Introducing the App

Amazing. Free essential Internet to the depths of the third world.

Facebook Newsroom

By Guy Rosen, Product Management Director

Over 85% of the world’s population lives in areas with existing cellular coverage, yet only about 30% of the total population accesses the internet. Affordability and awareness are significant barriers to internet adoption for many and today we are introducing the app to make the internet accessible to more people by providing a set of free basic services.

With this app, people can browse a set of useful health, employment and local information services without data charges. By providing free basic services via the app, we hope to bring more people online and help them discover valuable services they might not have otherwise.

The app will be available first to Airtel subscribers in Zambia and we’ll continue to improve the experience and roll it out to other parts of the world. App

Through the app, Airtel customers in Zambia will have basic access to:

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Death and/or Taxes

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started as a militia seeking to establish a new Caliphate that governs all Muslim land by the Shari’a, and then move on to do other wonderful and romantic things, like conquering Rome. The group is known for ridiculous atrocities done in the name of Islam, for example, destroying shrines and Christian churches.

And about a week ago, they presented a very traditional Islamic ultimatum to the Christian population of Mosul.

Unlike in my last post, I’m not going to write a full explanation and background of this because it makes the article unnecessarily longer (like this sentence). But I’ll still link to an excellent introduction because I love you so much.

The Caliphate ordered the Christians of Mosul to choose one of the following, in order of preference:

  1. Convert to Islam
  2. Pay the infidel’s tax (a.k.a. Jizya)
  3. Die

Besides a hidden fourth option, of course, which is to get the hell out of there (and leave your property as spoils of war).

Reactions to this ultimatum from the Muslim and non-Muslim Arab networks on social media had ranged from condemnation to shameful silence to contentedness, with a few rare cases of acclaim from more extreme circles. Like with most other ISIS crimes, almost all condemnations were accompanied by assertions that this is not “true Islam”, and that Islamic law is one of tolerance and peace. Such an assertion conveys the intrinsic kindness of most moderate Muslims, but unfortunately, it is undeniable that this ultimatum is completely in keeping with both the spirit and the letter of Islamic law, and is not unprecedented in the history of the early caliphates.


The primary reference to Jizya comes from the Qur’an:

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

Al Tawbah, 29 (9:29). Translation by Yusuf Ali.

However, the jizya and the context surrounding it are not well defined in this verse, leaving the definition mainly up to Hadith and the life of the Prophet Muhammad, in his dealings with both subjects of non-Muslim independent states and individual subjects within the Islamic realm. For foreign states, Prophet Muhammad’s standard process was to send a military commander on a task to do exactly the above: Fight the opposing army until the ruler agrees to either convert or pay a tribute (i.e. Jizya). There are also accounts of foreign kings paying this tribute of their own initiative in exchange for being left alone.

As for internal subjects, the practice is pretty much the same. Infidels in the early Islamic caliphate were mostly tolerated as long as they paid Jizya, and paying this tax guaranteed them certain rights as well. Non-Muslims who paid were considered full subjects of the state, and were guaranteed protection and exemption from military service. Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad had maintained that the life of a dhimmi (Non-Muslim subject) under protection is sacred; saying that anyone who kills somebody under this protection will not even smell the fragrance of heaven. Additionally, non-Muslim subjects who were slaves or too poor to afford the tax were exempted from paying it and granted the full rights of a “taxpayer” anyway.

I want to reiterate that ISIS, by its foundation and the force driving it, is by no means a successor to the legacy of the Islamic Caliphate; at this stage it’s no more than a ragtag bunch of ambitious warlords and exasperated fighters with a black banner. However, it is just as much the purpose of this post to confirm that not all of ISIS’s barbarity is baseless. The ultimatum given to the Christians of Mosul is indeed brutal, but it’s Islamic just as much. It’s exactly the same as stoning those accused of adultery, only a lot less popular.

In the same way that Bucaille’s theories strengthened Muslims’ faith by reconciling the Qur’an with their respect for Science, the shock of ISIS’s atrocities – particularly the ones based in the Qur’an – will push Muslims to reconsider the relationship of Islam with the basic human values of compassion, tolerance, and peace.

Humans of the Holy Land

It’s easy to get the facts mixed up in a topic like this. If you find errors in my narrative, please let me know (and attach a source).

The latest rage in social media in the past few weeks has been the escalation between Gaza and Israel. In this piece, I’m going to explain why it came together, why it was coming together, and why this madness needs to stop.


If you already know enough about what happened, scroll down.

