A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

Category: Arabisms (Page 1 of 27)

Does Engineering Education Breed Terrorists?

I know, that question made me cringe, too.

But think about it. I’m not a sociologist, obviously, but in this country, it’s hard to miss the overlap between being ultra-conservative and being an engineer.

You just need to walk into any engineering department at the University of Jordan (aside from architectural engineering) or any corporate technology department to see how irrationally conservative engineers can be, compared to people who studied humanities or medicine.

I look at my own friends, too. Not a single one of my good friends has an engineering degree, which is saying something in a country that graduates the highest percentage of engineers in the MENA.

Enter this new book, “Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection Between Violent Extremism and Education”. The researchers began with a data set of nearly 500 Islamist extremists, almost all of them men. The researchers narrowed their list to 207 people who pursued higher education and whose majors could be determined. A pattern emerged: 93 of them, nearly 45 percent, had studied engineering. This frequency far exceeded what would be predicted statistically; among male college students from the 19 countries represented in the sample, fewer than 12 percent studied engineering.

You can read this article on Chronicle for more.

Teaching our kids art history, history, philosophy, and real literature will go a long way in ensuring that we don’t continue on this path of self-destruction. We need to teach our kids to empathize, to imagine, to create. We need them to get started on this really early, too.

Yes, math and science are essential. But I would argue that Plato, Picasso, and Alexander the Great are more essential for raising a future generation of Jordanians who are doers, makers, humanitarians, and thinkers.

How to Eat with Pita Bread

We learn to use Arabic bread as a utensil from the day we’re born. I never thought about how freakin’ weird that is for non-Arabs until a short while ago, when a friend visiting the Arab world for the first time had a hard time having dinner with us.

It was really freakin’ weird for me, too. What do you mean you don’t know how to scoop that labaneh? No, you can’t eat zaatar with a fork – you must dip it in oil first then in zaatar. Shoving the bread in your mouth separately from the cheese really defeats the purpose of this whole dinner. Come on… it’s not THAT hard.

Of course, it makes sense… it’s like using chopsticks in East Asia. When I went to South Korea, I was totally awed by how Koreans can eat ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING with chopsticks, really fast. I mean, I’m really good with chopsticks, but you know, with regular food like sushi, noodles, or stir fry. I certainly can’t slurp my soup with chopsticks.

I guess it’s the same thing with Arabic bread?

As I was having my scooping breakfast of hummus this morning, I started wondering (and googling).

Do all Arabs scoop their food with bread, or is it something Levantine? Do any other cultures have similar eating habits? Is is actually harder than it seems to us, given that we were raised scooping? I didn’t find any interesting answers on the Internet, but I did find a blog with amazing illustrations of how to scoop bread. Looks hard, doesn’t it?

So funny.

Googling images also shows that the Internet absolutely does not understand eating with Arabic bread.

Searching for “Dipping with pita”:

Searching for “Eating with pita”:

Searching for “Scooping with pita”:

The world is totally missing out. Must start a crusade to spread proper pita love.

Syria Break My Heart

The video was shot in parts of Jobar, once a highly populated neighborhood in outskirts of Syria’s Capital, Damascus.

My last trip to Syria

The situation in Syria is still very surreal. Like a bad dream stretching on and on and on.

Photos from my last trip to Syria in 2005. It was so alive. So crazy. So beautiful.

Edraak: Arabic-language, free education for all


Edraak is a new initiative that provides free high-quality courses in Arabic for anyone. As someone who finds formal education completely useless and as I learned most of what I know today on the web, I am very excited about the potential of such a platform. The partners are amazing too, which makes a huge difference: MIT, Harvard, AUB, and

Open education is one of the most beautiful concepts in the world. Most of us do not have the luxury of being able to afford attending educational institutions like Harvard and MIT, and many of us are not fluent in English. But with Edraak, we can all take a course in Arabic with world-class educators without paying a single penny or having to travel half-way across the world. Classes are weekly, and they come complete with assignments and everything.

