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Saudis demand internet censorship 18, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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Al Sharq Al Awsat reports that there are between 700-1000 requests per day from Saudi Arabian internet users to the Ministry in charge of censoring the internet to block what they deem to be unsuitable material. The same article finds that there are only 200 requests for sites to be unblocked, creating a 4:1 ratio.

Brian Whitaker, using OpenNet Initiative statistics, fleshes out these findings in an interesting post.

We found that the kingdom’s filtering focuses on a few types of content: pornography (98% of these sites tested blocked in our research), drugs (86%), gambling (93%), religious conversion, and sites with tools to circumvent filters (41%). In contrast, Saudi Arabia shows less interest in sites on gay and lesbian issues (11%), politics (3%), Israel (2%), religion (less than 1%), and alcohol (only 1 site).

There are a few more surprising things to note in the OpenNet/Whitaker report.

  • Jewish orientated sites are not blocked as much as one might initially assume.
  • Seemingly more ‘non Sunni’ orientated websites were blocked.
  • Al Manar’s was blocked (Hizbollah’s TV station).

This topic highlights a fascinating point. I think that from a Western perspective we automatically assume that people intrinsically want more freedom of speech, less censorship and more democracy, writ large. Yet this is just not the case in Saudi Arabia. Of course, many people there do want these attributes, yet overall I firmly get the impression that it is the government dragging the country  forward* and not the people dragging the government as we automatically presume: it’s not as if the government is necessarily wedded to the past and is pushing again a tide of a pent-up, reform minded populace.

Eventually I imagine that demographics will have the last say. The younger generations certainly appears to be less conservative so I’d expect the worst excesses of Saudi’s draconian religious conservatism (the executing of witches, the hideous moral and religious police etc) to be curtailed somewhat but I still think that social mores will take much longer. It is one thing for a 20 something Saudi man to chat to girls via Bluetooth or to go to Bahrain for a debauched weekend, but quite another for him to be happy for his daughter to engage is similar practices.

*Yes, before anyone gets all ‘Said’ on me, I understand the irony of using this term.

Qatar to buy Manchester United? 18, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, UK.
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There are a few reports doing the rounds suggesting that a group of Qataris may be about to launch a £1.2bn bid for Manchester United, the richest and most successful British football club of the past decade. Whilst rumours such as these always swirl around there is clear logic and pedigree behind this potential move.

  • Qatar likes top brands. Investors from Qatar have already taken stakes in many of the bluest of Europe’s blue chip companies. From Volkswagen/Porsche to EADS to Barclays, Qataris like a top-class brand name.
  • Qataris have the money. Qatar is an incredibly rich little country. Less that a quarter of a million nationals sit atop the third largest gas reserves in the world and the 13th largest oil reserves.
  • Qatar 2022. Qatar is hoping to attract the World Cup to the small Peninsula in 2022 but face exceedingly tough competition from countries like England. To boost their chances so far they have used their practically unlimited budget to guarantee exclusivity at the Confederation of African Football and paid millions for England to play Brazil in Doha last November. In this light, therefore, the acquisition of Manchester United, one of the largest clubs in the world, would yet further place Qatar on the footballing map.
  • Qatar wants returns. Despite being seen by some as a ‘buyer of Western baubles’ Qatar invests in Western companies/businesses for returns. Manchester United, despite the huge debts foisted on them by the Glazers are intrinsically an exceedingly profitable club and as such would represent a good financial decision, especially considering the Qataris probably would not need to finance the deal with as much debt.

Islamic solidarity games cancelled for lack of solidarity 18, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Some time ago I wrote about the threat to the Islamic Solidarity Games being cancelled because of a disagreement between Arabs and Persians. The second Islamic Solidarity Games were due to be held in Iran in October 2009 but before issues of whether they were going to go ahead at all could be resolved, Swine Flu came to the rescue and forced planners to cancel the games. Iran was due to reprise (or prise?!) its role in April this year, but this time the Games have been canceled because of the dispute.

The key issue is over the medals and other promotional material being emblazoned with the phrase Persian Gulf. Despite the fact that Persian Gulf is the historical and contemporary legal name for the body of water, Arab states do not like it and prefer to call it the Arabian Gulf or just the Gulf.

On a British Islamic Caliphate 18, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, UK.
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I’ve quoted this riposte before, but it needs to be mentioned again in the light of the extra attention the banning of Islam4UK is garnering. One of their (former…) key plinths was the notion that some day Britain will fall under the dominion of an Islamic caliphate. In the quote below, a Saudi preacher responds magisterially to these kinds of absurd notions. Although he is writing and referring to a different idiot, the sentiment and logic are exactly the same.

A famous preacher told me that he heard a speaker giving a Friday sermon in a small room in London and calling for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. The preacher told me: I laughed at the sight, which was actually tragi-comical: A person with little learning, far from his people and society, speaking in a rented room, unable to build a mosque, staying in the country on a temporary residence permit, calling for the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate, which Islamic countries, organizations, and groups have failed to establish. I do not know what stupidity got hold of this speaker to make him commit this offense against himself and his reality and indulge in delusions. He would do better to seek greater learning so that he would pray to God with more understanding and say things that benefit his listeners like having true faith and fine morals. Before advocating the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, he should make sure that he can honestly earn the rent of the room where he speaks. He should also bring his residence in the country where he is staying or to where he fled in compliance with the law. Perhaps he went there to flee his poverty or hunger. After that he should improve the image of Islam, which is distorted among many non-Muslims. He can do this by friendly talk, a smile expressing friendliness, sound behavior, and wise actions.

Do you not find it strange for a young man who requests political asylum in Britain and who has no money, no job, no home, and no residence permit, alone and destitute, to stand up in a room and call for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, forgetting that the entire Muslim nation of 1.5 billion people from Jakarta to Nouakchott failed to agree on one resolution pertaining to Iraq, Palestine, or Afghanistan? This brother would like to unite the nation in a room, in a building, in one of London’s neighborhoods.

Floor collapses at Weight Watchers meeting 18, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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…is a headline to bring a smile to everyone’s face. The structural failing took place in Sweden with one person reporting that “there was a huge thud, before the floor collapsed along the walls in one corner of the room.” The tubbies were lining up to see how much weight they had lost in the previous week – the obvious rejoinder being ‘not enough’.