Donkey Soldiers: The Unsung Heros

Donkeys and mules have had a long and distinguished career in modern military warfare. During the two world wars, they played a key role in transporting supplies over rugged mountains and jungle terrain inaccessible to motorized vehicles. The practice was extended to the colonial and Cold War eras where the animals were used by British troops stationed in Egypt and Palestine and American soldiers during their short-lived invasion of Lebanon in 1958. During the World War I Battle of Gallipoli, a medic from New Zealand named James Gardiner Jackson took a photograph of a fellow countryman transporting a wounded soldier to a field hospital on donkey back. The photograph became immortalized when artist Horace Moore-Jones, another New Zealander who also fought in Gallipoli, drew a number of paintings based on that image. It turned out that the stretcher-bearer, Dick Henderson, had used his donkey to save many other wounded soldiers. Today the paintings hang in war memorials and museums in [Read more...]

Early 20th Century Views of Deir ez Zor

Deir ez Zor is a city in eastern Syria on the banks of the Euphrates, which dates back to the third century BCE. Recently, it has earned a reputation as a civil war battlefront between the Syrian Army, the rebels, and ISIS. However, before it was sucked into Syria’s bloody events, Deir ez Zor, or the Monastery of the Grove, had a prosperous and, at times, turbulent record. In its early history, the city was ruled by the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, and later by the Greeks and Romans. Throughout the Roman period, Deir Ez Zor flourished as a trading hub. However, during the third century CE, when civil wars wreaked havoc throughout the Roman Empire, Queen Zenobia of Palmyra conquered Deir ez Zor and made it part of her kingdom. After Zenobia was defeated and captured by Roman Emperor Aurelian in 271, Deir ez Zor changed hands numerous times until it was completely destroyed in the thirteenth century during the Mongols invasions.Present day Deir ez Zor was re-established on the [Read more...]

A Tribute to Raqqa

When the civil war erupted in 2011, Syria was still far from being a major tourist destination and only a few of its cities resonated with the outside world. Those include Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, and to a lesser extent Homs which are known for either their souks, citadels, gigantic water wheels, quaint neighborhoods, or a combination of any of these features. Raqqa, on the other hand, was not among Syria’s illustrious cities. It wasn’t until January 2014, when the terror group ISIS took control of Raqqa, that it became recognized, but only to be associated with terrible oppression and suffering. However, the city has a history that dates back to antiquity and it has had its golden years as well as dark periods since those days. Raqqa, Syria’s sixth largest city, is located in an oil-rich province which bares the same name on the northern banks of the Euphrates River, about 160 kilometers east of Aleppo. Before the war broke out, Syria had been experiencing a tourism revival and [Read more...]

Egypt’s Stella Beer: Celebrating 120 Years (1897 – 2017)

Beer was first brewed by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia and the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt nearly 6,000 years ago. Sumerian beer was a porridge-like concoction that had to be sipped with a straw to avoid consuming the floating bits of grain. In fact, it is believed that the Sumerians invented the straw for the very purpose of drinking this dense beer. On the other hand, the beer produced in ancient Egypt was far more refined, lighter in color, smoother, and closer to what we drink today. Modern brewing began at the end of the nineteenth century when foreign entrepreneurs had a vision to make Egypt a beer producing country once again. On Stella's 120th anniversary, let’s celebrate the Pharaohs for introducing fine lager to the world. On May 15 1897, Belgian investors opened Crown Brewery, Egypt’s first brewery, in the Ibrahimieh district of Alexandria. Up until then Egypt’s growing expatriate community had depended on imported beer, most notably Guinness, Tennent’s, and Becks to quench [Read more...]

Egyptian Women Enter the Arena: First Steps into a Male-Dominated World

In 1919, Hoda Shaarawi, one of Egypt’s most recognized feminists, was at the forefront of a movement that would lead to women’s emancipation. Feminism had been slowing growing since the late nineteenth century, but women activists made their first public appearance when they joined the male-dominated Nationalist movement in Egypt’s fight for independence against British rule. Photographs from this period show veiled women with raised fists parading in the streets of Cairo with placards condemning the foreign occupation. In 1922, after her husband’s death, Shaarawi challenged the system yet again by removing her veil in public. This defiant act gave birth to a new era where women began to stand up for their rights, including the right to compete in sports. This collection of photographs features a sporting competition in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, which included swimming and running events for women and men. What makes this contest unique is that it is one of the [Read more...]

