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Article catch up 29, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, China and the ME, Egypt, French IR, LNG, Middle East.
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– Interestingly, it is being suggested that Turkey might be acting as an intermediary for America in persuading Kyrgyzstan to retain their US base.

– MEI blog and Marc Lynch on Obama scheduling a visit to Riyadh just before he gives his much-hyped speech in Cairo.

Commentary on Bahrain’s new proposals to augment migrant worker’s rights being significantly watered down by business interests.

Bomb at Iranian mosque in the run up to the elections.

– Thailand building LNG regasification facilities to receive LNG from the Middle East.

– Yemen are about to join Qatar et al in the exporting of LNG.

– On the Middle East’s expected increase in defense spending.

– Marc Lynch on the importance of Arab opinion polls.

– MEI blog on the Iranian un/blocking of Facebook and Microsoft’s bizarre decision to ban Messenger in various embargoed countries and on the French base in the UAE.

– China is now the largest exporter to the Middle East having over-taken the US. Hat tip: Silk Road Economy via the Arabist.

– On the possibility of China creating its own Al Jazeera.

– On the surprisingly close Israeli-Iranian relations below governmental level. See also ‘Treacherous Alliances.’

‘The Man with the Golden Guns’ 29, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iraq.
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Golden Guns

Saddam Hussein’s personal weapons. Frugal guy.

Hat tip: the Arabist.

The Der Spiegel affarir (cont.) 29, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Lebanon.
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Michael Young of the Daily Star in Lebanon as usual offers the best insight and analysis on Lebanese events. Read his article on the Der Spiegel affair for what is probably the most authoritative account yet.

New American embassy in Pakistan 29, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, The Sub Continent.
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Stephen Walt over at the excellent Foreign Policy blog briefly discusses American plans to build a new behemoth embassy complex in Pakistan as well as a buying a hotel in Peshwar to act as a consulate. Such initiatives are signs of the increasing importance that the US is putting on Pakistan as well as, it could be argued, a sign of their increasing long-term commitment. Walt eloquently sums up the other side of this particular argument as well as offering a few home-truths about the US’ involvement more generally.

One of America’s main problems in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan is the widespread popular belief that it is now addicted to interfering in these societies, usually in a heavy-handed and counter-productive way. In their eyes, Washington is constantly telling them which leaders to choose, which leaders should step down, which extremists to go after and how they should reorder their own societies to make them more compatible with our values. And oh yes, we also drop bombs and fire missiles into their territory, which we would regard as an act of war if anyone did it to us. Even when well-intentioned, these activities inevitably lend themselves to various conspiracy theories about America’s “real” motives, and reinforce negative impressions of the United States.

UK MPs Expenses & The Telegraph 29, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in UK.
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The Daily Telegraph, the right-wing newspaper that broke the salacious stories of MPs expenses a few weeks ago, today leads with “MP’s expenses: If you think this storm will pass, think again”. Of course this story will not pass, not with the Telegraph drip-feeding the public with such greasy, simple and addictive stories like a dealer stringing out a junkie.

I vehemently dislike the Press’ sanctimony on this whole issue. MP’s have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar and something needs to be done about this. But listening to the self-righteous blathering from journalists, one would assume that they themselves are whiter than white when, of course, nothing could not be further from the truth: journalists are legendary for fiddling their expenses. The righteous opprobrium that they have whipped up acting as ‘the nation’s conscience’ is breathtakingly arrogant, false and distasteful. For the Telegraph, this story is simply a way to revive circulation which was flagging horrendously leading to job cuts as well as whole-sale copy and pasting from Reuters, changing a word or two, inventing a journalist’s name to stick on the by-line (usually an amusing anagram) and printing it as their copy (see Private Eye 1236 ‘Ghost Story’). They just could not care less that their actions have precipitated a constitutional crisis in British politics, yet it is not this in and of itself that angers me so much, it is the level of double-standards which truly I just cannot abide by.

On Newcastle’s oh so sad demise 27, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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This is my first and in last post on football (or soccer, if you’re so inclined). Newcastle, for those that aren’t aware of recent events, have just been relegated from the top division in the UK. This is despite spending untold millions of pounds for a decade now on players, coaches and in turning their stadium into the third largest in the Premiere League. The club carries with it something of an arrogant aire based on the (pure)  mythology of how the Geordie (someone from Newcastle) is ipso facto the greatest, most loyal and most fierce supporter in all the land. This is grating for supporters of other clubs, to say the least. This is why, on hearing that Newcastle slipped out of the Premiere League last weekend, most supporters in England would have smiled with a deep sense of schadenfreude.

