Media Arabic Booster 04/24

As a journalist, I read Arabic newspapers daily, especially the opinion section. Every month, I want to share with you on Arabic for Nerds what I find interesting from a linguistic perspective and which vocabulary might be worth learning. I call it the Media Arabic Booster.

Headlines in Arabic media are generally easy to understand – but there are also some tricky words.

al-Sharq al-Awsat: The expression بَعيد الْمَنالِ

On Wednesday, April 24, 2024, the Saudi newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat (الشرق الأوسط) had the following headline on its front page:

The terrible situation in Gaza is a daily topic on the front pages of most Arab newspapers. In the title of this headline, I noticed a phrase that is worth knowing:

200 يوم… غزة تنتظر «هدنة بعيدة المنال»

200 days… Gaza awaits an elusive truce

The phrase بعيد المنال – what does it mean? Let’s analyze it.

The word مَنالٌ means achievement; obtaining. It is the مصدر ميميّ of I-verb نالَ – يَنالُ which means to get; to receive; to achieve; to obtain.

  • The expression بَعيدُ المَنالِ can be translated as unattainable; intangible; far from reality. You could also say صَعْبُ الْمَنالِ or عَسِيرُ الْمَنالِ which basically also means unattainable; unavailable.
  • If you want to express the opposite, you can say قَرِيبُ الْمَنالِ or سَهْلُ الْمَنالِ which translates as easy to reach, achievable.

Some nerd stuff:

  • The root ت-ي-ل and thus the I-verb نالَ – يَنالُ means to obtain; to receive.
  • The root ن-و-ل and thus the I-verb نالَ – يَنُولُ means to give. From this root, you may know the VI-verb تَناوَلَ – تَناوَلَ which means to eat (also: to deal with).
  • Manaal (مَنال) is also a female given name which means attainment; achievement; gaining. It is a diptote (مَمْنُوع مِن الصَّرْف).

Vocabulary list

All the words marked in yellow above are explained here.

انْتَظَرَ – يَنْتَظِرُto wait for (in Arabic, you do not translate “for”, just use a direct object!). It can also mean to expect (= تَوَقَّعَ). It is a VIII-verb.
هُدْنةٌtruce, also translated as cease fire; sometimes also used for armistice (although Arabic usually uses other words for that).

The terms are really confusing. There are no universal (legal) definitions. However, there seems to be a difference between a truce (the older term) and a ceasefire. A ceasefire is better translated as وَقْفُ إِطْلاقِ النّارِ. While both terms involve a pause in fighting, a ceasefire is more formal and binding (usually a negotiated agreement), while a truce is less formal and more temporary. An armistice is a formal agreement to permanently cease all military operations in a conflict. It ends the war, but does not establish peace; for that, a peace treaty must be negotiated and ratified.1

Note: In the dictionary Lisan al-Arab, the words الْهُدْنةُ and الْهِدَانَةُ are explained mainly by their literal meaning related to being calm. Thus, a truce was given a certain period of time, and when that period expired, people returned to fighting. To have peace, you need a treaty. The Treaty of Hudaybiyyah (treaty between the Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in 628) is known as صُلْحُ الْحُدَيْبيّةِ.

The word صُلْح is usually translated as reconciliation. If you want to talk about a treaty, you use the word مُعاهَدة. For example, peace treaty is مُعاهَدةُ صُلْحٍ or مُعاهَدةُ سَلامٍ

مَنالٌobtaining; achievement; attainment
Vocabulary List – Media Arabic Booster 04/24 – © Gerald Drißner

Translation of an article

Let’s focus on certain parts of the text and translate each sentence carefully. The words marked in yellow can be found further down in the vocabulary list.

al-Arab newspaper (London): “Sudan sends messages to Saudi Arabia and the UAE…”

On April 4, 2024, the independent pan-Arab newspaper al-Arab (العرب), published in London, carried the following article about possible reasons why the authorities in Sudan had shut down some major Arab TV channels such as al-Arabiya (العربية) or Sky News Arabia (سكاي نيوز عربية).

Notice: Al Arabiya TV and Al Hadath TV said on April 23, 2024, that Sudanese authorities have allowed them to reopen their offices (see press release).

Let’s examine a large section of the article more closely.