It was just another normal week of Hamas firing toy rockets into the middle of nowhere in Israel, but on the night of June 12, something unusual happened: Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the occupied territories. As per tradition, Israeli PM Netanyahu blamed Hamas without any evidence.

But this time, contrary to their tradition, Hamas denied responsibility.


You would have to look up a map if you’re not familiar with the topic, but I just gave you one instead.
Wikimedia Commons. 2007.

The next day, the IDF initiated Operation Brother’s Keeper in order to rescue the three boys. Villages and homes were raided at night by Israeli security, and the Israeli government was accused of stealing (“confiscating”) $3 million worth of property from Palestinian homes, businesses and charities. Israel maintained that the confiscations were only from sources that fund terrorism, but failed to back that up with evidence either.

18 days later, the three boys were found dead.  A day after they were buried, a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and burned alive by Jewish extremists in revenge. This attack, however, was nowhere as widely condemned. On July 3, Israel launched 15 airstrikes onto Gaza directed at Hamas targets (15 injuries) in response to Hamas airstrikes into Sderot, a city adjacent to the northeastern edge of the Gaza strip. However, that did not keep Hamas from firing into random sidewalks (and occasionally community buildings) in Israel.

And on July 8, without a specific reason, Israel launched an air campaign on Gaza – Operation Mighty Cliff – Known in English as Protective Edge. In one day, Israel had hit 50 targets in the Gaza strip, and Hamas declared that every Israeli is a legitimate target. From this point, it was on.

On July 15, Egypt (oh hi) officially proposed a basic ceasefire to end the war and resume ordinary trade and movement to and from Gaza. This ceasefire was readily accepted by the Israeli cabinet, but rejected by Hamas who called the ceasefire “in its current form” tantamount to surrender. Hamas countered this offer with a proposal of its own, a 10-year peace deal which demands the release of prisoners re-arrested in Brother’s Keeper, and more power to the UN in the area among other things. Israel ignored this offer, but agreed to a UN-brokered 5-hour ceasefire the next day.

As of July 18,  268 Palestinians were killed, at least 72% of whom are confirmed civilians, and 2296 were wounded, in addition to thousands displaced by damage to their homes. On the other side, Israel had a total of 2 deaths (including one civilian) and 45 injuries, 28 of them civilian. Also, some buildings were fired on with varying degrees of damage. About 48 Palestinian children were killed by the Israeli attacks, some of whom went viral. Netanyahu simply waved off the civilian loss of life, stressing that “no international pressure will prevent Israel from continuing its operation in Gaza … The leaders of Hamas are hiding behind the citizens of Gaza, and they are responsible for all casualties.”

As of this posting, the IDF had just escalated the conflict into a ground operation while stressing the above excuse, and the war is still on with the same intensity.

Why they fight

If you have a broad understanding of this too, scroll down some more.

There is a reason why Hamas is known to Arabs as The Resistance.

Arabs consider the region of Palestine a land stolen from its inhabitants; the state and nation of Israel is consequently nothing more than an occupying power no matter how long or how well it can control the land. By this logic, more nationalistic Arabs believe that Israel and the Israelis must be expelled from the holy land at all costs to make room for the return of its original inhabitants, the Palestinians. The majority of Arabs support the rocket attacks on Israel, as a way to cause fear in Israel and encourage the Israelis to leave. On the other hand, Fatah, Hamas’s #1 domestic enemy which primarily controls the West Bank, is not popular with most Arabs because they are willing to settle for a Two-State solution, which implies abandoning the land.

From the Israeli point of view, the Land of Israel is a divine ancestral right to the Jews. The region of Palestine is considered the historical homeland of Jewish people, to which they have a right of return. Israel brilliantly exercises that right through existing, but complements it by building settlements – through private or state-sponsored endeavors – that usurp territory legally under Palestinian authority; a practice hotly debated between secular and religious circles in Israel. The story of how Jews came back to Palestine in the first place and the subsequent founding of the State of Israel is a long story for another day (and it’s one that you can look up).


Stop scrolling now. Now read.

Regardless of the triviality of casualties it caused, Hamas had no business shooting into Israel. Even though the kind of rockets used by Hamas are on average about as strong as party fireworks, they are hard to control and the kind of damage they do cannot be predicted (in fact, one of the rockets fired from Gaza killed electricity for 70,000 Gazans). Still, against all odds, Hamas refuses to accept a ceasefire and Gaza continues to be pounded.

