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France’s Abu Dhabi military outpost 16, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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The opening date for France’s new military base in the UAE has been announced. President Sarkozy will inaugurate the base in Abu Dhabi in May this year. Whilst it was reported some time ago, the opening date was something of a mystery until now. This is an important strategic move for both sides. For France, it assures their presence in a crucial and volatile part of the world, in addition to supplying supplying the UAE with military materiel. For the UAE, being less than 50 miles away from an often bellicose Iran at the closest point (not forgetting their borders with vastly larger Saudi Arabia), this will be seen as a hard security guarantee. This is a region, after all, that has seen three major wars in the last 20 years.

Qatari sign defence agreement with India 15, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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In November 2008 the Indian Prime Minister visited Doha and signed a defence and security pact with the small Gulf state.  This will be a mutual security pact. Doha will get physical security guarantees from India and their massively growing navy and Delhi will get significant energy guarantees in terms of Qatari gas exports.


So far Qatar is the only country in the Gulf with which India have a defence agreement of this type. An official of the Indian government went so far as to say that India would “go to the rescue of Qatar if Qatar requires it, whatever form it takes.”


Qatar would have been seen as a good choice by the Indians for such a wide-ranging and important agreement for two primary reasons. First, Qatar have huge gas reserves which India will want to secure and tie up with long term contracts. Second, there are a large number of Indians in Qatar. In fact, they outnumber the Qataris almost two to one.

Al Qaradawi reaching out to Shia 13, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, Middle East.
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Here are some intelligent thoughts from Arabic Media Shack on Al Qaradawi and his apparent desire to try to reach out some kind of olive branch to Shia Muslims.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi today issued a statement that’s sort of favorable to Iran.  Seems to me that there is some kind of attempt to improve relations between Al-Qaradawi and the Shia and part of its playing out on a new focus at Islam Online (his extremely widely read site).   Previously, there was a very noticeable lack of coverage of the Shia in the Islamist movements section.   Put it this way: if your site is called Islam Online and you don’t feature any coverage of the Shia I can see how the averge Shia might wonder “Gee, is there some kind of subtle message here?”    Over the past week, however,  there has been a sudden explosion of Shia coverage.  Since I first mentioned this two days, another article appeared on Iran and then this one on the Shia_in_Kuwait.  What other explanation for this sudden interest in the Shia is there than an attempt to repair relations?

Egyptian Army v Police 13, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt.
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There is a very good piece of analysis of the recent army attack on the police in Egypt over at MEI Editor’s blog. The BBC reported that army cadets attacked a police station after one of their number was apparently mistreated. Michael Collins Dunn makes the following points:

– It is rare for the police and army to mix, usually being assiduously separated.

– The army are rarely used for internal order issues.  The few notable exceptions being after the 1986 Central Security Forces riot, after the 1977 bread riots and after the 1997 killing of tourists in Luxor.

– It suggests that police brutality/bullying is widespread in society. If they treat the army like this, this does not auger well for how they treat ordinary members of the public.

– The fact that the Egyptian government strictly ordered all the press in Egypt – independent and government alike – not to report the incident, highlights just how seriously they are taking the incident. Also, as Collins Dunn points out, it shows how the government “have yet to come to terms with cell phone cameras and video sharing media. The days when a government could keep this sort of news from leaking are gone, except in countries like Saddam’s Iraq or North Korea where computer ownership was tightly regulated.”

Excellent stuff.

A call for independent oil reserve measuring 12, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Oil.
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Giacomo Luciani writes an interesting piece outlining the practices of states when it comes to publishing the levels of their oil reserves. He outlines the Saudi case whereby they simply predict their reserves based on what they found the previous year. He concludes by calling for an independent body to be the ultimate arbiter of the published levels of reserves to avoid the politics which inevitably becomes involved in such predictions. He fails to comment, however, that such an arrangement will most certainly never come into force.

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

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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.