I began the the FAS program.

Prior to my language school, I spent a years in Vietnam. It was a great year because I was doing what the taxpayers had paid me to do…fight enemies foreign and domestic…as I continue to do with words, against the domestic variety. I was  in a great unit, the First Infantry division, with great soldiers. That was before the drug and discipline problems (and lousy leadership) wrecked our army. It wasn’t until many years later that i recognized the similarities in culture of the Vietnamese and Arabs, especially their fatalism

There are thousands of stories associated with those early artillery days, including schooling at Ft Sill, learning my trade. But here I will stick to my life associated with the Middle East. Finally my request for acceptance into the program arrived

FAS orders

The letter arrived in 1964 but i did not  depart for Lebanon until 1968. I was so elated!!

So I began my Middle East career assigned to Defense Language Institute East  Coast. We rented a house near the Suitland Parkway in District Heights Maryland, because I thought I would be going to school at Bolling Air Force Base. But as usual things turned out differently. I was assigned to a contract school at the Institute of Modern Languages on Connecticut Ave in upper DC.   Each morning I would drive from District Heights to the park near the Lincoln Memorial and park my car. I would then walk to my class.

As I often walked by the White House, I was able to watch the daily protests against the Vietnam War.  One day when I was wearing my uniform, an elderly lady came up to me and began stuffing leaflets in my pocket, Having just returned from Vietnam, I was in  no mood to tolerate this crap, so I pulled out the leaflets and tossed them on the ground, where upon she wacked me on the head with her umbrella, I turned the other cheek and walked away. I learned later it was an organization called “women strike for peace.” Apparently they did so physically,

My first instructor, an Iraqi named S, (I will omit his name because his family owns an upscale restaurant in snobby Shirlington in Northern Virginia.) He was a short, swarthy fellow with the Baghdadi pox marks on his cheeks, He had a constipated disposition, and obviously felt what he was doing was beneath his talents. He was an ardent Nasserite Arab nationalist. He was probably a casualty of the Iraqi Nasserite –Ba’athi conflicts in the 60’s, explaining his presence in the US.

We used a paperback text book designed for people going to Iraq, so I learned schloonik and shako mako and the Turkish word for an auto tire, which apparently Iraqis used back then. But in fact I learned very little of anything. Mr. S hated doing what he was doing and usually spent most of the class giving political lectures on Arabism and the horrors of Zionism, and how America was run by Jews. He was absolutely devoid of any sense of humor.

Once in a while I objected to his more odious references to America, which, as I learned on the last day he was with us, that my objections had led him to believe I was Jewish. I made a passing reference about going to church and he said.” You are not Jewish’? I said no, but what difference did that make anyway? He produced one of those rare twisted malevolent smiles he sometimes laboriously created. That was lesson one.  There is an inbred indoctrinated hatred of Jews, which,  in much of the Islamic Arab world is inseparable from Zionism.

We were happy to see him go.

My favorite anecdote about Mr. S. was the day he came to class with his suit, which he wore every day, totally in disarray and very dirty. The six-day war was on going and like most Arabs, he was in a state of total disbelief listening to the news of the Egyptian rout. He had climbed up on the chimney of his house and strung  a wire  antenna in order to get the “real news” from radio Baghdad,

The catastrophe was made more devastating because the Arab media had led them to believe in continuous Arab victories.  They believed the war was going to be a cakewalk. The American network news detailing overwhelming Israeli victories was too much for Mr. S. Like most Arabs, after the years of listening to their media propaganda,  he was, belatedly, able to decipher the reality from the fantasy of massive Arab victories being fed listeners.  To decipher  Arab news you have to be a subtle listener, like listening for what is not said.  Poor Mr. S. He became increasingly morose after the war. Lesson Number two Arabs often eschew reality, and as Albert Hourani wrote, “ the flawed mirror through which they see the world.”

After Mr. S.  we had a multitude of different instructors, another Iraqi female, a Lebanese female, a Palestinian, and my favorite, an Egyptian Army psychologist.  The Institute of Modern Languages obviously hired Arabic speakers off the street, whether they could teach or not.

The Palestinian, a very young fellow, confided in me that American women were shunning him after giving him come hither looks. He was confused and dejected. I advised him that often American women may smile and speak to you without necessarily having sex on their mind. He found that difficult to believe. He had been advised differently by his relatives and friends. He wondered what was wrong with him. At times he seemed to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown,  and often seemed sick. Lesson Number three The Arab Culture is one of the most sexually obsessed in the world.  He taught us nothing because he saw the Iraqi colloquial textbook as a strange unintelligible language. He was unable to pronounce the Iraqi words in our textbook and generally stuck to relating the horrors of …no… not Israeli occupation,  but Jordanian! He called the Jordanian Bedu soldiers Saluffa . the “barefoot ones.”

