How to look like you know what you’re doing when you don’t really speak Arabic

You’ve probably heard that Arabic is one of the most difficult languages for non-native speakers to learn. New students of Arabic hear this from fellow learners with some experience with the language, and once you actually arrive in the Middle East, you will likely hear it regularly from the native speakers you interact with (they might even say it to you in English even if you address them only in Arabic).

While Arabic may terrify some beginners due to its alphabet and seemingly complex grammar structure, it is not an impossible endeavour if you can get past these early challenges and navigate the inevitable plateaus you face when learning any language.

For those just starting their journey into the Arabic language (or planning a trip to the region), Al Miraah brings you this short list of regularly used phrases and the appropriate responses that will allow you pretend that you actually know what you’re doing.

These are daily phrases that will hopefully lead to you receiving the following confidence-boosting (although slightly condescending) compliment from sympathetic native speakers:

.ولله بتحكي عربي أحسن مني
wallahi bitaHki 3arabi aHsan minii: I swear, you speak Arabic better than I do.

So without further ado, please enjoy and use wisely the following:

Situation Phrase Response Literal Meaning
Meeting someone for the first time.  تشرّفنا

فرصة سعيدة
furSa sa3iida

الله يزيدك شرف
Allah yiziidak sharaf

وأنا أسعد
wa ana asa3d

 It’s an honour.
R: God increase your honour.

Happy chance!
R: And I’m happier.

When someone is working.  يعطيك العافية
ya3Tiik il-3aafiyeh
الله يعافيك
Allah yi3aafiik
 God give you wellness.
R: And you.
After someone returns safely from travelling.  الحمد لله عالسلامة
il-hamdillah 3al-salaameh
 الله يسلمك
Allah yisalmak
 Thank God for your safety.
R: May God preserve you.
After someone has a shower/gets their hair cut/shaves.  نعيما
 الله ينعم عليك
Allah yin3am 3alayk
 May you be blessed.
R: God bless you.
 Generic greeting/saying thanks.  حياك الله
Hayaak Allah
الله يحييك
Allah yiHayik
 May God preserve your life.
R: And yours.
 After someone passes away. الله يرحمه\ها
Allah yarhamuh
 May God have mercy on him/her.
R: He/she lives.
 Before eating. صحتين والعافية
SaHtayn wal-3aafiyeh
 علی قلبك
3ala albak (qalbak/galbak)
 Health and wellness.
R: On your heart.
 To say thank you to someone who has given you something (ie. served you food). يسلمو إيديك\كي
yislamu ideek/ki


wa ideek/ki

علی رأسي
3ala raasii

 May your hands be kept safe.
R: And yours.

May you be safe.
R: On my head.

Note: These are all regularly used in the dialect spoken in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem). They are also used widely in other areas of بلاد الشام (bilad ash-shaam, or the Levant), such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.


How Middle East and North Africa governments and political leaders reacted to the Charlie Hebdo attacks

The brutal terrorist attacks in Paris which targeted the headquarters of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, as well as a kosher grocery store, left 17 people dead. An outpouring of international support for the French government and people has been heard in the days since.

Laura Danielle and Kevin Moore break down how some governments and political leaders in the Middle East and North Africa responded to the events.

Charlie Hebdo Unity March
World leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, French President François Hollande and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, take part in a Unity rally Marche Republicaine in Paris on 11 January 2015 (via PATRICK KOVARIKPATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)

Continue reading

Egyptian-Qatari Rapprochement Could Push Hamas Back into Tehran’s Orbit

Post-Arab Spring regional realignment broke Hamas’ ties with Iran, now normalisation of relations between Egypt and Qatar could bring them back

There are recent indications that Egypt and Qatar are on the path to reconciliation. Qatar’s relations with a number of states in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been strained due to the small Gulf state’s support for Islamist movements, namely the Muslim Brotherhood. While meetings between Egyptian and Qatari diplomats may not lead to a full thawing of relations, normalisation does have major implications for the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (known better by its Arabic acronym: Hamas).

The Syrian conflict precipitated a shifting of alliances in the MENA region. The Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, as well as Iranian support for military operations against a nascent rebellion in early-2012, led Hamas leadership to withdraw from its headquarters in Damascus and relocate to the Qatari capital of Doha.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal delivering a speech in Damascus in 2005 (via LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Hamas envisioned an opportunity with the so-called “Arab Spring.” Long-marginalised Islamist political organisations mobilised with strong showings in post-revolutionary elections, heralding a shift toward Sunni Islamist rule in the region. Hamas viewed this new status quo as more favourable to its struggle for Palestinian liberation, especially compared to the Arab dictators who had made peace with Israel. In Tunisia, the Ennahda party won October 2011 parliamentary elections and in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood — Hamas’ parent organisation — and the Salafist Hezb an-Nour won a plurality of votes in late-2011/early-2012 parliamentary elections. Additionally, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi claimed victory as Egypt’s first democratically-elected president in June 2012.

Continue reading

Review: Israel and the Family of Nations: The Jewish Nation-State and Human Rights

Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubinstein, Israel and the Family of Nations: The Jewish Nation-State and Human Rights (Routledge: London, 2008).

Israel and the Family of Nations: The Jewish Nation-State and Human RightsOn November 24th, 2014 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a bill to his cabinet that would define Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”. This bill proved so acrimonious that Netanyahu dismissed two important cabinet members over its content and ultimately decided to dissolve the Knesset in favour of elections. The debate is not new; the question of “Jewish and democratic” has long been a divisive one in Israeli history. Following the 1967 war, there has been a controversial debate about the future of Israel. Its future is debated in both practical and existential terms usually framed with reference to ‘the Palestinian Question.’ This is usually phrased as to what extent can, and should, Israel maintain its status as a simultaneously Jewish and democratic state. Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubinstein have attempted to settle this debate by arguing that Israel can and must be both Jewish and democratic. They ultimately conclude that a failure to view Israel as such denies its legitimacy as a nation-state. The authors seek to contextualize the case of Israel in a world of modern nations and liberal democracies and to ultimately contest the concept that Israel’s very existence needs re-examining.

Continue reading