Monday, August 31, 2009

Yemen's Water Problems

I've noted before how Yemen's qat industry is sucking the country dry - in a literal sense - but this is striking to anyone who knows the patterns of available resources on the Arabian Peninsula throughout history:
"However, water shortages in the southern city of Aden are already fuelling violence. One person was shot dead and three were wounded, two of them police officers, during water protests on August 24.

"And fast-depleting aquifers make Yemen's plight the starkest in a desperately water-scarce region. Local disputes over water rights may turn violent, especially in tribal areas. Competition for supplies between cities and the countryside may sharpen.

"'Yemen's water share per capita is under 100 cubic metres a year, compared to the water poverty line of 1,000 cubic metres,' said Hosni Khordagui, Cairo-based head of the UN Development Programme's water governance programme in Arab countries...

"Agriculture sucks up more than 90 per cent of water used.

"Mismanagement of water resources is one reason why Yemen's plight is worse than that of neighbours such as Oman, argues Jac van der Gun, director of the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre in The Netherlands."

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Sunday, August 30, 2009


On the Absheron Peninsula of modern Azerbaijan, where natural gas vents kept fires burning for centuries, Zoroastrians constructed temples which became sites of pilgrimage. "Ateshgah" is the Persian for "fire place," and is used as the name of this one near Baku, which is now an open-air museum. Now it has a special gas pipe supplying fuel for the fire, but at its height the gas below the surface kept not only the central fire burning, but fires at the top of the four corner posts, as well. There was also a small secondary fire off to the side, and chambers in the outer wall where the pilgrims and ascetics would live and perform feats like this:

Why is fire sacred in Zoroastrianism? It actually goes back to pre-Zoroastrian Indo-Iranian beliefs in the order of the cosmos where were formalized in a belief in seven creations: sky, water, earth, plants, beneficent animals (especially cattle), humanity, and fire. According to Zoroastrianism, fire, the seventh creation, runs throughout and provides the guiding spirit for the others. It is a vital elemental force under the dominion of Asha, the cosmic principle of order which battles the darkens and will eventually bring about the triumph of good.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mutawwa Against Tourism

Saudi Arabia's religious police are preventing government attempts to promote internal tourism:
"Saudi Arabia's religious police are cracking down on summer festivals that the government hopes will promote domestic tourism, in the latest battle between liberals and conservatives in the country.

"The Saudi government is trying to promote internal tourism but restrictions on singing, dancing and mixing of unrelated men and women by the powerful religious establishment has complicated the effort...

"'These acts contradict the faith and must not be done, taught, spread or encouraged,' religious police spokesman Abdullah Al Mashiti told Al Watan daily this week, referring to circus acts such as fire-eating and lying on beds of glass that he believes is a form of magic outlawed by the sharia...

"Jeddah's summer film festival was cancelled this year despite the support of local governor Prince Khalid Al Faisal."

My main takeaway from this is to further emphasize that Saudi Arabia is not monolithic, and that within the Saudi context, King Abdullah is in fact a reformer.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Ahmadinejad's Call

Iran's President Mahmood Ahmadinejad has called for the arrest of reformist leaders:
"Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has called for opposition leaders to be punished over the unrest sparked by his disputed election victory...

"The call came in a speech to a crowd of thousands before Friday Prayers in Tehran...

"Hard-liners have in recent weeks called for the arrest of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi over the street protests that followed the contested June polls.

"A senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, Yadollah Javani, was quoted earlier this month as saying that Musavi, former President Mohammad Khatami, and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi should be put on trial for inciting unrest."

The article mentions that the regime has probably refrained from arresting Mousavi and Karroubi because of the possible backlash. What worries me is that Ahmadinejad's call is part of a sustained effort to generate active support for such a move from among their own supporters.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Thursday, August 27, 2009

World History I

HIS 105-026: World History I
204 Dauphin Humanities Center, MWF 8:00 a.m.
Dr. Brian J. Ulrich

“Ready comprehension blinks an opaque screen over your ability to learn. Be warned. Understand nothing. All comprehension is temporary.” – Frank Herbert

Office: 201 Dauphin Humanities Center, ex. 1736
Office Hours: 9-10:50 a.m. MWF, 4-4:50 p.m. Thursday

Required Texts

Voyages in World History, Vol. I, Valerie Hansen and Kenneth R. Curtis
Science and Technology in World History, James E. McClellan III and Harold Dorn
The Human Record: Sources of Global History (primary source reader)

Electronic reserves found on Blackboard

World History I is required under the “Required Skills and Competencies” category of the Shippensburg University general education program. This is not based solely on the value of understanding what people did in the past. As we will see, historians reconstruct the past on the basis of many types of evidence, evidence that must be considered carefully. This root skill of considering evidence has applications in many professional fields and in forming considered opinions as a member of society. Historians write our conclusions in the form of reasoned arguments about what we think happened. Studying these will help you to evaluate arguments in many fields, and ultimately to make your own. When historians make these arguments, they refer to their evidence with particular forms which we will study. You may never use these specific forms after this class, but the habit of following a specified professional form is something you will need to have for many fields.

