Guest post: Facebook Counts

Jona Fras* holds an MSc in Arab World Studies from the University of Edinburgh, UK, and is currently conducting PhD research on colloquial Arabic and radio in Jordan. His musings on this can be found on his blog ( and occasionally on Twitter (@jonafras).

During the final days of Muhammad al-Wakeel’s stint at Radio Rotana – when his programme was still called بصراحة مع الوكيل, “Honestly with al-Wakeel” – the host dedicated one Thursday session to an on-air interview with Rajae Qawas, a comedian best known for his work on the Arabic entertainment network Kharabeesh. They touched on many topics, including family, fan interactions, Kharabeesh’s online competitors (Saudis, apparently), and the use of Jordanian dialect in comedy. Eventually, the talk turned to Qawas’s imitation act, and Abu Haytham came up with a challenge.

“Could you do an impression of me?”

Qawas rose to it splendidly. Not as much the tone of voice – though he did nail al-Wakeel’s distinctive cadence, with rises at the end of phrases followed by over-extended pauses – as the way in which the star host tends to conduct his on-air interactions: reading out listeners’ names, responding to their greetings posted on social media, and re-phrasing and appropriating the problems from their call-ins to fit into his own personal performance arc.

And, to top it all off, a reference to al-Wakeel’s personal “Page” on Facebook.

صار عندنا على صفحتنا اكثر من مليون و نصّ (..) مشاهد و

we now have on our page more than a million and a half (..) viewers and…

(The (..) stands for a longer pause. Source: bi-SiraaHa ma3 al-wakiil recording, Radio Rotana, 10 April 2014)

A clever choice – especially given that, for the past few days, al-Wakeel had worked in his number of Facebook followers into just about every third sentence he spoke on air. “We’ve reached a million and a half followers on our Facebook page.” “A million and a half friends.” “More than a million and a half.” And so on, and so on.

A star, indeed, to be liked by so many.

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The Etymology of the Islamic State

Prior to adopting the name “Islamic State”, the terrorist organisation referred to by American President Barack Obama as ISIL and French President François Hollande as Daesh went through many different iterations, each with its own name.

Islamic State flag in Mosul
A motorist drives beneath a flag of the Islamic State at the entrance of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul (via Associated Press)

Aaron Zelin, founder of the fantastic website, outlined the group’s development since its establishment in Iraq in early-1999. The group that has come to be known as the Islamic State was founded as Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (جماعة التوحيد والجهاد)– Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad — by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The group did not gain notoriety until in 2004, following the American invasion of Iraq, it adopted the name Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين) — Al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers (Mesopotamia), better known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). For a brief period in 2006, prior to Zarqawi’s death, the group was organised into Majlis Shura al-Mujahedin (مجلس شورى المجاهدين) — the Mujahedin Shura Council. Following Zarqawi’s death in a US targeted strike in June 2006, the group was rebranded in October 2006 as dawlat al-iraq al-islamiyya (دولة العراق الإسلامية) — the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).

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Picks of the week, 19-25 January

Bethan Staton, The deep roots of the Palestine-Israel conflict, Al Jazeera, 21 January 2015.
Julian Pecquet, Congress torn between Europe, Israel on Iran, Al-Monitor, 22 January 2015.
Madawi al-Rasheed, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia obituary, The Guardian, 22 January 2015.
Karl Sharro, The Confused Person’s Guide to Understanding Yemen, Karl reMarks, 23 January 2015.
Egypt Cancels January 25 Revolution Celebrations, Egyptian Streets, 23 January 2015.
Hussein Ibish, How King Abdullah Set Stage for Saudi Reforms — and Opening to Israel, The Jewish Daily Forward, 23 January 2015.
Yassine Majdi, Le Maroc, un acteur important de la luttle contre le terrorisme?, TelQuel, 23 January 2015.
Robin Wright, Postscript: King Abdullah, 1924-2015, The New Yorker, 23 January 2015.
Lina Khatib, The Regional Impact of Saudi Succession, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 23 January 2015.
Ian Cobain, Revealed: how Blair colluded with Gaddafi regime in secret, The Guardian, 23 January 2015.
Nicky Woolf, American Sniper: anti-Muslim threats skyrocket in wake of film’s release, The Guardian, 24 January 2015.
Merrit Kennedy, Libyan Extremist Group Says Leader Has Been Killed, Associated Press, 24 January 2015.
Uri Misgav, Israel’s centrist parties should unite to defeat Netanyahu in the election, Haaretz, 25 January 2015.
H.A. Hellyer, Power, the January 25 revolutionaries, and responsibility, Mada Masr, 24 January 2015.

Mourners gather around the grave of Saudi King Abdullah following his burial in Riyadh
Mourners gather around the grave of Saudi King Abdullah following his burial in Riyadh (via The Telegraph)

Did you read an interesting news article, op-ed, analysis or report in the last week that you’d like to share? Provide a link in the comments section below!

Picks of the week, 12-18 January

Abderrahim Chalfaouat, Morocco’s complex media politics of anti-Sisi rhetoric, Middle East Monitor, 12 January 2015.
Ahmed Rashi, Waking Up to the New al-Qaeda, The New York Review of Books, 12 January 2015.
Ali Mamouri and Pascale Menassa (translator), Shiite leaders forbid insults against Sunnis, Al-Monitor, 13 January 2015.
Vera Mironova, Loubna Mrie, Richard Nielson and Sam Whitt, Syria’s Democracy Jihad: Why ISIS Fighters Support the Votes, Foreign Affairs, 13 January 2015.
Living in the Shadows: Jordan Home Visits Report 2014, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 14 January 2014.
Richard Spencer, Revealed: Saudi Arabia’s ‘Great Wall’ to keep out Isil, The Telegraph, 14 January 2015.
Daniel Wagner, Bahrain’s Daesh Dilemma, The Huffington Post, 15 January 2015.
Brian Fishman, Jihadis Are Not Only Attacking the Media; They Are Using It, War on the Rocks, 15 January 2015.
Alon Ben-Meir, Netanyahu’s Policies Are Fueling Anti-Semitism, Your Middle East, 15 January 2015.
Aaron Stein, Turkey’s Proxy War in Libya, War on the Rocks, 15 January 2015.
Sandro Lutyens, The making and unmaking of a Tunisian Salafi, al-Araby al-Jadeed, 16 January 2015.
Winter storms bring tragedy and loss to Palestine refugees across the region, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 16 January 2015.United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 16 January 2015.
Heba Afify, 30 hours of train trauma, Mada Masr, 17 January 2015.

Tunisian Salafis
Salafis in Tunisia have increased in number since 2011 and become more vocal (via al-Araby al-Jadeed)

Did you read an interesting news article, op-ed, analysis or report in the last week that you’d like to share? Provide a link in the comments section below!

U.S. Lacks Long-Term Strategy in the Fight Against ISIS

There is a lot of confusion about the American strategy toward the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This is partially due to the President Obama’s lack of specificity and the shortsighted nature of Congress. The conversation now revolves around a question of how we can prevent “lone wolf” attacks at home, when perpetrators are inspired by ISIS or Al Qaeda-affiliated groups. But this still falls in the context of the war America currently fights against ISIS in the Middle East.

On Tuesday, congressional counterterrorism policy advisor Harlan Geer spoke to the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University about Congress’ lack of a long-term strategy on the issue.

U.S. airstrike on Kobani
Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in November (via Associated Press)

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