Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Sunday, December 8, 2013


(December 6, 2013)

Nelson Mandela's death was announced Thursday night (my time). On Friday morning, the whole of the BBC Arabic television coverage was Nelson Mandela, except for a half hour here or there where they also covered a bomb in Yemen, John Kerry's quotes on Israel, and some other things. Here's a synopsis of the Mandela coverage:

One angle taken was: does the Arab world need a Mandela, and has there been any Arab leader that behaved like Mandela? It turns out that Mauritania and Sudan both have had presidents who only served for one term, instead of trying to become a ruler of light and eternity forever. But, as was also pointed out, such examples are few and far between, and subsequent rulers do not share the same ethics (Sudan's current president, for instance, is wanted at the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide.)

They broadcast the speeches of Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president, while the BBC interpreter translated into Arabic. The president said: "gather in your churches, temples, mosques, synagogues to pray." It took the interpreter a while to get "synagogue" out of his mouth!

When South Africa's president referred to Mandela as "Madiba", the interpreter said the same. So "Madiba" is a term known even to Arab audiences. The interpreter sounded very sad, either as though he'd been crying, or as though he was tired from a cold.

From 9 am to 10 am, the BBC Arabic transmitted an hour-long show about Mandela's life. It was in English, with Arabic subtitles. I think an Arab audience would have found lots to appreciate. For example, the show interviewed people in South Africa from the time when Mandela was imprisoned. Here's a quote: "If you asked 10 white people in South Africa, they would all tell you that Nelson Mandela is just a black terrorist." Seeing his reputation now, that must be heartening to lots of Arabs who were watching.

Another bonus was that the documentary interviewed a man called Ahmed Kathrada, one of Mandela's closest friends who was imprisoned with him. He has an Arab name.

On the other hand, the show also had past clips of Mandela interviews, in which he said: "We were not terrorists. We NEVER ATTACKED INNOCENT PEOPLE. NEVER." Ahem, ahem.

The American news is also grieving. But I did not know, until I watched the movie "The Butler" this summer, that the US was basically the last country to put economic sanctions on South Africa. They did not teach us that in school! And they did not mention this on the American news, either.

But neither did the BBC Arabic news mention western support for Apartheid back in the day, so far as I was watching and understood.

The BBC Arabic showed the message of condolence filmed of the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. He quoted Mandela as having said: "the struggle for freedom in South Africa will not be over until the Palestinians are also free." You can believe this was not mentioned on the American news, either.

More clips from the BBC Arabic:
- The leaders from Hamas had a spokesman give his condolences
- In Iran, they had a prayer session for Mandela, during the all-important Friday prayers, led by someone someone Khatemi. Woah.
- Lots of praise from Egyptian and Lebanese analysts. I am amazed! I am not used to Arabs praising anyone other than themselves!

Some of the analysts interviewed were reminding the new leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, etc, to take Mandela's example of not holding on to power, and of stepping down after a single term. 

Here's an Arab journalist who was remembering what a special day it was when she got to interview Nelson Mandela, and how she could tell what an awesome person he was, and how it was so very evident how respectful he was towards women:

From 11 am to noon, there was a call-in show where everyone across the Arab world could call in and give their thoughts about Mandela. I only saw the last half, unfortunately, but everything I heard was very positive about Mandela.

One question the moderator asked was: Do Arabs need a Mandela?
The answers: yes, yes, yes.

Half the reason were: Arabs need to learn Mandela's lesson of forgiveness and getting along with your former enemies. The other half of the reasons were: Mandela's long time in prison before his freedom is an inspiration to Palestinians sitting in Israeli prisons right now.

The BBC Arabic had been roaming the capital of Morocco, Rabat, and interviewed random people on the streets on their reactions to Mandela's death:

"Mandela was a something something democratic" (all positive)

"A great man, a solution for everyone that goes by racism."

"He was a great man" + other stuff I did not catch

 "It's a great loss" + other stuff

Zeinab, a lady living in the UAE, called into to say, yes, the news here is of course covering the death, and Mandela is a symbol of peace and against racism. 
Moderator asks: when Mandela left prison, he could have taken revenge and taken up arms, but he did not, he chose dialogue and compromise and peace. Can Arabs learn from this?
Zeinab: what Mandela did is what you're supposed to do as a Muslim, and although we don't do it now, that spirit is within every Arab and Muslim.

Another lady called Jowaan al Ayoubi called in: there is nothing that can be said to properly praise Mandela. A symbol in all people's hearts and he was in prison for 27 years and he left prison in peace, and spoke in peace to all the world's people. He lived in poverty and oppression ...
Moderator: so how can Arabs learn from those lessons?
Jowaan: no, no! That will never happen, because Mandel had such high morals and character. That is what led to the entirety of the world's people to want to follow him even though we were not coerced by weapons. This does not exist among Arabs.
Moderator: don't you think that a period can come when there is an Arab Mandela with the same high character?
Jowaan: well, maybe we can dream about it, but ...

(I am not making this up!) You can watch the call-in show here.

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