Shaabola: Egypt’s political barometer

Every country seems to have at least one person like Shaaban Abd al-Rahim – a.k.a. Shaabola: The guy nobody really likes, but who doesn’t seem to go away. Shaabola is a laundryman turned singer. His first great success was a recording of the song “I hate Israel”, which was a hit at the time, mostly because it was the first time that such open opposition to Israel was heard (and allowed) in Egypt.

After this, he developed into a political commentator of sorts. Being illiterate himself, Shaabola has a writer, Islam Khalil, who prepares lyrics and occassionally explains them to him. Most often these lyrics are political and infused with words from the ‘ashwa’iyyat, the slums of Cairo, where most of his fans live. The nature of the songs follows the tides of Egyptian politics. At one moment he may be praising Mubarak, the next he will tout the cause of the Islamists and from there he will morph into a Sisi afficionado with great ease. The musical quality of his songs is not what makes Shaabola an interesting figure. Rythm and melody are almost indistinguishable between them – just compare this pro-sisi song with the one that is translated below about Erdogan. What is interesting about him is that his complete lack of ideology and his (writer’s) unworried use of popular tropes make him the perfect barometer for Egyptian popular feeling.

Face it, Erdogan


Face it, Erdogan. If your people stand up against you

That will be the end of the madness

Here, you have messed up everything around you


Nobody is competing with you in lying, so why do you shut up?

You sweety, you made us look at you

You showed yourself to us, now what are you gonna do?


You stuck your nose in a lot of business that wasn’t yours

Entered into something you had nothing to do with

While forgetting your own people


From the first day it was clear that you were perfidious, you can’t be trusted

Erdogan, you traitor

You lapdog of the American


There, you set up ISIS and supplied it with your hand

They devastated Iraq and Syria

And now there coming after you


The whole world is in danger and the people now the lier

You and America and Qatar

Are the triumvirate of terrorism


What do you mean alliance, yuck, that’s a game, they’re just looking after themselves

