On Prisoner X and the Dubai debacle 15, February 2013Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, The Emirates, The Gulf.
Tags: Dubai assassination, Mossad, Prisoner x, Prisoner x assassination
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The Prisoner X case in Israel is interesting for a few reasons.
Firstly, Bibi’s reaction to try to block Israeli papers from reporting on this incident smacks of the most pointless Mubarak-esque finger-in-the-dam mentality. We just do not live in that kind of world anymore. Instructing Israeli papers to ignore the incident as the story flies around the world is not only utterly futile but creates the impression that he has not learned anything from regional events. Was there any chance that this story would not have broken in Israel eventually?
Secondly, quoting the hugely reliable Kuwaiti press (…) the New York Times speculates that the reason Prisoner X was in such unusual custody was because he was involved in the Dubai assassination incident back in 2010. Apparently he was in the process of disclosing Mossad’s involvement and was thus arrested and incarcerated in this way such was the potential fall out were he to (or because he already had) disclose(d) information about Mossad’s involvement.
I have never quite understood this incident. How the Dubai authorities and countless op-eds across this part of the world mocked the Mossad for this ‘failure’ of an operation has never made sense to me. Around 20 Mossad agents waltzed into Dubai through its key international airport hub, sauntered to the hotel in question, mingled around, went to the room, killed the chap, wandered away, leisurely returned to the airport and skipped merrily through Dubai International Airport once more. How this is not a catastrophic and embarrassing failure for Dubai’s police force and domestic intelligence service I just don’t know.
OK, the suspects were caught on camera and I am sure they hoped it would be assumed that the chap died of natural causes but what does it matter? They killed him with ease and escaped with not so much as a murmur from Dubai’s authorities. So many congratulations to the Dubai police for putting together such a riveting series of pictures, better luck next time with – you know – actually catching them and stopping the assassination, perhaps?
And what do the Israelis care as to the embarrassment of this incident? It shows the impunity with which they can operate across the Middle East and their resolve in assassinating key leaders. I’m sure they were at least half pleased when the whole thing broke.
So to me, at least, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that Prisoner X received such special treatment over this incident. I assumed that he had something to do with leaking Israeli nuclear secrets and this still seems the most likely thing to me, but I suppose we’ll never know.
Gulf Disunion 3, May 2012Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, The Emirates, The Gulf.
Tags: foreign policy, Gulf Disunion, Gulf Union
The following article appeared in Foreign Policy magazine online on the 2nd May 2012.
The leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait) will meet in May to discuss creating a closer federal unit among the states. The idea of closer integration was first put forward in December 2011 by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and recently fleshed out in a speech in the name of Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. The potential benefits of creating a $1.4 trillion economic area of 42 million people were championed, as were the potential benefits of close cooperation and coordination in defense and security policy. While all this makes sense superficially, it is all but impossible to see how a meaningful GCC Union could take place.
In light of the Arab Spring and its ramifications in the Gulf region, it is possible to understand the desire in Saudi Arabia to engage in such a union. Specifically, Bahrain has been wracked with protest since February 2011. Today, demonstrations are sporadic but ongoing while protesters continue to be killed and injured, police are increasingly being targeted in retaliation, and Bahrain’s Formula One jamboree in mid-April was severely tarnished. The underlying concerns in Bahrain for both the al Khalifa elite and their fraternal al Saud allies are that the protests are somehow being stoked and supported by Iran, using Bahrain’s majority Shiite population to “export the Revolution.” While little if any evidence can be found backing up such a claim (see Bassiouni’s report) this is nevertheless the prevalent fear in Riyadh and Manama. Hence Saudi Arabia taking the startling step of sending in several thousand Saudi troops and a variety of armaments into Bahrain as a show of defiant support in March 2011. This action to which the UAE also contributed troops, while Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman mostly obfuscated, was taken under the fig-leaf of a “GCC Peninsula Shield” force action; a moribund pan-GCC force originating from 1984 that has never possessed an ounce of efficacy.
Some kind of Saudi-Bahraini Union is being discussed as a precursor to a wider GCC Union. Such a bilateral union would normalize the Saudi-led military action in Bahrain to potentially pave the way for the permanent stationing of “GCC” troops in Bahrain, while signaling the death knell for any political resolution with Riyadh having a de jure say over such outcomes as opposed to its already potent de facto sway.
