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Geopolitics

ARABICA: Beirut Bombing, Iraqi Executions, 125-Year-Old Man

A quick shot of what's brewing in the Arab world ...

Sunset in Aleppo, Syria
Sunset in Aleppo, Syria
Laura Thompson

Reactions to Iranian embassy bombing in Beirut
Many of the tweets in the wake of Tuesday’s bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that left 23 dead were prayers, representing the sectarian divide between some Sunni Islamists and Shia in the region.

One Twitter user, whose profile picture featured the black and white flag associated with Salafi jihadism (radical Sunni Islamism), tweeted a prayer for the attackers:

اللهم تقبل من قام �ي هذه الغزوة المباركة #غزوة_الس�ارة_الإيرانية_�ي_بيروت

— Ahmedalhamwi (@Ahmedalhamwi1) November 19, 2013

“Dear God, accept those who undertook this blessed invasion. #Invasion of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.”

Iran is the most powerful Shia state while many other Middle Eastern countries have significant Shia populations, often repressed by Sunni-dominated regimes. Some radical Sunnis actually consider Shia to be non-believers.

Other Twitter users mourned the death of the “martyrs” killed in the attack.

#ان�جار_بيروت عزاءنا قائم للشهداء �ي بلدنا الثاني #لبنان رحم الله شهدائكم واش�ى الله جراحكم.. ونصركم على اعدائكم. pic.twitter.com/llamEKZYzW

— mustafa alshakarchi (@mgsiraq) November 19, 2013

Saudi journalist Abdulaziz Alkhamis of Al Arab denounced the attacks altogether, tweeting: “Each killing of innocents — no matter what their nationality or race or religion — is a crime and unacceptable act.”

@Bander150 كل قتل للأبرياء أيًا كانت جنسيتهم وعرقهم ودينهم جريمة وعمل مر�وض

— Abdulaziz Alkhamis (@alkhames) November 19, 2013

Another Twitter user evoked sectarianism when remembering the 1981 attack on the Iraqi embassy in Beirut, for which an Iraqi Shiite party, supported by Iran, was blamed. “It seems that the Iranians have begun to pay their bill for blowing up the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut,” Bander150 wrote, “…as poet Nizar Qabbani shed tears over his wife Balqis.”

Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani famously wrote a heart-wrenching poem about the death of his Iraqi wife Balqis, then employed at the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut. Here is a live recording of Qabbani reading the poem, along with a translation.


Deadly accident in Egypt, as train crushes a bus
A deadly train-bus accident in Egypt left 27 people dead and 29 injured, leading to widespread discussion about the country’s long-crumbling infrastructure.

The Ministry of Transport has blamed the crash on the bus driver’s error, though it also admitted that tens of billions of dollars are needed to improve the country’s deteriorated railway system. Some critics have alleged that the crash happened because the flashing light at the railway crossing no longer functioned, and so the bus driver was unaware of the oncoming train.

The ministry further announced that a development project, in partnership with the UAE, would put in place functioning train crossings in the next 10 months.

Young Saudis turn to the Internet for locally made entertainment
UTURN expand=1], a YouTube channel founded in 2010, offers a variety of series, including 3al6ayer, a Saudi version of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

UTURN represents something new in Saudi Arabia, where local television stations are either controlled by the state, owned by a member of the royal family, or principally religious in nature. Though 90% of Saudi households have satellite dishes and therefore have access to foreign programming, UTURN meets a need by providing local flavor for its 84% Saudi audience.

The station supports itself by creatively inserting products into its shows, working with companies such as Samsung, Saudi Telecom, Dunkin’ Donuts and Coca-Cola. The most recent broadcast with English captions — just activate them via the caption button on the bottom right-hand of the video — is available here.


Jet skiing in the streets of Riyadh
After two hours of rain in the normally arid Riyadh over the weekend, life in the Saudi capital ground to a virtual standstill. Schools were closed, as roads were overwhelmed with anxious drivers unfamiliar with flooded streets. At least one person died: a girl who was carried away by the water after she and her father abandoned their car.

To get around, at least one Saudi resident took to using his jet ski in the streets of Riyadh, causing an Internet sensation.


Death penalty boom in Iraq
International human rights organizations, along with the UN and EU, have condemned Iraq’s rising number of executions, while more bombings have contributed to a level of violence in Iraq not seen for five years. More than 5,500 people have died so far in 2013.

