A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Arabian nights, Christmas-style

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 27, 2009

Santa stockings are a great source of fun for our family. Stocking stuffers run the gamut from nail files and travel earplugs to magazines and golf balls. And they include goofier thinking-of-you items as well. This year, my stocking included this bag of candy:
An “Arabian Nights” candy mix? Total, total mystery. All I see on the corporate website is that this is a “classic Christmas candy”. Perhaps it has something to do with the Nutcracker?

I have no idea, but I laughed with delight when I found this bag in my stocking. The more Arabian nights, the better!

Posted in Americans, Arab world, food, holidays | 1 Comment »

blogs and bedouin

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to those of you who are celebrating today! And to those of you who blog, a less merry bit of news from Kuwait: a proposal to increase the government’s power to monitor blogs produced in Kuwait.

The news comes from a Zawya piece published on the 23rd, and it is a bit third-hand. The Zawya story was taken from Bahrain’s Gulf News, which in turn took its information from a local news site. The blog law proposal is interesting, particularly for its rationale: that what is being written on blogs is more dangerous than what is printed in newspapers and broadcast on television.

The proposal and its rationale are interesting, but so is the sudden segue to Kuwait’s ongoing internal conflict between its bedu and urban (well, the word is “hadari”, but its generally translated here as “urban”) populations.

I have more to say on this, but my mother is having an iPhone crisis, and I think the entire family may need to get involved. Happy reading!

Kuwait’s information minister has urged the parliament to endorse a proposal to monitor blogs, citing social and stability threats.

“Electronic blogs post matters that are now threatening national cohesion and that are much more dangerous than what is being published in newspapers and broadcast on satellite channels. We are therefore working on a draft law to monitor blogs and we urge the parliament to approve it,” Shaikh Ahmad Al Abdullah Al Sabah told Kuwait’s MPs yesterday, Alaan news portal reported.

The minister’s plea came as the country’s social fabric has come under heavy strain following the broadcasting by Al Sour on Saturday of a controversial programme that claimed that tribesmen were not genuine Kuwaitis and that many of them broke the law by holding dual citizenship.

Bedouins make up half of the native population and have 25 MPs in the 50-member parliament.

The programme charged that the only “true and genuine” Kuwaitis were the descendents of those who lived inside the walls surrounding Kuwait City in the 19th century and that the others were not Kuwaitis.

Thousands of Bedouins reacted angrily and staged a rally during which several lawmakers and activists called upon the government to take stringent action against Al Sour and Scoop TV stations for broadcasting the programme and Mohammad Al Juwaihel, the owner of Al Sour …

Posted in blogging, Kuwait | Leave a Comment »

Levantine literature: translated by the enemy.

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Eve to those of you who are celebrating, and for those of you commemorating Ashoura, I hope that it is an opportunity for reflection for you. (And I hope that you are as pleased as I am that Muharram was included in my employer’s “Season’s Greetings” email.)

At the start of the month, I read a very interesting article in Ha’aretz, which I had intended to post immediately. “Immediately” turned into several weeks, but am pasting it in below. The article announces a planned law that would allow Arabic-language works – originals and translations – produced in the confrontation states to be sold in Israel.

Those of you who, like me, are obsessed with the Mandate era, will be fascinated (but probably not surprised) to learn that the current law is a gift of the British. And those of you who, also like me, enjoy following the twists and turns of the cozily hostile Israel-Syria relationship, will be delighted to learn that the Arabic-language translations of well-known Israeli writers like Amos Oz are produced in Syria.

Happy reading!

Books translated in “hostile countries” will soon be allowed to be sold in Israel, after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided yesterday to support a bill overturning a World War II-era law aimed at blocking information from enemy states.

This will allow the Arabic translations of best-selling children’s books like “Harry Potter” and “Pinocchio,” as well as Arabic versions of prominent Israeli authors, to be sold here.