Some in the al Khalifa elite appear to be willing to be subsumed into such a union and this is a startling reflection of their heightened concerns. Given the lack of oil and gas resources in Bahrain, the exodus of European banks seriously damaging confidence in this key industry, the profound socio-economic problems that lie mostly unacknowledged at the root of Bahrain’s political troubles, and the hardening political crisis, there are concerns as to Bahrain’s longer term viability as an independent economic entity. Saudi Arabia already gives Bahrain’s elite huge subsidies and support and there is no sign that this could be reversed soon. From the al Khalifa perspective, therefore, if those in Riyadh are not willing to simply continue the economic support without deeper political concessions, with no end in sight to the political and economic crisis, securing guaranteed long-term backing from Riyadh to maintain the status quo may seem sensible.
Overall, while Saudi Arabia taking on Bahrain as a loss-making, politically unstable appendage with a majority Shiite population may seem to be unattractive, it is preferable to the alternative. They could conversely see the slow implosion of a fellow Sunni monarchy and the potential ascendance to power of the Shiites next door to Saudi’s Eastern province, which contains not only a majority-Shiite Saudi population but also most of the kingdom’s oil fields and facilities.
As for a wider GCC Union, Saudi Arabia has been trying and mostly failing to engender a united GCC line toward Iran. Oman, Dubai, and particularly Qatar have frequently broken rank and pursued more conciliatory policies to Riyadh’s dismay. Such a union, which may include some provision for a joint foreign policy along the European Union model, may be seen in Riyadh as a way to further the central Saudi goal of uniting against Iran.
Yet as hard as Riyadh might push for a Gulf Union as a means of achieving some kind of GCC foreign policy, expect Qatar, for one, to push equally hard in the opposite direction. The current Qatari elite came to power in 1995. It took 13 years with the return of the Saudi ambassador to Doha in 2008 after leaving in 2003 for Riyadh to realize that Qatar was a sovereign country with an independent foreign policy. Such hard-won independence will not be surrendered lightly, especially considering Qatar’s burgeoning, central role across the wider Middle East.
Moreover, what would Qatar, the UAE, or Kuwait, for example, gain from a Gulf Union? Qatar is at the apex of its international popularity currently and is per capita the richest country on earth. Surrendering powers to a union would seem to benefit Doha in no way whatsoever.
It is the same for the UAE. Though they are currently engaged in a battle with mostly non-existent dangerous “Islamist” elements within society, a topic on which they would likely appreciate some rhetorical back-up from neighboring states, the overall abdication of some autonomy would not suit the UAE. Indeed, the prime reason the UAE pulled out of the GCC single currency is that Abu Dhabi’s elite could not countenance the notion of the central bank being in Riyadh — hardly a communally spirited decision.
Kuwait is mired in its own problems with its perennially fractious parliament. The only sure thing about any GCC Union for Kuwait is that it would complicate and exacerbate its already Gordian parliamentary problems.
Oman, as a poorer relation would likely welcome some closer integration and see it as a hedge against future economic instability and Bahrain’s logic, looking down the barrel of long-term political instability and resultant economic dysfunction, is the same.
Another fundamental problem with any alliance is that it would dominated by Saudi Arabia. Geographically Saudi Arabia is more than five times as large as all other GCC States together and its population is around 10 million greater. For decades, geopolitically, Saudi Arabia has been used to leading not only the Gulf region, but arguably the wider Middle East and Muslim world. This combination of raw facts and Saudi’s historical position mandates, from Riyadh’s perspective, that it would “naturally” take the lead in any such union. And this will be profoundly unacceptable to Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE all of whom have forged independent paths in recent years.
Moreover, within recent memory each state can think back to decidedly unfriendly actions and policies from Saudi Arabia. For the UAE there have been frequent disputes with Saudi Arabia over its borders, which spill out and adversely affect border traffic between the two countries. In 2011 a UAE and a Saudi patrol boat exchanged fire, injuring the Saudi sailors who surrendered and were subsequently repatriated to the kingdom. While this was an isolated incident, it hints at wider, deeper bilateral concerns.
Qatar has long had rocky relations with Saudi Arabia. In the early 1990s Saudi Arabia refused to allow Qatar to pipe its gas to the UAE and to Kuwait; there were border skirmishes in 1992 and 1994; Saudi Arabia allegedly sponsored a counter-coup against Emir Hamad al Thani in 1996; Al Jazeera’s coverage of regional issues has long angered Riyadh; and Qatar’s independent foreign policy also sits poorly with those in power in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, it is only recently that relations have picked up once more but the previous decade’s worth of lamentable relations have not been forgotten.
In Kuwait not only is Saudi Arabia’s intransigence blocking the proposed pipe for gas from Qatar remembered, but also there is little desire to join together. As the speaker of Kuwait’s Parliament, Ahmed al Saadoun, pointedly commented in February, such a union would be difficult for Kuwait to join “with countries whose prisons are full of thousands who are guilty of speaking their minds.”
