Our Weird Middle East: Grandmaster Gaddafi, Lion-fighting Egyptians, Iranian Space Missiles, and more!

Al Jazeera English this morning showed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi receiving a visit from International Chess Federation (FIDE) president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Since Ilyumzhinov is also president of the Russian autonomous region of Kalmykia, this was a historic meeting–two of history’s most bizarre heads of state in one room. Gaddafi’s oddities–his Amazonian bodyguards, his rambling speeches, his rumored dabblings in prostitution and drugs–are likely well-known to readers of this blog. Ilyumzhinov is quite possibly even stranger than Gaddafi. His most famous oddity is that he claims to have had extensive contacts with alien visitors from another planet. Among other unusual decisions: building an entire city in Kalmykia dedicated to chess and constructing a grandiose Roman Catholic cathedral to commemorate a papal visit. Considering Kalmykia is reported to have one Catholic resident, he will likely have plenty of seats to choose from! As president of FIDE, Ilyumzhinov has made a number of odd decisions, including an attempt to have the World Championship contested in Saddam Hussein-era Baghdad.

Gaddafi played a match with Ilyumzhinov, footage of which can be seen here:

Gaddafi apparently played 1. f3, the extremely rare Gedult’s Opening, which some commentators have called the worst of the twenty possible opening chess moves. The move was so bad that Ilyumzhinov broke a fundamental rule of chess, moving the piece back and allowing Gaddafi to pick a better move. In an act of gentlemanliness, Ilyumzhinov claims to have offered a draw to the Guide of the Revolution, an offer which was accepted.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, a man announced his intention to publicly fight a lion in an effort to attract tourists. Tourism numbers are abysmal, so it is certainly timely, though the man is certainly an odd character. He informed the media that he did not intend to kill the lion, though “if it comes down to either me or him, I will have to kill him.” The man also announced that he plans on putting an Israeli flag on the lion’s corpse and then standing on it, because

Israel led me to this, through all their atrocities which, as a child, I grew up watching on television. The message is that even though Israel and America may be as strong as a lion — the strongest creature on the planet — they, too, can be defeated.

The man seems to have forgotten the famous lion-fighting abilities of the ancient Israelite Samson, who according to legend ripped a charging lion apart with his bare hands. Perhaps Mossad will, like Delilah, stop him via a haircut.

In Saudi Arabia, the religious police (mutawwa) in the city of Taif reported that they successfully broke a spell that an overworked maid had placed on the daughters of the elderly man she served. The daughters were reportedly visiting him so frequently that she was constantly cleaning up, so she cursed them to make them stay away. The mutawwa stated that belief in magic and spells are “foreign to Saudi society” (an absurd claim–the Saudi school of Wahhabism emerged in reaction to the country’s widespread superstition) and that they were being brought in by foreigners and women.

In Iran, testing continues on the new Mersad air defense system. Despite being nothing more than an upgrade of the thoroughly outdated American MIM-23 Hawk system (acquired by Iran in the days of the Shah), it reportedly can target aircraft “at 70 to 150km altitude,” making it “a mid-altitude system among the country’s missile defense shields.” It would be interesting to learn about Iran’s high-altitude systems, if their mid-altitude systems target craft travelling in space. The missile can reportedly also hit “supersonic aircraft and helicopters,” meaning Iran is finally safe from the scourge of the faster-than-sound helicopter. Some sources report that the Mersad system is designed to counter ballistic missiles, which would mean the Iranians have a missile defense system almost as advanced as that of America, an absurd result. Considering Iranian officials, in the same breath, said that Iran’s radar and air defense networks are “optimized” (another ridiculous claim–Iran’s air defense forces would be a danger to each other should they engage incoming aircraft due to their lack of an integrated air defense system), we have reason to suspect they may be exaggerating once again.

Iran's invincible missile system. After Iran infamously photoshopped away a failed missile launch during a public test, bloggers created this image with even more extra missiles.

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