26 January 2014, the moments that put tears in my eyes..


National Constituent Assembly president, Mostapha Ben Jaafar (Ettakattol, socialist) extends his arms forward and invites the deputies with a "please vote".  Seconds later, a storm of green quickly dominates the display panel indicating a massive yes vote and a wave of applause fills the assembly.
The operator in charge of the second panel deletes the term "draft" to leave the new title as "Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia".  The votes were 200 yes, 4 abstentions and 12 no.  The 217th member, Mohamed Allouche (no-affiliation), passed away of a heart attack days before the final vote.
The national anthem plays from loud speakers and some members are seen holding portraits of deputy Mohamed Brahmi (left-wing), shot dead on 25 July 2013 by religious fundamentalists.

At 3'37", the video shows deputy Haitham Belgacem (CPR, centre-left) saying a prayer.  Some attendees could not hide their football fanaticism and screamed the famous italian expression "Campione! Campione!".

12"00 shows deputy Jawhara Ettiss (Ennahda, islamist) who was elected single and will be leaving the assembly married with a baby.. and a constitution.

A long sequence of hugs, tears and kisses follows, but out of all the hugs, the one at 16'06" is particularly telling:  Habib Ellouze (Ennahdha, islamist, but seen fundamentalist) hugs Mongi Rahoui (Popular Front, left-wing), nobody ever expected these two to even look at each other before.

The fact that this is the first democratic, progressive constitution with strong institutions in the entire region is an impressive achievement by itself.  However, the context in which it was drafted makes of it no less than a small miracle:

  1. the electoral code under which the assembly members were voted in used a Hare-Niemeyer method (largest remainder), the objective was to give more chances of representation to smaller parties and political trends which is a wise choice to improve the acceptance of the chart. However, it created an insanely diverse mosaic of very differing, and even warring, ideologies. In my opinion, getting all this diversity to agree on anything is much more important than the constitution text itself, because it's a definite proof that this nation decided to live together and to accept difference which is the _key_ to success. The form and system of government is, in perspective, a mere detail.
  2. the Tunisian people, after decades of stiff dictatorship, does not have any parliamentary tradition nor a culture of debate, criticism and dialogue, so getting it right from the first shot was a divine mercy. Obviously, we did have a parliament, but it was as vocal as the walls of the assembly.  An anecdotal, revealing example is the case of the "bread events" in 1984:  when the then authoritarian president Habib Bourguiba ordered the lift of subsidy on bread, the parliament voted anonymously yes, when the same president ordered the re-establishment of the subsidy weeks later, the same parliament voted anonymously yes!
  3. dictators in this region kept telling us "it's either us or the islamists" and since it was very difficult to claim that dictatorship was good, it was easier to demonstrate that islamists were bad, hence the infinite waves of vilification. Unfortunately, this latter exercise was not too hard with all the horrors some islamist factions have committed. The western powers put their democratic values on hold and decided to support dictatorships all in the fear of the islamist threat. Therefore, when this constitution is produced under an islamist leadership (40% of the assembly seats) securing unprecedented civil and public rights for men and women, for believers and non-believers, it speaks volumes about the imposture entire nations lived in for decades and made them cheer bloody dictators. I am sure some of us have heard the famous "Islamists use democracy as a one-way street: when they reach power in election, they'll never relinquish it", so when the Islamist-led government in Tunisia willfully resigns to hand power to a non-partisan government in an answer to opposition mistrust around the upcoming elections, it certainly bewilders the likes of Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz.
  4. the security context is suffocating:  our Libyan neighbours to the south are struggling with an armed chaos and a weak state. The police was despised as the strong arm of dictatorship with pandemic corruption and wide spread torture, so it struggled to provide effective security under the new democratic system. The military coup in Egypt emboldened the anti-revolutionary forces and gave them strong hopes that they can actually stop the transition to democracy. The general amnesty law passed weeks after the revolution have released hundreds of prisoners convicted under unfair trial conditions, however, some of those turned out to be dangerous terrorists for real. With the military incursion in Mali, some militants fled the combat zone and seem to have settled in the mountainous areas bordering Algeria. Needless to say that those were the most unwelcome guests causing dozen of casualties in confrontations with the security forces and two political assassinations.
  5. the economic context is suffocating with our primary markets (France namely) in steady decline. Since the main motives of the revolution demonstrators were economic and social, the lack of significant and rapid economic growth left the entire democratic transition process sitting on a powder barrel.