السودان يبعث رسائل للسعودية والإمارات عبر وقف العربية والحدث وسكاي نيوز

Sudan sends messages to Saudi Arabia and the UAE via Al-Arabiya, Al-Hadath and Sky News

قررت وزارة الثقافة والإعلام السودانية إيقاف عمل قنوات العربية والحدث وسكاي نيوز عربية في البلاد، بـسبب “عدم التزامها بالمهنية المطلوبة والشفافية وعدم تجديد تراخيصها“، في خطوة تعكس موقف مجلس السيادة السوداني من السعودية والإمارات اللتين يريد رئيس مجلس السيادة السوداني عبدالفتاح البرهان إيصال رسائل لهما عبر إيقاف القنوات التي تمثل وجهة النظر الرسمية لهما.

The Sudanese Ministry of Culture and Information decided to suspend the work of the Al-Arabiya, Al-Hadath and Sky News Arabia channels in the country due to “their failure to abide by the required professionalism and transparency and failure to renew their permits.” This move reflects the position of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council towards Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, is seeking to deliver messages to the two countries by banning channels that reflect their official point of view. (…)

ويعتبر القرار السوداني مفاجئا بالنسبة إلى قناتي العربية والحدث لأنهما لا تساندان في خطابهما قوات الدعم السريع، وتشير تغطيتهما إلى موقف أقرب للجيش منه للدعم السريع، فيما ذكرت مصادر مطلعة أن الجيش يريد تغطية أكثر انحيازا له، كما أنه يريد مكاسب أخرى من السعودية وربما دعما ماليا وعسكريا نظير عدم تلبية الطلب الإيراني بإقامة قاعدة عسكرية.

The Sudanese decision comes as a surprise to both Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath channels because (their discourse does not support the Rapid Support Forces and their coverage rather indicates a position closer to the army than to the Rapid Support Forces. Meanwhile, well-informed sources said that the army wants (aspires for) coverage that is more supportive/favorable of the army in addition to seeking other gains from Saudi Arabia, possibly even financial and military support as a result of not meeting the Iranian request of establishing a military base [in Sudan]. (…)

ويأتي إيقاف قناتي العربية والحدث السعوديتين كورقة ضغط سياسي على الرياض وبعث رسالة مفادها أن الدعم الخطابي لا يفي بالغرض، وأن صد المساعي الإيرانية يستوجب تعويضا عسكريا أو ماليا وذلك رغم أن مدينة جدة سبق أن استضافت المفاوضات السودانية بين طرفي الحرب ولم تنجح النتائج في التوصل الى اتفاق لإنهاء القتال.

The ban on the Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath Saudi channels comes as (constitutes) a political pressure card being used against Al-Riyadh and a message indicating that verbal/rhetorical support is not enough and that the deterrence of the Iranian efforts calls for military or financial compensation. The city of Jeddah had previously hosted the Sudanese talks (negotiations) between the two conflicting parties, but this did not result in an agreement to end the fighting. (…)

ويحيل إيقاف قناة سكاي عربية إلى موقف الخرطوم من أبوظبي واتهاماتها التي تفتقد للأدلة بدعم قوات الدعم السريع، إذ تحشد قيادات الحركة الإسلامية داخل الجيش ضد دولة الإمارات مؤخرا، بعد مزاعم ساقها عضو مجلس السيادة ومساعد البرهان الفريق ياسر عطا في أواخر نوفمبر الماضي وقال فيها إن “الإمارات تدعم قوات الدعم السريع”.

The ban on Sky News Arabia refers to (~is aligned with) Khartoum’s position on Abu Dhabi and the accusations – which are not based on any proof – that Abu Dhabi is supporting the Rapid Support Forces. Thus, the leaders of the Islamic Movement have been inciting against the UAE recently in light of claims voiced by the member of the Sovereignty Council and Al-Burhan’s assistant, Gen. Yasser Atta, last November when he said that the UAE is supporting the Rapid Support Forces.

ولم يقدم البرهان ولا مساعدوه دليلا على مزاعمهم، والتي رأتها دوائر سوادنية وسيلة لتبرير إخفاقات الجيش، وأداة لصرف الأنظار عن حقيقة ما يعتمل داخل المؤسسة العسكرية من سيطرة كبيرة فرضتها فلول النظام السابق على تحركات البرهان السياسية.

Al-Burhan and his aides failed to provide any proof to support their claims. Sudanese circles viewed these claims as a means to justify the army’s failure and a tool to divert people’s attention away from what was really going on inside the military institution in terms of the major control imposed by the remnants of the former regime on Al-Burhan’s political actions. (…)

ويخشى مراقبون من أن يتحول السودان إلى بؤرة معتمة إخباريا ومسرحا لانتشار الأخبار الكاذبة والمضللة، وذلك بعد خروج الصحافيين الأجانب وتوقف بث التلفزيون والإذاعة الحكومييْن مع بدء اندلاع المعارك وعدم انتظام بثهما بعد ذلك.