Get lost, you baby

This is Egypt, people and army


You let the genie out of the bottle, you kept nurturing it

You showed it to us, Dodo

Now how will you get it back in


You gave Obama a call and told him to follow you

But he is the one who pushed you

And in the end will let you down


Talk to Tamim (Bin Hamad al-Thani) over ‘Viper’, your partner in crime

Or talk to Aljazeera

To let them make up a story


You fell in the lap of Israel and the Lobby

Tomorrow they will pull you by a rope

And you will be their puppy


You let loose the police dogs on your own people you, dimwit

You made them cry out Sisi

For crying out loud


… a lot in Egypt. We hated the look of you

And Sisi because he is polite

Did not want to speak to you

And the four fingers that you held up

The people will put them

All in your…mouth


You really made us angry and forgot that we are Egypt

The cradle of all civilization

History, the crossing (of the Suez Canal in 1973) and the victory


Egypt, January and June, Egypt, outside her there’s nothing

Egypt of whom Sisi said

I would die so she can live


That’s enough now

إشرب يا أردوغان


إشرب يا أردوغان أن شعبك قام عليك

دي أخيرة الجنان

أهيه ولعت من حوالك


ياللي محادش بينافسك في الكدب، سكت ليه

فرجنا يا حلو نفسك

ورينا حتعمل أي؟


كتير حشرت نفسك، في إللي إنت ما لكش فيه

دخلت في شأن غيرك

وشعبك إنت ناسيه


من يومك وإنت باين غدار ما لكش أمان

يا أردوغان يا خاين

يا بتاع الأمريكان


أديك عملت داعش وصرفت عليها بأديك

خربو العراق وسوريا

وخلاص داخلين عايك


العالم كله في خطر والناس عارفو الكداب

وإنت وأمريكا وقطر

مثالث  الإرهاب


تحالف أي يا أخه، ده لعبة  وأكل عيش

إلعب بعيد يا نغة

دي  مصر شعب وجيش


جبت عفريت بإيدك وفضلت تعلفه

فرجنا بس يا دودو

إزاي حتصرفه


إدي لإوباما رنة  وقله  يلحقك

ما هو ده إللي زقك

وفي الآخر زحلقك


كلم تميم على viber شريكك في المشروع

أو كلم الجزيرة

تتفبرك الموضوع


نزلت لهم طب لإسرائل واللوبي

بكرا يجروك بحبل

تبقى زاي البوبي


سايب كلاب بوليسي على شعبك يا غبي

خلتهم قالوا يا سيسي

إلحقنا والنبي


كتير في مصر كرهنا منظرك

والسيسي عشان مؤدب

مش راض يعبرك


وحياة الأربع صوابع إللي إنت رفعتهم

شعبك هيحطهملك

في بقك كلهم


سخنت كتير علينا وبسيت إن إحنا مصر

مهد الحضارة بحالها

تاريخ و وعبور ونصر


مصر يناير ويونيو مصر إللي غيرها ما فيش

مصر السيسي إللي قال

أموت وهي تعيش

بس خلاص


Video of an Iraqi and a Russian ISIS fighter inside Kobani

This video is supposedly shot in the centre of Kobani. Two men, one probably Iraqi and the other speaking with Russian accent – judging from his accent he has almost certainly learned Arabic in Egypt –  claim to address viewers while standing in the centre of Kobani/’Ayn al-‘Arab. Published here are the translation of what the two men – whom I have dubbed the Iraqi and the Russian – have to say and the Arabic transcription. The latter especially is taken over quite literally. Grammatical mistakes and some incongruencies have been left in to stay as close to the original as possible.

(The “Iraqi”)

In the name of Allah, prayer and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah.

We are here right now in the centre of ‘Ayn al-‘Arab. This is the cultural centre. Now, we have advanced Inshallah we have not come here for anything other to administer God’s law. We have no quarrel with the Kurds and we have not come for (anything other than) the administration of God’s law. Inshallah, we will continue despite the planes, despite the alliance, despite everything. Our morale, inshallah, is very high and the brothers are steadfast, no matter what, inshalllah. We do not expect anything other than the complete liberation of ‘Ayn al-‘Arab and the administration in it of God’s law. God willing, we will continue on this road.

(The “Russian”)

Here we are in the centre of the town. This here is the center of Kobani, this same street, you know, is the main ‘autostrada’ street. Thanks to God Almighty we advance, and advance, and advance daily, you know, we liberate and clean out the houses. As for their planes in the sky which bombard us 24 hours a day and at night…by Allah, we say that they don’t increase anything except for our faith, our certainty and our persistence. For we have learned that we are surely on the right side and there is no doubt about it that the unbelievers, you know, the world and all the unbelievers of the world have united against us. In order to do what? Because we have come to this land, in order to (the word of Allah is the most Supreme) to liberate the land of the abomination of the atheists, the PKK and others. This is their goal, you know, to prevent the arrival of the Islamic State, the establishment of the law of God Almighty.

باسم الله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله

ها نحن، الآن في وسط عين العرب وهذا هو المركز الثقافي. والآن نحن الآن متقدمين إن شاء الله وما جئنا إلى هنا إلا لتحكيم شرع الله .ليس بيننا مقاتلة الأكراد ولا نحن أتينا لتحكيم شعر الله. وإن شاء الله ماضون رغم الطيران رغم التحالف، رغم كل شئ. المعنويات إن شاء الله مرتفعة جدا والأخوة ثابتين ثابتين إن شاء الله ولن نتوقف إلا لتحرير عين العرب كاملا ولتحكيم شرع الله فيها. وبإذن الله ماضين على هذا الطريق


