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Bahrain stripped of only ever Olympic medal 18, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain.
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Bahrain have only ever won one medal at the Olympics. Or, rather, they had only ever won one medal. Now, thanks to the disqualification of their Gold Medal winning athlete Rashid Ramzi for doping, the small Gulf State are, once again, looking for their first ever Olympic success.

Ramzi, a Moroccan native, won the 1500m at the Beijing Olympics only to be found guilt of using Cera, a new and illegal blood-booster drug, according to the BBC. It is easy to presume that the pressures that went with his presumably multi-million dollar allegiance switch to Bahrain forced Ramzi to cheat to win. Wether this is the case or not is, of course, nearly impossible to tell. Though it does indeed pose as something of a cautionary tale for the Gulf States many of whom seek to buy in their talent as their population base is either so small or so lazy untrained that they can not attain world standards.

Personally, I think that if proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the athlete in question willfully, knowingly and deceitfully cheated then they should be financially ruined for life. I don’t so much care about the notion that they cheated: let’s all grow up somewhat. No, I just think of the poor athlete that worked for 4 years, 360+ days per year, however many hours per day, abstaining from countless luxuries and forcing themselves to eat nothing but rice and lettuce (or whatever is it they eat) only to come 4th in the Olympics, only for their placement to be bumped up to the podium 15 months later. No adulation, no roaring crowd, no fame, no raising of the flag, no teary glory, no affirmation of their life’s work and perhaps no funding next year; instead, all they get is a medal delivered by Fex-Ex.

Stories like this and those where athletes that miss out on glory by 0.002 of a second or .01 cm or something make me wonder how there aren’t more suicides in athletics.

Hat tip: Abstract JK

David Irving’s email hacked 17, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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…and all his details have been splashed across the internet. And when I say ‘all his details’ I don’t exaggerate too much. His personal email account details replete with passwords ( 7Gv4Leda and 36784LCp, if it makes any difference…), his personal phone numbers, contact details for those that work for him, all contacts in his email address book, all emails in his account, attendee lists for his recent American talks, lists of people who donated to him and how much they donated, and the balance and numbers of his credit cards are all present and correct for the world to see. Harsh but fair?


Kuwait most corrupt GCC state: 2009 Corruption Index 17, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, The Emirates.
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(Saudi: Red. Kuwait: Purple. Bahrain: Green. Oman: Orange. UAE: White. Qatar: Blue)

2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Qatar 38 32 32 32 28 22
KAS 71 70 70 79 80 63
Bahrain 34 36 36 46 43 46
Kuwait 44 45 46 60 65 66
UAE 29 30 31 34 35 30
Oman 29 28 39 53 41 39

Transparency International have released their 2009 index of perceived corruption around the world. The above graph and table show how the GCC states fare on the latest rankings in comparison to previous years.

Whilst Saudi Arabia has made the largest improvement jumping up some 17 places, as it did this from such a low base I feel that Qatar’s 6 place improvement from 28th to 22nd is just as (and if not more) impressive. For Saudi Arabia, it is good to see them make such advances. As I have discussed before, their relatively good placing in the ‘East of Doing Business’ tables can only be maintained if they get a serious grip on their somewhat endemic corruption problems. A rise of 17 places suggests that someone in Riyadh is thinking much the same thing.

As for the other GCC states, the UAE improved a not enterily unimpressive 5 places to 30th place, Oman rose a negligable place to 39th, Bahrain dropped 3 places to 46th and Kuwait dropped a place to 66th leaving with them with the dubious title of the GCC’s most corrupt member state.

Improvements in the Emirates have taken them back to where they were back in 2005. The effect of the credit crunch is unlikely to have been fully appreciated in this survey so – either which way -I expect a sizable change next year too. Bahrain are now 10 places higher (in a bad way) than in 2005-6. Of all the GCC states, they can least afford to become some quasi-corrupt backwater: they need to address these difficulties quickly. Kuwait, as I have discussed on several occasions, currently operates under the false assumption that they do not need foreign investments. As such, they may well not really care too much about their poor score. Yet now that they are rock-bottom of the GCC table and are fully 20 places worse than they were 4-5 years ago, perhaps they may seek to redress this balance, yet, given their institutional/governmental paralysis, their anti-foreign investment mindset and their apparent belief that oil will last forever, I doubt this very much.

India and Oman in joint military exercises 17, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Oman, Qatar, The Emirates, The Sub Continent.
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The Indian Air Force and the Royal Air Force of Oman engaged in joint exercises towards the end of October. Omani Jaguars and F-16s along with Indian Darin-I Jaguars and IL-78 MKI air-to-air tankers took part in the joint manoeuvres to “enhance understanding of operational, maintenance and administrative procedures between RAFO and the IAF.” The reasons for this joint exercise, however, are far more complex that simply answering questions to do with military logistics.