Even if you’re not interesting in football, you ought to read this piece by The Times of London’s Matthew Syed, a plainly gifted writer who sums up the situation eloquently and with no little wit and – again – perhaps a touch of schadenfreude. Here’s his article in its entirety.

“Newcastle United needs to be filled with people who love this club”, Alan Shearer [the manager and former star player]  said on Sunday and in that one, endlessly banal, hopelessly misguided sentence the latest would-be Messiah laid his finger on everything that has gone wrong with Newcastle’s football club and why it would be madness for Mike Ashley to appoint the former centre forward as full-time manager.

This is a club that have had far too much love: the love of the fans, the love of their various managers, the love of other supporters who, until now, have been happy to rally behind Newcastle as their second team.

This is a club that have basked in an orgy of self-infatuation, living on myths, dreams, brown ale and anything else that could numb the senses to the catastrophe that has been ticking like a time-bomb all season.

And now they want to turn to a man who has an excess of love but who has no qualifications to lead the club out of the mire into which they have jumped, feet first, except an ironed shirt and an occasional turn of phrase. A man who ticks no boxes whatsoever except possession of a Geordie accent and a legendary status on Gallowgate that is so patently irrelevant to the club’s present predicament as to be almost laughable.

This club do not need love; they need to be stripped clean of all sentimentality. They need a man who feels nothing but contempt for the position Newcastle now find themselves in and who is prepared to ignore the mass of fans and their hare-brained schemes.

They need a man who can state the truths the supporters do not want to hear; who can perform reconstructive surgery on a team that have lost all semblance of unity and coherence; a man who is hard-headed, hard-nosed and has spent hardly any time on Tyneside and is thus untainted by the delirium.

They need a man with a proven track record of management; a man who can finesse an understandably panicky owner; above all they need a man with the deep and long experience capable of persuading the good players to stay (and, let’s be honest, there are not many of those), who can get rid of the dross without the whole thing descending into a fire sale, and who can go into an infinitely complex global marketplace, identify a new crop of talented youngsters and persuade them that Newcastle are not a busted flush, but a club that can ride high once again.

And the new manager needs to do this with a close eye on the rapidly deteriorating finances, a deep awareness of the long-term contractual implications of his manoeuvrings in the transfer market and with a nose for how his string of new signings will cope with the unique demands of the Coca-Cola Championship, a league that is different in style, pace, philosophy and tempo from the Barclays Premier League.

Shearer, it hardly needs stating, is qualified for none of these tasks and it is symptomatic of the delusional contagion in the North East that so many supporters think he is.

Perhaps the most darkly comic aspect of Shearer’s initial appointment was how often we heard the phrase “the mood on Tyneside has been transformed”, as if the fans might be able to emote an awful team out of the relegation zone; as if the level of intoxication inspired by the great man’s appointment was a good thing rather than a distraction from what was, even then, a formidable challenge; as if sentiment has any bearing on success and failure when a team are plummeting towards calamity like a man in a concrete overcoat.

I sat in that opening press conference, heard Shearer’s repeated protestations of devotion to “the football club” (as if we doubted that), watched the fans outside taking off their shoes in an apparent show of fealty to their new saviour, and then got the train home wondering if this tedious soap opera will ever end. First Kevin Keegan, then Shearer; give it a couple of seasons of failure in the Championship and they will doubtless turn to the ghost of Jackie Milburn for managerial redemption amid yet more scenes of jubilation outside St James’ Park, yet more dreams of a return to the glory days, yet more whimsy and surrealism.

For the record, Shearer’s tenure has been a failure in almost every possible way, bar his ability to deflect criticism from his own inadequacies during post-match press conferences. He managed a derisory one win in eight games, executed tactical shifts and machinations that made Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman, seem like a rock of stability, but, most damningly of all, the St James’ Park hero failed even to inspire the passion and resolve in the players in what was the whole point of the exercise.

In retrospect, Newcastle needed only a point from their last two games to retain Premier League status, but failed to manage even that; their meek, passive, antiheroic surrender in the final quarter of an hour away to Aston Villa symptomatic of a club that had expended all their reserves of emotional energy on irrelevant happenings off the pitch; a club that have, in truth, spent so long navel-gazing that they no longer had the wit or the wish to look to the fights — the real fights on the pitch — that needed so dearly to be won.

As Alan Hansen said on Match of the Day (which is where Shearer should have stayed, firmly on the couch) on Sunday: “Even then, in the last ten to 15 minutes there was nothing, absolutely nothing. You know their life depends upon this and yet we spent 15 to 20 minutes waiting for some sort of effort [which never came].”

Some will point to Keegan, who as a virginal manager brought Newcastle back into the top flight 16 years ago.

They will dare to believe that this sets some kind of precedent. That inexperience can be some sort of blessing in club management.