As noted in the “General Education” section of the undergraduate catalog, this course is also designed to ensure that students have a global perspective as they proceed with their college education, and for that matter the rest of their lives. This will help you not only make informed decisions about the world, but may come in handy in your careers and personal lives when you least expect it. To take just one example, a friend who works in a hospital in Minnesota found herself wishing she knew a lot more about the culture of Somalia when a number of Somali refugees were settled in her area and started coming in for treatment. World history is an excellent field in which to begin developing what higher education specialists call “global competence,” as not only do we learn about different cultures, but we’ll see how they came to be the way they are, which in my experience, makes people more respectful and understanding of the differences.

I anticipate that during the semester, we will develop these key themes:

1.) Empire – Before modern times, the most common ideal for political organization was the empire. This involved more than just conquering territory, which is what we often think of. Empires also unified large areas with a common culture, and claimed to represent a universal ideal, such as a set of religious beliefs. In addition to being a key aspect of understanding the past, understanding the various forms of empires can lead to interesting discussions about the world today. After all, the United States claims to represent ideals of democracy and capitalism, in the name of which it frequently intervenes in other countries, and people throughout the world adopt aspects of American culture. Does this mean the United States is something like a new empire?

2.) Religions – Religions are, always have been, and perhaps always will be crucial to individuals and an important part of the societies in which they live. Almost all world religions began before 1500, and even though they continue to change and develop, we will learn a lot of basics in this course, not only about the core beliefs of different religions, but how they are often intimately related to each other in their origins and influences.

3.) Science, Technology, and the Environment – Today we often hear about how technology is changing the world. As we will see, that isn’t new. During the semester we will explore attitudes people have had towards science and technology in different times and places, how scientific discoveries have both spread and changed ideas in other areas, and how the environment has affected human societies just as we continue to affect it.

4.) Contact Across Cultures – Your main textbook has this as one of its major themes, and we will also explore it, as hinted at above. Given all the cultural mixing that has occurred across history, what do we really mean today when we think of the world in terms of an “us” and a bunch of different “thems?”

With these themes as our focus, assignments will ensure you develop a foundational understanding of world history to 1500, an ability to write clearly and think critically about world history to 1500, and an ability to analyze historical events and trends effectively. There will be three exams during the course of the semester, each divided into an in-class ID and an essay portion. The final exam will have a cumulative component. There will also be two papers, as noted on the “Schedule of Readings and Major Assignments” below. Attendance and participation are mandatory. Students are allowed to miss three classes. After that, your total participation grade will be lowered by 5% for each additional absence. Late papers will be accepted, but with a penalty usually amounting to one full letter grade. Late take-home exams are acceptable only under extraordinary circumstances. Laptops are permitted in class, but if I notice you doing something not related to the course, that will hurt your participation grade, as well.

In addition, I will often specify certain things you should look for in the reading for the next class, with the request that you either jot down notes or write a short paragraph on those things. This will occasionally be collected, and there will be no warning when it does. The purpose of this is both to make sure that everyone is doing the reading, and that people are understanding what they read and how it relates to the major concepts of the course. I will also probably give the occasional reading quiz. In the past, students have found my reading quizzes comically easy.

Syllabus Changes:

Almost every time I teach a course for the first time, I find I want to make changes to the syllabus. These are usually substitutions of different readings, and will not result in increased work or changes in the dates of exams and major assignments. In addition, in case of possible disruption of normal course activities due to H1N1 flu, the syllabus may be modified. If so, you will be provided a dated addendum that will supersede the earlier syllabus. It is your responsibility as a student to be familiar with any such addendum to the syllabus, issued for whatever reason.


Plagiarism, simply put, is intellectual theft. If you use words or ideas from someone else in an academic or professional setting, and do not give them proper credit, you have stolen from them. This is true even if the work has been posted in a public forum, such as a web site. It includes:

1.) Outright plagiarism – direct copying of a source, passing off the author’s words and ideas as one’s own without crediting the source
2.) Mosaic plagiarism – lifting words or phrases from the original source, again without crediting that source
3.) Echo plagiarism – no words are stolen, but ideas are lifted, again without crediting the source

Because of all this, plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty (cheating) will not be tolerated and handled according to Shippensburg procedures. Specific guidelines for expected citation policies will be announced with each assignment. The easiest way to avoid plagiarizing is always to cite as much as possible. Citing too much is almost impossible to do. Citing too little could lead to failing an assignment, the course as a whole, or even expulsion from the university. In order to prevent plagiarism, I ask that all assignments be submitted via

Frankly, you should want to cite things even if it weren’t for the consequences of plagiarism. The flip side of plagiarism is generosity, acknowledging the debt you have to the work of others. Even when professional historians have an idea of their own, they will often include a footnote mentioning that they got the idea after talking to a colleague, or even from discussion in a class they were teaching. Sometimes when they cite a book or article, they will mention that it was recommended to them by a friend, whom they name. You may not know the people who created the sources you will cite here at Shippensburg, but acknowledging things others have done to help you is a good habit to get into for life, and proper citation is a good start.

