Last Thursday, the Washington Post published Austin Tice’s Facebook post from July 25. He is a journalist working in Syria who has been missing since mid-August, but before his disappearance he was bold enough to write this manifesto for being unafraid of death. If you read nothing else in this column and know nothing else about the Middle East, please read this. It’s moving, eye-opening, and will probably make your heart ache. Here is my favorite part:
We kill ourselves every day with McDonald’s and alcohol and a thousand other drugs, but we’ve lost the sense that there actually are things out there worth dying for. We’ve given away our freedoms piecemeal to robber barons, but we’re too complacent to do much but criticize those few who try to point out the obvious.
This week's roundup is all about money.
- Finally, the Arab Spring is heating up in Saudi Arabia! Sure, small protests have been going on since February of last year, but the demonstrations have recently become violent. Usually, the Saudi government just uses oil money to pay off its people and keep things quiet, like giving your dog a treat so he'll shut the fuck up. It often works, since (sadly) most people are willing to trade some freedoms for cash.
This protesting minority—the Shiite Muslims—are the ones voicing against the injustice and they also happen to be the ones occupying the Eastern Province, which holds about 90 percent of the nation's oil reserves. You probably know this already, but here's a refresher: Oil controls gas prices. We use gas to transport everything. If transportation costs go up, so does the cost of doing business therefore the cost of your products.
The country isn't exactly exploding in revolution—only about a dozen people have died since the violence began—but our dependence on the Saudis' oil makes this potentially very big news
- Sexism continues to sweep the globe, as the Iranian government has basically just kicked women out of higher education. Thirty-six Iranian universities announced that in the new academic year, 77 undergraduate courses will be “single gender” and essentially only available to men. They’re worried that if women get educated, they'll out-perform men, leading to the social side effects like declines in the birth and marriage rates. Translation, “The women are getting too smart. If this continues, they’ll realize we’re a bunch of fools and run away.”
- Well, President Morsi is , I suppose. He lived up to his promise and appointed a woman to his cabinet. He also appointed a Coptic Christian. I still don't trust him and I think the Muslim Brotherhood has too much power.
- In better news, my people are brilliant. When I was a 16 year old, I cried over boys and got into so many car accidents that I almost lost my driver's license. Luckily, today's Egyptian teenagers are nothing like me and one of them wrote a proposal that could help Egypt turn plastic waste into $78 million worth of biofuel. Oh, and guess what, Iran? That teenager happens to be a woman.
- The prime minister of Qatar just bought an unimaginably lavish mansion in Manhattan for $47 million. Either the NYC real estate market is really shitty or all the days spent in Middle Eastern bazaars taught the PM how to haggle properly, because the 21,000-square-foot property was originally listed for $75 million in 2008. Who needs this much space you ask? A guy with two wives and 16 children, of course. No word as of yet from the National Review whether his wealth and large family would make him a good US president.
- Even though the debate whether or not Israel will bomb Iran is “over” and the Israeli president publicly denied these statements, it seems like the Israeli version of Oscar the Grouch isn’t convinced. An Israeli military-issued booklet features the Muppet with advice on how to react in case of an attack. I'm not sure what the final verdict is, but I now realize that I need to start watching Shalom Street in case Big Bird announces "W" is for "War!"
- The US budget deficit is really, really, really big: $1.75 trillion to be exact. To put it in perspective, if the government debt was, say, the credit card debt of US citizens, it would mean that every man, woman, and child in our country owe about $5,833, due at least partly to the massively expensive wars we've waged in the Middle East. Meanwhile, some of the countries in the region are doing just dandy. Last week, the Kuwaiti government has a $13.2 billion budget surplus. Good for them, I guess. I wonder if they have any tips for us. "Don't pay for any wars" might be one.
- I hope you get to go to a Middle Eastern wedding one day. They’re a lot of fun. A friend of mine had these dancers who wore pantaloons and fezzes while wielding scimitars. One of my cousins hired a belly dancer whose hair cascaded past her butt as she balanced a medieval chandelier lit with candles. A less fun thing that happens at weddings is men sometimes fire guns in the air to celebrate. Living in Egypt, I can attest to this first hand. Last week, a 24-year-old groom was killed on his wedding night from the stray bullet and now the Kuwaiti government is pushing to ban personal firearms. In light of all the shootings in the US over the summer, I can’t help but agree with them.
- I know, I know. The media sucks. They’re all biased in some form or another, but Arabic media is the crème de la crème of biased reporting. You know how MSNBC is like the Obama Network and Fox News is the Republican Drivel Network? Well, Al Jazeera is like that but for the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera fine-tuned this art to actually report different things depending on the language they’re broadcasting in. In Foreign Policy, Sultan Al Qassemi just called out Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, the two major news organizations in the Middle East. He points out a few things, but generally he’s pissed about how they’re reporting Syria. It’s not as funny as when Jon Stewart calls out Fox News, but it’s worth a read.