Until now, Arabic translations of popular children’s books and works by authors like Amos Oz, Yoram Kaniuk and Eshkol Nevo were not available in Israel, because they were printed in hostile countries like Syria and Lebanon. This was because a 1939 British-Mandate era law prohibited literature from being imported from enemy states.

Given the relatively low readership of Arabic-language books in Israel, and the resulting low returns on translations, almost none have been produced in Israel.

The present bill, initiated by MKs Yuli Tamir, Yariv Levin and Zeev Bielski, aims to make literature in Arabic more readily available.

Tamir (Labor) said yesterday, “This would be an important law, one that ensures the freedom of literature and culture of all citizens. Every citizen is entitled to read literature in his mother tongue. This law would end the absence of children’s books and belles-lettres for Arabic readers.”

The bill calls for freedom to “import books from any country, and allow translations into any language, in order to ensure exposure to a wide array of literature and to expand citizens’ rights to rich cultural lives in their native tongues.”

The proposal allows security authorities to reject the importation of a certain book or journal for content that could be used for incitement, such as literature denying the Holocaust or encouraging terrorism.

In January, the human rights organization Adalah petitioned the High Court to allow Kol-Bo Sefarim – Israel’s largest supplier of Arabic-language textbooks – to import books from Egypt and Jordan that were published in Syria and Lebanon.

The book supplier has imported books from Egypt for three decades, and since 1993, it has imported books from Jordan as well. Most of the books were printed in Syria or Lebanon, but the company had received permission from the chief military censor to import them.

In August of last year, however, Kol-Bo received a letter from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry stating its permit to import books from enemy countries would not be renewed. The letter said such books could not even be imported through countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations, due to the World War II-era law.

Adalah’s petition noted that 80 percent of books intended for Israel’s Arab community, and most Arabic books destined for college and university libraries in Israel, are printed in Syria and Lebanon, where several large publishing houses hold exclusive rights to translate major Western literary works into Arabic.

Lebanese printing houses hold exclusive rights to translate “Harry Potter” and “Pinocchio,” as well as works released by Britain’s Ladybird Books, which publishes a variety of popular children’s books. The Lebanese printing houses also hold exclusive rights to the Arabic translations of classic works by William Shakespeare and Moliere, and modern works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coelho.

A handful of Syrian printing houses have exclusive rights to the Arabic translations of Hebrew works by Oz, Kaniuk and Nevo.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, books, Damascus, Israel | 1 Comment »

minding the social gap in Damascus

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 21, 2009

Hello from not-very-good-at-keeping-up-with-blogging land. I interrupt this general blogging hiatus to share a very interesting article on Damascus’ high-end consumer culture. Those of you who have spent time in Damascus will be as amazed as I am (last trip there: summer 2006) at the long list of brand-name shops and cafes. I’m not a great fan of Lina’s, which I associate with the rather sad ending to a very sweet relationship; and nor am I a great fan of Aishti, which I associate with over-priced, under-curated designer glitz. But that these places are now part of the Chami landscape is nothing short of amazing.

Well, nothing short of amazing, but still less amazing than the idea that Chaalan could be described as an “exclusive” neighborhood. Still, that’s one flat note in an otherwise quite intriguing read. Enjoy!

Syria’s youth flaunt new wealth
By an IWPR-trained reporter

Under the arcade of the fancy Four Seasons hotel in Damascus, Anas Mashafej gazes at the windows of Aishti, an up-market clothing shop that sells designer brands such as Armani and Roberto Cavalli.

A bright – and expensive – shirt attracts the attention of the 22-year-old college student. After some hesitation, he decides to buy it and postpone buying other items he needs.

“The general atmosphere at college encourages wearing well-known brands,” he said. “Most students brag about their designer acquisitions.”

Close to Aishti, in the exclusive Damascus neighborhood of Chaalan, the streets throng with Western-style cafes and restaurants, like Segafredo and Costa, stylish shops and private banks.