Noori Al-Maliki: best goalkeeper 2008

Al-Baghdadya TV journalist Montathar Al-Zidi threw a pair of shoes at President Georges W. Bush at a press conference in Baghdad today. The aljazeera.net readers have made about 5000 comments on the news on the web site, mostly approving of what the journalist did.

I did not post a comment on the article, but I would have approved of Montathar's action had I commented. However, on a second thought I tend to pity Georges W. Bush for what he got himself into after years of random destruction.

Full video here


Teeless cisco.com

On Thursday 25 September 2008, a coworker noticed that the cisco.com web site was not rendering correctly:

On closer inspection, I noticed that all the "t" letters were removed from the HTML document. As you can see on the shot above, the style sheet did not load for instance because the statements "stylesheet" and "text/css" lost their t's.

I'm speculating that someone in the web development team decided to "clean up" the pages from tab characters and wanted to ran something like:

$ sed 's/\t//g'

.. but ended up forgetting to quote the "t" or maybe, influenced by web scripting languages, ended up double quoting it.



I kept quiet for about two years, but a recent ban on the Hizbollah military arm by the UK government "forced" me to scribble a few words in this post.

As a young boy, my knowledge of Hizbollah was close to non existent. At the time, news reports in Tunisia were putting Hizbollah under a neutral light, so to me, it was just another Lebanese faction of the so many I could not distinguish.

I spent several years trying to educate myself about Hizbollah and I came to the conclusion that it's one of the best organised and disciplined groups I can think of. Most importantly, the popularity of Hizbollah leadership in the Arab and Muslim world is hard to describe in words. For instance, the average western reader would probably find it surprising that even Hayfa Wahbe is an admirer of Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah's Secretary General. Now, Hayfa Wahbe (هيفاء وهبي) is the female sex symbol of the Arab world, and on top of that, she's Christian. One would wonder, why such an entertainment figure would voice admiration in public to the head of a supposedly fundamentalist, violent Islamic organisation?

Another example is George Kurdahi (جورج قرداحي), a Lebanese Christian popular media figure (and a lot more respected than Hayfa in my opinion). Kurdahi has made very praising and supportive statement about Hizbollah.

Julia Butrous, yet another Christian Lebanese singer, has done even better: she released a song called Ahibba'i (أحبائي) which is a very elegant praise for Hizbollah, it calls the fighters "builders of civilisation", "a revival of values", "the glory of our nation" and "with you, we'll change the World and make fate hear our voice". To emphasis the irrelevance of Hizbollah's faith in the wider struggle with "Israel", Julia dressed in a black long dress, usually worn by Shiia women.

For the wider arab and muslim public, Nasrallah was a honest, brave, wise and most importantly, a religious figure who laughed and told jokes; Bin Laden was someone who did stand against the American domination, but his leadership and ideology was an embarrassement to the Islamic World. Hence, the emergence of Nasrallah was a God-send event which made millions of people proud, minus the embarrassement.

In the France 5 documentary referenced below, a very religious Christian lady finds that "[Hizbollah] are honest, very honest". Hassan Nasrallah's own son, Hedi Nasrallah, was a Hizbollah fighter himself and was killed in confrontations with "Israel" when it used to occupy Southern Lebanon.

Hizbollah signed a memorandum of understanding with the Courant Patriotique Libre (Al Tayyar Al Watani Al Hurr - التيار الوطني الحر) which represents the Christian majority in Lebanon. The Tayyar is headed by General Michel Aoun, a former head of the Lebanese Army. The question that would come into the mind of the average American reader is: Why would a supposedly fanatic, violent Islamic group take a group of "infidels" for partners? and, even more stunning, why are those Christians admiring the group so much?

