Photo by Justin Salhani

 My latest column:

How speaking French can help the Arab world

By Claude Salhani

A language is far more than a means of communication. Language defines who we are. Arab countries were greatly influenced by the colonial power that occupied, colonized or culturized them.

Yes, the colonial power of the day, be it Great Britain or France, had a lasting impact on the nations their sailors, soldiers, explorers and adventurers claimed in the name of a distant king or queen to whom these "subjects" were expected to swear allegiance.

Be it Britain or France, each left their lasting mark on the nations they occupied, albeit sometimes giving the occupation a somewhat less offensive or less arrogant moniker; ie; calling it a protectorate, a mandate, or an overseas territory or yet, an overseas department.

In the case of Algeria they didn't even bother claiming it as an "overseas department." Rather Algeria was made into a French department in the same right as the Dordogne or the Marne in metropolitan France. Algeria was actually made up of two departments: Alger and Oran.

To this day the French language and by direct association French culture, ie: books, newspapers and magazines, and movies for television as well as for the big screen, and now the Internet with the capability of accessing the web in French allows for the expansion of French culture. When one talks about French culture one must not forget French cuisine, French haute couture, and of course, French politics.

The two leading colonial languages continue to influence the Arab world to this day. Language represents culture and a way of life.

Look at the military in countries such as Jordan, once part of Britain's domain, which included the Gulf countries, Palestine and Iraq, while the French found its way in North Africa and Lebanon and Syria.

An example of how this linguistic influence works becomes apparent when Arabs from one colonial influence tries to communicate with fellow Arabs from the other imperial background.

At the start of the Iraq-Iran war I found myself riding in an Iraqi army jeep, part of a two jeep convoy heading for the front lines. At one point we were right on the border line going up a very steep hill. It had rained and the ground was a blanket of thick mud. My driver, a conscript, who had never driven a jeep before and never seen combat was understandably terrified, his fear amplified by the Iranian mortars that were being lobbed, no doubt for our benefit.

The young and inexperienced Iraqi driver stalled the jeep leaving us exposed to the incoming Iranian mortar fire. He tried to get the jeep moving again while in second gear. Speaking in Lebanese Arabic, I kept telling him to put the car in first gear using the French word as the Lebanese tend to do when it comes to dealing with anything technical. I said "Hut premierre." Of course the Iraqi could not understand what I was trying to say beyond the word "hut" (in English, "put.")

A sergeant who was driving the lead jeep, realized there was a problem jumped out of his vehicle and came to see what was holding us up. I told the sergeant the driver was trying to drive up that hill in the wrong gear. I keep telling him premierre, hut premierre. The sergeant tapped the soldier on the shoulder and told him "Hut first."

This incident was like an epiphany. Iraqis and Lebanese both speak Arabic but one is using English words while the other turns to French.

The great divide between French and English is indeed far wider than the narrow body of water that geographically separates the two former colonial powers. These days the battle for the hearts and minds -and tongues - takes on a different approach.

While Britain has the Commonwealth the French have the Francophonie, where not the only French speakers are members. Who would have ever guessed that Armenia, a former Soviet republic, not a French speaking country by any means, would get to host the latest edition of the Francophonie summit held this week in its capital, Yerevan.

Among the 58 member countries and 26 observers represented include a number of Arab leaders, notably Lebanese and Tunisian presidents.

Do Arabs have a stake in the international French-speaking community? Does France continue to play an important role its former domains? Paris likes to think it does.

Lebanon for one, or at least a large segment of the Lebanese population, still turn to Paris for political support, when I n a crunch. Whether the French and the Francophonie still matter in the Arab world is debatable. Paris thought it could influence Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier in he Syrian conflict and avoid the bloodshed the country, a former French protectorate, has endured.

It turned out that French were preaching in the desert.

Still, the Francophonie could be a bridge between the Arab world and other parts of the globe such as Europe and Africa. One of the assets of the Francophonie is the fact that it's reaching out to different cultures. This can only be a positive development amid globalization trends t that places all cultures in one single mold.

France has always been an important partner for the Arab world. It can still offer prospects in the future providing a counter view of the world as presented by Washington.

The Francophonie represents one of the biggest linguistic zones in the world. Its members share more than just a common language. They also share the humanist values promoted by the French language. The French language and its humanist values represent the two cornerstones on which the Francophonie is based.

Created in 1970, the Francophonie sees its mission as formulating a deep sense of solidarity between its 84 members, 58 members and 26 observers. Together they represent over one-third of the United Nations' member states and account for a population of over 900 million people, including 274 million French speakers.

Its actions respect cultural and linguistic diversity and serve to promote the French language, peace and sustainable development. Along with the sale of French made weaponry to hot spots around the world.

