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Der Spiegel 25, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon.
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More on Der Spiegel’s relevlations about Hariri’s assassination from CUMINet.

Saudi censors 25, May 2009

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Here’s a link to a blog which has subsequently been banned in Saudi Arabia over an article which shows pictures of an album that was deemed too salacious for general release without a whisk or two of the censor’s pen. This is eerily reminiscent of the treatment that Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ album got in Saudi which I documented some time ago.

Hat tip: Saudi Jeans

Article catch up 25, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Lebanon, LNG, Middle East, Qatar.
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Here’s a selection of the weekend’s best articles that caught my attention:

  • Brian Ulrich has an excellent article, summarised on this blog and in full on the Arab Media and Society journal, discussing blogs as but the latest communicative media in the Middle East. It is wide-ranging, interesting and well worth a read.
  • The Arabist quotes Guy Gabriel at the Palestine Chronicle and his trawl of all available media stories concerning the supposed Israeli attack on the arms convoy in Sudan.
  • Der Spiegel highlights new evidence that the assassins of Hariri in Lebanon was actually Hezbollah’s special forces and not directly Syrian backed…But many in the media, including Joshua Landis are less than convinced about this story’s veracity. He eloquently sketches out the (many) reasons for his scepticism here.
  • Foreign Affairs has an article discussing the various lobby groups operating in Washington DC.
  • The FT on the great scramble for African land:  “they’re almost giving it away.”
  • Qatar’s ever closer investing, importing and exporting relationship with Indonesia.
  • The Economist on Kuwait’s elections and future difficulties.

Hold the front pages: BNP caught in a lie 22, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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BNP flyer

The British National Party (BNP), the UK’s ultra-right wing, avowedly, unequivocally and brazenly racist party led by Nick Griffin, have – shock, horror – been caught in another lie. They have recently pushed flyers through millions of doors in the UK with the following images on it, supposedly showing ‘ordinary’ voters. It turns out, however, that these pictures are not at all of BNP voters. As The Times of London’s Comment Central points out, some of the pictures are taken from a commercial photo selling website. The photogenic hugging older couple, for example, are from Italy and the doctor is from the US, as is the mother and child. Furthermore, the soldier pictured has given an interview to the Sun saying that the BNP were scumbags and he’d never vote for them “in a million years”.

There are concerns that smaller, reactionary parties like the BNP will gain ground in the UK after the recent souring of feelings towards MPs in the wake of the expenses row that has engulfed Westminster in the last few weeks.

Quote of the day #2 21, May 2009

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In the early 1950’s, the annual receipts of Macy’s Department Stores in New York were larger than the governmental budget of Pakistan, then a country of 90 million people.

Wayne A. Wilcox, “The Influence of Small States in a Changing World,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 372 (1967): p.82.

Article catch up 21, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia, Iran, Kuwait, The Emirates.
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There’s a veritable flood of interesting stories today:

  • Quote of the day is taken from the World Politics Review Blog, with a firm and hearty hat tip thanks for Andrew Bishop.

We’ve now got upwards of 40,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the ostensible mission to eliminate the threat posed by 300 guys. In Pakistan. Think about that.

  • An article on Al Qaeda’s apparent new ties with an Iranian Sunni (yes, Sunni) terrorist group.
  • The UAE have pulled out of the proposed Gulf single currency. Whilst achieving such a milestone of integration would have been enormously difficult in any case, it now appears to be all but impossible.
  • The Kuwaiti Amir has reappointed his nephew, Shaikh Nasser, as the Prime Minister. This is highly unlikely to appease opposition MPs and calm the volatile and fragile nature of Kuwaiti politics, considering that Shaikh Nasser was, essentially, the very reason that Parliament was dissolved last month (for the fifth time in three years).
  • There’s another good piece covering the Kuwait election written by Brian Ulrich. The most interesting bit is when he quotes from Kristin Diwan on the reappearance of one of the original and fundamental societal clefts in the Arabian Peninsula between the settled people (hadar) and the nomads (bedu) who did not get settled into cities until the last century (if at all). [Brian writes] “(quoted with permission from a professional list-serve)”:

“The other area of dynamism in Kuwaiti politics is coming from the ‘tribal’ outer districts. I attended a HUGE and very well planned rally for women in the south of Kuwait near Ahmedi, and was duly impressed by the energy, which may have been amplified by the fact that it was held in an amusement park and most of the women brought a bevy of happy children in tow. As observant Kuwaiti social scientists have been telling us for years, these relatively late arriving citizens of Kuwait are becoming better educated and less willing to accept their role as ‘service’ candidates quietly accepting government jobs for loyalty to the rulers – especially as there are less jobs and services to give to their steadily increasing numbers. They may mobilize as a ‘tribe,’ but their complaints are essentially economic and full of historical resentment of the better off ‘hadhar’ of Kuwait’s inner constituencies. The democratically elected parliament gives them the perfect vehicle to press their economic demands, and goes a long way in explaining why many of the merchant-led Kuwaitis who championed Kuwaiti democracy can now contemplate an unconstitutional dissolution of it.”