The development of such areas, which are frequented by a small emerging class of well-off Syrians, epitomizes the economic transformation of Syria in recent years.

In 2005, Syrian officials proclaimed that the country was moving towards a more market-oriented economy by encouraging competition and that the Syrian market was opening to foreign goods and services.

This change gave rise to a class of Syrian youth, mainly the children of rich businessmen and officials, who increasingly adopt Western lifestyles.

Azzam Jamil, 26, helps his father at his printing company. He is part of the new wave of Syrian youth who drink filtered coffee at trendy cafes while checking their e-mail on laptops or making travel plans with their friends.

Jamil, who wears torn jeans and a T-shirt with an image of a skull on it and has dyed blond hair, said, “I don’t feel awkward dressing this way. All my friends dress the same … This is how I express myself.”

Kids like Jamil attend private universities and spend their free time in the new malls of Damascus, using restaurants like KFC and Hardee’s as well as an array of amusement centers, modern cinema theatres, and parking lots where they can show off their expensive cars.

Most of the posh spots are in Kafarsousa, where real estate agents say that homes can cost up to US$2 million. Other hot spots reflecting the craze for modern lifestyles include spas, tennis courts, gymnasiums and nightclubs.

Recently, a group of young rich Syrians started a club to play American football, considered an exclusive sport in Syria.

Damascus has also witnessed in the past few years the opening of large supermarkets that sell expensive foreign goods and exotic fruits.

Observers note that in parallel to the new islands of wealth, the liberalization of the economy has brought with it a starker contrast between the standards of living of the rich and the poor, in a country that once prided itself on having social equality and a solid welfare system.

In contrast to the new luxurious suburbs, there are more slums around the city, said Ahmad Nokrosh, a Damascus-based economic expert.

“Liberalization of the economy has impinged on the social reality in the country,” he said, adding that basic services provided by the state, such as education, transport and health, are getting worse at the expense of a flourishing private sector that caters to the moneyed classes.

He said that even hospitals now have advanced sections reserved for wealthier patients.

Zaher Mansour, a 24-year-old law student who makes his living working as a waiter in the trendy Lina’s cafe, said that the preoccupations of rich young Syrians were very different from those of the rest of Syrian youth.

“This place feels like Europe, as if you are somewhere in London or Rome,” said Mansour, who comes from a modest background, adding that the price of a cup of coffee is almost equivalent to what he earns in a day.

Wealthy youngsters speak about the latest fashion in clothes or new mobile-phone models while the likes of him worry about inflation, the increasing price of diesel, or building an additional room onto the house to accommodate a brother who is getting married, he says.

Posted in Damascus | Leave a Comment »

moving from “poor” to “petty”: from مسكين to mesquin

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 26, 2009

Last night I rang in Thanksgiving Eve by reading a little novel with some phrases en francais. One of them used a word that I hadn’t seen before – but which looked a great deal like a word I knew in Arabic.

The French word was “mesquinerie”. Doesn’t that look a great deal like “meskin”, or مسكين?

I thought so, and since I didn’t have a dictionary at hand, I turn, ed to the Internet. Wordreference told me that “mesquin” means something slightly different than “meskin”: “mesquin” means “petty”, or even “cheap”, while “meskin” means “poor”, both in the sense of “without money” and also in the sense of “needing sympathy”.

But – at least according to myetymology.com – the two words are indeed related, and uses of “mesquin” are found as far back in time as the 1600s.

It may be that the connection came through Spanish: An Etymological Dictionary of the French Language, published in 1882 and available online as a Google Book, describes “mesquin” as a Spanish term that came into French in the 1100s:

Mesquin: adj., mean, shabby (properly, poor); from Sp. mezquino (properly the Ar. maskin, poor, mean, servile, then a slave.

The Spanish word also made its way into Italian, as “meschino”. If you are interested in the Italian derivation, as well as an intriguing discussion of how “meskin” came into Arabic, you might enjoy this 1935 article, “The etymology of meschino and its cognates”.