ها نحن في وسط المدينة وهذا هو مركز المدينة، مدينة الكوباني، نفس الشارع يعني الشارع الأوتوستراد الرئيسي وبفضل الله عز وجل يوميا نتقدم ونتقدم ونتقدم، يعني نحرر ونمشط البيوت. أما طياراتهم في الجوالذين يقصفوننا ٢٤ ساعة في النهار وفي الليل… والله نقول إنهم ما يزدادون إلا إيمانا ويقينا وثباتا. أننا علمنا أننا فعلا على الحق ولا نشك في هذا بأن الكفار يعني العالم وكل كفار الدنيا اجتمعوا علينا لأجل ماذا؟  لأننا أتينا إلى هذا الأرض لتكون كلمة الله هي العليا. لنحرر هذا الأرض من رجس الملاحدة PKK وغيرهم. هذا هو هدفهم يعني ليمنعوا وصول الدولة الإسلامية من إقامة شرع ألله عز وجل

Haftar announces next phase of “Operation Dignity” and his own retirement

These are the translation and the transcript  of general Haftar’s speech, published today. In it he announces the start of the next phase of “Operation Dignity”, the goal of which is the liberation of Benghazi, and his own retirement following the eventual victory:

Today I talk to you, ladies and gentlemen, about the men of “Operation Dignity”, an operation for which they have been preparing to achieve their goal at this stage, the most important one, which is the liberation of the city of Benghazi. Benghazi is worth lives, because everyday it has produced and still produces martyrs who fall due to the bullets of the treachery of the terrorists. Those martyrs we have sworn to avenge, whether they be officers, or soldiers in the army or the police, or civilians. For we and you will never allow their blood to have been in vain and we must make sure that the criminals receive their just punishment. Also, we will strive for a secure victory and security in the neighborhoods of this city, that was and still is the cradle of the revolution. And we will strive to restore discipline to Benghazi’s streets and peace to its homes with God’s will and with the effort or the men. The liberation of the city of Benghazi and its stability, ladies and gentlemen, that is the most important strategic phase in our fight against terrorism, because it will open the door to the liberation of all the areas of the country from those who have been playing around with its stability, its security and its unity. It is also a step, after which it is necessary to stop to say our words and to respect our martyrs, to establish an army and to rearrange things regarding the organization of the national army and its combat morale.

(A glass appears)

As for my part, Khalifa Belqasem Haftar, the soldier that decided nearly 50 years ago to join the royal military academy, in order to serve his country in the army ranks, with honour and with loyalty. And who considers this, the battle, “Operation Dignity” the conclusion of his life as a soldier. Then, after Benghazi is liberated, God willing, in the coming hours, you must allow him to rest and hand over the leadership to one of his sons from the young officers and at the same time I will continue to be a soldier, ready for battle at any time.

اليوم أنقل إليكم أيها  السادة والسيدات عن رجال عملية كرامة أنهم قد صاروا جاهزين لتحقيق هدفهم المرحلي، الأهم، وهو تحرير مدينة بنغازي. بنغازي جديرة بالحياة والتي قدمت وتقدم كل يوم شهداء يسقطون برصاص غدر الإرهابيين. أؤلئك الشهداء اللذين أقسمنا بأن نثأر لهم سواء كان ضباطا أو جنودا في الجيش والشرطة أو مدنيين. فنحن لن نسمح، لن نسمح بأن نذهب أو بأن تذهب دماؤهم هباء ولا بد لنا أن نضمن أن يلقى المجرمون جزاءهم العادل. كذلك، فإننا نحرص على النصر الأمني والأمن في أحياء هذه المدينة التي كانت مهد الثورة ولا زالت. واستعادة الانضباط إلى شوارعها والطمأنينة إلى بيوتها بإذن الله وبجهد الرجال. إن تحرير مدينة بنغازي وإستقرارها، أيها السادة والسيدات، هي النقلة الإستراتيجية الأهم في معركتنا ضد الإرهاب، لأنها ستفتح الباب أمام تحرير كافة ربوع الوطن من العابثين باستقراره وأمنه ووحدته. وهي كذلك خطوة من الضروري أن نتوقف بعدها لنقول كلمتنا، لنقول كلمتنا، ونترحم على شهدائنا ونؤسس رحانا  ونعيد ترتيب الأمور فيما يتعلق بتنظيم الجيش الوطني ورفع معنوياته القتالية.