Observers are worried that Sudan could turn into an obscure region media-wise and an arena for the proliferation of fake news as the foreign journalists have left the country and as the state TV and radio stopped broadcasting upon the launching of the battles and suffered from irregular broadcasting after that. (…)

All the words in the above article marked in yellow can be found in this table with explanations.

إِيقافٌstopping; also: suspension. Depending on the context, it may also denote arrest; detention. It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the IV-verb أَوْقَفَ – يوقِفُ which means to stop.
plural: قَنَوات or أَقْنِية
channel (TV; but also in the meaning of canal). For example: The Suez Canal (السُوَيْسِ)
اِلْتِزامٌ بِcompliance; accordance; commitment. Sometimes also: agreement/contract. It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the VIII-verb الْتَزَمَ – الْتَزَمَ بِ which means: to comply with. Root: ل-ز-م
شَفّافِيّةٌtransparency. Depending on the context, also: translucency. It is an artificial infinitive noun (مَصْدَرٌ صِنَاعِيٌّ). The standard, original infinitive nouns is شُفُوفٌ or شَفٌّ. The I-verb شَفَّ – يَشِفُّ means to be transparent.
plural: تَراخيصُ or تَرْخيصات
license; permission. It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the II-verb رَخَّصَ – يُرَخِّصُ which means to allow. Note: If you talk about the document itself, you normally use the noun رُخْصةٌ (plural: رُخَصٌ) of the same root. There is another Arabic word for license/permit which is also often used: تَصْرِيحٌ. For example: residence permit (تَصْريح إقامةٍ)
plural: خَطَوات
step. For example: step by step (خَطْوةً خَطْوةً)
عَكَسَ – يَعْكِسُto reflect. Also: to reverse
سِيادةٌsovereignty. It can also denote Excellency in respectful titles of address. For example: His Excellency the minister (سِيادة الوَزيرِ). You can also just add a pronoun – سِيادَتُكَ – which can be translated as a very respectful and polite form of you (lit.: Your Excellency). The word سِيادةٌ is one of the many infinitive noun (مصدر) forms of the I-verb سادَ – يَسُودُ which literally means: to rule; to be master.
إِيصالٌreceipt. It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the IV-verb أَوْصَلَ – يُوصِلُ which means to bring; to deliver. The root is و-ص-ل.
وُجْهة نَظَرٍpoint of view. For example: in my opinion (مِنْ وُجْهةِ نَظَرِي)
Vocabulary List – Media Arabic Booster 04/24 – © Gerald Drißner
مُفاجِئٌsurprising; unexpected. For example: to come as a surprise (كانَ مُفاجِئًا)
سانَدَ – يُسانِدُto support; to assist. III-verb
تَغْطِيةٌcovering; coverage (media). For example: live coverage about (تَغْطِيَةٌ مُباشِرَةٌ حَوْلَ)
مُطَّلِعٌwell-informed. It is the active participle (اسم الفاعِل) of the VIII-verb اطَّلَعَ – يَطَّلِعُ which means to examine. Note: The root is ط-ل-ع and the ت of the VIII-pattern اِفْتَعَلَ gets absorbed by the ط. For example: well-informed sources (مَصادِرُ مُطَّلِعَةٌ)
اِنْحِيازٌ لِbias; siding with. It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the VII-verb اِنْحازَ – يَنْحازُ لِ which means to side with. For example: taking sides with someone (الانْحِياز لِشَخْصٍ).
plural: مَكاسِبُ
profit; gain. For example: a large profit (مَكْسَبٌ كَبِيرٌ)
نَظِيرَin return for; in exchange for; in consideration of; as a result of. Note that this is a ظَرْف – notice the vowel “a” at the end. The noun نَظِيرٌ means counterpart or peer.
تَلْبِيَةٌacceptance of; also: responding to. It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the II-verb لَبَّى – يُلَبِّي which means to comply with; to agree to. Note that in Arabic, you do not need a preposition, just a direct object. For example: to accept/agree to an invitation (لَبَّى دَعْوةً).
Vocabulary List – Media Arabic Booster 04/24 – © Gerald Drißner
مُفادٌcontent (of an article); purport. It is the passive participle (اسم المفعول) of the IV-verb أَفادَ – يُفيدُ which means to certify; to inform; make use of. meaning (of an article); contents; substance; purport. For example: a rumor that says that/to the effect that (إِشاعَةٌ مَفادُها أَنَّ); a message to the effect that (خَبَرٌ مُفادُهُ أَنَّ). The root is ف-ي-د.