(Note: I am indebted to Professor Betty Dessants for her description of the types of plagiarism.)


Quizzes and Reading Thoughts: 10%
Participation: 10%
First Paper: 10%
Second Paper: 10%
First Exam: 15%
Second Exam: 20%
Final Exam: 25%

Useful terms:

Primary sources – The original materials historians use to reconstruct the past
Secondary sources – The accounts modern historians write based on primary sources
Historiography – The study of secondary sources

Disability Accomodation:

If you feel you may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability, you should contact me privately to discuss your specific needs at least 72 hours prior to the activity which requires the accommodation. If you have not already done so, you must contact the Office of Disability Services. This office is responsible for determining reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities on a case-by-case basis, and more generally, for ensuring that members of the community with disabilities have access to Shippensburg’s programs and services. They also assist students in identifying and managing the factors that may interfere with learning and in developing strategies to enhance learning. I cannot approve an accommodation without you registering.

Schedule of Readings and Major Assignments

(Readings with a full citation are found on Blackboard)

August 31 – Course Intro
Part I – Ancient Origins
September 2 – Marshall G.S. Hodgson, “In the Center of the Map,” Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam, and World History, ed. Edmund Burke III, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 29-34; Hansen and Curtis, pp. 10-11, 14-15, 20; McClellan and Dorn, pp. 5-16 (views of history, Stone Age)
September 4 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 21-5; McClellan and Dorn, pp. 17-30 (introduce importance of worldview)

September 7 – LABOR DAY
September 9 – McClellan and Dorn, pp. 31-54 (importance of visual culture, public works)
September 11 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 28-51, 63-5; Reader, pp. 32-9 (concepts of political organization)

September 14 - Benjamin R. Foster, “Transmission of Knowledge,” A Companion to the Ancient Near East, ed. Daniel C. Snell, (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 245-52; Hansen and Curtis, pp. 54-5. (concepts of knowledge, authority, education)
September 16 – Mary Boyce, “Selection on Cattle,” A History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. I: The Early Period, (Leiden: Brill, 1975), pp. 209-11; Hansen and Curtis, pp. 66-71; Reader, pp. 41-6 (Indo-Europeans)
September 18- Hansen and Curtis, pp. 71-75; Reader, pp. 63-73 (Buddhism, Brahmins), and universalism)

September 21 - Lindsay Allen, “Peoples, Communication and Religion: Religions and Communities,” The Persian Empire, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 126-31; Hansen and Curtis, pp. 51-3, 56-7, 144-57 (Israel and Persia, universal emperor-patrons versus divinish local kings, religious interactions)
September 23 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 76-86; Reader, pp. 151-54; McClellan and Dorn, pp. 141-9. (Mauryans as universalist agrarian empire)
September 25 – Jessica Rawson, “Western Zhou Archaeology: Late Western Zhou: The Ritual Revolution,” The Cambridge History of Ancient China, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 433-40; Hansen and Curtis, pp. 91-112 (ideas from first unit in relation to China) [4 page paper due]

September 28 – Reader, pp. 27-9, 85-102 (Chinese thought)
September 30 – Exam ID Section
October 2 – Essay Exam – Ancient Origins

Part II – Eurasian Powers and Universalist Religions
October 5 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 157-69; Reader, pp. 105-111, 115-9. (Greek basics)
October 7 – McClellan and Dorn, pp. 55-78 (Greek natural philosophy)
October 9 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 169-71, 174-92; Reader, pp. 161-2 (Rome and Persia)

October 12 – FALL BREAK
October 14 – Joseph H. Lynch, “The Jewish Context of the Jesus Movement,” Early Christianity: A Brief History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 13-23; N.T. Wright, Overview Selections, Jesus and the Victory of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), pp. 150-55, 160-8 (texts and contexts, monotheistic religious movements)
October 16 - Hansen and Curtis, pp. 199-204; 271-6; Reader, 228-31; Jas Elsner, “Christian Triumph: A New Religion as State Cult: Sanctity, relics, and Christianization,” Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 230-5. (cultural change)