Mohamed Ali in the Middle East: A Retrospective

Thirty years ago I had the privilege of meeting boxing legend Mohamed Ali for the first time. It was October 1986, five years after his last fight, and he was in Cairo to make a special announcement. I was working for the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) at the time. One day, I answered a call from Mohamed Ali’s press spokesman who was inviting us to the “Champ’s” suite at the Cairo Marriot Hotel. Before hanging up, the spokesman asked me to invite other members of the press corps to the event. My first thought was that Mohamed Ali was coming out of retirement and was going to announce an upcoming fight, possibly in Egypt. I got off the phone and informed the office that we had been invited to meet with Mohamed Ali. That evening, four of us from AFP went to Ali’s suite and, to our surprise, we noticed that no one from the Champ’s entourage was present. The only other person in the room was a member of the hotel staff arranging food on a table. Not knowing what to [Read more...]

Twentieth Century Snapshots of Christmas from across the Middle East and North Africa

In 1995, I was asked to illustrate a chapter for a book titled Christmas Around the World. At the time, I was in Lebanon spending the holidays with my wife’s family. I wanted to do something out of the ordinary, so I chose to document how Shi’ite Moslems celebrate Christmas. My driver Farouk, who happened to be a Shi’ite, told me that his family and all his neighbors in the Dahiyeh, Beirut’s southern suburbs, celebrated Christmas. Traditionally, Shi’ite Moslems have had a strong connection to Mariam the mother of Isa (Jesus), who is recognized as a prophet in Islam. A few days before Christmas, Farouk and I set out for the Dahiyeh, where Hezbollah has a significant presence. As soon as we entered the area, we immediately felt the Christmas spirit. The lampposts, where Hezbollah flags are erected year-round, were also adorned with Christmas ornaments, sitting on either side of the party’s yellow and green flags featuring the infamous fist holding an AK-47. As we drove down the [Read more...]

Sand Skiing in the Sahara

Egypt Sand Skiing

In the early 1970s, the Canadian Club whisky company launched a print advertising campaign featuring an athletic and glamorous young couple in swimwear skiing down the face of a sand dune in Morocco. “Sand Skiing in the Sahara. Even if you don’t win the downhill race…it’s a beautiful way to get a suntan,” states the bold text above the pictures. After a brief description of the couple’s adventures on the dunes, the ad gets to the punch line: “Later we toasted our adventures with Canadian Club at Hotel du Sud in Ouarzazate.” The 1974 ad was part of a larger Canadian Club campaign launched in the 1950s which featured lesser-known sports in exotic locations. Besides sand skiing the ads promoted sand yachting in Belgium, hydrofoil skiing off the Greek island of Corfu, hang gliding off a glacier in New Zealand and spinnaker riding in the Grenadines islands, among others. Even though sand skiing was relatively unknown before the Canadian Club ad, it did have a small following in [Read more...]

Book Review: Turkey in Pictures

Turkey in Pictures

Turkey in Pictures, published in 1936 was meant to highlight the accomplishments of the “new” Turkish Republic under the leadership of Kamal Ataturk. The photographic album opens with a short introduction, written in Turkish, French, English, and German,  that blames “Occidental colonization” for the demise of the Ottoman Empire. It goes on to praise the Turkish people for uniting their ancestral homeland against outside influences (namely western Europe). The dominance of Ataturk’s philosophy is clear as the text praises Kamalism as "the ideologic religion of the Turkish Republic.” The album includes 154 pages of sepia-toned photographs taken by the Austrian born photographer Othmar Pferschy. The book has the unusual feature of allowing for the insertion of additional pages. It is held together by two screws that can be loosened and removed to add more materials. The State Printing Press hired Pherschy in 1935 because they could not find a Turkish candidate with equivalent [Read more...]