He blamed the “nakba,”) the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948 (Judea and Samaria if you prefer) on Jordanian perfidy. The King was a British stooge etc.Lesson number four. Unity among Arabs is a pipe dream

 I remember very little about the two females, the Iraqi and the Lebanese, except that the Iraqi lady seemed to be a female Ms. S (probably his relative), and the Lebanese lady brought excellent food to class and rarely taught anything because she was unable to use our textbook. She was also a Christian and often had to express herself in French which none of the students could understand. According to her,  the Lebanese had graciously invited in the Palestinian refugees who were now destroying Lebanon. It was our first inkling of the disaster to befall Lebanon. Lesson number five. Do not expect refugees to return your hospitality with gratitude. They will bring their culture, politics, prejudices, and conflicts with them with them.

I wish I could remember the name of the Egyptian, He was a really cool guy. He threw the Iraq book away saying only fellah spoke that way and taught us ribald sayings in Egyptian colloquial. His English was excellent, which he spoke far more than Arabic.

I went to breakfast with him almost every other day. He always had ham and bacon with his eggs, and knowing he was a Muslim I asked him about this, and in his usual way he said that the prohibition was just some peasant belief, and that was the problem with the Arab world …the people were ignorant.

He was an Egyptian army psychiatrist who served in Yemen, He related the massive problems of culture shock affecting the troops, which diminished the effectiveness of the Egyptian soldiers in Yemen. As he said they might as well have been on the moon.

His most popular instruction concerned the cultural sex habits of various categories of Arabs. For example, Egyptian women were cold and unresponsive, but Lebanese women were by far the best especially in “encouraging” the man during sex. He told many Nasser jokes, and imitated his style of speaking but nevertheless thought he was a great man. The problem was that Nasser relied too much on generals and government officials who were humur (donkeys) and were always conspiring against him.

Anyway we graduated and off we went to our assignments. Lesson number six, The Arab world is a very diverse world and contrary to what Middle East Scholars and journalists often propagate, there is no “Arab world.”

There four people in our class. The other three went to Saudi Arabia where I was told they had never had to speak a word of Arabic. I went to Beirut having a limited Iraqi vocabulary and unable to read anything in Arabic.

When I arrived in Beirut I knew much less Arabic than my fellow FAS officers, who had attended the intense Montrerey Arabic courses ,(DLI West Coast) and spoke Arabic quite well. My travails with Arabic I shall cover later.

Despite my difficulties with Arabic, the various instructors had taught me, inadvertently, a great deal about the culture and mores of the Arab world, ,and also gave me an intense interest in learning more.

In preparation for the tour, my wife and I were invited to gathering of former FAS students who had completed their tours in Beirut and else where in the Arab world.  To my wife and I they seemed very sophisticated, and perhaps a bit snooty. We were like country bumpkins.

Nevertheless we were excited to go, as we packed up our three little darlings for our big adventure.

te lawrence of arabia

Next Beirut and the adventures begin

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When Sally Meets Ahmad: The Clash of Civilizations

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Princess Haya dreaming of escape from her husband the Ruler of the United Arab Republic

No book has aroused the ire of academia more than Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, describing the clash of civilization between East and West, particularly the World of Islam and Christianity.  Although the book mirrors conventional conservative Islamic doctrine that the World of Peace (Islam) will be in continual conflict with the house of war (Christiandom), Middle East Academia has been trying to refute the premise since it was published.  It, along with the masterpiece on Arab culture, The Arab Mind, has been on the haram list for quite a while. These politically incorrect texts are often denigrated and used as examples of the nefarious “orientalist” category.  The people who brought the Middle East magnificent history and its people to the attention of the West have become villains because they also pointed out the backwardness and dysfunctionality of modern Middle Eastern societies. They, particularly Bernard Lewis,  also correctly illuminate the internal Islamic and political issues and conflicts that brought the Arab world to its present unhappy state.

But to move on, nothing so dramatically illustrates the clash of civilizations more than when an American woman marries an Arab man and goes to live with him in his country.  I know this is a sensitive subject that some may see as offensive but it is not meant to be. It is simply a dive into the depth of cultural differences and how the strength of Arab/Middle Eastern societal mores, particularly Muslim, are underestimated by Westerners.

The recent escape of Princess Haya from the harem of the Emir of the United Arab Emirates, charging him with brutality and a host of other evils made me think of the more crucial problem of American women marrying into the Arab culture, without a clue of what lies ahead.  Although Princess Haya is Jordanian by birth, until her marriage to the UAE ruler she spent her life living  by Western standards. Like her mother, the free spirited Queen Alia, she was educated in the West.  I am surprised she married someone like Sheikh Khalif abin Zayed Al Nahyan.  I watched him closely in 1968 when I was with the British officered Trucial Oman Scouts.  It was an event in which some of the Bedouin tribes were performing sword dances.  He seemed very effeminate and wimpy.  I got a very bad impression. So good for you, Haya!