This week alone, 12 Iraqi men were executed, all for terrorism charges. The UN has criticized Iraq’s judicial system as “not functioning adequately” and has also condemned the use of torture to extract confessions, which can then serve as the basis for a death penalty.

Some Twitter users alleged that the death penalty was being selectively used by a Shiite government against Sunnis, reflecting a growing trend of violent sectarianism in the country. “The Iraqi Ministry of "Justice" executed 12 detainees, all Sunnis, in Baghdad’s Kadhimiyah prison,” one Twitter user wrote.

العراق:وزارة "الا عدل" العراقية تن�ذ حكم الإعدام بحق 12 معتقلا من أهل السنة �ي سجن الكاظمية ببغداد #iraq

— شبكة اهل السنة (@ahlalsunna2) November 17, 2013

Another tweeted the names of the Sunnis who had been executed “by the Shiite government.”

#أسرانا_�ي_العراق الأسماء التي تم تن�يذ حكم الإعدام �يها من قبل حكومة الرا�ضة �ي بغداد 6-لط�ي عدنان مخل� 7-س�يان حكمت ذياب 8-مجبل حمادي مجبل

— الحوراء العيناء (@alhwra_2012) November 18, 2013

The user called the regime “the refusing government,” a reference to Shia’s theological and historical divergences with Sunnis, the global majority.

Before the U.S. invasion in 2003, Sunnis had long dominated the Iraqi government, most prominently under the powerful figure of Sunni President Saddam Hussein, who ruled from 1979 until 2003.

Hey Albania, can we ask a little favor?
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons remains confident that Syria’s entire chemical arsenal will be destroyed by 2014, though logistical questions remain unanswered — the most important being: Where will the stockpiles be destroyed?

The Albanian government had been considering a request from the U.S. to host the destruction of the 1,200 tons of Syrian chemical weapons. But popular protests pushed the Albanian prime minister to refuse the request, as Albanians across the world took to the streets to protest.

Today's protest against #Syria"s chemical weapons in #Albania in front of the Albanian Embassy in Washington D.C. pic.twitter.com/9G0Gwxnj0U

— Rilind Latifi (@RilindLatifi) November 14, 2013

Saudi Arabia to build world’s largest metro system
The capital city of Riyadh will be home to the world’s largest metro system at 176 kilometers long. The country is reportedly investing $22.5 billion in the project.

A glossy video has been posted on YouTube showing where and how the train will function — and how much the capital city’s residents will love its free Wi-Fi and air-conditioning.


125-year-old Palestinian manrecalls life across three centuries
Omar Rajab Mohammad Toum was born in 1888 and for much of his life traveled widely without any identity papers, through countries without checkpoints. With a life spanning three centuries, Toum recalls the Ottoman Era, British Rule and the Israeli Occupation. Despite widespread polygamy in his time, Toum married only one wife and today has so many grandchildren that he "can’t remember all their names,” he told Al-Arabiya. He estimates their number at about 300.

Toum’s diet consists of olive oil and thyme for breakfast and rabbit meat for lunch, as well a ghee, a type of clarified butter.


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Geopolitics

Cilia Flores de Maduro, How Venezuela's First Lady Wields A Corrupt "Flower Shop" Of Power

Venezuela's first lady, Cilia Flores, is one of the country's chief power brokers and a consummate wheeler-dealer who, with the help of relatives, runs a voracious enterprise dubbed the Flower Shop.

Photo of Cilia Flores (left) and her husband Nicolás Maduro (middle)

Cilia Flores (left) and her husband Nicolás Maduro (middle)

Mauricio Rubio

-OpEd-

One of the clearest signs of tyranny in Venezuela has to be the pervasive nepotism and behind-the-scenes power enjoyed by President Nicolás Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores de Maduro.

In Venezuela, it's said that Flores works in the shadows but is somehow "always in the right place," with one commentator observing that she is constantly "surrounded by an extensive web of collaborators" — including relatives, with whom she has forged a clique often dubbed the floristería, or the "Flower Shop," which is thought to control every facet of Venezuelan politics.

She is certainly Venezuela's most powerful woman.

From modest origins, Flores is 68 years old and a lawyer by training. She began her ascent as defense attorney for the then lieutenant-colonel Hugo Chávez, who was jailed after his failed attempt at a coup d'état in 1992. She offered him her services and obtained his release, which won her his unstinting support for the rest of his life.

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