Saturday, June 28, 2008


Jordan, Morocco and Saudia Arabia are kingdoms. Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain are emirates, as are five tiny states that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The only sultanate left is Oman. Frankly, we'd be sultans if we had the choice. We'd wear insanely baggy silk pants and play with sharp sabers. The title "king" seems pompous by contrast, too stuffy and inhibiting, and you'd probably have to wear a really embarrassing crown. An "emir" sounds like some kind of horned deer-like creature that roams the Serengeti Plains. Well, a king is almost the same as a sultan, and both have more power than an emir. First, there are real kings and fake kings as there are real presidents and fake presidents. The Philippines has a fake president. But that's another post someday. Fake kings are like the ones in England, who are rubber stamps for the real government, the parliament. Saudi Arabia has a real king. That's why the country is called Saudi Arabia, because it is run by the Saud family. The Saudi king is picked by the family and has virtually absolute power. He gets to appoint everyone in the government. He's the final court of appeal. He doesn't mess around with democracy, but the Americans love the guy because he has so much oil. The sultan of Oman is also an absolute monarch. The only distinction is that when Oman was part of the Ottoman Empire - named after the cushioned seat, of course - there were many sultans ruling different lands, all answerable to the supreme leader, who controlled the empire and was so incredibly powerful he didn't really have a title. Folks just called him by his name. An emir is humstrung by contrast. Emirs rule by the consent of the aristocracy. In this case, being a ruler is more of a job than a hereditary privilege. What about "sheik"? That's a fairly generic title for an aristocrat in one of these emirates or sultanates or kingdoms. Sheik means "prince." Our pronunciation advice is to treat is as a homonym of the word that means fashionable, rather than the word that means a frozen milk-based beverage that comes with burger (or bur-jer a la abalos) and fries.
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