October 19 – McClellan and Dorn, pp. 79-96 (Hellenistic and Roman learning)
October 21 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 241-8; Reader, pp. 234-42 (Islam)
October 23 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 248-67; Reader, pp. 246-53; (Islamic empire and medieval monotheistic traditionalism)

October 26 – McClellan and Dorn, pp. 99-115; Reader, pp. 315-8 (Islamic science and technology, Turks)
October 28 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 208-22; McClellan and Dorn, pp. 149-54; Reader, pp. 174-81 (South Asia, Mahayana Buddhism)
October 30 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 222-37 (East Asia) [4 page paper on religions due]

November 2 – McClellan and Dorn, pp. 117-40 (Chinese science)
November 4 – K.N. Chaudhuri, “The rise of Islam and the pattern of pre-emporia trade in early Asia,” Trade and Civilization in the Indian Ocean, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 34-53; Hansen and Curtis, pp. 319-25 (al-Hind)
November 6 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 300-15 (Africa)

November 9 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 328-55; Reader, pp. 305-14 (Far East)
November 11 – Exam ID Section
November 13 – Essay Exam – Eurasian Powers and Universalist Religions

Part III – New Powers, New Connections
November 16 - Hansen and Curtis, pp. 386-417 (Mongols)
November 18 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 276-98 (Europe from 400-1000)
November 20 - Hansen and Curtis, pp. 356-74 (High Medieval European Civilization)

November 23 – NO CLASS – MIDDLE EAST STUDIES ASSOCIATION (I will schedule a make up project for this missed period, but at another time in the semester, as you will all be very busy this week.)

November 30 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 114-33, 418-31 (Americas before 1500)
December 2 – McClellan and Dorn, pp. 155-75 (American science and technology)
December 4 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 374-84; Daniel J. Boorstin, “The Enterprise of the Indies,” The Discoverers, (New York: Vintage Books, 1983), pp. 224-31. (Expansion of Europe)

December 7 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 431-49; Reader, pp. 465-72 (Conquest of Americas)
December 9 – Hansen and Curtis, pp. 450-78 (16th and 17th centuries)
December 11 – Exam Review


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Iran's Minority Languages

Rasmus Christian Elling reports on an Iranian resolution to start teaching the country's minority languages in its universities:
"The resolution is interesting for several reasons. First of all, language is at the center of the growing movement for ethnic rights among Iran’s many minorities. The resolution is clearly a concession to this movement and a high level recognition of the demand among minority proponents for the government to implement Article 15 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution. This article stipulates that while Persian is to be the national language of Iran, local languages can be used in education and media. However, there have in effect always been limitations on and discrimination against the public use of ethnic minority languages in Iran.

"Secondly, the resolution is important since it is exactly that: a resolution, and not just a proposal. Even though critics were quick to point out that it seemed very much like propaganda in the last days before the elections, the resolution is nonetheless passed and have been publicized. Even if we can expect major delays in its implementation, it will be hard for the ruling elites of the Islamic Republic to back down on this promise. The resolution was passed in the name of ‘strengthening and securing national unity’. The state is clearly aware that minority rights are an explosive issue. They want to preempt a full-fledged ethnic crisis.

"Thirdly, we could maybe even call the resolution historic. Under the Pahlavi regime, ethnic minority languages were presented in official state discourse as despised remnants of foreign barbarism and medieval ignorance to be rapidly replaced with the pure Persian tongue of the ‘Aryans’. Tribal populations were subdued, Persian language strictly enforced and kids caught talking in their mother tongues in public schools were punished. The avant-garde of the 1978-9 Islamic Revolution promised freedom for all, language rights and multi-ethnic harmony, which never materialized. Minority media have only been able to work sporadically and under severe pressure, intimidation and repression; intellectuals and poets expressing themselves in non-Persian indigenous languages have been monitored and censored; and until recently, there was no institutionalized academic study of any of these languages in Iranian universities."

Elling's post lays out the issues which could arise with this resolution's implementation, but concludes that if done well, it will help strengthen the nation's unity. This may be the purpose, as the regime tries to co-opt some minority ethnic activists much as it has many Iranian nationalists. The two can, in fact, go well together, as Iranian nationalism reaches back to the old empires, which were culturally and linguistically diverse polities under Iranian leadership rather than homogeneous nation-states.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Islam and Politics in the Modern Middle East

Here's the reading list for my 400-level course this semester, "Islam and Politics in the Modern Middle East."