When "Israel" was forced to retreat from Southern Lebanon, Hizbollah did not seek revenge from the South Lebanon Army who collaborated with the "Israelis" throughout the occupation of the South. This collaboration resulted in continuous imprisonment and torture of their peer Lebanese, so not seeking revenge was a significant self restraint. Not only that, but in the memorandum of understanding with the Tayyar, Hizbollah officially committed to allow the return and not to seek revenge from the South Lebanon Army members who had to seek refuge in "Israel" after the liberation of the South.

Nasrallah has gained even more respect in the region when he expressed admiration to the very "Israeli" administration he's fighting where it did deserve credit.

Despite all of the above praise, I was not surprised when I found out that the US administration reporters were calling Hizbollah a "terrorist organisation". Robert Fisk explained this quite simply:
"Once you put the Middle East through the filter of the very gutless and cowardly reporting of the [US] journalists, it filters out into what the White House wants or the Pentagon wants or the State Department wants or the Republican Party wants or whatever. I can open, as I did this morning, the New York Times here (..) and its coverage of the Middle East is absolutely, for me, incomprehensible. It's so frightened of telling the truth (..). When you have this diminution of the semantics of this great tragedy as you do in the American press where anyone who opposes the United States power or opposes Israel becomes a terrorist, you're no longer dealing in reality, you're dealing in a fantasy world".
No wonder that the US administration has classified Hizbollah as a "terrorist organisation". The UK administration tried, at least, to be a bit more realistic and explained the ban with Hizbollah's "support for terrorism in Iraq and Occupied Palestinian Territories" and limited it to the External Security wing while acknowledging the noble character of the social activities ran by the party. Obviously, what is regarded as "terrorism" by the UK government statement here is seen as brave resistance by the overwhelming majority of people in the region. The European Union seems to adopt an even wiser approach and, so far, decided not to put Hizbollah on a terrorist list.

Most Western media try to cast Hizbollah under a very negative light, but it's quite difficult to do so without recourse to lies and fabrications at times. Therefore, most outlets keep envelopping it with a cloud of mystery. That's probably why a France 5 documentaty was suitably named: Le mystere Hizbollah, for "The Hizbollah mystery".

Let's review together what happened in the 2006 war between Hizbollah and "Israel" to figure out why they could possibly be branded "terrorists".

Somehow, I find it a bit strange that when a "terrorist organisation" goes to war with a regional super power, the war ends with 1200 Lebanese deaths mostly civilian and 160 "Israeli" deaths mostly combatants. Terrorists are usually the ones who go after the soft targets and try to kill civilians.

I find it a bit strange that a regular army fires millions of cluster bombs, most of it in the last 72 hours of the war, and refuse to provide maps of their locations to the United Nations. The estimated 100,000 unexploded bombs have already killed around 80 Lebanese civilians. Usually, a terrorist organisation would have recourse to explosive devices in order to cause indiscriminate death among civilians.

About 24 hours after the cease fire was signed by both parties, the "Israeli" military sent a commando into Lebanon in the hopes of capturing Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah's Secretary General. Hizbollah maintained its committment to a cease fire and did not retaliate. Usually, a terrorist organisation has no respect and does not abide by the agreements it signs, if it does sign anything that is.

When a terrorist organisation takes prisoners, it usually tortures them and, in this case, sodomise them too. A civilised group would show respect for the unarmed captured combatants.

From what the two conflicting parties have done so far, there is clearly a lot of terrorism here, but it was not perpetrated by Hizbollah. By the way, I used the term "terrorist" so many times already, and I'm not sure it means the same thing to everybody, but this is a bigger topic that we shall discuss in another post.

What I would suggest to those branding Hizbollah as terrorist is simply to seek all points of view before casting a judgement. A first step would be to listen to what Hizbollah is saying and learn about their ideology from them themselves rather than from so called "Israeli" terrorism experts. This interview of Nasrallah by Edward Peck would be a good start for instance.


Blogging in Arabic, English or both?

I started this blog about a couple of years ago, but I didn't really write much. I was posting roughly about an article per two months. One question which keeps coming to me is: which language should I use to write? Being an Arab, I'm supposed to write in Arabic. Being in the UK, it made sense to write in English. Actually, as a Tunisian, it wasn't entirely odd for me to write in French even.

