Ramadan in Sudan

The Portuguese southern province of Algarve is one of the favorite holiday destinations of northern Europeans. Any word that starts with Al is of Arab origin, and many of us think that Algarve means The Garden. It sounds good phonetically, and matches the bounty of oranges, almonds, and carob. In Portuguese, carob is alfarroba, clearly an Arab word. By contrast, orange in Arabic is burtuqaal, the same as the country.

There is a consensus that oranges arrived in Europe from China, the species being Citrus sinensis, which says it all. If the Portuguese were responsible for their distribution, it will have been after the days of The India Road, well into the XVIth century.

But Al Gharb in reality means the west, not the garden, since it was the western province of the caliphate. And it is to the west we are looking tonight, to the west of Egypt, in point of fact, as the Libyan regime collapses, live on TV. The coverage on CNN and the BBC doesn’t hold a candle to Al Jazeera. As you might expect, Al Jazeera has all the reporters in place, links to people on the ground, the works. The Iranian station Press TV, a pathetic portrayal of a dictatorship, has chosen to show what all totalitarian regimes would report.

I took a break from Al Jazeera to see the coverage on Press TV. The station has been rabidly anti-Gaddafi, right up there with the Islamic movements, but tonight, at the height of the action in Tripoli, it is showing a report on Ramadan in Sudan. Which appears to be exactly like Ramadan anywhere else. Abstinence from dawn till dusk, a period for the faithful to engage in spiritual matters, and to move closer to God. The fall of Tripoli? Ain’t happening. Hungary celebrates national day with fireworks in Budapest. Dictatorships only like to extol world events after they’re sure the spin is tilting the ball in their favor.

But Saif, our man from the Libyan School of Economics, has apparently surrendered, the colonel is haphazardly appealing to women who have been retrained in the use of weapons, and Moussa Ibrahim, government spokesman, sounds suspiciouly like the ineffable Comical Ali.

What will happen to Gaddafi? Many of the families of the victims of Panam 103 will tonight be praying that he is caught and killed. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword. But somehow I think the loopy dictator will make it. He’s a lot less stupid than he looks. Apparently, two South African planes are at Tripoli airport. We’re at the high point of unconfirmed rumors. Zimbabwe? Angola? Some deal brokered by ‘Honest Jake’ Zuma?

Most important, what happens tomorrow? Ben Ali is in Saudi Arabia, Yemen has gone, Mubarak is in a cage. Syria’s in the sidelines. Iran makes the right noises, but images of crowds celebrating freedom, including many women, is hardly Tehran’s cup of tea. Further to the Al Gharb, there’s Algeria and Morocco. I don’t hear the EU or the US making much noise about that.

As for Libya, Blair’s deals with the regime are long dead, and I suspect a new deal for oil is already in place. I’ll be watching shares of British Petroleum with some interest tomorrow morning.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

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