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Saudi Arabia flogs a 75 year old widow 10, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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As I have said on many occasions 1 2 3 4 5 with Saudi Arabia it is, more often than not, one step forward, several back. After unquestionably good news in recent weeks where real reforms appear to have been instigated, out comes the twice yearly ridiculously cruel Saudi “justice” story. Cue the flogging of a 75 year old widow for consorting (sitting in a car) with men who were not her immediate relatives. One was – shock and horror – her first cousin. Draw your own conclusions…

A Saudi-Syrian Rapprochement? 10, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Saudi Arabia, Syria.
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The Khaleej Times has an interesting article discussing Saudi attempts to affect a rapprochement with Syria. It is no secret (to put it mildly) that as a rule Saudi and Syria often find themselves on opposite sides of the fence. Relations plummeted after the (alleged…) Syrian backed killing of Rafik al Hariri, the Saudi citizen and general Saudi protégé, in Beirut in 2005. Their relations were further frozen when Saudi, amongst others, pressured Syria to withdraw from Lebanon the same year.

Such a reconciliation and potential augmentation of their relationship would dovetail perfectly with Saudi’s grand strategy to weaken Iran or at least, improve their hand against Tehran. With Syria and Iran being close allies for nearly three decades now, their alliance of interest, commonality and practicality, will be difficult to break up. However, Saudi has the money to potentially have a reasonable go at doing just that. Indeed, this is something that Iran can most certainly not offer Syria: ready cash. Just how much money talks, however, remains to be seen. It is worth remembering that American  is seeking to get Syria onside too. Thus Syria has two potential cash cows to milk, should they choose to. Needless to say, Assad will have to walk this particular tightrope very carefully. Being seen as giving in to America (akin to Libya, for example), abandoning their traditional ally Iran when they are clearly standing up to the Americans and siding with the ‘half-men’ of hereditary rule in the Gulf, whom the Syrian President ridiculed recently, would lose him significant credibility which, being unpopular domestically in Syria already, he can ill afford.

The Chinese are evil/benign [delete as appropriate] 10, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China.
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As if there weren’t enough threats from the Far East, commentators have come out with another Sinic threat to us all. This new future threat comes hot on the heels of countless column inches extemporising on current yellow-perils terrorising the Western world: China’s overcoming of their ‘century of humiliation’, their massive, rapacious expansion into Africa, their mega-cities spewing out epic levels of pollution, their burgeoning Naval fleet creeping ever further across the Pacific and avian bird flu, to name but a few.

 

This time around China are hoovering up all the ‘rare earth metals’ throughout the world, critical to iPods, lasers and laptops. Furthermore, through aggressive commerce (that some might call capitalism) they are driving their competition out of business, digging up and refining their product at cheaper prices. Imagine the temerity of them trying to create a comparative advantage; David Ricardo would be turning in his grave.

 

Dialling down the sarcasm as well as the hyperbole for just a minute, it does appear as if China are cornering the world market in such critical metals, accruing 95% of the supply of such rare earth metals in recent times. However – and this is a large however – one need not imply nefarious and evil intentions to this. If America or Switzerland or even the peace-hugging Scandanavians had an opportunity to corner such an important and lucrative market, they too would take it. To imply that China are ipso facto up to no good and seeking to set themselves up to extort the world in the future is not actually based on anything. They are – like the good capitalist they are – following the invisible hand eloquently. They could, of course, be just so evil: planning to ransom these commodities to a technology dependent world, but there is nothing as yet to base such a claim on.

 

Granted, their navy’s antics do not contribute to the West’s sense of ease. In recent weeks, Chinese ships have harassed American Navy ships in international waters, buzzing the ships repeatedly, sailing to within metres of them as well as dropping debris in their path forcing emergency stops. Whilst this kind of behaviour is certainly menacing to some degree, my overall impression is that it essentially puerile and childish; hardly a threat to national security.

Like the central theme of the first half of the article, the conclusions that can be drawn from the examples are mostly down to a person’s preference and proclivity. Each side can make a mostly convincing case that each Chinese action is absolute proof of their overall evil/benign intent. I tend towards the less alarmist, look at things from their perspective, type of view point. Yet I acknowledge (unlike many commentators on the topic) that the evidence can be easily manipulated to go both ways.

The UK recognise Hezbollah 10, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Lebanon, Western-Muslim Relations.
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The British have broken with their somewhat illogical policies of the past and are now recognising Hezbollah. A Foreign Office spokesperson is quoted on Al Jazeera as saying, “Hezbollah is a political phenomenon and part and parcel of the national fabric in Lebanon. We have to admit this.” When it is put like this, one wonders how they managed not to recognise them in the past. Moreover, it puts the US’ lack of recognition in a critical light. See Roger Cohen in the NYT for a thorough examination of this issue.

Democrats, Republicans and Porn 10, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Porn...it's chaper than dating

So who do you think would buy more porn, republicans or democrats? I suppose that your typical pinko-leftie democrat wouldn’t need it, he’d be getting free love and all that. But then again, he’s a liberal and thus totally unabashed in sating his carnal desires. How about Floyd or Cletus, with his hulking great SUV, listening to Country FM, polishing his guns in Church somewhere the deep South? A good republican boy like him would – morals, “Howdy Ma’ams” and all that – surely not touch such vile work of the devil? Then again, maybe he snaps once in a while…the pressure builds up and he succumbs to temptation.

Well, thanks to the New Scientist via Danny Finkelstein’s excellent blog at the Times, we know the answer.

So who have been statistically proven more likely to buy porn…drum roll please….

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REPUBLICANS! Go Bush!!

Apparently, eight out of the top ten “pornography consuming states” voted for McCain where as 6/10 of the lowest porn consuming states voted for Obama. Also, the more religious a state, the more likely it was to buy porn. (A finding broadly in agreement with Channel 4’s terrifying Texas Teenage Virgins some years ago.)

Methinks two things: that there are a lot of hypocritical and horny white men down in the South and that, overall, ‘the lady doth protest too much.’

Al Jazeera: Control Room 10, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iraq, Qatar.
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I’m not entirely sure how this passed me by, but here’s an excellent 2004 documentary on Al Jazeera and the American handling of the media in the Iraq invasion. The documentary is very interesting and raises a few excellent points.

– On 8th April 2003 the Americans bombed Al Jazeera’s office in Baghdad and killed their lead journalist. They had had the coordinates for weeks. On the same day they bombed Abu Dhabi TV too.

– On 9th April the statue of Saddam was pulled down among the crowd in Firdos Square. Critical Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV were not there too see it.

– It reminds the viewer just how quickly and effectively Bush galvanised large chunks of ‘the Arab street’ behind Saddam. The theory being that even if, for example, the UK and France hated a belligerent Italy and their tyrannical leader, were they to be invaded by a vastly powerful, bellicose, arrogant, foreign power of a different culture and religion, the UK and French ‘street’ would nevertheless most likely be angry and resentful towards the invaders.

– Al Jazeera plays to Arab nationalism just as Fox, MSNBC or CNN often play to US patriotism/nationalism.

– It eloquently but harshly juxtaposes the differences that Westerners often feel when seeing bloodied and gory images of Iraqi civilians versus similar images of US soldiers.