Islam and Politics in the Modern Middle East
TR 5:00 p.m.
Prof. Ulrich

Required Texts:

Muslim Politics, Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori
Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, Albert Hourani
The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran, Roy Mottahedeh
The Society of the Muslim Brothers, Richard Mitchell*
Milestones, Sayyid Qutb
The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia, David Commins
The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics, Charles Hirschkind

September 1 – Course Intro
September 3 - Qur’an, Suras 1 and 2

September 8 – Hourani, pp. 1-33; John Voll, “Foundations for Renewal and Reform,” The Oxford History of Islam, pp. 509-48; Joel Beinin and Joe Stork, “On the Modernity, Historical Specificity, and International Context of Political Islam,” Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report, ed. Joel Beinin and Joe Stork, (London: I.B. Tauris, 1997), pp. 3-25.
September 10 – Eickelman and Piscatori, pp. 3-45; Kemal H. Karpat, “The New Middle Classes and the Nakshbandia,” The Politicization of Islam, pp. 89-116; Juan Cole, “Printing and Urban Islam in the Mediterranean World, 1890-1920,” Modernity and Culture from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, ed. Leila Tarazi Fawaz and C.A. Bayly, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 344-64.

September 15 – Hourani, pp. 103-93.
September 17 – Hourani, pp. 222-44; C. Ernest Dawn, “The Origins of Arab Nationalism,” The Origins of Arab Nationalism, ed. Rashid Khalidi, Lisa Anderson, Muhammad Muslih, and Reeva S. Simon, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp. 3-30.

September 22 – Eickelman and Piscatori, pp. 46-164
September 24 – Mottahedeh, pp. 7-68

September 29 – Mottahedeh, pp. 69-185
October 1 – Mottahedeh, pp. 186-247 (terms quiz)

October 6 – Mottahedeh, pp. 248-390
October 8 – Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, “Factors Conducive to the Politicization of the Lebanese Shi’a and the Emergence of Hizbullah,” Journal of Islamic Studies 14 (2003): 273-307; Laurence Louer, Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), pp. 69-102.

Octobter 13 – FALL BREAK
October 15 – Sena Karasipahi, “Comparing Islamic Resurgence Movements in Turkey and Iran,” The Middle East Journal 63 (2009): 87-107; Shukran Vahide, “The Life and Times of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi,” The Muslim World 99 (1999): 208-44; Dale F. Eickelman, “Qur’anic Commentary, Public Space, and Religious Intellecutials in the Writings of Said Nursi,” The Muslim World 99 (1999): 260-9; Fethullah Gulen web site (paper topic chosen)

October 20 - Malika Zeghal, “Religion and Politics in Egypt: The Ulema of al-Azhar, Radical Islam, and the State (1952-94),” International Journal of Middle East Studies 31 (1999): 371-99; Juan Cole, Engaging the Muslim World, (New York: Palgrave- Macmillan, 2009), pp. 49-65.
October 22 – Mitchell, pp. 209-94.

October 27 – Qutb, pp. 7-105
October 29 – Qutb, pp. 107-60

November 3 – Ahmad Dallal, “The Origins and Objectives of Islamic Revivalist Thought, 1750-1850,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 113 (1993): 341-59; Kitab al-Tawhid, Commins, pp. 1-39
November 5– Commins, pp. 40-103

November 10 – Commins, pp. 104-209
November 12 – Hirschkind, pp. 1-66

November 17 – Hirschkind, pp. 67-42 (abstract due)
November 19 – Hirschkind, pp. 143-214

November 26 – Thanksgiving

December 1 – Presentation of Student Research
December 3 – Presentation of Student Research

December 8 – Presentation of Student Research
December 10 – Presentation of Student Research

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Guest Worker Cap

Bahrain is now moving to curb the amount of its foreign labor:
"Bahrain has decided to put a residency cap on expatriates and fix an annual ceiling on number of foreign workers entering Bahrain, according to a senior labour official here.

"Labour Minister Dr Majeed bin Mohsen Al Alawi has told Arabic daily Al Wasat that a cap of maximum five years for working expatriates will be effective from 2010 to promote local workforce. He said an annual ceiling on the number of expatriates will also be fixed."

This move is clearly directed at promoting nationalization of the workforce, and suggests that the khalaf system reform probably was, as well.


Palizdar Revisited, and the Larijanis

Does anyone remember Abbas Palizdar, whose June 2008 corruption accusations against leading figures in the Iranian establishment were widely interpreted as an opening salvo in Iran's presidential elections? Here's a little gem from Tehran Bureau:
"Though Palizdar was an ally of Ahmadinejad, he disowned him after his arrest. It is worth noting that Palizadar received help from Fatemeh Ajorlou, a Majles deputy from Karaj, a town on the western edge of Tehran. She was also arrested, but later released. On Sunday August 16, 2009, Ahmadinejad introduced Ajorlou as one of the three female ministers in his new cabinet."