But Israel’s response, while ostensibly to punish those responsible for the attacks and create a period of relative peace in the area, cannot be labeled anything less than collective punishment. In and of itself, the proportion of civilians killed or displaced by Israeli attacks screams “state-sponsored terrorism” under the guise of Israeli counter-terrorism. It takes a smarter man than the present-day me to accurately deconstruct Israel’s motivation for this, especially considering the cost of such an operation to the Israeli economy, but at the very least the basic principle of Cost efficiency comes into play. It’s in Israel’s interest to neutralize its enemies (read: Hamas) in Gaza, but targeted killings or real precision strikes would be too expensive. The go-between is shelling, which takes hundreds of lives.

Some truths are self-evident. I could go on for much longer on how the heartless terrorism of the IDF, or the childish lack of statecraft displayed by Hamas in their willingness to keep fighting at the peril of the people of Gaza. But you’re probably smart enough to figure that out by yourself (and this post is getting pretty long).

The most important call right now is the one to cease fire. Enough lives have been lost. Israel is fighting a political war; the threat of Hamas could have been largely mitigated if they were allowed legitimacy, a notion that has been promoted by the Palestinian Authority in the form of a unity government that would recognize Hamas as the ruling “party” in the Gaza strip. Instead, Gaza is under a constant blockade because Israel refuses to recognize the rule of an Islamist group over it.

This could be avoided. The missiles can be stopped. If Israel accepts the sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority over its land, if the encroachment into the West Bank is stopped, if the residents of Gaza are allowed to live a normal life, free from the shackles of the blockade and the constant fear of death or displacement, the hatred will subside, slowly but surely, and there will be room for understanding. I can guarantee you that our generation is going to die hating each other, but the next generation will be smarter.

And one day, maybe centuries from now, the humans of the holy land will live together without barriers. And the rest of the world will do the same.


This post is a kind of response to Shudha’s But Home Does Feel Like Home.
It’s also just over 850 words long, so there’s a tl;dr is at the bottom.

 Three weeks after coming back to Doha from one year in St. Louis, I’ve gradually resigned back into the Egyptian-Qatari routine. And even though this hybrid “third-culture” is the culture I was born and raised into and pretty much the only one I’d ever known, it still feels far from where I belong.

Not sure if most other third culture kids have this problem, or it was just me who was born into the wrong environment. Since I was a kid I never really liked where Qatar, mainly because I wasn’t allowed to officially call it home, and I was pressured not to.

Story time, children! Time to learn about Sherif’s angsty childhood!

Along with the other Egyptians, Levantines, and the rest of the Diaspora Crew I was put through a lot of bullying as a kid. Obviously a big part of that is being alien – foreign kids were bullied regardless of their other traits. And even though I belonged to the “Arabic” culture group, I was always asked to “go back to Egypt” among other xenophobic microaggressions. Without further graphic description of the kinds of other psychological wedgies I’ve received, being excluded from Qatari society meant that I couldn’t call it home even if I wanted to (which I don’t.)

My other home, Egypt, is a land I have few ties with besides ancestry. I have family there, that’s where my parents come from, and it’s also probably the easiest country for me to enter seeing how my passport says “Arab Republic of Egypt”. But the recent events in Egypt, combined by my own recent shift in mentality showed that neither a birthplace nor an ancestral homeland is necessarily a reliable place to call home.

In Egypt, the conflict between the reactionary Islamists and the traditionalist Militarists affirmed that there isn’t really a place for a difference in opinion, especially if you think in a certain (unpopular) direction. As a secular liberal, I’ve noticed quite a few instances of this being proven. While Islam and Christianity coexist with a degree of relative peace in Egypt, other religions (and irreligion) face a lot of hostility. Egyptian Baha’is, for example, got into a lot of trouble a few years back when they asked for their right to have their religion displayed on their ID cards (Egyptian ID cards have a compulsory “Religion” field which shows either Islam, Christianity or Judaism. No other options.) Similarly, the recently-surging Egyptian atheists are being treated like mental patients, being invited to talk shows where the host (sometimes accompanied by an “expert”) condescendingly talks to the atheist and tries to invalidate their beliefs with the superiority of Islam. If I were to be put in such a situation where I’m tried for an unpopular opinion, I would give up all claims to Egypt being my home. That’s just me, though, I’m the only person I know with such a slim emotional investment in their ancestral homeland.

What had helped me get a better grasp of this is living for a year in a wildly different culture. While I knew it was temporary, for a teenaged boy a year is enough time to be settled into a place in a way that you acquire its habits and, if supported by the locals, more or less assimilate into it. That was the case with St Louis. Being the most accepting place I’ve been to so far, St Louis is probably best among my total of three options to call home if I had to name one.