It comes as no surprise to see India’s military conducting such exercises with a county on the Arabian Peninsula. In recent years India has signed numerous military agreements with Oman, the UAE and Qatar. Most of these refer to arms sales, military cooperation and various innocuous notions of ‘exchanges of information’. However, Qatar and Oman have ‘harder’ agreements whereby India has pledged to militarily come to Qatar’s assistance ‘if and when requested’ and Defence News reports that last year India and Oman discusses stationing Indian troops in Oman.

India is, therefore, going to considerable lengths to involve itself in security related affairs of the Arabian Peninsula. Aside from a deep historical intertwining of India and the proto-states of the Arabian Peninsula, today there are two primary reasons for India’s involvement.

Firstly, the Gulf is home to over 5 million Indian expatriates. They represent almost 50% of India’s total expatriate ‘workforce’ spread across the world that sent back to India, according to the World Bank, an estimated $52bn in remittances in 2008. This amounts to approximately 4.3% of India’s 2008 GDP and is, therefore, crucial. Even though India’s expatriates in the Gulf are mostly employed in low skilled and low paid jobs they are nevertheless thought to be responsible for roughly one fifth of India’s total remittances i.e. roughly $10.4bn or 0.8% of India’s GDP.

Secondly, the Gulf is – of course – the world’s energy hub. India, with ever greater energy demands, must seek more and more of its energy requirements from the Gulf in the decades to come.

India’s consumption of Gas mirrors this oil consumption graph. Statistics taken from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

For India, having close relations with Gulf States to the degree that in some cases they even seek a stake in the state’s security, can only increase their energy security. This is done by not only fostering better, closer relations with frequent delegation visits, arms sales and other such activities, but if India shows that they are willing to ‘stick their neck out’ and actually guarantee military aid and support if requested, this clearly deepens their relations. It would, therefore, be only reasonable to expect the Gulf States in question to respond in kind with guarantees of oil and/or gas supplies.



The Times on Qatar 2022 17, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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There is a (fairly poor) article in The Times of London discussing Qatar’s chances for the 2022 World Cup. The article lurches from quick and obvious notes about Qatar as a country to a good examination of Qatar’s Aspire Sporting Academy. Indeed, if the article were solely about Aspire, then it would be good; as it is, it just meanders around somewhat and fails to answer its opening question. Still, there’s no such thing as bad publicity…

Qatar launches food security programme 17, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, Saudi Arabia.
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Saudi Arabia’s agriculture. Mostly without a suitable climate, Saudi grows crops in 1km circles as you can see. However, this practice is soon to be given up for being too water intensive.

The same crop circles are at the center (slightly ‘up’) of this picture. This is to show just how artificial the installations are: they are, quite literally, growing crops in the desert.

The Qatari Emir, Hamad Al Thani, has launched the Qatar National Food Security Programme at the World Summit on Food Security currently being held in Rome, Italy. With over 90% of Qatar’s food being imported, this issue is clearly of pressing importance. The crux of the new plan is to concentrate more on developing Qatar’s indigenous agricultural sector. Al Thani stressed that the harnessing of new technologies which, along with strategic planning and international cooperation is hoped to ” significantly improve the availability and stability of Qatar’s food supplies.”

With the money that Qatar has at the moment and will have for generations to come, it would be foolish to suggest that what amounts to growing produce in the desert will automatically fail. Perhaps these public-private partnerships can devise some clever work-around or new technologies that can breathe new life into Qatar’s agricultural sector. However, the challenge is indeed great. The center of the Qatari peninsula (if not most of the Qatari peninsula)  has long been noted as a particularly harsh, hostile, barren and almost uncultivatable swathe of land. Of course, given enough funds, enough trucks of water and enough laborers from India or Pakistan, the land can be cultivated, but the opportunity cost of this is immense. In addition to the (most likely) huge initial set-up fees of such ventures, the produce produced will have to be (I would imagine) highly subsidized. Such costs do not matter so much now when Qatar is awash in Oil and Gas cash but unless some fairly spectacular advances can be made, such projects will prove to be unfeasible in the long-term.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia has been through a fairly similar process. Faced with issues of food security, they sought to subsidise and invest in their own domestic agricultural industry. However, recently they have conceded that in fact such a policy is just not feasible in terms of the water needed to pursue such a goal and they stopped subsidizing farms. Saudi Arabia has, therefore, accepted that it will have to import its food and has gone about buying up swathes of land around the world in what is frequently referred to as neo-colonialism.