I have many anecdotes concerning this issue but the recent news of princess Haya brought back to my attention a particular one…when an American woman  marries into Arab society.

So Sally, an impressionable young woman usually from the Midwest, meets Ahmad, who like her is a student at the University of Ohio State.  He is courteous and very dramatic in his attention to her.  Unlike American men, he writes poetry, sends her flowers, tells her of the wonderful life awaiting her in “Arabistan,”  Most of all he is persistent; unlike the local boys he does not have a “whatever” attitude. A few polite rebuffs do not send him away, so they get married, to the dismay of her parents, and even more to his mother.

After arrival in Arabistan, Sally has some pleasant and not so pleasant surprises.  Being from an upper middle class family, Ahmad has the entitlements unknown to the American middle class. She will have a maid and there are people who come and go doing “gopher” chores for her.  The housing is not bad, old and antiquated, but not uncomfortable. The shopping malls are not far away, seem very modernistic, have the latest European styles, and they glitter night and day putting the Galleria to shame.

But alas, there are unpleasant surprises as well. They move into his parents home, upstairs in well appointed  rooms, even if the style is all gold lame′ and Louis the IX.  Sally has been briefed on the mores of a conservative society and she knows she has to dress demurely and always be in the background,  but she is unprepared for Umm Ahmad, the doting mother of Ahmad, who has total dominion over Sally, watching her every move and constantly scrutinizing her movements and words for misconduct or transgressions.

Now Sally, being like many Americans, doesn’t take her religion that seriously. She went to Church sometimes but mostly it was a social thing to do with parents. So she converts to Islam to make Ahmad happy.  Converting is a nice gesture but it doesn’t mean all that much to Umm Ahmad who knows about America and Americans from movies and her studies in school.  She knows that many Americans are nice people but politically America is the Great Satan.  Thanks to Hollywood she knows Americans are a godless  immoral society.  (Note:  Actually Sally “reverts” because in Islamic theology we are all born Muslims but  become “others” by conditioning.)

Sally soon learns that as an American she must be like Caesar’s wife, above any suspicion.  Arabistan is not Saudi Arabia where she would be basically an  indentured  trophy and an outcast member of a family that generally never accepts her, but it is a conservative society. She sees some local girls without a hijab, (head covering), some with jeans and seemingly unconcerned with the subordinate role of women. But she, as an American, cannot be afforded that freedom. Not only her mom but all the neighbors are watching too.

From hundreds of years of history the culturally inferiority of the West has been inculcated in mama’s mind.  From the time of the Crusades and the initial contact of East and West, the Franks (Europeans) were a dirty people who only washed maybe twice a year (with cold water) according to Arab historian Ossama (Arab Historians of the Crusades) by Francesco Gabreilli.  Frankish men did not care if their wives had sex with other men, only objecting if the other guy was using his bed.  The Franks were delighted with the Arab male bath attendants who shaved their pubic hair, and who, then brought their wives in for the same procedure, much to the chagrin of the male attendants.  BTW this may very well be true. The Franks were an uncouth bunch.  This jaundiced view of European manners and morals is well described by Bernard Lewis in his book, The Muslim Discovery of Europe.  Arab visitors to Europe made note of how dirty and smelly the Europeans were, including the women.

But to return to the Sally story, Umm Ahmad is a nice lady, always friendly and often charming, who knows some English but does not believe in the concept of privacy.  She is always at Sally’s elbow. S ally doesn’t really have much to do, the maid or Umm Ahmad washes her clothes.  She doesn’t do housework as it is demeaning to her status.  Umm Ahmad or the family does the cooking.  The food is good, sometimes a little heavy, and  not the same as the Americanized Lebanese restaurants they frequented in Ohio.  Sally longs for a Big Mac and there are American fast food places in the city but all her excursions are usually with mama.  Going to a fast food place would be an insult to mama’s cooking.

Umm Ahmad, despite the onerous restrictions on sexual matters common to her society (which ironically is the most sexually obsessed society on earth) is very inquisitive about relations between Sally and her beloved son.  With her Midwest upbringing Sally is very uncomfortable with this.  There is no concept of privacy…wishing to be alone is an aberration and denotes a socially unstable individual.

Going out requires a lot of preparatory explanations and, as mentioned before, will not be done alone.  Going out of the home is basically a no-no unless accompanied by a trusted family member.  I remember talking to a young American woman in Tunisia who had married into a wealthy Tunisian family.  She knew all about the customs and proscriptions…she thought…but the first time she went out she wore a long dress from neck to toe and was met at the door by her mother-in-law who was furious.  It seems the American lady had worn a belt around her waist.  In a very conservative society any dress which reveals the figure of the woman is haram.

