Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hizbollah, games and mobiles

Just back from the Middle East. Spoke to loads of people en route (actually loads of men and just one woman) in cafes and internet cafes. The take up of new technology is astonishing - here's a few examples:

Hizbollah Computer Game
We were in Jordan during the Israel-Lebanon war and it was interesting to see how the arab world sees this conflict. In effect, they see a different war. The news footage is full of Hizbollah, as well as Israeli, attacks. I seem to remember only seeing Israeli shot satellite images. Hizbollah means Party of God and have distanced themselves from Al Qaida. Indeed they despise Osama Bin Laden. Nasrallah is much more moderate than we in the west are led to believe. He denounced the 9/11 attacks as well as attacks on tourists in Egypt.

This is a sophisticated organisation who have even produced their own computer game - Special Force. This is based on Hizbollah's 20 year battle with Israel and is produced in Arabic, French and Farsi. They did this to counter the effects of US inspired military games that show the arab world as cannon fodder for US forces.

Special Force simulates operations on Israeli soldiers. You are a Hizbollah fighter and have to cope with the weather, mines and different numbers of Israeli troops. You can practise your sniping skills on Israeli political and military figures including the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The game resists the Israeli occupation through the mediaand sold thousands of copies in Lebanon in the first two weeks after its release and has gone on to sell at least 10,000 more since in other countries.

Internet Cafes
These were everywhere, even in the smallest of towns, and were very busy. Walking around observing I saw lots of guys playing games but also lots of veiled women on online dating or social websites. I can't read arabic, but the lurid graphics - large red hearts etc - were a sure sign. It would seem that the internet is one way to escape the strict rules about social appearance and contact.

Camel driver and blackberry
In the Wadi Rum, a wonderful and huge desert reserve (famously featured in the film Lawrence of Arabia) I witnessed a camel driver with a Blackberry.

Bedouin and satellite TV
The bedioun are a wonderful sight in their low slung goat-hair tents (expand in summer to create holes for airflow, contract in winter to keep in heat) and always a herd of goats, sheep and sometimes camels. I saw one with a satellite dish!. The guide explained that they run this from their truck battery and watch TV in the tent. He also explained that nomadic people often have mobiles as it is especially useful for keeping in touch with their other nomadic relatives and getting news on merkets etc.

everyone seemed to have a mobile. There's an interesting description in the book Muhajabebabes by Allegra Stratton (highly recommended) describing how gay men in Kuwait use mobiles and bluetooth to 'gezz' (crude) and make contact in their black tinted jeeps. Homosexuality is illegal in the Middle East although, as one can imagine, not uncommon. I had a copy of the Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom with me. It gives some idea of how common this was among both the Turkish and Arab troops.

More worrying was the political use of mobiles. the networks are often owned by relatives of the ruling powers. For example, Syriatel is owned by Assad's cousin and has been used to send everyone text messages inviting them to attend pro-Assad political rallies.

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