Most of my writing went in English because I felt like I needed to tell the West so many things, not about myself, but about where I come from. However, I think I still feel a massive urge to write in Arabic, so I created a new blog where I will only post Arabic articles. Jeeran means "neighbours" in Arabic which is, in my opinion, what blogs are about.

This blog will receive, from now on, only English posts.. with an Arabic touch, of course.


The Tuninter 1153 ditching

Tuninter is a small airline company operating mostly within Tunisia with some short services to southern Europe. On 6 August 2005, flight Tuninter 1153 between Bari, IT and Jerba, TN, on board an ATR-72 aircraft crash-landed in the sea near the Sicilian coast of Italy. 16 of the 39 occupants died including 2 crew members. Tuninter got only two aircraft, the picture on this post shows the very same plane which crashed (Habib Bourguiba الحبيب بورقيبة). This is the first fatal accident in the history of Tunisian civilian air traffic since it started in 1948.

The Aviation Safety Network have a record for the accident. It seems like the aircraft was fitted with the wrong Fuel Quantity Indicator which was reading fuel quantities about 2000 Kg higher than the actual levels. The Fuel Quantity Indicators for both the ATR-42 and the ATR-72 looked the same and were fitted the same way, but used different algorithm to calculate the fuel level.

I know very little about the airline industry, but my basic engineer's guess tells me that such a critical subsystem should not leave room for confusion. Design common sense would suggest using as many common parts as possible across models to reduce manufacturing costs, but not when people's lives depend on them.

I recently found the 5-minute recording from the blackbox:

The conversation was a mix of Arabic, French, English and Italian. A blogger has published a transcript of the conversation. The mechanical engineer Chokri didn't make it, but the pilot survived although he was badly hit. A survivor said: "I saw the pilot on the wing. He was in a terrible state and blood covered his face."

Here is the same transcript with little corrections I made. The commander is Chafik Al Gharbi (شفيق الغربي), the second pilot it Ali Kebaier Lassoued (علي كبيّر الأسود).

Hours 15,34' 33"
- commander: check whether it started. Leave it, leave it.. in the name of God, most compassionate, most merciful. What's the ditching procedure?
- second pilot: [incomprehensible] (with Palermo air traffic control)
- commander: confirm the distance, please.
- Palermo control: [incomprehensible]
- commander: confirm the distance, please.
- Palermo: the distance is now 20 miles.
- commander: I think… we are not able, we are not able to reach the terrain. We are at four thousand feet and we are not able, we loose both engines. Can you send for us helicopters or something like that?
- second pilot: ditching.. ditching (talking to self while going through the procedures manual)
- commander: fast, fast.
- Palermo: I can advise.
- second pilot: preparation. . Cabin crew: notify. Sign: on. DPWVS: off. Set it to off there. Cabin and cockpit door: prepare.(reads out loud the ditching procedure)

3'33" to the splash down
- commander: it's better we turn towards that ship, it's better if we turn towards that ship.
- second pilot: should I put [incomprehensible], no?
- commander: no, no, the wind is strong, the wind is strong. Oh! God be clement. In name of God the merciful one, the clement one, in name of God, the merciful one, the clement one...
- second pilot: cabin and cockpit: prepare.
- commander: so this one still doesn't start?
- second pilot: no, it refuses to start.
- Palermo: 1153, Palermo, be informed that we informed ... the ships... Your position is about 22 miles now radial 20… 036,… radial 036, 22 miles.
- commander: uhhh, the battery! Unable, unable to reach, 2200 feet. There are two boats, we are going to join them, left side, heading 180, can you call them please?
- commander: try again, try again (trying to restart the engines)
- Palermo: heading 180, confirmed?
- commander: which one have you ignited, which you have ignited? (stressed tone)
- second pilot: the right one.
- commander: go, go. The other one, the other one!
- second pilot: already did, it refuses to start!
- Palermo: Tuninter 1153, Palermo, say again!
- commander: there is a boat, there is a boat… left side… I'm going to put there. 1100 feet. In the name of God the merciful one, the clement one.
- second pilot: auto, press, dump.
- commander: prepare for emergency ditching.