But the biggest surprise is Ahmad himself.  Once a really fun guy, always with jokes and   loving words and constant attention to Sally, he now seems distant and different.  In fact he is, because now he is a married man and presumably a father to be and fun time is over.  His father keeps a careful eye on him.  As long as he is in his father’s house or even close proximity, he is under his father’s orders, no matter how old he may be.  Women have women things and men have men things. There is very little fraternization except  close family members.

Should Sally complain that she is tired of always having to show up at a certain time to have coffee or tea with mama and how she has no privacy….and by the way the way Ahmad, where are you at night these days?  Why can’t you drink coffee with me instead of with your buddies at the coffee shop?  Ahmad, who adores his mother and will always put her first, is very unsympathetic and blames Sally for not being more understanding.

From my years in the Arab world and knowing American women married to Arab men, my observations are that they mostly adjust, some simply resign themselves to their life, a few enthusiastically accept it, and more than a few try to escape. But there are many problems with that.  One of the first things that often happens when Sally arrives in country is that her husband takes her passport.  In other cases after a divorce, the ex- husband says “get out of here but you are not taking the kids.”  She will find herself without any legal legs to stand on.

In the 1830’s Alexis de Tocqueille observed how much more independent American  women were compared to European women. I believe this is why American women have the toughest time adjusting to Arab family culture.

So ladies look before you leap…but perhaps love conquers all.

 

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Taarof and The Adventures Haji Baba of Ispahan

Iranians  are a complex people, an imaginative people and a difficult people to deal with  because they seldom if ever say what they mean or mean what they say, Their complicated process of etiquette  is near unfathomable to Westerners, for example, ,  within the context of politeness  one invites people they detest to their homes. But they  know that the tone and manner in which they say it will be usually detected by the other Iranian. and will be graciously declined.  But this subtle communicative style is unlikely to be understood  by unwary Westerner, In fact even within the Middle East the Arabs and Turks, in their ultra  stereotypical way, always refer to the Persians as a deceptive and disingenuous people. The term for this form of social intercourse is called “taarof.”

“The prevalence of taarof often gives rise to distinctly Iranian styles of negotiation. For example, a worker negotiating a salary might begin with a eulogy of the employer, followed by a lengthy bargaining session consisting entirely of indirect, polite language – both parties are expected to understand the implied topic of discussion. Likewise, a shopkeeper may initially refuse to quote a price for an item, suggesting that it is worthless (“ghaabel nadaareh”). Taarof obliges the customer to insist on paying, possibly several times (three times), before a shopkeeper finally quotes a price and real negotiation can begin.”

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Haji Baba of Ispahan

 

This above  is a quote from wikistat which, however,  recoils  from  giving the full importance of this Iranian  cultural trait. A more readable, painfully truthful  and enjoyable, but alas, politically incorrect, source on Iranian culture is the 1824 book by Britisher James Morier. The Adventures of Haji Baba of Ispahan ( a book suggested to me by n Iraqi friend). It details the inbred traits of indirection, dissimulation,  prevarication, and obfuscation which characterizes the life of Iranians then and now.

Haji Baba is a rogue, with his morals sitting easily about him, but not a malicious one. with as much wit and cunning to enable him to dupe others, and as much vanity as to afford him them the perpetual means of retaliation, a sparrow hawk, who, while he floats through the air in quest of smaller game, is perpetually exposed to be pounced on by stronger bird of prey. He interests and amuses us, while neither deserving or expecting serious regard or esteem he will be  always  be the “knave  who is our very good friend.” so wrote Sir Walter Scott in the preface to the book

To  some extent the taarof syndrome is reinforced by the the Shi’a cultural attribute of “taqiya’ dissimulation acquired over the centuries wherein  a Shi’a can deny his religion to protect his life from Sunni persecution. The symbiosis of these cultural attributes have become to some extentmore pronounced by the imposition of the Islamist regime. As an article by PBS reporter  in 2011  captured it, the Iranians  live in a schizophrenic  (my word) society made much more so by a largely imposed “outdoors” Islamist  way of life incompatible with their customs, meaning they live in a public world actually alien  to their manners and morals,  and therefore  try to shut it out once inside their homes.  Imagine negotiating with these masters of illusion and delusion or analyzing events and trends within the Iranian  regime.  see https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2011/11/society-the-duality-of-life-in-iran.html

A really good book to read about the use and non use of language is Edward T Hall, The Silent Language. On page 18 he  has some  excellent examples of the Iranian manipulation of  language. In fact, in terms of culture, all his book are still by far the best…and readable!!!