Those of you – like me – with no digital library access will only be able to read the first page – but its a pretty rich page, and well worth reading. It suggests that the “slave” meaning in particular comes from the pre-Arabic usage, which helps explain the seeming oddity of an Arabic root that means “live” (as in “reside”) transmuting into an adjective that means “poor”.

Posted in Arabic, French, words | 1 Comment »

that old black magic …

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 25, 2009

Several years ago, my aunt pointed out something I had never noticed: the great frequency with which articles about – and editorials against – magic and sorcery appear in Gulf newspapers. I thought of her observation when I read earlier this month that Ali Sibat had been sentenced to death for his work as a television psychic. Sibat is Lebanese and lived worked in Lebanon, but was arrested in Saudi Arabia while there on a religious pilgrimage last year.

Here’s an excerpt from the latest Associated Press article on the story:

Saudi Arabia should overturn a death sentence imposed on a Lebanese national convicted of practicing witchcraft during a visit to the conservative kingdom, an international human rights group said in a report late Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch also called on the Saudi government to halt “its increasing use of charges of ‘witchcraft,’ crimes that are vaguely defined and arbitrarily used.”

The report highlights the ongoing complaints over the Saudi justice system, which, while based on Islamic law, leaves a wide leeway to individual judges and can often result in dramatically inconsistent sentences.

Ali Sibat, a Lebanese psychic who made predictions on a satellite TV channel from his home in Beirut, was arrested by religious police in the holy city of Medina during a pilgrimage there in May 2008 and then sentenced to death Nov. 9.

Sibat is one of scores of people reported arrested every year in the kingdom by local papers for practicing sorcery, witchcraft, black magic and fortune-telling. These practices are considered polytheism by the government of this deeply religious Muslim country.

Sibat seems to have been arrested somewhat by chance: he was recognized while in Medina, and those who recognized him informed the local authorities.

Here’s a September article from Arab News, the English-language Saudi newspaper, that addresses the issue of magic (or sorcery, as it is often called in the Gulf papers). It incorporates several common themes: the sinfulness of magic and its historic omnipresence; the connection between sorcerers/magicians and 1) Africans or dark-skinned people, 2) avarice, 3) women; and the real presence of evil in this world, which religion can address but magic cannot.

JEDDAH: Hardly a day passes without a local newspaper reporting the arrest of a sorcerer in the Kingdom, something that is indicative of the widespread meddling in sorcery. It is, however, not just sorcerers who make money — those who treat (or claim to treat) magic and the evil eye are also rolling in dollars. While there is mystery surrounding how magic is done, some weak-hearted people end up resorting to sorcerers to mend troubled marriages, ensure husbands remain faithful or cause harm to adversaries.

At the same time, magic is an old human practice, which has existed in many countries and religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism.

Sara Mohammed, a single 28-year-old woman, said a sorcerer once told her she was unmarried because someone had cast a spell on her. “I have been facing problems all my life and I was looking for something to change my fortune for the better. A relative told me that she knew a man who could help me because I may be under some kind of spell,” Sara said.

The man who her relative introduced her turned out to be an African sorcerer who had been residing in the Kingdom for some time. Sara visited him at his home, which she described as a “rotten place with a terrible stench.”

Afraid to go alone, she took her cousin along. “I went in and his wife offered us tea. We refused to drink anything there. My cousin was laughing and giggling as she felt the entire setup was just a big joke. The man then began asking me about my situation and held up a small cup filled with olive oil,” she added. Sara laughs for a few seconds and then explains that the sorcerer then began acting strange by whispering into the cup. “He then said my ex-fiancé had cast a spell on me and that he could undo it for SR1,800. I told him that he was asking for far too much money. He held the cup up once again and started talking and haggling with this supposed jinn inside,” she said, laughing.

“That was four years ago. I now only seek Allah’s help,” she said.