وَفَى – يَفِي بِto live up to; to fulfil. Root: و-ف-ي. Note: The imperative (masculine, singular) of this I-verb consists of only one letter: فِ بِوَعْدِكَ means keep your promise! The imperative (feminine, singular) is فِي. The infinitive noun (مصدر) is وَفاءٌ which means loyalty; faithfulness. Don’t confuse it with وَفاةٌ of the same root which means death; decease.
plural: أَغْراض
goal; objective. The expression لا يَفِي بِالْغَرَضِ is often translated as: to be inadequate; also: not enough; does not fit.
صَدٌّstopping; repulsion. It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the I-verb صَدَّ – يَصُدُّ which means to turn away (عَنْ); to stop; to repel. For example: to ward off a question (صَدَّ الأَسْئِلةَ)
plural: مَساعٍ
effort; attempt. Root: س-ع-ي. It is the مَصْدَرٌ مِيمِيٌّ of the I-verb سَعَى – يَسْعَى إِلَى which means to strive; to seek.
اِسْتَوْجَبَ – يَسْتَوْجِبُto require; to make compulsory. Sometimes also: to deserve. X-form verb
plural: تَعْوِيضاتٌ
refund; reimbursement; compensation. It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the II-verb عَوَّضَ – يُعَوِّضُ عَنْ which means to compensate for. For example: to ask for a compensation (طَلَبَ تَعْوِيضًا). Do not forget the preposition عن. For example: compensation for the damage (تَعْوِيضٌ عَن الضَّرَرِ)
اسْتَضافَ – يَسْتَضيفُto host. X-form verb of the root ض-ي-ف.
plural: نَتائِجُ
result; consequence; outcome. Note: نَتِيجةٌ often occurs in the phrase نَتِيجةً لِ or نَتِيجةً or بِالنَّتِيجةِ meaning as a result of; because of; due to. When نَتِيجةٌ is used with the preposition غَلَى, then it means consequence for.
Vocabulary List – Media Arabic Booster 04/24 – © Gerald Drißner
أَحالَ – يُحيلُto refer to. Also: to pass on; to hand over. Form IV-verb
اِفْتَقَدَ – يَفْتَقِدُto miss; to lack; to be deprived of. You use a direct object; VIII-verb.
plural: أَدِلّةٌ or دَلائِلُ
evidence: sign, clue. Depending on the context, it may also express guide, manual. For example: phone book/directory (دَلِيلُ الْهاتِفِ)
تَحَشَّدَ – يَتَحَشَّدُto assemble; to gather together. V-verb
plural: مَزاعِمُ
allegation; claim; assumption. It is the مَصْدَرٌ مِيمِيٌّ of the I-verb زَعَمَ – يَزْعُمُ which means to allege; to claim.
ساقَ – يَسوقُto steer; to drive (a car). Also: to quote; to cite or to send. Root: س-و-ق
Vocabulary List – Media Arabic Booster 04/24 – © Gerald Drißner
plural: دَوائِرُ
circle; district
تَبْرِيرٌjustification. It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the II-verb بَرَّرَ – يُبَرِّرُ which means to justify.
plural: إخْفاقاتٌ
failure; fiasco; flop. It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of IV-verb أَخْفَقَ – يُخْفِقُ which means to fail.
plural: أَنْظارٌ
view; sight. Often used in phrases such as: regardless of; irrespective of (بِصَرْفِ النَّظَرِ عَنْ
or يَقْطَعُ النَّظَرَ عَنْ). It is also quite common to use the I-verb صَرَفَ – يَصْرِفُ which – among other things (to spend; to change) – means to turn away; to abandon: صَرَفَ النَظَرَ عن شَيْءٍ can be translated as to pay no attention to something; to avert one’s eyes.
سَيْطَرةٌcontrol, command; domination. It often occurs together with تَحْتَ, under.
What about the root? It consists of four letters: س-ي-ط-ر. The word سَيْطَرةٌ is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the I-verb سَيْطَرَ – يُسَيْطِرُ which means to control; to dominate. So, do not confuse it with the I-verb based on three letters: سَطَرَ – يَسْطُرُ, which means to write down.
فَرَضَ – يَفْرِضُto impose; to force on (عَلَى). Note: This I-verb may also denote to suppose, to assume. For example: Let us assume that... (لِنَفْرِضْ أنَّ). ➡ To express let’s…, you use a Lām with “i” underneath (لِ), a so-called لامُ الْأَمْرِ, and add a verb in the مَجْزُومٌ-mood (jussive),
plural: فُلُولٌ
shabby rest; dent, notch; a portion that has fallen off from a thing; fleeting part of the army; (scattered, miserable) remnant. Note: For the origin and use of this word, see the box below (Deep Dive Fuloul).
plural: نِظاماتٌ or نُظُمٌ or أَنْظِمةٌ
regime; system; order, discipline. When Arabs say النِّظامُ, they usually refer to an authoritarian government/regime. For example, to topple the regime (أَسْقَطَ – يُسْقِطُ النِظامَ). But it also occurs in other contexts. For example: tax system (نِظامُ الضَّرائِبِ).
Vocabulary List – Media Arabic Booster 04/24 – © Gerald Drißner