This taarof cultural trait is one we should always keep in mind when reading articles and “think pieces” on Iran today, For instance take the recent Iraqi “protest at the Bahrani  embassy  in Baghdad , ostensibly protesting the Trump “deal of the century,” (another in the unending and always unsuccessful endeavors by each American administration to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace in our time,) Of course the Reuters article reported it as it was advertised, i.e. a protest at Bahrain hosting Israeli and Arab delegates to  hear out the plan. see https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-plan-iraq/baghdad-protesters-take-down-bahrain-flag-over-trump-peace-conference-idUSKCN1TS359

But in reality it had nothing whatsoever to do with Israel or Palestine. It was just one of the many Iranian endeavors to pull Iraq further into the Iranian orbit.  The protestors  were simply a “mob for rent” paid for  by the Iranian security services or the Iranian Republic Guards Corps (IRGC}, The Shi’a protestors, like Iraqi Shi’a in general, do not like Palestinians who were cultivated by Saddam.When Saddam went down, the Palestinians  he imported into Iraq were evicted by Shi’a  returning to their homes. Their homes  had been confiscated by the Ba’ath regime to accommodate Palestinians.

 

As an aside it should be kept in mind   that the Palestine issue is largely kept alive by the Islamic regimes looking for diversions, the old bread and circuses routine to entertain restive populations. They are facilitated by  Western academics and journalists  who rarely look beyond the simplistic, and in tune with the journalistic  fashion of this era to attribute all ills to the  Israeli state.  It is instructive and ironic today that  the Erdogan regime of Turkey and the Islamist regime of Iran have become vanguards of “Palestinian rights. ” Both have long histories of conflict with the Arabs, including in more recent times, collusion with Israel to  confront  Arab threats.

Mike Doran, one of the few analysts today writing sensibly on the Iranian “crisis”  ascribed part of the Iranian stream of mosquito bite provocations to am attempt to get Trump to the negotiating table enabling them to repeat the success they had with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” the Nuclear deal” concluded in 2015.

see     https://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/politics-current-affairs/2019/06/what-iran-is-really-up-to/

The deal based on the shaky foundation of Iranians promises , opened the sluice gates to Iranian intervention and interference throughout the Middle East. Yet the engineers of this “deal.” John Kerry and his adoring  acolyte Ambassador William Burns, are still in the news,  lecturing and singing  the praises of the “deal. In fact Burns wrote a book ( Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Renewal. I dutifully read it, wincing  at his hagiographic recollections of Kerry and the “Deal.”

kerry

Kerry denigrating his country and its soldiers. Leopards change their spots? Check the misuse of medals and the uniform he disgraced

 

Yes. my opinion of Kerry is indeed prejudicial, based on his despicable conduct in promoting his  political career, rising to the top of the elitist political establishment of Washington DC by trashing American soldiers in the Vietnam war.

One of the basic truths one must keep in mind when conducting negotiations with  Iran is that there are basically three governmental entities, The Mullah religious entity, with Ayatollah Ali Khamanei in total control, the militaristic state as established by the IRGC. and finally the civil government of  President Hassan Rouhani. The  Mullah regime is deeply intertwined with the IRGC. At the bottom with very little power in affairs that are of critical importance to the State, is the civil government and its foreign ministry. Signing a deal with them is tantamount to  signing a deal with the Brookings Institute and assuming it will apply to the US government.

Zarif

Mohammad Jawad  Zarif

People like the Washington elite establishment are always impressed by the sophisticated, Englih speaking  front men who carry the water for despots, from Joachim  Von Ribbentrop to Tariq Aziz to Mohammad Jawad Zarif, the  Iranian Foreign minister, educated in the West, and like many of the “religious” figures of Iran send their pampered kids to be educated in the West. All the while exhorting the people  of Iran to guard against the evil of West-toxification.  People like Kerry assume they are just like him. In fact  Kerry had a long personal relationship with Zarif before the nuclear negotiations.  The hypocrisy of the Iranian  regime is well  exposed in this article in the Business Insider …. https://www.businessinsider.com/irans-leaders-send-their-children-to-study-in-the-west-2014-9

I have finished reading two books both of which are very informative and with excellent analysis. The Immortal. A Military History of Iran and its Armed Forces by Steven Ward and Vanguard of the Imam by Afshon Ostovar

Next blog on them. with why the Iranian regime’s hubris is its likely downfall and the problems facing the Religious-Military regime of Iran, the IRGC,  the Ikhwan of the Shi’a Persian empire. Clever, and  riding a crest of triumphs but by no means unassailable.

 

 Fz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The War with Iran. Fake News at its Best

For weeks the Establishment press and media has been loudly proclaiming the dangers of US military moves as unduly provocative and edging  toward war with an Iran trying innocently to maintain its sovereignty.  What sort of war are we talking about here?   Most of the main stream media readers, few of whom have any idea about military affairs or warfare in general, immediately would think of the two wars with Iraq:  tanks, artillery, divisions maneuvering in the vast deserts of Iran with air power hitting targets all over Iran. Of course given the ideological orientation of the Establishment press, this is the picture of a war with Iran that they would like to portray. They will ruminate about the low intensity warfare capability of Iran but always in the sense of a “war.”