People underestimate how serious a sin magic actually is. Some people pay large amounts of money to sorcerers, believing they will eventually give them happiness. Abeer Saleh said some members of her family are so infatuated with magic that they act strange and perform nonsensical rituals.

“Two elderly members of my family who are sisters met a sorceress who told them that their sister-in-law had cast a spell on them. They believed everything that she told them,” said Saleh. She added that the two sisters were experiencing some domestic problems and in the course of their fascination with magic even claimed to have seen the ground split open and their sister-in-law appear and cast a spell on them. “They then began selling their personal belongings and even furniture to pay the sorceress to break the spell,” said Saleh, adding that other members of the family even tried to explain to them that magic was forbidden in Islam, but to no avail. “They’re still, even to this day, engrossed in weird rituals. They burned coriander and black pepper at my sister’s wedding to protect her wedding dress from harm,” she said, adding that her relatives are educated women and not ignorant.

Reports surfaced in July that divers searching for the body of a young woman who drowned off Jeddah’s Corniche discovered 22 bottles containing papers with names scrawled on them, as well as pieces of jewelry and locks of hair. It is thought these items were spells cast into the sea as part of some magic ritual. Some sheikhs cure those afflicted with magic by reciting verses of the Qur’an over Zamzam water, olive oil or honey which they then administer to those affected.

Some of these people have even developed reputations of being very proficient in what they do and are known to charge around SR100 or more per visit. One sheikh who helps fight black magic and the effects of the evil eye said that magic is everywhere. The sheikh, who asked not to be named, charges SR100 per visit. He even has an office where he receives clients.

“Black magic is widely practiced nowadays. It’s all over the Internet and even in toy stores,” he said giving the example of Ouija boards, which are sold in stores.

A woman told Arab News that she went to this sheikh after her son decided to break off his engagement. “I just felt my son was behaving strangely. It was out of character. The girl he was engaged to was suitable for him,” she said. “The sheikh treated my son with verses of the Qur’an and Zamzam water. He then abandoned his intention and then married that girl. They are very happy,” she added.

I’m personally not a great fan of astrologists, psychics, etc. But this story is rather horrifying: a man goes to the holiest cities of Islam to perform an act of piety, and is arrested and sentenced to death for breaking the law – a violation that occurred in another country, under a different set of laws. Talk about a guardian state …

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, education, Islam, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia | Leave a Comment »

“When the midnight camel leaves for Tripoli…”: Bing Crosby’s “The Road to Lebanon”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 23, 2009

Inspired by QN’s recent musical turn (“it took five minutes,” he claimed when I spoke with him yesterday. “Much less time than researching and writing another analysis for the blog.”), I thought I’d share another musical gem with all of you: The Road to Lebanon, a bizarrely enticing 1958 television special. Think “movie of the week” meets “vaudeville”, with a splash of camels and some belly dancing.

The entire production is viewable online at Retrovision, which describes the show as follows:

A rare, television-produced “road” picture which most fans don’t know about. Bing Crosby is scouting locations in Beirut to do another road picture – without his [usual] partner, Bob Hope! When he runs into Danny Thomas, who is judging a local beauty contest, Bing and Danny are kidnapped by a sheik who is out to punish Thomas because one of his ancestors committed the sin of getting a nose job. Many musical numbers, live camels and even Bob Hope himself add to the fun in this TV rarity.

The twist here, of course, is that Danny Thomas was Lebanese – and spoke Arabic. He plays all the male Arab characters, including Ali-Ali-Oxen-Free, the sheikh who seeks to put him to death because Danny’s emigrant ancestor supposedly got a nose job after arriving in the United States. While the story itself is beyond light, and the stereotypes are rife (the title of this post is taken from the opening song), the Arabic is hysterical. Clearly, he and the producers anticipated at least some Arabic-speakers among the viewers, and cared enough about them as an audience to give them a good laugh.

Let me give you an example.