I am really proud that Edraak is a Jordanian initiative. Those who know me are familiar with my passion for copyleft, Creative Commons, and the open-source movement. Information, after all, should be free. It should be accessible. Education is a basic human right, and since Jordan’s educational infrastructure and economy are not going to be able to allow us to go through the much-needed educational reforms any time soon, Edraak is certainly a silver lining.

It is also amazing that we’re giving back as we start to get. Edraak runs and gives back to EdX, an open-source platform.

Information should be free. Here’s to information freedom, and a world where ideas and knowledge are not owned or controlled, but are instead tools to change lives.

You can register for a course on Edraak today. Courses start in June.

The Arab World Online in 2014: Research

One of my favorite surveys we produce is the Internet survey, this year done in collaboration with the Mohammad Bin Rashid School of Government.

For those of us who love the Web, work on the Web, and find the Web particularly important, it’s fascinating to see the changing trends. Highlights from the survey:

1. The economic impact of Internet growth in the Arab region will only increase going forward. For example, in 2020, it is estimated that around 20 percent of the labor market in the Middle East and North Africa region will be related to internet and technology industries4. Unlike other mature sectors in Arab economies, these fast-growing industries will provide the majority of the badly needed new jobs.

2. Limited availability of relevant Arabic content online is a key barrier facing Arab Internet users. If we take Wikipedia as an example of digital knowledge production, less than 0.9 percent of the 31 million articles created online on that platform in the 285 language, are in Arabic. An insignificant figure, if one considers that the population of the Arab world today is more than 5 percent of the world.

3. “Accessibility and connectivity”, “cost” and “lack of content in my language” were the top three challenges facing internet users in the region.


4. Online purchasing trends are more positive than in previous waves of this research:
• 64% of respondents have never purchased books online
• 54% of respondents have never purchased airline tickets online
• 76% of respondents have never purchased movie/theater tickets online
• 55% of respondents don’t purchase other items online


5. 61% of respondents agreed that they could not live without the internet.

6. 79% of respondents indicated that the internet has made them more involved in their communities.



You can download the whole research paper here:

Samer and His Mother

Oh, joy. Oh, joy.

Samer is free.

Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi underwent an eight-month-long hunger strike against his administrative detention.

His mother’s face during his hunger strike:

Today, his mother Leila is dancing:

Mabrook Leila. Mabrook Palestine.

May victory touch every Palestinian man, woman, and child held in the prisons of the occupation, and put the smiles of joy on the faces of their mothers, fathers, spouses, and children.

May we see you smile.

Dubai is a nerd, and nerds are awesome

Today I realized that if Dubai were a person, it would be the nerd. The little kid in elementary school that no one noticed, but that worked really, really hard and did really, really well and then you know, became Bill Gates.

All the cool people go to Dubai-the-person’s parties, because even though he might not be inherently cool, the parties are awesome. They’re all about rubbing shoulders with the rich people in style, and if you have a great idea (or enough charisma), you might just make the right friends.

The campaign for the Dubai Expo was freaking awesome. Did you see the campaigns for the other countries bidding? They put no effort. But Dubai, being the nerd he is, turned his bidding project into something gorgeous.

Ahh… You know what I’ve been saying for years. Nerds make better lovers.

Hats off to Dubai.

Now that I’ve realized you’re a nerd… I might just start to understand you better… And then – gasp – perhaps even like you.

I wish you are unharmed every year

In Levantine Arabic, we say “kol saneh o inta salem” for “happy birthday”, and “happy holidays”. The phrase can be translated into “May you be unharmed every year”, where “salem” means “unharmed”.

Amusingly, I never thought of the irony of this phrase until this moment.

In a historically screwed-up region, it’s funny that our greeting is about the concept of lack of harm, as opposed to happiness.

Happiness, I suppose, is too lofty a goal. We have never lived in long periods of peace. Ever. Not since the Roman times. Or since Jesus was here. Or the Crusades. Or the Ottomans. Or WWII. Or the Zionist occupation.

Who needs happiness when you just want to ensure not coming to harm, quite literally?

I wish you lack of harm every year. Kol saneh o inta salem.


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