The main point of the article, by the way, is that nepotism may be making a comeback in Iran, and it particularly highlights the influence of the Larijani clan:
"here are five brothers, two of whom sit at the very top of two of the three branches of government. Ali Larijani is the Speaker of the Majles, while Sadegh Larijani is the new chief of the judiciary. A third brother, Mohammad Javad (Ardeshir) has been an important conservative ideologue who was deputy for international affairs to Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, Sadegh Larijani’s predecessor. A fourth brother, Dr. Mohammad Bagher Larijani, is the head of Tehran University of Medical Sciences, and a one time deputy health minister. Until two years ago, the fifth brother, Fazel Larijani, was Iran’s cultural attaché to Canada.

"Add to this list a first maternal cousin, Ahmad Tavakkoli, whose mother and the Larijanis’ are sisters, and a maternal uncle, Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli, a powerful conservative cleric, and one has all the makings of a true dynasty. Tavakkoli is an influential right-wing Majles deputy and head of its research center. Tavakkoli is also a two-time presidential candidate, and was Minister of Labor in the administration of Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 1980s."


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ahmadinejad's Security Cabinet

Iran's President Mahmood Ahmadinejad has named a new security Cabinet. As one might expect, it entrenches and extends the influence of principlists with ties to the IRGC and Basij militias.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Huckabee's Insanity

Let's all take a moment to be glad that Mike Huckabee is not President of the United States:
"Former U.S. presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said Tuesday there is no room for a Palestinian state 'in the middle of the Jewish homeland' and Israel should be able to build settlements wherever it wants — taking a stance firmly at odds with Washington.

"A three-day tour of Israel, hosted by a far-right group of religious nationalists, is taking Huckabee to some of the most contentious hotspots in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including a West Bank settlement outpost that even Israel's hard-line government considers illegal and an east Jerusalem housing project that the Obama administration has demanded be halted.

"Huckabee's opposition to a Palestinian state puts him at odds with the accepted wisdom of both Democrats and Republicans — and to some degree even with conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has come out in favor of some form of Palestinian independence."

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Hamas's Economic Rise

Sanctions on a territory tend to strengthen the internal hand of whomever can control the remaining supplies. In the Gaza Strip, that means Hamas, with its control of smuggling tunnels, taxes, and aid from abroad:
"Mr. Khaldi is part of a coterie of local businessmen close to Hamas who appear to have emerged as the big financial winners from the Israeli-imposed economic blockade of this tiny enclave.

"The two-year-old blockade has strangled Gaza's economy and put the majority of Gazans out of business. Israel's logic has been that a collapsing economy will convince Gaza's people to push Hamas from power. But instead, Hamas – which rose to prominence as a 'clean' alternative to the famously corrupt Fatah – has benefited handsomely. Now, the movement and its friends appear to be supplanting Gaza's traditional business leaders, which could entrench its political position as well.

"They're doing so, veteran Gaza businessmen say, thanks to the fact that Hamas can generate capital while all its potential competitors are running dry. They charge that Hamas and its associates have been using their control of smuggling tunnels, money changing, and tax revenue to buy prime tracts of land and buildings across Gaza, particularly along the enclave's main boulevards."

Gazans already see Fatah as corrupt. With Hamas walking the same path, it isn't surprising they're starting to look to new players: Salafi groups which have been outside the political process.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mark Twain's Study

This is the study where Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, wrote many of his works. It is preserved on the campus of Elmira College in Elmira, New York.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Fatah Conference

Helena Cobban is right in portraying this week's Fatah conference as a victory for Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas. Let's be clear, however, that this is a figure who, ever since the January 2006 elections which gave Hamas a majority in parliament, has behaved as a strongman rather than a democratically elected leader. His term as president should have ended this past January, but he unilaterally extended it for a year, and will probably do so again this winter. Palestinian civil society is just as promising a ground for democracy as is Iranian, but no one will really support it as long as the conflict with Israel continues, and more than a few of those who cheered on every minor protest in Iran even before this summer nonetheless also cheer on Abbas for being more amenable to their own foreign policy preferences.

If Abbas is stronger, however, then it is in part because his movement is also stronger. Cobban notes an important change:
"To no-one’s surprise a large majority of the conference’s 2,241 attendees ended up being West Bankers. For a movement that was founded - around 50 years ago - in the Palestinian diaspora and was based on the urgent political demands of the exiled Palestinians, that fact alone marked a sea-change.

"The massive swing to West Bankers’ predominance in the movement was also evident in the first round of elections. Of the 19 people - all male - elected to the Central Committee (CC), one was from Gaza and two from the diaspora. The rest are all West Bankers."

This is a Fatah Central Committee more in touch with the concerns of ordinary West Bankers than before, made up of people with decades of experience under occupation. Corruption is still a deep problem in the party, but it may at last have taken steps towards increasing its legitimacy. There's also this:
"While the political program reflected Mr. Abbas's preference for Western-backed peace talks with Israel, nostalgia for Fatah's original role as leader of the armed struggle against Israel was evident. A huge poster of Arafat served as a backdrop to the conference, which revisited the party's charter but left intact a call to 'liquidate the Zionist entity.' The congress adopted a resolution that all of Jerusalem be returned to the Palestinians and asserted the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes left before the 1948 war over Israel's independence. In addition, a Fatah policy statement issued during the conference reserved the right to exercise 'resistance' in 'all its forms' if future peace negotiations were not successful."