Recently, I wrote about how Qatar, after initially pursuing a similar policy, was changing tack somewhat and instead seeking joint ventures with companies in, for example, Sudan. Whilst the end result of crops being exported from (often) poorer countries still results, at least this way Qatar somewhat avoids the stigma of being labeled neo-colonialists and there is arguably more chance that investment in the land in the poorer country may do more good than if the land were solely owned by the richer state.

Given that Qatar clearly has to address this food security conundrum, I think that they should seek their food security in equal, fair and mutually beneficial relationships with companies or if need be governments around the world. Yes, this does sounds all very nice and jolly, but I think there are real gains to be made off the back of a manifestly fair deal. Were Qatar to invest meaningfully in agricultural development in a country, improve its port infrastructure, its road infrastructure etc and guarantee a set level of foreign currency earnings for a country, they could surely obtain cast-iron guarantees of supplies. If Qatar were seen as a partner in development who, of course, wanted grain, but nevertheless developed the surrounding indigenous industries and did not simply pillage produce at a bulk-sale, low price, then were the highly unlikely event of a country turning their back on such a beneficial deal to happen, then there would surely be other countries lined up to take on Qatar’s investment. If the deal was done in an equitable manner, what benefit would a crop-growing country have for rejecting Qatar’s investment in the first place? Overall, not only would Qatar be securing a significant portion of their food security but they would be meaningfully developing a developing country, something that Qatar, ever aware and savvy to the world’s view of such actions, could promote loudly and proudly.

Hat tip for the crop circles: The Oil Drum


Shopping at the Dubai airshow 14, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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Dubai International arms fair airshow has kicked off these past few days. Reports indicade that upto 50,000 visitors are expected and some $100bn is predicted to have been spent by the end of the week. Quite the party. Apparantly the best toy on display is the new Eurofighter Typhoon, this season’s must have addition to any self-respecting air force.

Hat tip: Iran in the Gulf

The times, they are a’changing in Russia 13, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Russia.
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Russian time zones

Russian President Putin Medvedev announced that he is considering cutting the number of timezones in the country. Currently, Russia spans 11 timezones which, for example, makes business difficult for those at opposite ends of the country. Looking at the map above, it doesn’t look too difficult to do. The +4, +6 and +8 ones look like ripe candidates for the chop to start with. Then again, he could go the Chinese route and make everyone work by a unified Moscow timezone. And to think that people in the UK think that Britain is too London-centric…

Collective Nouns 13, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Middle East.
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No, this isn’t too much to do with the Middle East but it’s just plain interesting. Here are my top 10-ish favourite collective nouns for animals. As far as I know these are all correct. To crow-bar some Middle Easternyness into this post, I’ve come up with a few collective nouns for some regional bits and pieces too.

  • A descent of woodpeckers
  • A sneak of weasels
  • A hover of goldfish
  • A storytelling of ravens
  • A murmuration of starlings
  • A bouquet of pheasants
  • A tidings of magpies
  • An ascension of larks
  • A memory of elephants
  • A tower of giraffes
  • A shrewdness of apes
  • An implausibility of gnus (some quasi-wilderbeast thing)

Some Middle Easterny ones:

  • A bling of Gulfies
  • A rage of extremists
  • A grope of Egyptian men
  • A pedant of Arabic teachers
  • A tick-tock of Mubaraks, Bashirs and Ghadaffis

Please feel free to come up with your own. The best entry will win the fabled squashed Kit Kat.

Algerian players injured after arriving in Cairo 13, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, North Africa.
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Algeria’s football team arrived in Cairo to play their crucial World Cup qualifier only to have their bus assaulted with stones. Four players were injured and one had to be taken to hospital. In a PR exercise worthy of Iraq’s Comical Ali, a police spokesperson said that none of the Algerian players had been injured.

There is hugely bad blood between the two football rivals stemming mostly from the infamous 1989 encounter which Egypt won 1-0. After the game there was widespread rioting and a former Algerian footballer blinded Egypt’s team doctor in an assault. Charming.

Update: Via MEI and Sandmonkey, I’ve got a fre updates on all the shenenegans that have been going on:

  • There is a football tradition of killing owls in order to jinx your opposing team. It has been relayed to me that an Owl holocaust was started last week and is continuing until this very moment.
  • Tamer from the popular TV show el beit beitak went on TV a couple of days ago and informed the egyptian audiences of the Hotel the algerian team will be staying in, and urging the egyptian people to “go there and hang out” until the day of the game.
  • Algerian municipality workers have stopped the paperwork for an algerian girl getting married to an egyptian guy, telling her that she can come back for it after saturday’s game.
  • Egyptians dying for a ticket to the Game attacked all ticket selling centers in droves today. The Elite Heliopolis Sporting club managed to secure a couple of thosunad tickets to sell to its members, only to have word of this reaching the egyptian population and having hundreds of egyptians storm into the private club to get their hands on tickets. 40 police cars were called to secure the facility.