While wandering through the desert (I know: its not Lebanon. But in the story, its a desert) to escape the sheikh, Danny tries to plead his case before an unsympathetic armed guard. “Amil maarouf,” he starts. “Bt7ibb la7m bi-tanjara, kibbe nayyeh, ou baba ghannoush?” The guard nods, grinning, and turns away.

“What did you say?” Crosby asks. “I don’t know,” Danny replies. “I either said, ‘Take me to your leader’ or ‘someone’s taking a bath in the water hole’.”

But he did know, and so would any Arabic speaker watching, and so will you.

Happy watching!

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, cedar, music, women | Leave a Comment »

taking the “advertising cake”: today’s Arab satellite channels

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 15, 2009

I’m not a big television watcher: I don’t even own a television. But I do watch the television industry – particularly that in the Arab world. This weekend, The National, Abu Dhabi’s well-funded English-language newspaper, published a very interesting piece on the current state of the Arab satellite television industry.

Here’s the article, with commentary:

ABU DHABI // Despite losing billions of dollars every year, many Arab satellite television channels continue to operate because their purpose is to push political agendas, a recent report says.

[I'm not sure about the idea that each of these channels is meant to advocate a political agenda. There are all kinds of channels on air: real estate channels, "environment" channels, children's channels, music video/sms channels, movie channels, etc. I agree that most are not economically viable - but this doesn't mean that all are operated for political reasons. Some seem to be more vanity channels than anything else - a sign of the owner's wealth, or philanthropic outlook, or cultural orientation, or technological hipness, or ... the list is endless. After all, who knows what someone rich enough to bankroll a satellite channel might want out of it - the delightful variety of buying something other than another sports car?]

There are 510 Arab satellite channels operating at a cost of nearly US$6 billion (Dh22bn) a year, according to the report from the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.

[Wow. in 2007, if I remember correctly, there were just over 300 channels. That's a growth of 100 channels per year in the past two years - two years dominated by a major economic crisis. It might also help to think of this comparatively. The Arab world has an estimated 2009 population of nearly 340 million - which means that there is one channel for approximately 670,000 viewers. The United States has an estimated 2009 population of 304 million, which would mean by extension that we would under the Arab model have more than 450 channels. But our channels are meant to be profitable - and profits for them require viewerships in the millions.]

The combined annual revenue of those channels is less than $700 million, the report said.

[Wow, again. Operating costs: $6 billion. Revenues: $700 million. That's an annual operating deficit of $5.3 billion. Even taking out the operating costs borne by state channels, think of how many sports cars and other luxury items that money could buy for these stations' owners. The intangible benefits of station ownership must be very, very compelling.]

“That clearly means there are a number of satellite channels that are able to continue broadcasting despite their losses for more than 18 years,” said Ali Jaber, the dean of the Mohammed Bin Rashid School For Communication in Dubai.

“It also means that those who fund those channels despite their losses are governments and businessmen who have political pursuits.”

[Ummm. Here's where we differ. I do agree that the clear non-viability of these channels means that they are being bankrolled by people who are indifferent to the cost - including governments running national channels. But I do not agree that all the private channels must be run for political gain - and I don't think that Jaber has made his case for this argument.]

However, many of the channels have been unable to achieve the social and political change they had hoped for, researchers found.

“It’s true the number of channels has doubled and the quality of programmes has developed,” said Dr Mohammed Ayesh, a communications professor at Sharjah University.

“But the bigger question is how much they have contributed to political progress and cultural development. That is something that is still far out of reach.”

[Is that the standard by which television channels should be judged? I think there has been an elision here, between American and European ideas of public, non-profit channels and Arab-world channels that de facto bleed money. We do not ask whether NBC or HBO aid Americans' political progress, or enhance our cultural development. I'm not sure that this is a fair standard to put on Arab-world channels.]

He said many channels were a source of cultural confusion because their programmes were not in harmony with the social norms of the Arab community.

[This is an interesting, but somewhat different issue.]