Knowledge of French in such cases is not a prerequisite. The merchants of French weapon systems also speak fluent English.

by Claude Salhani

French, German and Belgian anti-terror police units are blaming Iran for an attempt to bomb a convention centre in France last June. The intended target was the leadership of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK) - the People's Resistance of Iran - a Paris-based opposition group vehemently opposed to the regime of the mullahs.

Iran is conflating rhetoric with reality   

by Claude Salhani

In the great Hollywood classic "Casablanca," when a German officer is killed, the knee-jerk reaction from the prefect of police - de-spite having witnessed the killing and standing near the shooter - is: "Round up the usual suspects."Iranian authorities reacted in a similar manner following the September 22 attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, commemorating the Iraq-Iran 8-year war in which close to 250,000 Iranian combatants died. About the same number of Iraqi soldiers died in fighting reminiscent of the trench warfare of World War One.

Trump closing PLO office in Washington invites Palestinian extremism

by Claude Salhani

US President Donald Trump has ordered the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's office in Washington, the closest thing the Palestinians have to an embassy in the United States, drawing criticism from numerous diplomatic sources and killing what little chances there may have been of reviving the dormant Middle East peace process.

Ordering the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) mission in Washington comes on the heels of Trump cancelling a badly needed financial assistance package given yearly to the beleaguered Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Those funds were used to pay for health-care and education programmes. (click on the headline for full story)

Handling of Syria tragedy shows US foreign policy is broken

by Claude Salhani

US foreign policy is broken. How to fix it remains to be seen. This is not a new problem. Derailed US foreign policy is not uniquely a result of US President Donald Trump's lack of coherence in dealing with other world leaders and getting a handle on crises.

From misjudging the depth of the Arab-Israeli conflict, ignoring the tragedy in Syria, pushing relations with Turkey to an all-time low and bringing tensions with Moscow to a Cold War-era level or simply shoving aside the prime minister of a friendly country as though he were a hooligan, the Trump administration has made a mess of things.

US sanctions affecting Iran from nukes to nappies

by Claude Salhani

US-imposed sanctions on Tehran ar e starting to affect all aspects of daily life in Iran with some basic necessities becoming scarce, adding to the people's growing frustration with the government's handling of the economy.

Even when certain items in high demand are available, prices are likely to skyrocket. Such is the situation with baby nappies, which, when available, have increased as much as 137%.

Iran at war with Shakespeare and its own people\

by Claude Salhani

To ban or not to ban? That is the question Iranian authorities are asking themselves amid one more idiotic decision by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the semi-official ISNA News Agency reported. Or, as those two government entities should appropriately be called, the Ministry of Thought and the Ministry of Truth.

Placing the Israeli cart before the Palestinian horse

by Claude Salhani

US President Donald Trump's latest attempt at finding a solution to the long-standing Arab-Israeli dispute has been rejected by Palestinians and Jordanians as unrealistic. There are certain processes that need following in any negotiations if one hopes to achieve results but Trump thinks that all the harsh realities of the conflict, the wars, the occupation and the terrorism that grew out of this conflict can be bypassed by placing the proverbial Israeli cart before the Palestinians' horse, if they even have one. (click on headline for full story.)

Russia, Iran and Syria - talk about strange bedfellows. You could not get three more opposing ideas and philosophies than from those three. Well, except for the fact that all are authoritative states ruled by autocratic leaders with a deep-rooted desire to spread their political agendas and to dominate as much of the world as possible. (Except for Syria, which is just trying to survive).

This piece was written in 2007 for The American Conservative magazine. it warns of the advances the Chinese have made in space:


The weakness of any authoritative leader -- be it US President Donald Trump or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- usually comes down to two weak links: their insistence on surrounding themselves with "loyal" people, regardless of competence," and the mismanagement of the economy, usually by the same incompetent people put in power because of their loyalty.


Qatar's unsportsmanlike behaviour is a source of concern

by Claude Salhani

"Fair play" has been the motto of FIFA, the world governing body that organises World Cup football tournament -- the world's most popular sporting event.

However, the controversy surroundinng Qatar, the host country for the 2022 World Cup, has proven to be anything but fair play. British media reports indicate that Qatari government has bribed FIFA officials and potential host countries' representatives to swing the vote to host the tournament in Qatar's favour. (CLICK here for full story).

Trump's approach to Middle East politics will further muddle the debate

by Claude Salhani

US President Donald Trump may think he is the latest and the greatest of them all in everything from business to politics.

He may think he is more cunning than a KGB officer who was in charge of East Germany under Soviet rule.

He may even believe he can convince the North Koreans to forgo their nuclear weapons and that he is savvy enough to negotiate with the Iranian leadership. (Click here for full story.)


Welcome to my website. Use  the menu bar on the left to navigate to other pages.

Victory lap in Syria comes with death notices

by Claude Salhani

There seems to be a significant turn of events in the Syrian civil war with President Bashar Assad indicating he is the ultimate winner. In recent weeks, the Syrian government has issued hundreds of death notices of deceased political detainees who had been held in government detention facilities.