I would have preferred "liquidate the Zionist entity" be quietly dropped, which could have been done without recognizing an Israel that doesn't recognize Palestinians' right to a state, but the rest of these demands represent a legitimate negotiating position, and I suspect the younger delegates mean them. Bringing them into the fold and reiterating the common list of Palestinian demands represents an important recentering of Fatah within the Palestinian national movement.


Mu'awiya on Fire Temples

Although some are persistently skeptical of this, Muslim tolerance of other religions is not just a new development deployed apologetically in Europe and North America. Yesterday I was reading the History of Sistan, a medieval chronicle of that region of Iran, and reached a point when, in the early 670's Ubaydallah b. Abi Bakra was sent to the region with the mission of stamping out Zoroastrian fire temples. The Persian text doesn't say who gave this order, though the translation by Milton Gold credibly says it was Ziyad b. Abihi, the viceroy over the eastern caliphate. This, naturally, led to a dispute in Sistan, which resulted in the following edict from the caliph Mu'awiya (Gold's translation, except in square brackets):
"You must not because they have made a treaty of friendship with us and those places of worship are theirs. The Persians say: 'We worship God and we have our firetemples and our sun. But it is not the sun and firetemple we worship; on the contrary they are ours in the same way that the [mihrabs and house of the Ka'aba] are yours.' Inasmuch as this is so, you should not [do this thing] since they have fire temples in the same fashion that Jews have synagogues and the Christians their churches. Since they are all [federates? This is a tricky word, but clearly refers to dhimma in its original sense of covenant of protection. Gold simply used "People of the Book" -bu], what difference does the place of worship make, since we worship God? If our prophet (The blessings of God be upon him!) had so desired he would have permitted none of these to exist, but would have exterminated all the infidels and all religions other than Islam. However, he did not do so, and did not destroy them, but made peace with them on the basis of [jizya]. This was the glorification of Islam since to the end of time, and as long as this world may exist, the Moslems can observe the truth of their own faith, and will constantly give thanks to Almighty God whenever they see and hear the defects of other religions."

This is striking because, unlike Jews and Christians, the Zoroastrians weren't supposed to be People of the Book, though they were usually treated as such.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Algerian Sufism

The Jamestown Foundation reports that Algeria is promoting Sufism as a counterweight to Salafism:
"This turnaround in the official approach to Islam in Algeria was highly visible in a week-long Alawi Sufi festival held in Mostaganem in July (Mostaganem is 250 km west of Algiers, well distant from the strongholds of the Salafist militants in eastern Algeria). Organizers said the event was dedicated to “encouraging people to return to traditional Islam, the Islam of tolerance and open-mindedness” (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 28). One speaker noted that there are more than 170 verses in the Quran that describe the strategic value of tolerance and reconciliation for Muslims. Some 5,000 Alawi adherents from Europe, North Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East assembled at the gathering, which enjoyed the personal sponsorship of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika."

The piece states that Algeria has only 1.5 million Sufis, but Islamic mysticism could be easily blended with Algerian nationalism. 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri, who led the resistance against the French during the 1830's, operated politically largely through a Sufi order, and was a devotee of the ideas of Ibn 'Arabi.


Arabicizing Names

Syria is enforcing a long-dormant policy to arabicize business names, especially in Kurdish areas:
"In an effort to consolidate the use of Arabic in Syria, the authorities decided recently to enforce a years-old ruling that lays down a minimum proportion of Arabic in any sign on shops, restaurants and cafes.

"The move affected hotels and restaurants aimed at tourists in the old town of Damascus and other cities. Only agents of foreign brands, like Mercedes or Adidas, were exempt.

"The decision stipulates that at least 60 per cent of the space on a sign should be in Arabic. Latin letters can be used as long as they do not occupy more than 40 per cent of the sign.

"Although some welcomed the decision as a way to preserve the integrity of the Arabic language, many minority groups in Syria with a different mother tongue regard the step as a further attempt to undermine their cultural identity.

"Syrian authorities focused on enforcing the decision in the northeastern provinces of Syria, like Hassakeh and Qamishli, where a majority of the population are Kurds and use Kurdish names for their businesses, according to reports by civil rights organisations."

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Kuwaiti Reforms

Kuwait has begun implementing reforms to its guest worker policies:
"Kuwait on Sunday began implementing a breakthrough decision that allows foreigners working in the private sector to switch jobs without the consent of their sponsor...