Less than 1' 55" to the ditching
- Palermo: you are at about… now the position is approximately… 20 miles to east of the field
- commander: Unable to reach, unable to reach
- second pilot: not in a position to reach land. Tuninter 1153 unable to reach the field, we see two ships on the left side, big boats. We try to land… to ditch near of them. If you can call them, please…
- Palermo: [incomprehensible]….we call the military.
- second pilot: before ditching. Optimal ditch altitude. Minimise impact slope. Brace for impact (reads out the ditching procedure)
- commander: good
- second pilot: [incomprehensible] (reads on, seems nervous)
- commander: did it start? try the other one

Less than 27" to the ditching
- commander: is that the sound of the engine?
- second pilot: the same, the same, it does not want to make anything
- commander: God be clement, God be clement
- second pilot: gear level… up… ditch push button before.
- commander: go, it's over now, help me Ali. Be alert Ali. Chokri, get ready, Chokri get ready.
- Chokri: I am ready
- commander: we're touching the sea.
- commander: in the name of God the merciful one, the clement one, in the name of God the merciful one, the clement one

Splash-down hours 15,38' 53"


Recent readings: Orientalism

Edward Said is an American academic, he was born in Palestine and lived in Egypt for some time before immigrating to the United States.

Orientalism is a classic that Said had put with great care, the book had simply changed the way the West looks at the "Orient". It had even created a negative tone to the word "orientalism", modern western scholars are apparently distancing themselves from being called "orientalists".

The book re-examines the term "orient" and what it actually means to the Western reader, or maybe what it was made to mean to the Western reader. Orientalism argues that the West actually made its own Orient and that the Orient as know in the West is actually the Western discourse about it.

To illustrate the idea, Said gives as an example the way Orientalists made their "scholarly" analysis of the revolutions and rebellions against the colonial rule in Africa and Asia. For instance, in their analysis of the Arab revolt in Egypt, some Orientalists gave the impression that the Arab "violence", is somehow due to inherent tendencies to chaos rather than to legitimate pursuit of freedom and independence. Colonialism needed to be justified with orientalist theories like "Arabs/Africans/Indians are incapable of self-governance".

The book goes through the representations of the Orient since medieval times, this was essentially anti-Islam rant fuelled by the religious authorities in Europe. Said spends a good part of the book describing the orientalism of colonial times which is the period when "Oriental Studies" in Europe became of great importance to the colonial mouvements in Britain, France, Belgium, Germany and others. Indeed, one of the most central ideas in "Orientalism" is that the orientalists were essentially serving the colonial interests. Some critics blame Said for ignoring other orientalists who were not affiliated with colonial authorities and seemed to be solely interested into Oriental arts for instance. Mahmoud Darwish put this in his stunning beautiful symbolic style in a poem called Tibak (طباق):

نيويورك. إدوارد يصحو على كسل الفجر

يعزف لحناً لموتسارت

يركض في ملعب التِنِس الجامعيِّ.

يفكِّر في رحلة الفكر عبر الحدود

وفوق الحواجز

يقرأ نيويورك تايمز

يكتب تعليقَهُ المتوتِّر

يلعن مستشرقاً

يُرْشِدُ الجنرالَ الى نقطة الضعف في قلب شرقيّةٍ

يستحمُّ. ويختارُ بَدْلَتَهُ بأناقةِ دِيكٍ

ويشربُ قهوتَهُ بالحليب

ويصرخ بالفجر: لا تتلكأ

Orientalism, just like Said described, is still alive and well. Bernard Lewis, a British now living in the US is probably the best example of Said's orientalists. Despite his strong disagreement with Said, Lewis is regarded as a major figure of modern Middle Eastern studies. When Lewis justified the war in Iraq with "we free them or they destroy us", he summarised what Said has been trying to tell us in his book.

Despite my disagreement with some of Lewis analysis, I think his extensive research may give the Muslim world some very useful clues on how to regain more status and accelerate development. I will try to make my next politico-historical reading a Lewis.