But what about Sir Bobby Charlton, who took Preston North End down from the old second division in his first season in charge? What about the dozens of other precedents that show that experience matters in football management just as it does in every other area of life?

The reality is that, lumbered with Shearer, things are likely to get a lot worse for Newcastle, a club that face a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent themselves from top to bottom.

But has Ashley got the balls to ditch him, to make a decision based on the kind of hard corporate logic that has served him so well in amassing a fortune in the sports goods market? Would the fans even let him?

And with that last, rhetorical question we hit the bull’s-eye of Newcastle’s travails. Until the club have an owner who can ignore the myopic short-termism of the nation’s most capricious fans, there will be no bounce for Newcastle United. I am not saying that all supporters are burdened by overinflated expectations, but can it be seriously denied that Newcastle are weighed down by a critical mass of unrealism? That this is the underlying reason for the lack of a single major trophy in 40 years?

Shearer’s appointment would symbolise everything that is wrong at St James’ Park, past and present. Expect him to be unveiled by the end of the week.

Article catch up 27, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, French IR, Saudi Arabia, The Emirates.
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– Reuters have an interesting article about Saudi’s dealings with their Shia minority. The most interesting sentence is in the middle:

Saudi King Abdullah removed the governor of the Najran region last year after the Ismaili Shi’ites, a majority in the area, complained about efforts to settle Sunni Yemenis and give them housing and jobs in an effort to marginalise them further.

– The Independent on Sarkozy’s recent trip to the Gulf. It is a neat summary, though quite how it fails to mention the recent case Abu Dhabi torture case (here and here)  or their nuclear ambitions is beyond me.

The presence in Abu Dhabi is seen by President Sarkozy as part of a radical shift of French foreign and security policy away from the independent or “multi-polar” approach taken by the former President, Jacques Chirac. Together with the decision to rejoin the military structures of Nato, the Gulf base is intended as a move towards the “Anglo-Saxon” way of looking at the world. At the same time, both moves are intended to give France a greater stake in Western decision-making.

– It appears as if Obama will be speaking at Cairo University and not at the Al Azhar as some had hoped.

– The extraordinarily optimistic  Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Abdulrahman Al-Attiyah is still hopeful that the Gulf monetary Union will go ahead, despite the UAE pulling out of the deal this past week. I am not that sure how, exactly, the Emirates could have made their wishes any clearer…

Ralph Nader – GM Smear 27, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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From the Times of London’s Comment Central:

The Nadar/GM smearAfter Ralph Nader wrote a book about auto safety, General Motors, he says, hired private investigators to snoop around in his personal affairs, even hiring beautiful girls to lure him into compromising situations.

After five years of public feuding before television cameras, congressional committees and the courts, the company agreed, in 1970, to pay Nader $425,000 in an out of court settlement.

Qatar’s LNG: a brief overview 27, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, LNG, Qatar.
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Here are a few salient facts about Qatar’s LNG production today and in the future.

Qatar produces:

– 33 million tonnes per year of LNG  in 2008

– 60 million tonnes per year of LNG in 2009

– 70 million tonnes per year of LNG by 2012

– This 2012 target will amount to roughly 30% of the world’s LNG needs

– This will make them far and away a proportional bigger supplier of LNG than Saudi Arabia is of oil who supply around 12-13%

– One full cargo of the largest Qatari tanker is sufficient to heat every UK home for a day

– Qatar shares the world’s largest gas field with Iran – some 6000 square meters

– Current estimates suggest that it holds around 900 trillion cubic feet of gas

– It is expected to last for more than 100 years

– Qatar Petroleum are believed to have invested around £40billion in oil and gas in 2008-2010 alone


Nadim Kawach © Emirates Business 24/7 2009

LNGPEDIA is an excellent aggregation source for LNG related topics.

The BP statsitical review is an unbeatable source for energy data.

Adding Value in the LNG Supply Chain‘ Bjorn Moller. ONS Conference.  Stavanger, August 24, 2006

France’s military base in UAE 26, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Foreign Policies, The Emirates.
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President Sarkozy has finally opened France’s new military base in the UAE. The base, (which I wrote about here and here) which will operate as a training camp as well as an active military base, is expected to give France a further foothold in the lucrative arms-selling business in the region. Indeed, as I wrote at the end of April, the UAE are the third largest importers of arms and munitions in the world today. Additionally, the base will boost France’s prestige as well as prepare the ground for France’s collaboration in the construction of nuclear reactors in the Emirates. America’s support for such a deal appeared to be under threat because of the UAE torture tape (here, here and here) and the vociferous domestic reaction in the States. Nevertheless, it seems highly likely that the Emirates will get their nuclear technology, either through a reluctant but acquiescent America, or through France and their penchant for sanction and embargo breaking.