Observers familiar with this situation in Syria say this may be a sign that Assad feels he can declare himself the victor of the protracted civil war. (click here for the rest of the piece.)

What did Qatar think it was doing providing $1 billion to a terrorist group?

By Claude Salhani -
How should the international community deal with state-sponsored terrorism? The official position of most countries is to not negotiate with terrorists because it encourages them to commit further acts of terrorism.
Does paying a ransom encourage more of the same? (Click h§ere for complete story

Censorship is alive and well in Israel

by Claude Salhani

When thinking of censorship in the Middle East, many people, especially Americans, tend to think that most, if not all, Arab countries impose some form of censorship on foreign and domestic media. Many countries in the region do impose restrictions on the press but typically those affect domestic media.

Hezbollah leaves Lebanon in murky waters

By Claude Salhani

Lebanon's primary export should be prosperity and neutrality, as had long been the case. The "Switzerland of the Middle East," they used to say. Ah, but those days of political insouciance when the Lebanese would steer clear of regional politics are long gone. (more)

Why resolving the question of Palestine is still important

By Claude Salhani

The Gaza Strip, historically a thorn in the side of whoever occupied the turbulent territory, represents a major security risk for Israel and can spell real trouble for the PalestinianGaza carries all the characteristics of a failed state - and then some - due to the complex relationship it has with the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank.

Managed by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement (if one can use the word "managed" loosely), Gaza is a major problem for the Palestinian Authority that rules in the West Bank but is also a major security headache for Israel

. (Click here for full story)

Assad is fooling no one

By Claude Salhani

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad may succeed in fooling some into believing that he has won the war that has ripped his country apart and forced nearly one-third of the Syrian people to become refugees. He may have even succeeded in fooling himself into believing he will emerge victorious from the nightmarish ordeal through which he has taken Syria. 

Rohani embarks on charm campaign in Europe while threatening neighbours

By Claude Salhani

Iranian President Hassan Rohani appeared to threaten to disrupt oil shipments from neighbouring countries if Washington presses ahead with its promise to prevent the sale of Iranian oil. The thinly veiled threats made July 3 at a media event in Zurich during the Iranian ppresident's visit.

Tehran's Grand Bazaar unrest harbinger of change to come

By Claude Salhani

Despite the opening of two modern shopping malls in Tehran, the country's Grand Bazaar has always been the pulse of Iran's trade and commerce. The bazaar has constantly provided an accurate reflection of the country's political mood.

Erdogan re-election worries the West and with good reaso

By Claude Salhani

If Turkey still held a tiny sliver of hope of being allowed to join the European Union, that chance is gone with the re-election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to another term as president. (Click here for the rest of the story)

Palestinians take to the air - somewhat - amid threats of cuts to refugee aid

By Claude Salhani

Facing the worst funding crisis in its 68-year history, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) warned it has "an unprecedented shortfall" of more than $250 million.

With the danger of having emergency assistance to its refugees severely cut back, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are flying kites and balloons that would be set on fire and crashed into Israeli orchards. There have been no reports of human casualties on the Israeli side because of the attacks but estimates of damages caused to property put the figure at more than $2 million.

Addressing the UN Security Council, UN Middle East Envoy Nikolay Mladenov warned that UNRWA was "weeks away from painful cuts" to its emergency assistance for Gaza and refugees and elsewhere because of the gap in its budget. All relief work would end by August.

However, as the assault of burning kites continued, Palestinians said the action was in retaliation against Israelis for closing the border and depriving thousands of Palestinians of day jobs in Israel. Palestinian protesters flew hundreds of kites, Hamas officials said, that descended on orchards in Israel, starting fires and causing damage to property.

The Trump administration told the United Nations last January - although not in so many words - that it was withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding instalment for UNRWA. It released $60 million so the agency wouldn't shut down but made clear that additional US donations would be contingent on major reforms within UNRWA.

ed to be ineffective against the Gazans' low-tech attack. Price of an F-35: $93.4 million. Price of a kite: $3-4.

This is not the first time low-tech methods have been used in the Middle East against a far superior military force. Think back to the devastating effect that improvised explosive devices - IEDs - had against coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ironically, in Afghanistan, a country where flying kites was a national pastime, the flying of kites was banned under the Taliban.

When the roots of conflict are not addressed, violence can always find even the implausible means to manifest itself.

Change in Iran will have to come from the inside

by Claude Salhani

Since it officially became an Islamic republic in 1979, Iran has consistently tried to expand its horizons and enlarge its influence. As one observer pointed out, Iran is the only country with expansionism as a founding tenet in its constitution.

Indeed, Iran or its proxies control parts of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen as well the Gaza Strip. There is an added value to having a say in Gaza as it gives the Iranians access to Egypt and Israel's back door