Iran has a feeble land force capability. Its regular army, poorly equipped and trained, offers very little in offensive capability, and in terms of tactical or strategic mobility even less. It has no real capability to cross the Persian Gulf to attack its adversarial Arab neighbors. While some may point to Shi’a dominated Iraq as offering a land bridge through southern Iraq are seriously lacking understanding of the Arab-Persian rivalry going back centuries. The strong Iranian influence of Iran in Iraq, especially southern Iraq, is real but the welcomed presence of Iranian IRGC trainers for Shi’a militia is a far different matter than hordes of Persian troops movingIranian troops through Iraq to fight fellow Arabs.

After so many years of death and destruction, the last thing the Iraqis want is another divisive struggle in which the Sunni Arabs (and Kurds as well) would violently resist massive Iranian presence in Iraq.  Moreover the Jordanian, Syrian. and Turkish regimes would be put on alert, already fearful of the “Shi’a arc.'”

On the other hand, It is difficult to seriously believe the timorous political class of America would venture to become involved in another land war in southwest Asia. Not with “shock and awe” or incrementally.  The “Military Intellectuals” who hover around the Washington think tanks and the Pentagon would bring strong influence to bear to desist from such a venture. Their eyes are on Russia and especially China. China with its huge conventional force is a more agreeable and comfortable military to deal with. Being roundly and soundly skewered for “losing” the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the military knowledge class is hoping these low intensity wars, especially in the Middle East go away. The high technology and expansive military force required for conventional war is more amenable to the military leadership. Not that they want these wars, but preparing for them is what military leaders dote on. Recommended reading in this regard, Sean McFate,.Goliath, Why the West Doesn’t Win Wars and What we Need  to do about it

So what kind of war are we likely to see? The kind of war Iran has always excelled at; a low intensity, war of disinformation, low intensity attacks, infiltrating elitist groups in the States, influencing  the media and press of the United States with their well oiled and funded lobby.  Useful fools in Washington,  who abound in academia and the media. have shown a rather sickening susceptibility to their messages.

Iran oil

The Iranian mullah leadership, originally created the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps ( IRGC) to counter balance the regular army,  which the leadership does not trust, but now they have fashioned the IRGC and components of it such as the Al Quds organization into a very effective Low Intensity Conflict( LIC) offensive unit, combining all the elements of hybrid warfare.

They would also use surrogate terrorist groups to carry out plausible deniability attacks, for example using various Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian militia groups, in the pay of the Iranians, to carry out continual pinprick attacks, just enough not to arouse popular American opinion, but enough to induce a “is it worth it” mentality among American public opinion makers. It is the kind of war at which we are woefully unskilled and despite the acclaimed DOD Counterinsurgency manual 3-24, years of fighting COIN wars, and dozens of “military intellectuals” weighing in and writing tomes on counterinsurgency, we are not really much better off. Perhaps, Colonel Harry Summers was right when he told my class the American soldier is culturally incapable of fighting a successful COIN war.

iraq_map

So it would seem that Iran holds all the cards……..But not quite, as they have two major vulnerabilities. One of course is the vast number of people within Iran who are not Persian and would happily undermine it if given a chance.. The Arabs, Baluchis, and a host of others are fifth columns lying in wait for the right opportunity. Unfortunately Americans have never been much good at the type of operations required to stir up sectarian strife.Inevitably the  “save the world but trash America” types who  infest the media, journalism, and Academia will salve their consciences  by exposing the programs.

We went through this in the 70’s with the Church investigations. Recently the State Department ended a program aimed at counteracting the Iranian propaganda the supporters in the U.S. dish out every day on American media. The reason, as similarly in  the Church affair,    was due to  revealing the backgrounds of the more vociferous Washington supporters of the irredentist Iranian regime.

iran nuc

. Secondly, the Iranian regime is vulnerable to economic warfare. They have a population with rising expectations of a higher living standard and are dependent on oil and gas, probably around 80%. Trying to limit their export through sanctions and pleading with “allies” and enemies to shun import of  Iranian oil is a non-starter.

In response to the continuation of  Iranian “pin prick” attacks we must retaliate, not proportionally, but rather exponentially. and attack their oil exporting infrastructure, refineries, and pipeline pumping stations, port loading facilities. Their ports and terminals must be first to be hit. And in a reprise of the “Tanker wars” of the 80’s we should sink their navy again.We cannot allow ourselves to play the tit for tat game.

Iranian attempts to close down the Hormuz straits must be met with overwhelming force which renders the Iranian regime militarily  and economically impotent.

 

 

Iran-Terrain

If this seems extreme and we lack the courage to do so at the right time then we should pack up and come home now to avoid any further humiliation We will have given up our role as a world leader ,which would make many here and abroad temporarily giddy with  happiness, but the world and its people who strive for a light on the hill would suffer. The last hope for millions is intervention to stop genocide by a world power.

