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SOAS Political Islam Course 18, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in UK.
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Every so often London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) hosts a peach of a conference. Some time ago, Shia Mullahs were prancing around Russell Square with bodyguards in tow and the likes of the Daily Mail went to town on ‘normalizing relations’ (or something) with ‘terrorists’ or, if they were feeling generous, ‘terrorist supporters’.

It looks as if there’s another good’un coming up. SOAS is running a course on Political Islam (for which they’re charging a small fortune) with a number of top-class participants. The first one they mention will get the bile readily flowing in the writers at the Daily Hate and their ilk:

Sheikh Abdualla Anas

Sheikh Anas fought the Soviets in Afghanistan with the ‘Mujhideen’. Founder of the ‘Office of Services’, the ‘forerunner of Al-Qaeda’, he knew Bin Laden well. After the fall of Kabul he returned to Algeria and joined the Islamic Salvation Front. He published his memoirs in 2002 in London where he is now based.

Quite an opener. I intend to sit back and watch the vitriol fly…

Sudan end newspaper censorship 17, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Africa.
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Maybe MEMRI are changing their spots…two interesting stories (and non Middle Eastern/Islam bashing ones at that) in as many days. They report that, bizarrely maturely, newspaper editors in Sudan have come together to say that they will ‘respect’ and ‘act professionally’ towards their country’s institutions. In return, the government have announced that they are ending newspaper censorship. Good for them. Here’s hoping it sticks.

A brief snippet from Uzbekistan 16, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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…from Prospect magazine. I spent quite some time in Uzbekistan some years ago and did not notice the omnipresence of police and security forces in the capital as is mentioned in the piece. Friends currently working there, however, testify to a gradual slip into ever more draconian and authoritarian ways in recent years, mirroring what Prospect has to say.

Conversely, my time there was preoccupied with sampling the world-class tourist sites to be found dotted around the country. Samarkand and Bukhara are truly breathtaking. Go have a peak at my photos of them as clear and unequivocal proof (indeed, if a lousy photographer like me can take photos like those…). I suppose that in hindsight perhaps I was walking though the country in something of a typical tourist-like daze.

Currently, the country is run by a megalomaniacal dictator who boils dissidents as a form of torture, clamps down horrendously on any kind of popular uprisings and has eviscerated any notion of a pluralist society evolving with wide-spread repression. This, unfortunately, shows no signs of change with Uzbekistan’s not insignificant oil and gas reserves shielding them from anything approaching meaningful criticism.

The DRC’s Chinese corridor 16, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China.
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DRCs China corridor

I’m always partial to a nice map and this little number here is from Le Monde Diplomatique. It highlights the prevalence of China’s construction firms building thousands upon thousands of miles of rail and road links in the 3rd largest African country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

China & the Middle East: An Unfolding Courtship 16, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China and the ME.
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This is something that was published sometime ago. Yet, it is only now that I have found a suitable (but still not perfect) way of uploading it here. Use the arrow pointing downwards on the right to make it larger or click the ‘full screen’ button (the one furthest to the right) to have a read.

(PS. No, “an unburdened Panda” was not my idea)

Originally published in the Kuwait Times : 09/02/08

View this document on Scribd

Dubai metro’s success 16, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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Metro airport

One the first day that the new Dubai metro was open to the public, last Thursday, some 67,000 people had given it a whirl. According to the UAE daily, The National, by Saturday night the total number reached 178,000 despite a few teething issues like delays and huge queues to get into some stations.

Many of the commuters on these trains were attracted by the novelty value of hopping aboard the Gulf’s first metro system. It remains to be seen, however, just how many will eschew their 4x4s and actually commute using the system. I’d tentatively suggest that the metro will become something of an ex-pat only zone with Emiratees unwilling to forgo the door-to-door advantage of their air conditioned cars. Only time…

Al Jazeera to show Israeli sport 16, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Qatar.
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al jazeera logo

…reports the Palestinian News Network. No stranger to controversy, Al Jazeera covered Israel’s Maccabi Haifa’s 3-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday night on its sports television channel. Some see this as a good sign of regional if not quite rapprochement, then at least vague normalization, whereas others fervently believe that Israel should be boycotted in all forms possible.

When it was first broadcast in the mid 1990s, Al Jazeera shocked the Arab world by interviewing Israeli politicians and military personnel whenever merited by a story. Whilst this may sound odd – that people were shocked by this – such interviews had never previously been conducted by Middle Eastern media.

Shocking MEMRI post 16, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam.
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In fairness to the usually horribly, gratuitously and flagrantly biased MEMRI, they have covered a story which does NOT seek to paint Islam in a terrible light…good for them!

During an MBC TV program marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, senior Saudi cleric Salman Al-’Oda called on Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri to reexamine his organization’s ideology.

He said that there was a need for such reexamination because Al-Qaeda had caused the deaths of more Muslims than non-Muslims, and because its attacks in the West had been used for anti-Muslim incitement.

Al-Odah added that the fighting waged by Al-Qaeda attests to its desperation in the face of the West’s ability to defend itself.

Source: Islamonline.net, September 13, 2009

Another Chinese-Iranian faux pas 15, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, China and the ME, Iran.
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Following not long after a Chinese company exported Jaffa Oranges (i.e. Israeli) to Iran leading to a predictable kerfuffle involving strenuous statements, angry rhetoric, various denouncings and a few sackings, now it transpires that some enterprising Chinese exporter has exported jeans to Iran with ‘بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم‘ (“In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful) on the back pocket. The quicker ones among you will realise that this means that wearing such jeans would involve sitting, so to speak, on Allah’s name. This has not gone down well. Cue strenuous statements, angry rhetoric, various denouncing, a few sackings…

Yemen: Who’s pulling the strings? 15, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Yemen.
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Simon Tisdall in the Guardian has a good piece on Yemen. Unlike the Michael Collins Dunn who does not see much evidence of foreign involvement but rather a Sunni media frenzy over the potential of Iran interfering, Tisdall quotes the rebels in the North claiming that Saudi planes have bombed them and that they have recovered Saudi mortars. They, therefore, have been helped by Al Sadr’s Shia forces which are generally believed to be at Iran’s behest.

So far it seems to me that rhetoric is overtaking facts and that the Sunni half of the Gulf’s perpetual view that Iran is just bound to interfere has led them to either pronounce that they in fact are meddling or for them to counter and support their ‘own forces’ in the conflict.

It is, however, a messy conflict to the extent that Tisdale quotes the Wall Street Journal as describing it as being second only to the unruly Af-Pak border area of North Waziristan as a ‘terrorist’s Shangr-La‘.


Carnegie on Yemen. Worth a read.