Lastly, the notion that a Gulf Union might work because the peoples of the Arab Gulf region tend to come from similar religious, historical, social, and familial backgrounds logically makes sense, but so too could the opposite conclusion be drawn. That is precisely the lack of differentiation between a Saudi and an Emirati and a Qatari that will lead these modern day states to resolutely maintain these borders as a means of differentiating themselves from a GCC amalgam identity. Until there is a desire to fundamentally eschew borders in the Gulf region and do away with an Emirati identity in favor of a generic Gulf identity, without a pressing need to join together, a Gulf Union will not be supported.
In the early 1980s in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, the Gulf States first came together to form a union: the 1981 Gulf Cooperation Council. It took this seemingly real, imminent, deeply resonant threat from Iran to force them together and even then, the GCC Peninsula Shield force was never effective.
While today those in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see a deep and concerning conflagration with Iran emerging, with Tehran’s tentacles allegedly to be found in Bahrain, Iraq, and the Levant according to the orthodoxy, there are key obstacles in the way to deeper security cooperation. Despite the procurement of hundreds of billions of dollars of equipment in recent years, the stories of chronic interoperability issues within armed forces themselves let alone across national armies or navies are legion. Saudi Arabia itself has four forces: its traditional army, navy, and air force, and the Saudi Arabian National Guard (an entire fourth force nominally to protect the king). Yet it is a case of never the twain shall meet and these forces are as much rivals with little if any cross-communication and training as they are united under the Saudi banner.
Yet the core reason why there will be no meaningful security or military cooperation is that the United States guarantees the security in the Gulf. Difficult decisions to subsume personal and state rivalries, to overcome ingrained problems with joint training and even joined up procurement can be avoided with a U.S. security umbrella. Indeed it may be instructive to note that Bahrain, the base of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, is the only Gulf country seriously considering such a union and is also the only Gulf country about which there has been a debate recently about the removal of U.S. forces. Only when America, like the Ottomans, and the British before them, finally leave the Gulf will the Gulf States be truly forced to come to terms with their own security situation and will potentially countenance subsuming their national proclivities for a collective alliance.
Emirati women: modernity and modesty 4, September 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
Tags: pictures UAE women, UAE, UAE women, UAE women slide show
Salon has a (vaguely) interesting slide show of pictures of Emirati women. To anyone who remotely knows the region, it will show you nothing remotely new. It is mostly, I think, for Americans who don’t know the Gulf to snigger at Emirati women buying or making dresses but not wearing them in public…but by far the most interesting picture is the one below.
Trying as I am to rack my brain now, I really don’t think that I’ve ever come across pictures of Gulfy women toting weapons. Nor, for that matter, does one see photos of disdahas toting guns. Curious (or not…).
Hat tip: Sultan Al Qasseimi
UAE backheel penalty: tut tut 26, July 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
Tags: UAE backheel penalty, UAE penalty
The clip below shows an Emirati player backheeling a penalty against Lebanon.
To those that perhaps don’t understand football culture, this is a shoddy thing to do. And it’s far worse and far more humiliating a thing to do if you’re already 6-2 up. Clearly, you’ve already wiped the floor with the opposition, to do something like this is wholly beyond the spirit of the game. Tut tut.
In any case, as any footballer will know (even a rubbish one like me), he makes a complete ass of himself doing so: it’s practically a mis-kick. If you want to see how to do this watch Totti below who did this in practice. Classy.
14% of Emiratees to vote in elections 10, July 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
Tags: democracy, Democracy Emirates, UAE crack down, UAE elections, UAE Federal National Council
Around 129,000 or 14% of Emiratees will be eligible to vote in the elections on 24th September 2011 to elect half of the members of the Federal National Council.
To put this another way, only 1.6% of the entire population of the Emirates will be voting. Or, to look at this more positively, considering less than 7,000 Emiratees were eligible to vote in the last elections, clearly some progress – albeit from an absurd base – is being made.
Yet there are greater issues afoot. Not only is the Federal National Council one of the region’s most rubber stamping of rubber stamping institutions, but there are serious problems to do with freedom of expression currently plaguing the UAE, from the removal of the Gulf Research Centre to a severe crack-down on those who – politely – request more democratic freedoms. I’ll let the Economist take up the story.
Manchester City stadium renaming faux pas 9, July 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
Tags: Etihad Airlines, Etihad manchester city, Etihad united manchester city, Manchester city, Manchester city sponsorship, Manchester city stadium name change
Manchester City, the English Premiere League club, have renamed their stadium the Etihad Stadium, after signing the largest sponsorship deal in history worth some £400 million pounds with Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airlines.
All I would note is that they have quite literally renamed their stadium the ‘United Stadium’. I’m sure that this will do down fantastically well with their supporters.