(يظهر الزجاج)


أما فيما يخصني شخصيا خليفة بلقاسم حفتر فإنني الجندي الذي قرر منذ ما يقارب ال٥٠ عاما عندما التحق بالكلية العسكرية الملكية أن يخدم وطنه من داخل صفوف الجيش بشرف  وصدق. والذي يعتبر هذه المعركة “معركة الكرامة” الصرافة خاتمة الحياة العسكرية .ولا بد عندها وبعد أن تتحرر بنغازي بإذن الله في الساعات القادمة إن سمحتم له أن يستريح ويسلم قيادة المعركة لأحد ابنائه من الضباط الشبان وأبقى في نفس الوقت جنديا جاهزا للقتال في أي وقت

Putin’s Dictatorship Franchise

With this recent article in the New York Times Victor Sebestyen is the latest in a series of commentators who have downplayed the tempting assessment that the Crimean affair signals the prelude to a new Cold War. In a sense he is right. Indeed, Putin is not offering a universal “Big idea” to counter Western ideology. Indeed, Putin’s cronyism is hardly going to appeal to the masses outside Russia proper and its Russianized fringes. Indeed, it is quite ludicrous to presume that Ché Guevara’s grandson will take up arms to liberate South America in the name of Gazprom. If Putin’s goal were to appeal to this planet’s peoples by promising ‘Russian nationalism and gangster capitalism for all’, then – yes – he would obviously have lost his mind.

Putin has not lost his mind. What he sees quite clearly is that the winning strategy for his form of governance is not to compete by appealing to the people directly, but through their leaders. Instead of offering a universal ideology, Putin has systematically supported non-democratic leaders. Not being bound by scruples over human rights issues, democratic justification, or the defense of free speech, Putin has offered himself as the alternative benefactor for any leader whose style of leadership is, say, not in line with Western affinities. Thus, instead of offering Russian nationalism and Russian gangster capitalism, Putin’s offer to leaders around the world is to help them defend their own brand of these. What Putin is offering is not a Big idea, a univeral ideology, he’s offering a wordwide dictatorship franchise.

We can see this trend emerging in the Middle East. Take a country like Egypt for instance. Following last summer’s supposed (?) coup, the American government understandably acted hesitantly as it weighed the pro’s of holding on to a strategic alliance that has maintained the balance of power in the region for over 30 years and the con’s of supporting an undemocratic regime that has displayed no qualms about using force against its poputation and arresting tens of thousands on mostly trumped up charges. Russia, on the other hand, has used the occassion to take back its place as the rightful patron of Egypt, which it lost during the reign of Sadat. It has offered supported to replace that which would be lost under the Americans, it has invited Egypt’s new strongman to Moscow and it has started sending military envoys to Cairo on a regular basis. At the same time, the Egyptian military has used a (to some extent) similar form of nationalism to cement its control, while its deeper motives for wanting to hold on to power are quite probably related to the gangster capitalism that fueled Putin’s quest for power.

If this style of diplomacy is a trend – and it certainly seems to be – it becomes obvious why Putin doesn’t want to offer an alternative worldview He doesn’t need to. What he offers is an alternative way of running countries. What he supports is a destructive, morally inferior form of governance, but it is a form of governance nonetheless and one that will appeal to many in less-than-stable regions around the world. While we may not be witnessing the resumption of an ideology-laden Cold War, we may be on the verge of its post-modern baby sister.

Sharia courts in Aleppo

As with most conflicts reporting on Syria has focussed on two things in particular. The more adventurous contingent of journalists goes into the country in order to shoot pictures of some guys shooting up other guys (and the human suffering it results in), while the armchair contingent stays out of the line of fire, trying to paint how these events are playing out and what their effect on Middle Eastern policies may be. Few go into the country to document in-depth how life has changed and is still changing behind the battle lines. One such documentary was made by Solomon Cane and it can be seen here.