Acceptance into the culture of countries like Egypt or Qatar, i.e. any country with a more or less homogenous population or a certain dominant culture, is conditional on an individual’s conformity into the accepted set of habits. Deviation is forbidden and punishable by social exclusion at best. St Louis, while definitely having its own set of social and legal dos and don’ts, is quite open and encourages creativity and difference (so long as you don’t do certain things such as wear cropped pants as a man, even though I find this one ridiculous as well). The kind of home you’re stuck with, unless you choose to leave it, depends almost exclusively on a set of coincidences you have no control over, namely your ancestry, your place of birth, and your options. What you do have control over, however, are your thoughts and actions which can earn you respect from your coincidental home, or banishment from it.

Alas, until a real change happens in either me or this city, the Arab world should mean to me a HQ rather than my home.

If I get the chance, I’m going to write a second part to this post about globalization and post-nationalism.

tl;dr: Qatar is harsh and Egypt is narrowminded, and St Louis made me conscious of all that. A place that doesn’t respect you isn’t a home. In case of a lack of home matching the above criteria, your provisional home is where your suitcases are.

Breakdown of the Arabics

Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with an estimated 290 million speakers across the board.

Except not really.

Arabic language is in reality more like a collective of languages, spoken in different ways in different parts of the Arab world. Like Germanic or Slavic languages, Arabic languages come in a variety of shapes and colors while retaining some core characteristics, such as sounding pretty much the same to foreigners.

ImageVarieties of Arabic in and around the middle east. Click for full size.

Historically (well, until 630 AD or so,) Arabic language and its mostly similar tribal dialects were limited to the Arabian peninsula, expanding and evolving within it. Non-Arabs in the middle east spoke their own indigenous languages; for example, North African Berber nomads spoke Berber languages. Until the Spread of Islam, that is, after which Arabic gradually replaced the indigenous language as the main language for governance and everyday life on the land, a process accelerated by Arabian (Bedouin) nomads migrating out of the Arabian peninsula and into North Africa, Mesopotamia and the Levant.

In non-Arabian areas ruled by Arabian chiefs, creoles of Arabic and the local language formed, creating what is today known as Arabic dialects, but like the relationship between Haitian Creole and French, distant dialects of Arabic are not very mutually intelligible. Having developed separately out of different combinations of languages, Arabic dialects have different vocabularies and accents (that are not necessarily mutually intelligible), each dialect effectively being a language in its own right. Some dialects are simple enough to be easily understood by non-native speakers, though (Egyptian and Levantine, for example), and geographically proximate dialects tend to have a lot in common.

The explanation for lumping such radically different creoles in the same pack is largely sociopolitical. Classical Arabic is a variety of Arabic that is no longer spoken at home but is understood by most educated Arabs (think Old English if it was taught in schools), and is the one used in writing the Qur’an, the Islamic holy scripture, back in the 7th century. The Qur’an played a great role in maintaining the status of Classical Arabic, which would have gone extinct if the Qur’an hadn’t existed. The study of Arabic language developed and became popular (even with non-Arabic speakers), and this preserved the status of Classical Arabic and contributed to its reputation with Arabs (or, speakers of Arabic creoles).

The other reason is Arab nationalism. As a response to colonial exploitation, Arabic peoples eventually came to see “Arabism” as a uniting banner (compare to this, or this). Needless to say, Arabic language rather than culture was the main uniting aspect. Pan-Arabism gained a respectable amount of traction in the 50s, becoming the state ideologue of quite a few Arab states, and eventually inspiring its “same but different” sister ideology: Pan-Islamism. Both are mainstream across the Arab world today, to varying levels across different communities.

All research credit goes to Wikipedia. Please let me know if there are any mistakes in this post.

My (Real) Intro to Blogging

Blogging to me has always been something like updating iTunes or starting a diet, i.e. more “something I should probably do at some point” than a set goal. Even though I’ve blogged before, it’s always been more of a chore than something I want to do (probably because then I only did it because I had to). Now that I’m blogging from my own free will (and the advice of a bro who’s also a blogger (brogger?) ), and that I actually wrote this post, I’m going to write in this blog everything too long for the average Facebook user’s attention span, which is about 2.5 lines.

I could dedicate this blog to experience as an exchange student during the last year, my musings on the situation in Egypt, random geek news or my ADD, but I’d rather not define it quite yet. I don’t want to end up defining myself by what I write in my blog, and I’d rather let it define itself over time with what’s relevant while I overcome my irrational hatred of writing.

Or not, and just let it grow into a disorganized morass. Like my Facebook wall, but actually kind of coherent.