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Qasem_Soleimani_with_Zolfaghar_Order

Qassem Suleimani Celebrity Iranian IRGC commander

 

 

 

I remember very well the period in the 70’s when our hostages in Iran were undergoing psychological torture and we seemed to be a tiger without teeth., Thugs and tin horn dictators saw an opportunity to kill our diplomats, our soldiers and tourists with seeming impunity, The Russians taunted our airmen and sailors in the air and high seas. Weakness perceived or real, engenders aggression as there will always be the Saddam Hussein’s,  Putins, ISIS and al Qaeda thugs to test for weakness and exploit it

 

Of course there will be complications and blowback,  and the media will be there to film it and turn the aggressors into innocent victims …..such as the infamous milk factory in Baghdad. Yes, as there always is, there will be innocent victims and the “Just War” advocates will be on home screens every night exhibiting their erudition. But as any one who has carefully analyzed the Just War concept, strict adherence to the criteria for offensive war gives enemies such as the Iranians clearance to do as they please They do not abide by such rules and have only contempt for those who do. The Iranian military and intelligence operatives   are a very intelligent and cunning  enemy and totally without any moral or political check on their ambitions.

So as I see it , we do the right thing, or like the Brits in the late 70’s,  we retrench and hand the globe over to  the Chinese and Russians. They are happy to seize the mantle of leadership. But you won’t see people lining up at the Russian and Chinese consulates  for visas.

 

 

 

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Women in King Hussein’s Life. Intrigue in the Palace

Zein_Sharaf_portrait

King Hussien’s mom Zain al Talal  Her husband Talal bin Abdullah, Hussein’s father,  was declared incompetent to rule and sent off to Turkey.  He was a schizophrenic.

King Hussein had four wives. The first, Queen Dina was was of impeccable  Arab ancestry. Her Hashemite ancestry ( on her father’s side)  could be traced to the Prophet Muhammed. On her mothers side her ancestry was Circassian, the ‘Slave kings” of Egypt who ruled it for hundreds of years. King Hussein’s mom, the tough Queen Zain, picked her out. She was an urban, sophisticated  and well  educated  young woman of considerable charm and beauty. She studied at Cambridge and despite her Hijazi roots, she was a raised in Cairo.  She was six years older than Hussein at the time of their marriage.  They had one child, a daughter, who has remained out of the limelight, and as  one might expect, the incompletely  educated young king and his cosmopolitan wife  had major problems in their short two year marriage. But most importantly the Queen mother began to dislike her and urged her son to dump her. He did so advising her of the intended divorce by phone while she was visiting Egypt..  A s one might imagine  she has not been entirely silent about it and has written a number of very unflattering portraits of young King  Hussein, mostly implying that he was stupid. She later married a high officer of the Palestinian Liberation Organization ( PLO) and as King Hussein’s most inveterate enemy, the Palestinian fedayeen,  she proved to be a great embarrassment to the royal Hussein regime for a number of years.

Queen Dina of Jordan Cutting Wedding Cake

Original caption: Photo shows Jordan’s King Hussein with his new bride, Queen Dina, at a reception after their recent marriage. the new Queen cuts immense four layer wedding cake as the bridegroom (right) and Sherif Hasan (left), the Queen’s uncle, watch. April 23, 1955 Amman, Jordan

Next  the king married Pricess Muna , ( born Antoinette Avril Gardiner), the daughter of an English  colonel serving in Jordan.  I had the pleasure of meeting her several times.  Unlike the other wives past and present, she was sort of a plain Jane ( but over the years she transformed greatly…underlining the fact that money may not buy happiness but goes a long way in buying beauty) . Neither beautiful  or  highly educated, She was however very athletic, and by all accounts a very nice person.  They had four children, the present king Abdullah, Prince Feisel,  and two twin girls. After a marriage  of 11 years they divorced in 1972.  Princess Muna, as far as I know, never got the  Queen title but spends some  time in Jordan, occasionally  doing official functions, reportedly much to the displeasure  of the last wife, Queen Noor, who apparently does not like any competition for the spotlight.

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Princess Muna and future King Abdullah on right

King Hussein had spotted his next wife at the airport in Amman.  She was working for the Royal Jordanian airlines and my wife and I met and knew her much better. Alia Toukan, was from a prominent Palestinian family and a very fun loving, animated young woman, sort of the life of the party type. She was attractive when we knew her  and after her nose job, a fairly common  operation among wealthy Arab, women, she achieved that Nordic look that so many aspire to.   She was a very hard working queen and had a rather large fan club, doing a lot of charity work and visiting various hospitals.  However her spirited former single life left the Royal House with many ugly rumors that  had to be constantly refuted. Alas she died in a helicopter crash in 1977. They had two children, and one adopted daughter, Prince Ali and princess Haya, and adopted daughter,  Abir. This in itself it remarkable because adoption is not a common occurrence  in Arab society, with the emphasis on blood heritage.