Tags: Abu Musa, Emirates Abu Musa, Iran Abu Musa, Pearl Rounda Abu Musa, Pearl roundabout
I can’t believe that I missed this when the story first broke.
Evidently the Iranians have a super sense of high mirth and constructed a fake ‘pearl roundabout’ as a monument to the epicenter of the Bahraini protests, which was subsequently destroyed in Manama. Moreover, not only did they ironically immortalize the roundabout, but they built it on the disputed island of Abu Musa, which the Iranians nabbed from the Emirates in 1971.
Gulf Research Centre Dubai ‘restructures’ 1, June 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
Tags: Dubai, Gulf Research Centre, Gulf Research Centre Dubai, UAE
There have been rumours circulating for some time now that the various think tanks based in the Emirates were coming under severe pressure from the authorities. Now there is proof.
The Gulf Research Centre based in Dubai is, as it wistfully calls it, ‘restructuring’. Its permit to operate in Dubai expired after ten years in 2010 and it has not been renewed. Clearly, they are doing something right.
This is another nail in the coffin of the liberal dream of the UAE.
Curiously, GRC is relocating its staff to Jeddah(!) and also to Geneva and Cambridge. Best of luck to them.
Qatar ‘not to benefit’ from 2022 World Cup 18, May 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, The Emirates.
Tags: Command economy, Gulf economy, Qatar economy, Qatar hotels, Qatar World Cup, Qatar world cup net benefit, world cup net benefit, Yas Island hotels
Citigroup’s chief economist has posited that Qatar will not see any (net) economic benefit from hosting the 2022 World Cup. While this would hardly make Qatar unique, this will not come as happy reading to Qataris concerned about their inheritance being squandered on the mother of all prestige projects.
The Bloomberg article carrying this story focuses on the issue of hotel rooms. Currently, Qatar has around 60% occupancy but has pledged to increase its capacity tenfold. It is perfectly reasonable to ask, therefore, who will be staying in all these rooms after the World Cup. Sure, tourism will pick up somewhat after – inshallah – hosting a successful tournament, but 90,000 rooms? I don’t remotely see where that number of people will come from.
It is the same story in the Emirates. The large hotels on Yas Island, aside from the week per year when they are full with F1 fans and officials, generally operate at less than 10% capacity. How this can continue, I just don’t see.
All of this is a part of the voodoo economics that envelopes the Gulf. Supply and demand? Where? I just don’t really see it in the Gulf. Look at all the empty towers dotted around the region and the new soon to be empty towers currently rising beside them. It often far more resembles a Soviet-esque command economy than anything else. Sometimes this can work, at least for a time. Dubai’s ‘build it and they will come’ attitude did well until its spectacular crash; hardly a good harbinger for the region loosely following some of its principles.
The UAE’s mercenary army? 16, May 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
Tags: Abu Dhabi mercenary army, South African mercenaries, UAE mercenary army
So it seems that the UAE, or more specifically, Abu Dhabi, has been cultivating mercenary armed forces in the desert. Their aim is reportedly to either quell uprisings within the Emirates, act somehow against Iran or to be first responders to a terrorist incident.
All in all it is really rather impressively poorly thought out.
- So the UAE want to rely on a bunch of paid killers for their security. People who have specialised (particularly in the South African case) in taking money and killing people at the behest of…well…anyone. What a morally bankrupt policy.
- The report notes that such an army might be a part of a plan, one day, to take back the Abu Musa and Tunb islands from Iran. What a joke. There is no way that the Emirates would be that stupid: that would be a bona fide act of war, however justified historically. And I would not want such a mission to be entrusted to a bunch of mercenaries who couldn’t give two hoots about the lumps of rock in the Gulf: if there’s a good chance you’d die (do you think the Iranians would give up without a fight, or fight fairly for that matter?) it hardly matters how much you’re being paid.
- A mercenary army unleashed against Emirati protestors? Is that what’s envisaged? This would immediately de-legitimize their mission and cause a fire-storm of protests: ‘Emiratis killed by foreign mercenaries’
- A bunch of mercenaries as first responders to a terrorist attack? What – exactly – would their rules of engagement be? What role would traditional CT forces play in this? How would they hand-over? What legal authority would they have?
- Let’s not forget how integral military forces are to the prestige of Gulf (if not most) countries and particularly to the leaders. Deploying such mercenary forces would be a monumental slap in the face for any and all Emirati forces. It clearly and brazenly states – to the world – that every last one of them is rubbish at their job; that they cannot do what they are paid and trained to do: defend their country. I think that the shock-waves of shame would reverberate around the Emirates.
Overall, then, IMHO (as the kids say), this idea…needs some thought.
Update: I’ve just updated all the typos in this article – apologies!