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Russia’s MIG diplomacy 11, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Lebanon, Russia.
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I have written before about Russia’s use of its MIG fighter planes as part of its diplomatic strategy. It seems that this instance was by no means unique. The Times of London reported back in December 2008 that it was donating 10 MiG 29 Fulcrum fighters to the Lebanese government. The article further commented that this was seen potentially as the first of many such heavy ordinance arms deals. Yet is this quite the benevolent gift that it seems? I don’t mean this in terms of what the Russians are getting in return, but simply is this a good thing for the Lebanese?


First, considering that the Lebanese air force consists solely of a few massively outdated Hawker Hunter aircraft, they certainly do not have the pilots for such relatively new and complex machines. Training them will be costly and time consuming.


Second, whilst the planes are covered by some kind of warranty, this will eventually run out, leaving the Lebanese with a massively expensive bill for upkeep and parts. (Discounting the fact that they probably don’t have mechanics skilled enough to maintain the planes).


Third, this puts the Lebanese in a very awkward place with their American allies. Accepting this gift will not go down well in Washington in any, way shape or form and rejecting it will offend Russia.


Fourth, as angry as the US Administration might be, Bashar Assad in Syria is guaranteed to be practically apoplectic. Whilst Syria’s forces remain vastly superior (in number if nothing else) the fact that Lebanon has such potentially devastating weapons will not sit well with Assad’s military.


All this may be a moot point if Al Nahar recent reports are to be believed. They quote Russian sources maintaining that the MiGs are unsafe and probably ought to be scrapped. Russian’s entire MiG fleet was grounded recently after a second MiG crashed in Siberia killing its pilot. Adding to the calls insisting that Russia’s jets are of poor quality is Algeria, which is returning 15 of the MiGs that it purchased.


In short, it seems that the MiG is most certainly a plank of Russia’s foreign policy strategy. Just how useful a tool it is, however, is up for debate. The Lebanese example seems to have backfired on Russia. Not only was it intrinsically not a good proposition for the Lebanese, but now that they are little more than expensive scrap metal. This, along with the Algerian example, could seriously damage Russia’s arms exporting reputation, a crucial earner of hard currency for its struggling economy.


(Many thanks to Arab Media Shack for the hat tip)


Qatar priming citizens for elections 11, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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The Gulf Times reports on Qatar’s limbering up for mooted legislative elections. Special training programmes are being set up to educate “master trainers” as well as ordinary people in the mechanics of elections. This is designed to avoid mistakes that have been made by their Gulf allies in similar ventures.

Such a move is a (small) step forward. Whilst it is no guarantee of a free and fair election with political parties etc. in the near future, it seems to me that training like this (getting people to know their rights, setting up the expectation of an election and so on)  is setting Qatar inexorably down the path towards such elections. To unendingly delay, deny or go back on their stated goals becomes ever more difficult when people are primed for full political emancipation.

The New Statesman’s atrocious editing 11, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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“Sunni v Shia”  Zaki Chehad New Statesman (17th February 2007)

(Red= Shia majority. Yellow=Sunni majority)

Notice anything strange about this map? Anything at all? I’ll give you a clue, there are three mistakes: two are cartographic and one is to do with an over-zealous graphic editor.

Firstly, whilst Iran and Iraq certainly are countries with a Shia majority, Kuwait is not. The Shia are thought to be around a third of the population. Not even especially close to a majority.

Secondly, Bahrain has been inflated in size as well as having its actual outline changed. Bahrain is relatively long and thin, resembling perhaps a dagger. Also it is on a north-south axis as opposed to this squashed, stunted Bahrain on an east-west axis. On this map, it is vastly over-exaggerated in size, appearing half the size of Qatar (should be 17 times smaller) and maybe 4 times smaller than Kuwait (should be 27 times smaller).

Thirdly, and in my view the worst mistake is to do with Qatar. On the New Statesman’s map Qatar is clearly and unequivocally an island. It is not. It is contiguous to the Arabian Peninsula land mass, having, at its narrowest, a 25 mile border with Saudi Arabia.

I can understand, to some degree, the Bahrain mistake. They want to highlight that Bahrain has a Shia majority and if they had a map of the Middle East’s true dimensions, Bahrain would hardly be visible. There are, however, better ways around this than simply re-drawing the country. Or if you insist on getting all imperial and re-drawing the country, then at least put a note on the map saying so. The Kuwait example is simply poor editing. The graphic artist (whom I sincerely hope is out of a job now) either mis-read his instructions or simply didn’t care enough. It is the Qatar example that seems to be the worst to me, for the person in question would have had to have taken some map to edit. This means that they wantonly erased Qatar (for some unknown reason) and drew it back in as an island. This, to me, shows an utter contempt for detail and a profound lack of professionalism as well as crass, sloppy and lazy editing.

Live Iranian TV gaffs exemplify absurdity of Iranian leadership 11, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran.
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There is a wonderful children’s TV show in Iran called Amoo Pourang (Uncle Pourang). I say it’s wonderful not speaking a word of Farsi or ever seeing the show. However, thanks to an excellent little article in the Guardian detailing some of the incidents on the show in recent times, it is now firmly one of my favourites. In the West, such incidents as transpired on this show might raise a chuckle or two; nothing more. However, in Iran, where religious sensibilities can not be offended on pain of death, things are different. Indeed, it is not so much religion taking itself far too seriously, but the general nature of a government so full of its own importance, so imbued with pomp, so thoroughly hamstrung in having to maintain such unmanageable levels of propriety and so thoroughly unable to laugh at its self that ‘gaffs’ like this are all the sweeter.

Children ring into the show and, amongst other things I presume, are asked a few questions by the presenter.

– A small boy, when asked the name for a small toy monkey that his father had given him, said that his father called it Ahmadinejad.

– When another child was asked to pass the phone to his mother or father, the child replied that they were both in the shower.

– When twins were asked who their father kissed first when he came back from work they (shockingly) replied that he always “kissed mummy first.”

Robert Tait, the author of the Guardian article, also commented that back in the 1980s Ayatollah Khomeini gave death sentences for the makers of a radio programme after a caller named a Japanese soap opera character as her favorite role model, as opposed to the Prophet Mohammad’s daughter, Fatima. Though he did later rescind the sentences, this goes to show that the Ayatollah was – clearly – crazy.

Such examples show better than anything else I can think, the true ridiculousness of the Iranian elite and their eternal but utterly futile struggle to overcome basic human tendencies, desires and behavior.