"According to the decision, an expatriate who has spent three years with a sponsor now has the right to move to another job without his approval. An employee can also switch to another job after one year if his employer does not oppose the move."

Allowing for a three-year period of obligation to the original employer gives some certainty to business community, who might otherwise bring someone in only to have them leave right away. However, I wonder if some of the impetus for these moves in the Gulf states is to make hiring migrant workers less desirable so as to start paving the way for nationalization of the work force.


Saturday, August 08, 2009


In a change of climate from the regions this blog normally covers, here's a picture of me standing on Solheimajokull, a glacial tongue that extends from Myrdalsjokull southward towards Skogar. The site has poles showing the edge of the glacier each year, but unfortunately in recent years the retreat has been so extensive I couldn't capture it in a photo.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Conflicting Religious Legitimacies

After discussing the special relationship Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims with the Mahdi, the Hidden Imam who holds ultimate religious authority in Twelver Shi'ism,Mazyar Mokfi and Charles Recknagel raise an interesting point:
"All of this could be seen as religious and nonpolitical except for one thing: the Islamic republic already has a steward in the Mahdi's absence. The steward is the supreme leader.

"That raises the possibility that Ahmadinejad’s symbolic sidestepping of the supreme leader today could end in the political sidestepping of the supreme leader tomorrow. And, as Ahmadinejad begins his second term in an unprecedented riff with Khamenei, the possibility only seems to grow more likely.

"Ahmadinejad himself has said he considers his goal to be handing over power to the 'original leader' of the country's government. The allusion, again, is to the Mahdi's imminent return, an event which would make the constitution and the office of supreme leader superfluous.

"But it is not just Ahmadinejad, whom reformists accuse of stealing the June election, who bears watching. Other powerful figures, too, are sidestepping Khamenei -- suggesting broader forces than just Ahmadinejad are in play."

This is interesting in the context of speculation over whether Khamene'i was the prime mover in June's electoral coup, or whether he might have been carried along by Ahmadinejad's principlist faction, which is also influential in the IRGC and Basij militias. Another angle is that, if Khamene'i is seen as hoping to lay groundwork to be succeeded as Supreme Leader by his son Mojtaba, then other potential candidates, such as Ahmadinejad's spiritual leader Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, have an interest in undermining him.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Kuwait is moving to follow Bahrain down the road of sponsorship system reform:
"Foreigners in Kuwait will be able to sponsor themselves if they keep an impeccable record after a two year stay in the country, the Social Affairs and Labour Minister has said.

"The move is part of a plan to put an end to the sponsorship system that Kuwait is determined to cancel, Mohammad Al Affassi said.

"'I am serious about finding a solution to the issue, particularly that it affects the reputation of Kuwait and has highly significant humanitarian dimensions. Putting an end to the sponsorship system also means the elimination of trafficking in residence and work permits,' Al Affassi was quoted as saying by Al Dar daily."

I'd be interested in hearing theories as to why these reforms are gaining so much momentum now.


Monday, August 03, 2009

After the Mudawana Revision

Writing for IPS, Daan Bouwens reminds us that the 2004 family law revision was not a panacea for problems facing Moroccan women:
"In spite of the reform, inequality in the family context persists. Moroccan women face persisting domestic violence. A report earlier this month from the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) denounced the 'perseverance of segregation and violence against women.'

"The AMDH says continuing violence is a 'real obstacle' to gender equality. 'The different initiatives and plans announced by the government after the approval of the new Mudawana remain a question mark...'

"The new text of the Mudawana is not applied strictly by family court judges. Recent figures show that marriage to minor girls is on the rise - according to the ministry of justice, family court judges received 30,312 requests for marriages to minors in 2006.

"In 2007 the number of applications went up to 39,000, of which 68 percent were approved. One in ten marriages in 2007 involved underage girls. The numbers for 2008 have not yet been published.

"'Judges have the tendency to take decisions according to their own moral standards, as if they were on a moral mission to save the values of the patriarchal family,' says Rabia Naciri. 'Other than that, there are politicians that dare to state the Mudawana is not applied because society is not ready for it.'"

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Lieberman's Legal Issues

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has some legal issues:
"The police's National Fraud Squad recommended Sunday that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman be indicted for serious crimes including money laundering, accepting bribes, obstruction of justice and harassing a witness. Lieberman is suspected of setting up a chain of front companies and bank accounts that allowed him to take in more than NIS 10 million. The investigation, spanning more than a decade, has been one of Israel's longest ever.

"The police also say they have accumulated enough evidence to bring charges against Lieberman's attorney, Yoav Many, and other people linked to the minister."

It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. If he's driven from office, what effect might it have on Yisrael Beiteinu? Although the party is tapping into a real strain of racist nationalism which has been growing in Israel, I'm not sure who else in the party would have the gravitas to head its list, or even to serve as foreign minister.