Queen_Alia_of_Jordan

Princess Alia. third wife

 

Next and last was the “Princess Di” of the Arab world, Queen Noor, born Lisa Najeeb Halaby,  Daughter of the CEO of  Pan American airlines and a former high official in the Truman and Kennedy administration, Najeeb Halaby , a Christian Syrian American.  She  also acquired a career of note as an architect and urban planner. They married in 1978 and had four children, Prince Hamzah now  29 years old old, Princes  Hashim, now 28, Princess Iman,  and Princess Rayah . Queen Noor converted to Islam ( or reverted as the Muslims would say) prior to her marriage. As the Plucky Little King’s (as some diplomats called him)  health deteriorated Queen Noor took on a very assertive role and was behind many of the King’s decisions.

One of her primary accomplishments was to influence the King to change the heir apparent to the throne at the last moment. Returning from the US after unsuccessful cancer treatment he unceremoniously dumped his brother Prince Hassan., and appointed his son Abdullah as his successor.There were a number of factors involved.\

Queen_Noor_1999

Queen Noor

When I was there during the Jordanian civil war, between the PLO and the Jordanian army, the conflict evolved into a Jordanian-Palestinian struggle.  The bold and charismatic Plucky Little King was very cautious and somewhat indecisive in major crises, and often influenced by friends and relatives. In this case Prince Hassan was known as a proponent of a very tough stance against the PLO and  gained a reputation  as being anti-Palestinian. In that at least 50% of the population of Jordan is originally Palestinian, many of whom have never accepted Jordan as their country, the vision of Prince Hassan  as ruler became problematic.

Sarvath

Princess Sarvath wife of Prince Hassan

However  a further and important reason was that Prince Hassan’s wife,Princess Harvath, a highly educated and impressive lady born in Calcutta of Muslim parents, who served as  crown princess for 30 years and was always involved in all the royal functions was suddenly displaced. She and her husband, Prince Hassan took his  demotion in amazingly  good grace. And many, including me,  believe that Queen Noor, never on very amicable relations with Princess Sarvath, joined others, particularly Palestinian advisors around the King, to urge the change of successor.They told the king,  Hassan  was  too dogmatic, too disliked, also a bit too fervent in Islamic beliefs etc. One story, true or not, is widely held that in anticipation of the imminent  death of Hussein, Sarvath ordered the renovation of the royal palace apartments to her taste, and Sarvath was rumored to be grooming her eldest son, Rashid as Prince Hassan’s heir apparent. Whether these stories are true or not, most believe Queen Noor took them  seriously.  Queen Noor, a strong personality,  is not a person to be trifled with, and  prevailed upon her husband ( in concert with others) to set aside Prince Hassan as heir apparent.  No doubt she had her eye on installing her eldest son Hamzah, as the heir apparent. After all Hamzah was 75% Arab whereas  Prince Abdullah, the eldest son of Princess Muna was only 50%.  In the West these things are considered racist but not so in the Arab world, where ancestry is everything.

Queen_Rania_of_Jordan_Official_Release_05_(cropped)

But installing Hamzah after all these years of Prince Hassan waiting in the wings would have roiled the Royal infrastructure too much. so the King wisely chose  to reach back to the progeny of wife number two, Princess Muna, who wisely stayed out of the melee,   and now we have King  Abdullah.  Abdullah despite his reputation of not being being the sharpest knife in the drawer, with little of his father’s finesse, has done fairly well, marrying a Palestinian, Rania, a beautiful and talented  young women who is  undoubtedly  a competitor to Noor for unofficial first lady status.  But she has had a couple of social misfires including a festival at Ajlun that went awry as needless ostentation and her expensive wardrobe. The king’s mom. Princess Muna stays out of the firing line, probably a very smart thing to do/

But wait …. there is more. Recently the  would be queen for life Queen Noor sent out a twitter message sending her condolences on the death of Muhammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood poster boy and ex president of Egypt,  lamenting the death of the only “democratically elected” ruler in the Middle East. That set off the social media rumor mill. The Muslim Brotherhood is strong in Jordan and one of the last elections King Abdullah  thwarted their ambitions only be manipulating the election process forcing people to choose between Islam or tribe. Moreover much of the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood  is in the Palestinian community. Once the choice was  between the Hashemites and Arabism,  and now  it is between the Hashemites and Islam.

So the social media question is …was this a rather not so clever way to light the path for Hamzah to the future  royal crown ,or simply a nice to do gesture to throw a sop to the Jordanian  Islamists  touching  the Islamist  base without doing it from the very top.

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Hamzah and Bride Basmah.  Noor’s  son

It would seem from the history of Queen Nour,  and her  excellent  media visibility she is planning for the future.

Who says women are no consequence in the Arab world?

 

 

 

 

 

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