Israel’s ‘get to the bunker’ timings 21, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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On every fridge in Israel

Harvard’s MESH shows this chart in a post titled “On Every Fridge in Israel”. It is shows the time that Israeli’s have to get to their hardened basement-bunker in the event of the warning siren going off. Whilst this is a tragic ‘sign of the times’ one can but wonder as to the impossibility of such a chart appearing for the Palestinians.

MEI blog & the Sins of Middle Eastern Scholarship 21, May 2009

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I’ve followed Michael Collins Dunn over at the Middle East Institutes’s blog since its beginning in January this year. Overall, it is one of the best blogs on Middle Eastern affairs. It is a selection of educated and manifestly knowledgeable ruminations of various aspects of Middle Eastern politics and international relations in the broadest sense. To my mind, the best post so far is, in fact, a link that Dunn posted in April to a blog by Professor of Political Science, Eric Davis. This post is entitled “10 Conceptual Sins” in Analyzing Middle East Politics” gives a critical and insightful run-down of the grave errors that are made by Western scholars when looking at and analyzing the Middle East. As Dunn beseeches his readers, you really ought to read the article if you’ve got any interest in ME IR at all. Below is a brief recapitulation of Davis’ ‘sins‘ and a word or two, usually taken from his text, briefly explaining them.

Sin # 1: “Presentism.” – Not “taking history seriously” and believing in stereotypes to a large degree.

Sin # 2: Overemphasizing the ethnic and confessional identities, the “ethnoconfessional model.”

Sin # 3: The idea of a “communal mind.” – “If a political scientist from Iraq, Egypt, Iran or any other Muslim country in the Middle East were to come to the United States and assert that, if s/he knew the ethnic, racial or religious background of an American, s/he could tell us what that person’s ideology and political beliefs were, Americans would find such a notion ludicrous, to say the least. Yet many analysts of Middle East politics base their assessments of the region’s political dynamics on the social background of the political leader or activist in question.”

Sin # 4: The excessive focus on elites

Sin #5: The myth of “Islamic fundamentalism.” – “the notion of a radical Islam at the root of much if not all of the Middle East’s problems is pervasive in the Western media.”

Sin #6: Seeing the Middle East politics through binary thinking. –  For example, “the Council of Guardians in Iran, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad constitute a set of unsavory political leaders, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, as many public opinion polls have demonstrated, Iranians by and large are very supportive of democracy, especially the educated middle classes.

Sin #7: Failure to learn the history, language and cultures of the region. –  For example, “would we take seriously a correspondent who was bureau chief in Washington, DC, for a major daily newspaper in Iran, the Arab countries, Turkey, or Israel if s/he did not speak English?”

Sin #8: The failure to consider political economy – For example,  “the percentage of young people under the age of 25 is as high as 60% in countries such as Iraq and Iran, and a very large percentage of them are unemployed or under employed.”

Sin #9: Failure to account for exogenous influences and “neighborhood effects’” on the region’s politics.

Sin # 10: Why can’t they be like us?

….

Dunn comments on several of the sins here, here and here.


Recession: “Over by Christmas” 20, May 2009

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The British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alastair Darling has, according to the Times of London, said that the recession in the UK will “be over by Christmas.” That seems like a familiar phrase…when was the last time an MP said that something would be over by Christmas….

Gause on the Middle East 20, May 2009

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Gregory Gause has another excellent article, this time in Foreign Affairs discussing the rule of the Middle East. Here’s the key paragraph:

…the new administration needs to remind itself of the rules of the local game — the traditional contest for influence among regional states. It is played out more in political terms than in military ones, although the possibility of violence is never far. The players are the stronger regional powers (Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey) and the playing fields are the weaker powers (Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories) whose governments cannot prevent outsiders from interfering in domestic politics. The tools of influence are money, guns, and ideology — and the scorecard is judged by the political orientations of the weaker states.

By this metric, Iran is doing rather well. In Iraq, its influence is greater than that of any other regional power. Iran’s closest Iraqi ally, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, did not do well in recent provincial elections, but Tehran’s ties to the political party of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and to the Sadrist movement, a Shia party built around Muqtada al-Sadr — both of which fared better in provincial elections — remain strong. Meanwhile, Hamas, Iran’s longtime client, emerged from this winter’s war against Israeli forces in Gaza bloodied but unbowed, much as Iran’s ally Hezbollah did from its own war with Israel in 2006. Hamas and Hezbollah now dictate the course of politics in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, respectively — far more so than the central governments controlled by “moderate” Arabs with pro-Western inclinations.

To anyone with a fair knowledge of the Middle East, nothing that Gause says is particularly new. Rarely, however, is swathes of Middle Eastern history, politics, intrigue and modern-day machinations so well summarized.