DEEP DIVE Fuloul (فُلُولٌ): origin, meaning and the proverb لا يَفُلُّ الْحَدِيدَ إِلَّا الْحَدِيدُ

The origin of the word فَلٌّ (plural: فُلُولٌ) means the notch/dullness in a sword, and perhaps more correctly, the notch or dullness in anything.

So the expression فُلُولُ السَّيْفِ denote the remnants of the sword, which are the fractures in the edge of the sword.

The word appears in ancient Arabic poetry and proverbs, including the well-known saying: لا يَفُلُّ الْحَدِيدَ إِلَّا الْحَدِيدُ. It literally means: Iron can only be dulled by iron. This Arabic proverb can be applied in many situations, mainly to indicate that when faced with a particular situation, what is needed are qualities appropriate to that situation – often where in English one would say to set a thief to catch a thief, but it can also work in the sense of fighting fire with fire. For example: A clever but mean man uses his influence to harm the people of a village; then the harmed turn to another man who is equal to the other. In Arabic, however, it can also be used to give people a warning, in the sense of “If you do that, you will be fighting fire with fire….”.

So why is this word now being used politically? The word “Fuloul” (~ remnants) is used today to refer to remnants of a previous regime (politicians, civil servants, military officers).

The term Fuloul (فُلُولٌ) became popular in Egypt soon after the fall of Mohamed Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, with media outlets referring to his regime, especially members of the National Democratic Party (NDP), which was ordered to disband and hand over its headquarters.

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خَشِيَ – يَخْشى مِنto be afraid of; to fear. It can be used with the preposition مِنْ or without it (= direct object) to express what you are afraid of. If you want to express that you fear for, you use the preposition عَلَى. For example: to fear for the children (خَشِيَ عَلَى الْأَطْفالِ) The infinitive noun (مصدر) is خَشْيةٌ (fear).
plural: بُؤَرٌ
center, epicenter; spot. For example: a focal point of misery (بُؤْرةُ شَقاءٍ); hotspots of tension (بُؤَرُ تَوَتُّرٍ)
مُعْتِمٌdark, opaque; gloomy in the sense of مُظْلِمٌ. It is the active participle (اِسْمُ الْفاعِلِ) of the IV-verb أَعْتَمَ which means to darken something, sometimes also in the sense of to become dark.
plural: مَسارِحُ
theater; arena; scene, set
مُضَلِّلٌmisleading, deceptive. It is the active participle (اِسْمُ الْفاعِلِ) of the II-verb ضَلَّلَ – يُضَلِّلُ which means to mislead; to delude; to deceive. For example: fake news (أَخْبارٌ مُضَلِّلةٌ)
بَثٌّbroadcast(ing). It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the I-verb بَثَّ – يَبِثُّ which means to broadcast; to spread. For example: live stream (بَثٌّ حَيٌّ), live broadcast (بَثٌّ مُباشِرٌ)
اِنْدِلاعٌoutbreak. Usually, only used when a major event breaks out or flares up: a war (اِنْدِلاعُ الْحَرْبِ), a revolution (اِنْدِلاعُ الثَّوْرةِ), an epidemic (اِنْدِلاعُ الْوَباءِ). It is the infinitive noun (مصدر) of the VII-verb انْدَلَعَ – يَنْدَلِعُ which means to break out; to flare up.
plural: مَعارِكُ
battle, fight; battlefield
Vocabulary List – Media Arabic Booster 04/24 – © Gerald Drißner

NOTICE: If there are any errors or mistakes in this article, please let me know or use the comment section below. I am not a native English speaker, and inaccuracies can quickly creep in with more complicated texts. We are all here to learn.

DISCLAIMER: Just so you know, my focus is purely on the language, and my selection of texts does not express any political views. The Arab world is currently full of sad conflicts. If a text excerpt hits someone personally or makes them angry, please remember that as a journalist, I listen to all sides without judgment, and I do not want to spread any political views or engage in discussions on Arabic for Nerds. All I care about here is the wonderful language of Arabic, and that we can all use it to understand each other better.

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