The report, which was published in the latest issue of Future Horizons magazine, found that Arab satellite channels account for two per cent of global advertising spending.

Most of that revenue, 95 per cent, is collected by fewer than 10 per cent of the channels.

[Advertising rates are incredibly low throughout the region, including print as well as broadcast media. I think these statistics show two things: that there are some highly viable channels broadcasting today, and that the others either have too few viewers to attract advertisers or do not make an effort to attract them.]

But the goal of many satellite channels is not to earn revenue, but to attract viewers to serve political agendas, Mr Jaber said.

“The advertising cake is known and its value is, at most, US$700 million annually, which is shared among the main networks, with small amounts left for small channels that revolve around the main ones,” he said.

[Um. First, I love the translation of "pie" as "cake". Second: $700 million was the amount listed above as the total channel revenues. If this is the same number, I would like to know why other revenue streams - including mid-2000s revenue darling sms scrolls - have been excluded.]

Ahmad Abdul Malik, a Qatari writer and a founder of Sharjah TV, said many Arab satellite channels failed to attract large audiences because they lacked quality programming and were seen as propaganda outlets for governments and other groups. “I think the Arab official satellite channels have been obsolete,” he said. “And I can list more than 16 official satellite channels that no one in the Arab World would want to watch because they lack the basics of television operation, and they were established for political propaganda.”

Mr Malik said only a few private channels attracted large audiences because they “deviate from the ways of the official propagandistic channels”.

The rest, he said, either claimed to be independent when they were really official “to the very core” or called for sectarianism and indecency.

[This man says quite a lot. There is a quality issue: many channels simply buy older, already-broadcast content, generally from the U.S.. People still refer to Friends, for example. There is also an issue of blatantly propagandistic channels, often also sporting poor-quality productions - like Al Hurra :D. I think his statement about what channels people choose not to watch needs to be parsed a bit further: channels people do not watch because their content is bad or not interesting, and channels people do not watch because they disagree with their political line.]

Mohammed al Mashnooq, another media expert, said channels had fallen into the “hands of governments” because they lacked clear media strategies. TV channels that met the demands of genuine democratic change, transparency and freedom were the ones that would flourish, he said.

[I like Al Mashnooq's optimistic viewpoint, but again, I'm not sure that television channels should be expected to do all this.]

The report found that despite current losses, some advertising experts were predicting an increase in spending in this sector, because of the growing number of channels and a larger, more active advertising market.

Between 2004 and 2007, according to Arab Consultants Group, the number of Arab satellite channels grew by 270 per cent.

The number of channels owned by the private sector increased by 56, music channels increased by 54 and channels owned by governments increased by 38.

There are now 1,100 satellite channels registered in the Arab world, but only 510 are operational, broadcasting from three satellites: ArabSat, NileSat and NourSat.

[Goodness. 1,100 channels? I can't even imagine.]

Some of the more popular channels are Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar; and Al Arabiya and MBC, which are based in Saudi Arabia but broadcast from Dubai.

[These are popular channels - actually, networks, with each having one flagship and several subsidiary channels. But Al Jazeera has historically had a very difficult time getting advertising - other than ads from Qatari state companies, that is. And I'm not sure that Arabiya does all that much better. MBC is the only network I see with a fully articulated economic model that pushes for a sizable advertising revenue stream.]

The UAE hosts 22 per cent of Arab satellite channels, the most of any country in the region.

[And most of these are Saudi-owned. Again - a very, very interesting article, about a complex, engaging topic.]

You can read the article, sans commentary, here.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Arabic, economics, television | Leave a Comment »

bar by consensus

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 14, 2009

Now that Lebanon has a government, its time to celebrate. But where to go to toast the new cabinet?

In honor of the consensus government, how about a consensus bar?

how about … mybar?

LOGO

Of course, there’s a catch: mybar doesn’t exist yet. That’s where all of you come in. And as with many things, all it takes is money.

