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A Turko-Islamic Empire 25, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, Middle East.
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turkoislamic empire

…would – apparently and arguably – look something like this.

Hat tip: The ever interesting folks at Strange Maps

Jerusalem’s chastity squad 25, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Saudi Arabia.
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The ever Angry Arab points to a recent article in an Israeli newspaper describing the growth of Jerusalem’s chastity squad. According to the author, this Jewish group has recently been ‘branching out’ into violent attacks. A divorcee and students suspected of watching licentious films were, allegedly, attacked by the group.

There are undoubted parallels between groups such as this and Saudi’s notorious religious police who frequently (though less in recent years) stop, harass, arrest or even attack people in the streets to assure that modesty and strict religious standards are enforced at all times. However, it must be made clear that Saudi’s religious police are state-sanctioned and an official run arm of the judiciary. Jerusalem’s equivalent – if that is not too an incendiary way to put it – have no such firm background.

Angry Arab’s point in highlighting this article is that such a story would no doubt have got more coverage if it were a Muslim ‘chastity squad’ that was accused of said crimes. Whilst obviously impossible to say, I think there may be more than a grain of truth in this statement. I’d be fascinated to see if any American media picked up on this story too. This analogy is – like the Saudi one – not perfect, but it is an interesting thought nonetheless.

Arabic issues: so near and yet… 25, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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arabic issues

Anyone care to guess what exactly is wrong with this picture taken in the Danish Immigration Service? I suppose that you might need to know a bit of arabic…answers on a postcard.

Hat Tip: The genius that is Facebook’s Secret Treasures of Hans Wehr group

Where is Doha? 25, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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serena williams where is doha

…was Serena Williams’ tweet as she boarded a flight to Qatar to take part in the season finale Doha Sony Ericsson Women’s Tennis tournament. One must feel somewhat sorry for the little thumb-shaped country, jutting out of Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf. They have hosted staggering amounts of international sporting events, prestigious conferences and exhibitions; founded the in/famously iconoclastic Al Jazeera news network with their ‘and now live from Doha’ strapline; paid hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid to actors ranging from the victims of hurricane Katrina to Libya; contributed to solving international crises notably in Lebanon in 2008; created a world-spanning, world-beating airline in Qatar Airways; hosted thousands upon thousands of US troops and the command center for the war in Iraq; have surprisingly good relations with Israel, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and America; sell huge amounts of gas to the UK, Japan, India and South Korea; invest and prop up some of the Western world’s bluest of blue chip companies such as Barclay’s Bank and have, with a $10 billion endowment, set up, among other projects, several American Universities in their aspirational Education City.

Yet still Serena can’t quite place poor Qatar despite having played at this exact event in the past. On second thought, maybe the problem is not so much with Qatar but…

Kuwait’s labour problems and the US Embassy in Iraq 25, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Kuwait.
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One of the Foreign Policy blogs and now The Times of London have picked up on a story about the shoddy workmanship of a Kuwaiti firm hired to build parts of the behemoth US Embassy in Baghdad. Both articles lament that the poor construction means that the work will essentially have to be done again at great expense.

The $130 million repair bill is, for me, of little interest being from the UK where all projects run over budget and need large repair bills after the fact. Instead, the Foreign Policy blog – The Cable – discusses some of the working practices employed by the Kuwaiti firm in undertaking this project. It quotes the former American foreman of the project, John Owens, who quit the project after witnessing exactly what doing manual work for a Kuwaiti firm entails: i.e. “sub-human living conditions” and the workers having their passports taken away. “I’ve never seen a project more fucked up,” is how he eloquently sums it up.

There should be no surprise about this at all. There is a good reason that Kuwait is on the third and worst tier in the America ranking of human trafficking violators.* What this highlights, to me at least, is that if a Kuwaiti firm that gets such a prime, lucrative, important and prestigious contract as building America’s largest ever Embassy in such a critical location, and yet they still employ disgusting tactics of near-slave labor standards, what on earth does this say about the rest of the workers back in Kuwait? For those working out in Jahra, the ‘slummy’ bit of Kuwait, building a nondescript block of flats with no international intrigue or renown, how are their conditions?

* Don’t be fooled by Kuwait’s apparent improvement under Bush’s premiership: that was done as a political gesture and did not reflect any changes on the ground whatsoever. See the 2004 report where Kuwait and Saudi Arabia(!) were moved up to tier 2 (and not even the tier 2 watch list) in a truly appalling example of political interference and naked self-interest.

US-UAE nuclear deal to go through 25, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, The Emirates.
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Several months ago a video of the half-brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi emerged showing him videoing himself torturing an Afghan man for an extended period of time. This horribly graphic video clearly showed the work of a vicious and hateful sadist taking pleasure in egregiously inflicting pain  – with the police in attendance – on a lowly Afghan grain dealer. It is truly a sickening video in every way, shape and form. On its release, the story was picked up by news media across America and caused a suitable level out (initial) outrage. Specifically, it was mooted that Congress would veto the nascent US-UAE cooperation on starting the Emirates’ civilian nuclear programme.

However, somewhat unsurprisingly, realpolitik has – as ever – won the day and the programme is back on the table as if nothing ever happened. To the best of my knowledge – having witnessed something of a profound lack of coverage of what seems to me to be an important story – Sheikh Issa is still under house arrest in one of his palatial palaces in the Emirates. Hardship indeed and I am sure that he has learned his lesson.