2006-08-30

M. Ahmadi Nejad and G. W. Bush

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad had called, in a press conference, for a public TV debate with United States president George W. Bush.

The White House dismissed the invitation as "just a diversion from the legitimate concerns that the international community, not just the US, has about Iran's behaviour." It's probably worth noting here that what the US speaker refers to as "the international community" is only a handful of countries, namely Great Britain, the US, France and Germany; that's only 4 (6 if you count Russian and China) countries out of about 200 and is, in my opinion, a very long way from being "the international community".

This is not the first invitation of direct discussions with the US Administration which the Iranian president made. President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad already wrote an 18-page letter to his American counterpart about a similar topic 4 months back. The letter had seen a similar fate to the public debate: turned down.

I think this could have been a golden opportunity to ease the tensions between Iran and the US. I'm sure there are tons of mis-understanding piled up on both sides, since we're still talking about the "Great Satan" on one side and the "Axis of Evil" on the other.

On a less serious note, I believe that the US Administration is right about avoiding this confrontation: George W. Bush, who is not well known for his eloquent speeches, will certainly have a hard time talking about World affairs with a Civil Engineer who holds a MSc and a PhD in transportation systems? Even the CNN readers think their president doesn't stand a chance.

2006-08-26

Childhood comics: Sinan - سنان

Sinan was one of the comics that marked the childhood of millions in the Arab World. My sister had a Sinan T-shirt when she was about 4. It's one of these comics made in the 70's and, very successfully, translated to Arabic. The translation of these Japanese anime is usually done in Syrian and Lebanese studios; Young Future and Space Toons are names that come to mind. I believe that Sinan's English name is Beaver.

The opening song is still vivid in my mind 25 years later, it goes like..

سنان يا سنان
يا خير الأصدقاء
في الغابة الخضراء
سنان يا سنان

شعارك الوفاء
يا خير الأصدقاء
ها نحن بإنتظارك
سنان يا سنان

سنان يا سنان
يا نفحة النسيم
بطبعك الكريم
سنان يا سنان
و رأيك الحكيم
يا خير الأصدقاء
ها نحن بإنتظارك
سنان يا سنان

سنان يا سنان
صديقنا الأمين
في غابة الحلوين
سنان يا سنان
الكل سالمين
يا خير الأصدقاء
ها نحن بإنتظارك
سنان يا سنان

The closing song, equally beautiful, goes like..

ما أحلى أن نعيش
في خير و سلام
ما أحلى أن نكون
في حب و وئام

لا شر يؤذينا
لا ظلم يؤذينا
و الدنيا تبقى تبقى
آمال للجميع

ما أحلى أن نعيش
في بيت واحد
ما أحلى أن نكون
في وطن واحد
الحب للجميع
و الخير للجميع

Sinan was a very brave young squirrel who always helped the needy and did all he could to bring happiness and joy to those in sadness. Every episode would address a typical social situation, no guns, no flying robots, just plain goodness and big-hearted behaviour. Sinan was supported by his friends Lala and a young bear (forgot the name). The bad guys were a gang of Foufou the fox and Farfour the bear, led by Sharshoor the wolf. The Sharshoor gang were not terribly bad, they were just a bunch of idiots giving Sinan a hard time.

I really cannot make any sense of the "modern" comics a la Pokemon, I just can't get the point.. or is it just me growing too old?

2006-08-03

President Habib Bourguiba 1903-2000

I still recall that text in the primary school describing the triumphant return of the Supreme Leader (المجاهد الأكبر) after the negociations with the French. The photo in the text was showing him riding on a military Jeep with a soldier sitting on the hood and plenty of people cheering him around.

That was Habib Bourguiba (الحبيب بورقيبة), the first president and founder of modern Tunisia. My grandmother used to break in tears remembering Bourguiba. "Si Lahbib", as some Tunisians like to call him, has been educated in the legendary Sadiki School (المدرسة الصادقية), then followed some higher education in law and political sciences in University of Paris, France. I don't know the curriculum by heart, but let's just retain that Bouguiba was a lawyer and a journalist. After graduation Bourguiba has quickly turned into political activism and managed to found a new party that headed to fight for independence from France. This costed him years in French jails, he was also too close to the firing squad at times.

What Tunisians find special about Bouguiba is his magical and charismatic way of addressing them: very open and improvised speeches in plain Tunisian dialect. In الحبيب بورقيبة - سيرة زعيم or Les Trois Decennies Bourguiba for the version in French, Tahar Belkhadja (الطاهر بلخوجة) descibes his experience and his relationship with the President in some very revealing ways. The book sums up quite nicely the personnality of Si Lahbib. Tahar Belkhodja gave an interview and appeared on another program on the Al-Jazeera channel some time back about his career in the government where he revealed yet more details about the President.

Habib Bourguiba was obviously not a perfect leader, he was still regarded as a dictator who didn't believe in sharing power. He almost publicly admitted his reponsibility for the assassination, in Germany, of Salah Ben Youssef who led the communist opposition. By the way, Tunisia has gone through a painful communism experience which turned to be catastrophic and the gaovernment had to pull back with a historic public apology from Bourguiba in the 60's. The last 10 years of Bouguiba's rule had plunged the country into a true mess and a dangerous political chaos.

The World still remembers Bourguiba for some pioneering initiatives like the Civil Status Code (مجلة الأحوال الشخصية) granting revolutionary rights to women: women gained their right to vote in Tunisia before Switzerland. Bourguiba was so proud of this achievement that the only mention on his grave is: "محرر المرأة" or "Liberator of the Woman". He also had a wiser approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict: despite acknowledging that the creation of Israel was a historic unjustice, he called Arabs to accept UN resolution 181 to secure the part proposed and keep fighting afterwards to free the occupied parts. Unfortunately, the answer to this offer was thrown tomatoes and burning of the Tunisian embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Regardless, Bourguiba always stressed on the integrity of the Tunisian people: Jews and Muslims. In 1982, after the Beirut siege by Israel, the Bourguiba government (actually, his wife Wassila Bin Ammar) brought a resolution to the deadlock by offering to host the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and implement the agreement sponsored by the UN. The Bourguiba "government" maintained the Education allocation at around 30% of the budget, compared to 1.5% for Defense.

Another significant event in the career of Bourguiba is his his opposition to the German in WW2. Bourguiba was emprisoned by the French at the time and the Germans, after occupying Tunisia, offered to release him and push him to power in return of his support; amazingly, the Supreme Leader turned down the offer. He once said "I wouldn't have fought France so fiercly hadn't I loved France so much". In May 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy says about him:
Like President Washington, President Bourguiba is a revolutionary, and like President Washington he also, when the revolution was won, had the sense of judgment, self-discipline and strength to attempt to bring good will and peace among his people and to the people of the former occupiers of his country and his surrounding neighbours.

The relationship with Moammar Al-Gaddafi, leader of Libya, was flaky at times and one of the best remembered speeches was almost an impromptu interruption of the Colonel in the Palmarium, now a shopping centre in Tunis. Listening to this talk today makes me think that the person was a serious politician.

Based on a medical report declaring Habib Bouguiba senile to govern, he was dismissed on 7 November 1987 and spent the remaining 13 years of his life in a government-owned house. Just like the Godfather, like him or hate hime, Habib Bourguiba has marked modern Tunisian history for ever.