Last Week In Syria

This week two particularly disheartening things happened in relation to Syria which don’t give me very much hope for the future. The first is, of course, the bomb in central Damascus at a checkpoint between the Russian embassy and the Ba’th Party headquarters. Over 50 people were killed, most of them civilians. The SNC, in a refreshing advance in their discourse, condemned the attack rather than claiming it was a government false-flag operation. SANA (Syrian official media) described it as a terrorist attack, which is technically true except that by ‘terrorists’, they mean the SNC, which is probably too disorganised … Continue reading Last Week In Syria

Government in Graphs

In February there are a lot of Spring-related anniversaries: it’s two years since Mubarak resigned, one year since the Port Said massacre, two years since the beginning of protests in Libya, and one year since Saleh resigned in Yemen.  Plus, with the political guignol going on in Tunisia (still unresolved as of this writing, and perhaps I’ll have something to say about that next week) it’s not surprising that a lot of people are going  into a reflective ‘what did the Arab Spring ever do for us’ mode. It’s a fair question: in the last two years Egypt’s economy has … Continue reading Government in Graphs

No-one is called Abdul: A Guide to Arab Names

This week’s blogpost will be a little short and somewhat out of the ordinary – it’s on the subject of Arabic names.  During the past two days I’ve encountered three journalistic examples of mutilation or incomprehension of Arab names.  I therefore propose, for your scrutiny, a look at how Arab names are put together, how they are taken apart, and how they are not taken apart. CAVEAT: Before we get any further into this, remember that – for whatever reason – there is still no agreed-on way of transliterating Arabic into English.  This is why we had القذافي written as … Continue reading No-one is called Abdul: A Guide to Arab Names


As you may know, I find the psychology of autocracy totally fascinating.  Last week, I spoke about Lisa Wedeen’s book The Ambiguities of Domination, which raised the question: “What is the point of a cult of personality which nobody believes?” In other words, how is it that a government with an ideology that most people know is false can use that same ideology to control people? Here are four explorations of what that sort of situation does to someone and why that makes it effective. (1) It makes people very aware of their own situation and their role.  For a … Continue reading Meta-Domination