Here’s what mybar’s board of directors has to say:

mybar is an innovative and exciting approach to bar ownership that provides you with a unique opportunity to fulfill your dream of owning a bar. You can choose to invest in one of four different levels of ownership. You decide how much you want to invest, and you benefit from all the perks of being a mybar owner. As a Barnote owner you receive a percentage of voting rights, weekly sales reports, and an annual dividend distribution. Simply put, mybar lets you… Own it. Live it. Profit.

I’ve actually never dreamed of owning a bar. And the main “perks” of ownership, at least at the low-end $2,000 “owner” investment level, seem limited to “access to weekly sales and cost reports” and “name engraved on plaque entrance”. (Let’s gloss over the weird grammar of this latter perk – I assume it means: “name engraved on plaque at mybar’s entrance”.) In any case, the fusty investor in me would like to point out that $2,000 would put you almost 60% of the way to a nice Berkshire Hathaway Class B share. Perks of that investment include an invitation to the annual shareholders’ meeting, which is not only a total hoot (and a real slice of midwestern Americana) but itself a pretty good provider of access to some very interesting, if old-school, investment thinking.

Oh, but wait. This mybar perk might truly tip the scales for some of you: If you invest now, before the first $1,000,000 has been raised, you will be eligible to vote on the three options being considered for mybar’s theme.

Actually, the three options are really more like two, plus a blank space.
Here’s option one:

Think of a London or New York loft with large windows, high ceilings and wooden floorboards styled for a sophisticated drinking and dining experience. A long bar crafted to host a selection of the finest cocktails. The sound of urban modern jazz playing in the background keeps your feet tapping but conversations going. You can choose to sit on the large plush leather couches and enjoy that whiskey on the rocks or a dry Martini, or choose the high chairs and bar tables for a round of shots.

Here’s option two:

Inspired by Las Vegas and Miami night clubs, this concept boasts large spaces that allow you to let loose and absorb the lights and sounds of upbeat progressive music.  Whether you are on the dance floor or chilling out on the surrounding bed sized couches this concept will provide the perfect venue for a night of debauchery.

Excellent. The last time I went out to bars on a regular basis was around 2004, which means that I will feel right at home in either theme. In other words: yawn.

Which brings us to option three:

mybar – 1344 Park Avenue,  Beirut, is situated in the heart of the Beirut Central District. If you have a concept or an idea of what the next trendiest bar in Beirut should look like then start a thread on the wall describing it and see if your fellow Barnote owners agree with you. If so, your idea might be chosen as one of the three final concepts that Barnote owners vote on.

Please save mybar from being invaded by people who think that lychee martinis are hip. If you invest, please help your fellow barnote’rs and submit a new theme along with your investment application. Think of it as working toward a new consensus :).

Posted in advertising, Beirut, economics, nightlife | Leave a Comment »

stolen dreams, Bahraini-style

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 12, 2009

Sometimes I miss having a television. When I do, its not the long waits on Verizon’s customer service line that come to mind (or at least, not with any fondness!). What I remember are the curiously entertaining monthly visits from my grey-market satellite tv provider in Beirut.

I thought of those days again this morning, when this snippet from AME Info caught my eye:

The head of Orbit Showtime Middle East said illegal satellite users outnumber legitimate subscribers in Bahrain by five to one, forcing the company to ‘fight for its survival’, Gulf Daily News has reported. Marc-Antoine d’Halluin said the extent of illegal Dreambox usage is so severe that it has prompted the company to take a more hands-on approach to protecting its intellectual property rights. ‘There is no larger challenge for Orbit Showtime than to protect our business and to ensure that our product is not stolen via users of the Dreambox,’ he told the paper.

Yes, yes. I do understand the difficulties that illegal satellite usage poses to Orbit’s bottom line. But part of me smiled, thinking: Bahrain sounds like a place I could get into :).

Posted in Bahrain, Beirut, television | Leave a Comment »

 
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